She sat still listening to him, eating nothing. Lee's words outside had, she knew not why, struck a chill into her heart, and as she listened to Tom's story, although she could make nothing of it, she felt as though getting colder and colder. She shivered, although the night was hot. Through the open window she could hear all those thousand commingled indistinguishable sounds that make the night-life of the bush, with painful distinctness. She arose and went to the window.
The night was dark and profoundly still. The stars were overhead, though faintly seen through a haze; and beyond the narrow enclosures in front of the house, the great forest arose like a black wall. Tom and Charles went on talking inside, and yet, though their voices were loud, she was hardly conscious of hearing them, but found herself watching the high dark wood and listening to the sound of the frogs in the creek, and the rustle of a million crawling things, heard only in the deep stillness of night.
Deep in the forest somewhere, a bough cracked, and fell crashing, then all was silent again. Soon arose a wind, a partial wandering wind, which came slowly up, and, rousing the quivering leaves to life for a moment, passed away; then again a silence, deeper than ever, so that she could hear the cattle and horses feeding in the lower paddock, a quarter of a mile off; then a low wail in the wood, then two or three wild weird yells, as of a devil in torment, and a pretty white curlew skirled over the housetop to settle on the sheepwash dam.
The stillness was awful; it boded a storm, for behind the forest blazed up a sheet of lightning, showing the shape of each fantastic elevated bough. Then she turned round to the light, and said,—
"My dear partner, I had a headache, and went to the window. What was the story you were telling Charles, just now? Who was the man you met in the publichouse, who seems to have frightened you so?"
"No less a man than Captain Touan, my dear cousin!" said Tom, leaning back with the air of a man who has made a point, and would be glad to hear "what you have to say to that, sir."
"Touan?" repeated Mary. "Why, that's the great bushranger, that is out to the north; is it not?"
"The same man, cousin! And there I sat hob and nob with him for half an hour in the 'Lake George' public-house. If Desborough had come in, he'd have hung me for being found in bad company. Ha! ha! ha!"
"My dear partner," she said, "what a terrible escape! Suppose he had risen on you?"
"Why I'd have broken his back, cousin," said Tom, "unless my right hand had forgot her cunning. He is a fine man of his weight: but, Lord, in a struggle for life and death, I could break his neck, and have one more claim on Heaven for doing so; for he is the most damnable villain that ever disgraced God's earth, and that is the truth. That man, cousin, in one of his devil's raids, tore a baby from its mother's breast by the leg, dashed its brains out against a tree, and then—I daren't tell a woman what happened." [Note: Tom was confusing Touan with Michael Howe. The latter actually did commit this frightful atrocity; but I never heard that the former actually combined the two crimes in this way.]
"Tom! Tom!" said Mary, "how can you talk of such things?"
"To show you what we have to expect if he comes this way, cousin; that is all."
"And is there any possibility of such a thing?" asked Mary.
"Why not? Why should he not pay us the compliment of looking round this way?"
"Why do they call him Touan, Tom?" asked Charles.
"Can't, you see," said Tom, "the Touan, the little grey flying squirrel, only begins to fly about at night, and slides down from his bough sudden and sharp. This fellow has made some of his most terrible raids at night, and so he got the name of Touan."
"God deliver us from such monsters!" said Mary, and left the room.
She went into the kitchen. Lee sat there smoking. When she came in he rose, and, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, touched his forehead and stood looking at her.
"Now then, old friend," she said, "come here."
He followed her out. She led the way swiftly, through the silent night, across the yard, over a small paddock, up to the sheep-yard beside the woolshed. There she turned shortly round, and, leaning on the fence, said abruptly—
"No one can hear us here, William Lee. Now, what have you to say?"
He seemed to hesitate a moment, and then began: "Mrs. Hawker, have I been a good servant to you?"
"Honest, faithful, kindly, active; who could have been a better servant than you, William Lee! A friend, and not a servant; God is my witness; now then?"
"I am glad to hear you say so," he answered. "I did you a terrible injury once; I have often been sorry for it since I knew you, but it cannot be mended now."
"Since you knew me?" she said. "Why, you have known me ever since I have been in the country, and you have never injured me since then, surely."
"Ay, but at home," he said. "In England. In Devonshire."
"I was your husband's companion in all his earlier villanies. I suggested them to him, and egged him on. And now, mind you, after twenty years, my punishment is coming."
She could only say still, "My God!" while her throat was as dry as a kiln.
"Listen to what I have got to tell you now. Hear it all in order, and try to bear up, and use your common sense and courage. As I said before, you have good friends around you, and you at least are innocent."
"Guilty! guilty!" she cried. "Guilty of my father's death! Read me this horrible riddle, Lee."
"Wait and listen," said Lee, unable to forego, even in her terror, the great pleasure that all his class have of spinning a yarn, and using as many words as possible. "See here. We came by Lake George, you know, and heard everywhere accounts of a great gang of bushrangers being out. So we didn't feel exactly comfortable, you see. We came by a bush public-house, and Mr. Troubridge stops, and says he, 'Well, lad, suppose we yard these rams an hour, and take drink in the parlour?' 'All right,' I says, with a wink, 'but the tap for me, if you please. That's my place, and I'd like to see if I can get any news of the whereabouts of the lads as are sticking up all round, because, if they're one way, I'd as lief be another.' 'All right,' says he. So in I goes, and sits down. There was nobody there but one man, drunk under the bench. And I has two noblers of brandy, and one of Old Tom; no, two Old Toms it was, and a brandy; when in comes an old chap as I knew for a lag in a minute. Well, he and I cottoned together, and found out that we had been prisoners together five-and-twenty years agone. And so I shouted for him, and he for me, and at last I says, 'Butty,' says I, 'who are these chaps round here on the lay' (meaning, Who are the bushrangers)? And he says, 'Young 'uns—no one as we know.' And I says, 'Not likely, matey; I've been on the square this twenty year.' 'Same here,' says the old chap; 'give us your flipper. And now,' says he, 'what sort of a cove is your boss' (meaning Mr. Troubridge)? 'One of the real right sort,' says I. 'Then see here,' says he, 'I'll tell you something: the head man of that there gang is at this minute a-sitting yarning with your boss in the parlour.' 'The devil!' says I. 'Is so,' says he, 'and no flies.' So I sings out, 'Mr. Troubridge, those sheep will be out;' and out he came running, and I whispers to him, 'Mind the man you're sitting with, and leave me to pay the score.' So he goes back, and presently he sings out, 'Will, have you got any money?' And I says, 'Yes, thirty shillings.' 'Then,' says he, 'pay for this, and come along.' And thinks I, I'll go in and have a look at this great new captain of bushrangers; so I goes to the parlour door, and now who do you think I saw?"
"I know," she said. "It was that horrible villain they call Touan."
"The same man," he answered. "Do you know who he is?"
She found somehow breath to say, "How can I? How is it possible?"
"I will tell you," said Lee. "There, sitting in front of Mr. Troubridge, hardly altered in all these long years, sat George Hawker, formerly of Drumston,—your husband!"
She gave a low cry, and beat the hard rail with her head till it bled. Then, turning fiercely round, she said, in a voice hoarse and strangely altered,—
"Have you anything more to tell me, you croaking raven?"
He had something more to tell, but he dared not speak now. So he said, "Nothing at present, but if laying down my life——"
She did not wait to hear him, but, with her hands clasped above her head, she turned and walked swiftly towards the house. She could not cry, or sob, or rave; she could only say, "Let it fall on me, O God, on me!" over and over again.
Also, she was far too crushed and stunned to think precisely what it was she dreaded so. It seemed afterwards, as Frank Maberly told me, that she had an indefinable horror of Charles meeting his father, and of their coming to know one another. She half feared that her husband would appear and carry away her son with him, and even if he did not, the lad was reckless enough as it was, without being known and pointed at through the country as the son of Hawker the bushranger.
These were after-thoughts, however; at present she leaned giddily against the house-side, trying, in the wild hurrying night-rack of her thoughts, to distinguish some tiny star of hope, or even some glimmer of reason. Impossible! Nothing but swift, confused clouds everywhere, driving wildly on,—whither?
But a desire came upon her to see her boy again, and compare his face to his father's. So she slid quietly into the room where Tom and Charles were still talking together of Tom's adventure, and sat looking at the boy, pretending to work. As she came in, he was laughing loudly at something, and his face was alive and merry. "He is not like what his father was at his age," she said.
But they continued their conversation. "And now, what sort of man was he, Tom?" said Charles. "Was he like any one you ever saw?"
"Why, no. Stay, let's see. Do you know, he was something like you in the face."
"Thank you!" said Charles, laughing. "Wait till I get a chance of paying you a compliment, old fellow. A powerful fellow—eh?"
"Why, yes,—a tough-looking subject," said Tom.
"I shouldn't have much chance with him, I suppose?"
"No; he'd be too powerful for you, Charley."
A change came over his face, a dark, fierce look. Mary could see the likeness NOW plain enough, and even Tom looked at him for an instant with a puzzled look.
"Nevertheless," continued Charles, "I would have a turn with him if I met him; I'd try what six inches of cold steel between——"
"Forbear, boy! Would you have the roof fall in and crush you dead?" said Mary, in a voice that appalled both of them. "Stop such foolish talk, and pray that we may be delivered from the very sight of these men, and suffered to get away to our graves in peace, without any more of these horrors and surprises. I would sooner," she said, increasing in rapidity as she went on, "I would far sooner, live like some one I have heard of, with a sword above his head, than thus. If he comes and looks on me, I shall die."
She had risen and stood in the firelight, deadly pale. Somehow one of the bands of her long black hair had fallen down, and half covered her face. She looked so unearthly that, coupling her appearance with the wild, senseless words she had been uttering, Tom had a horrible suspicion that she was gone mad.
"Cousin," he said, "let me beseech you to go to bed. Charles, run for Mrs. Barker. Mary," he added, as soon as he was gone, "come away, or you'll be saying something before that boy you'll be sorry for. You're hysterical; that's what is the matter with you. I am afraid we have frightened you by our talk about bushrangers."
"Yes, that is it! that is it!" she said; and then, suddenly, "Oh! my dear old friend, you will not desert me?"
"Never, Mary; but why ask such a question now?"
"Ask Lee," she said, and the next moment Mrs. Barker, the housekeeper, came bustling in with smelling salts, and so on, to minister to a mind diseased. And Mary was taken off to bed.
"What on earth can be the matter with her, cousin Tom?" said Charles when she was gone.
"She is out of sorts, and got hysterical; that's what it is," said Tom.
"What odd things she said!"
"Women do when they are hysterical. It's nothing more than that."
But Mrs. Barker came in with a different opinion. She said that Mary was very hot and restless, and had very little doubt that a fever was coming on. "Terribly shaken she had been," said Mrs. Barker, "hoped nothing was wrong."
"There's something decidedly wrong, if your mistress is going to have a fever," said Tom. "Charley, do you think Doctor Mulhaus is at Baroona or Garoopna?"
"Up at the Major's," said Charles, "Shall I ride over for him? There will be a good moon in an hour."
"Yes," said Tom, "and fetch him over at once. Tell him we think it's a fever, and he will know what to bring. Ride like h——l, Charley."
As soon as he was alone, he began thinking. "What the DOOSE is the matter?" was his first exclamation, and, after half-an-hour's cogitation, only had arrived at the same point, "What the DOOSE is the matter?" Then it flashed across him, what did she mean by "ask Lee?" Had she any meaning in it, or was it nonsense? There was an easy solution for it; namely, TO ask Lee. And so arising he went across the yard to the kitchen.
Lee was bending low over the fire, smoking. "William," said Tom, "I want to see you in the parlour."
"I was thinking of coming across myself," said Lee; "In fact I should have come when I had finished my pipe."
"Bring your pipe across, then," said Tom. "Girl, take in some hot water and tumblers."
"Now, Lee," said Tom, as soon as Lee had gone through the ceremony of "Well, here's my respex, sir," "Now Lee, you have heard how ill the mistress is."
"I have indeed, sir," said he; "and very sorry I am, as I am partly the cause of it."
"All that simplifies matters, Will, considerably," said Tom. "I must tell you that when I asked her what put her in that state, she said, 'ask Lee.'"
"Shows her sense, sir. What she means is, that you ought to hear what she and I have heard; and I mean to tell you more than I have her. If she knew everything, I am afraid it would kill her."
"Ay! I know nothing as yet, you know."
Lee in the first place put him in possession of what we already know—the fact of Hawker's reappearance, and his identity with "The Touan;" then he paused.
"This is very astonishing, and very terrible, Lee," said he. "Is there anything further?"
"Yes, the worst. That man has followed us home!"
Tom had exhausted all his expressions of astonishment and dismay before this; so now he could only give a long whistle, and say, "Followed us home?"
"Followed us home!" said Lee. "As we were passing the black swamp, not two miles from here, this very morning, I saw that man riding parallel with us through the bush."
"Why did not you tell me before?"
"Because I had not made up my mind how to act. First I resolved to tell the mistress; that I did. Then after I had smoked a pipe, I resolved to tell you, and that I did, and now here we are, you see."
That was undeniable. There they were, with about as pretty a complication of mischief to unravel as two men could wish to have. Tom felt so foolish and nonplussed, that he felt inclined to laugh at Lee when he said, "Here we are." It so exactly expressed the state of the case; as if he had said, "All so and so has happened, and a deuce of a job it is, and here sit you and I, to deliberate what's to be done with regard to so and so."
He did not laugh, however; he bit his lip, and stopped it. Then he rose, and, leaning his great shoulders against the mantelpiece, stood before the fireless grate, and looked at Lee. Lee also looked at him, and I think that each one thought what a splendid specimen of his style the other was. If they did not think so, "they ought to it," as the Londoners say. But neither spoke a few minutes; then Tom said,—
"Lee, Will Lee, though you came to me a free man, and have served me twenty years, or thereabouts, as free man, I don't conceal from myself the fact that you have been convict. Pish, man! don't let us mince matters now,—a lag."
Lee looked him full in the face, without changing countenance, and nodded.
"Convicted more than once, too," continued Tom.
"Three times," said Lee.
"Ah!" said Tom. "And if a piece of work was set before me to do, which required pluck, honesty, courage, and cunning, and one were to say to me, 'Who will you have to help you?' I would answer out boldly, 'Give me Will Lee the lag; my old friend, who has served me so true and hearty these twenty years.'"
"And you'd do right, sir," said Lee quietly. And rising up, he stood beside Tom, with one foot on the fender, bending down and looking into the empty grate.
"Now, Will," said Tom, turning round and laying his hand on his shoulder, "this fellow has followed us home, having found out who we were. Why has he done so?"
"Evident," said Lee, "to work on the fears of the mistress, and get some money from her."
"Good!" said Tom. "Well answered. We shall get to the bottom of our difficulty like this. Only answer the next question as well, and I will call you a Poly—, Poly—; d—n the Greek."
"Not such a bad name as that, I hope, sir," said Lee smiling. "Who might she have been? A bad un, I expect. You don't happen to refer to Hobart-town Polly, did you, sir?"
"Hold your tongue, you villain," said Tom, "or you'll make me laugh; and these are not laughing times."
"Well, what is your question, sir?" asked Lee.
"Why, simply this: What are we to do?"
"I'll tell you," said Lee, speaking in an animated whisper. "Watch, watch, and watch again, till you catch him. Tie him tight, and hand him over to Captain Desborough. He may be about the place tonight: he will be sure to be. Let us watch to-night, you and I, and for many nights, till we catch him."
"But," whispered Tom, "he will be hung."
"He has earned it," said Lee. "Let him be hung."
"But he is her husband," urged Tom, in a whisper. "He is that boy's father. I cannot do it. Can't we buy him off?"
"Yes," answered Lee in the same tone, "till his money is gone. Then you will have a chance of doing it again, and again, all your life."
"This is a terrible dilemma," said Tom; and added in a perplexity almost comical, "Drat the girl! Why did'nt she marry poor old Jim Stockbridge, or sleepy Hamlyn, or even your humble servant? Though, in all honour, I must confess that I never asked her, as those two others did. No! I'll tell you what, Lee: we will watch for him, and catch him if we can. After that we will think what is to be done. By-the-bye, I have been going to ask you:—do you think he recognised you at the public-house there?"
"That puzzles me," said Lee. "He looked me in the face, but I could not see that he did. I wonder if he recognised you?"
"I never saw him in my life before," said Tom. "It is very likely that he knew me, though. I was champion of Devon and Cornwall, you know, before little Abraham Cann kicked my legs from under me that unlucky Easter Monday. (The deuce curl his hair for doing it!) I never forgave him till I heard of that fine bit of play with Polkinghorn. Yes! he must have known me."
Lee lit the fire, while Tom, blowing out the candles, drew the curtains, so that any one outside could not see into the room. Nevertheless, he left the French window open, and then went outside, and secured all the dogs in the dog-house.
The night was wonderfully still and dark. As he paused before entering the house, he could hear the bark falling from the trees a quarter of a mile off, and the opossums scratching and snapping little twigs as they passed from bough to bough. Somewhere, apparently at an immense distance, a morepork was chanting his monotonous cry. The frogs in the creek were silent even, so hot was the night. "A good night for watching," said he to Lee when he came in. "Lie you down; I'll take the first watch."
They blew out the candle, and Lee was in the act of lying down, when he arrested himself, and held up his finger to Tom.
They both listened, motionless and in silence, until they could hear the spiders creeping on the ceiling. There it was again! A stealthy step on the gravel.
Troubridge and Lee crouched down breathless. One minute, two, five, but it did not come again. At length they both moved, as if by concert, and Lee said, "'Possum."
"Not a bit," said Troubridge; and then Lee lay down again, and slept in the light of the flickering fire. One giant arm was thrown around his head, and the other hung down in careless grace; the great chest was heaved up, and the head thrown back; the seamed and rugged features seemed more stern and marked than ever in the chiaroscuro; and the whole man was a picture of reckless strength such as one seldom sees. Tom had dozed and had awoke again, and now sat thinking, "What a terrible tough customer that fellow would be!" when suddenly he crouched on the floor, and, reaching out his hand, touched Lee, who woke, and silently rolled over with his face towards the window.
There was no mistake this time—that was no opossum. There came the stealthy step again; and now, as they lay silent, the glass-door was pushed gently open, showing the landscape beyond. The gibbous moon was just rising over the forest, all blurred with streaky clouds, and between them and her light they could see the figure of a man, standing inside the room.
Tom could wait no longer. He started up, and fell headlong with a crash over a little table that stood in his way. They both dashed into the garden, but only in time to hear flying footsteps, and immediately after the gallop of a horse, the echoes of which soon died away, and all was still.
"Missed him, by George!" said Lee. "It was a precious close thing, though. What could he mean by coming into the house,—eh?"
"Just as I expected; trying to get an interview with the mistress. He will be more cautious in future, I take it."
"I wonder if he will try again?"
"Don't know," said Troubridge; "he might: not to-night, however."
They went in and lay down again, and Troubridge was soon asleep; and very soon that sleep was disturbed by dreadful dreams. At one time he thought he was riding madly through the bush for his bare life; spurring on a tired horse, which was failing every moment more and more. But always through the tree-stems on his right he saw glancing, a ghost on a white horse, which kept pace with him, do what he would. Now he was among the precipices on the ranges. On his left, a lofty inaccessible cliff; on the right, a frightful blue abyss; while the slaty soil kept sliding from beneath his horse's feet. Behind him, unseen, came a phantom, always gaining on him, and driving him along the giddiest wallaby tracks. If he could only turn and face it, he might conquer, but he dare not. At length the path grew narrower and narrower, and he turned in desperation and awoke—woke to see in the dim morning light a dark figure bending over him. He sprang up, and clutched it by the throat.
"A most excellent fellow this!" said the voice of Doctor Mulhaus. "He sends a frantic midnight message for his friend to come to him, regardless of personal convenience and horseflesh; and when this friend comes quietly in, and tries to wake him without disturbing the sick folks, he seizes him by the throat and nearly throttles him."
"I beg a thousand pardons, Doctor," said Tom; "I had been dreaming, and I took you for the devil. I am glad to find my mistake."
"You have good reason," said the Doctor; "but now, how is the patient?"
"Asleep at present, I believe; the housekeeper is with her."
"What is the matter with her?"
"She has had a great blow. It has shaken her intellect, I am afraid."
"What sort of a blow?" asked the Doctor.
Tom hesitated. He did not know whether to tell him or not.
"Nay," said the Doctor, "you had better let me know. I can help then, you know. Now, for instance, has she heard of her husband?"
"She has, Doctor. How on earth came you to guess that?"
"A mere guess, though I have always thought it quite possible, as the accounts of his death were very uncertain."
Tom then set to work, and told the Doctor all that we know. He looked very grave. "This is far worse than I had thought," he said, and remained thoughtful.
Mary awoke in a fever and delirious. They kept Charles as much from her as possible, lest she should let drop some hint of the matter to the boy; but even in her delirium she kept her secret well; and towards the evening the Doctor, finding her quieter, saddled his horse, and rode away ten miles to a township, where resided a drunken surgeon, one of the greatest blackguards in the country.
The surgeon was at home. He was drunk, of course; he always was, but hardly more so to-day than usual. So the Doctor hoped for success in his object, which was to procure a certain drug which was neither in the medicine-chest at the Buckleys' nor at Toonarbin; and putting on his sweetest smile when the surgeon came to the door, he made a remark about the beauty of the weather, to which the other very gruffly responded.
"I come to beg a favour," said Doctor Mulhaus. "Can you let me have a little—so and so?"
"See you d—d first," was the polite reply. "A man comes a matter of fourteen thousand miles, makes a pretty little practice, and then gets it cut into by a parcel of ignorant foreigners, whose own country is too hot to hold them. And not content with this, they have the brass to ask for the loan of a man's drugs. As I said before, I'll see you d—d first, AND THEN I WON'T." And so saying, he slammed the door.
Doctor Mulhaus was beside himself with rage. For the first and last time since I have known him he forgot his discretion, and instead of going away quietly, and treating the man with contempt, he began kicking at the door, calling the man a scoundrel, &c., and between the intervals of kicking, roaring through the keyhole, "Bring out your diploma; do you hear, you impostor?" and then fell to work kicking again. "Bring out your forged diploma, will you, you villain?"
This soon attracted the idlers from the public-house: a couple of sawyers, a shepherd or two, all tipsy, of course, except one of the sawyers, who was drunk. The drunken sawyer at length made out to his own complete satisfaction that Doctor Mulhaus' wife was in labour, and that he was come for the surgeon, who was probably drunk and asleep inside. So, being able to sympathize, having had his wife in the straw every thirteen months regularly for the last fifteen years, he prepared to assist, and for this purpose took a stone about half a hundredweight, and coming behind the Doctor, when he was in full kick, he balanced himself with difficulty, and sent it at the lock with all the force of his arm, and of course broke the door in. In throwing the stone, he lost his balance, came full butt against Dr. Mulhaus, propelled him into the passage, into the arms of the surgeon, who was rushing out infuriated to defend his property, and down went the three in the passage together, the two doctors beneath, and the drunken sawyer on the top of them.
The drunken surgeon, if, to use parliamentary language, he will allow me to call him so, was of course underneath the others; but, being a Londoner, and consequently knowing the use of his fists, ere he went down delivered a "one, two," straight from the shoulder in our poor dear Doctor's face, and gave him a most disreputable black eye, besides cutting his upper lip open. This our Doctor, being, you must remember, a foreigner, and not having the rules of the British Ring before his eyes, resented by getting on the top of him, taking him round the throat, and banging the back of his head against the brick floor of the passage, until he began to goggle his eyes and choke. Meanwhile the sawyer, exhilarated beyond measure in his drunken mind at having raised a real good promising row, having turned on his back, lay procumbent upon the twain, and kicking everything soft or human he came across with his heels, struck up "The Bay of Biscay, Oh," until he was dragged forth by two of his friends; and, being in a state of wild excitement, ready to fight the world, hit his own mate a violent blow in the eye, and was only quieted by receiving a sound thrashing, and being placed in a sitting posture in the verandah of the public house, from which he saw Doctor Mulhaus come forth from the surgeon's with rumpled feathers, but triumphant.
I am deeply grieved to have recorded the above scene, but I could not omit it. Having undertaken to place the character of that very noble gentleman, Doctor Mulhaus, before my readers, I was forced not to omit this. As a general rule, he was as self-contained, as calm and as frigid as the best Englishman among us. But under all this there was, to speak in carefullyselected scientific language, a substratum of pepper-box, which has been apparent to me on more than one occasion. I have noticed the above occasion per force. Let the others rest in oblivion. A man so true, so wise, so courteous, and so kindly, needs not my poor excuses for having once in a way made a fool of himself. He will read this, and he will be angry with me for a time, but he knows well that I, like all who knew him, say heartily, God bless you, old Doctor!
But the consequences of the above were, I am sorry to say, eminently disastrous. The surgeon got a warrant against Doctor Mulhaus for burglary with violence, and our Doctor got a warrant against him for assault with intent to rob. So there was the deuce to pay. The affair got out of the hands of the Bench. In fact they sent BOTH parties for trial, (what do you think of that, my Lord Campbell?) in order to ge rid of the matter, and at sessions, the surgeon swore positively that Doctor Mulhaus had, assisted by a convict, battered his door down with stones in open day, and nearly murdered him. Then in defence Doctor Mulhaus called the sawyer, who, as it happened, had just completed a contract for fencing for Mrs. Mayford, the proceeds of which bargain he was spending at the public-house when the thing happened, and had just undertaken another for one of the magistrates; having also a large family dependent on him; being, too, a man who prided himself in keeping an eye to windward, and being slightly confused by a trifling attack of delirium tremens (diddleums, he called it): he, I say, to our Doctor's confusion and horror, swore positively that he never took a stone in his hand on the day in question; that he never saw a stone for a week before or after that date; that he did not deny having rushed into the passage to assist the complainant (drunken surgeon), seeing him being murdered by defendant; and, lastly, that he was never near the place on the day specified. So it would have gone hard with our Doctor, had not his Honour called the jury's attention to the discrepancies in this witness's evidence; and when Dr. Mulhaus was acquitted, delivered a stinging reproof to the magistrates for wasting public time by sending such a trumpery case to a jury. But, on the other hand, Dr. Mulhaus' charge of assault with intent fell dead; so that neither party had much to boast of.
The night or so after the trial was over, the Doctor came back to Toonarbin, in what he intended for a furious rage. But, having told Tom Troubridge the whole affair, and having unluckily caught Tom's eye, they two went off into such hearty fits of laughter that poor Mary, now convalescent, but still in bed, knocked at the wall to know what the matter was.
WHICH IS THE LAST CHAPTER BUT ONE IN THE SECOND VOLUME.
The state of terror and dismay into which poor Mary Hawker was thrown on finding that her husband, now for many years the BETE NOIR of her existence, was not only alive, but promising fairly to cause her more trouble than ever he did before, superadded, let me say, for mere truth's sake, to a slight bilious attack, brought on by good living and want of exercise, threw her into a fever, from which, after several days' delirium, she rose much shattered, and looking suddenly older. All this time the Doctor, like a trusty dog, had kept his watch, and done more, and with a better will than any paid doctor would have been likely to do. He was called away a good deal by the prosecution arising out of that unhappy affair with the other doctor, and afterwards with a prosecution for perjury, which he brought against the sawyer; but he was generally back at night, and was so kind, so attentive, and so skilful that Mary took it into her head, and always affirmed afterwards, that she owed her life to him.
She was not one to receive any permanent impression from anything. So now, as day by day she grew stronger, she tried to undervalue the mischief which had at first so terrified her, and caused her illness;—tried, and with success, in broad daylight; but, in the silent dark nights, as she lay on her lonely bed, she would fully appreciate the terrible cloud that hung over her, and would weep and beat her pillow, and pray in her wild fantastic way to be delivered from this frightful monster, cut off from communion with all honest men by his unutterable crimes, but who, nevertheless, she was bound to love, honour, and obey, till death should part her from him.
Mrs. Buckley, on the first news of her illness, had come up and taken her quarters at Toonarbin, acting as gentle a nurse as man or woman could desire to have. She took possession of the house, and managed everything. Mrs. Barker, the house-keeper, the only one who did not submit at once to her kindly rule, protested, obstructed, protocolled, presented an ultimatum, and, at last, was so ill advised as to take up arms. There was a short campaign, lasting only one morning,—a decisive battle,—and Mrs. Barker was compelled to sue for peace. "Had Mr. Troubridge been true to himself," she said, "she would never have submitted;" but, having given Tom warning, and Tom, in a moment of irritation, having told her, without hesitation or disguise, to go to the devil (no less), she bowed to the circumstances, and yielded.
Agnes Buckley encouraged Dr. Mulhaus, too, in his legal affairs, and, I fear, was the first person who proposed the prosecution for perjury against the sawyer: a prosecution, however, which failed, in consequence of his mate and another friend, who was present at the affair, coming forward to the sawyer's rescue, and getting into such a labyrinth and mist of perjury, that the Bench (this happened just after quarter sessions) positively refused to hear anything more on either side. Altogether, Agnes Buckley made herself so agreeable, and kept them all so alive, that Tom wondered how he had got on so long without her.
At the end of three weeks Mary was convalescent; and one day, when she was moved into the verandah, Mrs. Buckley beside her, Tom and the Doctor sitting on the step smoking, and Charles sleepily reading aloud "Hamlet," with a degree of listlessness and want of appreciation unequalled, I should say, by any reader before; at such time, I say, there entered suddenly to them a little-cattle dealer, as brimful of news as an egg of meat. Little Burnside it was: a man about eight stone nothing, who always wore top-boots and other people's clothes. As he came in, Charles recognised on his legs a pair of cord breeches of his own, with a particular grease patch on the thigh: a pair of breeches he had lent Burnside, and which Burnside had immediately got altered to his own size. A good singer was Burnside. A man who could finish his bottle of brandy, and not go to bed in his boots. A man universally liked and trusted. An honest, hearty, little fellow, yet, one who always lent or spent his money as fast as he got it, and was as poor as Job. The greatest vehicle of news in the district, too. "Snowy river Times," he used to be called.
After the usual greetings, Tom, seeing he was bursting with something, asked him, "What's the news?"
Burnside was in the habit of saying that he was like the Lord Mayor's fool—fond of everything that was good. But his greatest pleasure, the one to which he would sacrifice everything, was retailing a piece of news. This was so great an enjoyment with him that he gloried in dwelling on it, and making the most of it. He used to retail a piece of news, as a perfect novel, in three volumes. In his first he would take care to ascertain that you were acquainted with the parties under discussion; and, if you were not, make you so, throwing in a few anecdotes illustrative of their characters. In In his second, he would grow discursive, giving an episode or two, and dealing in moral reflections and knowledge of human nature rather largely. And in his third he would come smash, crash down on you with the news itself, and leave you gasping.
He followed this plan on the present occasion. He answered Tom's question by asking,—
"Do you know Desborough?"
"Of course I do," said Tom; "and a noble good fellow he is."
"Exactly," said Burnside; "super of police; distinguished in Indian wars; nephew of my Lord Covetown. An Irishman is Desborough, but far from objectionable."
This by way of first volume: now comes his second:—
"Now, sir, I, although a Scotchman born, and naturally proud of being so, consider that until these wretched national distinctions between the three great nations are obliterated we shall never get on, sir; never. That the Scotch, sir, are physically and intellectually superior——"
"Physically and intellectually the devil," burst in Tom. "Pick out any dozen Scotchmen, and I'll find you a dozen Londoners who will fight them, or deal with them till they'd be glad to get over the borders again. As for the Devon and Cornish lads, find me a Scotchman who will put me on my back, and I'll write you a cheque for a hundred pounds, my boy. We English opened the trade of the world to your little two millions and a-half up in the north there; and you, being pretty well starved out at home, have had the shrewdness to take advantage of it; and now, by Jove, you try to speak small of the bridge that carried you over. What did you do towards licking the Spaniards; eh? And where would you be now, if they had not been licked in 1588, eh? Not in Australia, my boy! A Frenchman is conceited enough, but, by George, he can't hold a candle to a Scotchman."
Tom spoke in a regular passion; but there was some truth in what he said, I think. Burnside didn't like it, and merely saying, "You interrupt me, sir," went on to his third volume without a struggle.
"You are aware, ladies, that there has been a gang of bushrangers out to the north, headed by a miscreant, whom his companions call Touan, but whose real name is a mystery."
Mrs. Buckley said, "Yes;" and Tom glanced at Mary. She had grown as pale as death, and Tom said, "Courage, cousin; don't be frightened at a name."
"Well, sir," continued Burnside, putting the forefinger and thumb of each hand together, as if he was making "windows" with soapsuds, "Captain Desborough has surprised that gang in a gully, sir, and," spreading his hands out right and left, "obliterated them."
"The devil!" said Tom, while the Doctor got up and stood beside Mary.
"Smashed them, sir," continued Burnside; "extinguished them utterly. He had six of his picked troopers with him, and they came on them suddenly and brought them to bay. You see, two troopers have been murdered lately, and so our men, when they got face to face with the cowardly hounds, broke discipline and wouldn't be held. They hardly fired a shot, but drew their sabres, and cut the dogs down almost to a man. Three only out of twelve have been captured alive, and one of them is dying of a wound in the neck." And, having finished, little Burnside folded his arms and stood in a military attitude, with the air of a man who had done the thing himself, and was prepared to receive his meed of praise with modesty.
"Courage, Mary," said Tom; "don't be frightened at shadows."—He felt something sticking in his throat, but spoke out nevertheless.
"And their redoubted captain," he asked; "what has become of him?"
"What, Touan himself?" said Burnside. "Well, I am sorry to say that that chivalrous and high-minded gentleman was found neither among the dead nor the living. Not to mince, matters, sir, he has escaped."
The Doctor saw Mary's face quiver, but she bore up bravely, and listened.
"Escaped, has he?" said Tom. "And do they know anything about him?"
"Desborough, who told me this himself," said Burnside, "says no, that he is utterly puzzled. He had made sure of the arch-rascal himself; but, with that remarkable faculty of saving his own skin which he has exhibited on more than one occasion, he has got off for the time, with one companion."
"A companion; eh?"
"Yes," said Burnside, "whereby hangs a bit of romance, if I may profane the word in speaking of such men. His companion is a young fellow, described as being more like a beautiful woman than a man, and bearing the most singular likeness in features to the great Captain Touan himself, who, as you have heard, is a handsome dog. In short, there is very little doubt that they are father and son."
Tom thought to himself, "Who on earth can this be? What son can George Hawker have, and we not know of it?" He turned to Burnside.
"What age is the young man you speak of?" he asked.
"Twenty, or thereabouts, by all description," said the other.
Tom thought again: "This gets very strange. He could have no son of that age got in Van Diemen's Land: it was eight years before he was free. It must be some one we know of. He had some byeblows in Devon, by all accounts. If this is one of them, how the deuce did he get here?"
But he could not think. We shall see presently who it was. Now we must leave these good folks for a time, and just step over to Garoopna, and see how affairs go there.
IN WHICH JAMES BRENTWOOD AND SAMUEL BUCKLEY, ESQUIRES, COMBINE TO DISTURB THE REST OF CAPTAIN BRENTWOOD, R.A. AND SUCCEED IN DOING SO.
The morning after Cecil Mayford had made his unlucky offer to Alice, he appeared at Sam's bedside very early, as if he had come to draw Priam's curtains; and told him shortly, that he had spoken, and had been received with contempt; that he was a miserable brute, and that he was going back home to attend to his business;—under the circumstances, the best thing he could possibly do.
So the field was clear for Sam, but he let matters stay as they were, being far too pleasant to disturb lightly; being also, to tell the truth, a little uncertain of his ground, after poor Cecil had suffered so severely in the encounter. The next day, too, his father and mother went home, and he thought it would be only proper for him to go with them, but, on proposing it, Jim quietly told him he must stay where he was and work hard for another week, and Halbert, although a guest of the Buckleys, was constrained to remain still at the Brentwoods', in company with Sam.
But at the end of a week they departed, and Jim went back with them, leaving poor Alice behind, alone with her father. Sam turned when they had gone a little way, and saw her white figure still in the porch, leaning in rather a melancholy attitude against the door-post. The audacious magpie had perched himself on the top of her head, from which proud elevation he hurled wrath, scorn, and mortal defiance against them as they rode away. Sam took off his hat, and as he went on kept wondering whether she was thinking of him at all, and hoping that she might be sorry that he was gone. "Probably, however," he thought, "she is only sorry for her brother."
They three stayed at Baroona a week or more, one of them riding up every day to ask after Mary Hawker. Otherwise they spent their time shooting and fishing, and speculating how soon the rains would come, for it was now March, and autumn was fairly due.
But at the end of this week, as the three were sitting together, one of those long-legged, slab-sided, lean, sunburnt, cabbage-tree-hatted lads, of whom Captain Brentwood kept always, say half-a-dozen, and the Major four or five (I should fancy, no relation to one another, and yet so exactly alike, that Captain Brentwood never called them by their right names by any chance); lads who were employed about the stable and the paddock, always in some way with the horses; one of those representatives of the rising Australian generation, I say, looked in, and without announcing himself, or touching his hat (an Australian never touches his hat if he is a free man, because the prisoners are forced to), came up to Jim across the drawingroom, as quiet and as self-possessed as if he was quite used to good society, and, putting a letter into his hand, said merely, "Miss Alice," and relapsed into silence, amusing himself by looking round Mrs. Buckley's drawing-room, the like of which he had never seen before.
Sam envied Jim the receipt of that little threecornered note. He wondered whether there was anything about him in it. Jim read it, and then folded it up again, and said "Hallo!"
The lad,—I always call that sort of individual a lad; there is no other word for them, though they are of all ages, from sixteen to twenty,—the lad, I say, was so taken up with the contemplation of a blown-glass pressepapier on the table, that Jim had to say, "Hallo there John!"
The lad turned round, and asked in a perfectly easy manner, "What the deuce is this thing for, now?"
"That," said Jim, "is the button of a Chinese mandarin's hat, who was killed at the battle of Waterloo in the United States by Major Buckley."
"Is it now?" said the lad, quite contented. "It's very pretty; may I take it up?"
"Of course you may," said Jim. "Now, what's the foal like?"
"Rather leggy, I should say," he returned. "Is there any answer?"
Jim wrote a few lines with a pencil on half his sister's note, and gave it him. He put it in the lining of his hat, and had got as far as the door, when he turned again. He looked wistfully towards the table where the pressepapier was lying. It was too much for him. He came back and took it up again. What he wanted with it, or what he would have done with it if he had got it, I cannot conceive, but it had taken his simple fancy more, probably, than an emerald of the same size would have done. At last he put it to his eye.
"Why, darn my cabbage-tree," he said, "if you can't see through it! He wouldn't sell it, I suppose, now?"
Jim pursed his lips and shook his head, as though to say that such an idea was not to be entertained, and the lad, with a sigh, laid it down and departed. Then Jim with a laugh threw his sister's note over to Sam. I discovered this very same note only last week, while searching the Buckley papers for information about the family at this period. I have reason to believe that it has never been printed before, and, as far as I know, there is no other copy extant, so I proceed to give it in full.
"What a dear, disagreeable old Jim you are," it begins, "to stay away there at Baroona, leaving me moping here with our daddy, who is calculating the explosive power of shells under water at various temperatures. I have a good mind to learn the Differential Calculus myself, only on purpose to bore you with it when you come home."
"By the bye, Corrella has got a foal. Such a dear little duck of a thing, with a soft brown nose, and sweet long ears, like leaves! Do come back and see it; I am so very, very lonely!"
"I hope Mr. Halbert is pretty well, and that his wound is getting quite right again. Don't let him undertake cattle-drafting or anything violent. I wish you could bring him back with you, he is such a nice, agreeable creature."
"Your magpie has attacked cocky, and pulled a yellow feather out of his crest, which he has planted in the flower-bed, either as a trophy, or to see if it will grow."
Now this letter is historically important, when taken in connexion with certain dates in my possession. It was written on a Monday, and Halbert, Jim, and Sam started back to Garoopna the next day, rather a memorable day for Sam, as you will see directly. Now I wish to call attention to the fact, that Sam, far from being invited, is never once mentioned in the whole letter. Therefore what does Miss Burke mean by her audacious calumnies? What does she mean by saying that Alice made love to Sam, and never gave the "poor boy" a chance of escape? Can she, Lesbia, put her hand on her heart and say that she wasn't dying to marry Sam herself, though she was (and is still, very likely) thirty years his senior? The fact is, Lesbia gave herself the airs, and received the privileges of being the handsomest woman in those parts, till Alice came, and put her nose out of joint, for which she never forgave her.
However, to return to this letter. I wonder now, as I am looking at the age-stained paper and faded writing, whether she who wrote it contemplated the possibility of its meeting Sam's eye. I rather imagine that she did, from her provoking silence about him. At any rate, Jim was quite justified in showing him the letter, "for you know," he said, "as there is nothing at all about you in it, there can be no breach of confidence."
"Well!" said Sam, when he had read it.
"Well!" said Jim. "Let us all three ride over and look at the foal."
So they went, and were strictly to be home at dinner time; whereas not one of them came home for a week.
When they came to the door at Garoopna, there was Alice, most bewitchingly beautiful. Papa was away on the run, and Dr. Mulhaus with him; so the three came in. Alice was very glad to see Halbert—was glad also to see Sam; but not so glad, or, at all events, did not say so much about it.
"Alice, have you seen the newspaper?" said Jim.
"There is a great steamer gone down at sea, and three hundred persons drowned!"
"What a horrible thing! I should never have courage to cross the sea."
"You would soon get accustomed to it, I think," said Halbert.
"I have never even seen it as yet," she said, "save at a distance."
"Strange, neither have I," said Sam. "I have dim recollections of our voyage here, but I never stood upon the shore in my life."
"I have beat you there," said Jim. "I have been down to Cape Chatham, and seen the great ocean itself: a very different thing from Sydney Harbour, I promise you. You see the great cape running out a mile into the sea, and the southern rollers tumbling in over the reefs like cascades."
"Let us go and see it!—how far is it?" said Alice.
"About thirty miles. The Barkers' station is about half a mile from the Cape, and we could sleep there, you know."
"It strikes me as being a most brilliant idea," said Sam.
And so the arrangement was agreed to, and the afternoon went on pleasantly. Alice walked up and down with Sam among the flowers, while Jim and Halbert lay beneath a mulberry tree and smoked.
They talked on a subject which had engaged their attention a good deal lately: Jim's whim for going soldiering had grown and struck root, and become a determination. He would go back to India when Halbert did, supposing that his father could be tempted to buy him a commission. Surely he might manage to join some regiment in India, he thought. India was the only place worth living in just now.
"I hope, Halbert," he said, "that the Governor will consent. I wouldn't care when I went; the sooner the better. I am tired of being a cattle-dealer on a large scale; I want to get at some MAN'S work. If one thing were settled I would go to-morrow."
"And what is that?" said Halbert.
Jim said nothing, but looked at the couple among the flower-beds.
"Is that all?" said Halbert. "What will you bet me that that affair is not concluded to-night?"
"I'll bet you five pounds to one it ain't," said Jim; "nor any time this twelvemonth. They'll go on shillyshallying half their lives, I believe."
"Nevertheless I'll bet with you. Five to one it comes off to-night! Now! There goes your sister into the house; just go in after her."
Jim sauntered off, and Sam came and laid his great length down by the side of Halbert.
They talked on indifferent matters for a few minutes, till the latter said,—
"You are a lucky fellow, Sam."
"With regard to what?" said Sam.
"With regard to Miss Buckley, I mean."
"What makes you think so?"
"Are you blind, Sam? Can't you see that she loves you better than any man in the world?"
He answered nothing, but turning his eyes upon Halbert, gazed at him a moment to see whether he was jesting or no. No, he was in earnest. So he looked down on the grass again, and, tearing little tufts up, said,—
"What earthly reason have you for thinking that?"
"What reason!—fifty thousand reasons. Can you see nothing in her eyes when she speaks to you, which is not there at other times; hey, Bat?—I can, if you can't."
"If I could think so!" said Sam. "If I could find out?"
"When I want to find out anything, I generally ask," said Halbert.
Sam gave him the full particulars of Cecil's defeat.
"All the better for you," said Halbert; "depend upon it. I don't know much about women, it is true, but I know more than you do."
"I wish I knew as much as you do," said Sam.
"And I wish I knew as little as you do," said Halbert.
Dinner-time came, but the Captain and the Doctor were not to the fore. After some speculations as to what had become of them, and having waited an hour, Jim said, that in the unexplained absence of the crowned head, he felt it his duty to the country, to assume the reins of government, and order dinner. Prime Minister Alice, having entered a protest, offered no further opposition, and dinner was brought in.
Young folks don't make so much of dinner as old ones at any time, and this dinner was an unusually dull one. Sam was silent and thoughtful, and talked little; Alice, too, was not quite herself. Jim, as usual, ate like a hero, but talked little; so the conversation was principally carried on by Halbert, in the narrative style, who really made himself very useful and agreeable, and I am afraid they would have been a very "slow" party without him.
Soon after the serious business of eating was over, Jim said,—
"Alice, I wonder what the Governor will say?"
"About what, brother?"
"About my going soldiering."
"Save us! What new crotchet is this?"
"Only that I'm going to bother the Governor, till he gets me a commission in the army."
"Are you really serious, Jim?"
"I never was more so in my life."
"So, Mr. Halbert," said Alice, looking round at him, "you are only come to take my brother away from me!"
"I assure you, Miss Brentwood, that I have only aided and abetted: the idea was his own."
"Well, well, I see how it is;—we were too happy I suppose."
"But, Alice," said Jim, "won't you be proud to see your brother a good soldier?"
"Proud! I was always proud of you. But I wish the idea had never come into your head. If it was in war time I would say nothing, but now it is very different. Well, gentlemen, I shall leave you to your wine. Mr. Halbert, I like you very much, but I wish you hadn't turned Jim's head."
She left them, and walked down the garden; through the twilight among the vines, which were dropping their yellow leaves lightly on the turf before the breath of the autumn evening. So Jim was going,—going to be killed probably, or only coming back after ten years' absence, "full of strange oaths and bearded like a pard!" She knew well how her father would jump at his first hint of being a soldier, and would move heaven and earth to get him a commission,—yes, he would go—her own darling, funny, handsome Jim, and she would be left all alone.
No, not quite! There is a step on the path behind her that she knows; there is an arm round her waist which was never there before, and yet she starts not as a low voice in her ear says,—
"Alice, my love, my darling, I have come after you to tell you that you are dearer to me than my life, and all the world besides. Can you love me half as well as I love you? Alice, will you be my wife?"
What answer? Her hands pressed to her face, with
flood of happy tears, she only says,—
"Oh! I'm so happy, Sam! So glad, so glad!"
Pipe up there, golden-voiced magpie; give us one song more before you go to roost. Laugh out, old jackass; till you fetch an echo back from the foggy hollow. Up on your bare boughs, it is dripping, dreary autumn: but down here in the vineyard, are bursting the first green buds of an immortal spring.
There are some scenes which should only be undertaken by the hand of a master, and which, attempted by an apprentice like myself, would only end in disastrous failure, calling down the wrath of all honest men and true critics upon my devoted head,—not undeservedly. Three men in a century, or thereabouts, could write with sufficient delicacy, and purity to tell you what two such young lovers as Sam Buckley and Alice Brentwood said to one another in the garden that evening, walking up and down between the yellow vines. I am not one of those three. Where Charles Dickens has failed, I may be excused from being diffident. I am an old bachelor, too—a further excuse. But no one can prevent my guessing, and I guess accordingly,—that they talked in a very low tone, and when, after an hour, Alice said it was time to come in, that Sam was quite astonished to find how little had been said, and what very long pauses there had been.
They came in through the window into the sittingroom, and there was Dr. Mulhaus, Captain Brentwood, and also, of all people, Major Buckley, whom the other two had picked up in their ride and brought home. My information about this period of my history is very full and complete. It has come to my knowledge on the best authority, that when Sam came forward to the light, Halbert kicked Jim's shins under the table, and whispered, "You have lost your money, old fellow!" and that Jim answered, "I wish it was ten pounds instead of five."
But old folks are astonishingly obtuse. Neither of the three seniors saw what had happened; but entered CON AMORE into the proposed expedition to Cape Chatham, and when bedtime came, Captain Brentwood, honest gentleman, went off to rest, and having said his prayers and wound up his watch, prepared for a comfortable night's rest, as if nothing was the matter.
He soon found his mistake. He had got his boots off, and was sitting pensively at his bedside, meditating further disrobements, when Jim entered mysteriously, and quietly announced that his whole life in future would be a weary burden if he didn't get a commission in the army, or at least a cadetship in the East India Company's service. Him the Captain settled by telling, that if he didn't change his mind in a month he'd see about it, and so packed him off to bed. Secondly, as he was taking off his coat, wondering exceedingly at Jim's communication, Sam appeared, and humbly and respectfully informed him that he had that day proposed to his daughter and been accepted,—provisionally; hoping that the Captain would not disapprove of him as a sonin-law. He was also rapidly packed off to bed, by the assurance that he (Brentwood) had never felt so happy in his life, and had been sincerely hoping that the young folks would fall in love with one another for a year past.
So, Sam dismissed, the Captain got into bed; but as soon as the light was blown out two native cats began grunting under the washing-stand, and he had to get out, and expel them in his shirt; and finally he lost his temper and began swearing. "Is a man never to get to sleep?" said he. "The devil must be abroad tonight, if ever he was in his life."
No sleep that night for Captain Brentwood. His son, asking for a commission in the army, and his daughter going to be married! Both desirable enough in their way, but not the sort of facts to go to sleep over, particularly when fired off in his ear just as he was lying down. So he lay tossing about, more or less uncomfortable all night, but dozed off just as the daylight began to show more decidedly in the window. He appeared to have slept from thirty to thirty-five seconds, when Jim awoke him with,—
"It's time to get up, father, if you are going to Cape Chatham to-day."
"D—n Cape Chatham," was his irreverent reply when Jim was gone, which sentiment has been often re-echoed by various coasting skippers in later times. "Why, I haven't been to sleep ten minutes,—and a frosty morning, too. I wish it would rain. I am not vindictive, but I do indeed. Can't the young fools go alone, I wonder? No; hang it, I'll make myself agreeable to-day, at all events!"
HOW THEY ALL WENT HUNTING FOR SEA ANEMONES AT CAPE CHATHAM—AND HOW THE DOCTOR GOT A TERRIBLE FRIGHT—AND HOW CAPTAIN BLOCKSTROP SHOWED THAT THERE WAS GOOD REASON FOR IT.
And presently, the Captain, half dressed, working away at his hair with two very stiff brushes, betook himself to Major Buckley's room, whom he found shaving. "I'll wait till you're done," said he; "I don't want you to cut yourself."
And then he resumed: "Buckley, your son wants to marry my daughter."
"Shows his good taste," said the Major. "What do you think of it?"
"I am very much delighted," said the Captain.
"And what does she say to it?"
"She is very much delighted."
"And I am very much delighted, and I suppose Sam is too. So there you are, you see: all agreed."
And that was the way the marriage negotiations proceeded; indeed, it was nearly all that was ever said on the subject. But one day the Major brought two papers over to the Captain (who signed them), which were supposed to refer to settlements, and after that all the arrangements were left to Alice and Mrs. Buckley.
They started for Cape Chatham about nine o'clock in the day; Halbert and Jim first, then Sam and Alice, and lastly the three elders. This arrangement did not last long, however; for very soon Sam and Alice called aloud to Halbert and Jim to come and ride with them, for that they were boring one another to death. This they did, and now the discreet and sober conversation of the oldsters was much disturbed by loud laughter of the younger folks, in which, however, they could not help joining. It was a glorious crystal clear day in autumn; all nature, aroused from her summer's rest, had put off her suit of hodden grey, and was flaunting in gaudiest green. The atmosphere was so amazingly pure that miles away across the plains the travellers could distinguish the herds of turkeys (bustards) stalking to and fro, while before them, that noble maritime mountain Cape Chatham towered up, sharply defined above the gleaming haze which marked the distant sea.
For a time their way lay straight across the broad well-grassed plains, marked with ripples as though the retiring sea had but just left it. Then a green swamp; through the tall reeds the native companion, king of cranes, waded majestic; the brilliant porphyry water hen, with scarlet bill and legs, flashed like a sapphire among the emerald green water-sedge. A shallow lake, dotted with wild ducks; here and there a group of wild swan, black with red bills, floating calmly on its bosom. A long stretch of grass as smooth as a bowling-green. A sudden rocky rise, clothed with native cypress (Exocarpus—Oh my botanical readers!), honeysuckle (Banksia), she-oak (Casuarina), and here and there a stunted gum. Cape Chatham began to show grander and nearer, topping all; and soon they saw the broad belt of brown sandy heath that lay along the shore.
"Here," said the Doctor, riding up, "we leave the last limit of the lava streams from Mirngish and the Organ-hill. Now, immediately you shall see how we pass from the richly-grassed volcanic plains, into the barren sandstone heaths; from a productive pasture land into a useless flower-garden. Nature here is economical, as she always is: she makes her choicest ornamental efforts on spots otherwise useless. You will see a greater variety of vegetation on one acre of your sandy heath than on two square miles of the thickly-grassed country we have been passing over."
It was as he said. They came soon on to the heath; a dark dreary expanse, dull to look upon after so long a journey upon the bright green grass. It stretched away right and left interminably, only broken here and there with islands of dull-coloured trees; as melancholy a piece of country as one could conceive: yet far more thickly peopled with animal as well as vegetable life, than the rich pastoral downs further inland. Now they began to see the little red brush kangaroo, and the grey forester, skipping away in all directions; and had it been summer they would have been startled more than once by the brown snake, and the copper snake, deadliest of their tribe. The painted quail, and the brush quail (the largest of Australian game birds I believe), whirred away from beneath their horses' feet; and the ground parrot, green with mottlings of gold and black, rose like a partridge from the heather, and flew low. Here, too, the Doctor flushed a "White's thrush," close to an outlying belt of forest, and got into a great state of excitement about it. "The only known bird," he said, "which is found in Europe, America, and Australia alike." Then he pointed out the emu wren, a little tiny brown fellow, with long hairy tail-feathers, flitting from bush to bush; and then, leaving ornithology, called their attention to the wonderful variety of low vegetation that they were riding through; Hakeas, Acacias, Grevilleas, and what not. In spring this brown heath would have been a brilliant mass of flowers; but now, nothing was to be seen save a few tall crimson spikes of Epacris, and here and there a bunch of lemon-coloured Correas. Altogether, he kept them so well amused, that they were astonished to come so quickly upon the station, placed in a snug cove of the forest, where it bordered on the heath beside a sluggish creek. Then, seeing the mountain towering up close to them, and hearing, as they stayed at the door, a low continuous thunder behind a high roll in the heath which lay before them, they knew that the old ocean was close at hand, and their journey was done.
The people at the station were very glad to see them, of course. Barker, the paterfamilias, was an old friend of both the Major and the Captain, and they found so much to talk about, that after a heavy midday-meal, excellent in kind, though that kind was coarse, and certain libations of pale ale and cold claret and water, the older of the party, with the exception of Dr. Mulhaus, refused to go any farther; so the young people started forth to the Cape, under the guidance of George Barker, the fourth or fifth son, who happened to be at home.
"Doctor," said Alice as they were starting, "do you remark what beautiful smooth grass covers the cape itself, while here we have nothing but this scrubby heath? The mountain is, I suppose, some different formation?"
"Granite, my dear young lady," said the Doctor. "A cap of granite rising through and partly overlying this sandstone."
"You can always tell one exactly what one wants to know," said Alice; and, as they walked forwards, somehow got talking to Halbert, which I believe most firmly had been arranged beforehand with Sam. For he, falling back, ranged alongside of the Doctor, and, managing to draw him behind the others, turned to him and said suddenly,—
"My dear old friend! my good old tutor!"
The Doctor stopped short, pulled out a pair of spectacles, wiped them, put them on, and looked at Sam through them for nearly a minute, and then said:
"My dear boy, you don't mean to say——"
"I do, Doctor.—Last night.—And, oh! if you could only tell, how happy I am at this moment! If you could guess at it!——"
"Pooh, pooh!" said the Doctor; "I am not so old as that, my dear boy. Why, I am a marrying man myself. Sam, I am so very, very glad! You have won her, and now wear her, like a pearl beyond all price. I think that she is worthy of you: more than that she could not be."
They shook hands, and soon Sam was at her side again, toiling up the steep ascent. They soon distanced the others, and went forwards by themselves.
There was such a rise in the ground seawards, that the broad ocean was invisible till they were half way up the grassy down. Then right and left they began to see the nether firmament, stretching away infinitely. But the happy lovers paused not till they stood upon the loftiest breezy knoll, and seemed alone together between the blue cloudless heaven and another azure-sphere which lay beneath their feet.
A cloudless sky and a sailless sea. Far beneath them they heard but saw not the eternal surges gnawing at the mountain. A few white albatrosses skimmed and sailed below, and before, seaward, the sheets of turf, falling away, stretched into a shoreless headland, fringed with black rock and snow-white surf.
She stood there, flushed and excited with the exercise, her bright hair dishevelled, waving in the free sea-breeze, the most beautiful object in that glorious landscape, her noble mate beside her. Awe, wonder, and admiration kept both of them silent for a few moments, and then she spoke.
"Do you know any of the choruses in the 'Messiah'?" asked she.
"No, I do not," said Sam.
"I am rather sorry for it," she said, "because this is so very like some of them."
"I can quite imagine that," said Sam. "I can quite imagine music which expresses what we see now. Something infinitely BROAD I should say. Is that nonsense now?"
"Not to me," said Alice.
"I imagined," said Sam, "that the sea would be much rougher than this. In spite of the ceaseless thunder below there, it is very calm."
"Calm, eh?" said the Doctor's voice behind them. "God help the ship that should touch that reef this day, though a nautilus might float in safety! See, how the groundswell is tearing away at those rocks; you can just distinguish the long heave of the water, before it breaks. There is the most dangerous groundswell in the world off this coast. Should this country ever have a large coast-trade, they will find it out, in calm weather with no anchorage."
A great coasting trade has arisen; and the Doctor's remark has proved terribly true. Let the Monumental City and the Schomberg, the Duncan Dunbar and the Catherine Adamson bear witness to it. Let the drowning cries of hundreds of good sailors, who have been missed and never more heard of, bear witness that this is the most pitiless and unprotected, and, even in calm weather, the most dangerous coast in the world.
But Jim came panting up, and, throwing himself on the short turf, said—
"So this is the great Southern Ocean; eh! How far can one see, now, Halbert?"
"About thirty miles."
"And how far to India; eh?"
"About seven thousand."
"A long way," said Jim. "However, not so far as to England."
"Fancy," said Halbert, "one of those old Dutch voyagers driving on this unknown coast on a dark night. What a sudden end to their voyage! Yet that must have happened to many ships which have never come home. Perhaps when they come to explore this coast a little more they may find some old ship's ribs jammed on a reef; the ribs of some ship whose name and memory has perished."
"The very thing you mention is the case," said the Doctor. "Down the coast here, under a hopeless, black basaltic cliff, is to be seen the wreck of a very, very old ship, now covered with coral and seaweed. I waited down there for a spring tide, to examine her, but could determine nothing, save that she was very old; whether Dutch or Spanish I know not. You English should never sneer at those two nations: they were before you everywhere."
"And the Chinese before any of us in Australia," replied Halbert.
"If you will just come here," said Alice, "where those black rocks are hid by the bend of the hill, you get only three colours in your landscape; blue sky, grey grass, and purple sea. But look, there is a man standing on the promontory. He makes quite an eyesore there. I wish he would go away."
"I suppose he has as good a right there as any of us," answered the Doctor. "But he certainly does not harmonise very well with the rest of the colouring. What a strange place he has chosen to stand in, looking out over the sea, as though he were a shipwrecked mariner—the last of the crew."
"A shipwrecked mariner would hardly wear breeches and boots, my dear Doctor," said Jim. "That man is a stockman."
"Not one of ours, however," said George Barker; "even at this distance I can see that. See, he's gone! Strange! I know of no way down the cliff thereabouts. Would you like to come down to the shore?"
So they began their descent to the shore by a winding path of turf, among tumbled heaps of granite, down towards the rock-walled cove, a horseshoe of smooth white sand lying between two long black reefs, among whose isolated pinnacles the groundswell leapt and spouted ceaselessly.
Halbert remarked, "This granite coast is hardly so remarkable as our Cornish one. There are none of those queer pinnacles and tors one sees there, just ready to topple down into the sea. This granite is not half so fantastic."
"Earthquakes, of which you have none in Cornwall," said the Doctor, "will just account for the difference. I have felt one near here quite as strong as your famous lieutenant, who capsized the Logan stone."
But now, getting on the level sands, they fell to gathering shells and sea-weeds like children. Jim trying to see how near he could get to a wave without being caught, got washed up like jetsam. Alice took Sam's pocket-handkerchief, and filled it indiscriminately with everything she could lay her hand on, principally Trochuses, as big as one's fist, and "Venus-ears," scarlet outside. And after an hour, wetfooted and happy, dragging a yard or so of sea-tang behind her, she looked round for the Doctor, and saw him far out on the reef, lying flat on his stomach, and closely examining a large still pool of salt water, contained in the crevices of the rocks.
He held up his hand and beckoned. Sam and Alice advanced towards him over the slippery beds of seaweed, Sam bravely burying his feet in the wet clefts, and holding out his hand to help her along. Once there was a break in the reef, too broad to be jumped, and then for the first time he had her fairly in his arms and swung her across, which was undoubtedly very delightful, but unfortunately soon over. At length, however, they reached the Doctor, who was seated like a cormorant on a wet rock, lighting a pipe.
"What have you collected?" he asked. "Show me."
Alice proudly displayed the inestimable treasures contained in Sam's handkerchief.
"Rubbish! Rubbish!" said the Doctor, "Do you believe in mermaidens?"
"Of course I do, if you wish it," said Alice. "Have you seen one?"
"No, but here is one of their flower-gardens. Bend down and look into this pool."
She bent and looked. The first thing she saw was her own exquisite face, and Sam's brown phiz peering over her shoulder. A golden tress of hair, loosened by the sea breeze, fell down into the water, and had to be looped up again. Then gazing down once more, she saw beneath the crystal water a bed of flowers; dahlias, ranunculuses, carnations, chrysanthemums, of every colour in the rainbow save blue. She gave a cry of pleasure: "What are they, Doctor? What do you call them?"
"Sea anemones, in English, I believe," said the Doctor, "actinias, serpulas, and sabellas. You may see something like that on the European coasts, on a small scale, but there is nothing I ever have seen like that great crimson fellow with cream-coloured tentacles. I do not know his name. I suspect he has never been described. The common European anemone they call 'crassicornis' is something like him, but not half as fine."
"Is there any means of gathering and keeping them, Doctor?" asked Sam. "We have no flowers in the garden like them."
"No possible means," said the Doctor. "They are but lumps of jelly. Let us come away and get round the headland before the tide comes in."
They wandered on from cove to cove, under the dark cliffs, till rounding a little headland the Doctor called out,—
"Here is something in your Cornish style, Halbert."
A thin wall of granite, like a vast buttress, ran into the sea, pierced by a great arch, some sixty feet high. Aloft all sharp grey stone: below, wherever the salt water had reached, a mass of dark clinging weed: while beyond, as though set in a dark frame, was a soft glimpse of blue sky and snow-white seabirds.
"There is nothing so grand as that in Cornwall, Doctor," said Halbert.
"Can we pass under it, Mr. Barker?" said Alice. "I should like to go through; we have been into none of the caves yet."
"Oh, yes!" said George Barker. "You may go through for the next two hours. The tide has not turned yet."
"I'll volunteer first," said the Doctor, "and if there's anything worth seeing beyond, I'll come for you."
It was, as I said, a thin wall of granite, which ran out from the rest of the hill, seaward, and was pierced by a tall arch; the blocks which had formerly filled the void now lay weed-grown, half buried in sand, forming a slippery threshold. Over these the Doctor climbed and looked beyond.
A little sandy cove, reef-bound, like those they had seen before, lay under the dark cliffs; and on a water-washed rock, not a hundred yards from him, stood the man they had seen on the downs above, looking steadily seaward.
The Doctor slipped over the rocks like an otter, and approached the man across the smooth sand, unheard in the thunder of the surf. When he was close upon him, the stranger turned, and the Doctor uttered a low cry of wonder and alarm.
It was George Hawker! The Doctor knew him in a moment: but whether the recognition was mutual, he never found out, for Hawker, stepping rapidly from stone to stone, disappeared round the headland, and the thunderstruck Doctor retraced his steps to the arch.
There were all the young people gathered, wondering and delighted. But Alice came to meet him, and said,—
"Who was that with you just now?"
"A mermaid!" replied he.
"That, indeed!" said Alice. "And what did she say?"
"She said, 'Go home to your supper; you have seen quite enough; go home in good time.'"
"Doctor, there is something wrong!" said Alice. "I see it in your face. Can you trust me, and tell me what it is?"
"I can trust you so far as to tell you that you are right. I don't like the look of things at all. I fear there are evil times coming for some of our friends! Further than this I can say nothing. Say your prayers, and trust God! Don't tell Sam anything about this: to-morrow I shall speak to him. We won't spoil a pleasant holiday on mere suspicion."
They rejoined the others, and the Doctor said, "Come away home now; we have seen enough. Some future time we will come here again: you might see this fifty times, and never get tired of it."
After a good scramble they stood once more on the down above, and turned to take a last look at the broad blue sea before they descended inland; at the first glance seaward, Halbert exclaimed,—
"See there, Doctor! see there! A boat!"
"It's only a whale, I think," said George Barker.
There was a black speck far out at sea, but no whale; it was too steady for that. All day the air had been calm; if anything, the breeze was from the north, but now a strong wind was coming up from the south-east, freshening every moment, and bringing with it a pent bank of dark clouds; and, as they watched, the mysterious black speck was topped with white, and soon they saw that it was indeed a boat driving before the wind under a spritsail, which had just been set.
"That is very strange!" said George Barker. "Can it be a shipwrecked party?"
"More likely a mob of escaped convicts from Van Diemen's Land," said Jim. "If so, look out for squalls, you, George, and keep your guns loaded."
"I don't think it can be that, Jim," said Sam. "What could bring them so far north? They would have landed, more likely, somewhere in the Straits, about the big lakes."
"They may have been driven off shore by these westerly winds which have been blowing the last few days," replied Jim, "and kept their boat's head northward, to get nearer the settlements. They will be terribly hungry when they do land, for certain. What's your opinion, Doctor?"
"I think that wise men should be always prepared. We should communicate with Captain Desborough, and set the police on the alert."
"I wonder," said Sam, "if that mysterious man we saw to-day, watching on the cliff, could have had any connexion with this equally mysterious boat. Not likely, though. However, if they are going to land to-night, they had better look sharp, for it is coming on to blow."
The great bank of cloud which they had been watching, away to the south-east, was growing and spreading rapidly, sending out little black avant-couriers of scud, which were hurrying fanlike across the heavens, telling the news of the coming storm. Landward, in the west, the sun was going down in purple and scarlet splendours, but seaward, all looked dark and ominous.
The young folks stood together in the verandah before they went into dinner, listening to the wind which was beginning to scream angrily round the corners of the house. The rain had not yet gathered strength to fall steadily, but was whisked hither and thither by the blast, in a few uncertain drops. They saw that a great gale was coming up, and knew that, in a few hours, earth and sky would be mingled in furious war!
"How comfortable it is to think that all the animals are under shelter to-night!" said Sam. "Jim, my boy, I am glad you and I are not camped out with cattle this evening. We have been out on nights as bad as this though; eh? Oh, Lord! fancy sitting the saddle all to-night, under the breaking boughs, wet through!"
"No more of that for me, old Sam. No more jolly gallops after cattle or horses for me. But I was always a good hand at anything of that sort, and I mean to be a good soldier now. You'll see."
At dark, while they were sitting at dinner, the storm was raging round the house in full fury; but there, in the well-lighted room, before a good fire, they cared little for it. When dinner was over, the Doctor called the Captain and the Major aside, and told them in what manner he had seen and recognised George Hawker on the beach that day; and raised their fears still more by telling them of that mysterious boat which the Doctor thought Hawker had been watching for. None of them could understand it, but all agreed that these things boded no good; and so, having called their host into their confidence, with regard to the boat, they quietly loaded all the fire-arms in the place, and put them together in the hall. This done, they returned to the sitting-room, and, having taken their grog, retired to bed.
It must be remembered that hitherto Major Buckley knew nothing of George Hawker's previous appearance, but the Doctor now let him into the secret. The Major's astonishment and wrath may be conceived, at finding that his old PROTEGEE Mary, instead of being a comfortable widow, was the persecuted wife of one of the greatest bushrangers known. At first he was stunned and confused, but, ere he slept, his clear straightforward mind had come to a determination that the first evil was the worst, and that, God give him grace, he would hand the scoundrel over to justice on the first opportunity, sure that he was serving Mary best by doing so.