Chapter 1385291

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Chapter NumberBOOK III XVI
Chapter Url
Full Date1875-12-04
Page Number3
Word Count4849
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
Trove TitleHis Natural Life
article text

His Natural Life*

By Marcus Clarke.


Ciiai-teh XVI.


TnE morning after this, the Rev. Mr. North departed in the returning schooner for Hobart Town. Between the officious chaplain and the Commandant tho events of the previous day had fixed a great gulf. Burgess knew that North meant to report the death of Kirkland, and guessed that he would nut be backward in relat- ing the story to such pensons in Hobart Town as would most readily repeat it. " Blank awk- ward the fellow's dying," he confessed to him- self. "If 11B hadn't died nobody would have bothered about him." A sinister truth. North, on the other hand, comforted himself with the belief that the fact of tho convict's denth under the liifh would cause indignation aud subsequent enquiry, " The truth must come out if they only ask," thought he. Self-deceiving North ! Four years a Government chaplain, and not yet attained to a knowledge of a Government's method of "asking" about such matters I Kirk- land's mangled flesh would be food for worms before tho ink on the last " minute" from delibe- rating Authority was dry.

Burgess, however, touched with selfish regrets, determined to burk the parson at the outset. He would send down nn official " return" of tho unfortunate occurrence by the same vessel that carried his enemy, and thus get; the ear of tho Office. Meekin, walking on the eveniug of the flogging past the wooden shed where the body lay, saw Troke bearing buckets filled with dark colored water, and heard a great splashing and sluicing going on inside the hut. " What is the matter ?" be asked.

"Doctor's bin post morticing tho prisoner ^yhat was flogged this morning, sir," says Troke, "and we're cleauin' up."

English-bred Meekin sickened, and walked on. He lind heard that unhappy Kirklaud possessed unknown disease of tho heart, and had unhappily died before receiving his nllotted punishment. His duty was to comfort Kirkland's soul, ho had nothing to do with Kirkland's slovenly unhand- some body, and so he went for a walk on the pier that the breeze might blow Iris momeutury sickness away from him. On the pier he saw North talking to Father Flaherty, the Roman Catholic chaplain. Meekin had been taught to look upon a priest ns a shepherd might look upon a wolf, and passed with a distant bow. Tho pair wero apparently talking of the occurrence of the morning, for he heard Father Flaherty say, with Douay shrug of his round shoulders," He wons not one of moi people, Mr. North, and tho Governmint would not sillier mo to interfere with mathers relating to Prhotcstint prisoners." " The wretched creature was a Protestant, thought Christian Meekin. " At least then his immortal soul wa3 not endangered by belief in damnable heresies of tho Church of Rome," So he passed on, giving good-humored Denis Flaherty, the son of tho butter-merchant of ICildrum, a wide berth and sea-room, lest ho should pounce down upon him unawares, and, with Jesuitical argument and silken softness of speech, convert him by forco to his own state of error?as was. the well-known custom of those intellectual gladiators, the Priests of the Catholic Faith. Nort\ on his side, left Flaherty with regret. He had spent many a pleasant hour with him, aud knew him for a narrow-minded, conscientious, yet laughter-loving creature, whoso God was neither his belly nor his breviary, but sometimes in oue placo aud sometimes in thc other, according the hour of the dny, and the feasts appointed for due mortification of the flesh. " A man who would do Christian work in a jog-trot parish, or whero men lived too easily to sin harshly, but utterly unfit to cope with satan, ns the Bi itish Governmeut had transported him," had been North's sadly satirical reflection upon Father Flaherty, as Port Arthur faded into indistinct beauty behind the swift-sailing schooner. ? " God help those poor villains, for neither parson nor priest can."

He was right. North, tho drunkard and self tormented, had a power for good, of which Meekin and the other knew nothing. Not merely wero the mon incompetent and self indulgent, but they understood nothing of that frightful capacity for agony which is deep in tho soul of every evil-door. They might strike tho rock as they chose with sharpest-pointed machine-made pick of warrauted Gospel-manu- facture, stamped with tho approval of eminent divines of all ages, but tho wntor of repentance and remorse would not gush for them. They possessed not the frail rod which alone was powerful to charm. They had no sympathy, no knowledge, no experience. Ho who would touch tho hearts of men must have had his own heart seared. The missionaries of mankind havo ever been great sinners before they camed tho divine right to heal aud bless. Their weakness was mado their strength, and out of their own agony of repentance carno tho knowledge which made them masters and saviours of their kind. It was the Agony of tho Garden and CrosB that gave to the world's Preacher his kingdom in the hearts of men. Tho crown of divinity is a crown

of thorns.

North, on his arrival, went straight to the houso of Major Vickers. " I have a complaint to make, sir," he Bald. " I wish to lodge it formally with you. A prisoner has been flogged

to death at Port Arthur. I saw it done."

Vickers bent his brow. " A serious accusa- tion, Mr, North. I must, of course receive it with respect, coming from you, but I trust that you have fully considered the circumstances of the case. I always understood Captain Burgess

was a most humane man."

North shook his bead. He would not accuse Burgess. He would let events speak for them- selves. " I only ask for an enquiry," said ho.

"Yes, my dear sir, I know. Very proper indeed on your part, if you think any injustice his been done ; but havo you considered tho expense, the delny, tho immense trouble aud dissatisfaction all this will give ?"

" No trouble, no expense, no dissatisfaction, should stand in the way of humanity and justice," cries North.

" Of course not. But will justice be done ? Aro you sure you can prove your caso ? Mind, I admit nothing against Captain Burgess, whom I have always considered a most worthy aud r.ealous officer ; but, supposing your charge to be true, can you prove it ?"

"Yes, If the witnesses speak the truth." " Who are they ?"

" Myself, Dr. Macklcwain, the constable, nnd two prisoners, one of whom was flogged him- self. Bc will speak tho truth, I believe. Tho other man I have not much faith in."

" Very well; then there is only a prisoner and Dr. Macklewain : for if there has been foul play, the convict-constable will not accuso the authori- ties. Moreover, the doctor does not agree with


" No!" cries North, amazed.

" No. You see, then, my dear sir, how neces- sary it is not to be hasty in matters of this kind. I really think?pardon mo for my plninness? that your goodness of heart has misled you. Captain Burgess sends a report of the case. He says the man was sentenced to a hundred lashes for gross insolence and disobedience of orders, that tho doctor was present during tho punishment, nnd that tho man was thrown off hy his directions after he had received fifty-six lashes. That, after a short interval, ho was found to be dead, and that the doctor mado a post-mortem examination of the body and fouud disease of the heart."

North started. "A post-mortemt I never knew there had been one held."

" Here is the medical certificate," said Vickers,

holding it out, " accompanied by the copies of' the evidence of the constable and a letter from the Commandant."

Poor North took the papers nnd road them slowly. They -were apparently straightforward enough, Aneurism of the ascending aorta was given as the cause of death; and tho doctor frankly admitted that had he known the deceased to be suffering from that complaint, ho would not have permitted him to receive more than twenty-five lashes.

I think Macklewain is an honest man," said ^orth, doubtfully. "Ho would not daro to return a false certificate. Yet the circumstances °f tho case?the horrible condition of the prisoners?the frightful story of that boy-"

I cannot enter into these questions, Mr. ^orth. My position here is to administer the Jaw to the best of my ability, not to question

North bowed his head to the reproof. In ,.i' ^'f copyright of " His Natural Ute" has been pur Mar % l,P0Prict°r« of 1!« QwetnttaniXer from Mr.

Birnie sort of justly unjust way, he felt that he deserved it. " I cin say no more, sir. I am afraid I am helpless in this matter?as I linvo been in others. I see that the evidence is against me ; but it is my dutv to carry my efforts as far as I can, and I will do so." Vickers bowed stiffly, and wished him good morning. Authority?however well-meaning in private life?has in its official capacity a natural dislike to those dissatisfied persons who persist in push- ing enquiries to extremities.

_ North, going out with saddened spirits, met in the passnge a beautiful young girl. It was Sylvia, coming to "call"' upon ber father. He lifted his hat and looked after her. He guessed that sho was the daughter of tho mau he had left?the wife of tho Captain Frere, concernini* whom he had heard so much. North was n man whose morbidly excited brain was prone to strange fancies; and it seemed tohim that beneath thu clear bluo eyes that flashed upon him for a uioini'iit, lay a hint of future sadness, in which, in some strange way, he himself was to bear part. He stared after her figure until it dis. appeared; and long after the dainty presence of the young bride?trimly-booted, tight-waistcd, and neatest-gloved?had faded, with all its suu shine of gaiety aud health from out of his mental vision, he still saw those two blue eyes and that cloud of golden bair.

Chapter XVII.


Sylvia had become the wife of Maurice Frere. The wedding created excitement in the convict settlement, for Maurice Frere, though oppressed by the secret shame nt open matrimony which affects men of his character, could not in decency ?seeing how "good a thing for him" was this wealthy alliance ? demand unceremonious nuptials. So, aftor the fashion of tho town there being no "Continent" or "Scotland' adjacent as a hiding-place for bridal blushes? the allianco was entered into with due pomp of ball and supper; bride and lu idegroom depart- ing through tho golden afternoon to tho nearest of Major Vickers' stations. Thence it had been arranged they should return after a fortnight so, and take ship for Sydney.

Major Vickers, affectionate though he was to tho mau whom ho believed to be tho saviour of his child, had no notion of allowing him to live on Sylvia's fortune. He had settled his daughter's portion?ten thousand pounds it was currently reported to be?upon herself and children, and had informed Frere that he expected him to live upon an income of his own earning. After many consultations between the pair, it had been arranged that a Civil appointment in Sydney would suit the bridegroom, who was to sell out of tho service. This notion was Frero's own.

He never cared for military duty, and had, moreover, private debts to no inconsiderable amount. By selling his commission he would be enabled at once to pay theso debts, aud render himself eligible for any well-paid post under the colonial Government that the interest cf his father-in-law and his own reputation as a convict disciplinarian might procure. Vickers would fain have kept his daughter with him, but ho unselfishly acquiesced in tho scheme, admitting that Frere's plea as to the comforts she would derive from the society to be found in Sydney

was a valid one.

" You can como over and see us when we get settled, papa," said Sylvia, with al! a young matron's pride of place, "and wo can come and seo you. Hobart Town is very pretty, but I want to seo the world."

" You should go to London, poppet, says Maurice, " that's the place. Isn't it, sir ?"

" Oh, London 1" cries Sylvia, clapping her hands. " And Westminster Abbey, and tho Tower, and St. James' Palace, and Hyde Park, and Fleet-street I ' Sir,' said Dr. Johnson, ' let us take a walk down Fleot-street.' Do you remember, in Mr. Croker's book, Maurice ? No you don't, I know, because you only looked at the pictures, nnd then read Pierce Egan's account of tho Topping fight between Bob Gaynor and Nod Neal, or some such person."

" Little girls should be soon and not heard," says Maurice, between n laugh and a blush. " You have no business to read my books."

" Why not ?" sho asked, with a gaioty which already seemed a little strained ; " husband and wife should havo no secrets from each other, sir. Besides, I want you to read my books. I am going to read Sholley to you."

" Don't, my dear, says honest Maurice, Bimply. " I can't understand him."

This little scene took place nt tho dinner table of Frere's eottago, in Now Town, to which Major Vickers had been invited, in order that future plans might bo discussed.

" I don't want to go to Port Arthur," said tho bride, later in the evening. "Maurice, thero can be no necessity to go there."

" Well," says Maurice, I want to have a look at tho place. I ought to bo familiar with all phases of convict discipline, you know."

' " Thero is likely to be a report ordered upon tho death of a prisoner," said Vickors. " The chaplain, a fussy but well-meaning person, hns been memorialising about it. You may ns well do it as anybody else, Maurice.

" Ay. And savo the expenses of the trip," says Maurice.

" But it is so melancholy," cried Sylvia.

" The most delightful place iii the island, my dear. I was there for a few days |ouce, and I really was charmed."

It wnB remarkable?so Vickers thought?how ench of these newly-mated ones had caught something of the other's manner of speech. Sylvia was less choico in her mode of utterance, Frere more so. He caught himself wondering which of the two methods both would finally adopt.

" But those dogs, and sharks, aud things. Oh, Maurice, haven't wo had enough of convicts 1"

" Enough I Why, I'm going to make my living out sf 'em," says Maurice,'with his most

natural manner.

Sylvia sighed.

" Play something, darling," said her father ; and so tho girl, setting down to the piano, trilled and warbled in her puro young voice, until the Port Arthur question floated itself away upon waves of melody, and was heard of no more for that time. But upon pursuing the subject, Sylvia found her husband firm. He wanted to go, and he would go. Having once assured liimself that it was advantageous to him to do a certain thing, the native obstinacy of the animal urged him to-do it, despite all opposition from others, and Sylvia, having had her first " cry" over the question of tho visit, gave up the point. This was the first difference of their short married life, and she hastened to condone it. In the Bunshine of Love aud Marriage?for Maurice at first really loved her; and love, curbing the worst part of him, brought to him, as it bringa to all of us, that gentleness and abnegation of self which is the only token and assurance of a love that is ought but animal? Sylvia had seemed to see her fears and doubts melt away, as tho mists melt in the beamB of morning. A young girl, with passionate fancy, with honest and noble aspirations, but with the dark shadow of her early mental sickness brood- ing upon her child-like nature, marriage mado her a woman, by developing in her a woman's trust and pride in the man to whom Ehe had voluntarily given herself. Yet by-and-by, out of this very sentiment, arose a new and strange source of anxiety. Having accepted her posi- tion ns a wife, and put away from her all doubts as to her own capacity for loving the man to whom she bad allied herself, Bbo began to be haunted by a dread lest he might do something which would lessen the affection she bore him. On one or two occasions she had been forced to confess that her husband was more of an

egotist than sho cared to think. Ho demanded of her no great sacrifices?had he done so she would have found, in making them, that pleasure that women ot her nature always find in such self-mortifications?but he now and then in- truded on her that disregard for the feelings of othera which was part of his character. He was fond of her?almost too passionately fond, for her staider liking?but he was unused to thwart his own will in anything, least of all in those seeming trifles, for the consideration of which

true unselfishness bethinks itself. Did she want to read when he -wanted to walk, he good humoredly put aside her book, with an assump- tion that a walk with him must, of necessity, be the moEt pleasant thing in the world. Did she want to walk when he wanted to rest,_ ho laughingly set up his laziness ns an all-sufficient plea for her remaining within doors. He was nt no pains to conceal his weariness when she read

her favorite books to him. If he felt sleepy ¦when she sang or played, he Blept without apology. If she talked about a subject in which lie took no interest, he turned the conversation remorselessly. He would not have wittingly

offended her ; but it seemed to him so natural to yawn whoa he was weary, to sleep when he was fatigued, and to talk only about those subjects which interested him. Had anybody told him that ho was selfish, he would have been astonished. Thus it came about that Sylvia one day discovered that sho led two lives?one in the body, aud one in tho spirit?and that with her spiritual existence her husband had no share. This discovery alarmed her, and then she smiled at it " As if Maurice could bo ex- pected to take interest in all my silly fancies," said sho ; and, despite a harrassing thought that theso same fancies were not foolish, but were the best and brightest portion of her, she succeeded in overcoming her uneasiness. "A man's thoughts are different from a woman's" sho said ; " he has his business and his wordly cares, of which a woman kuows nothing. I must comfort him, and not afflict him with my follies."

As for Maurice, ho grew sometimes rather troubled iu his mind. He could not understand his wife. Her nature was au enigma to him ; her mind a puzzle which would not bo pieced together with the rectangular correctness of ordinary life. Ho had known her from a child, and loved her from a child, and had committed a mean and cruel crime to obtain her ; but having got her, he was no nearer to tho mystery of her than before. She was all his own, ho thought. Her golden hair was free for his lingers, her lips wero warm for his caress, her eyes looked love upon him alone. Yet thero were times when her lips seemed to be cold to his kisses, nnd her eyes to look disdainfully upon his coarser passion. Ho would catch her musiug when he spoke to her, much as she would catch him sleeping -when she read to him?but Bhe awoko with a stat t nnd a blush of remorse at her forgetfulness, which ho never did. Ho was not a niau to brood much over theso things ; and, after some reflective pipes and ineffectual rubbings of his head, ho " gave it up." How was it possible, indeed, for him to solve tho mental enigma when tho woman herself was to him a physical riddle ? It was extraordinary to find that the child he had seen growing up by his Bide day by day Bhonld bo a young woman with little secrets, now to bo revealed to him for the first time. He found that she had a mole on her neck, and remembered that lie had noticed it when she was a child. Then it was a thing of no moment, now it was a marvellous discovery. He was in daily wonderment at the treasure ho lind obtained. He marvelled at her feminiuo devices of dress and adornment. Her dainty garments seemed to him perfumed with tho odor of sanctity.

Tho fact waa, that the patron of Sarah Purfoy had not met with many virtuous women, nnd had but just discovered what a dainty morsol

Modesty was.

Chatter XVIII. ? in tue hospital.

The hospital of Port Arthur was not a cheerful place, but to tho tortured and unnerved Rufus Dawes it seemed a paradise. Thero ut least? despite the roughness and contempt with which his gaolers ministered to him?ho felt that ho was considered. There at least he was free from tho enforced companionship of tho men whom ho loathed, and to whose lovel ho felt, with mental agony unspeakable, that he was daily sinking. Throughout his long term of degrada- tion he had, ns yet, aided hy tho memory of his sacrifice and his love, preserved something of his self-respect, but ho felt that he would not preserve it long. Little by little ho had como to regard himself as one out of the pale of lovo and mercy, as one tormented of fortune, plunged into adeep into which tho eye of Heaven did not penetrate. Since his capture in tho garden at Hobart Town, he had given loose rein to his rage and his despair. "I nm forgotten or despised ; I have no naine in the world ; what matter if I become like one of these'!" It was under tho influenco of this feeling that ho had picked up the cat at tho command of Cnptain Burgess. As tho unhappy Kirkland had said, " As well you ns another;" and truly, what was he that ho should cherish sentiments of honor or humanity ? But ho had miscalculated his own capacity for evil. As he.Hogged, he blushed; and when he had flung down the cat and stripped his own back for punishment, he felt a fierco joy in tho thought that his baseness would be atoned for in his own blood. Even when un- nerved and faint from his hideous ordeal, he flung himself upon his knees in the cell, he regretted only thc impotent ravings that tho tortures hud forced from him. Ho could havo

bitten out his tonguo for ita blasphemous utter inga?not because they wero blasphemous, but becauso their utterance, by revealing his agony, gavo their triumph to his tormentors. When North had found him ho was in tho very depth of this abasement, and ho repulsed his comforter ?not so much becauso ho had seen him flogged, but becauso he had heard him ciy. Thc ruthless self-reliance and force of will which had hitherto sustained him through his self-imposed trial had failed him?he felt?at the moment when ho needed it most; and the man who had with unflinched front faced the gallows, tho desert, aud tho sea, confessed his debased humanity beneath tho physical torture of the lash. He had been flogged beforo, and had wept in secret at his degradation, but he now for the first time comprehended how tcrriblo that degradation might be mado, for ho realised how thc agony of tho wretched body can force tho Bool to quit its last poor refuge of assumed indifference, nnd confess itself conquered.

Not many months before, one of the com- panions of tho chain, suffering under llnrgess' tender mercies, had killed his mate when nt work with him, and, carrying the body on his back to the nearest gang, had surrendered him- self ?going to his death thanking God he hail at lost found a way of escape from his miseries, which no ono would envy him?save his com- rades. Tho heart of Dawes had been filled with horror at a deed so bloody, and he had?with others?commented on the cowardice of tho man that would thus Bhirk tho responsibility of that state of life in which it had pleased Man and thu Devil to place him. Now ho understood how and why the crime had been committed, and felt only pity. Lying awako with back that burned beneath its lotioued rags, when light* were low, in the breathful Bileiice of thu hospital, ho regis- tered in his heart a terrible oath that ho would die ere he would again be made Bitch hideous sport for his enemies. In this frame of mind, with whatever Bhreds of honor and worth that had formerly clung to him seemingly blown away in the whirlwind of his passion, ho bo thought him of tho strange man who had deigned to claBp his hand and call him " brother." He had wept with no unmanly tears at this Budden flow of tenderness in one whom he had thought callous as tho rest. He had been touched with a wondrous sympathy at tho confession of weak- ness made to him, in a moment when his own weakness had overcome him to his shame. Soothed by the momentary rest that his fort- night of hospital seclusion had afforded him, ho had begun, in n languid and speculative way, to tura his thoughts to religion. He had read of martyrs who had borne ngonies unspeakable, upheld by their confidence in Heaven and God. In his old wild youth ho had scoffed at prayers and priests ; in tho hate to his kind that had grown upon him with his later years ho had despised a creedthat told men to love one another. " God is love, my brethren," Biiid the chaplain on Sundays, and all the week tho thongs of the overseer cracked, and the cat hissed and swung. Of what practical value was a piety that preached but did not practice ? It was admirable for the "religious instructor" to tell a prisoner that he must not give way to evil passions, but muBt bear his punishment with meekness. It was only right that he should advise him to *' put his truBt iu God." But aa a hardened prisoner, convicted of getting drunk in an unlicensed house of entertainment, had said, " God's terrible far from Port Arthur."

Rufus Dawes had smiled at tho spectacle of priests admonishing men, who knew what he knew and had Been what he had seen, for the I trivialities of lying and stealing. He had be-

lieved all priests impostors or fools, all religion a mockery and a lie. But now, finding how utterly his own strength had failed him when tried by the rude test of physical pain, ho began to think that this Religion which was talked of so largely was not a mere bundle of legends and formula:, but must have in it something vital and sustaining. Broken in spirit and weakened in body, with faith in his own will shaken, he longed for something to lean upon ; and turned _as all men turn when in such case?to the Unknown. Had, now, there been at hand some Christian priest, some Christian-spirited man even, no matter of what faith, to pour into the ears of this poor wretch words of comfort and grace ; to rend away from him the garments of

sullenness and despair in which ho had wrapped ] himself; to drag from him a confession of his ' unworthiness, his obstinacy and his hasty judg- ment, and to cheer his fainting soul with promiso of immortality and justice, he might have been saved from his after fate ; but there was no such man. He asked for the Chaplain. North was battling tho Convict department, seeking ven- geance for Kirkland, and (victim of " clerks with the cold spurt of the pen ") was pushed hither and thither, referred here, snubbed there, bowed out in auother place. Rufus Dawes, half ashamed of himself for his request, waited a long morn- ing, and then Eaw, respectfully ushered into his cell as his soul's physician?Meekin.

[to bf. continued.]