Chapter 18338367

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Chapter NumberBOOK III II
Chapter TitleSARAH PURFOY'S REQUEST.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18338367
Full Date1875-10-09
Page Number9
Corrections0
Word Count4008
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleHis Natural Life
article text

The Storyteller.

His Natural Life.*

BOOK III. CHAPTER II. SARAH PURFOY'S REQUEST.

BY MARCUS CLARKE.

THE evening passed as it had passed a hundred times before; and, having smoked a pipe at the barracks, Captain Frere returned home. His home was a cottage on the New Town road—a

cottage which ha had occupied since his appoint meat as Assistant Police Magistrate, an appoint : Meat given to him as a reward for hia exertions lin connection with the Osprey mutiny. Captain Maurice Frere had risen in life. Quartered in Hobart Town, he had assumed a position in society, and had held several of those excellent appointments which in the year 1834 were be llowed upon offloers of garrison. He had been Superintendent of Works at Bridgewater, and, • whea he got bis captaincy, Assistant Police Magistrate at BothwelL The affair of the Osprey made a noise; and it was tacitly resolved that.the first "good thing" that fell vacant should be given to the gallant preserver of Major Vicker* 1 child. Major Vicksrs also prospered. He had always been a careful man, and, having saved some money, had purchased land on favorable terms. The "assignment system" enabled him to cultivate portions of it at a small expense, and, following the usual custom, he stocked his ran i with cattle and sheep. He had sold his com* mission, and was now a comparatively wealthy . man. He owned a fine estate; the house he Jived in. was purchased property. He was in good odor at Government House, and his office of. Superintendent of Convicts caused him to .take an active part in that local government which keeps a man constantly before the public. Major Viokers, a colonist against his'will, had become, by force of ciroumstanees, one of the leading men in Van Diemen's Land. His daughter was a good match for any man ; and many ensigns and lieutenants cursing their hard latin "country quarters," many sons of settlers. living on their father's station among the moun tains, and many dapper clerks on the civil establishment, envied Maurice Frere his good . fortune. Some went so far as to say that the beautiful daughter of "Regulation Vickers" was too good for the ooarse, red-faced Frere, whose pasi life had not been the most moral, and who was noted for his fondness of low society, and overbearing, almost brutal demeanor. No one denied, however, that Captoin Frere was a valuable officer. It was said that, in con sequence of his tastes, he knew more about the trioks of convicts than any man on the island. It was said, even, that he was wont to disguise Umself, and mix with the pass-holders and oon vict servants, in order to learn their signs and mysteries. When in charge at Bridgewater it had been his delight to rate the chain-gangs in their own hideous jargon, and to astound a new earner by his knowledge of his previous history. 13m oonviot population hated and cringed to feim, for, with his brutality and violence, he mingled a ferocious good humor, that resulted sometimes in tacit permission to go without the latter of the law. Yet, as the convicts them •elves said, "a man was never safe with the Captain;" for, after drinking and joking with them, as the Sir Oracle of some publiohouse whose hostess he delighted to honor, he would disappear through a side-door just as the con stables burst in at the back, and show himself as remorseless, in his next morning's sentence of the captured, as if he had never entered a tap room in all his life. Hjs superior* called this "aeal;" hia inferiors, "treachery." For him self, he laughed. " Everything is fair with those wretches," he was accustomed to say. As the time for his marriage approached, however, he had in a measure given up these exploits, and strove, by his demeanor, to make his acquaintances forget several remarkable scandals concerning his private life, for the promulgation of which he once cared little. When Commandant at Maria Island, and for the first two years after his return from the unlucky expedition to Maoquarie Harbor, he had not . •offered any fear of society's opinion to restrain his natural coarseness of disposition ; but, as the affection for the pure young girl, who looked upon him as her uaviour from a dreadful death, increased in honest strength, he had resolved to shut up those dark pages in his colonial ex perience, and to read therein no more. He was not repentant, he was not remorseful, he was not even disgusted. He merely came to the conclusion that, when a man married, he was to consider certain extravagancies com mon to all bachelors as at an end. He had "had his fling, like most young men;" perhaps he had been foolish like most young men, but no reproachful ghosts of pant misdeeds arose to haunt him. Hit) nature was far too prosaic to admit the existence of such phantom*, Sylvia, in her purity and excellence, was so far above him, that in rawing his eye* to her, he lost sight of all the sordid creatures to whose ; level he had once debased himself, and had come in part to regard the sins he had committed, before his redemption by the love of this bright young creature, as sins committed by him under h past condition of- existence, and for the con sequences of which he was not called upon to be responsible. One of the consequences, how ever, was very close to him at this moment. His convict-servant had, according to his in structions, sat up for him, and as he entered, handed him a letter, bearing a superscription in a female hand. "Who brought this?" aaked Frere, hastily tearing it open to read. "The groom, sir. He said that there was a gentleman at the George the Fourth who wished . to see you." Frere smiled, as if in admiration of the in telligence which had dictated Buch a message, and then frowned, as if in anger at the contents of the letter. "You needn't wait," he said to the man. " I shall have to go back again, I suppose." Changing his forage cap for a soft hat, and .selecting a stick from a miscellaneous

* Tkn eooyrighi ef " His Nstml Life" hss bssn vwt-

collection in a corner, he prepared to retraoe his steps. "What does she want now t" he asked himself fiercely, aa he strode down the moon lit road ; but beneath the fieroenesa there was an under current of petulance, which seemed to imply that, whatever Bhe did want, she had a fair right to expect to get The George the Fourth was a long, low house, situated in Elizabeth-Btreet Its front was painted a dull red, and the narrow panes of glass in its windows, and the ostentatious affectation of red curtains and homely comfort, gave to it a spurious appearace of old English jollity. A; knot of men round the door melted into air as Captain Frere approached, for it was now past 11 o'clock, and all persons found in the streets after 8 oould be compelled to " show their pass", or explain their business. The convict constables were not scrupulous in the exercise of their duty, and the bluff figure of Frere, clad in the blue serge which he affected aa a summer costume, looked not unlike that of a convict constable. Pushing open the side-door with the confident manner of one well acquainted with the house, Frere entered, and made his way along a narrow passage, to a glass door at the further end. A tap upon this door brought a white-faced, pock pitted, Irish girl, who curtsied with survile recognition of the visitor, and ushered him upstairs. The room into which he was shown waa a large one. It had three windows looking into the street, and was handsomely furnished. The carpet was soft, the candles were bright, and the supper tray gleamed invitingly from a table between the windows. Aa Frere entered, a little terrier ran barking to hia feet. It was evident that he was not a constant visitor. The rustle of a silk dress behind the terrier betrayed the presenoe of a woman ; and Frere, rounding the promontory of an ottoman, found himself face to face with Sarah Purfoy. "Thank you for coming," she said. "Pray, sit down." This was the only greeting that passed be tween them, and Frere sat down, in obedienoe to a motion of a plump hand that twinkled with rings. The eleven years that had passed since we last saw this woman had dealt gently with her. Her foot was as small and her hand as white as of yore. Her hair, bound close about her head, was plentiful and glossy, and her eyes had lost none of their dangerous brightness. Her figure was certainly coarser, and the white arm that gleamed through a muslin sleeve showed an outline that a fastidious artist might wish to thin. The most noticeable change was in her face. The cheeks owned no longer that delicate purity which they once boasted, but had be come thicker, while here and there showed those faint streaks—as though the rich blood throbbed too painfully in the Veins—whioh are the first Sns of the decay of "fine" women. With ddle age had come that fulness of figure to which most women of her temperament are prone ; and with it had come also that indes cribable vulgarity of speech and manner which habitual absence of moral restraint never fails to produce. Maurice Frere spoke first, as if anxious to bring his visit to as speedy a tonninataon as pos sible. " What do you want of me ?" he asked. Sarah Purfoy laughed. A forced laugh, tbat sounded bo unnatural, that Frere turned to look at her. " I want you to do me a favour—a great favour ; that is if it will not put you out of the way." " What do you mean ?" asks Frero roughly, pursing bis lips with a sullen air. " Favor! What do you call this t" striking the sofa on which he sat " Isn't this a favor ? What do you call your precious house and all that's in it? Isn't that a favor 1 What do you mean ?" To his utter astonishment the woman replied by shedding tears. For some time he regarded her in silence, as if unwilling to be softened by suoh Bhallow device, but eventually felt con strained to say somethings "Have you been drinking again?" he asked, "or what's the matter with you ? Tell me what it is you want, -and have done with it I don't know what possessed me to come here at aIL Sarah sat upright, and dashed away her tears with one passionate hand. "I am ill, can't you see, you fool," said ahe. " The news has un nerved me. If I have been drinking, what then ? It's nothing to you, is it ?" " Oh no," returned the other, " it's nothing to me. You are the principal party concerned. If you choose to bloat yourself with brandy, do it by all means." " you don't pay for it, at anyrate," said ahe, with that quickness of retaliation which showed that this was not the only occasion on which tbey had quarrelled. "Come,' says Frere, impatiently brutal, "get on. I can't stop here all night" She suddenly rose and crossed to where he was standing. " Maurice, you were very fond of me once." " Once," says Maurice. M Not so very many years ago." v Hang it!" says he, shifting his arm from beneath her hand, " don't let ua have all that stuff over again. It was before you took to drinking and swearing, and going raving mad with passion, anyway. "Well, dear," said she, with her great glittering eyes belying the soft times of her voice, " I Buffered for it, didn't I ? Didn't you turn me out into the streets ? Didn't you lash me with your whip like a dog? Didn't you put me in gaol for it, eh? It's hard to struggle against you, Maurice." The compliment to his obstinacy seemed to please him—perhaps the crafty woman intended that it should—and he smiled. " Well, there ; let old times be old times, Sarah. You haven't done badly, after all," and he looked round the weU-furnished room. " What do you want ?" "There was a transport came in this morning. "Welir " You know who was on board her, Maurice V Maurice brought one hand into the palm of the other with a rough laugh. " Oh, that's it, is it ? 'Gad, what a flat I was not to think of it before 1 Yon want to see him, I suppose V She came oloee to him, and, in her earnest* ocas, took his band. " I want to save his life."

Oh, that be hanged, you know ! Save his hfsl It can't be done," " You can do it, Maurice." "I save John Rex's life?" cried Frere. " Why, you must be mad !" "He is the only creature that lovee me, Maurice—the only man who cares for me. He has done no harm. He only wanted to be free —was it not natural 1 You can save him if you like. I only ask for hia life. What does it matter to you ?—A miserable prisoner— his death would be of no use. Let him live, Maurice." Maurice laughed. " What have Ito do with it ?" " You are tho principal witness against him. If you say that he behaved well—and he did behave well, you know, many men would have left you to starve—they won't hang him." _" Oh, won't tbey 1 That won't make much difference." " Ah, Maurice, be merciful!" Bhe bent towards him, and tried to retain his hand, but he withdrew it " You're a nice sort of woman, to oak me to help your lover—a man who left me on that cursed coast to die, for all be cared," he said, with a galling recollection of his humiliation of five years back. " Save him ! Confound him, not I!" " Ah, Maurice, you will." She spoke with a suppressed sob in her voice. "What is it to you ? You dou't care for me now- You beat me, and turned me out of doors, though 1 never did you wrong. Thia man was a husbaud to me —long, long before I met you. He never did you any harm, he never will. He will bless you if you save him, Maurice." Frere jerked his head impatiently. "Bless me!" he said. " I don't want his blessings. Let him swing. Who cares ?" Still she persisted, with tears streaming from her eyes, with white arms upraised, on her knees even, catching at his coat, and beseeching him in broken accents. In her wild fierce beauty and passionate abandonment ahe might have been a deserted Ariadne—a suppliant Medea. Anything rather than what she was—a dissolute, half-maddened woman, praying for the pardon of her convict husband. Maurice Frere flung her off with an oath. " Get up !" he cried brutally, " and atop that nonsense. I tell you the man's as good aa dead for all I'll do to save him." At this repulse, her pent-up passion broke forth. She sprang to her feet, and, pushing back the hair that in her frenzied pleading had fallen about her face, poured out upon him a torrent of abuse. " You 1 Who are you, that you dare to speak to me like that? His little finger is worth your whole body. He is a man. a brave man, not a coward uke you are. A coward I Yes, a coward ! a coward ! a coward ! You are very brave wiCh defenceless men and weak women. You have beaten me until I was bruised black, you our; but who ever saw you attack a man unless he was chained or bound ? Do not I know you ? I have seen you taunt a man at the triangles, until I wished the scream ing wretch could get loose, and murder you as you deserved. You will be murdered one of these days, Maurice Frere—take my word for it Men are flesh and blood, and flesh and blood won't endure the torments you lay on it." "There, that'll do," says Frere, growing paler. " Don't excite yourself." He might have spoken to the chair by which she held, with as muoh hope of answer. " I know you, you brutal coward. I have not been your mistress—God forgive me!—without learning you by heart. I've seen your ignorance and your conceit I've seen the men who ate your food and drank your wine laugh at you. I've heard what your friends say ; I've heard the comparisons they make. One of your dogs has more brain than you, and twice as much heart And these are the men they send to rule us 1 Ob, Heaven! And such an animal as this haa life and death in his hands ! He may hang, may he? I'll hang with him, then, and God will forgive me for murder, for /will kill you." Frere had cowered before this frightful torrent of rage, but, at the scream which accompained the last words, he stepped forward as though to seize her. In her desperate courage in her own weakness, she flung herself before him. " Strike me ! You daren't! I defy you ! Bring up tbe wretched creatures who learn the way to Hell in this cursed house, and let them see you do it Call them! They are old friends of yours. They all know Captain Maurice Frere." "Sarah!" "You remember Lucy Barnes—poor little Lucy Barnes that stole Bixpennyworth of calico. She is downstairs now. Would you know her if you saw her ? She isn't the bright-faced baby she was when they sent her here to ' reform,' and when Lieutenant Frere wanted a new house maid from the Factory t Call for her !—call! do you hear? Ask any one of those beasts whom you lash and chain, for Lucy Barnes. He'll tell you all about her—ay, and about many more—many more poor souls that are at the bidding of any drunken brute that has stolen a pound-note to fee the devil with ! Oh, you good God in Heaven, will you not judge this man?" Frere trembled. He had often witnessed this creature's whirlwinds of passion, but never had he seen her so violent as this. Her frenay frightened him. " For Heaven's sake, Sarah, be quiet What is it you want ? What would you doT " I'll go to this girl you want to marry, and tell her all I know of you. I have seen her in the streets—have seen her look the other way when I passed her—have seen her gather up her muslin skirts when my silks touched her—l, that nursed her, that heard her say her baby prayers (O Jesus pity me I)—and I know what she thinks of women like me. She is good— and virtuous—and cold. She would shudder at you if she knew what I know. Shudder! She would hate you ! And I will tell her 1 Ay, I will! You will be respectable, will you? A model husband ! Wait till I tell her my story, —till I send some of these poor women to tell theirs. You kill my love; I'll blight and ruin yours 1" Frere caught ber by both wrists, and with all his strength forced her to her knees. " Don't speak her name," he said, in ahoane voice, "or IH do you a mischief. I know aU you mean to da I'm not such a fool as not to see that. Ba

quiet! Men have murdered women like you, and now I know how they came to do it" For a few minutes a suen6e fell upon the pair, andsat last Frere, releasing her hands, fell -back from her. " I'll do what you want, on one condition." "What?" " That you leave this place," "Where for?" "Anywhere—the farther the better. I'll pay your, passage to Sydney, and yon go or, sAbj there aa you please." , She had grown calmer, hearing him. {hue relenting. " But this house, Maurioe T' " You are not in debt ?" , "NO." ';,;,:. "Well, leave it > It's your own. ajfsir, hot mine. If I help, you must go." "May I _cc Awr *..' "No." ...•'" "Ah! Maurice!" " You can see him in tha dock if you like," says Frere, with a laugh, cut short by a flash of her eyes. " There, I didn't mean to offend you." " Offend me! Go -on." i < " Listen here," said he doggedly. "If you will go away, and promise never to interfere wif h me or mine by word or deed, I'U do what, jou want" . . ./ "What will you da?" she asked, unable to suppress a smile at tbe victory she had won.. -" I will not say all I know about this man. I will say he befriended me. I will do my beat to save his life." " You can save it if you like." " Well, I will try. On my honor, I will try." " I must believe you, I suppose ?" said ahe, doubtfully ; and then with sudden pitiful plead ing, in strange oontrast to her former violenoe, " You are not deceiving me, Maurioe ?" "No. Why should I? You keep jour promise, and I'll keep mine. Is it a bargain f " Yes." He eyed her steadfastly for Borne seconds, and then turned on his heal. Aa he reached the door _he called him back. Knowing him as she did, she felt that he would keep his word, and her feminine nature oould not resist a parting sneer. " There ia nothing in the bargain to prevent me helping him to escape!" aha said, with a smile. " Escape! ,He won't escape again, I'll go baiL Onoe get him in double irons at Port Arthur, and he's safe enough." The smile on her face seemed infectious, for his own sullen features relaxed. " Good-night, Sarah !" he said. She put out her hand, aa if nothing had happened. " Goodnight, Captain Frere. It's a bargain then." «rA bargain." " You have a long walk home. Will you hay* some brandy V "I don't oare if I do," ha aaid, advancing to the table and filling.his glass. " Here's a good voyage to you!" Sarah Purfoy, standing watching him, burst, into a laugh. "Human beings are queer creatures," ahe said. " Who would have thought that we had been calling each other names juat now *, I say, I'm a vixen when I'm roused, a^n't Ij Maurice?" " Remember what you've promised." aaid be, with a hint of a threat in his voice, aa ne moved to the door. " You must be out of this by the next ship that leaves." " Never fear, I'U go." Getting into the cool street directly, and seeing the calm stars ahining and the placid water sleeping with a peace in which he had so share, ha strove to oast off tha nervous fear that was on him. The interview had frightened him, for it had made him think. It waa hard that. {'ust as he had turned over a new leaf, thia old •lot should seem to stain the page. It im cruel that, having oomfortably forgotten 6a' past, ha should be thus rudely reminded of ft* [TO BE OONTINDBD.J . ,