Chapter 18338607

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Chapter NumberBOOK III IV
Chapter Url
Full Date1875-10-23
Page Number9
Word Count4892
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleHis Natural Life
article text

The Storyteller.

His Natural Life.



THE mutineers of the Osprey had been long since given up as dead, and the story of their desperate escape had become indistinct to the general public mind. Now that they had been

•recaptured in this remarkable manner, popular belief invested them with all sorts of strange! surroundings. They had been—aocordiag to report—kings over savage islanders, chiefs of lawless and ferocious pirates, respectable married men in Java, meronants in Singapore, and swindlers in Hongkong. Their adventures had been dramatised at a London theatre, and the popular novelist of that day was engaged in a work descriptive of their wondrous fortunes. John Rex, the ringleader, was related, it was said, to a noble family, and a special message, it was reported, had come out to Sir John Franklin concerning him. He had every prospect of being satisfactorily hung, however, for even the most outspoken admirers of his skill and courage could not but admit that he had committed an offence which was death by the law. The Crown would leave nothing undone that could help to convict him, and the already crowded prison was recrammed with some half-dozen life-sentence men, brought up specially from Port Arthur to identify the prisoners beyond all question of error. Amongst these half-dozen was stated to be that notable villain, " the notorious Dawes." This statement gave fresh food for recoljsctlon and invention. It was remembered that "tha. notorious Dawes" was the absconder who/ftß been brought away by Captain Frere, and.wfto owed such fettered life as he possessed to the fact that he had in a measure assisted Captain Frere to make that wonderful boat in which the escape of the marooned party had been effected. It was remembered, also, how sullen and morose he bad been on his trial five years before, and how he had laughed when the commutation of his death sentence was announced to him. The Hobart Town Gazette published a little biography of this horrible villain—a biography setting forth how he had been engaged in a mutiny on board the convict-ship, how he had twice escaped from Msoquarie Harbor, how he had been re peatedly flogged for violence and insubordi nation, and now he was now double-ironed at Fort Arthur, after two more ineffectual attempts to regain his freedom. Indeed, the Gazette dis covering that the wretch had been originally transported for highway robbery, argued very ably against such nauseous humanity, and urged that it would be far better to hang such wild beasts in the first instance, rather than suffer them to burden the ground and grow confirmed in villany. "Of what use to society," asked the Gazette, quite pathetically, "has this scoundrel been during the last eleven years f" And every body agreed that he had been of no use whatever. Miss Sylvia Vickers also received an additional share of public attention. Her romantic sal vation by the heroio Frere, who was shortly to reap the reward of his devotion in the good old fashion, made her almost ss famous as the villain Dawes, or his confederate monster, John Rex. It was reported that she was to give evidence on the trial, together with her affianced husband, they being the only two living witnesses who could speak to the facts of the mutiny. It was reported also that her lover was naturally most anxious that she should not so give evidence, she being—an additional point of romantic interest—affected deeply by the illness consequent on the suffering she had undergone, and in a state of pitiable mental confusion as to the whole business. These reports caused the Court, on the day of the trial, to be crowded with spectators); and as the various particulars pf the marvellous history of this double escape were detailed, the excitement grew more intense. The aspect of the four heavily-ironed prisoners caused a sensation which, in that city of the ironed, was quite novel, and bets were offered and taken as to the line of defence which they would adopt At first it was thought that they would throw themselves on the mercjLof the Crown, seeking, as it were, in tbe veiyextrava gsnce of their story, to excite public sympathy ; but a little study of the demeanor of the chief prisoner, John Rex, dispelled all thought of that conjecture. Calm, placid, and defiant, he seemed prepared to accept his fate, or to meet his accusers with some plea which should be sufficient to Becure his acquittal on the capital charge. Only when he heard the indictment, setting forth that he had " feloniously pirated the brig Osprey," ho smiled a little. Mr. Meekin, Bitting in the body of tho Court, felt his religious prejudices sadly shocked by that sniile. " A perfect wild beast, my dear Miss Vickers," he said, returning, in a pause during the examination of the convicts who had been brought to identify the prisoner, to the little room where Sylvia and her father were waiting. "He has quite a tigerish look about him." " Poor man," said Sylvia, with a shudder. "Poor! My dear young lady, you do not pity him >" "I do," said Sylvia, twisting her hands together as if in pain. "I pity them all, poor creatures." " Charming sensibility!" says Mookin, with a glance at Vickers. " The true woman's heart, my dear Major." The Major tapped his fingers impatiently at the ill-timed twaddle. Sylvia was too nervous just then for sentiment of that kind to be poured out upon her. "Come here, Poppet," he said, "and look through this door. You can see them from here, and if you do not recognise any of them, I can't see what is the use of putting you in the box ; though, of course, if it ia necessary, you must go." The raised dock was just opposite to the door of the room in which they were sitting, and the four manacled men, each with an armed warder behind him, were visible above the heads of the " The copyright of "Hia Natural Life" haa been pnwha-ed by the proprietor, of Tkt QueaulawUr from Mr. Marcua Clark*.

crowd. The girl had never before seen the cere, mony of trying a man for his life, and the silent and antique solemnities of the business affected her, as it affecta all who see it for the first time. The atmosphere was heavy and oppressive. The chains of the prisoners clanked ominously. The crushing force of judge, jailers, warders, and constablees assembled to punish the four men, appeared crueL The familiar faces that, in her momentary glance, she recognised, seemed to her evilly transfigured. Even the countenance of her promised husband, bent eagerly forward towards the witness-box, showed tyrannous and bloodthirsty. Her eyes hastily followed the pointing finger of her father, and sought the men in the dock. Two of them lounged, sullen and inattentive ; one nervously chewed a straw, or a piece of twig, pawing the dock with restless hand; the fourth scowled across the Court at the witness-box, which she could not see. The four faces were all strange to her. "No, papa," she said, with a sigh of relief,* "I can't recognise them at aIL" A* she was turning from the door, a voice from the witness-box behind her made her sud denly pale and pause to look again. The Court itself appeared, at that moment, affected, for a murmuring shudder ran through it, and some official cried, " Silence 1" The notorious' criminal, .Rufus Dawes, the desperado of Posjt Arthur, the wild, beast whom the QazetU had judged not fit tor live, had just entered the witness-box. Jle was a man of thirty, in the prime of life,, with a torso whose muscular grandeur not even the ill-fitting yellow jacket could altogether conceal, with strong, embrowned, and nervous hands, an upright carriage, and * pair of fierce, black eyes that roamed the Court hungrily. Not all the weight of the double irons, swaying from the leathern thong around his massive loins, could mar that elegance of attitude which comes only from perfect muscular development. Not all the frowning faces bent upon him could frown an accent of respect into the contemptuous tones in which he answered to his name, " Rufus Dawes, prisoner of the Crown." "Come away, my darling," said Vickers, alarmed at his daughter's blanched face and eager'eye*. "Wait," she said, impatiently, listening for the voice whose owner she could not see. " Rufus Dawwl Oh, I have heard that name before i" . " You are a prisoner of the Crown at the penal settlement of Port Arthur ?" "Yes." "For life V "For life." Sylvia turned to her father with breathless enquiry in her eyes. " Oh, papa! who is that speaking? I know the name! I know the voice!" " That is the man who was with you in the boat, dear," says Vickers gravely. "The prisoner." The eager light died out of her eyes, and in its place came a look of disappointment and pain. " I thought it was a good man," she said, helding by the edge of the doorway. "It sounded like a good voice." And then she pressed her hands over her eyes and shuddered. " There, there," says Vickers, soothingly. " Don't be afraid, Poppet; he can't hurt you now." " No, ha! ha!" says Meekin, with great display of off-hand courage, " the villain's safe enough now." The colloquy in the Court went on. "Do you know the prisoners in the dock V "Yes." "Who are they?" "John Rex, Henry Shires, James Lesly, and, and—l'm not sure about the last man." " You are not sure about the last man. Will you swear to the three others!" "Yes." " You remember them well ?" " I was in the chain gang at Macquarie Harbor with them for three years." Sylvia, hearing this hidflous reason for acquaintance, gave a low cry, and fell into her father's arms. " Oh, papa, take me away! I feel as if I was going to remember something terrible I" ' Amid the deep silence that prevailed, the cry of the poor girl was distinctly audible in the Court, and alf heads turned to the door. In the general wonder, no one noticed the strange change that had seized Rufus Dawes. His face had flushed scarlet, great drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and his black eyes glared in the direction from whence the sound came, as though they would pierce the envious wood that separated him from the woman whose voice he had heard. Maurice Frere sprang up and pushed his way through the crowd under the bench. "What's this?" he said to Vickers, almost brutally. " What did you bring her here for ? She is not wanted. I told you that." " I considered it my duty, sir," says Vickers, with stately rebuke. "What has frightened her? What has she heard ? What has she seen 1" wked Frere, with strangely white face. " Sylvia, Sylvia!" She opened her eyes aflrightedly at the Bound of his voice. "Take mo home, papa; I'm uK Oh, what thought*." " What does she mean V cried Frere, looking in alarm from one to the other. "That ruffian, Dawes, frightened her," said Meekin. "A gush of recollection, poor child. There, there, calm yourself, Miss Vickers. He is quite safe." "Frightenedher. eh?' "Yes," said Sylvia, faintly, "he frightened me, Maurice. I needn't stop any longer, dear, need I ?" " No," says Frere, the cloud passing from his face. "Major. I beg your pardon, but I was hasty. Take her home at once. This sort of thing is too much for her." And so he went back again to his place wiping his brow, and breathing hard, as one who has just escaped from some near peril. Rufus Dawes had remained in the same atti tude until the figure of Frere, passing through the doorway, roused him. "Who is she?" he said, in a low, hoarse voice, to the constable behind him. " Miss Vickers," said the man, shortly, flinging the information at him as one might fl'ng a bone to a dangerous dog.

"Miss Vickers!" repeated the convict, still staring in a sort of bewildered agony. "They told me she was dead!" The constable snuffed contemptuously at this preposterous conclusion, as who should say, "If you knew all about it, animal, why did you ask?" and then feeling that the fixed gaze of his interrogator demanded some sort of reply, added, "You thort she was, I've no doubt You did your best to make her so, I've heard." The convict raised both his hands with sudden action of wrathful despair, as though he would seize the other, despite the loaded muskets; but checking himself with sudden * impulse, wheeled round to the Court " Your Honor !— Gentlemen! I want to speak a moment." The change in the tones of his voice, no less than the sudden loudness of the exclamation, made the faces, hitherto bent upon the door through which Mr. Frere had passed, turn round again. To many there it seemed that the "notorious Dawes" was no longer in the box, for, in place of the upright and defiant villain who had stood there an instant back, was a white-faced, nervous, agitated creature, bending forward in an attitude almost of supplication, one hand grasping the rail, as though to save himself from falling, the other outstretched towards the bench. "Your Honor, there has been some dreadful mistake made. I want to explain about myself. I have explained before, when first I was sent to Port Arthur, but the letters were never forwarded by the Com mandant ; of course that's tbe rule, and I can't complain. I've been sent there unjustly, your Honor. _ / made that boat, your Honor. I saved the Major's wife and daughter. / was the man; I did it all myself, and my liberty was sworn away by a villain who hated me. I thought, until now, that no one knew the truth, for they told me that she was dead." The rapid utterance seemed to have taken the Court so much by surprise that no one interrupted him. " I was sentenced to death for bolting, sir, and they re prieved me because I helped them in the boat Helped thorn! Why, I made it! She will tell you so. I nursed her! I carried her in my arms! I starved myself for her! She was fond of me, sir. She was indeed. She called me Mr. Dawes."' At this, a coarse laugh broke out, which was instantly checked. The judge bent over to ask, I' Does he mean Miss Vickers*" and in this interval, Rufus Dawes, looking down into the Court, saw Maurice Frere staring up at him with savage terror in his eyes. "I see you, Captain Frere, coward and liar ! Put him in the box, gentlemen, and make him tell his story. She'll contradict him, never fear. Oh, and I thought she was dead all this while!" The judge had got his answer from the clerk by this time. " Miss Vickers had been seriously ill, had fainted just now in the Court. Her only memories of the convict who had been with her in the boat were those of terror and disgust The sight of him just now had most seriously affected her. The convict himself was an in veterate liar and schemer, and his story had been already disproved by Captain Frere.*'. The judge, a man inclining by nature to humanity, but forced by experience to receive all statements of prisoners with caution, said all he could say, and the tragedy of five years- was disposed of in the following dialogue:— Judge : This is not the place for an accusation against Captain Frere, nor the place to argue upon your alleged wrongs. If you have suffered injustice, the authorities will hear your complaint and ledress it. Rurus Dawes: I have oomplained, your Honor. I wrote letter after letter to the Government, but they were never sent Then I heard she was dead, and they sent me to the coal mines after that, and we never hear any thing there. Judge : I can't listen to you. Mr. Mangles, have you any more questions to ask the witness? But Mr. Mangles not having any more, some one called "Matthew Gabbett," and Rufus Dawes, still endeavoring to speak, was clanked away with, amid a buzz of remark and surmise. *#***? The trial progressed without further incident Sylvia was not called, and, to the astonishment of many of his enemies, Captain Frere went into the witness-box and generously spoke in favor of John Rex. "He might have left us to starve," Frere said—"he might have mumered us; we were completely in his power. The stock of provisions on board the brig was not a large one, and I consider that, in dividing it with ua, he showed great generosity for one in his situation." This piece of evidence told Btrongly in favor of the prisoners, for Captain Frere was known to be such an uncompromising foe to all rebellious convicts, that it was understood that nothing but the sternest sense of justice and truth could lead him to speak in such terms. The defence Bet up by Rex, moreover, was most ingenious. He was guilty of absconding, but his moderation might plead an excuse for that His only object was his freedom, and having gained it, he had lived honestly for nearly three years, as he could prove. He was charged with piratically seizing the brig Osprey, and he urged that the brig Osprey, having been built by convicts at Mac quarie Harbor, and never entered in any shipping list, could not be said to be "piratically seized," in the strict meaning of the term. The Court admitted the force of this objection, and, influ enced doubtless by Captain Frere's evidence, the fact that five years had passed since the mutiny, and that the two men most guilty (Cheshire and Barker) had been executed in England, sentenced Rex and his three com panions to transportation for life to the penal settlements of the colony.

Chapter V. MAURICE FRERE'S GOOD AHOEL. At this happy conclusion to his labors, Frere went down to comfort the girl for whose sake he had suffered Rex to escape the gallows. On his way he was met by a man who touched his hat, and asked to speak with him an instant This man was paßt middle age, owned a red and brandy-beaten face, and had in his gait and manner that nameless salt-water something that denotes the seaman. "Well, Blunt," says Frere, } musing with the impatient air of a man who expect* to hear bad news," what is it now V

"Only to tell you that it is all right, air," says^JUunt. "She's oome aboard *£<"" this m^^fcg." ? ** <(^^ne^^ard again!" ejaculated Frere. Why, I^^ft know that she had been ashore. Where didT^go?" He spoke with an air of oonfident authority, and Blunt—no longer the bluff tyrant of old—seemed to quail before him. The trial of the mutineer* of the Malabar had, so to speak, ruined Phineas Blunt Make what excuses he might, there was no conoeaUng the fact that Pine found him drunk in his cabin when he ought to have been attending to his duties on deck, and the "authorities" could not, or would not, pass over such a heinous breach of discipline. Captain Blunt—who, of course, had his own version of the story—thus deprived of the honor of bringing His Majesty's prisoners to His Majesty's colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, went on a whaling cruise to the South Seas. It would seem, however, that the influence which Sarah Purfoy had acquired over him had irretrievably injured him. It was as though she had poisoned the man's moral nature. Perhaps the influence of a clever and wicked woman over a sensual, and dull-witted man would have that effect. Blunt gradually sank lower and lower. He began to gain a reputation as a drunkard, and to be known as a man with a "grievance against the Government." Captain Frere, having had oc casion for him in some capacity, had become in a manner his patron, and had got him the command of a schooner trading from Sydney. On getting this command—not without some wry faces on the part of the owner resident in Hobart Town— Blunt had taken the temperance pledge for the space of twelve months, and'was as miserable as a dog in consequence. lie watt, however, 'a faithful henchman,'for He hoped by Frere's means to get some "Government billet"—the Holy Grail of all colonial sea captains of that epoch. " Well, sir, she went ashore to see a friend," says Blunt, looking at the sky and then at the earth. "What friend?" " The—the prisoner, sir." " And she saw him, I suppose ?" "Yes, but I thought I'd better tell you, sir," says Blunt. "Of course; quite right," returned the other, "you had ?better start at once. It's no use waiting." "As you wish, sir. I can sail to-morrow morning—or this evening, if you like," > "This evening," says Frere, turning away ; " as soon as possible." "There's a situation in Sydney I've been looking after," said the other uneasily, "if you could help me to it." . "Whatiiritr "The command of one of the Government vessels, sir." "Well, keep sober then," says Frevty "and I'll see what I can do. And keep that woman's tongue still if you can." The pair looked at each other, and Blunt grinned slavishly. " I'll do my best" "Take care you do," returned his patron, leaving him without further ceremony. Frere found Vickers in the garden, and at once began to beg him not to talk about the "business" to his daughter. "You saw how bad she was to-day, Viokers. For goodness sake, don't make her ill again." "My dear sir," says poor Vickers, "/won't refer to the subject She's been very unwell ever since. Nervous and unstrung. Go in and see her." So Frere went in and soothed the excited girl, with real sorrow at her suffering. "It's all right now, Poppet," he said to her. "Don't think of it any mote. Put it out oi your mind, dear." "It was foolish of me, Maurice, I know, but I could not help it. The sound of—of—that man's voice seemed to bring back to me some great pity for something or some one. I don't explain what I mean, I know, but I felt that I was just on the verge of remembering a story of some great wrong—just about to, hear some dreadful revelation that should make me turn from all the people whom I ought most to love. Do you understand ?" "I think I know what you mean," says Frere, with sulkily averted face. "But that's all nonsense, you know." "Of course," returned she, with a touch of her old childish manner of disposing of questions out of hand. "Everybody knows it's all nonsense. But then we do think such things. It seems to me that I am double, that I have lived somewhere before, and have had another life—a dream-life." ''What a romantic girl you are," said the other, dimly comprehending her meaning. " How could you have a dream-life?" . "Of course, not really, stupid I But in thought, you know. I dream such strange things now and then. lam always falling down precipices and into cataracts, and being pushed into great caverns in enormous rocks. Horrible dreams!" " Indigestion," returned practical Frere. "You don't take exercise enough. You shouldn't read so much. Have a good five-mile walk." " And in these dreams," continubd Sylvia, not heeding his interruption, " there is one strange thing. You are always there, Maurice." " Come, that's^all right," says Maurice. "Ah, but not kind and good as you art, Captain Bruin, but scowling, 4nd threatening, and angry, so that I am afraid of you." " But that is only in a dream, darling." "Yes, but " playing with the button of his coat. "But what?" " But you looked just so, to-day, in the Court, Maurice, and I think that's what's made me so silly." "My darling! There! Hush—don't cry r But she had burst into a passion of sobs and. tears, that shook her slight figure in his arms. " Oh, Maurice, I am a wicked girl ! I don't know my own mind. I think sometimes I don't love you as I ought—you who hare saved me and nursed me." "There, never mind about that," mattered Maurice Frere, with • sort of choking in his throat.

She grew more composed presently, and said, after a while, lifting her' face: "Tell me, Maurioe, did you ever, in those days of which jjju have spoken to me, —when you niuud me as a little child in your arms, and fed Btarved fur me—did you ever Vj^L, wePßuld be married ?" " I don't know," sayß Maurice^* Why?" " I think you must have thought bo, because— it's not Tanity, dear—you would not else have been so kind, and gentle, and devoted." " Nonsense, Poppet," he Baid, with his eyes resolutely averted. "No, but you have been, and I am very pettish sometimes. Papa has spoiled me. You are always affectionate, and those worrying ways of yours, which I get angry at, all oome from love for me, don't they?" " I hope bo," said Maurice, with an unwonted moisture in his eyes. "Well, you see, that is the reason why I am angry with myself for not loving you as I ought. I want you to like the things I like, and to love the books and the music and the pictures and the—the World / love ; and I forget that you are a man, you know, and that I am only a girl; and I forget how nobly you behaved, Maurice, and how unselfishly you risked your life for mine. Why, what is the matter, dear ?" He had put her away from him suddenly, and gone to the window, gazing across the trees of the sloping garden at the bay below, sleeping in the soft evening light. The schooner which had brought-the witnesses from Port Arthur lay off the shore, and the yellow flag at her mast fluttered gently in the cool evening breeze. The sight of this flag appeared to anger him, for, as his eyes fell on it, he uttered an impatient exclamation, and turned round again. " Maurice t" she cried, " I have wounded you I" " No, no. It is nothing," said he, with the air of a man surprised in a moment of weakness. "I—l did not like to hear you talk in that way,—about not loving me." " Ah, forgive me, dear; I did not mean to hurt you. It is my silly way of saying more than I mean. How could Ido otherwise than love you—after all you have done ?" Some sudden desperate whim caused him to exclaim, " But suppose I had not done all yoii think, would you not love me still ?" Her eyes, raised to his face with anxious tenderness for the pain she had believed herself to have inflicted, fell at this sjieech. "What a •question! I don't know. I suppose I should— yet—but what is the use, Maurice, of supposing t I know you have done it, and that is enough. How can I say what I might have done if some* thing else had happened ? Why, you might not have loved me. ' If there had been for a moment any sentiment of remorse in his selfish heart, the hesitation of her answer went far to dispel it "To be sure, that's true;" and he placed his arm round her. She lifted her face again with a bright laugh 1. "We are a pair of geese—supposing! How can we help what has past ? We have the Future, darling—the Future, in which lam to be your little wife, and we are to love each other all our lives, like the people in the Story-books." Temptation to evil had often come to Maurice Frere, and his selfish nature had succumbed to it when in far less witching shape than this fair and innocent child luring him with wistful eyes to win her. What hopes had he not built upon her love; what good resolutions had he not made—or seemed to make—by reason of the purity and goodness she was to bring to him ? As she said, the past was beyond recall; the future—in which she was to love him all her life—was only before them. With the consum mate hypocrisy of that supreme selfishness which deceives even itself, he laid the little head upon bis heart with a veritable glow of virtue. "God bless you, darling! You are my good angeL" The girl sighed. " I witt be your Good Angel, dear, if you will let me." [TO Bl CONTDTOED.]