Chapter 18338874

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Chapter NumberBOOK III VII
Chapter TitleAN ESCAPE.
Chapter Url
Full Date1875-11-06
Page Number9
Word Count4967
Last Corrected2017-04-04
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleHis Natural Life
article text

The Storyteller.

His Natural Life



A FEW days after this—that is to say, on the 23rd of December—Maurice Frere was alarmed by a piece of startling intelligence. The notorious. Dawes had escaped from gaol!

escaped gaol Now Captain Frere had inspected the prison that very afternoon, and it had seemed to him that the hammers had never fallen so briskly, nor the chains olanked so gaily, as on the occa sion of his visit. "Thinking of their Christmas holiday, the dogs!" he said to the patrolling warder—"Thinking of their Christmas pudding, the luxurious scoundrels!" and the conviot nearest him had laughed appreciably, as convicts and schoolboys do laugh at the jeßts of the man in authority. All seemed contentment. More over, he hod—by way of a pleasant otroke of wit—tormented Ruf us Dawes with his ill fortune. "The schoouer sails to-morrow, my man," he had said. " You'll spend your Christmas at the mines," and congratulated himself upon the fact that Ruf us Dawes merely touched his cap and went on with his stone-craoking in silence. Certainly double-irons and hard labor were fine things to break a man's spirit. So that when in the afternoon of the same day he hefcrd the astounding news that Rufus Dawes had freed himself from his fetters, climbed the gaol wall in the open daylight, run the gauntlet of Mac quarie-street, and was now supposed to be safely hidden in the mountains, he was dumb foundered. " How the deuce did he do it, Jenkins V he asked as soon as he reached the yard. "Well, I'm blessed if I rightly know, your honor," says Jenkins. He was over the wall before you could say 'knife.' 'Scott fired and missed him, and then I hetird the sentry's musket, but he missed him too." "Missed him I" cries Frere. "Pretty fellows Jou are, all of you 1 I suppose you couldn't it a haystack at twenty yards I why the man wasn't three feet from the end of your carbine !" The unlucky Scott, standing in melancholy attitude by the empty irons, muttered something •bout the sun having been in his eyes. " I don't know how it was, sir. I ought to have hit him for certain. I think I did touch him, too, as he went up the wall." A stranger to the customs of the plaoe might have imagined that he was listening to a conver sation about a pigeon match. " Tell me all about it," says Frere, with an angry curve. "I was just turning, your honor, when I hears Scott sing out' Hullo I' and when I turned round I saw Dawes' irons on the ground and him a scrambling up the o* heap of stones yonder. The two men on my right jumped up, and I thought it was a made up thing amdng 'em, so I oovered 'em with my curbine, according to Instructions, and called that I'd shoot the first that stepped out Then I heard Scott's piece, and the men gave a shout like* When I looked round, he was gone." "Nobody else moved?" " No, sir. I was dbnf used at first, and thought they were all in it, but Parton and Haines they runs in and gets between me and the wall, and then Mr. Short oome and we examined their iron*"' "All right?" " All right, your honor ; and they all swore they knowed nothing of it I know Dawes' irons was all right when he went to dinner." Frere stooped and examined the empty fetters. "All right be hanged," he laid. "If you don't know your duty better than this, the sooner you go somewhere else the better, my man. Look here I" The two ankle fetters were severed. One had been evidently filed through, and the other broken transversely. The latter was bent, as from a violent blow. " Don't know where he got the file from," says Warder Short < " Know I Of course you don't know. You sort of men never do know anything until the mischiefs done. You want me here for a month or so. I'd teach you your duty I Don't know—with things like thu lying about? I wonder the whole yard isn't loose and dining with the Governor." " Thu" was a fragment of delf which Frere's quick eye had detected among the broken metal. " I'd out the biggest iron you've got with this; and so would he and plenty more, I'll go bail. You ought to have lived with me at Sarah Island, Mr. Short Don't know I" "Well, Captain Frere, it's an accident," ?»*• Short, "and can't be helped now." "An accident!" roared Frere. "What business have you with accident* t How, in the devil's name, you let the man get over the wall, I don't know. " He ran up that stone-heap," says Scott, and seemed to me to jump at the roof of the shed. I tired at him, and he swung his legs over the top of the wall and dropped." Frere measured the distance from his eye, and an irrepressible feeling of admiration, arising out of his own skill in athletics, took possession of him for the instant "By the Loud Harry, but it's a big jump !" he said ; and then the instinc tive fear with which the consciousness of the hideous wrong he had done the now escaped convict inspired him, made him add—"A desperate villain like that wouldn't stick at a murder if you pressed him hard. Which way did he go?" ' " Right op Macquarie-street, and then made for the Mountain. There were few people about, but Mr. Mays, of the Star Hotel, tried to stop him, and was knocked head over heels. He says the fellow runs like a deer." ?'We'll have the reward out if we don't get him to night," says Frere, turning away ; " and you had better put on an extra warder. This sort of game is catching;" and he strode away to the barracks.

* Th« qpprTiflit of " Hia Natural Ufa" hatbm par-

From right to left, from east to west, through the prison city flew the signal of alarm, and the patrol, clattering out along the road to New Norfolk, made hot haste to Btrike the trail of the fugutive. But night came and found him yet at large, and the patrol returning weary, and dis heartened, protested that he must be lying hid in some gorge of the purple mountain that over gloomed the town, and would have to be starved into submission. Meanwhile, the usual message ran through the island, and so admirable were the arrangements which reforming Arthur had initiated, that, before noon of the next day, not a signal station on the coast but knew that No. 8942, etc., etc., prisoner for life, was ille gally at large. This intelligence, further aided by a paragraph in the Gazette anent the "Daring Escape," once noised abroad, the world seemed to care but little that the Mary Jane, Govern ment schooner, had sailed for Port Arthur, without Rufus Dawes. But two or three people cared a good deal. Major Vickers, for one, was indignant that bis boasted security of bolta and bars should have been so easily defied, and, in proportion to his indignation, was the grief of Messieurs Jenkins, Scott, and Co., suspended from office, and threatened with absolute dismissal. Mr. Meekin was terribly frightened at the fact that so dangerous a monster should be roaming at large within murdering reach of bis own saintly person. Sylvia had shown symptoms of a nervous terror, none the less injurious because carefully repressed ; and Captain Maurice Frere was, to all appearance, a prey to the most cruel anxiety. He had ridden off at a hand-gallop within ten minutes after he had reached the barracks, and had spent the few hours of remain ing daylight in scouring the country along the rood to the north.* At dawn the next day he was away to the mountain, and with a black tracker at his heels, explored aa much of that wilderness of gully and chasm as nature per mitted to him. He had personally offered to double the reward, and had examined himself a number of suspicious persons. It was known that he had been inspecting the prison a few hours before the escape took place, and fcb efforts were therefore attributed to zeal, not unmixed with chagrin. " Our dear friend feels his repu tation at stake," the future chaplain of Port Arthur said to Sylvia at the Christmas dinner. " He is so proud of his knowledge of these un happy men that he dislikes to be outwitted by any of them." Notwithstanding all this, however, Dawes had disappeared. The fat landlord of the Star Hotel was the last person who saw him, and the flying yellow figure would seem to have been as com pletely swallowed up by the warm summer's afternoon as if it had run headlong into the blackest night ever hung above the earth. Chapter IX. JOHN REX'S LITTER HOMB. The "little gathering" of which Major Vickers had spoken to Mr. Meekin had swelled into something larger than he had anticipated. Instead of a quiet dinner at whioh his own household, his daughter's betrothed, and the stranger clergyman should alone be present, the Major found^himself entangled with the ladies Protheriek and Jellico, Mr. M'Nab of the garri son, and Mr. Pounce of the civil list His quiet Christmas dinner had grown into an evening party. The conversation was on the usual topic. "Heard anything about that fellow Dawes ?" asked Mr. Pounce. " Not yet," says Frere, sulkily, " but he won't be out long. I've got a dosen men up the mountain." "I suppose it is not easy for a prisoner to make good his escape ?" says Meekin. "Oh, he needn't be caught," says Frere, "if that's what you mean, but he'll starve instead. The bushranging days are over now, and its a precious poor lookout for any man to live upon luck in the bush." " Indeed, yes," says Mr. Pounce, .lapping his soup. " This island seems specially adapted by Providence for a convict settlement ; for, with an admirable climate, it carries little indigenous vegetation which will suffice to support human life." " Wull," said M'Nab to Sylvia, " I don't think Prauvidence had any thooht o' caunveect dee ciplin whun He created the cauleny o' Van Deemen's Lan'." " Neither do I," said Sylvia. " I don't know," says Mrs. Protherick. " Poor Protheriek used often to say that it seemed as if some Almighty Hand had planned the penal settlements round the coast, for the country is so delightfully barren." " Ay, Port Arthur couldn't have been bettor if it had been made on purpose," says Frere ; " and all up the coast from Tenby to St. Helens there isn't a scrap for human being to make a meal on. The West Coast is worse. By George, sir, in the old days, I remember " " By the way," says Meekin, " I've got some thing to show you. Rex's confession. I brought it down on purpose." " Rex's confession 1" " His account of his adventures after he left Macquarie Harbor. lam going to send it to the Bishop." " Oh, I should like to see it," said Sylvia, with heightened color. " The story of these unhappy men has a personal interest for me, you know." " A forbidden subject, Poppet" "No, papa, not altogether forbidden, for it does not affect me now like it used to do. You must let me read it, Mr. Meekin." " A pack of lies, I expect," says Frere, with a scowL " That scoundrel Rex couldn't tell the truth to save his life." "You misjudge him, Captain Frere," said Meekin. "All the prisoners are not hardened in iniquity like Rufus Dawes. Rex is, I believe, truly penitent, and has written a most touching letter to his father." "A letter !" said Vickers. " You know that, by the King's—no, the Queen's —regulations, no letters are allowed to be sent to the friends of prisoners without first passsing through the hands of the authorities." " I sm aware of that, Major, and for that reason have brought it with me, that you may read it for yourself. It seems to me to breath* a spirit of true piety."

"Let's have a look at it," says Frew. "Here it ia," returned Meekin, producing a packet: " and when the cloth is removed I will ask the permission of the ladies to read it aloud. It is most interesting." A glance of surprise passed between the ladies Protherick and Jellicoe. The idea of a convict's letter proving interesting ! But then, Mr. Meekin was new to the ways of the place. Frere, turning the packet between his fingers, read the address : — John Bex, sen., Care of Mr. Blick, 38, Bishopsgate-street, Within, London. "Why can't he write to his father direct?" said he. " Who's Buck?" "A worthy merchant, I am told, in whose counting-house the unfortunate Rex passed his younger days. He has tolerable education, as you are aware." " Educated prisoners are always the worst," says Vickers. " James, Borne more wine. We don't drink toasts here, but as this is Christmas Eve—' Her Majeßty the Queen !' " "Hear, hear, hear!" Bays Maurice. "'Her Majesty the Queen !'" Having drunk this loyal toast with due fervor, Viokers proposed, "His Excellency Sir John Franklin," which toast was likewise duly honored. " Here's a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, sir," says Frere, with the letter still in his his hand. " God bless us all." "Amen!" says Meekin, piously. "Let us hope He will; and now leddies, the letter. I will read you the Confession afterwards." Opening the packet with the religious ecstacy of a Gospel vineyard laborer who sees his first vine sprouting, the good creature began :— „ „ „ , Hobart Town, Deo. 27,1838. My Dear Father,—Through ull the chauoes, changes, and vloiasitudes of my choquored life, I never had a task ao painful to my niaugled feelings at the present one. of addressing you from this doleful spot--my sea-girt prison, ou the beach of which I stand a monument of destruction ; driven by tho adverso win Is of fate to the confines of black despair and into the vortex of galling "Poetical!" said Frere. I am just like a gigantio tree of the forest which hat stood many a wintry blast and stormy tempest, but now, alas I I am become a withered trunk with all ray greenest and tenderest branches lopped off. Though fast attain ing middle-age, lam not oiling an envied and honored poet with credit and respect. No—l shall be soon wear ing the garb of degradation and the badge and brand of 1!? 11'.!* ™' ,"?£ u ',,bain« interpreted, Port Arthur, the " Villain's Home." " Poor fellow 1" said Sylvia. " Touching, is it not t" assented Meekin con tinuing— . I am, with heart-rending sorrow and anguish of soul, ranged and mingled with the outcasts of society My present circumstances and picture you will find well and truly drawn in the 102 nd Psalm, commencing with the 4th verse to the 12th inclusive, which, my dear father, I request you will read attentively before you proceed any further. " Hullo I" says Frere, pulling out his pocket book, "what's that? Bead those numbers again." Mr. Meekin complied, and Frere grinned. "Go on," he said. I'll show you something in that letter directly." Oh, my dear father, avoid, I beg of you, the reading of profane books. Let your mind dwell upon holy things, and assiduously study to grow in grace. Ps. lxxllL 2 Tet I have hope even in this my desolate condition. Ps. xxxv. 18. For the Lord our God U kneroiful, and inclineth his ear unto pity. "Blasphemous dog!" says Vickers. "You don't believe all that, Meekin, do you V The parson reproved him gently. " Wait a moment, sir, until I have finished." Party spirit runs very high, even in prison Van Diemen's Land. lam sorry to say that a licentious Press invariably evinces a very great degree of oon tumely, while the authorities are held in respect by all well-disposed persons, though it is often endeavored by some to bring on them the hatred and contempt of prisoners. But lam glad to tell you that all their efforts are without avail; but, nevertheless, do not read in any colonial newspaper. There is so much scurrility and vituperation in their productions. " That's for your benefit, Frere," said Vickers, with a smile. " You remember what was said about your presence at the race meetings ?" "Of course," said Frere. " Artful scoundrel I Qo on, Mr. Meekin, pray." I am much aware that yon will hear accounts of cruelty and tyranny, said, by the malicious and the evil minded haters of the Government and Government officials, to have been inflicted by gaolers on convicts. To be candid, this is not the dreadful plaae it has been represented to be by vindictive writers. Severe flogging and heavy chaining sometimes is used, no doubt, but only in rare cases; and nominal punishments are marked out by law for slight breaches of discipline. Bo far as I have on opportunity of judging, the lash is never be stowed unless merited. " As far as he is concerned, I don't doubt it I" says Frere, cracking a walnut. The texts of Scripture quoted by our chaplain have comforted me much, and I have much to be grateful for; for after the rash attempt I made to secure my freedom, I have reason to m thankful for the meroy shown to roe. Death—dreadful death of soul and body —would have been my portion, but, by the meroy at Omnipotence, I have been spared to repentance—John iiL I have now come to bitterness. The chaplain, a pious gentleman, says it never really pays to steal " Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither motn nor rust doth corrupt." Honesty is the best policy, I am convinced, and I would not for £1000 repeat my evil courses—Ps. xxxviiL 14. When I think of the happy days I onoe passed with good Mr. Blick, in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard, and reflect that sinoe that happy time I have recklessly plunged in sin, and stolen goods and watches, studs, rings, and jewellery, become, indeed, a common thief, I tremble with remorse, and fly to prayer—Ps. v. Q what sinners we are I Let mo hope that now I, by God's blessing placed beyond temptation, will, live safely, and that somo day I even may, by the will of the Lord Jesus, find mercy for my sins. Some kind of madness has method in it, but madness of sin holds us without escape. Such is, dear father, then, my hop* and trust for my remaining life here—Ps. o. 75. I owe my bodily well-being to Captain Maurice Frere, who was good enough to speak of niy ooniluct in reference to the Osprey, when, with Shires, Barker, and others, we captured that vessel. Pray for Captain Frere, my dear father. He is a good man, and though his public duty is painful and trying to his feelings, yet, as a public functionary, he could not allow his private feelings, whether of mercy or revenge, to step between him and his duty. " Confound the rascal 1" says Frere, growing crimson.

Remember me moat affectionately to Sarah and little William, and all friend* who yet cherish the recollection of me, and bid them take warning by my fate and keep from evil counes. A good conscience is better than gold, and no amount can compensate for the misery incident to a return to crime. Whether I mhall erer see yon again, dear father, ia more than uncertain. For my doom is life, unless the GoTsmment alt«r their plan* concerning me, and allow n» an opportunity to earn ay freedom by hard work.

?S. 1i I*-1 *-"to * °* Ood *•?* *** you,»y dnrWM; »nd that yon may be washed white in th« blood of the Lamb, is the prayer of your Unfortunate Son, " Is that all?" ntys Frew. « That i« all, air, and a very touching letter it IB* "So it is," says Frere. « Now, let me hare it a moment, Mr. Meekin." He took the paper, and referring to the numbers of the texts which he had written in his pocket-book, began to knit his brows over Mr. John Rex's impious and hypocritical pro duction. " I thought so," he said at length. "Those texts were never written for nothing. It's an old trick but cleverly done." " What do you mean ?" said Meekin. "Mean !" cries Frere, with a smile at his owa acuteness. "This precious composition con tains a very gratifying piece of intelligence for Mr. Bliok, whoever he is. Some receiver, I've no doubt. Look here, Mr. Meekin. Take the letter and this pencil, and begin at the first text. The 102 nd Paalm, from the 4th verse to the 12th inclusive, doesn't he say ? Very good ; that's nine verses, isn't it? Well, now, underscore nine consecutive words from the second word immediately following the next text quoted, 4 / have hope, &c. Have you got it!" " Yes," says Meekin, astonished, while all heads bent over the table. " Well now, his text is the eighteenth verse of the thirty-fifth Psalm, isn't it ? Count eighteen words on, then, and underscore jlvt consecutive ones. You've done that ?" "A moment—sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, * authorities.' " " Count and score in the same way until you come to the word ' Texts' somewhere. Vickers, I'll trouble you for the claret." " Yes," says Meekin, after a pause. •' Here it v—' the texts of Scripture quoted by our chap* lain.' But surely, Mr. Frere •" "Hold on a bit now," cries Frere. "What's the next quotation!— John iii. That's every third word. Score every third word beginning with T immediately following the text, now, until you come to a quotation. Got it ? How many words in it f "' Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, 0' ?ays Meekin, a little scandalised. "Fourteen words." "Count fourteen words on,.than, and soot* the fourteenth. I'm up to Uiia text-quoting business." * The word • £1000, " says Meekin. "Yes." " Then there's another text Thirty-eighth • isn't it—Psalm and the fourteenth verse. Do that the same way as the other—count fourteen words, and then score eight in succession. Where does that bring you!" " The FIfth Psalm." " Every fifth word then. go on, my dear sir —go on. • Method' of ' escape/ yeas. The Aun drtdth Psalm means a full stop. What vmm? Seventy-fifth. Count seventy-five words and score." There. was a pause for a few mjnutss while Mr. Meekin counted. The letter had really turned oat interesting. " Read out your marked words now, Meekin. Let's see if I'm right" Mr. Meekin read,.with gradually crimsoning face :— " I have hopes even in this my desolate con dition ... in prison Van Diatom's Land ... the authorities an held ta . . . hatred and contempt of prisoners . .' . read in any colonial newspaper ... accounts of cruelty and tyranny ... inflicted by gaolers on convicts . . . severe flogging and heavy chaining . . . for slight breaches of disci pline ... I ... come . . . the . . . pious ... it ... pays . . . . £1000 . . . in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard .... stolen goods and watches studs rings and jewellery . . arc ... now . . . placed . ? . safely . . . I ... will . . . find . . . son* . . , method of ... escape . . . then . . .' for . . . revenge.", "Well," says Maurice, looking round, with a grin, " what do you think of that f" " Most remarkable I" said Mr. Pounce. " How did you find it out, Frere ?" " Oh, it's nothing," says Frere ; meaning that it was a great deal "I've studied a good many of these things, and this one is clumsy to some I've seen. But it's pious, isn't it, Meekin ?" Mr. Meekin arose in wrath. "It is very un gracious on your part, Captain Frere. A capital joke, I have no doubt; but permit me to say I do not like jesting on such matters. This poor fellow's letter to his aged father to be made the subject of heartless merriment, I oonfess I do not understand. It was confided to me in my sacred character as a Christian pastor." " That's just it The fellows play upon the parsons, excuse me, don't you know, and under cover of your 'sacred character/ play all kinds of pranks. How the dog must nave chuckled when he gave you that t" " Captain Frere," said Mr. Meekin, changing color like a chameleon with indignation and ran, " your interpretation is, I am convinced, an in correct one. How could the poor man compose such an ingenious piece of cryptography ?" " If you mean, fake up that paper," returned Frere, unconsciously dropping into prison slang, " I'll tell you. He had a Bible, I suppose, while he was writing ?" " I certainly permitted him the use of the Sacred Volume, Captain Frere. I should have judged it inconsistent with the character of my Office to have refused it to him." "Of course. And that's just where you parsons are always putting your foot into it If you'd put your 'Office' into your pocket and open your eyes a bit" "Maurice! My dear Maurice I" " I beg your pardon, Meekin," says Maurice, with clumsy apology, "but I know these fellows.- I've lived among 'em, I've come out in the ship with 'em, I've talked with 'em, and drank with 'em, and I'm down to all their moves, don't you see. The Bible is the only book they get hold of, and texts are the only bits of learn ing ever taught 'em, and being chockfuU of vifiany and plots and eonspirades, what oilier

book should they nuke dm of to aid their infernal sohemes Jut the one that the chaplain has made a text-book of for 'em 1" And Maurice rose in disgust, not unmixed with self-laudatiou. "Dear me, it is really very terrible," said Meekin, who was not ill-meaning, but only eelf complacent—" very terrible indeed." " But unhappily true," said Mr. Pounce. "An olive t Thanks." "Upon me soul I" burst out honest MVab, «the hail seestem seems to be maist ill-calculated taa advance the wark o' reefonnation." " Mr. M'Nab, I'll trouble you for the port," says equally honest Vickers, bound band and foot in the chains of the " rules of the service." And so, what seemed likely to become a danger ous discussion upon conviot discipline, was stifled judiciously at the birth. But Sylvia, prompted, perhaps, by curiosity, perhaps by a desire to modify th* parson's chagrin, in passing Mr. Meekin, took up the "confession," that lay un opened beside his wine glass, and bore it off. "(Dome, Mr. Meekin,'"says Viokers, when the ' door closed beind the ladies, •• help yourself. I am sorry the letter turned out so strangely, but you may rely on Frere, I assure you. He knows more about convict* than any man on the island." " I see, Captain Frere, that you have made a study of the criminal classes." " So I have, my dear sir. and know every turn and twist among 'em. I'll tell you my maxim. It's some French fellow's, too, I believe, but that don't matter— divide to conquer. Set all the dogs spying on each other." 8 Oh!" says Meekin. " It's the only way. Why, my dear sir, if the prisoners were as faithful to esoh other as we are, we couldn't hold the island a week. It's just because no man can trust bis neighbor th»t every mutiny falls to the ground." " I suppose it must be so," says poor Meekin. "It is so ; and, by Qeorge, sir, if I bad my way, I'd have it so that no prisoner should say a word to his right hand man, but his left hand man should tell me of it. I'd promote the men that ptached, and max* the beggars their own warden. Ha, ha 1" "But such a course, Captain Frere, though perhaps useful in a certain way, would surely produce harm. It would excite the worst pas sions of our fallen nature, and lead to endless lying and tyranny. I'm sure it would." "Wait a bit,,cries Frere. Perhaps, one of these days, I'll get a chance, and then I'll try it Convicts I By the Lord Harry, sir, there's ? only one way to treat '«a ; give 'em tobacco when they behav* '•maelves, and flog 'em when they don't." "Terrible 1" says the clergyman with a shud der. " You speak of them as if they were wild beasts." " So they are," said Maurice Frere, calmly. [to be continued.]