|Chapter Title||THE SHADOW IN THE SUNLIGHT.|
|Newspaper Title||Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)|
|Trove Title||The Maxwells of Bremgarten|
THE MAXWELLS Of BREMGARTEN. A STORY OF TASMANIA. [Founded on Facts.] (ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED) (Continued from last Saturday.) CHAPTER XVII. THE SHADOW IN THE SUNLIGHT. The glorious beams of the ruler of day shone on the cottage floor as Griselda, after assisting her weak brother to leave his sleep- ing apartment and take his place on the bench in the sitting-room, spread a blanket on the table and commenced the operation of ironing her father's shirts. Breakfast had not been long over. Mr. Maxwell and Eugene had gone to their daily employments. Mrs. Maxwell was in the garden, busy as usual with hoe in hand among her flowers. The sky was without a cloud, and the stillness of the air unbroken by a sound, save the cheer- ful songs of the white magpies as they chased one another through the leafy boughs of the adjacent trees. A little bluecap, too, was heard to twitter as he flew incessantly from the window-sill to the roof of Pluto's kennel, and from the kennel to the window-sill back again without stopping to rest for the hundreth part of a minute, now giving a little tap at the glass, and now sweeping by the nose of the aforesaid Pluto as he lay in luxurious indolence, so as almost to touch it with her wing. The translucent state of the atmosphere betokened the rapid approach of sunmmer—that season of all others the most dreaded in the Australian colonies, chiefly on account of the excessive heat, from which it is next to impossible to escape. This, however, lasts but a short time, and is frequently re- lieved by stirring breezes and refreshing rains —but summer is not come yet. Griselda continued her work for some time in silence, her faculties seemed absorbed in it as she drew the heated iron from the fire, turned down the plaits so carefully, and smoothed them along with her delicate fingers. At length, turning to her sick brother, she said—" I never asked you how you were to day, Charley.'' " I think you did ask me," said the boy, " you always do ask me when you bring me my breakfast." " Well, how are you now ?" " I am not so well as I was yesterday ; I feel weaker, and a kind of all-overishness." " Did you take your medicine ?" " Yes." " And don't you feel better after it ?" " Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I suppose when I'm in the humor I do, and when I'm not I don't." Griselda laughed, and said—" That is just like your logic, Charley ; something similar to demonstrating a preposition, is it not ?" " Proposition not preposition, Griselda ; I can never get you to understand mathemati- cal terms." " O, I have such a poor silly head ; but leaving mathematics out of the question, don't you remember what the doctor said to you ?" " Why, of course I do : to keep myself quiet and eat plenty of roast beef and plum pudding, wasn't it ?" " Well, if you begin to joke in that man- ner I need not remind you of what he or any one else said, so I will just finish my ironing and make ready your arrowroot. Roast beef and plum pudding indeed !" " That will be kind of you to give me arrowroot when I don't want it, and would prefer anything else. Haven't you got some ham or a boiled chicken ready ?" " Indeed, Charles, you know you are not strong enough yet to take rich food." " Just the very thing to make me strong ; this low diet is killing me by inches." " Would you like an egg ? I do not think that would hurt you." " Yes, I would like four eggs fried and laid on buttered toast ; you can make six slices of toast, and don't be stingy with the butter. Cut and come again you know." " I will give you one egg and as much bread and butter as you like, but I would advise you to be moderate." " Well, wait till you are ill Miss, if I have anything to do with it won't I starve you !" " I am not afraid of that, Charley." " Well, sing me a song Griselda, and that will prevent our quarrelling." " I have sung all my songs over so often that you must be tired of them," said Griselda. " No, I am not tired of them ; I like them almost as well as sugar candy." " Do you prefer the grave or the gay ?" " Sing about the grave first, and introduce the grave digger, and I can enjoy the gay afterwards when I know I'm not buried." " Would you like to hear the song about the young lady who died of consumption once ?" " She didn't die twice, then." " O you thoughtless creature ! how is it possible that you can joke on such an awful subject as death ? Shall I sing it?" " Yes, and pretty loudly too, to get ahead of those chattering magpies." The young girl sang in clear sweet tones the following melancholy song :— Dear maiden, whence that plaintive sigh, And wherefore steals the glassy tear ? Thy hollow cheek and drooping eye Proclaim that there is danger near. Ah ! why art thou so sad to-day, With pensive brow, and thoughts of care ? In sombre hues the flowers or May Are fading on thy raven hair. Then tell me, maiden, tell me all, The secrets of thy heart reveal— The cares that thy pure breast enthrall, And o'er thy soul in sorrow steal ! Ah so ! fond youth, to tell to thee My secret grief, my daily fear, Would yield no fleeting joys to me Nor banish thoughts of danger near.
But let me sleep where roses grow, And myrtle scents the balmy air ; Nor seek the sad, sad thoughts to know That lie beneath my raven hair Farewell ! farewell ! my sun's declining, Slow steals thy music on mine ear ; But happy heaven, so brightly shining, Will still the sigh and dry the tear. The youthful songstress had scarcely con- cluded when she was struck with dismay to hear the faithful watch-dog Pluto give utterance to a most extraordinary sound-- such a sound, in fact, as he had never been heard to utter on any previous occasion. It was a low, short snarl, as if he had com- menced to give his usual note of warning but was suddenly put to silence by extremne fear. An indescribable sensation crept over Gri- selda's heart, and instinctively she turned her eyes to the corner where her brother lay. Now, indeed, she saw there was real cause for alarm. Her brother had partly risen, and was leaning forward over the side of his couch, his face ashy pale, and his eyes, expanded to an unnatural stare, glaring fearfully on the open doorway. The terror of Griselda was intense. She scarcely dared to look upon the object of her brother's fascinated gaze, yet still she made an attempt to do so, for site saw the expanded shadow of a human being in the sunlight on the floor, and at the same moment a strange, hoarse, deep voice thun- dered out— " Run—run—or I kill !" The unfortunate girl was for a moment paralyzed. Her blood seemed to rush in one mighty wave to her heart, but instantly re- covering her self-possession, and comprehend- ing the nature of this terrible intrusion, she ran, indeed, as she was commanded, but it was to her brother's side, and throwing her- self upon him she pressed him back into a horizontal position, shielding him from view with her own person in the hope of either preserving his life, or of dying then and there along with him. In this manner she crouched down and submitted to the remorseless blows that now fell on her defenceless head, neck, and shoulders, not uttering a word, and scarcely drawing breath. She felt distinctly that two of the savages were employed in this cruel work, and without entertaining a single hope of ultimate preservation resigned herself to her impending death. But a merciful Providence ordained othterwise.* While these two sable denizens of the wilds were savagely beating our poor heroine, they were suddenly attracted by an exclamation of surprise and delight proceeding from a third individual, who had, as his first act of rum- maging for plunder, lifted up the cover of the large chest which stood beneath the little window and within a pace or two of the door. It was not locked, most fortunately, or the fate of the settler's daughter had been sealed for ever. An immediate suspension of hostilities took place, and the warriors, jealous, perhaps, of their comrade's good fortune, has- tened over to see the object which had caused his sudden outcry of joy. They, too, as soon as they beheld it gave utterance to a guttural grunt of satisfaction. A large parcel of to- bacco, black as their own skins, lay open be- fore them : the tempting object of their greatest desire was within their reach : they chattered and grinned at each other with un- feigned rapture. Thus was the fragrant weed —the horror of many eloquent writers, the soother of many sorrows, the beloved and hated of mankind—the means of saving Griselda's life. She lifted her bruised head slowly, and thanked God that she had power left to do so. She felt the blood trickling over her face, but courage revived in her heart ; and thoughts of immediate escape, clear and dis- tinct, crowded into her mind. She lost not a moment in fruitless conjectures or vain questionings on the amount of her physical strength ; but lifting her sick brother in her arms as tenderly as if he had been an infant, advanced with haste, but as noiselessly as possible, to the open door, though in gaining it she had passed and almost touched with her dress a tall, naked, untamed barbarian. She gained the open air, but here a new agony awaited her. Standing together like sentinels, with spears in their hands, two more of these revengeful enemies confronted her and disputed her passage. Now losing nearly all hope, but determined to leave nothing untried, she turned upon them an imploring look, and still retreating from them in crab fashion, said, " O ! sirs, for God's sake do not hurt us." " I will hurt,"' immediately replied, in good English, the elder of the two, an old man with grey hair, whose image was from that hour stamped but too well on Griselda's memory ; and as he spoke he poised the fatal spear in order to launch it at his gentle victim. She saw the movement and sprang forward in renewed terror. The weapon flew from the unerring hand and entered her side. The force of the blow brought her to her knees ; but in a moment she was up again and continued her flight, only stopping to draw out the spear, which she was sensible had inflicted a serious wound. This accom- plished, she sped onward, not daring to look back, scarcely felling, so great was the ex- citement under which she labored, the weight of the burden she bore. Still, under these frightful circumstances, her prudence never deserted her : she looked round for some shel- tered spot, and saw at a little distance a na- tive box tree, with thick spreading branches. She ran towards it, for now her breath was getting short, and her strength beginning to fail ; she reached it, and threw herself on the grass, faint from over-exertion and loss of blood. Exhausted nature could do no more. [ The allusion to Providence is not used in merely invented story. The above incident is almost literally true ; the real heroine is now living (June, 1860). She carried a young sister out in precisely the manner described when the attent on the savages was called off by the dis- covery of a quantity of tobacco. I regret that I am not permitted to give her name to the public.]
While this scene was being enacted, Mrs. Maxwell had been also greatly alarmed when she heard the extraordinary sound to which the watch-dog had given utterance, and she looked round to discover, if possible, the cause of his uneasiness. She distinctly saw three, or six, or nine—how many she could not tell—black figures running rapidly along the edge of a bank in the direction of the cottage. At first she could scarcely credit the evidence of her senses. They could not be real human beings, but figures cut out of paper and set on wires by some mischievous person purposely to alarm her family. In another moment she was cruelly undeceived, for the party had already reached the cottage, and one of their number, perceiving her in the garden, stepped aside and aimed at her his deadly spear. Like a black marble statue the savage stood with the weapon poised in his hand. The poor lady seemed transfixed to the spot, and, like her son, gazed on the fearful object with a fascinated stare. The spear flew, but whether from accident or design—for they were seldom known to miss the object at which they aimed,—it glanced harmlessly by. Aroused from her trance the fiull meaning of this terrible vision burst upon the unfortunate lady, and she turned and fled from the spot. Her first impulse was to rush to the cottage to defend her children, but she saw the door blocked up by the marauders struggling to get in ; her next was to fly for assistance, and she flew wildly over the hill and through the long grass, along the border of the marsh that lay between the homestead and the cultivated land where she hoped to find her husband. She waved her sun-bonnet above her head and tried to scream, but her voice failed her. A deadly agony, utterly annihilating and overpowering, came over her on thinking of the probable fate of her chil- dren. Still she pressed on, but the distance appeared great and the time an age. At length she saw him afar off, her limbs tot- tered, her brain reeled, but with a last effort she screamed aloud—then fell. Maxwell saw, heard her, and rushed breathlessly to the spot, crying wildly—" Elizabeth, tell me, for the love of God, what has happened ?" " Oh ! Bernard," was the thrilling answer, " our children ! our children !—murdered— slaughtered by the dreadful natives !" The father heard no more. Mad with desperate excitement he rushed towards his home, his teeth firmly set, his lips white, his heart burning with a terrible fire. Bitterly did he curse his fate, and his thoughts grew dark at the bloody sight which he firmly believed he was destined to behold. Without a thought of personal safety he gained the door : all was silent. He entered : all was desolate. His house plundered, the enemy gone, his children nowhere to be seen. He called Griselda there was no reply. He searched every room, and rushed out again—round the gar- den into the stable and the hut calling Griselda, but there was no answer. He ran towards the river—stopped—then ran back again ; his eyes scanning every nook, and wandering around from tree to tree. At length they rested on an object like a bundle of clothes under a distant box-tree. He flew with the speed of the wind to the side of the helpless pair. Griselda covered with blood, but alive, raised her wounded head, and ex- claimed in accents of joy, " O papa, we are safe," and was encircled in his arms. After a few moments of silent thanksgiving, the settler assisted his daughter to rise. He told her that the blackmen were gone, and asked if she felt strong enough to walk home ; she replied in the affirmative. He then lifted up his son, who, from weakness and terror, was in a state of utter unconsciousness, and carried him back to the cottage, which was now in a lamentable state of confusion. The furniture was thrown about ; the con- tents of boxes and drawers, rejected by the robbers, lay scattered about the floor. All the blankets and arms, as well as a quantity of tea, sugar, and flour, had been carried off. Maxwell laid his son in his bed, giving him a little wine which had been left untouched, and proceeded to examine his daughter's wounds. The spear-wound in her side had become inflamed and painful, and the back part of her head, where the blows of the waddies had fallen thickly, was much swollen and excessively sore. To reduce the inflam- mation as much as lay in his power he bound up her head in a cloth saturated with cold water, and placed another on her side ; then half listlessly busied himself in putting the house into some kind of order. When Eugene and the men saw Maxwell running so fast towards home, they imme- diately concluded that something terrible had happened. The former ran to his prostrate mother. One of the latter started off to Mr. Earlsley's to give the alarm to the soldiers ; the other followed his master as hard as he could run. Eugene at- tempted to console his weeping mother, but in vain. She would not entertain the hope that Griselda and Charles could by any pos- sibility have escaped death ; but yielding at length to the solicitations of her son she arose from the ground, and with feeble steps followed in the path her husband had taken. When they arrived at the brow of the hill which overlooked their cottage and garden, they saw Jacob Singlewood coming to meet them in the greatest haste. He took off his billycock hat, waved it a number of times around his head, and roared out as he came nearer—" They're safe mum, they're all right, Musther Eugin." Mrs. Maxwell clung to her son for support and exclaimed " What does he say, Eugene—what am I to believe ?" " They're safe, mum ; they're all right: but the blackguards have'nt left us a bit of bread or a bit of bacon, or a blanket, and stole the pistols and broke the bayonet—" " Did you say the children were safe ?" said Mrs. Maxwell wildly. " They're as right as ninepence, mum ; I seed 'em and heer'd 'em—Musther Charley
callin' for a drink of tay, and they young Miss for bread and butter." The mother sank down on her knees— " Great God I thank thee—I thank thee ! Eugene, my heart burns ; run and see, child ; see if it is true !" she exclaimed with mingled feelings of love and hope. " It's as true as daylight," said Jacob ; whose conscience told him that his mistress had good reasons for doubting the veracity of his assertions in general. It is probable that if his present statement were not true he would have confirmed it with an oath, though we can well afford to put down the conclusion of his account relative to the bread and butter to the fertility of his imagina- tion. Eugene ran forward accordingly, and found his father bathing his sister's head. She was perfectly calm and quiet, though suffering intense pain, and could tell everything that happened from the first alarm to her precipi- tate flight to the box tree. Maxwell on hear- ing that his wife was fearful of seeing her murdered children, went out to meet and re- assure her. She was soon kneeling at her daughter's bedside weeping hysterically ; but quickly recovering her scattered senses, as- sisted her husband in alleviating the pain of Griselda's wounds. As for Charles, it was found that he had not suffered from anything except fright. His nerves, weakened by his recent illness, had received a great shock, but his constitution was vigorous, and he seemed now disposed to regard the whole affair as a wild dream. About three hours after the attack Mr. Earlsley arrived, his horse reeking with foam. With a latent spirit of kindness which sometimes peeped out from beneath his stern and forbidding exterior, yet in somewhat lordly style, he attempted to con- sole Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell on such a calami- tous visitation. He saw Griselda and pro- nounced her in a favorable state, recommend- ing the constant application of cloths dipped in cold water to keep down inflammation, also the exhibition of some cooling medicine. Under his directions Mrs. Maxwell cut off her daughter's fair ringlets, and the wound in her side he carefully probed and washed. The spear had penetrated only to the depth of an inch, but the wound though trifling in itself, was exceed- ingly painful. Mr. Earlsley was astonished that the weapon had not gone right through the young lady's body, but accounted for it to her parents by her proximity to her murderous foe ; had the spear only acquired the momentum of fifteen or twenty yards her death would have been certain. " By Jove, Sir," he said, turning to Maxwell, " you may consider henceforward that your daughter's life has been saved by nothing short of a miracle." " I am penetrated with gratitude to Divine Providence," replied Maxwell, " and I believe that he can, and often does, stay the human hand from committing murder as readily as he can cause one world in space to revolve round another." Shortly after the arrival of six soldiers Mr. Earlsley took his leave. He promised to come again the next day, and bring suitable dressings for Miss Maxwell's wounds, as he had a fair share of surgical skill. He also promised to send a supply of blankets and spare firearms to replace those that had been stolen. It was kind of him to volunteer such well-timed aid, still kinder that he did not forget to perform his promises, as the sequel will show. Night was now falling fast. It was too late for the soldiers to think of scouring the bush. No one knew which way the robber natives had gone ; whether they had crossed the river and retreated into the Ben Lomond forests, or taking an opposite direction with a view of hiding their spoil in the recesses of the Swanport Tiers. They had vanished as suddenly as they appeared, like beings of a separate creation or different sphere. Under these circumstances the soldiers fortified themselves beside a roaring fire in the kitchen, as the night was cold and frosty. Honest Jacob baked a tremendous damper (for he could bake damper, and eat it, too) sufficient for the family supper, and an extra ration for the soldiers as well. They piled their mus- kets in a corner, and sat round the fire chat- ting and smoking to a late hour, then lay back one by one on their watch-coats to sleep as well as they were able. It was a miserable night to the settler and his family. Deprived of their comfortable blankets they were obliged to content themselves with sheets and whatever articles of clothing they could col- lect, all of which if piled on one lucky indi- vidual would only have made him call out lustily for more. Griselda was of course by far the greatest sufferer, as in addition to the agonizing pain of her stiffening wounds, she had to endure an extremity of cold to which she had never been accustomed. Her mind, however, did not droop : she was consoled by the thought that she had, under all the trying circumstances of the case, done her duty as fair as her slender strength permitted. (To be continued.)