|Chapter Title||THE MOUNTAIN FORTRESS.|
|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 Saturday, 4th inst.) CHAPTER XLI. THE MOUNTAIN FORTRESS. Before the party laid aside their arms one of their number was told off by Crawford to mount guard behind the stone wall at the head of the precipice, to be relieved in regular military fashion in the course of the night. Brady then took Edwin with him to the hut appropriated to his use ; but our hero was sorry to perceive that the ruffian McCabe was to be also of their party. This forbidding individual, though sufficiently under Brady's control to enable the prisoner to divest his mind of the fear of personal violence, made himself nevertheless highly disagreeable by his looks alone ; but Edwin had now sense enough to disregard the contemptible malice of this fellow. Whether the contempt he en- tertained for McCabe was perceptible to that individual or not it did not appear, but it is certain that the latter lost no opportunity of showing his dislike, and the former made no attempt whatever to gain the sulky marau- der's good will. Brady and McCabe entered their quarters and laid their arms by in a corner, retaining, however, the pistols in their belts ; and the former conveyed to his prisoner, though not in very rough terms, an intimation to the effect that any attempt on his part to possess himself of arms or to make his escape would be visited with instant death. Edwin replied that he was not such a fool as to rush upon his fate under circumstances like the present, but he was prepared to suffer death rather than submit to any unprovoked ill treat- ment. He also took that opportunity to thank Brady for his courteous behaviour, and hoped that as long as it should be the plea- sure of the bushrangers to detain him, he (the lieutenant) would not withdraw his pro- tection. Without making any answer Brady assisted his comrade to kindle a fire ; the billy or teakettle was slung, and a pot con- taining a salted leg of mutton put down to boil. While waiting for supper the outlaws smoked and talked together, leaving Edwin to his dismal thoughts ; but when it was ready a share of meat and bread and a pot of well sweetened tea were handed to him. He did justice to his supper, and when he had finished Brady showed him where he was to sleep. A sheet of bark and a few dry sheep skins separated his person from the cold ground. He willingly rolled himself in a large opossum rug kindly lent to him by his temporary master, and in a few minutes for- got his troubles in slumber. In the course of the night he was awakened by a loud altercation between the sentinel on duty and McCabe, whose turn it was to keep watch ; the former urging the hot Irishman to come forth and mount guard, and the latter telling his comrade politely to go and hang himself. He arose, however, after a few more calls, growling like a wounded bear, dressed, assumed his arms, and went out. This cause of disturbance past, Herbart again addressed himself to sleep, feeling as warm as a toast in his 'possum rug, though the night was bitterly cold and frosty. The morning was pretty far advanced when he was aroused by Brady, who an- nounced that breakfast was ready. He jumped up quickly and was about to put on his dilapidated garments, when the swollen and blistered state of his feet and the num- erous scars that appeared on his ankles at- tracted the attention of the outlaw, who re- commended him to bathe them for some time in cold water, and promised to find him a clean shirt and larger pair of boots. He walked out accordingly to bathe his feet in the lake, and found that the little plateau was thickly covered with snow. On his re- turn to the hut he found that Brady had kept his word ; a clean check shirt, a new pair of moleskin trousers, and a pair of socks were arranged on his bed. He thanked the bushranger for his kindness, but his gratitude was mingled with considerable pain at the thought of being indebted to such a man. After breakfast he felt stronger and better both in body and mind, and went out to survey the overhanging mountains whose high and snow-clad crests sparkled in the morning sun. He recollected that it was Sunday, a day which from his childhood he had been in the habit of devoting not to frivolous pleasure but to quiet rest and medi- tation. He did not wander far for fear of exciting the suspicions of his captors that he meditated making his escape. This he did not now dream of, inasmuch as to find his way down those rugged cliffs and awful precipices was almost impossible, and to return by the way he had come without the permission of the outlaws was out of the ques- tion. He sat down, therefore, on a rock within view of the lake, and gave himself up to the reflections which his singular situation sug- gested. The outlet of the romantic gorge opened as before stated, into the long narrow glen through which it was ap- proached, and afforded a view of the distant hills rising from deep and unknown gullies, and covered with the same perpetual forest. At the other extremity it seemed to be en- closed by rocks and heights which apparently cut off all chance of retreat, and Edwin wondered how those men could escape if they were attacked by a strong party in front and the ramparts carried. These cogi- tations were interrupted by the approach of Brady who invited his prisoner to continue his walk up the gorge. They walked on accordingly, side by side, and for awhile in silence. Turning round a project- ing rock Edwin perceived a cave large enough to accommodate the whole gang : it was used as a store, and contained a few small casks of salted meat and a quantity of flour, tea, sugar, and other necessaries. Further on
Brady commenced to ascend a precipitous cliff by means of steps, partly natural, and partly out in the rock ; a few stunted stumps of nearly expiring vegetation assisting his progress. He told Edwin to follow him, which the latter did, though with incredible pain and difficulty. At last, they stood upon the summit of the cliff, whence a magnificent view of the country to the south and west could be obtained. Immediately behind, there was a spur of the mountain which hung over them, a frowning wall of naked rock, and separated from them by a chasm of un- known depth. On the opposite side to that which they had ascended, the approaches seemed to defy an attack, and there was a succession of hills and glens far below. The rock might certainly be ascended on that side as well as on the other, but a good marks- man stationed on the top would find it easy to pick off, one by one, all who ventured to ascend, and not distress himself about it either. On this airy pinnacle, far removed from the haunts of civilized men, the bushranger Brady and Edwin Herbart sat together. If the former had any feelings of sympathy for his fellow creatures, or inward compunction at his openly defiant position against all law and good government, he was able to conceal his sentiments under a careless and cheerful expression of countenance. He looked some- what proudly over the wide lands below, as if his imagination carried him to the highest rank of rebellious power, from which he could issue imperial commands, and govern the whole island with undisputed sway. Edwin looked over the same lands with different feelings. They lay stretched out before him like a map—the hills, the glens, the plains, and the rivers flowing peacefully amongst them. His thoughts naturally rested on the only habitation below in which, just then, he took a more than common interest. He could not see it certainly, but he knew where it stood, and his heart warmed towards it, as to a home of unspeakable peace and love. A thought struck him that it was possible the bushrangers knew by means of some secret infor- mation that he belonged to one of the farms below, and detained him a prisoner for the purpose of conducting a party up to the very door. This practice had been frequently adopted by different robber leaders : a friend or servant of the family destined to be at- tacked was, if possible, secured and placed in front of the gang : the party within, if pre- pared for defence, would be deterred from firing on those without for fear of shooting the man they knew. If in the night, the friend was compelled under pain of death to knock at the door, give his name, and an- nounce that all was right, in order to make admission sure and easy. If Edwin enter- tained any doubts on this subject they were speedily dissipated by the first question Brady put to him after seating themselves on that lonely rock. " You belong, I understand, to one of the farms on the South Esk—to which of them ?" " I do not at present belong to any farm on the South Esk," answered Edwin cau- tiously. " That is an evasion," said Brady. " Tell me at once that it is none of my business, and that you will answer no impertinent ques- tions ;—but if you expect civility from me you must show me how to be civil. You did belong to a firm on the South Esk !" " I did." " What is the name of the place ?" " Bremgarten." " Bernard Maxwell is proprietor, is he not ?" " Yes." " Is he a relative of yours ?" " He is, but it might grieve him to acknow- ledge the fact." " He has a well furnished house with plenty of provisions in store—we are nearly out of provisions here, and as for money nobody seems to have any. That scoundrel Baxter, whose worthless life I spared, never left the money in Murderer's Gully that I ordered him to leave, but I'll be even with him yet. Has Maxwell any money in his house ? We want money to buy a vessel, captain and all." " I do not know," replied Edwin ; " he was not in the habit of admitting me to a knowledge of his private affairs." " But you know of something he possesses upon which he sets a very high value indeed, don't you ?" " Upon my honor, I do not," answered Edwin. " What ! do you know nothing about his fascinating daughter ?" Edwin started, and looked the outlaw full in the face as he replied—" Yes, he has a daughter—but his daughter is a person and not a thing." " And a most engaging person too, as I have been given to understand," said Brady ; " but really you must excuse me—I am an unlettered man. This young lady, I have heard, is quite a beauty, and up to all sorts of dodges for making a man happy and com- fortable. Do you think she'd marry me if I was to ask her politely ?" Edwin smiled at this question, as if he thought it a very good joke ; but another hundredth part of an ounce of pressure on each square inch of his temper and his dis- pleasure would have exploded. " You think, probably," continued Brady, " that she would sooner have you, and per- haps you think right ; but then there is no accounting for taste. I plead guilty to being a runaway convict in arms against the Go- vernment ; but what of that ?—Spanish brigands and Italian bandit chieftains have had their fair ladies, and why not Brady the bushranger ?" The subject upon which the outlaw chose to converse was so distasteful to Edwin that he did not reply to it, but was fain to content
himself with the secret determination to watch the progress of events closely. " I'll hear what she says when I go down," said Brady ; " of course she must have a voice in the matter ; it is not in my nature to be a harsh to the ladies." And to show in what a light, good tempered state of mind he was, the speaker struck the keys of an imaginary piano, and sang the old serenade— " Gentle Zitetta ! whither away ? Love's ritournella list while I play"— with a voice in which there was a fair share of melody. While this desperate man was singing with a careless and pleasant demeanor, a variety of conflicting thoughts pressed themselves upon the listener's mind. Could he seriously be- lieve that the outlaw really intended to put such an outrage upon his fair cousin as to offer himself to be her husband ? If so he would revenge the insult to the last drop of his heart's blood. Why could he not even now, he asked himself, crush the daring thought for ever by hurling the robber from the rock with a single blow, and then make his escape as he best could ? But if his hand was able to do this wild deed, his soul refused to sanction it, for the simple reason that he believed Brady's conversation was nothing but empty joking. He remembered, too, the respectful deportment of the same gang towards the ladies at Mr. Earlsley's, and felt justified in presuming that if they visited Bremgartem they would use the same for- bearance as they did at Clifton Hall. Brady finished his song, and rose up saying that they had sat there long enough. He descended accordingly to the upper part of the gorge, where the snow was still undis- solved by the sun, and Edwin followed him, not without thinking that at any other time he would have carefully avoided such dan- gerous expeditions. Seating himself on an empty cask at the entrance of the cavern where the stores were kept, Brady motioned to his prisoner to take a seat beside him, and desired him to recount his adventures since he saw him on his way to the coast with the carrier. Edwin com- plied with his request, though without entering into the minute details with which the reader is acquainted. When Brady heard that the Betty had been wrecked, he said that it was a good job they had not seized her as they intended to do. " We went to the coast on purpose," he continued, " but the weather was against us, and the red-coats were stronger than we thought they would be, but the good time may come yet and then hurrah for liberty, with a flowing sea and a full-bellied sail, and this cursed land blotted out from memory itself." " To you at least," Edwin ventured to say, " it has not been a land flowing with milk and honey." " No," replied Brady, his eyes sparkling with suppressed fury, " to me and to a thousand others its rivers flow with gall, and the bread eaten in it is wormwood. Were I its master I might look upon it with other eyes, but as it is, everything in it is venomous as a viper's fang. Were I to listen to the dictates of revenge and passion alone, I would kill, burn, and destroy without remorse, in whatsoever direction I turned." " You will not," exclaimed Edwin, " ever be so abandoned by all the better feelings of our common nature as to kill your fellow creatures, and burn and destroy their pro- perty. You have your recollections of home and youth—you have power to imagine what may be your future destiny. Man should not live for the present time alone, nor seek to gratify the passions of his wicked heart when he is in his prime ; for there is a future, even before he is gathered to his fathers— when the remembrance of his past deeds may be either a tormenting scourge to him in his declining years, or a peaceful guide, leading him to seek a knowledge of his God." " You speak wisely," answered Brady, " but I have no ears to listen to such words. I can foresee my doom : it hangs over my head like a black and cursed cloud by day, and certainly does not illumine my pillow by night like the guiding pillar of the Israelites—yet the die is cast. I will run my career be it for months or years, and meet my fate bravely when the time comes. Satan, in Paradise Lost, addresses our beautiful world in these words.— With what delight could I have walked thee round, If I could joy in aught, sweet interchange Of hill and valley, rivers, woods, and plains : Now land, now sea, and shores with forest crown'd. Rocks, dens, and caves ! 'but I in none of these Find place or refuge ; and the more I see Pleasures about me, so much more I feel Torment within me— The condition of the devil thus pourtrayed by the great Milton is scarcely worse than mine, though I can hide myself in dens and caves if he could not." " You cannot hide yourself from the search- ing eye of God," said Edwin. "True," returned Brady, " but I believe that searching eye never troubles itself in looking after me." " Don't be too sure of that," answered Edwin, " I believe the very reverse." " Well," said the bushranger, " you need not force your belief down my throat ; you may thank your stars that you are not as I am ; I cannot deny that in the first instance my punishment of transportation was deserved, but for an offence which only merited a much lighter punishment I was sent to Macquarie Harbor, a real hell upon earth, a place too dreadful even for the fallen and the wretched I can scarcely describe that horrible slow- poisoning living grave ; and if you had the imagination of Milton you could not imagine it in half its bitterness. And for com- paratively trifling offences the authorities of this colony have the consummate cruelty to send men, flesh and blood like themselves, to perish in moral poison, and die of cold and moisture breed- ing rottenness in human bones."
" If you had enough to eat and the sun shone upon you, in what did this extreme wretchedness consist ?" said Edwin, " Well, supposing," replied the outlaw, "that we had enough to eat, which I never had while there, and that the sun shone upon us, those two blessings are not sufficient to lighten the burden of labor, or fill the mind with cheerfulness, when kindred associations all combine to crush the soul with the blackest despair. What punishment can be worse to a man who commenced life under happy auspices than to be placed to herd with a vile set, to eat, work, and sleep with them, to listen day after day to their low and blasphemous language ? No, that is not punishment enough ; he must wear heavy chains, and at the word of an ignorant and brutal overseer be flogged till his spirit is broken and his self respect gone for ever. In addition to these, the aspect of the place without a voice of kindred sympathy, was enough to freeze one's blood. Its coldness and dampness, its barrenness and desolation, the consciousness of being shut up from the rest of the world without one friendly com- passionating eye to look upon us, hardened our hearts. In the morning after a breakfast (Heaven forgive the liar that called it by that name) of flour and water, we were sent to work in a dense noisome forest in which a toad would die of the horrors. Our work was felling trees, cutting and carrying timber. All day long we had to toil without any dinner or indulgence of any kind, and our supper after work was done was little better than our breakfast. To labor long in such a hopeless place would kill or madden men of stronger nerve and muscle than I ; I could not bear it, and became in preference a bush- ranger." " Your condition was indeed pitiable," said Edwin ; " were there no means by which you could work out your term of labor and become again an useful member of society ?" " Yes, there were means : to lick the feet of the overseers and become a spy on my fellow prisoners. Means that would not suit Brady." " And how did you effect your escape ?" asked Edwin. " Escape from Macquarie Harbor," replied Brady, " had been long thought an impossi- bility. Our barracks were built on an island situated about twenty miles from the en- trance of the harbor which is called Hell's Gates ; there is a bar of sand there which is not crossed without great danger. From the island we were taken every day to our work in the forest. The ground upon which the enormous trees and prickly underwood grow densely is hopelessly barren for all useful purposes ; the trees are so thick that the rays of the sun cannot penetrate them, and the air is humid and rank with the odour of rotting vegetation. The forest is intersected by a deep and rapid river called the Gordon, and far to the south and east are mountains almost inaccessible. Heavy rains and bewil- dering tempests are far more frequent there than any other part of this island. The water that tumbles in from the ocean becomes impregnated with poison and I have myself seen the dead fish floating on the waves. It is a fearful place where the tyranny of men, chiefly prisoners in authority, and the tyranny of climate and the elements are displayed in all their terrors. We had a proverb that all who entered there gave up for ever the hope of Heaven." * " But how did you escape ?" repeated Edwin, horror-stricken at this dreadful ac- count. Brady did not immediately reply but sat in deep thought, his right elbow on his knee and his chin resting on his hand. At length he continued— " Escape, as I have said, was considered impossible. It had been attempted by a good many, but they, with one or two exceptions, either perished in the wilderness or were taken and brought back. In 1822, after several had gone and never been heard of, a prisoner named Alexander Pearce, along with seven others, seized two boats and escaped. Their retreat to the sea was cut off, as they had not quenched the signal fires effectually, so they destroyed the boats and entered the dark forest. Two of the absconders returned to the settlement, and died from utter ex- haustion ; another died in the bush. The remaining five wandered on, subsisting for two or three days on wild berries and their kangaroo jackets roasted. They reached the Gordon in a dreadful condition and the ter- rible proposal having been made, Pearce and Mathers collected wood for a fire and Green- hill and Travers killed Bodman. They fed on his flesh for two or three days, and then crossed the river all swimming except Travers, whom they dragged across by means of a pole. Mathers was the next victim ; Travers and Pearce held him while Greenhill killed him with an axe. Upon his remains they lived for four days, without advancing more than six miles through extreme weakness. At length Travers was sacrificed, and Green- hill and Pearce journeyed on together. Famine again assailed them : they knew that one must die to afford sustenance to the other ; they spent two days and nights in watching each other, and at last Greenhill slept and awoke no more. Pearce went on alone till he came to a fire left burning by natives, at which he found opossum bones, and with slightly renewed strength he tra- velled on. He came to a flock of sheep, seized a lamb, was found by a shepherd, and gave himself up : but the shepherd allowed him to join a gang of bushrangers and he was soon taken. He was sent back to Macquarie Harbor, and in spite of his bitter experience, again absconded with a man named Cox. They remained in the bush for several days ; Pearce would not starve while * The horrors of Macquarie Harbor are not painted from imagination. In the present day the force of public opinion would not suffer such an establishment to exist.
Cox was in his company, so he butchered him and ate him. Returning to the coast, he made signals to a passing vessel, was taken to Hobart Town, confessed his crimes and was hanged." " That is a fearful narrative," said Edwin, shocked beyond measure ; " do you believe it to be true ?" " It was Pearce's own confession," replied Brady ; " it is certain that the men absconded and never returned. The survivor could alone tell what became of them." " And by what good fotune did you escape from that dreadful place ?" asked Edwin, for the third time. " I was born," said the outlaw, without appearing to heed his companion's question, " under no mean circumstances, my father being a well-to-do painstaking man, and my mother a comely dame of good family ; but I was a rebel from my cradle. While other boys were having their heads crammed with the learning that would one day make their fortunes it was my pleasure to roam through the fields and along the hedges killing inno- cent birds for amusement, and frightening passing wayfarers out of their wits. Half-a- dozen choice spirits, of whom I was the chief, assembled by day—frequently by night, too— and derived great enjoyment from seeing honest countrywomen going to market with eggs and butter, suddenly tripped up by our snares, and the contents of their baskets broken and spoiled ; we being quite above the weakness of reflecting that perhaps they and their families would be half-starved for a week through our wicked tricks. My own father did not escape. A vulgar amusement of mine was to disguise myself, and roll an enormous snowball to his door, placing it in such a position that as soon as the door was opened it would roll in, while nobody could be seen outside. Then it was pleasant to see from an adjacent corner the old man patiently shoveling the snow back again into the street. Apprenticed to a master when about fifteen, I made the discovery that I could not bear control. Something burned either in my heart or head that prompted me to burst through all bonds or die. It might be amus- ing as well as instructive where I to relate how my master's fair daughter, Mary Jane, took a tender interest in the spirited apprentice, and to what stratagems I resorted to procure secret interviews with her, for I knew that her father would spurn us both if he suspected that we loved each other. At last he did begin to suspect, and in consequence picked a quarrel with me by making a false accusation. I knocked him down and fled ; thus com- mencing at the early age of seventeen the career of a vagabond. My subsequent ad- ventures are not, I regret to say, to be re- lated with any feelings of satisfaction. What could you expect from a youth who laughed when he saw his old father shoveling out snow, and passionately knocked down the man whose daughter he loved ?" " Your adventures," said Edwin, " related with the eloquence with which you seem to be gifted would I am sure prove both en- tertaining and instructive. We have all perhaps some youthful follies to regret, and I remember myself with the greatest pain having when a schoolboy abused a kind aunt because she would not give me six- pence. Our happiness in after life is thus spoiled by recollections of the past ; indeed, I think now that there is no such thing as happiness in this world. At every turn we find our expectations of happiness withered as by a blast from a furnace ; beset with enemies, deprived of our property, our liberty, our lives poisoned by some bugbear that sticks to us like a leech, and our energies wasted in resisting the approaches of the insidious devil that has happened to find an entrance into our own hearts ; fortunate in- deed is he who is endowed with patience to endure unto the end in the joyful hope of finding eternal happiness in a future world." " Your mind is gloomy, Sir ;" said Brady. " A natural consequence I suppose of the strange situation in which you find yourself. You will be an useful companion to me to check by occasional preaching the ardent and daring propensities of my nature. A gen- tleman of your stamp will be invaluable amongst lawless bushrangers, for you would no doubt in time convert them from the errors of their way, and my friend McCabe will take especial interest in your lectures. So you cannot blame us if we retain the services of so excellent a man. I will make arrangements presently for paying you a handsome salary." " You have not told me," said Edwin, " how you effected your escape from Mac- quarie Harbor ?" " By very simple means. The Comman- dant and surgeon came to see us while we were at work ; I saw the boat touch the shore and called to the men around me that now was their time. We rushed down to seize it, but the Commandant was awake and pushed off. Thus disappointed the men seized the surgeon and made preparations to flog him, but I interposed and saved him. We got another boat and pushed out of Hell's Gates, preferring the dangers of the Southern Ocean to the living grave on Sarah Island. After several hair-breadth escapes and pangs of hunger en- dured with patience, we reached the upper banks of the Derwent and became bush- rangers." The speaker rose and walked towards his hut, for the dinner hour had arrived. Four days were passed by Edwin and the despe- rate gang in this eagle's nest. The time was beguiled by frequent. conversations between Brady and his prisoner, in which Captain Crawford frequently joined. On the fourth day some signs of life exhibited themselves. The men packed their knapsacks and cleaned their arms. The captive was ordered by McCabe to sharpen his favorite weapon, the baronet, on a piece sandstone, and on his
flat refusal to do anything of the kind, the savage Hibernian swore at him for a d— —d devil of a parson, and he would remember it to him when he got the chance. On the morning of Thursday, the 6th day, they marched forth fully provided for a campaign, Edwin accompanying them and carrying Brady's knapsack as before. (To be continued.)