|Chapter Title||A SEAT IN MAXWELL'S HOUSE BECOMES VACANT.|
|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 Thursday, 28th May.) CHAPTER XLVI. A SEAT IN MAXWELL'S HOUSE BECOMES VACANT. A little playful badinage from Mrs. Max. well, who was always in a most excellent temper, elicited from Isabel an explanation of their prolonged stay in the garden. " Mr. Herbart," she said, " has been so very elo- quent on the subject of poetry and phi- losophy, and amused us so much that we lost all idea of the time." On hearing this the Colonel, who seldom let any new topic of conversation pass unnoticed, opened out at Edwin with great volubility, declaring that he had no idea that his aide-de-camp would lose his time over nonsensical rhymes when there was so much real sound business to be done in the world. " Take my advice, Sir," he continued, " and content yourself with a sober going old horse that's steady on his pins, land leave Pegasus to be mounted by crack-brained fools and dingy snobs, whose shirt tails are exposed in all weathers. If I thought either of my sons capable of com- posing a couplet, I'd disinherit him on the spot. Did not magisterial parchment call this morning, Maxwell ?" " Yes, Sir," replied Maxwell, " Mr. Earlsley called, and I expect him to call again this afternoon." " What on earth does he want, Sir ?" de- manded the Colonel, who was rather apt to assume the dictatorial manner peculiar to your influential family friend. " Is he going to give another ball ?" " He said nothing about a ball, Colonel," said Maxwell. " He is gone to Avoca to meet a person of distinction, and he will call here on his return to Clifton Hall ; you will then probably have an opportunity of seeing the person of distinction and hearing him talk." " Who is it, Sir ?" " Well, if you must know, you must of course ; but I had an idea of not telling you who it was until the illustrious individual stood before you, thinking you might enjoy the surprise." " Think nothing of the kind, Sir," ex- claimed the Colonel, " you can't surprise me by an introduction to any person of distinc- tion in these parts. We are not going to have a royal duke or a famous poet out here to state at I suppose ?" " I suppose not, Sir ; it is rather unlikely that such rare birds will fly to this part of the world. For royal dukes there are not toadies enough, and poets are not wanted. The eminent individual whom Mr. Earlsley is gone to meet is no other than Colonel Arthur, the Governor of this colony." "Indeed," replied Colonel Arnott, " I am not acquainted with his Excellency, or his Honor, or whatever you call him. I went to Government House when I landed in Hobart Town, intending to pay my respects, but the Governor was away at some outlandish place on the coast, so I did not see him. What are his antecedents, Sir ?" " He is, or rather was, Colonel of the York Chasseurs, a regiment not now in existence. He was Superintendent of Honduras for up- wards of ten years, and greatly distinguished himself while there by a quarrel with the chief military officer, Colonel Bradley, whom he arrested for disobedience, and detained a prisoner for above two months. Bradley was dismissed the service, then brought an action against Arthur for false imprisonment, and recovered one hundred pounds damages ; that is, he got the verdict but not the money, for Arthur was huddled off here as Lieu- tenant-Governor and Bradley was left lament- ing." " What sort of man is he ?" asked the Colonel. " I never saw him, Sir," answered Max- well, " but I have heard that in countenance he is stern and severe, and in disposition somewhat morose and haughty. He is a rigid disciplinarian, and an uncompromising enemy to all who set themselves in opposition to his government." " So far so good," said Colonel Arnott. " Now, Sir, can you tell me what he wants up here ?" " I believe," replied Maxwell, " he is making a general tour of inspection through the entire colony. The continued depreda- tions of the bushrangers trouble him exceed- ingly, and the hostility of the aborigines to the settlers and their servants gives him great uneasiness. It is said that he is ma- turing a great plan for the capture of these miserable blacks, which is to be carried into execution on an extensive scale upon a given day. But the preliminary arrangements are not even commenced, and it may take years before these remorseless foes are effectually suppressed." " I'd like to know what his plan is," said Colonel Arnott. " He ought to get half a dozen domesticated Sydney blacks, expert trackers, and follow the murderers up to their holes and corners. Have they eaten anybody lately ?" " Eaten ! no. I never heard of their having eaten any one. I believe cannibalism is a crime with which they cannot in justice be charged. They inspire sufficient dread with- out inflicting the horrors which that dreadful propensity, peculiar to most savages, would be sure to entail on the colonists." " Then, Sir," said the Colonel, " if that is the case, you are lucky. We are not so fortunate on the other side. Many an honest stockkeeper has bitten the dust in a mysteriouts way, and his flesh, aye, and bones too, miraculously disappeared." " Dear me, Colonel Arnott," said Mrs. Maxwell, " you make my blood run cold ! Oh ! if I thought there was any danger of Eugene, I would not allow him to remain in such a country for the world."
" 'Pon my life, my dear madam," returned the Colonel, " I really don't think there is any danger of Eugene. He is with a good tutor, for I do believe there never was a young man bent on taking better care of him- self than my son Frederick, unless Harry here can beat him at that kind of game. But I will tell you an adventure that happened to myself, and if I wasn't here to tell it, it would be a positive proof that what I say about Australian cannibalism is strictly true, because you set if I had been killed and eaten on the occasion to which I am about to refer—allow me the pleasure of taking wine with you, my dear madam, for I feel rather queer about the windpipe—as I was saying, if I had been eaten-up alive, I wouldn't be here now to relate the circumstance. I breakfasted with Fred one morning at my station, and not knowing what to do with myself, I said to Fred—' Can I have any sport about here ? ' 'Sport, father,' said he, ' Yes, Sir, sport,' said I. ' What sort of sport ' said he. ' Why, shooting, Sir,' said I, ' you know I don't hunt ; what other sport should I mean ?' ' You might mean fishing,' said he. ' Fish for whales in a mill-race, or land crabs boiled alive to teach you common sense,' said I ; ' do you call fishing sport, and where, you wooden-headed master of no- thing, would you have me fish ? I want to have a day's shooting among the kangaroos and wild ducks down at Fluster's lagoon. Got me your double Manton, and powder-flask full to the brim with powder, some shot, and wadding ; and as much to bring home the game as to save my legs the trouble of walk- ing, put the quietest horse you have in the spring-cart, and I'll drive him myself quite comfortably.' ' Will you go by yourself ? ' said he. ' Of course,' said I. ' I don't want to spoil sport, or else I would take you.' 'I can send a steady man with you,' said he. ' If you don't do as I order you in a minute,' said I, ' I'll take the trouble to go to town at once, and see my lawyer.' So he went and did as I bid him without any more jaw, and away I went on my shooting ex- cursion solus. " Well, Sir, we travelled on, myself and the old horse, for about seven miles, until we came to the border of the lagoon I mentioned, and in my progress had a shot or two at some kangaroos that jumped out of the scrub here and there, but I did not hit any of them, though I managed to hit one of old Blue- bottle's ears upon which he bolted with the cart, and I had enough to do to prevent a capsize. There were plenty of ducks on the lagoon, but I found them unusually shy, contrary to what I expected, which was, that I would be able to fill the cart in an hour ; but instead of that after firing half-a dozen rounds I found I didn't knock a feather out of one, where upon I decided to change my tactics, and accordingly got out of the cart, tied Blue- bottle to a tree, and toddled away on foot to hide myself in a tuft of rushes, so that the ducks might fly over my head and I might wing as many as I pleased without the slightest trouble. I think I must have walked at least half a mile from the cart, and had commenced to take off my boots in order to walk out to the nearest tuft of rushes, when, upon my honor, ma'am, I was suddenly seized from behind, held as if by a blacksmith's vyce, my gun wrenched from my hands and pitched into the water, myself thrown down flat on my back, my hands and and my feet tied together with strings of some climbing plant, and then carried bodily in amongst a thick cluster of trees, where my assailants, to the number of six or seven, laid me on the grass, and began to light a fire of most uncomfortable dimensions, for the weather was hot, and the unexpected change in my condition made me perspire freely." " So I should think, indeed," said Mrs. Maxwell, sympathetically. " Now or never, said I, poor Harry, your time is come and no mistake," continued the Colonel after helping himself to a glass of wine. " And so like a good penitent old boy, I began to say my prayers, and then after the clouds of astonishment had drifted away from mine eyes, found leisure to survey my enemies, which I was enabled to do by turning my head a little on one side. There were seven naked savages crouching round the heap of wood to which one of their number was in the act of setting fire from two smoking sticks he had rubbed together. They put down their ugly ebony faces to blow the small spark into a flame, and to my utter consterna- tion they succeeded. A thick cloud of smoke rose up, and I saw the flame breaking out with a heart sick with apprehension, for I knew by their various signs of satisfaction, and particularly by the way they passed their hands over their abominable stomachs, that they contemplated having dinner, and that I was to be in full process of digestion before I was six hours older. They grinned and sat as close to the fire as they possibly could, either because the weather wasn't hot enough or that they believed the shelter of their odious bodies would make it burn all the better. My hot perspiration turned into a cold sweat ; I looked about for the means of deliverance, but there were none ; not a stick within reach, and if there was my hands were tied. They had not disturbed my dress or searched my pockets, and I thought, though hopelessly, of what I might do if my hands were free ; at least I could sell my life dearly and perhaps disappoint more than one of them of his expected meal. I scanned the ruffians closely, and saw that one of them had a murdering instrument in his hand, a stone hatchet, which he suddenly threw to the ground, and it fell close to where my hands lay tied and helpless. Good heavens, ma'am, if I could only recall the prayers I prayed, and the oaths I swore you would've the picture of horrified surprise for the rest of your life." " The fire burned fiercer and brighter, and a the savages redoubled their chatter, seeming to me to be actually disputing in my presence
about the way in which I was to be cooked. With a convulsive shudder I tried to twist my hands round, hoping to break the twigs that tied them, but in vain. Next I tried to draw my hands farther apart to see if my bonds were elastic—an iron chain would have stretched sooner. But a light shone on my soul ; the hatchet was there, and I pressed it to my side and applied my bonds to the sharp edge ; in a few seconds I was free. Then into my pocket my hand dived, and drew forth something which I threw with some dexterity over the heads of the wretches right in amongst the blazing wood. Not one of my enemies moved. The fire was hardly bright enough for the process of roasting, but it was hot enough to do their business, for in a minute, sir, it blow up like a bomb- shell, scattering the dust and sticks in all directions and blinding the murderers most effectually. They started up rubbing their hands, breasts, and shins, and yelling like wolves : some of them, rolled on the grass, and others danced into the fire. I sat up, pulled out my knife, cut the strings that tied my legs and took to my heels, not one of the villains being able to see where I went to, and glad enough to have two pocket pistols ready loaded to defend myself in case I should be attacked." " It was the powder-flask—how very lucky," said Charles, not a little interested by this exciting story. " And were you not hurt yourself by the explosion, Colonel ?" asked Maxwell. " Not a bit, Sir, not a bit," replied the old veteran after a few husky coughs. " The vil- lains' bodies were too thick for that ; a fall of ashes took place of which I had my share —there is something unusual down here in my wind pipe—but I met two stockmen whom Fred lad sent— Ah ! Harry, help me to the sofa—my mouth is full of—blood !" On hearing this awful announcement—in- deed before it was with difficulty pronounced or understood, every individual present started up in the greatest terror and surprise. Isabel, with loud screams, rushed to support her father; Maxwell and his son and Henry were mute and pale, but all advanced to the Colonel's assistance. Mrs. Maxwell and Griselda, pale as death, ran wildly about. The Colonel was laid gently down on the sofa, choking, and sputtering bloody froth. The crimson tide even forced itself from his nose and bedabbled his snowy whiskers and the bosom of his shirt. He gulped for breath and struggled for utterance ; his ruling pas- sion, the love of talking, being conspicuous even in death. And he was still conscious of everything that took place around him. Maxwell immediately recovered his pre- sence of mind, and desired Edwin to see that a man got ready to go for a doctor. Edwin ran out, but Charles told his father that there was not a man on the spot who could be trusted, and that he would go himself. The settler acquiesced, recommending his son to be speedy but cautious. " No—no—no doctor," said the dying man, and we will reduce as well we are able, his last speech and confession to some show of consistency, leaving our readers to picture to themselves the convulsive agonising throbs, the broken whispers, and the harrowing exertion to make himself understood, which racked the old officer's frame, and pierced the hearts of those who saw and heard him. " Give me your hand Maxwell, and you my son and daughter listen to me ; I am going from you, from a world which I have loved better than I ought to have done, to stand be- fore my great Judge and Maker whom I have offended. May God forgive us all : I have been a wild and sinful man. But, Maxwell, there are some sins lightly passed over in this world which have been my abhorrence from childhood and which I never committed. I never played the traitor to any man in respect to his goods, or his wife, or his chil- dren ; I never took a pen in my hand to write a deliberate wicked lie for the purposes of gain or deception ; be a father to my chil- dren ; carry out my wishes ; my son and daughters love each other ; my dear madam do not weep, we may meet again, eternity is long, and we may meet with millions ; if I have loved my pleasures or my worldly wealth better than the truth and glory of God, I deserve to be detested by angels and good men. I hope the good that is in me will live for ever, and the evil perish as my body——" A fresh gush of blood from his lungs put a stop to further utterance. His countenance assumed the leaden line of death ; his limbs quivered with spasmodic twitches ; his eyes fixed themselves with a rigid stare upon the ceiling ; and he ceased to breathe. (To be continued.)