Chapter 61305617

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61305617
Full Date1899-12-12
Page Number6
Corrections0
Word Count3161
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleClarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)
Trove TitleFrom Convict to Countess
article text

Au, RIGHTS RESERVED.

PROM CONVICT

TO COUNTESS.

A NOVEL BY DB. GREY.

CHAPTER VI.

Continued from Saturday's issue.

" Captain,". Le said, " give me a hear- ing as from ono gentleman to another. I am come to see yon. on behalf of a convict girl-you smile-then let me say on'behalf of a lady by birth and education, as beautiful and refined a woman as ever trod the earth. Her

circumstances áud her injuries I need not trouble you with, her character is irreproachable. Money and influence have done the rest. Now Captain Cresford has given me certain infor-

mation that makes me believe that between this virtuous lady and utter ruin o£ body and sonl there stands one mau,, tho captain of this ship-in a word, yourself."

" Go" on," said the captain, " speak your mind."

" My informant is a man of honour, and he tells mo that the sytem followed by tho sailors and' by a portion of the officers of the convict fleet towards tho young and well-favoured convict women is bestial and devilish, and that ^ its horrors and iniquities are connived at by the. officers, ignored by the_ authorities, and God -wall visit a

nation for such crimes as these."

" Leaving tho nation out of the question, Bir, what is it you want me

todo?"

*' I want you to protect my young friend. Alma Grey, against'all-r"

, A piorcing scream mude captain and clergyman spring from their respective seats. There was a rush of feet, another thrilling scream close to tho door. it flew open, and Alma flung her- self into the room, panting, white, agitated, her hair disordered, the sleeve torn nearly out of her jacket, she throw herself into Brook's arms. " Oh ! save me, Mr. Brook, for God's sako save

me from them." |

The captain ran to the door, but her assailant had disappeared. Brook soothed tho distressed girl and told lier shawns safe. He seated her in' his chnir. " Give her a glass of wine," said the captain gruffly, but not unkindly,

"and let her tell us what has happened."

" This is the captain, Alma," said the clergyman, " and he is disposed to befriend you, tell him all."

" When you left me, Mr. Brook," said Alma, shuddering, " I remained on deck talking to the girls, then after '-. some time a number of the sailors

gathered round us, together with the two.officers who brought us on board, they' said they were.going "to make .love to us," and they went on to say such horrible things that I must not repeat them to you.

I appealed to some of. the officers* but theylwould not take any notice or . order the sailors away. At last they persuaded the girls to go below " to inspect the ship," they said, but I was, afraid and would not go, then while one .officer was trying to persuade me to follow^ them down I heard one ,of the girls screaming' " Mercy, spare me.. Oh ! mercy." And my companion laughed and said, " The eat was out of the bag," and he picked me up in hia arms to carry me down below, but I struggled and got away, and ran to you here.

" Then she stopped and grew pale ? again and trembled. .

" Now, Brook," said the captain, drawing him aside, "It is no use you and I discussing this question, you look at it from your clérical standpoint, and thg¿ authorities and the service look afMfc from another point of view. Nor indeed am I going to confess that your inf orin ation or suspicions are

correct."

" Stop, a bit till I have finished. Now, I .will pledge my word'^'o you that mi. thu one special ease I will protect her, and so long as she remains on my ship she will be safe from injury. ? I can go no farther than that."

Alma,. who had been listening breathlessly, carno forward and clasped the captain's band in both her own. " Oh ! Captain, God has not forsaken

me. I lose one faithful friend and hu

puts mo .in charge of another. Tho blessing oí one ready to perish rest upon you for your promise."

"Tut, tut, said the captain, "I have only one thing to say, my lass.' Your shipmates will call you the captain's favourite, you must'submit to that as tho least of two evils ; you aro quite at liberty to deny it and to defend your character, but do not ask me to support ' your denial, there are several reasons why I should not be called on to do this, and now let ns go on deck and end this matter, come along." Tho clergyman and Alma followed tho captain.

" Prpo all hands," he said.

Tlio men came tumbling up.

" Mon," said the captain, striding up and down in a tremendous passion, ' " some lubbor has been laying hands

on this pretty lass, I don't know who

it is. If I did I would make an

example o£ him. But for the future if any man lays his hand upon her I will give him six dozen and lay him in irons for the rest of the voyage. Understand onco for all, that this lass, Alma Grey, is under the protection of thc captain. Pipe down."

" That notico will secure Alma's

6ofety while onboard this ship,Brook," said tho captain.

" Here, stowar'd, take this lass to the matron, and tell her from mo to look after her. specially, and that I shall hold her responsible for her welfare." " Go with tho steward, Alma, whon you have said good bye-to your pnstor.

" I nm under a deep obligation to you, captain," rejoined tho clergyman. "I hopo tho jemembranoo of_ your rightoous deed to-day may brighten

that dark hour which wo all must face. And though you are not an evangelist, ' I boliovo to-day you have Baved a pure

white soul from death. Good bye."

Hu turned to Alma. ' " Tell mo, my daughter, béforo I go, is my suspicion correct. Aro you engaged to Eri« Budleigh ?"

" 1 wns, Mr. Brook."

u My injured girl, I -wish I had beei ?in your confidence, but it may be toi late now. Yet still hope and trust God has in the past brought his chile out of the prison house to set hin with princes and appointed bim unti . honour, and if it be for your good '.

am persuaded he will do it for you If you cari' depend upon me ti defend your interests, still more yoi may depend upon your heavenly Father. Good-bye, my dear. Hi kissed her forehead, slipped a purse into her hand, and left for the shore

The steward who was waiting, tool Alma to the matron together with ss note the cabin boy had just delivered

'" Look here, old girl, I have brough! you the captain's favourite; and a special order that you are to take car« of her, and that you will be held responsible for her safety. Here it is."

" Tho captain desires the matron to . take special caro of Alma Grey and to berth her in tho matron's cabin. Grey may assist the matron in light duties. If the matron lets any man put hit

aim round Miss Alma's waist the matron will get six dozen."

" There is nothing about that, you impudent scoundrel," said the matron, looking over his shoulder,' " there is no waist of six dozen, in the order, here, give it mc, and take yourself off, while I see what is really in it. You can tell the captain I will guard this treasure like the apple of my eye." '

. " Good afternoon, Miss Alma," said the stoward, bowing lbw, with a broad smile oh his face. " Speak a good word for' me to " the captain, by and bye."

Alma felt indeed grateful to Mr. Brook for his efforts to help her. Thanks to him and the captain. The

fem'ful circumstances of - her lifo had changed for tho bettor. Certainly tho position on board was not nattering to her pride, but it was infinitely bettor than' that of nuy, woman on tho ship, "except tho matron. She found to her surprise that she was an influen- tial woman, anil, to some small extent ' able to help at times for tho good order

of the ship, and to mitigate tho hard- ships of her companion's lot. She received from all on board a certain amount of respect, based first on admiration for herself, for, as the sailors said, '.' Who would fall foul of a staunch built craft like tho captain's sweetheart, which could sail in any weather, and was always ready to throw, a;- rope to another craft in distress." And secondly on account of her supposed position and influence with^the captain himself.

, It was evident to Alma, that from the contrary and violent eloments brought into close contact on board ship, there, would be alwoys a risk of an explosion, which might spread and produce dreadful consequences to all of them ; and she could seo the necessity which lay upon the; captain to- govern with an iron band, and that the rigid discipline he maintained, and the punishments ' ho' inflicted, were to a large extent- inevitable; and, while Alma had no power and no wish to interfere with the discipline of the ship, she exerted her influence to secure,-for tho unfortunate, girls, less rough treatment than some of them would have had. " I'll tell of you ta Miss Alma," frequently protected one of them at the end of a quarrel.

The captain was as good as his .word to Brook. Ho kept his eye on Alma, and sent for her once or twice a week to spend the evening in his cabin, and, while he was familiar in his address,

he always treated her with decency ,

and respect ; and before she left the j

ship she entrusted him with her letters for Mr. Brookj'in which she gave tho captain wnrm praise for the handsome way in which he had carried out his promise in regard to her comfort and safety.

" Dear Mr. Brook," she wrote, " It is good for me to write to you^-and I am undor a great obligation to the

captain for giving me the opportunity j to do so-my physical health is good, ! and I suppose I am as resigned to my circumstances, and in as calm a mind as it is possible for mo to be. Wo have had a good voyage so far, and all the news I could send you must bo about the life wo lead on "board this ship, ' The. Scarborough.'

" Of a great deal that transpires it is best for mo to say nothing. Tho restraint imposed on . the depraved habits of both, mon and women, united to the great heat of the tropics, drive them frantic ; they seem like wild beasts, especially when the woinen, in their own quarters, unite in screaming to the male convicts, then tho scream- ing and roaring make a pandemonium of the ship. Unceasing vigilonce has to be employed to keep tho women from penetrating to the male convict quarters, but the rule has £een infringed onco or twice in Bingle

instances.

" One of the uses to which the youug convict women are put, those of thom, I mean, who consort with the sailors, is to act as spies on the rest of the convicts. They are sont at regular intervals through the women's quar- ters, where, in some mysterious way, information leaks out as to any con- templated rising or mutiny. As a reward for bringing any valuable

information some months are struck oft tho sontenco of tho spy. In this woy the girls have already done useful

service on two occasions.

"In consideration of tho great heat, tho captain allows a third of tho men to como on deck nt a time, and to exercise for an hour. The women oro allowed oh deck, half of them at a' time. Of course the convicts aro

undor guard, : and a gun loaded'with grape, tmtl with the port fire burning, is pointed on. them on tho lower deck

all the time.

" The vessels are not allowed to. bo so crowded with convicts now aa they were 20 years ago, when they were horded like beasts in a stall, and their

food of biscuit -was thrown into theil den, so that the strong trampled the weak in a' struggle for food, and men and women were chained together ii the same hold of the ship. The horror! of the voyage to the Indian plantations where half of each cargo died, ii ameliorated now. Still, it is bad enough. Our captain does not handle the convicts with silk gloves, and the cat, wielded by two of the boatswains, is going regularly.

"Nor is it only men who aro flogged, I. have just como from -attending on two of tho girls ; they aro both hot tempered and vain ; they have made a considerable disturbance for some time, and lay themselves out to set tho sailors by the ears. They have been censured several times, and made to wear tho wooden punishment collar. Yesterday they quarrelled with each other and fought, and their two sailors also were drawn into the quarrel, the result was, that as I was coming from the upper deck to the matron's cabin, I found all hands on the main dock piped up for punishment, and the boatswains were stripping the girls-for they lind been sentenced to ' 2 dozen ' each. Before I reached the cabin I heard their screams. It made mo feel sick afterwards, when I assisted tho matron to dross their backs with salt and water from the basin* which I held.

It is an awfully degrading thing to flog a woman before a whole ship's [ company.

" I shall look out for a lotter from

j you soon after we reach shore. You may have heard of Eric since I left England, tell mo any nows good or bad.

Yours affectionately,

. ALMA GUET." , " Scarborough,

September 12, 1807. DEAH Ma. BitooK,

Our voyage has been eventful since I wrote Inst, for a mutiny broke out among the convicts (I ought to say us convicts). The deck girls, as -the consorts of the sailors are called, hnvo just been the means of frustrating a plot to get possession of tho ship.

" The quarter-master brought mo word that I was wanted by the captain. ' Alma,' ho said, ' tho quarter-master's girl has brought word that. Daisy Baker wants to speak with Miss Alma, and no other than the captain's favorite will do. Do you and the girl go through the womon's quartor and get speech with Bakor unnoticed by the

otbors.'

"I had not been through the female quarters before, and my strange face attracted attention. Icaughta whisper running behind me, ' The Favorite.' Oh, it was dreadful. I am a notorious character; the iron seemed afresh to run into my soul.

" Sarah Waters, a huge, brawny woman, confronted me with an insolent scowl, saying that she was as good and as good-looking as any pampered minions of the poop, and that soon,

some who reckoned themselves to bo

tho quality, would be getting what they ought to have. I, looked her" down until she retreated, cursing to.

horself. '

" Presently the excitement cooled down, and while my companion covered mo, I got from Baker tho details of tho plot. '

" Next day, at 8 bells, a rush would be made for the gun, to turu it upon tho officers aft, the hatches elapt on, and the watch on deck over-powered and thrown overboard. Tho detaijs of the plot are immaterial, all that' the captain wanted to know was tho moment of. the contemplated rising. Hé pooh poohed my information, but gave an order that no convicts should

bo allowed on dock.

"I gotordora noxt morning to collect all the deck girls and bring thom aft, to the matron, who set us to work below. As I went down the gangway I looked back and saw the carpenter busy fixing gratings and mils amid- ships j presently tho hammering ceased, and we heard tho tramp of tho murines

above our heads.

" The steward ran down, ' Captain's orders aro that no girls are allowed on deck on any pretext.'. A silence, a deep hush settled down upon the ship, and unconsciously wo women dropped our yoico. into a whisper.

" Then wo all started and cried out, for 8 bells struck, and with it a crash, yells and onths swolled into a roar, ns from a menngcrip.

" Above it jiealed tho captain's voice through his trumpet, ' Back to youl- den ! Present arms ; fire when I say three. One, two'-then a scurrying of feet, Uko rats ; and then, after au intolerable interval, tho steward entered laughing. ' The lassies can go on dock hu said, the mutiny ia

over.'

" Tell ivs," they nil cried.

" Well, tho enptnin armed the crew, and they, with the marines, wero behind tho bnrricnile. When eight bolls struck, tho door of tho prisoners quarters was dashed open (we have just found that sonio old burglar had sawn tho hinges all but through). Out streamed tho convicts. They let drive at the gunner with a shower of iron bolts and nuts-God only knows how they got thom-and knocked him over before ho could lift the port fire. The rush caught him up and lacked him down tho hatchway ; fortunately, ho still gripped tho port fire in his fist. Ho is pretty bad, poor lad. Up jumped the skipper, trumpet in hand. Tho crowd wore slowing round the gun, nnd one of them blowing on a piece of lighted tinder. Him, the lieutenant picked off ns ho was sighting tho gun, ho spun round nnd fell. ' Present,' said tho skipper, and all tho muskets went up. When they saw the row, and us ready for them, they cowed and ran back into thoir bolo. Twenty of thom aro in irons. It was all over in two minutes, with a list of one killed and ono wounded. And, now, you can all go on dock if you wish. Of courin

we went on deck. . j

"If the convicts had gained th« j ship, what would have heen our fate? The thought makes me shudder. Write soon, dear Mr. Brook.

Yours .affectionately, .

ALMA GREY."