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Title: Monk's Mark
Author: Mary Fortune
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Monk's Mark

by

Mary Fortune

Cover Image


As published in The Shoalhaven Telegraph, NSW, 27 April 1882

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2018



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Australian authoress Mary Helena Fortune (ca. 1833-1911) was one of the first women to write detective fiction, and probably the first to write it from the viewpoint of the detective. Her opus includes several novels and over 500 stories, many of which feature a detective by the name of Mark Sinclair. She wrote under the pseudonyms "Waif Wander" and "W.W."



THE STORY

THE sun dropped hotly still toward the western horizon in a great sea of the most brilliant hues, where, here and there, soft, white clouds floated like islands outlined in fire. The Mangeo Range caught the glory of all this burning west on every rock and tree of its face, and became, as it were, one vast blaze of warmth and beauty. In the valley where Ryland's factory stood, near the gleaming creek, the rolling volumes of smoke that poured from the tall chimneys were tinged with red as they went up toward heaven, and every tree and bush along the green sides of the creek glowed in the glory of sunset.

On a road that wound along the sides of Mangeo, two men stood and looked down upon the valley. They looked hot and tired, and two poor swags lay on the grass at their feet. The attire of both was shabby in the extreme, and their very boots so broken as to exhibit partially the feet they vainly tried to protect.

Of these two men, the older was nearer fifty than forty—a middle-sized, largely-built man with hard features and a cold, grey eye. The beard around a sneering mouth was but the growth of a week, and was sprouting fiercely, grey and grizzled, while his hat was drawn so low over his ears that none whatever of his hair was visible.

The younger man was not more than twenty-five; was much taller than his companion, and of a lighter build. His features were decidedly indicative of good birth, his short hair and eyes dark brown. A faintly-indicated moustache alone marked the smoothness of his face, which had a worn expression for one so young in years. While his eyes seemed persistently fixed on the collection of buildings in the valley below, those of his neighbour often watched the expression of the younger face with a sinister smile as he gazed.

The silence had lasted but a few seconds, when the older man at length broke it.

'Well, what is your decision, my young friend?'

'I have already told it to you, Monk. I shall try and live honestly heretofore. I have, thank God, one memory yet to keep me straight—the memory of a widowed mother.'

'Bah!' sneered Monk; 'it's a pity you ever left here. But try your luck with this honesty dodge, and see how it will stand you.'

'I am going to try it,' was the firm reply, as the speaker stooped to lift his miserable swag.

'And let me tell you its result. Every heart will be hardened against you, every door shut in your face. No sooner shall it be known that you have done a sentence in prison than you will be treated like a leper, and driven again to the society of those to whose level you have reduced yourself. In three months you will go back to the place we have come from. Honesty, Indeed! A pretty word in the mouth of a convict.'

'Look here, Monk,' replied the young man, as be lifted his swag and tossed it over his shoulder, 'I have refrained from reproaching you with the fact that it is to your teaching I owe the disgrace of my life. The least you can do is to go your way and let me go mine in peace.'

He turned to descend toward the factory, but Monk, with the darkness of evil in his eyes, arrested him. 'Stop! We have yet a few words to exchange, Mr. Creswell. If on your march after an honest living, you should encounter me, I trust you will see the necessity of holding your tongue. It might not suit my card to have my character made too public. Should we come in contact, you had better not betray me, or my name either.'

'Should we come in contact, I shall not know you, be assured—at least, as long as you are doing no evil—but do not count on me as an accomplice. If I see you in contemplation of any villainy, no matter where it is, look to yourself. To every man I ask for work, I shall tell of my own sin—do you think I would hide yours?'

'You young scoundrel, look to yourself!' cried Monk, every evil passion in his black heart displaying itself in his face, 'for here I warn you that I will follow you over the world, and drag you out from under any roof that may shelter you! I'll drag you back to a cell though you were as innocent as a dove. I swear it, and Mark Monk can keep his oath!'

He clenched both hands as he spoke, his lips being actually covered with foam as he gnashed and ground his teeth in the fierceness of his rage.

'Do your worst,' Cresswell replied, with one look of intense scorn at his late companion, ere he started at a rapid pace toward the goal of his hopes and fears, viz., the buildings down in the valley.


AS he descended the hill he made a rapid survey of the place so interesting to him. There were, in addition to the factory itself, many scattered cottages surrounding it, and nestled along the banks of the running creek. One larger house than the rest lay behind the big chimneys and against the hill, while on one pretty and almost detached building, shining in white paint, and surrounded with a garden glowing with flowers, the outcast found himself gazing with an irresistible fascination.

'If they would only give me a chance I might yet have such a home,' the youth murmured,' and my mother might yet—' but here the young eyes filled with tears and he turned his eyes away from the cottage to seek for someone about the factory to whom he might apply for information; in this he was soon successful, a man coming out of a shed and carrying a great bundle of leaves on his shoulder replied to his questions.

'You must apply to Mr. Warrington himself; he is his own manager. That is he just coming out of the press room. This is a tobacco factory,' and the man went on his way.

Mr. Warrington, attracted by this evident tramp and seeing by the gesture of his man, that he himself was being enquired for, waited in the gateway he was passing until Cresswell went up to him. The proprietor was a stout, pleasant-visaged man, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a workman-like air pervading his whole manner.

'Well, my man, do you want to speak to me?'

'You are Mr. Warrington, sir?'

'I am. I suppose you are in search of employment, and you look as if you needed it. I want men among the plants, and if you can use a hoe you can go to work in the morning.'

'Oh, thank you, sir; but there is something to say before you engage me.'

'The wages, eh?' Mr. Warrington asked with a suspicious glance at the young man's face, for he had no respect whatever for 'sundowners,' and thoroughly despised a man who could carp about wages, with the toes sticking out of his boots.

'No sir, It is not the wages, it is something more serious to me than wages,' and the youth's face flushed up, while his voice trembled to that he could not for the moment control the action of his lips,

Mr. Warrington looked at him thoughtfully, and with keen discernment.

'Say what you have to say my lad, and be as quick about it as you can, for my time, as you may guess, is no idle time,'

'I beg your pardon sir, but it's such a hard thing to say. I will accept any work thankfully if you are willing to give it me, after I tell you that I am just out of gaol, after serving a long sentence, I think it would be dishonest to hide that, or perhaps it is nearer the truth, Mr. Warrington, that I would rather tell you now, than that you should discover it afterwards,'

As in a choking voice, this sad confession was made, Cresswell turned away his now pallid face (for all the blood had left it, and flown to his hard throbbing heart) and his eyes lighted again on that pretty white building in its setting of flowers.

Oh! What would be Mr. Warrington reply? Should he have to turn his back on this Eden of his hopes that seemed to hold for him his one chance of salvation? It seemed to him an hour ere the gentleman replied, yet it war scarcely a minute that Mr. Warrington remained in thought.

'For what crime were you convicted?'

'Burglary with violence, sir.'

'Have you no relative who would assist you back into an honest way of doing?'

'No, sir. My mother—' and here he broke utterly down, and hid his face with his hands./p>

'There, my lad, there, go to the men's hut; that's it down by the creek. I'll never be the man to stand between any sinner and an honest life. Be a good lad, and stick to your determination of leading an honest life,' and with his own heart full, the good man turned abruptly away with the young man's heartfelt 'God bless you, sir!' ringing in his ears.


CRESSWELL stood there looking after him whom he honestly considered his benefactor, absolutely stunned with a sense of his great good fortune. Permission to work among honest men once more, hopes of an eternal escape from the horrid contamination he had spent three long and weary years amidst. What a boon from heaven was this!

The pretty cottage among the flowers did not seem so far away from him now, and he looked at it again and again as he made his way toward the hut pointed out by his new employer.

He found it occupied by only one man—the cook apparently, for he was busily frying chops in a great pan. He was a short, red-headed follow, with a low-browed, dirty face, and walked with a very slight halt.

'Hallo! a new hand?' he questioned. 'Has the boss taken you on, then?'

'Yes,' replied Cresswell, laying down his swag in a corner, turning his back to the cook in order to do so. While he was performing this simple operation there came such an extraordinary change over the cook's countenance had anyone been there to observe it; he looked the picture of surprise, and a low ejaculation escaped him.

'Monk, by Jove!' the ejaculation was, just as young Cresswell turned toward him again, and gladly sat down on a bench.

'Are you alone or did you bring any company with you, mate?' were the next cautious questions.

'I am quite alone.'

'Strange,' said the man we will call Jack, to himself. 'Monk must have fallen in with him somewhere, and can't be far off.'


NOW, the simple cause of all this certainty and surprise was a cross of chalk that Monk had managed surreptitiously to mark on the shoulder of the young man's coat ere they parted. It had been for years a private mark between him and his pals. Jack had, however, no time to speculate much at that time, as the men now came in from work, and supper had to be roughly served on the stout table that ran along the centre of the hut, between a double row of bunks.

From the questions the now arrival asked and the general conversation, among the half-a-dozen man at the table, he learned a few items of gossip as well as information about the place. The factory was called the Rylands Factory, from the name of the creek near by. The large house behind the factory was Mr. Warrington's residence, the pretty white cottage, the school-house, and residence of the teacher.

Mr. Warrington was a bachelor still, and 'awfully shook' after Mrs. Cresswell, the schoolmistress. More fool he. What good was a blind woman to any man? Though, indeed, she made a wondrous good teacher, and all the children of the factory hands liked her.

Young Cresswell heard as in a dream. He tried to rise, but fell back so helplessly that, but for a clutch at the table he would have fallen backward over the bench on which he sat. For a moment his heart seemed to stop, and then went on again with great throbs that sent the blood like fire through his veins. No one observed this great agitation except Jack, the cook, and he watched the young man furtively, and with the deepest interest. In serving round the viands, previous to this he had for reasons of his own, taken an opportunity of obliterating the chalked cross from the young man's old coat, but now, as he saw the stranger had some secrets, his interest in him was greater than ever for finding out that secret, and, if possible, of turning it to good account in some way. Besides, there was that fatal cross of Mark Monk's. He was bound by it as strongly as if a halter fettered his neck—as, indeed it might do if he forgot his oath to his old pal.

With such thoughts as these, and many more unrecorded, the man washed up the dishes as the night fell. If Monk was in the neighbourhood, he would soon show himself, as one of their mates was a permanent resident at the bare distance of a mile from the factory, and, of course, knew of Jack's employment. He must keep his eyes open, and his ears, too, at well as watch the marked man.

As he wiped the last dish, he looked round, and saw that the newcomer was absent. Where could he, a stranger, have gone on the very first night of his arrival?

Had he followed the young man in the dim starlight, he would have seen him stealing with light steps toward that flower-surrounded cottage, that held for him such a strange attraction; he would have noticed the stranger avoid the latched gate, bound over the lowest part of the fence, and alight among the roses of the garden; he would have seen him move toward a low, lighted window like a shadow, and, himself hidden, watch the inside of the humble apartment with eyes so full of tears that he could only see when he dashed them away wildly with his hand.


LET us look upon the picture that he saw. At a small centre table was seated a woman of about forty-five, with her head bowed upon her hand. The light of a small lamp rested full upon her soft, brown hair so thickly streaked with grey that already it began to show that indistinct tint of lost colour that always reminds me of the growing bloom on a damson as the fruit ripens. The downcast face showed to the watcher the fine profile of a most intellectual face, with an expression of ineffable melancholy around the proud lips. In the whole attitude of this woman there was expressed both deep and despondent thought, and the youth's heart was sore within him to see the effect of four short years on the well-known form.

The door was within a few feet of him, and he softly tried the latch—it lifted easily, yet not so noiselessly but that the blind woman heard him. It was pitiful to see the helpless eyes turned toward the door as she recognised the strange movement.

'Is that you, Ann?' she asked, quickly. 'I have been waiting for you. No, it is not—who is it?'

The young man made two steps forward, and Mrs. Cresswell rose to her feet. It was pitiful to see the expression of her face where doubt, anxiety, and all the most painful emotions of the heart were visible. The youth could endure it no longer, but went close to her and placed his arm over her shoulder.

'My God!' she whispered after a second's pause, 'am I dreaming? Is it Archie?'

'It is Archie my dear mother,' he replied in a choking voice. She clung to her lost son, as a sailor clings to the spar that is his only hope of life, and then the fond arms relaxed as Archie's support her in a dead swoon. Persons who swoon from excess of happiness do not however die—Mrs. Cresswell soon recovered, and was able to listen to her son's explanation of his misfortune.

'Ah it was a foolish wish of mine to seek this country, mother, and I did it in spite of all advice. I was in Melbourne months without procuring any employment, and in an evil hour, fell in with the man Monk, I have been telling you of. I was desperate, and not hard to persuade, when he asked mo to join in an expedition in which there was little or no risk, it was to enter a house at night, where a large sum in gold was known to be secreted. You know the result. The man in charge was aroused by our movements, and tried to defend his trust; Monk struck him senseless. We were captured and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Oh mother, if you know what I suffered in that awful prison!'

'My poor lad I speak of it no more, it is all over. Let us try to make the remainder of our lives good and happy.'


IT was late ere Archie left the cottage on his way back to the hut for, until Mr. Warrington had been consulted, it was not thought prudent that he should remain with his mother.

He had reached the creek and was within a stone's cast of the men's hut, when, all at once, he was arrested by the sound of a low, tremulous whistle that at intervals stopped and was repeated in a cadence with which he was too well acquainted—it was a whistle peculiar to Monk, and Archie's heart stood still for a moment, all his past terror was recalled to him by the dangerous vicinity of this man. At first he thought the whistle addressed to himself, but, remembering the terms on which they had so lately parted, he saw but little probability of that. Who then was Mark Monk summoning? What accomplice had he at Rylands?

For the purpose of discovering this in his own defence, and for the safety of his mother, the young man drew into the deep shadow of the wattles by the bank of the creek, and both watched and listened. It the starlight he could see the dark outline of the men's hut and the scattered trees that gradually thickened as the bush crept up the skirts of Mangeo, it seemed to him that the low whistle came from under the Range and he was gazing in that direction and trying to penetrate the half obscurity of the spot where the trees approached nearest the hut, when he saw a man steal from its shadow and make his way quickly in the direction whence the whistle appeared to come.

Archie Cresswell was active, and full of intense terror of the fatal effects that might result from this ill-omened visit, and, at all risks, he determined to try and discover its object.

Keeping the line of the creek, and in shadow as well as he could, he followed the man, whom, as he neared him, he recognised as Jack the cook. As this man emerged into an open space, not a dozen yards from the creek, another man walked out from behind a tree and hailed him. It needed no moonlight for Archie to recognise this man; the shudder at his heart told him it was Mark Monk.

'Did you expect me?' Monk asked, as his accomplice joined him.

'I thought it a bare chance I'd manage to see you to-night.'

'Of course I expected you. Didn't I know you'd make straight for old Drake's place, and that he'd tell you where I was?'

'But how did you know I was about?'

'Didn't I see your mark on that young chap that was engaged this evening?'

'Oh! He's here then? By Jupiter, we'll have to be careful. I put the mark on him just by chance, little thinking you'd be here.'

'What do you want to be careful for on that chap's account?' Jack asked, with curiosity.

'Why, he's that chap that got the sentence with me about the burglary business, and now he's turned on the honest dodge. The young villain had the cheek to tell me up to my face that he'd split on me if he saw me up to any games near him. Jack, that young man must be got rid of.'

'I'll do no more of that business, Monk,' the other replied, sulkily.

'You won't, eh?'

'No, I won't,' was the obstinate reply, in such loud tones that he might have been heard at the hut.

'A man—do you mark me, Jack Corrigan—a man can only be hung once,' said Monk, with a fierce glare in his evil eyes and between his set teeth.

'And he needn't be hung once unless he's a coward, Mark Monk.'

'What do you mean?'

'I mean that I'll do no more of your dirty work, do your own murdering. I've not had a day's nor an hour's comfort this six years, sometimes in the night I see old Darrel's face as I saw it when I struck him down, and all for you, curse you!'

Monk looked in wonder as well as rage at the speaker thus showing himself in an entirely new aspect.

'Have you got the Governor's free pardon in your pocket that you dare me thus?' he asked, hoarsely, for he could hardly speak.

'Yes, I have,' was the reply, and before Monk could even draw back a pistol was at his breast and discharged. He fell with a horrible imprecation, scrambled to his feet and tried to run after his murderer, fell again, and again struggled to his feet. Now he was blind and tottered, but he still ran, and, with arms out-stretched, stumbled against a human form also trying to escape round a cluster of wattle.

To this form Monk clung with the grip of death and a gurgling shout of triumph. 'I have you!' he shrieked. 'Coward, I have you, and the gallows shall have you yet. Die, and follow me to—'

The last words were uttered as he plunged his clasp-knife into the breast of his victim; then he rolled back as his hand relaxed the grip on his weapon. The starlight saw some convulsive movements of his limbs, and a growing pool of blood on the green grass; then all was still around Mark Monk.

The man who had been stabbed rose, and turned to the starlight the face of Archie Cresswell. Yes, it was he, and not Jack, upon whom the murdered convict had executed his revenge. He drew the weapon from his breast, and tried to staunch the flowing blood with the shirt he tore from his arms.

His first instinct was to fly to that white home among the roses and to the helping hand that had so often soothed his pain; then his geeorous heart forbore to terrify the poor woman.

As Jack did not know the deed had been witnessed, and might go back to the hut, Archie dared not venture there, so, with the courage born of desperation, he ran toward Mr. Warrington's home at the back of the factory, and knocked at the door. The proprietor, being a most earnest and energetic worker, was still engaged with his books, though his servants had all retired. He opened the door himself, and asked who wanted him.

'It is I, sir, the young man you so kindly engaged this morning. 'I am wounded, and came for help.'

For a moment Mr. Warrington hesitated, for he could not help remembering the youth's own confession of his antecedents, and prudence overcame his naturally generous disposition—this was but an instant, though, far at the sight of blood trickling between the youth's fingers as he pressed them to his chest, the good man set his lamp on the floor, and drew Archie into the room he had himself been occupying.

Here his first task was to administer a glass of wine, his second to examine the wound he had reopened before he would listen to a word of explanation. Mr. Warrington was something of a surgeon, as indeed he was something of a good many more or less useful professions, and the factory being at a good distance from any medical man, he necessarily kept a good many articles in the chemist's line. He soon had the wound bound up with many assurances that Archie should not be a bit afraid, as the knife had glanced off on the ribs without touching any vital part.

'And now tell me the whole story, my lad,' he said, as he seated the young man in a comfortable chair, and Archie told him all, including his visit to Mrs. Cresswell, and the fact of him being her son.

'Wonderful!' ejaculated the good man, 'and you are the son that poor soul came out here all the way from England to search for? Could any one think of more unparalleled devotion! Helpless, and poor, and blind! Well she has had reward at last in her darkness; her faithful love has found light at last!'


HOW true those prophetic words were the speaker little knew when he uttered them. 'Stay and never wound her heart again, my lad, and you shall be a son to me also. Now, come, and I will show you a bed—you must regain here while I go to see about this horrible affair that will throw a shadow over the brightness of Rylands.'

How thankfully young Cresswell lay down that night let the reader guess, while Mr. Warrington, accompanied by two of his especial men, whom he knocked up, went to the men's hut. Light appeared through the small window, and, on cautiously looking in, Mr. Warrington saw a strange sight. Jack Corrigan, as Monk had called him, was shaking his fist at the body of a dead man which was stretched on the table, and on the ghastly features of which the light of the flaring candle poured. The empty spirit-bottle, tossed on the floor, a witness of the cause of the wretched being's temporary madness. He had dragged the corpse of Monk from the spot where he had died, and apparently by a rope in a noose round the helpless neck, which rope Corrigan had passed over a tie-beam, and held in one hand.

'Now who'll be hung, Mark Monk!' he cried, or rather roared, just as Mr. Warrington and his companions reached the hut.

'You'll hang me, will you? The boot's on the other foot, mate! Yo, heave ho!'

And up was drawn the awful limp and bloody object to the tie beam, and swayed there to and fro for a moment, turning its awful face to one side, and the other as obeying the pendulous movement imparted by the quick elevation of the body.

At this instant the sleeping men, aroused by the noise, and springing from their bunks as Mr. Warrington entered, the murderer and maniac was soon secured, and the awful object swaying under the roof, rescued from his hands.

'How fortunate,' observed Mr. Warrington as he stood by Archie's bedside, and told him the result on his return home, 'how very fortunate your poor mother will know nothing of this awful event. I trust the commotion has not awakened her—indeed I fear she would be too happy to sleep tonight.'

He was wrong—Mrs. Cresswell slept well. When the sound of her son's step could be no longer heard she went into her room and fell upon her knees to thank the living Ordainer of all for his great mercies to herself and to her restored son. She recalled her breaking heart and her helpless search for him in this strange land, and the good friend Heaven had raised up to her in Mr. Warrington, in whose service she had been enabled in her blindness to earn a comfortable living.

And now, when she had lost all hopes—when her faith had been so dead that the very roses around her no longer reminded her of their Maker, He had sent her the lost one over the very threshold of her own home! Might His name be forever praised, and for ever and ever, Amen.

When the blind woman lay down in such unutterable peace as belongs not to this earth, it seemed to her as if there was no more earth only a second heaven over which the same great Ruler presided, and where all his creatures must love each other.

She did not dream of the awful scene being enacted so near her; no, she fell asleep, and dreamed of a land where there was no death, and no lost loved ones, and no blindness, and no sin. She dreamed that she was floating away on the softest and most beautiful cloud and that she could see the radiance of every star as she passed it on her glorious way to some strange and lovely land. She dreamed that, at last she reached a gate of gold, amid such a radiance of light as dazzled her newly found sight, and that as she entered, she looked back, and saw her darling Archie waving his hand toward her triumphantly from the summit of a distant peak—in her darkness her faithful soul had found light at last.


THE tidings, however kindly broken to him by his now friend and benefactor, that his mother had been found dead in bed with a heavenly smile on her pale lips, was a heavy blow to Archie Cresswell, but youth is elastic as hope itself, and long after Jack Corrigan had suffered for his crime and Mark Monk's broken remains had amalgamated themselves with their mother earth, the memory of his mother was as softly fresh and lovely in his heart as the flowers that always bloomed above her treasured grave.

Mr. Warrington clung to him as a to a son, and a happy future lay before the once hapless youth who had been branded with the fatal cross.


THE END

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