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Title: A Bush Bayard: Being A Romance of the Reign of Macquarie Author: John Sandes (1863-1938) * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1000471h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2010 Date most recently updated: September 2010 This eBook was produced by: Lyn Mulcahy Production Note: Note: A "bayard" is a bay horse. Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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The emigrants' last night in England was a dark and stormy one.
Yonder in Plymouth Sound the emigrant ship Amphitrite rocked at her moorings. She was to sail next morning.
In the cottage on the moor that God-fearing young farmer, Tom Trevithick sat reading his Bible, which lay on the table in front of him. Beside him sat his wife knitting. The three children, two boys and a girl, were sleeping quietly in their cots, undisturbed by the rain that beat gustily upon the window. As the wind howled round the cottage, searching every cranny, the flame of the candle flickered, and the tallow dripped in an ever increasing pyramid that formed on the candlestick.
Tom Trevithick, following the line of print with his guiding forefinger, read slowly and aloud, "They that go down to the sea in ships, and have their business in the great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep."
Lucy Trevithick, his wife, got up and went over to the cot where the smallest boy was sleeping. She raised the chubby head, smoothed the pillow, and laid the child down again, tucking in the bedclothes. The child smiled in his sleep, and the mother bent her head and kissed him. Then she sat down again beside her husband.
"For He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to heaven, they go down to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble."
"Tom, dear," said the woman, "hadn't we better go to bed now and get some sleep? It must be nearly 12 o'clock."
"Aye, aye, my lass. Just wait a minute until I finish the Psalm, and then we will go to rest for the last time in old England."
He began to read again, "Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness," but stopped abruptly in the middle of the verse. "Did ye hear someone calling, Lucy, or was it only the wind?"
They both listened intently, and sure enough they heard a faint "Hallo!" through the storm outside. Then there came a sound of wheels and trotting hoofs that stopped suddenly outside the cottage door.
"Who can it be at this time of night?" said the woman, in a scared tone of voice. There were grim tales of hearses drawn by headless steeds, and preceded by phantom riders in Devonshire in those days. Lucy Trevithick was wrought up by the excitement of the approaching departure, and, like all the other dwellings on the moor, she readily became a prey to superstitious fears.
"There's nothing can hurt us, lass, with the Word in front of us," said Tom, with simple piety. He rose from the chair and went to the door and opened it. As he did so the wind and rain drove in, making the candle flicker and nearly extinguishing it.
"Tom, Tom," said Lucy almost in a scream, "there is a tall man on the threshold. I saw him plain. Now may the Lord preserve us from all harm."
Next moment, a huge figure, heavily cloaked, stood in the cottage. "Why, Tom Trevithick, don't you know me?" said the intruder, stepping into the little circle of light that the candle threw out, while the rain dripped from his cloak and made a puddle on the floor.
"Why, bless me if it ain't the squire," said honest Tom. "Come right in out of the rain, master. And Lucy, lass, do ye set a chair for squire and take his cloak. Ye gave us a surprise, master, and no mistake."
But the squire still remained standing. He labored under some strong excitement, and he made no attempt to remove his heavy driving cloak. He was a burly man of 50 or thereabouts, and his face was very pale.
"Is anything amiss up at the hall?" enquired honest Tom Trevithick, looking anxiously at Squire Granger, for whom he had worked since he was a boy, and to whom he was sincerely devoted with the unquestioning fidelity, that bound the tiller of the soil to his feudal lord in the days when George III, was king.
"Aye, Tom, there is much amiss," said the squire, with something like a sob in his voice. "Trouble and sorrow and shame have entered my house, and I have come to you to help me." The squire had a small bundle under his heavy driving cloak. He drew it forth, and a feeble wail came from the bundle.
"It's a child!" said Mrs. Trevithick wonderingly. She started forward and took the bundle from the squire, and unwound the outer wrapping with practised motherly fingers. "Aye, but the poor little body must be nigh killed with the cold." She took the child in her arms, and busied herself warming some milk in a pot upon the embers of the fire.
Tom Trevithick looked up at the squire in sheer astonishment. His slow-moving mind could not grasp the meaning of this midnight visit of the great landowner, who came to him bearing an unknown infant in his arms. He waited for the squire to speak.
"Tom," said the squire, speaking under an emotional tension, which he was unable to conceal. "I have come to you tonight because I want you to help me—you and your good wife. I am a broken-hearted man Tom, but I must save the honor of my house and the good name of my family, the oldest family in these parts, and one which a sorrow like this has never touched till now."
The squire sat down on the chair, and laid his arms on the table in front of him, and buried his face in his hands. In a little while he looked up. Mrs. Trevithick was feeding the infant with spoonfuls of warm milk out of a cup, and Tom Trevithick was still listening respectfully, but with undisguised amazement.
"My daughter," said the squire, gulping down a sob. "My daughter, who was the pride of my eyes and the joy of my life, has brought shame on my house. This is her child. It was born two months ago. There is no need for you to know who is the father. She loved him, and she has paid the price. The woman always pays. She left her home and fled with her old nurse to a lonely hut far away on the edge of the moor. It was there that the child was born. The scoundrel who deceived her has gone."
"Oh, poor Miss Sybil." It was Mrs. Trevithick who spoke. She was crooning to the infant that was now sleeping in her arms, and the tears were pouring down her cheeks.
"I went to the hut to-night," went on the squire, in low and passionate tones. "My daughter was not there. Nobody was there except her old nurse, Martha, who was watching over the child. I took the child out of its cot in spite of the woman's entreaties, and I have brought it here to you. My daughter must not keep it. Only four people know of its existence, at present besides yourselves, namely, its unhappy mother, the old nurse Martha, the smuggler who brought the French spy to this country in his lugger, and myself. If the secret goes no further my daughter's good name may yet be saved, and her whole life shall not be ruined if I can help it."
"But, squire, what do you want us to do?" asked Tom Trevithick, in utter perplexity. This midnight revelation was too much for him. His dull wit could not see the bearings of it, nor guess the nature of the request that was to come.
"I want you and your wife to take this infant—it is a healthy boy—with you to Australia in the ship that sails tomorrow." said the squire, speaking with swift determination. "I want you to treat the child as one of your own family, and I desire that my daughter shall never see him again."
"Squire!" said Mrs. Trevithick, in accents of horror. "Oh! think of the suffering of the mother robbed of her son."
"I have thought of it." said the squire, grimly, "and I feel that though her sorrow will be grievous, it will be healed in time. It is better for her to feel agony now than to live with shame for her whole life."
The wind whistled mournfully round the cottage, and the rain beat heavily on the window pane. The squire threw one quick glance out into the night. "My gig is outside," he said, "and I must soon go, or the servants at the hall will suspect something. Trevithick, I have always been a good master to you, will you do this thing for me?"
Trevithick was bound to the squire by every sentiment of feudal fealty. He looked at his wife and she nodded her head. "Aye! I will," said the farmer, holding out his hand, which the squire shook warmly.
"I have not come to you empty handed," said the squire, drawing out a small canvas bag, and placing it on the table. "Here are a hundred guineas as provision for the child. When he grows up if I am still alive write to me and let me know. You will be given land out there in Australia, and you may count on me to provide a sum of money to start the boy suitably as a farmer when he reaches manhood. And now, good-bye, I shall not forget you."
Squire Granger shook hands again with Trevithick and also with his wife. He opened the door and the wind and rain drove in fiercely. He closed it behind him, and they heard the wheels of the gig as he journeyed away through the storm.
Trevithick looked blankly at his wife. The big Bible still lay open on the table. The embers of the fire still glowed redly.
Nothing was changed in the cottage, except that there was a new life there which had not been there half an hour before. "Poor little motherless body," crooned Lucy Trevithick, looking at her own three children sleeping in their cot, and then at this new arrival that had come to her out of the stormy night—the night that was her last in the land of her birth. And then she said quite softly, "Well, I will be your mother now, my lad," and laid him in her own bed.
In the forenoon of the next day the cottage on the cliff was empty, and the Amphitrite stood out to sea from Plymouth Sound, bound for New South Wales with a full complement of free emigrants, who were being sent by direction of my Lord Sydney, at the request of Governor Phillip, who desired to put a colony of free farmers on the rich agricultural lands that he had discovered on the Hawkesbury River.
As the Amphitrite hauled off the head with all her canvas set and drawing, a strange and tragic scene was enacted in the lonely hut at the farm end of the same moor on which Trevithick's cottage stood.
"Father, tell, me what you have done with my son." A tall and very lovely girl faced Squire Granger with flashing eyes and heaving bosom as she reiterated once more the demand which had already been made many times without eliciting any other answer than a determined "No."
The big burly man listened to her unmoved. His face was deathly pale. His lips were tightly compressed. At last he spoke again. "I tell you once more that you have no son now. I have placed him where you will never see him again. He is well. He will be cared for properly. I have provided for him. He will grow to manhood, but, for the sake of your own good name and the honor of our House, you must never—"
"But father, you do not know all."
"You must never look upon his face again. I tell you. Forget, forget, for—"
"Ha! What now?" The squire's feet seemed nailed to the floor. Something crashed in his brain under the stress of his terrible emotion. Then he fell forward on his face, and the little hut shook with the concussion.
His daughter and old Martha, the nurse, laid him on a bed. The squire's groom rode off to fetch a doctor, but before the doctor could reach the hut, Squire Granger, who had never rallied from the stroke, passed out into the darkness, taking his secret with him—and yet, for all his vigilance, knowing only half the truth.
Not a soul in England knew that his daughter's child lay sleeping in the arms of the simple-hearted peasant woman on the deck of the ship that was already hull down below the horizon.
Separated from her infant son beyond retrieving, the beautiful woman threw herself upon the bare earth outside the hut, and all her body shivered with the anguish of that parting, which is the little death.
When the Amphitrite dropped anchor in Sydney harbor, six months after leaving Plymouth Sound, Major Grose went on board her to greet the little band of free immigrants who were assembled on the deck to receive him. There were four families together, and as the big man in his cocked hat, gold-laced red coat, and white breeches inspected them he was well satisfied with the shipment. He even pinched the cheeks of the baby in Mrs. Trevithick's arms playfully and enquired its name. "Tristram Trevithick, your honor," replied. Mrs. Trevithick, dropping a respectful courtesy. The baby had been christened at sea by the captain at the request of its foster-mother, and as Tristram Trevithick it was enrolled with the other three children of the Devonshire farmer and his wife in the list of free immigrants whom Major Grose was deputed to settle on the rich alluvial flats just opened up on the Hawkesbury, or as it was still called by many, the Warragamba, that being the native name.
"One cannot make farmers out of pick-pockets, Captain Gaskett," said the Acting Governor genially to the weather-beaten master of the Amphitrite, "any more than one can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but these people are just the sort we want. I would rather have a dozen of them than five hundred soldiers or town-bred ne'er-do-weels to grow the wheat that we need so badly."
Baby Tristram opened his big dark eyes wide at the Governor and cried lustily. He was a singularly handsome baby, and unlike his heavy-featured brothers and sisters, he bore the stamp of breeding. The Governor snapped his fingers to hold the baby's attention. "He's not a bit like you, Mrs. Trevithick," he rapped out, "but I have no doubt he will make a good citizen and an excellent farmer, all the same."
Three days later Tom Trevithick, with his wife and the four children, along with the other free immigrants by the Amphitrite, were embarked in a Government cutter, and very thankful were all on board when they rounded Barrenjoey and entered the mouth of the Hawkesbury.
For two days they sailed up the noble river, under mighty hills at first, past many a wooded islet and round a long succession of bends that led to new reaches of shining water. At last the hills receded and lightly-wooded stretches of level land began to appear along the banks. Far up the river, nearly a hundred miles from its mouth, they landed, and Tom Trevithick was placed in possession of his grant of a hundred acres, there to carve out for himself a home with axe and plough and spade, receiving meanwhile Government rations for himself and his family.
Baby Tristram grew out of his baby clothes, and Mrs. Trevithick laid them away carefully in a great brass-bound chest along with the dainty and exquisite little garments that the infant had worn when Squire Granger had brought him first to her cottage.
Grose gave way to Paterson, and Paterson to Hunter, who in turn was succeeded by Governor King. Governor King returned to England. Bligh began and ended his brief and turbulent term of office, and Governor Macquarie took the place of Bligh. But such changes mattered less than nothing to Tom Trevithick, for the axe rang in the timber, and the oxen, with which the Government had supplied him, drew the plough through the rich, red, loam, and the wheat and the Indian corn ripened to the harvest, no matter who held sway over the heterogeneous population of bond and free in distant Sydney.
Two things only did Tom Trevithick fear—the floods, and the blacks. For the rest he cared not, but worked on steadily at the seeding, the ploughing, and the reaping, ruled his three assigned servants firmly as well as kindly, and held himself aloof as much as possible from the hard-drinking emancipist settlers who cultivated the adjoining blocks in a shiftless, haphazard fashion. Also, he read a chapter of his Bible aloud to his wife and children every night before the family retired to rest in the bark-roofed house, which he had built with his own hands on the highest point of his farm away from the river bank.
It was in these surroundings that baby Tristram grew to boyhood, playing with his foster brothers, Will and Owen, and his foster sister, Marjory, all of whom accepted him without question as one of themselves. Lucy Trevithick taught him to read, write, and cipher, and the boy read every book that he could get hold of, particularly history and adventures.
He bore no resemblance whatever to the other three children. At sixteen years of age he was tall and spare of figure, and in spite of all his hard, rough work, he carried himself with a grace that contrasted strangely with slouching gait of the surrounding settlers. With his olive complexion, aquiline features, and keen, dark eyes, he had nothing in common with the Trevithicks. "Do 'ee remember the Squire sayin' about the lad's father bein' a Frenchman, lass?" said Tom Trevithick to his wife one summer evening, as they sat together in front of the house, watching the ever-changing play of light and shadow on the river.
"Ay, Tom, that I do," replied Lucy Trevithick, never ceasing her knitting for a moment, "and I reckon the lad takes after his father, too, if we only knew."
Tristram himself, as he grew to manhood, could not help recognising the immeasurable distance that divided him from his supposed brothers. Stolid, hard-working and patient, like their father, Will and Owen conformed in all essentials to the type of industrial British farm worker, slightly modified by the new Australian environment, with its altered climate. But even while immersed in his homely agricultural labors, Tristram felt the surge of the soldier's blood in his veins, and yearned unceasingly to escape into the great world of action and achievements, where amid the clash of opposing ambitions, Fortune steps down at times to crown the adventurer.
At last, on a never-to-be forgotten day, Tristram set out for Sydney, along with Will and Owen, who had often accomplished the trip before, and made light of its dangers.
Setting sail from the farm in Tom Trevithick's capacious and well found lugger, which was heavily loaded with sacks of wheat and maize, they carried a fair wind all day, and, camped at night on a wooded island in one of the lower reaches of the river. Taking it in turns to stand on watch throughout the night, so as to guard against a raid of the blacks, who frequently attacked the grain boats in their bark canoes, the three young men cast off their moorings at daybreak and made the run from Barrenjoey to Sydney Heads in a couple of hours. Sailing up the harbor they landed at Sydney Cove, on a glorious morning. They saw the sailing boats flitting hither and thither, the old prison hulk Phoenix moored in the Cove, and the line of white-walled stores on the west side. They saw the great crowning mass of the military barracks on the high ground at the back, and the windmill standing up against the sky on Windmill Hill. On the east side of the Cove they saw the sweep of the rich park-like land which extended round to Farm Cove. A few aboriginals were camped in the bushes, and fishing on the foreshores, while others paddled in their bark canoes among the smart sailing boats of the white man.
Landing at the King's wharf they speedily transacted their business with the merchant, who purchased all Tom Trevithick's grain.
Leaving Will and Owen to carouse at the Black Dog, Tristram turned his steps towards the Tank Stream, and as he walked along in the direction of Government House, which was then at the corner of Bridge-street, he noticed a daintily dressed lady going the same way.
Tall, blonde, and blue-eyed, graceful as a sapling, and beautiful as a flower, Mary Fitzharding was a lovely girl, such as no other country save England could produce. Shaded by a big sun hat, with broad white ribbon tied under the chin, was a rose-leaf face of such beauty that soldiers meeting the girl, as they clanked along the street, instinctively saluted her with outstretched palm lifted to the forehead, while civilians doffed their beavers and bowed their homage. Dressed in a simple gown of sprigged muslin with the waist just beneath the soft outline of the girlish breast, she tripped along the street.
To Tristram she seemed in very faith a visitant from some land where humanity bore a different aspect from that to which he was accustomed. At the sight of her he caught his breath. Upon the Hawkesbury he had seen only the well-loved commonplace features, the homely breadth of figure, and soil coarsened hands and arms of his foster mother, whom he still believed to be his mother. Or on rare occasions he had seen the wives and daughters of the other settlers.
But Mary Fitzharding was very different—a lovely young Anglo-Saxon of the highest type. She was no dull. The sapphire eyes flashed with intelligence. The head was exquisitely shaped, and the pure line of the facial angle would have entranced an artist. But there was a touch of squareness in the jaw, and in the short, broad chin, that augured courage and determination in an emergency. Something of Norse, rather than of Saxon, about Mary Fitzharding. Just a suspicion of Viking blood in the form that bodied forth the character.
Tristram was absorbed in watching the girl as she passed quickly along the opposite side of Bridge-street parallel to his own course, when loud shouts behind him forced him to turn.
He saw a runaway prisoner, pursued by three soldiers, coming down the middle of the road, while an excited crowd followed at the heels of the pursuers.
Threats and curses filled the air as the crowd swept on following the figure of the runaway in front, who dodged and doubled like a hare. In a moment the crowd completely enveloped the girl, jostling and hustling her with ribald laughter.
"Help! Help!" A woman's cry was heard above the din, and Tristram hurled himself into the crowd, thrusting the leering ruffians aside and using his fists with such good effect that he soon cleared a pathway.
Dragging the girl into a friendly doorway Tristram took up a position in front of her, and he did such execution with his fists that the cowardly brutes soon found that flight was preferable to standing up in front of the furious young fighter in the doorway.
When the last of the ugly mob had disappeared Tristram handed the girl from the doorway with unembarrassed grace, and looking into her blushing face enquired whether he might escort her to her home, as the road seemed hardly safe.
The girl thanked him very prettily. "It is only right I should make myself known to you, sir, since you have rescued me from a most unpleasant situation. My name is Mary Fitzharding, and my uncle is Major Cuthbert, one of the Governor's aides-de-camp. I pray you to do me the favor of accompanying me to his house, and giving Mrs. Cuthbert the opportunity or thanking you for your bravery." Mary Fitzharding blushed furiously as she looked up at the astonishingly handsome young rustic who stood before her, though why she did so probably even she herself could not have explained.
She led the way to Major Cuthbert's quarters, and smiling graciously, invited Tristram to enter the drawing-room, while she ran upstairs to explain, with excited rapidity, the adventure that had befallen her, and the visit of the young man who had rescued her from her disagreeable predicament.
In a few minutes a tall and stately woman of forty-five or thereabouts sailed into the drawing-room, and advanced towards Tristram with friendly outstretched hand.
"My niece has told me, sir, of your courageous conduct," she began, and then staring into Tristram's face with an expression of bewildering amazement, she stopped speaking, and turned ghastly white.
Sinking into a chair, she fainted, just as Mary Fitzharding entered the room. The girl sprinkled water on Mrs. Cuthbert's face, and summoned her maid. "It must be the heat," she said to Tristram in subdued tones, "but she will be better presently. I am sorry, sir, that you should have to go so soon, but I trust we may see you again shortly, when my aunt is recovered of her indisposition. I should welcome another opportunity to thank you myself for the service you have done for me."
Tristram Trevithick trod on air when he left the house. He had never seen a woman like Mary Fitzharding before. He had never supposed that such a woman existed. All the charm of all the womanhood in the world flowered for him in Mary Fitzharding's face. He was so much absorbed in his thoughts of her, that he gave but little attention to Mrs. Cuthbert's strange attack of weakness. He had heard that ladies of quality were frequently afflicted with a mysterious ailment called the 'vapors,' and he presumed that Mrs. Cuthbert was not exempt from the affliction, but he made up his mind to see Mary again, cost what it may.
When Mrs. Cuthbert recovered consciousness under the ministration of Mary and her maid, she opened her eyes slowly and took Mary's hand in her own.
"Who is that young man," she asked in a whisper.
"I do not know, auntie," said the girl with deep regret. "I did not like to ask him his name, and he went away without telling me. But I judge from his talk that he must be one of the free settlers on the Hawkesbury."
Mrs. Cuthbert closed heir eyes again and tried to collect her thoughts. Ghosts of her dead youth-time thronged around her. How came Eugene de Donzenac, just as he looked when she first met him, to be in Sydney after all these years. They told her that he had fallen while charging with Milhaud's cuirassiers.
Strange and preoccupied in her manner was Mrs. Cuthbert all the afternoon, and her niece watched her with disquietude.
Was it only the heat that had upset her aunt, she asked herself, or could it really be that the appearance of the good-looking young stranger had affected her? Mary Fitzharding was as simple-hearted as a child. She saw that any reference to the exciting event of the afternoon threw Mrs. Cuthbert into a state of uncontrollable emotion, and so she sought other topics of conversation. But the current of her thoughts was still influenced by the memory of that extraordinarily handsome young rustic who had saved her from the mob, and her imagination wandered away to the Hawkesbury River, on whose banks the young man lived.
"Do you know, auntie," said the girl, "when I was out riding this morning with Uncle George, he told me such a romantic tale about one of those other settlers on the Hawkesbury?"
Mrs. Cuthbert stared wearily out of the window. Her thoughts were far away in Devonshire. She was not interested in the Hawkesbury. What was this country or its people to her? She had come here because the man whom she had married after the death of Eugene, was ordered to the new colony in an official position. And now, just when she had almost begun to forget the past, the old wound was reopened by the bidden apparition of the living image of Eugene de Donzenac. It was terrible, terrible. Would the past never die?
"Uncle was telling me about a remarkable man," continued Mary Fitzharding, "who had just received a conditional pardon from the Governor, and had been given a grant of land on the Hawkesbury. The man, it seems, was originally a smuggler, and, strangely enough, he came from your own county, auntie. He was a Devonshire man."
Mrs. Cuthbert smiled languidly. "I'm afraid there are a great many smugglers still in Devonshire, dear. The place was full of them when I was a girl."
"But this man was something else besides a smuggler." continued Mary Fitzharding. "He made large sums of money by taking English intelligence officers across the Channel and landing them on the French coast.''
"Quite an adventurous person," said Mrs. Cuthbert, trying earnestly to take an interest in her niece's talk.
"But this smuggler was not honest," said Mary with a smile. "He not only took English spies across in his lugger to get information about the French plans, but he brought back French spies who were anxious to find out as much as they could about the British defences at Portsmouth, and all along the coast."
"Ah!'' The exclamation came out sharply—like the cry that follows a stab. Mrs. Cuthbert was really interested at last.
"Uncle told me," continued Mary, "that the man carried on this curious business for quite a long time, but at last came under suspicion. His lugger was chased one night by a British sloop of war quite near the French coast. The captain of the sloop sent a boat's crew to board the lugger, and they made prisoners of the smuggler and a couple of seamen who were with him. They found a French officer's uniform on board the lugger. But the Frenchman himself had disappeared. He must have jumped overboard and swum to the French Coast, which was only a mile away, when he found that the lugger was certain to be captured. He was a brave man! Was he not?"
Mrs. Cuthbert nodded her head. She could hardly trust herself to speak. At last she retrained control of herself. "Go on, go on," she whispered eagerly.
"So they captured the smuggler," resumed Mary Fitzharding with quiet impersonal interest, "and he was tried for treason and sentenced to death. But the sentence was commuted to transportation for life, because of the services that he had previously rendered in carrying English officers across the Channel and landing them in France. So they sent him out to Botany Bay, and now he is a settler on the Hawkesbury."
"His name, child, his name." Mrs. Cuthbert was painfully agitated. Her fingers were working convulsively.
"Jonathan Wylie." said Mary Fitzharding wonderingly.
Mrs. Cuthbert slowly blanched until every atom of color left her face. But she retained her self-command. "I fancy I have heard of him," she said in low tones. "A rich emancipist, is he not? One takes no interest in such people. Now, run along and talk to Captain Cartwright here downstairs, and make some excuse for my absence. I know it is you he wants to see and not me."
Years of training in the art of subduing her feelings came to her assistance. The much-tried woman actually managed to muster the ghost of a smile.
But Mary Fitzharding was anything but pleased as she turned to go. She was bored by Captain Cartwright, and worried by the obstinacy with which he had laid siege to her hand. The black-browed captain, with his heavy jaw, seemed incapable of realising that in paying court to her he was advancing upon a forlorn hope.
Tristram kept the image of Mary in his heart as he went off with light and springy footsteps towards George-street on his way to the markets to pick up Will and Owen, whom he reckoned confidently upon finding in the big taproom of the Market House.
Turning his back on the massive dominating walls of the barracks, built on the rising ground in the centre of the town, and on the red-coated sentries who guarded the main barrack gates, he made his way to the crowded market place, not far from the Market Wharf in Cockle Bay, which was afterwards called Darling Harbor.
Presently he came to an enclosed area surrounded by a three-railed fence, and containing the stalls upon which the produce of the settlers were sold. Close by were long lines of drays and waggons piled high with green vegetables, bales of hay made from the rich native grasses, and sacks of wheat and Indian corn. The settlers themselves, dressed for the most part either in short, blue cotton smock frocks and trousers, or in jackets and trousers of coarse fustian, were gathered in knots, and were mostly engaged in boasting loudly of their respective crops and livestock.
Catching their scraps of talk as he passed, Tristram learned that they brought in their wheat and vegetables for sale to the city inhabitants, thereby being enabled to provide themselves with tea, sugar, and tobacco, with which to help out the invariable diet of salt pork and doughboys made of maize meal. With their bright neck handkerchiefs, rough straw hats, or caps made of untanned kangaroo skin, they were a picturesque lot of men, but Tristram gave an involuntary shudder as he went amongst them and realised their stolid ignorance and insensibility to everything that lay outside their narrow round of toil in tillage. Was he doomed, he dimly wondered, to remain for all his life associated with men who could not read or write, whose chief amusement consisted in using the most horrible oaths, and whose one real enjoyment was to get drunk.
Tristram experienced a thrill of repulsion and disgust as he threaded his way through the 'dungaree settlers,' as they were usually called. It was very strange, he thought, that he should be troubled by such feelings, which he guessed were not experienced by his father and mother, or his brothers or sisters at the farm on the banks of the Hawkesbury.
Entering the big tap room, with the sanded floor, he found Will and Owen seated on a bench drinking rum and water in company with Ben Matthews, the owner of the farm next to Tom Trevithick's.
"Did yer hear the news, Trist," hiccoughed Will, as he rose unsteadily from the bench, and waved a glass of rum and water erratically at Tristram. "Ole Macquarie himself is acomin' up to Windsor at the end of the month to hold an inspection of the farms on the river—'im and 'is 'ole blessed staff. Ladies and all. It'll be a great day for us chaps, to be sure."
Tristram felt his heart bounding wildly and knew the reason. Would it be a great day for him? He wondered.
When Governor Macquarie paid his official visit to Windsor he did it in style, driving in his carriage drawn by four spanking bays, along the well-made road from Parramatta, through Blacktown, where once a year a great muster of blacks was held, and over the lightly wooded undulating plains, already settled with free immigrants, down to the township on the right bank of the noble river.
Mrs. Macquarie sat by his side, and facing him sat Major Cuthbert, his aide-de-camp, and Mary Fitzharding, who had taken the place of her aunt. Mrs. Cuthbert at the last moment had begged to be allowed to stay at home, and had pleaded indisposition. A body guard of mounted troops rode before and behind the carriage, under the command of the black-browed Captain Cartwright, who sat his big black horse gracefully enough, and was regarded with admiration, spied with fear, by little Tony Hawkins, his bugler, who rode a horse's length behind him, ready to sound the calls at the word of command.
The cavalcade made a brave show as it rattled through the little township with waving plumes and glinting steel, while the townspeople cheered and waved their handkerchiefs from the windows. The gleam of scarlet and gold, the flash of the polished scabbards and the spotless white of the well-pipeclayed crossbelts against the brilliant tunics made a striking colornote with the cloudless sky above and the white ribbon of the winding road beneath.
And then there was Mary Fitzharding's lovely face. Her eyes fairly hypnotised the captain of the escort.
Wheeling sharply to the right as he reached the rising ground above the willow bordered river, Captain Cartwright led the way to Government House, which stood back some little distance from the road in a neat garden where there were a few noble shade trees. The house itself was an unpretentious one-story building, the walls being covered with white plaster, and the architecture of the rule simplicity that marked the old colonial style. The roof was covered with wooden shingles in lieu of thatch of tiles, but the dwelling was comfortable and neatly furnished, with one verandah facing the roadway in front, and another looking out across the river at the back towards the rich flats and water meadows, and away to the haze-enfolded outline of the Kurrajong ranges that ran down to the sea—a giant spur from the distant Blue Mountains.
Seated on the verandah, which commanded that matchless view, Governor Macquarie received the chief officials of the town and heard their reports. He was at this time a man of about sixty years of age, of soldierly bearing, and tall square figure. He wore a scarlet coat heavily epauletted and braided with gold lace, and tight blue trousers strapped under the soles of his boots. A three-cornered hat, not unlike that worn by an admiral, he had placed on the chair beside him, and the light breeze that came up the river stirred his short wavy hair that curved naturally over his high forehead. Eyes of clear steel blue, set rather close together, with a humorous twinkle in them at times, a large aquilline nose, a mouth of iron, and a strongly protruding chin, marked him out as a born soldier. His skin was tanned to a rich brown by his long service in India before he was sent out with the seventy-third regiment, of which he was the colonel commanding, to clear up the trouble brought about by the despotism of Governor Bligh and to send the New South Wales Corps back to England.
The officials reported to the Governor that the wild blacks from the Kurrajong had been very troublesome and had killed many cattle belonging to the settlers. They killed the animals by spearing them in the middle of the forehead, making a round hole that exactly resembles the hole of a rifle bullet, and thereby cunningly attempting to divert suspicion from themselves to the white men. The remains of many cattle that had been killed in this way had been found in the bush. Would his Excellency order a small detachment of soldiers to be quartered in the neighborhood for the protection of the settlers?
The Governor made a note of the request, and promised to send six men in charge of a lieutenant to deal with the wild blacks. He also issued an order on the spot that if any blacks attacked a settler's home the other settlers in the neighborhood should at once go to the assistance of the man who was attacked, and should employ their best efforts to disperse the assailants. Heavy penalties would be inflicted upon any sulkers who refused in repelling the blacks from a neighbor's homestead. The deputation then drew his Excellency's attention to the severe losses that had been occasioned by the last inundation of the Hawkesbury. Boats were urgently needed, in view of a possible repetition of the flood. Also, it would be necessary to provide certain of the settlers with seed wheat, and with live stock to replace the animals that had been lost.
His Excellency listened patiently to all the requests, and the leading townspeople who presented them were not only promised the relief they required, but were also regaled by his Excellency's instructions with biscuits, and port wine. Those who preferred rum and water were permitted to indulge their preference.
When these formalities were over and luncheon had been eaten on the verandah overlooking the river, Governor Macquarie announced his intention of visiting some of the farms in the neighborhood in order to see for himself what progress was being made. Mrs. Macquarie was too much fatigued to go any further, and Major Cuthbert had some important administrative duties to occupy his attention. So his Excellency invited Mary Fitzharding to accompany him in the big carriage, and they set off, attended by Captain Cartwright, with a couple of troopers as escort.
Governor Macquarie was delighted with all that he saw, and well he might be, for the smiling homesteads that dotted the rich alluvial flats along the river gave substantial promise that the grim spectre of famine which had stalked through the infant colony in its early years would never menace the settlement again. On the far side of the river rose deep forests, behind which towered the ranges, but on the near side the comfortable homes of the settlers on their hundred-acre blocks were set amid orchard and corn lands. Cattle stood under the shade of the trees, whisking their tails to keep away the flies, and the ploughing teams were steadily breaking new ground to be sown with wheat or barley, or the Indian corn that grew to such a height as the Governor had never seen during all his long service in India.
In every homestead that he visited his Excellency found respectful greetings and well-filled barns, while the cupboards held plenty of wheaten cake and maize cake, and the larder invariably contained a joint of pork or beef. For refreshment he was offered watermelons—very cool and thirst-quenching in the heat of the afternoon. And the girls and women shyly pressed Mary Fitzharding to take a cup of tea from the pot which seemed to be always ready.
At last they came to Trevithick's homestead, and the rush of color flew to Mary's cheeks when she found herself looking into those keen dark eyes that had haunted her ever since she had first met her stalwart young rescuer.
Captain Cartwright, slapping the leg of his well-polished riding-boot with his switch, saw the sudden sunrise in the girl's cheek, and wondered angrily what it meant.
Surely Miss Fitzharding could never have met this country lout before. And yet there seemed to be an unmistakable bond of sympathy between the beautiful girl who belonged to the flower of the English aristocracy and the handsome young rustic who carried himself like a soldier in spite of his humble occupation.
Cartwright resolved to keep his eye on young Trevithick, but unhappily this resolution was quickly broken. Governor Macquarie required him to take notes of Tom Trevithick's suggestions in regard to the more effective policing of the river, and particularly in regard to certain malefactors who had lately broken out at Bathurst, and who might be expected to make a descent upon the Hawkesbury settlement almost any day. But before he had nearly completed cataloguing Trevithick's long list of requests and suggestions, he looked up and found to his dismay that Tristram and Mary had disappeared. The flutter of a white skirt far away among the peach trees in the orchard betrayed the girl's whereabouts and caused Captain Cartwright to bite his lip angrily. He vowed to get even with the insolent young rustic who dared to raise his eyes to a lady so far above him. Meanwhile Tom Trevithick, whose beard was grizzled and whose face was seamed with lines deeply cut by years of anxious vigilance which was the price of safety from his chief enemies the Kurrajong blacks, was revealing to the Governor some of the pressing new dangers which threatened the settlement.
"In my opinion, Governor," he said, "that there Jonathan Wylie ain't no good to this district."
"But I understand that Wylie is a man of considerable substance," said the Governor, "and since he received his discharge he has never got into any trouble? The situation is one which, in my view, entitles him to sympathy rather than to reprobation."
"I know that he has become a wealthy man, Governor," said Tom Trevithick; "but how has he done it? I cannot answer that question fully but I can tell you that he is a regular bludsucker for squeezing the settlers. He advances them a few pounds off mortgage and then ruins them—gets them to assign all their crops to him for a few barrels of moonshine."
"Eh, what's that?" asked the Governor, starting up in his chair. "What do you mean by barrels of moonshine?"
"Illicit spirit, sir," said Tom Trevithick confidently. "Grog that has never paid the King's duty. There are private stills at work in these ranges, and it is my belief that Jonathan Wylie is at the back of a good many of them. It's becoming the curse of the settlement, and the ruin of the farm hands. And only last week a lot of people a bit lower down the river got hold of a five-gallon keg of moonshine, poured it into a tub, filled the tub up with water and then sat round it with their pannikins, men and women, until they finished it. A terrible scene it was, too, fighting, cursing, and ungodly ribaldry of all kinds. One man was nearly murdered at the finish, I am told."
"By gad, I'll put a stop to that business, Trevithick," said Governor Macquarie hotly. "I'll issue an ordinance against it immediately. Cartwright, did you hear that?"
"Yes, sir," said Cartwright, recalling his gaze with some difficulty from the peach orchard. "I've heard something before about this illicit distillation going on in the ranges. I only wish we could find a clue to the offenders, sir."
"I'll run them down, Cartwright, never fear," said the Governor. "Just make a memorandum, will you. Patrols to search the ranges thoroughly. A free pardon to accomplices who will give information. All magistrates to be empowered to punish in summary jurisdiction. I'll pour boiling water on the ants' nest at once. Illicit distillation, indeed, what next?"
His Excellency became quite red in the face at the thought of illicit stills pouring out grog for the masses. It was almost blasphemy. Grog was a valuable Government monopoly. Rum was practically currency. To produce illicit spirits was equivalent to debasing the coinage. The gorge of the Administrator rose at the bare idea.
"And then there's them Bathurst bushrangers, Governor," said Trevithick, leaning forward in his chair and wagging a gnarled forefinger in Governor Macquarie's face. "There's a band of at least fifty out now. They're driving sheep and cattle in front of them, attacking the biggest homesteads, and robbing in every direction."
"I shall deal with them," said the Governor briefly. "They'll find a regiment of red-coats in front of them before very long. The band will be captured or shot to a man."'
"Very glad to hear it, your Excellency," said Trevithick, with a sigh of relief. "I haven't slept for two nights thinking of the villains. And now let me offer you the finest dish of peaches that you'll find on the Hawkesbury."
So Governor Macquarie ate his peaches, and down in the orchard, in the shade of the trees that bore them, Tristram Trevithick looked into Mary's blue eyes and thrilled at what he read there, while Captain Cartwright glowered at the pair from the verandah, where he stood in attendance on his chief. His thick black eyebrows came together until they made almost a straight line across his brow, when he saw Mary place her hand on Tristram's arm, as she listened intently to his words.
"I do not know how it is. Miss Fitzharding," Tristram was saying, "but I must avow that there are times when this familiar scene, in which I have spent all my life, seems strange and unreal. I could almost believe that some evil spirit has bewitched me, and filled my head with such strange, waking dreams."
"Fie, Mr. Trevithick," said Mary, patting Tristram's fustian clad arm with her little hand. "Tell me of your dreams; it may be that I can interpret them."
"Often when I am driving the plough or milking the cows," said Tristram, "there comes into my head a vision of camps and the roll of distant kettledrums, instead of the glittering Hawkesbury yonder, I seem to see a river of bayonets, and the stocks of the wheat are like tents upon a field."
"You have been reading in the evenings overmuch about the wars," said Mary softly, "and it is natural that you should think of glory. A man who is a real man must do that." Again she looked up into Tristram's eyes and read there perplexity as well as—love.
"When I see you looking at me like that, Miss Fitzharding, I feel that it is not for the first time. My mind goes back. I—I remember—I remember in some other country seeing you look into my eyes. But we were standing by the sea shore. Great cliffs rose up from the Beach. And there was a boat in which I went—away."
The young man swayed and would have fallen if Mary had not steadied him with her encircling arm. She made him sit down on a newly-felled log and she produced a silver 'pomander' with a scented ball, the odor of which she made him inhale. Trevithick passed his hand across his brow and was himself again.
"Your pardon, Miss Fitzharding, for a momentary weakness. I fear the heat has made me giddy."
Mary Fitzharding made him lean upon her arm as they walked back to the homestead, and every pulse of her thrilled at the touch of his hand. She felt almost vexed with herself at the feeling that this farmer's son inspired in her. She, who had been a reigning toast in the London clubs, and who had snubbed the advances of more than one of the young bloods of the day, to feel her heart beat and her color rise when the eyes of this good-looking young yokel were upon her and when his rich musical voice sounded in her ears. It was monstrous strange, surely, that when she came out to this remote settlement in the antipodes at the earnest desire of her affectionate, but curiously silent aunt, who desired her companionship, she should meet a young rustic, who had power to stir her heart as no man of her own class in England had been able to move it.
Mary's thoughts were running riot as she went back to the homestead, supporting Tristram on her arm, to the surprise of Governor Macquarie and the Trevithick and the disgust of Captain Cartwright.
Tristram explained that he had been overcome by the heat.
"Ha, a touch of the sun, eh?" said the Governor, "and yet it is not nearly so hot here as I have known it in India. Put your head in a bucket of water, young fellow, and you will be all right in five minutes."
So Mrs. Trevithick led him inside the house to bathe his head with cold water, but her eyes were troubled, and she sighed heavily, as the distressing duty which was never long absent from her thoughts was brought visibly nearer to her. She had always known that Tristram must fall in love some day. Her woman's intuition told her that the time had come and the expected had happened. But it was far worse than she had anticipated. He had fallen in love with a girl who belonged to a very different class from theirs, and who moved among the highest in the land. So much the more necessary was it that he should learn the truth in good time, lest, learning it too late, he should reproach her, who had brought him up as her own son with bitterness and unavailingly.
When Mrs. Trevithick had gone into the house with Tristram, and Tom Trevithick was still enlightening Governor Macquarie on the subject of the danger from the blacks, and the difficulty of getting work out of his assigned servants, Captain Cartwright faced Mary in a corner of the vineclad verandah, with an evil smile upon his heavy lips.
"You would be less cruel if you were more careful, Miss Fitzharding," he began cuttingly: "for I fear your charms have quite turned the head of the young ploughman. Pray spare such an inexperienced victim, and do not slay him outright."
Mary's eyes flashed dangerously. "I have no liking for experienced gallants, Captain Cartwright," she said freezingly, looking him straight in the face, "and it pleases me to get away from them at times. I would have you know that Mr. Trevithick has earned my gratitude by defending me from a rude mob in Sydney when no one else came to my help."
Captain Cartwright's scowl darkened. "Yet I vow the farmer is presumptuous," he snapped, "when he lifts his eyes to Miss Mary Fitzharding, as I saw him lift them before he went inside."
Mary stamped her little foot angrily. "Presumptuousness is not so insupportable as impertinence, Captain Cartwright," she flung out with lightning speed.
Governor Macquarie turned round with a grim smile as the angry words reached his ears. "What—quarrelling again, you two?" he said. "Cartwright, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. We managed these things differently when I was a young man. Come, my dear,"—he stood up and pinched Mary's cheek affectionately—"I must be going back to Windsor, for I entertain the officers of the town at dinner this evening. Captain Cartwright, be good enough to send your orderly for my carriage."
So Captain Cartwright, biting the ends of his black moustache, summoned the orderly, and the orderly summoned the carriage, and just before it drove away Tristram Trevithick came out on the verandah, and Mary went up to him and held out her hand.
"Good-bye, for to-day, Mr. Trevithick," she said before them all, with her brightest smile. "I'm so glad that you are feeling better. We shall meet again very soon I know, and believe me, I shall be very glad to see you. I hope you will allow me to present you to my aunt, once more, when you come down to Sydney. I am sure she would be greatly interested to know you."
Tristram handed her into the carriage. He could scarcely trust himself to speak. The pain of losing this gracious and radiant visitant was sharp and poignant. Yet he knew in his inmost heart that his life and hers were bound up together henceforth. Shading his eyes with his lifted palm, he watched Governor Macquarie's carriage, with its postillions and its escort, rolling away in a cloud of dust towards the little township of Windsor, and as he turned to go inside he met Mrs. Trevithick at the door.
She placed her two hands upon his shoulder. "Tristram, dear, are you quite well now," she asked anxiously, and her lips trembled.
"Quite well, mother," said Tristram.
"Then come in with me, my lad," said Mrs. Trevithick, with a meaning glance at her husband, "for I have something to say to you that must be said."
Old Tom Trevithick heard, and settled himself in his chair. He was resolved to have nothing to do with the matter that had now to be dealt with. A good farmer was Tom Trevithick, but his wife had more moral courage in her little finger than he had in his whole ragged frame.
Ever since leaving England he had dreaded the day when it would be necessary to tell Sybil Granger's son who and what he was. Tom Trevithick gave a little shiver and looked out over the mighty river that rolled on its course to the sea, as careless of human hope and fears in its days of tranquility as it was when fed by the mountain torrents that hurled themselves into its upper waters, it rose over its banks and carried death and devastation to the dwellers in its valley.
"Mother'll be the best to tell him," muttered Tom Trevithick nervously, as he filled his long clay pipe with tobacco grown and cured on his own farm, pressed it down into the bowl with trembling fingers, and lighted it. "Lordy, Lordy, I'm afeared the boy will take it badly."
Sitting on the edge of his simple camp bed in his own room, the room he had slept in since he was a child, Tristram heard from Lucy Trevithick the dark story of his birth. The woman spoke in broken tones, looking into the young man's tense white face, while tears gathered in the corners of her own eyes at the pain which she was inflicting. She concealed nothing. Her frank and simple nature would not stoop to the slightest deception, even to save from sorrow the youth whom she loved as her own son.
Tristram listened to her dry-eyed. "And who was my father?" he asked at last, in a dull hard voice that seemed to have lost all its ring.
"We have never known who he was," said Lucy Trevithick. "All that the Squire told us when he brought you to us on the night before we sailed from England was that the man whom Miss Sybil had loved was a Frenchman. After we had been here for nearly a year Tom wrote to the Squire, telling him that we were happily settled, and that the child had been christened Tristram, and that he was well, but the Squire never answered the letter."
"Of course not," said Tristram bitterly. "Why should he?"
"He promised to provide money for setting you up on a farm of your own when you became a man," said Mrs. Trevithick, "but he never wrote again; we never heard from Miss Sybil either."
"Yet being a woman and a mother," said Tristram, "she must have found out what her father had done with her son. It is plain that she did not want me either." He stared at the whitewashed wall, and his eyes had a new hard look in them that was not there before.
"Tristram, dear lad, haven't I been a mother to you?"
The young fellow took Mrs. Trevithick's toil worn hand in his own and kissed it. "Indeed, you have." he said amply, and then with bitter irony—"Far better than a mother."
"I always knew that I would have to tell you this," said Lucy, "as soon as you were a man."
"But why are you telling me to-day?" asked Tristram, still in the same lifeless, toneless voice.
"Because you are a man to-day," said Lucy Trevithick softly. "I watched you with Miss Fitzharding, and I know that you love her."
A radiant gleam shone for a moment in Tristram's eyes. Then it passed away, and his two hands dropped to his sides with a gesture of despair.
"My conscience would not let me keep silence lad, any longer,'" said poor Lucy, torn with sorrow at the sight of the young man's misery. "I always knew that when you grew to be a man, and thoughts of love and marriage came to you, I would have to tell you in fairness to yourself. Then knowing all, you could decide for yourself what you ought to do."
"Mother, I have decided what to do," said Tristram almost in a whisper.
She looked at him uncomprehendingly. His face gave no indication of his decision but as she fixed her gaze with gracious affection and motherly feeling on his flashing eyes and dark curling hair, an aquiline nose, and strong, straight mouth, with the upper lip shaded by a small black moustache, she could not help noticing with a fresh pang of emotion how different he was from her own sons—as different as a keen sword blade from a plough share. That was the very comparison that flashed into her mind.
"And now come with me into my own room my lad, for I have things to show you," said Lucy.
Tristram stood up from the edge of his bed on which he had been sitting. Under his black curly hair his face showed deathly white. He walked unsteadily across the floor after Lucy, and only saved himself from falling by clutching at the door. She held out her hand to him, and he grasped it. She led him through the door into her own room with the big four-post bed, which took up nearly the whole of one side of the room, and the child's cot that had long been empty in one corner opposite. In the other corner, near the door, stood the great heavy brass-bound chest that Tom Trevithick had brought out from England in the Amphritrite many years before. It had stood there unopened for years. The iron padlock and the staples that it secured were both stained red with rust.
Lucy Trevithick took a key from her bunch and unlocked the padlock. She raised the top of the heavy case and laid it against the wall. She went down on her knees beside the case, and brought up out of it a dainty little garment of cambric edged with Valenciennes lace—the long clothes of the baby. There was a little under-garment, too, a pair of tiny white socks, and a pair of blue woollen knitted shoes. She laid them all on the bed.
"These are the things that you were wearing, lad, when Squire Granger brought you to our cottage on the cliff on that stormy night that was our last in England."
Tristram took up the baby clothes and the socks and knitted shoes and looked at them closely. It came into his mind, that possibly there might be some mark, or at least some initial, that would afford a clue to the identity of that unknown father who had given him life, and had then vanished into impenetrable darkness. But there were no marks—nothing to differentiate the little garments from thousands of similar garments made for children whose mothers were rich enough to dress their babies in cambrics and costly lace.
He laid the things down on the bed again. "You had better keep these, mother," he said. "They are my only birth certificate." He laughed harshly as he spoke.
Mrs. Trevithick carefully replaced the little garments and the blue knitted shoes in the big brass-bound box. Then she lifted from the corner of it a small canvas bag filled with coin.
"This is the money that Squire Granger gave us when he asked us to take you away to Australia," said Lucy simply. "He said it was for your maintenance, but Tom and I have never touched it. We promised him to treat you as though you were our own child, and so we have done. The bite and the sup were always there for you, dear lad, as well as for our other children, and we reckon that you should have the spending of the Squire's hundred guineas yourself."
She untied the string round the neck of the bag, and emptied the coins on the bed. Then she counted them back into the bag slowly—one two, three, and on to one hundred. The tally was correct. Not a coin was missing. And yet Tom Trevithick and his wife had been hard put to it more than once since they went to the Hawkesbury. There were times, after the great flood, for instance, in which they lost almost everything, when a guinea would have bought needed food for them and their children. But, for the sake of their honor, they preferred to go hungry. The golden guineas clinked in the canvas bag as Lucy Trevithick handed it to Tristram.
"Take it, my lad, for it's yours," she said.
So Tristram, with a grim smile, slipped the bag of guineas into the pocket of his rough fustian coat. He would not press his foster mother to keep the money. He knew her frank and straightforward soul too well to dream of affronting her by such an offer.
"And now, lad, come out on the verandah, and tell my man that you know everything at last."
Together they went out on the verandah, where Tom Trevithick sat in his arm chair, smoking a long clay pipe, and glancing nervously at intervals towards the door.
"So there you are at last," said Tom, with forced hilarity, "and now what secrets have you been talking about to your mother, eh?"
"I have been listening to secrets, not telling them, sir." said Tristram to the old man. "My dear and kind foster-mother, whose goodness to me I can never either forget or repay, has told me—as she was bound to tell me—the story of my birth. I find that I am nobody's child. Even the very name of my father is unknown to me. You will understand that the news is distressing,"—here the young man's voice dropped to a whisper—"and especially in my present situation."
"Eh? How's that, my lad?"
"My foster-mother will tell you, sir, that I love a lady—a lady who was far above me when I was an honest son, and who is removed from me altogether by an immeasurable distance now that I discover myself to be a person with no right even to the name I bear—a nameless fellow—a waif. I owe my life, it seems, to the chance meeting of a dissolute scoundrel and a foolish girl, both of whom cast me off at the earliest moment that they could do so."
The young man's voice thrilled with passion. "Well, the world has dealt evilly with me. I will requite the world with evil for its evil. I cannot stay here any longer, pretending to a place that is not mine. And so I must say good-bye. Tell my brothers and my sister that I have gone to Sydney to seek my fortune. Goodbye, my mother—the only mother whom I have ever known. Kindest and best of foster-mothers that any man ever had. Good-bye, sir, and thank you for all your goodness to me."
He shook hands first with old Tom Trevithick who sat looking open-mouthed at him, his old fingers clutching his clay pipe convulsively.
Then he kissed Lucy Trevithick, who held him a moment in her arms, sobbing, "Oh, my lad, my poor, poor lad. What will become of you now?"
Tristram smoothed her greying hair with his fingers. "Try to forget me, mother. And if you ever see Mary Fitzharding, tell her to forget me, too, for we shall never meet again, and now good-bye." He kissed her and was gone.
Lucy Trevithick saw him take the bush track that led to the township of Windsor, from which there was a post road to Parramatta, and thence to Sydney. Just as he turned the last corner he stopped and waved his hand. Then he passed out of sight, and Lucy could hardly see the garden path through her tears as they went back to the homestead that would know her handsome foster-son no more.
A long, low room, with a sanded floor, discolored walls and a small window, provided with a heavy baize curtain, ready to be drawn on emergency.
Round the room were benches set against the wall, and in front of the benches were dirty deal tables stained with liquor. The smoke from the chimney of the stinking oil lamp mixed with the rank tobacco fumes from the clay pipes of the assembled company. This was the interior of the sly grog shop known as the 'Sheer Hulk,' situated in one of the most desperate quarters of Sydney—the place called the 'Rocks.'
Aforesaid company included in the first place an individual known as Old Dan, who was the proprietor of the drink shop. Dan was dressed in a soldier's discarded scarlet coat, very old and dirty, and a pair of blue dungaree pants, stuffed into sea boots. He had but one eye, and his face was deeply pitted with smallpox. He carried a huge pair of horn-rimmed spectacles on his fiery nose, and his solitary eye was turned with close interest upon a couple of sailors who were lately back from a successful sealing cruise and were bent on enjoying themselves. A few soldiers who had taken French leave from the barracks, half a dozen sailors from the ships lying in the Cove, a few shifty-eyed nondescripts, who might be cutpurses or worse, a man sleeping on a bench with his face to the wall, and two girls waiting for an invitation to drink, completed the gathering. Most of the men were seated round the various tables playing 'all fours' with greasy packs of cards, and not seldom quarrelling violently over the game.
All at once one of the waiting girls nudged her companion and pointed to the sleeper on the bench, whispering something in her ear. Then they both giggled.
The sleeper was yawning and stretching himself. He sat up, rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and surveyed the unedifying scene before him. Rising to his feet he lurched unsteadily across the room and sat down between giggling Poll and Kitty.
It was Tristram.
But a Tristram vastly changed from the smart young farmer of the upper Hawkesbury. His flashing eyes were all bloodshot, and his dark, wavy hair was matted and unkempt. His clothes were stained with dust and dirt. Old Dan's vile rum had done its work well. Tristram had embarked upon the first stage of paying the world back for the evil that it had done him, and the experiment was not turning out well.
"Rum. Dan, rum, I say!" he shouted, "and pannikins for me and these ladies, who will honor me by taking refreshment with me."
The pock-marked old ruffian shot a meaning glance from his solitary eye to Poll and Kitty, who responded with knowing winks.
Thus it was that Tristram thought to drown his grief and to stifle all thoughts of the beautiful girl whose image was locked in his heart. It was a sorry attempt. The guineas jingled in a bag in his pocket, and he set himself deliberately to trade away the birthright preserved for him so scrupulously by his foster parents for something far less wholesome than Esau's mess of pottage, namely, Old Dan's rum.
There were moments for him in which the eye of the mind penetrated the thick reek of moral degradation as clearly as the eye of the sense caught glimpses, through the dense fog and smoke, and oil fumes, of the clear beauty of the stars shining over the harbor. Tristram looked through the little window of his soul, just as he looked through the little window of the 'Sheer Hulk.'
But even as he looked, old Dan, fearing spies, drew the heavy dark baize curtain across the window of the 'Sheer Hulk' shutting out the stars, and Tristram by a deliberate effort to forget, placed a dark screen athwart the window of his soul.
"Cheer up, Cully," said Poll, putting her arm round Tristram's waist, with the object of exploring that bulging coat pocket, before her chum, Kitty, could rifle it. The Free Companions plundered with a light heart, and here was a traveller who seemed actually to invite their attention.
Kitty, on the other side, was letting her thoughts wander in the direction of the sealers. The red-haired one was a jovial fellow, and he evidently had plenty of the rhino. She shot a look from her bold eyes at him, and the red-haired sealer rose to it like a trout to a 'coachman' fly. Next minute Poll had Tristram to herself, for Kitty was sitting on the sealer's knee, and drinking from the sealer's pannikin. Black-eyed Poll explored the bulging pocket cautiously while she nestled against Tristram, looking into his drawn and hagged face, with well stimulated ardour.
"Cheer up, Cully," she said again. "In love are you and hankerin' for a girl you cannot get? Well, here's one that you can." Her breath, lightly tainted with old Dan's spirit that passed for rum, touched his cheek. Her fingers pried deftly in his pocket, and found the canvas bag, solid, heavy, and tied securely at the neck. Alas, it was too solid and heavy to be moved without the owner becoming aware of his loss.
Tristram had arrived at the dictatorial confidential-histrionic stage—the stage which romantic adolescence, when loaded with alcohol, never fails to reach. He was as high-flown, morbid, and desperately misanthropical as any other decent young fellow will inevitably become under the combined influence of too much liquor and a grievous disappointment in love. Also, he was as talkative, and as ready to pour confidence into any feminine ears that would receive them.
"Look, now, what think you of Fate, my black-eyed Poll? A jade, a d—d jade, I tell you; who lets a man think for all his life that he is somebody and then whispers one day that he is nobody."
"But you ain't nobody," murmured Poll soothingly, as she assured herself, by her trained sense of touch, that the coins in the bag were really guineas.
"Indeed I am a nobody, my Poll," said the young man moodily, "for nobody has no father, and that is my situation precisely. And being nobody, I may not fall in love with somebody."
"No, but you can fall in love with me if you like," said Poll with cheerful frankness. "Reckon I'm nobody, too, so we'll suit each other nicely." She was trying to count the guineas in the bag with her finger-tips, but the task was beyond her. She had no aptitude for figures. All that she could say for certain was that this drunken and talkative young man had a big bag of gold coin in his pocket, and that if she did not manage to secure it old Dan would assuredly do so, and would probably knock the owner on the head into the bargain.
"Consider this, my Poll," continued Tristram thickly; "that I love a lady with all my heart and soul, and loving her I naturally come to this place. Why? In order that I may more easily forget her, of course. One cannot imagine her in a place like this, any more than one can imagine a spring morning in hell: And it is necessary for me to forget her, since it is impossible for me to blot out the fact that I have met her. Oh, Mary, Mary." Suddenly his tone changed. The curtain was drawn back for a moment from the window of his soul. He saw his real self, and being predisposed thereto by liquor, he wept.
This was very encouraging to black-eyed Poll. She made up her mind that one more pannikin of rum and water would finish the business, and then she would be able to get that solid, heavy bag of coin without fear of detection.
"Try another little drop of rum, dearie," she murmured encouragingly; "it's main good to keep up the heart. And don't think so much about your other girl; think of me instead."
Tristram laughed harshly. He was exactly in that precarious mood when laughter lies very close to tears and tears to laughter. "You are a wag, my Black-eyed Poll, a wag, upon my soul, but give me the pannikin, for there are things that I want to forget, and I cannot forget them, even here."
His bloodshot eyes roamed uneasily round the noisy assemblage, and his ears heard, but did not understand the ribald talk, for his true self was far away on the Hawkesbury among Tom Trevithick's peach trees, with a sweet and graceful figure in a white, high-waisted dress beside him, and a pair of clear blue eyes looking steadfastly into his own. This was his false self, surely, that sat in the low ceilinged, reeking room with that audacious black-eyed girl leering at him so shamelessly.
Poll held the pannikin to his lips, and again he drank, but warily. His mood was changing once more. It seemed, after all, that he did not wish to blot out the picture of Tom Trevithick's peach orchard and all that it contained. If rum would blot it out, then rum must be avoided, or dealt with sparingly.
It was while she was pondering on her next move that Poll's exploratory fingers, straying round to see what else they could detect in the way of portable property, came upon a big sheath knife fastened in Tristram's belt, right at the back. He had always carried it on the Hawkesbury as some protection against the risk of a sudden rush by the blacks. It was a formidable weapon, and Poll gave a little shiver when she touched it. This self-styled nobody might be dangerous in an emergency.
"Why don't you have a good sleep, dear?" whispered Poll, "and forget your troubles. I could kiss you to sleep in no time."
"A good idea, Poll," said the young man, who had set out to pay the world back for the evil that it had done him, never dreaming in his ignorance of life that every blow he struck would land on his own body.
He stood up as though to draw back to the broad bench upon which he had been sleeping before Poll and Kitty broke in upon his dreams. He reeled across the floor, while Poll supported him by the arm, but before he reached the bench he stumbled and fell heavily. That was the moment selected by Poll to make her great stroke. With swift, sure movements, she extracted the canvas bag full of guineas from Tristram's pocket, and deftly fixed it to a small iron hook on the leather waist belt that she wore beneath her apron, in order to profit by just such opportunities as this.
Tristram lay prone on the floor, breathing heavily, and Kitty's jovial, red-headed sealer, out of the kindness of his heart, came to the rescue. The burly, big-chested fellow, with his loud voice and hearty laugh, grasped Tristram by the collar of his coat and the slack of his pants and swung him to his feet. Taking him by the arm he piloted him to the bench in the corner.
"Better bring to an anchor here, mate," said Jim the sealer, as he dumped Tristram heavily on the bench. "Reckon your cargo's more'n you can carry."
Tristram's eyes follow Jim the sealer stupidly, as the marine Samaritan went back to his pipe and grog and amorous dalliance with Kitty.
Black-eyed Poll cast an anxious glance towards the door. It was a good rule, she always found, to get away from the scene of a successful transfer of property with the greatest possible expedition. But, alas! Old Dan had locked the door, to present unauthorised intruders from gaining admission to the room from outside. Hence the visitors who were already inside were virtually prisoners at his discretion.
The girl endeavored to induce Tristram to go to sleep, but he was obstinate now, and very wide awake. Before she knew what he was doing he had thrust his hand into the pocket of his coat and discovered the loss of the bag of guineas.
The young fellow was partly sobered by the overwhelming calamity. Passion, with blazing eyes and clenched teeth, took the place of stupid apathy. He rose to his feet and stepped swiftly to the table where Jim the sealer sat with his pannikin of grog in front of him and his girl upon his knee.
"You thief! Give me back my money," said Tristram in loud and piercing tones, which caused an instant silence. He laid his hand on Jim the sealer's shoulder, and the red-bearded giant laughed a great, rich laugh that had a note of mockery in it.
"Go home to bed and sleep it off, mate," said Jim, the sealer. "I know nothing about your money."
"Eh, what's this, what's this?" enquired old Dan, shuffling up from the door, a grotesque figure, with his horn-rimmed spectacles and his faded scarlet coat. "Somebody lost their money, and in my house, too? Take care what you say, my lad, or t'will be the worse for you."
"This man robbed me of a canvas bag containing one hundred good English guineas, under pretence of helping to lift me from the floor," said Tristram, furiously.
"Ha, ha, that's a good story," said old Dan. "And where did the likes of you get a hundred guineas? This is an honest house, and we don't want fellows like you coming about it."
He took a big key from his pocket, hobbled across to the door, and flung it open. "That's your way home." he shouted.
"I'll not go until I get my money back." cried Tristram, with a wicked look in his eye. He seized Jim the sealer by the shoulder. "Give me back my guineas, you scoundrel," he shouted.
The response of Jim the sealer to this appeal was prompt and unexpected. He shot out a brawny fist that took Tristram in the chest and bowled him over like a ninepin.
A loud and scornful laugh from Kitty followed close upon the sealer's knockdown blow. All the card-players chimed in with their advice, which, though couched in terms of the most varied picturesqueness, showed their complete unanimity.
They demanded that the madman should be kicked out with all convenient speed in order that they might resume their game.
Three or four men, including Jim the sealer, joined in a rush at Tristram. One of the fellows made a vicious blow at him with a short, heavy club, and Tristram reeled as the weapon reached its mark and laid his cheek open. They pinned him into a corner, and rained blows upon him with fists and clubs.
A shrill scream came from Black-eyed Poll. "Look out, boys. Mind his knife."
He had not thought of it before, but the warning made him remember it in a flash. As they came at him again all together he drew the knife from his belt and struck out wildly, impelled by the sheer instinct of self-preservation.
The blade sunk deeply into the massive shoulder of Jim the sealer, and down on the floor went the jovial red-haired roysterer with a queer sobbing cough. The fall made the room shake.
That stopped the fight. A scream from Kitty was followed by a whimpering from Black-eyed Poll, who saw with dismay the consequence of her light-fingered practice.
Tristram himself stood up to his full height in the middle of the room, a terrible spectacle with blood flowing from a deep cut on the forehead and from another on the cheek. The sheath-knife dropped from his hand and stuck quivering in the boarded floor.
Again Kitty screamed in long, piercing screams that rang through the quiet starlit night. Would the girl never be quiet? She was down on her knees beside Jim the Sealer, and was trying to stench the blood with her handkerchief. But still it welled up.
"Help! Help! Murder!" Kitty's thin high voice was like a sharp knife cutting the darkness of the night. Old Dan flung himself upon her, dragged her from the prostrate figure on the floor, and placed his great hand across her mouth.
Black-eyed Poll, shivering from head to foot, caught hold of Tristram by the arm. "Don't let them take you alive," she whispered. "Give them a run for it. There's a boat on the beach."
Her quick ears had caught the tramp of hurrying feet outside.
A hoarse word of command came to Tristram's ears. "Forward, men, at the double."
Next moment Captain Cartwright stood in the open doorway of the 'Sheer Hulk' with a file of soldiers behind him. He had been inspecting the near-by guard at midnight, when the cry of 'Murder' came to his ears, and he lost no time in getting to the scene.
"Now then, Dan, what's all this? You've been warned before. It will go hard with you this time."
The captain's eyes ranging swiftly round the room, fell on Tristram standing up to his full height with his eyes blazing out under the dark mark on his white forehead, and with a fearful gash across his cheekbone. Black-eyed Poll stood before him, clinging to his arm. At the feet of the pair of them lay the motionless body of Jim the Sealer, with Kitty sobbing wildly over him.
"By the Lord, it's the young ploughman from the Hawkesbury," cried Captain Cartwright in amazement.
In the same instant Tristram recognised the Captain. There could be no mistake. It was the same black-browed, supercilious swaggerer whom he had seen eyeing Mary Fitzharding in a manner that revealed the captain's pretensions clearly.
"The window, the window, when I dowse the glim," whispered Black-eyed Poll. "You'd never reach the door. The lobsters are there."
Captain Cartwright turned to the file of soldiers. "Hold the door, men? Let no one leave the place." Then, with a savage gleam of satisfaction on his face, he rushed in to arrest his man, drawing his sword as he run.
"Surrender, in the King's name, Trevithick. You are my prisoner."
But the captain spoke too soon. As he laid his hand upon his man's shoulder Trevithick's left arm shot out, and his fist caught Cartwright on the chin, sending him to the ground like a pithed bullock. Next instant there was a startled cry from the gaping spectators as Black-eyed Poll knocked over the solitary oil lamp and the room was plunged in thick darkness.
Amidst the curses of the men and screams of the women rang out the sharp order of the corporal of the guard, "Stand fast there. Fix bayonets. Hold the door." There was a ringing of steel in the darkness as the sockets of the bayonets gripped the barrels.
And then there were other sounds—the rending of fabric and the crack of splintered woodwork—followed by the entrance of a gleam of starlight that peered into the 'Sheer Hulk' and disclosed Captain Cartwright sitting on the floor gazing vacantly around him, and the motionless body of Jim the Sealer lying in the centre of the room.
Old Dan and his guests had shrunk back instinctively against the wall to get away from that silent thing in the middle of the room. The corporal and his men, in their red coats cross-belted and their white breeches and black leggings reaching above the knee, were standing in extended line across the doorway with their bayonets lowered in anticipation of a rush.
The corporal looked in astonishment at the starlight. The curtained window was invisible before. He had thought that the wall was solid all round, and that the door was the only possible means of escape. Gradually his slow brain took in the thing that had happened. The man whom the captain had tried to arrest had kept his eye on the curtain in front of the closed window, and when the light was extinguished he hurled himself at the curtain like a cannon ball. He had gone through it and through the unglazed window frame, but he could not be far away yet.
The corporal gathered his wits together as quickly as he could. He left three men to guard the door and dashed round to the back of the shanty with the other three. His quick eye discovered a boat fleeing away from the beach at the foot of the Rocks. The muskets rang out through the starlit night, but the balls went wide, and the boat was quickly swallowed up by the surrounding darkness.
The chagrined corporal went back to the 'Sheer Hulk.' He had done his best, and yet the man had got away. He found Captain Cartwright quite recovered and in a furious passion. The captain blamed everybody but himself for the escape of the man who had stabbed Jim the Sealer. The escape of Tristram was a bitter disappointment because his appearance in that depraved assemblage was such a great surprise. Cartwright had never imagined that he would have the luck to find Mary Fitzharding's rustic admirer among the frequenters of the 'Sheer Hulk.' Still less could he have imagined that the young man would become a murderer. The captain rolled that idea over in his mind with intense satisfaction. He would break Mary Fitzharding's haughty pride at last. Meantime there was the hateful routine of duty to be attended to.
When Old Dan had relit the lamp Captain Cartwright mustered all the persons in the room and proceeded to make his investigations.
And here disappointment dogged his steps. In the first place he quickly discovered that Jim the Sealer was not dead but very much alive. The knife had pierced the muscles of the shoulder, but had missed the top of the lung by a hair's breadth. Jim groaned once or twice, and then sat up with Kitty's arm around him. "Nothing to speak of Captain," he muttered reassuringly. "I'll be out of dock in a day or two."
The Captain's next discovery was that Black-eyed Poll had disappeared. The search for the escaped prisoner's 'disreputable paramour,' as Captain Cartwright angrily termed her, was utterly unsuccessful. She had vanished, but how she had vanished nobody could say, or if they could they would not.
George Diggs, who was one of the men left to guard the door during the absence of the Corporal, could have thrown some light upon the disappearance of the important witness if he had cared to do so. But he had no desire to say anything. And how could the Captain know that Private Diggs had strong personal reasons for befriending Black-eyed Poll and for facilitating her escape when she needed his assistance.
It was a very grumpy Captain who took down the names of all, with a view to further action in the morning, and who warned old Dan that the gallows on Flagstaff Hill would certainly claim him if he did not mend his ways.
As for Black-eyed Poll, that enterprising young woman retired to the waterside abode that she shared with Kitty, congratulating herself upon her luck in having met such a good friend as Private Diggs at the door.
She counted out the guineas, and then she replaced them in the bag. Trembling with excitement, she took the axe that stood behind the wood heap and laboriously dug a hole with it in a corner of the back yard. Rightly recognising that if she attempted to change one of those bright English guineas she would be arrested at once and would probably be sent to that awful penitentiary, the female factory at Parramatta, she carefully buried Tristram's birthright at once, and pulled a big rock over the filled-up hole before the return of her chum, Kitty, a pleasant enough girl in her way, but one who could not be trusted with guineas.
Lion Island lies in the estuary of the Hawkesbury in Broken Bay, which Captain Cook, while scanning the shore line with his spyglass as he coasted northward from Botany Bay, had discerned and noted in his log, thereby providing Governor Phillip, who came after him, with a hint that the energetic founder of the Sydney settlement was quick to act upon. It was Phillip who first sailed up that magnificent sheet of water and found the great river that flows into it.
The resemblance to a lion couchant is very striking. The outline of the back and head and extended fore paws is unmistakable. Governor Phillip lies far away under a slab in the little church of Bathampton in England. But carved by the hand of nature, massive and motionless, this island lion still keeps guard under the shadow of the tall cliffs of Barrenjoey Head over the entrance to the river that Phillip discovered.
It was late in the afternoon when the prevailing north easter was making the rollers break in thunder on the rocks fringing Lion Island, that a small open boat with a solitary man in the stern ran up under the lee side of the land. The man went forward and took in the sail. He sat down to the oars and watched his chance, keeping an eye on the little sandy beach, on the southern end between the rocks.
As the rollers lifted her he plied his oars and the boat shot in on the crest of the wave. Next moment he had jumped out up to his knees in the water and was hauling the boat into the little cove. Tristram Trevithick was a good man in a boat. In his many voyages from the Hawkesbury to the Sydney Cove he had learnt to handle small craft with wonderful precision.
But he was utterly exhausted, and the boat was heavy. He managed to pull her up until the bow stuck in the sand. He took the painter and made the end fast around a great rock. Then he staggered up the little beach and threw himself down on the sand in the shadow of a great boulder and slept.
When he awoke it was long after midnight. Clouds were racing across the moon. A southerly had come up while he slept. The boat was in danger of being knocked to pieces. He went down to the edge of the beach, and, refreshed by his long sleep, he hauled the boat up high and dry and dragged it behind a big rock, so that it was invisible from the sea. To quench his thirst he took a long drink from the water-breaker in the stern sheets, and then set out to explore the lonely little islet where he intended to lie hidden until the hue and cry for him should die down.
The recollection of Jim the Sealer, lying motionless on his back on the floor of the 'Sheer Hulk' made him shudder.
He had found a bag of ship's biscuit as well as the breaker of fresh water in the boat. It belonged to a fisherman, who, no doubt, had intended to go out fishing in the morning. Lines and bait were in the boat, with all the fisherman's gear. Well, well, his own need was more desperate than the fisherman's. Tristram had formed a definite plan. He would remain on the island for a few days, at any rate. He would be able to subsist on fish and ship's biscuit, and he hoped to find fresh water also. After a while he would venture to the mainland, and follow Bell's line over the Kurrajong Ranges to the newly-settled country round Bathurst. He would have no difficulty in getting work on the farms there, and it was hardly possible that he could ever be identified with the unknown brawler at the 'Sheer Hulk.' Captain Cartwright was the only individual who had recognised him, and the captain had his duties to attend to in Sydney, and was quite unlikely to go as far afield as Bathurst.
Pondering over his scheme. Tristram climbed up the steep side of the island to the top, which was covered with light scrub. To his delight he found a deep pool of rain water in a hollow rock.
He made his way to the north end of the Island. It seemed to his practised eye to be the most likely spot at which to catch fish. He began to long for the sunrise. The solitude on Lion Island at night was very eerie. "Ha. What was that?"
A gruff voice seemed to come out of the ground almost under his feet. "So I sez to Peters," said the voice huskily, "it nary kind of use fer us to stay 'ere an' be cotched,' sez I, 'with the stuff an' all,' sez I, 'an' I reckon the best thing as we can do is to make over to the island.' sez I, 'where the cursed lobsters won't never think of lookin' fer us,' sez I. So 'e sez, 'I'm with yer, Ben,' sez he, 'and the sooner ye go the better,' sez 'e, 'cos old Macquarie has sent out patrols already."
"Ow did 'e know that?" enquired a high, thin falsetto—the voice apparently of a very old man.
Tristram held his breath while he listened. He began to guess who the unseen creatures were, and what was the nature of their occupation.
'"E got it from Jonathan Wylie," said the gruff voice.
"Ay, ay, 'e's a sharp one, Ben. 'E don't miss much that's goin' on. So Jonathan told Peters and Peters told you, and you thought it was time to flit. Wery good, wery good, indeed. I wondered why we had to get away so quick, but I see it all now."
"I reckon we'll be better here than at Saltpan Creek," said the man who was called Ben. "There's good fresh water on the island an' Jonathan's man wot comes to take away the stuff can bring us our stores, and we can go for a spree into Sydney whenever we feels inclined. Eh. Wot's that?"
Tristram had dislodged a bit of rock with his feet. It rolled down the side of the cliff with a clatter. Next minute he found himself looking into the astonished face of a black-bearded man, who seemed to have been shot out of the ground. Moreover the black-bearded man carried a big horse pistol, which he flourished in a most dangerous manner.
Tristram explained very fluently that he had resorted to the island as a place of refuge from the hated 'lobsters' himself, and Ben at last put down the pistol.
Both Ben and his associate, old Daddy Griffin, were quite familiar with the 'Sheer Hulk.' They cross-questioned Tristram minutely, and were satisfied that he had really been there. No, they didn't know Jim the Sealer, but they knew Kitty, the mate of Black-eyed Poll, and if he, Tristram, had quarrelled with the sealer over Kitty, and had stuck a knife into his gizzard, well, that was the sealer's lookout, wasn't it? The argument was unanswerable, so Tristram did not trouble to relate the loss of his guineas. It would have involved too much explanation.
Ben Matthews and Daddy Griffin felt much easier in their minds when they found that the intruder was a fugitive like themselves from the 'lobsters,' and with even better reason than they had for remaining hidden. So they told him just as much of their own story as it was good for him to know.
"Ye see," said Ben proudly, "me and Daddy 'ere are the active partners in the business, as you might say, an' Peters, well, 'e aint no more than the agent for Jonathan Wylie. It was Wylie as thought out the 'ole blessed thing, an' found the money for the plant, the still, and the casks and everythink. Ah' it was 'im that got Peters to start salt works at Saltpan Creek. The salt works was only a blind, ye see. Oh, yes, we 'ad the evaporatin pans an' all the plant. It gives us an excuse for keeping a fire goin' there. We turned out a goodish bit of salt, too, but we turned out more of the real stuff. Daddy Griffin 'ere is in charge of that department. Reckon wot he don't know about distillin' nobody else knows."
"I'm a practical man, so I am," piped Daddy in his high soprano.
"So as soon as we got the office about old Macquarie's patrols we loaded as much of the stuff as we could into the boat," continued Ben, "and we buried the rest of it on the mainland, and 'ere we are. As soon as the wind went southerly we shoved off and made a lee shore just where we're standin' now. The boat is in the little cove just below us, and the stuff is in this 'ere 'ole in the rock."
"O' course, it was Jonathon Wylie's idea fer us to come here." piped old Daddy. "'E come around 'ere and found the place to land. Mighty ticklish job, too, for anyone what didn't know the place. So 'e reckoned we'd be quite safe 'ere from the 'lobsters.'"
"Where will you put up the still?" asked Tristram, who was becoming interested in this strange pair, in spite of his anxiety concerning the figure that he had left lying on the floor in the 'Sheer Hulk' when he jumped through the window and escaped.
"I'm agoin' to put 'er up in a little boiler down yonder," said old Daddy, pointing with his bony forefinger to the lower ground, where a patch of low scrub afforded good cover. "I'll not be able to fire up 'ceptin' on dark nights, fer fear old Macquaries patrols might see the smoke. 'Twas different, ye see, on the mainland at Saltpan Creek. Nobody didn't take no notice of smoke there."
"Reckon we can brew all the stuff we want by workin' at night," growled Ben, "and then it will be my job to run it up the river to Wylie's place. That's where they all come to buy it, ye see. Peters is the traveller for the firm. We make good stuff, and we can sell it fer 'alf the money what the Government rum costs."
"What do you make it out of," asked Tristram.
"Quinces, apples, potatoes, almost anything 'll do," said the ancient expert, "if a man knows 'is business properly."
"Peter's 'ull bring us down a boat load of quinces directly and I'll show you 'ow to make the finest grog you ever tasted. Give the lad a sup of it, Ben."
Ben disappeared into the hole in the rocks and emerged with a stone jar holding about three gallons. He pulled out the cork, tipped up the jar, and poured out a little of the contents into a horn mug. It was a clear white spirit. Tristram tasted it carefully, found it fiery and potent, and handed back the cup to Ben, who emptied it at a draught and smacked his lips approvingly.
"That's the way it is when I supply it to Wylie," squeaked the old man. "He doctors it with brown sugar and colorin' stuff fur them as wants rum, but it's gin now, that's what it is. Best London gin of the Saltpan Creek brand." He cackled shrilly at his feeble witticism. "I reckon I'll have a nightcap myself now and just turn in for a sleep. I've plenty of work to do in the morning."
So the old man swallowed half a cupful of his 'moonshine.' and he and Ben threw themselves down on their blankets in the cave.
Tristram had no blankets, so he lay down on the bare earth with his face to the stars and closed his eyes. He shuddered as he thought of Black-eyed Poll and Jim the Sealer with that unstanchable tide welling from his shoulder.
How mad he had been to think that sorrow and remorse and shame can be drowned in rum and ribaldry. And more than mad to think that the light of a pair of pure blue steadfast eyes, clear as the son that shone above him, could be forgotten by looking into the bold black eyes of a mercenary in the 'Sheer Hulk.' That gold that was his birthright—kept for him all those years by Lucy Trevithick—was lost; gone in a single night. And the thin welling stream of Jim the Sealer's blood separated him from all his fellow men, except those like old Daddy and Ben Matthews, who were lawbreakers themselves and outcasts from all honest people. Well, his lot was cast with them, and such as them henceforth. A child of shame, a spiller of blood, an outcast—he had come to this. And yet Mary Fitzharding's face was with him still. She even seemed to smile upon him.
And when she smiled the horror of darkness that troubled him passed away. He turned upon his side and slept.
In the large drawing-room of Government House in Bridge-street, Mrs. Cuthbert lay on a low couch with her eyes closed, while Mary Fitzharding sat on a stool beside her. The room was shaded by thick blinds and curtains, for the afternoon was sultry.
"Read me the letter again, dear, that General Macquarie lent to me," said Mrs. Cuthbert in a whisper, "I want to hear every word of it."
Mary Fitzharding held an open letter in her left hand. Her right was clasped in Mrs. Cuthbert's. Quietly she began to read again, and this was the letter:—
5th December, 1815,
The United Service Club.
Saint James, London.
"My dear Colonel Macquarie—
"In your situation at the antipodes you are no doubt eager to hear something more of the stirring events in Europe than yon have gathered from the dispatches of My Lord Castlereagh, who has, I am confident, informed you of the great battle, in which his Grace the Duke of Wellington has under Providence utterly overthrown the Corsican adventurer. It is now sixteen years since you and I bivouacked together in front of Seringapatam, yet I have not forgotten that each of us then promised that if either should ever witness an act of signal and extraordinary heroism in battle he would write to the other a full account of it. It is to redeem that promise that I now take my pen in hand, yet being more accustomed to the sword than to the pen, I must first entreat your consideration on that account. I write, however, all the more willingly because I can acquaint you that your old regiment, the 73rd, conducted itself in action to the great satisfaction of his Grace the Duke. Having been engaged on the staff of his grace during the battle, in which I lost my left arm in my country's cause, I had many opportunities of observing the bravery of all the British regiments. They maintained their formation in square with the utmost gallantry, though so continually pounded with artillery, cavalry and infantry that in some of the squares there were more dead and wounded than living men. However, if I should attempt to describe that great battle I should write so much as would weary out even your patience to read it. And therefore I recommend you to wait for the accounts of the historians rather than trust to the garbled stories of the newsmongers and pamphleteers, who are at present deafening the public ears. Since you know the final result of that glorious day. I shall do no more than mention the remarkable use that General Bonaparte made of his cavalry, and the failure against our English troops of the arm that he used with such effect at Austerlitz, Borodino, Marengo, Eylau and Dresden. Let me say then that Marshal Ney gathered together no fewer than 12,000 sabres to assail our front, with the plain object of piercing our line and severing our communication with Blucher. The French horsemen, led by Ney himself, charged repeatedly with the greatest intrepidity, after their artillery had pounded our squares. Our gunners gallantly replied and discharged their cannon at the masses of horsemen at close range. Then, leaving their guns, they ran back and sought shelter within the squares.
"Coming up the ridge the French riders attacked, but could not break the squares, which were in two lines, the intervals between the squares of the first line being filled by the squares of the second line. Our cavalry, held in reserve behind the crest of the hill, then charged the French horsemen, and tumbled them back down the ridge in good style. It was after these tactics had been repeatedly displayed and it became apparent that the French cavalry could not break our lines, that the incident which I have to relate took place.
"Although the French cavalry en masse was obliged to desist owing to the softness of the ground and the tiring of the horses, which could no longer be induced to gallop, and also owing to the frightful losses which they had sustained, nevertheless it happened that two or three squadrons of cavalry here and there, aided by half or a quarter of a battalion of infantry, several times returned to the charge and were heavily punished by our men, these attacking parties gradually becoming smaller and smaller in numbers. The smoke clearing in front of the position for a few moments at about six of the clock, while I was riding down the line immediately behind his Grace, I looked and saw an officer of Count Milhaud's Cuirassiers, who was plainly attempting to rally a couple of squadrons of his tired men for a last assault upon the still unbroken British squares.
"The troopers were willing, but their horses were too much distressed to move, observing which circumstance the officer, who wore his steel cuirass and plumed helmet, wheeled his powerful black horse and charged a British regiment—in square, alone. He was a tall powerful man, wearing a black moustache, and as he spurred his horse at full gallop straight upon the bayonets the men in the front rank, who were kneeling, fired a volley. The horse faltered a moment, but then went on again, and was ridden so resolutely that it attempted to leap the bayonets. Having been mortally wounded, the animal fell upon the men who formed the front of the square and plunging and kicking in its agony bore down about six or eight men under its weight, thereby making a gap, which had there been any supporting cavalry, might have been quickly widened.
"The Cuirassier himself was thrown clear into the middle of the square. Regaining his feet immediately he cut down three men with his sabre, before he was run through the body by a dozen bayonets and died, shouting with his last breath, 'Vive l'Empereur!'"
"Being curious to discover the name of this brave Frenchman who took so bold a way to reanimate the spirits of his men, I dismounted and examined the body. I found inside his tunic a letter written to him by a lady, apparently an English woman, and addressed to Count Eugene de Donzenac, Captain in Milhaud's Cuirassiers. This letter I replaced and I make no doubt that it was buried with him on the field of action.
"So now, my dear colonel, I have fulfilled my promise. When every man in the British regiments conducted himself so much to the satisfaction of his Grace, and to the honor of his country, it would ill become me to say that any Frenchman could be braver. Yet at least it may be said that Mettus Curtius himself, as he leaped into the gulf, was not more brave than this Captain of Milhaud's Cuirassiers, who, to revive the flagging spirit of his soldiers, broke single-handed into a British square, that had defied for hours the attacks of Ney and his whole brigade.
"I trust that you enjoy good health in your distant quarters and that it may not be long before I see you again in London. You will find me at the United Service Club, a new club founded only three years ago by Lord Lynedoch, whom you may remember as General Graham, the victor of Barrosa, a gallant gentleman and a fine soldier.
"My compliments to Mrs. Macquarie, who I hope is able to endure with equanimity her exile.
"I am, my dear general, your very obedient servant.
"RAWDON FERNYHOUGH, (Colonel.)"
As Mary finished the letter she looked at her aunt and saw that Mrs. Cuthbert's eyes were wet.
"But who was the French Cuirassier?" asked the girl wonderingly.
"He was a man whom I knew once long ago in England." said Mrs. Cuthbert in a broken voice. "I met him when I was a girl and I loved him, but we were parted. Events were too strong for us. He went back to France. I never saw him again. But I heard before I married Major Cuthbert that he had died in battle a hero's death. I never knew just how he died until this letter came."
Mrs. Cuthbert wept softly. Mary Fitzharding was deeply touched.
"Oh, Aunt Sybil. I am sorry." She stroked Sybil Cuthbert's hand with understanding sympathy.
"I think I will go up to my room, dear, and lie down for half an hour." said Mrs. Cuthbert. She was troubled in her soul. This letter from an officer who had been at Waterloo had reopened the old wound. And it had made her think again, too, of that young man, so strangely like Eugene, whom Mary Fitzharding had brought to the house. The young man had looked with Eugene's eyes at her, and his gaze had stirred her to the depths.
Mrs. Cuthbert went upstairs to her darkened room and lay down on the bed to think, and think unceasingly of Eugene de Donzenac charging alone upon the British square and of a young Hawkesbury River farmer who so strangely recalled him, not only in his features, but in his walk, his soldierly pose, his eagle eye, and resolute, straightforward manner.
The thoughts that chased each other through the corridors of her brain were maddening. Why had she married this red-faced English soldier, with his obstinacy and his narrowness, whose three r's were his regiment, rum and the religion of the Church of England? Why had she come with him to this lonely penal settlement, the furthest spot from Devonshire that the earth's surface could afford? Ah, the answer to both questions was the same. She had done everything to escape from herself, but she had not escaped. In this vast, lonely land, with its sparse and strangely mingled population of bond and free, she had seen a face that called back to her those days of joy and youth and passion with an overwhelming poignancy that pierced her heart.
Those meetings in the flower scented twilight; the last parting on the beach that rent her soul in twain; the rapture over her sleeping babe, and her dumb despair when it was taken from her; the furious scene with her father, and the old squire's tragic and sudden death before she could tell him the truth—the truth that was so much more than he knew—these things had begun to fade softly from her memory, losing their sharpness of outline, like clouds that drift into the distance. But now they had been vividly redrawn, first by the meeting of Eugene's mysterious double, and next by this letter from some unknown officer, who told to his old comrade in arms, in words that thrilled like trumpet notes, how Eugene died.
Sybil Cuthbert was shaken by a storm of feeling as a tree is shaken by a gale. But gradually the storm passed away. She lay quiet in her darkened room through the long sultry afternoon, and at last she rested.
Downstairs, in the drawing-room, Mary Fitzharding continued to read with glowing cheeks the pamphlets and copies of dispatches that related to the story of the great war. A goodly supply of them came out to Governor Macquarie by every ship.
How strange it was that Aunt Sybil should have known and loved that French officer, who died fighting for his country a noble and heroic death.
No wonder Aunt Sybil was so silent and reserved. Major Cuthbert, with his blind prejudices and his rigidly military point of view, would never forgive her if he discovered that she had had sentimental passages with a Frenchman, and, above all with a French officer serving under the Corsican adventurer, who had enslaved half Europe and was seeking to enslave England when he fell.
The roll of the kettledrum came to Mary's ears from the barrack square on the hill. She heard the tramp of the sentry as he paced his beat outside. Suddenly the measured tramping stopped.
Something was said indistinctly in a woman's voice. Mary could not catch the words.
"Against orders, mum," said the gruffness of the sentry. "Besides, the governor is not in."
"But I don't want to see the Governor, I want to see the young lady," said a feminine voice, in which tears were gathering.
"Wot young lady, mum?" The sentry was suspicious, and quite determined not to let any undesirable person into Government House. It was within his experience that shabbily dressed persons sometimes could not resist stealing even the Governor's spoons.
"Miss Fitzharding." said the unseen woman, and Mary at once became keenly interested. She could not imagine who the speaker could be.
"Wot do you want to see her about?" enquired the sentry.
"Oh, please let me in," said the woman, on the verge of tears. "I promise you I'll not do any harm. I must see Miss Fitzharding at once. She'll never forgive you if you don't let me in now."
All the men of the 48th Regiment knew Mary by sight, and the sentry, like the rest of them, would do anything to win a smile from her as she passed. He grounded his musket, and the unseen woman went in. It was Mary herself who opened the door for her, consumed with curiosity as to whom her visitor could be.
It was Mrs. Trevithick. Mary recognised her at once, and her heart gave a great leap. Tristram's foster-mother, in her rough dress of brown wincey and her big sun hat of coarse straw, was a strange figure in the drawing-room of Government House.
"Oh, miss, he's gone," said Mrs. Trevithick.
Mary listened wonderingly, and bit by bit she pieced her visitor's incoherent explanations together and found that Tristram had left the farm on the Hawkesbury and had gone to Sydney.
"But surely he will go back in a day or two," said Mary, who was at a loss to understand the cause of Mrs. Trevithick's agitation.
"No, dearie, he'll never come back any more," said Mrs. Trevithick, rocking herself backwards and forwards in her chair, "He's too proud for that—too proud to bear the shame, dearie. And it was for your sake that I told him."
"Please tell me what you are talking about, Mrs. Trevithick, for I am quite mystified," said Mary. "What was it that you told your son for my sake?"
"That he is not my son," said the elder woman. "That's it exactly, Miss. And I told him for your sake, because I saw that—he loved you."
A fiery signal raised itself in Mary Fitzharding's cheeks, but she did not deny the statement. She felt that a denial would be useless. Between women such things are known with a certitude that words can neither increase nor lessen.
"Whose son is he, then?" asked Mary in a whisper.
"His mother was our old squire's daughter in England," said Mrs. Trevithick, "but who his father was we have never known. The old squire told us, when he handed the child to us, that it was a child of shame."
"Oh!" The blundering blow struck home. It reached the girl's heart. She reeled and almost fell.
"I told him all that I knew," continued Tristram's foster mother, with a strong effort, "because I felt that it was my duty to tell him, as soon as he became a man. And when I saw him with you, miss, I knew that he was a man at last. On the same day that I told him he bade us goodbye, and he went away. His last words to me were, 'If you ever meet Mary Fitzharding to tell her to forget me, for we shall never meet again.' That's why I came to you, miss."
Mary turned white at that, but she came of a stock that had courage. She did not weep like Mrs. Trevithick. She even smiled—a wan and desperate smile.
"Thank you for coming to tell me, Mrs. Trevithick," she said without a quiver in her voice. "We women must help each other and stand by each other. Believe me, I am grateful to you for telling me this, but I cannot believe that Tristram and I will never meet again."
"Dearie, you must not hope," said the older woman, taking Mary's hand in hers. "There's no good in hoping now." She looked as if she was going to say more, but checked herself. As she passed the sentry on her way out into the street, she could not even thank him for having let her in. Her voice was choked with tears.
When Mary Fitzharding went back to the drawing-room she thought no more of the letter to Governor Macquarie, and the stirring story of heroism that it told. But she thought much of Tristram and wondered where he had gone when he left the homestead on the Hawkesbury.
A hot flush flooded her cheeks, and an icy grip seemed to close on her heart, as she recalled these blunt words about the man she loved. "A child of shame." But if it meant that she could never marry him, still she would certainly never marry anyone else. She could not—could not—could not.
And then she sat down on the sofa and wondered furiously who was Tristram's father, and where the young man had gone to, and why he did not at least make an effort to see her.
At dinner that evening there were visitors.
Governor Macquarie was much given to entertainment, and he seldom showed to better advantage than when he chatted with the guests who sat with their feet under his hospitable mahogany.
The Governor sat at one end of the table, and Mrs. Macquarie at the other.
Their guests included Major and Mrs. Cuthbert and Miss Fitzharding, several officers of the 48th Regiment, with their wives, a couple of emancipists of the most respectable sort—one was an Irish political prisoner transported for treason, and the other a gentleman who had been guilty of the freak of abducting an heiress—Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth, the Principal Civil Surgeon; Mr. Frederick Goulburn, the Colonial Treasurer; Mr. Nicholas Bayly, secretary of the newly-formed Bank of New South Wales; Mr. John Piper, Mr. Edward Riley, the magistrate; Mr. Edward Wollstonecraft, and last, the black-browed Captain Cartwright, who was placed next to Miss Fitzharding, to her extreme annoyance and indignation.
The great chandelier, with its fine array of wax candles, threw a soft light upon the Governor's table, gleaming with silver and spotless napery. And the two footmen, who had been specially recommended by the Superintendent of Prisons as competent house servants, took care that the guests' glasses were kept filled. Fresh fish, caught that day off Georges Head; a fine turkey bustard, sent down as a present by Mr. Charles Throsby, of Mittagong; a magnificent baron of beef, a saddle of juicy mutton, and sweets and jellies, prepared under the direction of Mrs. Macquarie herself, formed the fare. The Governor's port and claret were of the best.
Governor Macquarie was in excellent form, and his affable and 'condescending' manners, so much admired by many estimable gentlemen, speedily set the company at their ease.
He chaffed Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth on his devotion to the great writers of antiquity, particularly Horace; laughed heartily at Mr. Goulburn's amusing story of the prisoner's retort to the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who had sentenced him to fifty lashes, and gave Mr. Nicholas Bayly a few hints on the subject of the theory and practice of banking. He was elaborately courteous to the two emancipists who sat next each other, having on their left and right respectively two officers' wives, who turned their heads away ostentatiously.
To the Irish political offender whose sentence of death had been mercifully commuted to transportation for life, the Governor told his favorite story about the vagaries of Micky Doyle, his soldier servant, when he was a captain in his Majesty's 77th Regiment of Foot at Cannanore. The story of how Micky Doyle tried to drive an Indian pig to Manantawadi by tying a piece of rope round its near hind leg and heading it for Chamrajanagar, made the courteous Irish rebel laugh so heartily that he upset his wine over the elaborately dressed lady next to him. But when she muttered venomously in an undertone, "La, sir, I vow that you are better acquainted with pigs than with ladies," he was stricken into sudden silence.
When the turkey bustard was being dissected, the Governor took the opportunity to raise his glass politely to the gentleman who had abducted the heiress, and had been ordered a long sea voyage in consequence.
"A glass of wine with you, sir," said the Governor pleasantly, and the very respectable emancipist cheerily tossed off the contents of his own glass with a pleased smile. He recognised the Governor as a man of his own class, "a thorough gentleman, egad."
So Governor Macquarie told him several of his brightest anecdotes. About the campaign in Cochin China in 1795 and the sergeant who was court-martialled for hiding a little Cochin-China girl in the big drum; about the lance-corporal who became possessed of a dancing girl at the fall of Seringapotam, and could never get rid of her afterwards, and about the regimental surgeon, who made love to a rajah's daughter at Mangalore, and was trapped and condemned to be trodden to death by elephants, but escaped in the disguise of a fakir and turned up at the officers' mess in a loin cloth and a scared expression.
The Governor positively bubbled over with cheerful conversation, and under the influence of his anecdotes and his fine old port, even the emancipists began to feel almost comfortable in spite or the frigid stares of the officers and the embarrassed politeness of the civil officials.
Governor Macquarie made it part of his settled policy to show particular attention to those emancipists who, in his judgment had expiated their offences and deserved to be encouraged in their efforts to regain the consideration of their fellow inhabitants in the colony. His officers refused to see eye to eye with him on this point, and it was a constant source of difficulty and friction with them. They were not a highly gifted body of men at the best of times. None of them had the Governor's easy charm of manner and fluent stream of table conversation. They devoted themselves in silence for the most part to the turkey bastard and the port, and the glummest of them all was the black-browed Captain Cartwright.
He had made several attempts to engage Miss Fitzharding in talk of a personal nature, but it was no good. She answered him either in monosyllables or not at all.
"Gad, I will break your pride, my lady, by-and-by," muttered the young officer to himself under cover of one of the Governor's liveliest anecdotes. Forthwith he began to lay his plans for reducing Mary to tears and humiliation.
After the toast of the King had been honored and the ladies had left the room, the gentlemen closed up towards the Governor's chair, and the port began to circulate freely. The more it circulated the more talkative became the Governor's guests, and none more so than Mr. Edward Riley, the magistrate.
"Egad, Governor," said the magistrate, "I think we shall have to take strong measures with those unlicensed publicans on The Rocks. A man was nearly killed there a few nights ago. Captain Cartwright brought a choice lot of villains before me in the morning, but the fellow who stuck the knife into the sealer got clean away."
The Governor's brow darkened "What's all this, Captain Cartwright? Do you mean to say that you allowed a man who made an attempt at murder to evade arrest?"
So Captain Cartwright had to tell the whole story. He had no difficulty in showing that he himself had been struck down from behind, and that the corporal of the guard was responsible for the escape of the prisoner.
"Tut, tut," said the Governor angrily "The fellow must be laid by the heels as soon as possible. I'll see to it to-morrow. Do you know who he was?"
"It was that young man, Tristram Trevithick, sir, son of Tom Trevithick, the Hawkesbury settler, near Windsor. You will remember seeing him when you visited Trevithick's homestead."
"God bless my soul. Of course I do. Who would have thought that such a well spoken young fellow would turn out such a desperate villain." The Governor was seriously annoyed. He remembered that pretty Mary Fitzharding had dallied long with Tristram Trevithick in the orchard. The tough old soldier was genuinely fond of Mary. A pretty child. 'Fore Gad, it was too bad that she should even have been talking with such a young scoundrel. What was a religious and honorable man like Tom Trevithick thinking of to let his son grow up to be a drunken brawler and a frequenter of such unsavory places as the 'Sheer Hulk.' These were the reflections of Governor Macquarie, and as they were decidedly disquieting, he helped himself to another glass of port.
Listening to Mr. Edward Riley, the magistrate, whose tongue was now thoroughly loosened, the Governor obtained a vivid though distorted impression of the events that had occurred at the 'Sheer Hulk.'
Mr. Riley narrated the main heads of the story, that he had elicited from old Dan, the keeper of the place, from Katherine Moggridge, the female associate of James Small, the wounded man, and from the other person who had been arrested, all of whom he had sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. It was regrettable that neither Small's assistant nor the young woman, who was the scoundrel's paramour, had been captured, but search was being made, and an arrest might be expected.
The Governor exploded with indignation. "Are you certain, Mr. Riley, that the young fellow, who, I understand is the son of a very respectable settler on the Hawkesbury, associated himself with one of the female frequenters of that disreputable tavern?"
Mr. Riley was quite taken aback at the Governor's interest in the missing brawler. "Quite certain, sir." he replied. "There can be no doubt about it. The soubriquet of the young woman is 'Black-eyed Poll,' and she is customarily in the company of the other woman, Katherine Moggridge, alias Kitty."
It was scarcely credible. The Governor remembered Tristram very well indeed.
An unusual stamp of man, a highly superior type; and in no way resembling the members of his family. He remembered the evident pleasure that Mary Fitzharding had taken in the young man's society, and the warmth of the interest that she displayed in him. That young Trevithick could have actually associated himself with such a person as Black-eyed Poll gave the Governor a real shock.
"I should have said, sir," added Mr. Riley testily, "that the missing man, who was unknown by name to old Dan or any of the others present, had complained that he was robbed of a bag of guineas in the room. That was the ostensible cause of his assault on James Small, the sealer. Of course, the story about the guineas had no foundation in fact. All those persons who were arrested denied having seen any money in the possession of the young man except a shilling or two which he spent on drink, and although every one of them was searched most carefully there was no sign of the alleged gold. I therefore assume that the disgraceful brawl that ensued was the outcome of the drunken quarrelsomeness of the missing man."
"Hum!" The Governor was by no means convinced. He doubted the perspicacity of Mr. Edward Riley, and dropped at once upon the flaw in his argument. Further light might be forthcoming with the arrest of Black-eyed Poll. He felt decidedly curious about that young person.
When the gentlemen joined the ladies at a rather late hour under the blaze of the big chandelier in the long drawing room the Governor was alert and steady. He carried his liquor like the hard-headed old campaigner that he was. But Mr. Riley was foolishly garrulous, Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth and Mr. Frederick Goulburn were benignly mellow, and all the others presented varying symptoms of the complaint of having drunk too much. As to Captain Cartwright, he was in that black and sulky mood that drink unhappily produces in certain natures. He was ready to quarrel with anybody.
As he seated himself on a sofa beside Mary Fitzharding, she drew her skirt away from contact with him, with a gesture that infuriated him, and he looked with smouldering rage into her calm, disdainful face.
"You haven't heard that we are all anxious to find your rustic admirer," he muttered in an undertone, meant for her ear only, and Mary much as she loathed him, could not forbear to listen. Her thoughts were full of Tristram. She gave a slight start. How on earth, had this man found out already that Tristram had left his home?
"It seems that he has been in the habit of frequenting a certain low tavern on the Rocks for some time past." said Captain Cartwright, eyeing her closely.
"If you are speaking of Mr. Trevithick," replied Mary coldly, "I do not believe you."
"I tell you that I saw him there myself only two evenings ago," said the gallant captain wrathfully. "He was drunk and brawling. He stabbed a man. I went there with a file of soldiers to arrest him."
"Ah!" Mary felt as though she had been stabbed herself. Was it possible that this detestable person told the truth?
"He escaped," said Captain Cartwright, "but it is not possible for him to be at large for long. He is certain to be recaptured, and then this pretty fellow will be sentenced to the road gang, and probably five hundred lashes into the bargain." He hissed the words out vindictively.
Mary became pale as death, but her spirit rose to the challenge. "I make no doubt, sir, that Mr. Trevithick can justify himself for everything that he has done. If he struck out in self-protection and to save his own life he did no more than any man of courage would do, and the law will hold him blameless."
"Blameless. Ha, ha! Ask Mr. Edward Riley, the magistrate."
But Mr. Edward Riley, red of face, and incoherently loquacious, appeared to an unpromising fount of trustworthy information.
"He seems to be no more dependable than yourself, Captain Cartwright," the girl remarked cuttingly. "Perhaps your recollection will be more accurate and your judgement less confused when you are sober tomorrow morning. I wish you a very good night, sir."
She rose from the sofa and crossed the room with her head held high, making for the door, which Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth ran to open for her with his most ingratiating smile. As she passed out on to the landing Captain Cartwright, beside himself with rage, hurried after her, while the officers' wives raised their eyebrows in astonishment. They wondered why that haughty minx, Mary Fitzharding, would have nothing to do with Captain Cartwright, who obviously desired to show her attention, and who was one of the most eligible young men in the regiment.
Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth was so surprised that he forgot to close the doors. The guests in the drawing-room could not hear what was said, in the tense subdued tones of the pair on the landing, though they strained their ears to the utmost. If they could have heard they would have been still more astonished.
"I have come to tell you that your rustic suitor is not so blameless as you think," said the raging captain to the haughty girl, who found her passage to the stair case barred by this most unwelcome intruder. He almost threw the words at her.
"Let me pass, sir," said Mary, in freezing tones. "You are not yourself."
"Oh, yes, I am." retorted the captain. "I am quite sensible enough to remember everything and everybody that I saw at the 'Sheer Hulk,' including even Black-eyed Poll."
"Your low acquaintance does not interest me, Captain Cartwright."
"But she interested Tristram Trevithick very much," said the captain, leering into the girl's face brutally. "When I saw her she was standing in the middle of the room with him, and she had her arm around him. It was perfectly plain that she was your rustic suitor's paramour."
And then it happened.
Mary struck the captain across the face with her open hand—a hard blow, that was plainly heard in the drawing room.
"Liar!" she said, with ringing emphasis, and the word reached the startled guests quite clearly. There was not one of them that did not hear it.
But Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth was the perfection of tactfulness, even after he had drunk the best part of two bottles of port. He looked at Governor Macquarie—and softly closed the door.
"Now, look here, Wylie," said Captain Cartwright, as he sat on his horse outside Mr. Jonathan Wylie's house, at the main ferry across the Hawkesbury, which was the only means of communication between the north and south of coastal New South Wales, "this young fellow, Trevithick, that we're after belongs to the Upper Hawkesbury. In my opinion he is sure to come back here. You are well acquainted with everyone on the river, and I expect you to help me to recapture him."
"Um." Mr. Jonathan Wylie retained a strictly non-committal attitude. He always liked to assist the Government whenever he could do so, without trouble, expense or risk to himself, because he found that it paid well. He secured many Government contracts for furnishing supplies to road parties, simply by giving a little well-timed help—the loan of a horse or cart, for instance—to the officer in charge. But he studiously refrained from helping to recapture escaped prisoners, because it got him into bad odor with many persons whose help he needed in one or other of the multifarious enterprises by which he was steadily amassing a great fortune.
Captain Cartwright opened a large pocket-book stuffed with a miscellaneous collection of documents, and took out a folded sheet of paper, which he handed to Wylie.
"That's the official description of the man who is wanted for attempting to murder James Small, a sealer, at the unlicensed tavern the 'Sheer Hulk.' I look to you for information as to his whereabouts. And remember, Wylie, there's another contract to be let shortly for supplies to the road party between Windsor and Parramatta; and there are other people besides yourself who are on the look out for it."
Mr. Jonathan Wylie wrinkled his brow thoughtfully, and applied a pair of huge horn spectacles to his nose, as he unfolded the sheet of paper that Captain Cartwright had handed to him. He scrutinised the writing closely, but if any person had happened to look over Mr. Wylie's shoulder he would have discovered that the elderly man with the cunning little eyes, and hard mouth, was holding the paper upside down.
The prosperous Mr. Wylie, with his numerous and varied interests, had never found time to master the art of reading.
"Right you are, captain," said Mr. Wylie, briskly, as he folded up the paper and placed it in his best pocket. "I ought to be able to recognise him by this easy enough. There's a man by the name of Trevithick on a nice little farm about three miles this side of Windsor. I think it might be as well for you to enquire there first."
So Captain Cartwright tossed off the stirrup cup of rum and water that was offered to him and rode off with his six weary 'lobsters' to take up the chase once more. He had a double motive now for hunting down Trevithick, who had not only escaped from custody, after knocking him over with a blow of his fist, but had also enlisted the sympathy of Mary Fitzharding. Captain Cartwright rightly attributed the girl's disdain to his own suit to her interest—amazingly displaced as it might be—in the son of the Hawkesbury settler. He yearned to lay his hand on Tristram's shoulder. If the fellow resisted arrest, by gad, he would order the soldiers to shoot him.
And so he disappeared round the corner of the white and dusty road, followed by the six sweating soldiers and Jonathan Wylie turned back into his house, to interview an individual who had remained discreetly in the background during Captain Cartwright's visit. This individual was Mr. Job Peters, manager of Mr. Wylie's large and flourishing distillery business, which had adequately staffed branch establishments in different parts of the rugged range country, surrounding the Hawkesbury.
Over a generous glass of the fiery product of the illicit still, Mr. Job Peters presented his report, which was to the effect that business generally was in a sound and prosperous condition. The demand for Mr. Wylie's product was strong, not only in outlying places like Windsor and Parramatta, but also in Sydney itself. Four hotels in George-street drew their supplies exclusively from the illicit stills, and the manager was negotiating with the proprietors of several others for their patronage.
The supply was keeping pace with the increased demand, and steps were being taken to establish additional stills in places where there was no likelihood of their being interfered with.
In consequence of the activity of the patrol sent out by Governor Macquarie, it had been found necessary to remove the plant established at Saltpan Creek, and to re-erect it at Lion Island. The removal had been accomplished successfully by night, and Daddy Griffin and Ben Matthews were already conducting operations on the new site. Mr. Peters regretted that the patrols had arrested two of his regular customers, emancipist settlers, occupying farms higher up the river, who were found in possession of illicit spirits, but he could give an assurance that they did not know where the stuff came from, and consequently could give no information likely to damage the business. Both of these men, added Mr. Peters, had mortgaged their farms in return for an agreed number of gallons of spirit. As they were now unable to pay for the spirit, which had been delivered to them in due course, their farms would become the properly of Mr. Wylie.
Mr. Wylie rubbed his hands, and generously filled his manager's glass again from the keg that stood in the corner. Although he could not read, he had an astonishing memory for facts and figures. It pleased him to think that, as a result of these fortunate mortgages, his landed estate was now virtually increased by 200 acres of some of the best freehold land on the river.
"Tell you what I think, Peters," said Wylie. "I've got nothin' partikler to do today. We'll just have a run down to Lion Island in the cutter, and take Ben Matthews and Daddy Griffin their rations. I've an idea that it would be just as well for me to see where they have put up the still. Daddy Griffin is an obstinate old fool sometimes, and I don't want to give the patrols a chance if I can help it."
So Sam Brown, one of Wylie's assigned servants, carried beef and pork, and flour, tobacco, sugar and tea, down to the river, and placed the stores on board the cutter.
All day long the cutter sailed down the majestic stream, fringed with wooden heights that matched the Drachenfels and the Sieben Gebirge on the Rhine, and sprinkled with islands so rich in juicy native grasses that the cattle sought them eagerly.
Just after sunset they passed a boat in which a little girl was rowing back to the right bank of the river from Bar Island, lying in the bend. Two cows swam after the boat contentedly. The little girl was leading them home, after their day's pasturing on the island. She bade old Wylie a shy "Good night!" as she passed.
"Them's my cows," remarked Jonathan reflectively. "That's Bill Barlow's little girl. 'E owes me for stores, and he can't pay. I'm goin' to take over his farm next week."
The kindly old philanthropist lit his pipe, and puffed away at it with much satisfaction. "I reckon if I live long enough, and if the grog will only hold out, I'll have every emancipist's farm on the river."
At night Mr. Wylie slept on the bottom boards of the cutter wrapped in a rug, while Peters steered. At 4 o'clock in the morning the old man awoke and took the tiller himself, while Peters, fatigued by his long vigil, snatched forty winks.
They passed Peat's Ferry, and a few miles lower down ran into the widening estuary of Broken Bay. Wylie dropped the anchor off Lion Island, and Ben Matthews came out in his boat and rowed them ashore, together with the stores.
"Anything fresh, Ben?" enquired Jonathan, "looking at the black-bearded man from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"Nuthin' much," said Ben, "'cepting that we found a young chap on the island when we got there. Bin sticking a knife into some fellow up at the 'Sheer Hulk,' and wants to lie low for a bit, that's all."
Mr. Wylie pricked up his ears and began to calculate possibilities shrewdly. Of course, he reasoned, this young follow must be the man that Captain Cartwright was after; and if so, it was impossible to assist Captain Cartwright to recapture him for if he were recaptured the young fellow would blow the gaff on the illicit still. Besides, Ben Mathews was a man of violent temper. He was quite capable of making himself very objectionable if he found Wylie negotiating secretly with the enemy. All people who wore the King's uniform represented the enemy to Ben Matthews.
As soon as the boat swept round the reef at the end of the island and ran its nose into the little sandy cove, Wylie saw Daddy Griffin on the beach and the young stranger beside him. And as he looked at the young stranger Wylie was conscious of a perturbing, disquieting sensation—the feeling that he had seen that young man before somewhere. He tried to think where he had seen him, but in vain. Jonathan Wylie's acute untutored memory was for once at fault, and it worried him.
After, he had heard Tristram's story from his own lips, Jonathan told him of Captain Cartwright's visit.
Captain Cartwright was on the track, and had handed him a written description of the wanted man. Wylie inserted his thumb and forefinger into his waistcoat pocket, and extracted the paper that Cartwright had given him. He handed it to Tristram.
The young man unfolded the paper, and to his amazement, this is what he read, in the delicate pointed Italian hand writing that ladies affected at the time:—
"Government House, Sydney. Monday.
"Miss Fitzharding requests that Captain Cartwright will desist from forcing his acquaintance on her. She assures him that it is most distasteful to her, and that she will never forget the unmanly and cowardly conduct of which he was guilty after dining at the Governor's table. As to the young man whom Captain Cartwright slandered to her so desperately, Miss F. desires Captain C. to understand that she entertains for that object of his calumny a feeling of the liveliest regard, and a confidence that defies all Captain C.'s miserable aspersions. Miss F. further informs Captain C. that if he again insults her by compelling her to endure his presence, she will inform the Governor of his conduct and beg that the sentry be ordered to forbid him admittance to Government House."
Tristram's face went from red to white as he scanned the note that Miss Fitzharding had addressed to his pursuers. He saw in a flash the lucky chance that had placed him in possession of this evidence of her interest in him. Captain Cartwright had evidently taken it from his pocket-book in mistake for a similar piece of paper containing a description of the wanted man, and had handed it to Jonathan Wylie; but why had not Wylie discovered the mistake?
"Haven't you read this paper, Mr. Wylie?" he enquired in blank astonishment.
"N—no," said Jonathan confusedly, "I haven't exactly read it, as you might say. The fact is I didn't 'ave my spectacles with me when the captain gave it to me, and I can't read, not without my spectacles."
At this point Mr. Peters coughed significantly, and Ben Matthews made a horrible grimace which was plainly intended to warn Tristram that he was on dangerous ground. Old Daddy Griffin with difficulty suffocated a guffaw. The indications were unmistakable, and Tristram at once guessed the true explanation, namely, that Jonathan Wylie could not read, either with or without his spectacles.
"You just read it to me yourself," commanded Wylie, cursorily. So Tristram, taking out the paper, made glib pretence of reading.
"Tristram Trevithick," he gave out in a sing-song voice. "Height, 5 ft. 11 in., eyes grey, nose aquiline, complexion olive, small dark moustache, teeth white and even, build muscular; accustomed to farming pursuits. A free emigrant, ex Amphitrite. Domiciled on the Hawkesbury."
He folded up the paper and put it in his pocket.
"I'd like to keep this, if you don't mind, Mr. Wylie," he said.
Of course, Jonathan Wylie did not mind. He mistrusted any paper having writing upon it. He was glad to be rid of it.
After making a hearty meal Wylie inspected the position in which old Daddy and Ben had put up the still. It was in a small hollow completely surrounded by enormous boulders, which in turn were screened by thick scrub. A hole, just large enough for a man to wriggle through, could be seen between the two boulders close to the ground. Daddy Griffin went first, lying down on his stomach and propelling himself forward on his toes and elbows. Then Matthews followed, then Peters, and Tristram. Last of all went Jonathan Wylie, who displayed wonderful activity for an elderly man.
"I took her in to this 'ere in pieces," observed old Daddy Griffin, "and then I put her together as she stands." He surveyed the clumsy little plant with the retort and the worm in which the distillation was effected, and his face wore an expression of honest pride.
"There she is," he said in his high-pitched, falsetto, "as handy a still as ever turned out a drop of 'moonshine,' though I sez it. We haven't started her yet, though. I'm waitin' for them quinces."
Wylie surveyed the hollow with evident approval. "You've a good eye for position," he said at length, "a very good eye indeed."
"Seems to me that a whole regiment of 'lobsters' might tramp over Lion Island without findin' this 'ere place. All ye have to do is to block up the 'ole with a big stone and nobody could tell that the rock's not solid. They can't climb up to the top to look in, 'cos there ain't nary a crack in that round, smooth wall where a man could stick his toe, and the scrub all round prevents anybody from even seeing the rocks until they're up again 'em."
"If I 'ad plenty of food and drink I could stay 'ere for a year, and the devil himself couldn't find me," said Ben Matthews, with conviction.
Having duly admired the distillery. Wylie wriggled out again into the open, and engaged in a business talk with old Daddy and Peters, concerning the great questions of output and distribution.
Daddy was responsible for producing the article, and Peters for selling it. There were many knotty points to be settled in both branches of the business. Fuel and water were both obtainable on Lion Island, but Daddy demanded regular supplies of fruit. He explained that the necessity of restricting the distillation until the hours of darkness would diminish his output considerably compared to what it had been at Saltpan Creek. Peters would also have to provide kegs of a handy size, and it might be advisable to make a pretence of establishing a fishing station on the island, in order to account for the coming and going of the cutter, which would certainly be observed.
Old Wylie listened attentively, and made mental notes. He was not able to make any other kind.
On the question of distribution. Job Peters observed gloomily that the Governor was showing much activity in proceeding against the unlicensed publicans, who were the chief consumers of Mr. Wylie's Saltpan Creek products. Severe ordinances had been issued in regard to "base and clandestinely distilled spirits." However, the grog was preferred by many customers to the rum of which the Government held the monopoly, and several of the most respectable licensed publicans had hinted that they would take regular supplies at a fair price. The most difficult and dangerous job was the landing the stuff in Sydney. So many Government boats were always on the look-out for smugglers that it needed continual vigilance to avoid them.
This was a branch of the subject that Jonathan Wylie was thoroughly well up in. His early experience of running cargoes of French brandy, silks and laces across the Channel stood him in good stead. He had many valuable suggestions to offer to Job Peters. At the same time an unpleasant cold shiver ran down his spine, for he recalled the night when all his care and vigilance did not save him from being captured by that British sloop of war. The subsequent experience of being tried for treason and condemned to death was a most disagreeable one! Mr. Wylie instinctively loosened his neckcloth, as he recalled it. The neckcloth seemed to choke him.
While this important business discussion was in progress Tristram was standing apart, thinking of other things—of Mary Fitzharding's eyes principally, and then of Jim, the sealer, lying on the floor of the 'Sheer Hulk.' He was roused from his dreams at last by hearing his name mentioned emphatically by Jonathan Wylie.
"Young Trevithick is just the man for it," said Wylie to Peters. "He's a good man in a boat, and has plenty of pluck." And then the old man added grimly, "besides he'll be fighting with a rope round his neck, and that's the man that allus fights best."
So Tristram was summoned to the conference, and was informed that in return for Mr. Wylie's assistance and protection, and as a small recognition of his generosity in abstaining from giving him up to Captain Cartwright, he would be asked to help in the conduct of the Lion Island distilling business by shipping the product in a sound and seaworthy boat, with which he would be provided, and delivering it at whatever point Job Peters required it. Whether that point might be up the Hawkesbury or in Sydney Harbor, or at the new settlement that was springing up at the Five Islands. That was the name of the South Coast region which was later known as Illawarra, and which was becoming the centre of the flourishing industry of cedar-getting. The cedar getters were large consumers of grog. Mr. Peters had had his eye on them for some time.
Having set out to revenge himself on the world for its ill-treatment of him, the unfortunate young man found that by his folly, inexperience, and mad recklessness, he had exposed himself to fresh buffets from that implacable abstraction. There was nothing for it but to acquiesce in Jonathan Wylie's proposal, otherwise it seemed to him that the old man would be a formidable enemy. Tristram did not want any other formidable enemy. He had quite enough of them already.
"Very well," he said, curtly; "I'll do it. When do you start?"
Mr. Wylie was delighted at this alacrity. "You must come back with me in the cutter to-night." he said; "then I'll give you the other boat, and you will take the kegs down to Daddy Griffin. When he has filled them you'll run them into Port Jackson and land them inside George's Head, where Peters will have a man with a cart to meet you and take the stuff over from you. Tristram's heart began to beat high, and he shook off the depression that had assailed him. Here he saw life, freedom, and adventure after all. He would have to put his wits against his pursuers. He might have to fight. It was better than quietly stagnating on Tom Trevithick's farm in an existence that was little better than that of a turnip.
"All right," he said, as he looked into Wylie's face, with his flashing dark eyes. "I'm ready."
While this discussion was in progress on Lion Island, Captain Cartwright was still busily enquiring for the missing man all along the Hawkesbury. He had been right up to Windsor, but without result. Tom Trevithick's conversation was a string of surly negatives, and Mrs. Trevithick contributed nothing but tears.
So the captain had gone back to Wylie's house and found Wylie not at home. Where had he gone to? The more Captain Cartwright reflected upon Jonathan the deeper grew his suspicions concerning that individual. He knew a great deal more about Wylie that Wylie was aware of. It seemed to him most unlikely that Jonathan was as ignorant as he seemed to be about Tristram Trevithick's whereabouts. Cartwright's distrust deepened so quickly, once he got upon that line of thought that he resolved to go in search of Wylie at once. He strode over to the wretched bark hut inhabited by Wylie's assigned servants, and encountered Sam Brown leisurely chopping firewood.
"Come here, you dog!" shouted the captain, and Sam Brown hastened to obey.
"Where has your master gone, and take care that you tell the truth or I'll have you given a hundred lashes."
That made Sam Brown stutter so that he could hardly speak. He had once received a hundred lashes for being impertinent to the free settler to whom he was assigned before Jonathan Wylie acquired him. The experience was so awful that Cartwright's threat reduced poor Sam Brown to the verge of aphasia.
At last he was able to stammer out that Mr. Wylie had gone away in the cutter down stream with another man.
"Who was the other man?"
Sam Brown did not know. Yes, he had seen him before somewhere, but he did not know his name. Even the threat of a flogging could not elicit the name of Wylie's companion. It was obvious to Cartwright that the shivering wretch told the truth.
Dismissing the assigned servant with a curse at his stupidity, Cartwright walked down towards the river, followed by his six soldiers. It flashed through his mind that Wylie's companion might be the wanted man. Wylie was always a deep one, and was certainly in league with all the evil-doers on the river. It seemed possible that the old man was assisting Trevithick to escape. Trevithick would almost certainly have returned to the Hawkesbury after the brawl at the 'Sheer Hulk,' and Wylie, who was himself an emancipist, had a natural sympathy with people who were "wanted."
Once the idea was started in his mind, it was easy for Cartwright to persuade himself that his theory was sound. He resolved to go in pursuit of Wylie and his mysterious companion, and with that object be seized a substantial boat that he found tied up to Wylie's landing stage. As a matter of fact, it was the very boat that Wylie proposed to place in the charge of Tristram for the purpose of running the cargo of Daddy Griffin's illicit still. The boat was equipped with mast, sails and oars. She was built on fine lines. She looked fast, as well as seaworthy.
In a very short time Captain Cartwright was sitting in the stern sheets with the tiller in his hand, four of the soldiers were rowing, with their red coats on the thwarts beside them, and two others remained in reserve in the bow. When they got round the next bend they could hoist the sail.
And so alternately rowing and sailing they made good progress down stream, and after sunset they came to Bar Island, lying in a great bend of the river a few miles above Peat's Ferry.
And there was little Susie Barlow, barefooted, of course, rowing herself back from Bar Island to the right bank of the river, with the two cows swimming after the boat.
Cartwright was by no means sure that the objects of his search were in front of him or behind him. They might have gone up Mangrove Creek or any of the other creeks that flow into the Hawkesbury. He steered alongside little Susie Barlow's boat and questioned her.
She was an intelligent child. She told him that she knew Mr. Wylie well. He had often been to her father's place. Mr. Wylie had passed her in his cutter the day before at about the same time. There was another man in the cutter with him, but she did not know who he was. She could not say whether he was old or young. He was not very old, she thought, nor yet very young. He was more dark than fair, and as far as she could remember he was more thin than fat. At any rate, he was not so fat as Mr. Wylie.
All this was not very convincing, but Cartwright had made up his mind about the identity of Wylie's companion, and the flimsiest evidence assumed solidity. He ordered the sweating soldiers back to the oars, and they pulled up to Mud Island. There they got a welcome slant of wind, which enabled Cartwright to sail down the south channel to Peat's Ferry. Rounding Long Island the boat headed south-east again for Broken Bay.
Darkness fell, and the stars came out, but still Cartwright kept the boat's head pointing towards the open water. The soldiers in the bow maintained a sharp lookout for Wylie's cutter. Hours passed and brought no glimpse of a sail.
But soon after midnight the long suspense came to an end. "Sail ho," cried one of the soldiers in the bow, and, peering out through the gloom. Cartwright saw the cutter creeping past Green Point, about half a mile from the shore.
Jonathan Wylie saw his own boat and recognised it readily. He saw also that she was fully manned. With the aid of the glass he could make out at least six men on board her, perhaps seven. He saw the boat alter her course, and head straight for the cutter. The light south-easter was a fair wind for the cutter, but a dead muzzler for the boat.
Wylie did not like the look of her. "Better get down in the bottom of the cutter, my lad," he said to Tristram. "These chaps are up to no good, whoever they are." Then he caught a glimpse of their uniforms. "D—d Lobsters," he exclaimed in disgust; "it must be Cartwright and his men."
Tristram received the news with a thrill. He was determined not to be taken alive by Cartwright. No doubt the captain and his men were after him for that miserable business at the 'Sheer Hulk.'
Wylie could see that Cartwright had taken in the sail. The four soldiers at the oars sent the boat along at a steady pace. She was headed so as to intercept the cutter, and hem her in close to the rugged rocky north shore of Cowan Creek at its entrance into Broken Bay.
Old Wylie saw the move at once. He altered his course to starboard. The boat's course was altered immediately to head him off. There could be no doubt that the men in the boat, whoever they were, did not intend him to escape.
And then the excitement of being chased, and by an armed crew, too, entered into Jonathan Wylie's blood, and he determined to give them a run for it.
"Keep down," he muttered to Tristram. "Don't show your head above the gunwale; it's you they're after."
He gave her more sheet, and the big sail flung out almost at right angles. She was running before the wind.
Black clouds were drifting across the sky. The wind was getting up.
And then like a flash Jonathan Wylie remembered another night many years before, and on the other side of the world, a night when he was chased by a British sloop of war in the English Channel, and when the Frenchman whom he was taking across to the French coast had good reason for desiring to escape capture. Ah, that was a night that he would never forget. The sloop of war was too fast for his lugger. They caught him and boarded him. But they did not catch the Frenchman. What was his outlandish name again? Don Something. Ah, yes; De Donzenac, that was it.
Wylie was still chuckling grimly at his unspoken thoughts when a hoarse hail reached him across the water.
"Cutter, ahoy. Bring to in the King's name."
Tristram sat up in the bottom of the boat when he heard the hail, but Wylie paid no attention to the summons. He clenched his teeth and kept her away a couple of points. He would sail round the rowing boat, hug the shore on the opposite side of the bay, then make a short board back, and if the wind only held he would be safe. The cutter could outsail the boat in a breeze, no matter how hard they tried to catch him. He would sneak up Mullet Creek, where they would never think of looking for him.
Such were his ideas when they were rudely dispelled by a volley of musketry.
The rowing boat was on a parallel course with the cutter now. They had edged him further and further out towards the north side of the bay. For an instant he thought of coming round and making a dash for Patonga, the long narrow inlet running out of Broken Bay on the north side, opposite to Cowan Creek. But he knew that the shoal across the mouth of Patonga would be a dangerous obstacle.
These thoughts rushed through Jonathan Wylie's mind when he saw the flash of the muskets. He discarded his plans when he found that three heavy musket balls had passed through his mainsail. Evidently the soldiers and the officer in command of them were in earnest.
"Mr. Wylie," said Tristram from the bottom of the cutter.
"Yes, my lad. What is it?"
"That's Captain Cartwright, in the stern sheets."
"I thought it might be my lad."
"And I'm not going to let him take me."
"O' course, not," replied Jonathon, though he had no idea how the catastrophe was to be avoided.
The cutter was heeling over to port, and her big mainsail completely shut out the rowing boat, which was steering a parallel course barely a hundred yards away.
"Bring to in that cutter, or I'll sink you," yelled the infuriated Cartwright; and as Tristram heard the words he climbed out on the weather side, being completely screened by the cutter's mainsail from the sight of those in the boat.
"Good-bye," he called, and with the word he dropped overboard. Wylie looked in amazement and saw the dark head bobbing in the water, as the hardy swimmer headed for Eleanor Bluff, the nearest point of land, at the head of Cowan Creek, half a mile away. He knew that Cartwright and his men would have their eyes fixed on the cutter, so he held on his course for another couple of minutes until the darkness of the night had swallowed up the swimmer. Then he put the helm hard down and threw the cutter up into the eye of the wind. She hung there with jib flapping, and Cartwright in his four-oared boat rowed alongside.
"Why the devil didn't you bring to when I ordered you," he began in a fury. "I'll report you to the Governor for this night's work, Wylie, and I'll recommend that your license be cancelled. Where is the man that was with you?"
"There's nobody with me," said Wylie sulkily.
"Yes, there is," said Cartwright, climbing on board the cutter, "for Sam Brown, your assigned servant, saw you coming away with a stranger, and Barlow's little girl, whom I questioned a few hours ago, saw him with you. From her description I am confident that he is the man we want." The sense of relief that Jonathan Wylie experienced was so exhilarating that he laughed aloud a genuine laugh that had the ring of satisfaction in it.
"The man that Sam Brown and Barlow's little girl saw with me was my overseer, Job Peters, who looks after the salt works at Saltpan Creek for me. I reckon you'll find him there now if you want him."
Cartwright was thunderstruck. So he had made a mistake after all. "Why are you sailing up here by yourself at midnight," he asked incredulously.
"Haven't I a right to visit my own works at Saltpan Creek?" queried old Jonathan in his turn. "Come now, captain, try to be reasonable. As for the young fellow that you're after, you may be sure, I'll keep my eye open for him—especially if there's any reward for the information."
Evidently there was nothing more to be got out of Jonathan. Cartwright felt convinced that he had been outwitted, but he could not conjecture how the trick had been done. He looked suspiciously over the cutter, and even went forward and took Wylie's lantern to look into the said locker. There was no sign of the vanished passenger. With a curse the disappointed officer climbed back into his boat and set a course for Peat's Ferry, where shelter and food could be obtained.
As the cutter slipped through the water with her nose upstream again, Jonathan Wylie looked out in the direction of Eleanor Bluff. He saw nothing but the ripple of the great river, and here and there the reflection of a star down in the depths. The dark head of the swimmer had disappeared.
"By the Lord," said Jonathan Wylie, slapping his thigh, "he has the right mettle in him. A bit of good stuff that."
He was silent for a moment. "And Eleanor Bluff might be Cape Gris Nez," he muttered dreamily.
Another pause. Wylie lit his pipe and puffed at it.
"Well, I'll have to find another man somewhere to run the stuff for Peters," he said to himself. "There'll be no sign of young Trevithick on the Hawkesbury again for many a day."
"Auntie," said Mary Fitzharding to Mrs. Cuthbert, as they sat in the long drawing-room at Government House, pretending to do needlework, "I cannot tell you how desperate I feel about the disappearance of that young man, Tristram Trevithick."
"Mary, dear, I know that you love him."
Mrs. Cuthbert felt a sharp pang at her heart. She, too, experienced an intense and thrilling interest in that tall, dark-eyed, olive-skinned young farmer, with his aquiline nose and his flashing eyes—'Those eye to Mars to threaten and command.' He was marvellously like the man who still reigned in her heart, crowned with the glamor of her girlish love. A vain mad thought had fluttered in her brain ever since that first brief glimpse that she had of Tristram when Mary brought him to the house on the first day that she met him. She would not face the thought; she fought it down resolutely. Yet after all, somewhere on the earth—God only knew where—her son was living; if indeed her father had told the truth to her in the last words that he ever spoke.
"I really feel," said Mary, in low, hushed tones, "as though I were fighting a duel with Captain Cartwright for the body and soul of Tristram Trevithick. Auntie, that man Cartwright hates him. He hates him on my account. Whatever folly Tristram may have committed under some strange impulse which I can only dimly understand, he is honest, honorable, and true. I know it, because I can feel it."
Mrs. Cuthbert leaned forward in her chair, and looked at Mary with shining eyes. "And I have felt it, too," she said.
The old look of determination came into Mary's face again. Fearlessness looked out of her frank, blue eyes. Her square little chin seemed to protrude itself ever so little. "I have made up my mind not to sit still doing nothing, auntie; I must help Tristram, and in order to help him and to save him from the hatred of Captain Cartwright I must first find out all that there is to know of the reason that he left his father's farm on the Hawkesbury."
"But how can you find it out, Mary?" The older woman was just as anxious—indeed, if possible, more anxious—to find out things about Tristram, but she lacked the strenuous will power and mental concentration of the girl.
"There is one person, at any rate, who knows everything about him," said Mary, decisively, "and that is his mother."
Mrs. Cuthbert quivered. It was as though she had received a blow.
"I am going up to Windsor to see Mrs. Trevithick," continued Mary. "I want her to explain some of the things that she said to me here the other day."
"What did she tell you, dear?" Mrs. Cuthbert's voice was almost inaudible.
"I cannot tell you, auntie," Mary was inexorably firm.
"You see, Tristram Trevithick is much—very much—to me. That is why his mother told me the story. But he is nothing to you."
Again that terrible feeling. It was as though a great hand—a hand that reached out of the past—grasped and gripped Mrs. Cuthbert's heart until it stopped beating. Was it right that she, Sybil Cuthbert, who had once been Sybil Granger, should know nothing about this young man, whose face was stamped with the image of the man who had once been the captain of her soul?
"I should like to go with you to Windsor, if you will let me," said Mrs. Cuthbert humbly.
And Mary at last consented.
The red-faced major grumbled a good deal when his wife expressed her desire to visit the Upper Hawkesbury and asked him to make arrangements for the journey. But when Mary Fitzharding added her entreaties, his half-hearted resistance broke down. He would go with them himself. As a matter of fact, there were several matters demanding attention at Windsor, and as the Governor was absent on a tour of the south coast, with his carriage, riding horses, tents, and a considerable suite, it was a good opportunity to run up to Windsor and consult with the magistrate there about the desperadoes who were reported to have crossed the Kurrajong heights and appeared at some of the outlying homesteads on the Hawkesbury. He would be ready to start on the following morning.
So after breakfast next day, one of the roomy carriages that were seldom allowed to stand idle for long in the stables of Government House made its appearance. The postilions climbed into their saddles. Major Cuthbert handed his wife and Mary Fitzharding into the interior, and then got in after them.
The mounted escort, provided from the barracks, took their places in their bright uniforms, with their military trappings that reflected the sunshine from a myriad points of polished brass and steel, and the cavalcade trotted down into George-street, and so out to Parramatta, en route for Windsor, 40 miles away. They changed horses once before reaching Parramatta, and twice afterwards. Late in the afternoon the steaming horses halted in front of Government House at Windsor, and a well-served dinner, with coffee on the verandah overlooking the river, helped to lighten the fatigues of the journey.
In the unexplored regions of New South Wales the travelling that was undertaken by the Governor and his suite was often rough and full of hardships, which were endured with cheerfulness. But such a journey as that from Sydney to Windsor, which was accomplished in settled country and over first rate roads, was not without a certain dignity and ceremony that made a definite appeal to onlookers. In the morning Major Cuthbert departed to the court house to interview Mr. William Cox, the magistrate, while the two ladies drove down to Pittown, where Tom Trevithick's prosperous farm was established on the right bank of the river.
They found Mrs. Trevithick sitting on the verandah knitting. She could still knit, though with some difficulty, as she explained to her visitors, on account of the dimness of her sight, which made it necessary for her to use the strongest spectacles.
She welcomed Mary Fitzharding warmly, and performed a deferential courtesy when presented to Mrs. Cuthbert. It was a lovely morning in early spring. The air on the verandah was deliciously soft, and carried the scents of fruits and flowers, of lucerne and clover, and the breath of cattle. Mrs. Cuthbert, as she stood there, was a woman into whose soul the iron had entered in the days of her youth. Yet time had healed the scar. She was reconciled to her fate, even if she could never be really happy again. The years, with their merciful anodyne, had dulled the sharpness of the agony. She could still smile, though palely, before she crossed the threshold and entered the homestead at Mrs. Trevithick's bidding.
After that ordeal she smiled no more for many days. She had expected to be told the secret of Tristram's parentage, but when she heard it from Mrs. Trevithick's lips the truth was so malignly twisted by fate that the scar upon her heart seemed to break open again. Mrs. Trevithick did not know the truth. The squire had not told it to her, because he did not know it himself, and he dropped dead before his daughter could tell him. That was the first beginning of all this terrible tangle in the skein of Sybil Granger's life.
"So that's how it all happened, ma'am," said Mrs. Trevithick, wiping her eyes and looking at the tall, pale woman whom she could scarcely see through her tears. "Tristram is the son of the squire's daughter, and the disgrace made her father take the child from its cot, when she was away from the house, and give him to me and my husband on the night before we left England. Of course, we never saw the squire's daughter again. Poor thing, I've often thought of her since, and wondered if her heart was broken."
Would she never wake from this horrible nightmare? That was Mrs. Cuthbert's first thought. But no. The sun was shining through the window. She could hear the ring of an axe on the timber outside. It was no nightmare. It was reality. This weeping woman in front of her was speaking what she believed to be the truth.
A glance at her aunt's face showed Mary that Mrs. Trevithick's story had fallen with stunning force upon her ears. Mrs. Cuthbert's eyes were staring. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps. But with a supreme effort she mastered herself.
Mary slipped her arm about the older woman's waist. "I can't help it," whispered the girl. "It makes no difference, somehow; I love him all the same. If he only knew it, perhaps, he would not have gone away."
To Mary Fitzharding, pure and noble soul, it seemed a monstrous and despicable thing to delve for secrets in the parentage of the man who had captured her heart. She shrank from asking Mrs. Trevithick the name of Tristram's mother. She hoped fervently that Mrs. Trevithick would not think it necessary to tell her the name.
But Mrs. Trevithick, loyal to her old squire in every fibre of her nature, never thought of telling the name. It was to keep that name from disgrace that the squire had robbed his daughter of her child. The price was a heavy one. The secret should be kept.
And so it was that Mrs. Trevithick, dim of sight and blinded besides with tears, held her peace, and never knew that the tall pale woman who stood beside her was the girl that she had seen long ago up at the hall in her old home in Devonshire.
Nor could Mary Fitzharding guess that Sybil Granger, who had married Major Cuthbert and come with him to Sydney, was the hapless mother of whom Mrs. Trevithick spoke.
Only one woman of the three knew all the story—because it was written in her heart by the remembrance of her girlish love, and because it was scored in her flesh by the pangs of her motherhood.
Mrs. Cuthbert kept her own counsel. She guarded her secret well. Even when Mrs. Trevithick opened the big brass bound chest and took out the baby's long clothes, made of fine cambric trimmed with Valenciennes lace, and the white socks and the little blue woollen shoes, the mother did not betray herself, though the strain on her emotions was well nigh intolerable.
She remembered those little blue woollen knitted socks very well. She had knitted them herself before the baby was born. Ah! The poignant memory shot through her heart like a stabbing pain.
And now her son—her own son—with the flashing eyes and the dauntless courage of his father, who had charged single-handed upon the bayonets of a British square at Waterloo, was a fugitive and a vagabond. She had heard something of the story from Captain Cartwright. 'Tristram'—they called him Tristram, but that was not his name—was hiding somewhere from the soldiers who were searching for him. Well, she knew the worst at last. When the time came for action she would know how to act.
Driving back to Windsor in the carriage Mrs. Cuthbert and Mary Fitzharding talked but little. Each was busy with her own thoughts. And all their thoughts went forth and circled unseen round the figure of a man who at that very moment was toiling with his face and arms blistered by the sun, and his feet bruised by the rocks, over the great rampart of the Kurrajong Mountains, that run down as a lateral spur from the main range to the sea.
Tristram had determined to put as wide a distance as possible between himself and his pursuers. He was making his way to the new settlement at Bathurst, where he hoped to lose himself in the crowd of settlers who were opening up the riches of the Bathurst Plains. But as he toiled along Bell's Line, the newly-discovered route from Bathurst to the Hawkesbury, he realised with a pang that every step he took led him further and further from Mary Fitzharding. Yet after all, he asked himself bitterly, what did it matter? The stain on his birth made it impossible for Mary ever to be more to him than a vision; the blood upon his hands prevented him from touching her.
He turned and looked back wildly to the country that he was leaving—the country that he knew so well, and in which he had spent all his life.
From the height on which he stood he could see the winding line of the Hawkesbury, as it flowed at first between miles and miles of fertile flats, backed by wooded hills, and then disappeared from view among the ranges that closed in upon it as it approached the sea. He could make out the situation of Tom Trevithick's farm, a few miles below Windsor. He had played upon the bank of the river as a child. He had passed his active vigorous boyhood on it. He had talked in the orchard on its bank with the woman who seemed to have dropped from the skies into his quiet uneventful life, and after whose coming everything was changed.
There was the river shining like a steel blade, and there were his foster parents, his foster brothers and sister, and his home. Will and Owen were good-hearted, heavy-witted fellows, but Margaret, well, she had always been his little mate in childhood. It seemed to him that if Margaret could ever help him she would be capable of an effort on his behalf.
He remembered the night of the great flood. It was Margaret who recollected that the oars were in the barn and who ran and fetched them. He remembered the afternoon, when the Cammeragal blacks, those tall, long-armed, muscular Hawkesbury savages, who were so much bigger and stronger than the Port Jackson natives, came out of the bush, and appeared with spears and waddies in the orchard, when Tom Trevithick was miles away at Windsor. It was Margaret who fetched the double-barrelled fowling piece to Mrs. Trevithick, while he himself, an urchin of no more than four years, looked on uncomprehendingly. And then Mrs. Trevithick, holding the gun in her hand, walked straight down to the blacks and fired one barrel at the tree next to the leader, blowing a deep hole in it and sending the bark flying in all directions. Now, she said, to the irresolute savage, with his shield and his nullah, "my gun speaks the truth. You have heard him. You see what he can do. The next shot is for you."
She raised the gun again, but the warrior was gone, and all his followers with him.
These scenes came back to Tristram sharply outlined as he looked towards the old home and saw the blue smoke curling up from the homestead chimney. Then he turned his back upon the peaceful valley and set his gaze forward. The scarred, gaunt eucalypts, the grass trees and the bottle brush, the great masses of orange colored sandstone, towering on either side of the ridge, that was his road, and the dark, deep gullies from which there was no outlet, were as gloomy and unpromising as his own future. But he set his face forward and plodded along the track.
At night he camped beside a waterhole and lit a fire and took food from a bag and ate it. And as he was eating he heard the sound of a horse's hoofs, and started up.
Into the circle of light from the fire rode a tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed man on a powerful bay horse. The man wore a black beaver hat, a handsome blue cloth surtout coat lined with silk, a white plaited shirt, snuff-colored trousers, and high boots. He had a fine silk handkerchief round his neck, and he carried a brace of pistols slung in leather holsters, and a fowling-piece in his hand. He slipped from his horse and sat down by the fire and talked. He talked well and far into the night, and Tristram listened with shining eyes.
The stranger lay down to sleep by Tristram's fire, and when he awoke at dawn Tristram went away with him, walking beside the big bay horse, and the horse's head was turned westward towards the Bathurst plains.
Governor Macquarie sat in his own room in Government House in Bridge-street, in a very bad temper indeed. In the first place he had just received a long dispatch from Lord Liverpool, principal Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, informing him that "the Prince Regent will have particular satisfaction in witnessing every exertion on your part in lessening the charge of the colony on the mother country," and calling attention to the large bills of exchange which had been drawn on his Majesty's Treasury for the erection of public building in New South Wales.
A miserable parsimonious soul was Lord Liverpool. The Governor was incubating great schemes for other huge buildings, all to be inscribed with the name of 'L. Macquarie Esq.,' and it was very hard to be rapped over the knuckles in this way, and told to cut down expenditure.
"And from what I know of him." said the Governor grimly to Mr. Michael Robinson, chief clerk in the secretary's department, "the Prince Regent is much more concerned about his Royal pleasures down at Brighton than about the building of barracks at the antipodes. Between you and me Robinson, his Royal Highness spends as much on fallals and pretty women in a week as would supply me with building funds for a year."
Mr. Robinson had to smile in approval of his chiefs merry jest, but it was a very feeble smile, for Mr. Robinson was a truly loyal subject, and moreover a poet. Had he not written a loyal ode every year on June 4, that being the birthday of the poor old madman who was still nominally the British King, and had not the Governor every year invited him to recite it at the customary levee of loyal citizens? Nay, more, Mr. Robinson was so loyal that he insisted on writing an ode for the Queen also on her birthday, and he was quite prepared to recite it to anybody who would listen to him. Considering that Mr. Robinson performed these pious tasks every year from 1810 to 1820, and that his twenty odes, ten for the King and ten for the Queen, were printed afterwards and sold to subscribers for L.1 sterling per copy, it was not at all likely that the Governor's levity with regard to the Royal Family would strike a responsive note in his bosom. Still, he smiled, a weak official smile that served to increase rather than diminish the Governor's irritation.
However, Mr. Robinson's presence was quite accidental; he had merely arrived with a bundle of papers for Mr. John Thomas Campbell, the Governor's official secretary, and he bowed himself out of the august presence as quickly as possible, being thankful to escape without having his ears assailed by any further frivolous remark concerning the Blood Royal.
"And here's a pretty state of things, Campbell," continued the Governor, not deigning even to glance at Mr. Robinson, who was walking backwards towards the door. "This is a letter from Mr. William Cox, the magistrate of Windsor, who tells me that bandits have been seen on the Kurrajong Mountains and have committed many depredations. Seems to be a regular gang of them. Mr. Cox writes that they were assigned servants on farms near Bathurst, and cleared out with horses, clothes, and firearms. They have been robbing and shooting right and left. We'll have to lay these scoundrels by the heels and string them up in double quick time. Make a note for the commanding officer at the barracks to send up a half Company under a captain to deal with them."
Mr. Campbell wrote away industriously and dispatched his communication to the barracks.
"By the-way, Campbell, there is another matter that is causing me much concern. I find that the public have actually been making a short cut through my shrubbery, a right of way through Government House grounds, egad!"
Mr. Campbell raised his well-kept hands in horror. "It would be well, sir, to draft an ordinance on the subject immediately prescribing severe penalties. I shall take leave to do it at once."
"Ordinance be D—d. Campbell," said the old soldier testily. "I seem to spend my life signing all your cursed ordinances. No. I'll deal with the scoundrels in a proper and effective way." He raised his voice and shouted, "Summers."
The door opened and Isaac Summers, private in his Majesty's Forty-eighth Regiment of Foot, almost fell into the room.
Recovering his balance he saluted and stood to attention.
"Who is out there with you?" enquired the Governor.
"Private Moore, sir."
So Private Moore was summoned also and the two soldiers stood up in front of Governor Macquarie. They were two members of the Governor's bodyguard, which consisted of six men and a non-commissioned officer. The bodyguard was a most important part of the Governor's personal establishment.
The Governor explained to them what they were to do. They were to form an ambuscade in the shrubbery. In fact, they were to hide in the bushes, and if any persons trespassed in order to make a right of way through the grounds the soldiers were to seize them, arrest them forthwith, and bring them into the presence of the Governor, who would see that they were punished in such a way that they would never offend again.
Private Summers and Private Moore saluted and departed on their curious little expedition, and Governor Macquarie turned again to his secretary. "I don't intend to let the bandits get the upper hand here, as Sorrell let them get it in Van Diemen's Land." remarked the old soldier. "Egad! it was positively scandalous. I heard all about it when I visited Hobart Town on my tour of inspection."
"Ah, yes," said Mr. Campbell. "The case of Michael Howe. It certainly did seem to me to be—ahem—unofficial, if I may so put it, for Governor Sorrell to negotiate with a notorious bandit while still at large."
"He did it, though." said Governor Macquarie, snapping his words out in the abrupt way that he had when he was deeply moved. "He actually treated with the villain. Howe surrendered on terms. His life was to be spared, and he was to give information which would lead to the capture of his gang. Naturally he did nothing of the kind. He escaped from custody. Rejoined his gang, and resumed robbing and murdering again as energetically as ever. Of course, they hunted him hard after that. They caught him eventually on the upper Shannon; awful country, too. Who were the men who took him? Do you remember, Campbell?"
"A civilian named Worrall, sir," said the secretary, "and Private Pugh, of the 48th regiment."
"Ah! of course. I remember Pugh very well. A most determined fellow. The other man fired, and when the bandit ran in at him with his knife, Soldier Pugh knocked the fellow down with the butt end of his piece and hammered his skull in. That's the way to deal with those gentry, Campbell. I shall not give old scoundrels as much hope as Sorrell gave to his in Van Diemen's land. No negotiations. Lay them by the heels and string them up. That's the best policy I take it. Just send another note to the barracks. My compliments to the major of brigade, and he will be good enough to send Captain Cartwright with a half company of the 48th regiment on service to Bathurst when he receives the word. Cartwright is the man. A very capable man, Cartwright."
While Mr. John Thomas Campbell was writing, Governor Macquarie devoted himself assiduously to the task of getting through his routine papers, putting brief minutes in the corner of each.
Gradually the forenoon wore on. Towards midday a shuffling of many feet was heard outside the door, and then a loud "Halt!"
The door opened. "Front! March!" and an awkward squad, consisting of six men and two women, followed by Private Summers and Private Moore entered the room.
"Axin' your pardon, sir," Said Private Summers, saluting, and then dropping the butt of his firelock with a crack on the toe of the restless, shuffling individual who stood next him. "Them's the prisoners."
This very capable member of the Governor's bodyguard explained briefly that he and Private Moore had hidden themselves as directed in the shrubbery, and had captured the prisoners by ones and twos as they boldly walked through the Governor's grounds. Each person they had captured was compelled to remain in the shrubbery until a squad of sufficient size was formed. "What were the Governor's further orders in regard to the prisoners?"
At this the two women began to cry. The men were downcast and sulky.
"The women are sentenced to a fortnight in the cells, for trespassing without just cause upon property that is not open to the public," said the Governor, with decision, "and the male offenders will each receive 25 lashes for the same offence. Remove all the prisoners to the watch-house.''
"But, Governor Macquarie, I protest against this arbitrary and brutal punishment," said one of the male prisoners. "I am a free man, not a prisoner of the Crown. If I have committed an offence I claim to be tried, before a proper court of justice."
"Your name, sir," enquired the Governor calmly.
"William Blake, a free immigrant," said the man.
"Well, Mr. William Blake, your protest will be duly recorded, and you will receive 25 lashes all the same. Now then, right about, march."
The awkward squad retired to the place of punishment, but Governor Macquarie's shortness of temper that morning cost him dear in the end, for it was Mr. William Blake, smarting under the unmerited infliction of the 'cat,' who was the first cause of the Governor's recall. His loud complaint in England resulted in the visit of Mr. Commissioner Bigge. Mr. Commissioner Bigge's report was a blow from which the Governor never recovered.
However, the Governor anticipated nothing of all that when he dismissed the prisoners, nor did Private Summers, either. Private Summers had something more agreeable to think about, and handing the charges of the prisoner to Private Moore, he disappeared into the shrubbery to look for it.
He emerged leading Margaret Trevithick by the hand. "Faith. I hadn't the heart to put a gurl like ye into the punishment squad,"' said Private Summers; "and now ye'll have to pay your footing." Whereupon he gave the buxom foster-sister of Tristram Trevithick a resounding kiss on her apple cheek, and received in return a ringing box on the ear.
"None of your impudence, Mr. Soldier." said Margaret, smiling all the same into the enterprising eye of this most useful member of the Governor's bodyguard. "I'm not here to see you, but to see Miss Mary Fitzharding, and I'll be mightily obleeged if you'll take me to her."
"How much obleeged will you be?" enquired Private Summers, with his eyes twinkling.
"Obleeged to give you a box on your other ear, I expect," retorted the damsel smartly, as she put her hand on the soldier's arm and moved towards the front door. With that implied promise of a further opportunity later on to deserve another cuff, the soldier grinned broadly, and escorted Margaret Trevithick past the sentry box at the front of Government House. He showed her the side door, and she soon found Mary Fitzharding in the little sitting-room upstairs.
Mary had seen her before at her home on the Hawkesbury. She welcomed Tristram's foster sister warmly, and thanked her for coming in answer to her message.
"Oh, Margaret," she said, blushing like a rose, "I don't know what you will think of me, but I cannot rest until I find out what really happened at that dreadful tavern called the 'Sheer Hulk' on the night that Tristram went there."
"So you want me to help you, miss?" said the practical damsel. "We'll. I'll do all I can.''
"Captain Cartwright told me," said Mary, "that Tristram stabbed a man that night—a man called Jim the Sealer. I want to find out for certain how he came to stab him, and whether Jim the Sealer died or recovered, but I dare not go to the 'Sheer Hulk' by myself."
"It's not a nice place for a lady, from all I can hear of it," assented buxom Margaret.
"You see," said Mary, going directly to her point, "one of the reasons why Tristram left his home was because he discovered that your Mother is not his mother."
"Yes," said Margaret gravely. The matter had been talked over openly in the Trevithick household since Tristram's departure. It could not be kept hidden.
"And one of the reasons why he stayed away," continued Mary, "is because he stabbed this man, Jim the Sealer. Probably he thinks that Jim the Sealer is dead. I want to be sure that the man is not dead, and there is nobody here that I could ask such a question."
"It will be quite easy to find that out," said Margaret, watching Mary Fitzharding's face. There was something further, she felt certain—some other reason for desiring to explore the murky recesses of such an unsavory haunt as the 'Sheer Hulk.'
"Captain Cartwright told me," said Mary, with burning cheeks, "that Tristram had associated himself with a girl at the tavern called Black-eyed Poll. He made insinuations that were vile. I know that he lied, but I want to know how he came to get such an extraordinary impression, and what possible grounds there could have been for such a monstrous falsehood."
"Ha!" Mary drew a deep breath. Of course it was false. Still the vile story must be disproved.
"So I want you to help me to find out all these things," said Mary, resolutely, "and the only way by which we can find them out is to go to the 'Sheer Hulk' and enquire for ourselves."
Margaret thought for a second. Then an idea struck her. "I have it," she said. "Private Summers'll take us there."
Mary was mystified, but when the situation was explained to her she was quick to see the force of the suggestion. Margaret was certainly a very practical young woman.
A proud man was Private Summers when it was explained to him by Margaret, that he was to have the privilege of escorting the two girls to the 'Sheer Hulk,' though he was utterly in the dark as to why they should want to go there. As soon as he was off duty at 6 o'clock, he met them at the gate, and on the way to the Rocks a brief outline of the proposed investigation was imparted to him.
Did he remember the row at the 'Sheer Hulk' on the night when Jim the Sealer was stabbed?
Of course, he did. Jim the Sealer was all right in three days. He had made another successful trip to the sealing grounds since then. Probably they would find him at the tavern that evening.
A wave of joy flowed over Mary's heart. So Tristram's dread that he had blood on his hands was unfounded. She longed for the moment when she could tell him with her own lips that all his fears were groundless. Surely there was nothing to keep him away from her any longer—nothing, at least, except the mystery of his birth, which really did not matter. After all, if a woman loved a man and married him (Mary blushed a little at her own hypothesis), she married the man himself and not his parent. A man could not be blamed for his parents. It was utterly unreasonable and unjust to suppose that he could.
She was still contemplating this self-evident proposition when Private Summers ejaculated "Hist!" and placed his finger to his lips. Following his beckoning finger the two girls looked through the window of the 'Sheer Hulk' and beheld, looming gigantic through the tobacco reek, a burly figure seated at a table with pipe and glass.
"Jim the Sealer," whispered Private Summers, "and yon wench that sits beside him is Black-eyed Poll."
It was Private Summers who conducted the remainder of the enquiry, for neither Mary Fitzharding nor Margaret Trevithick would venture into the long, low, dimly lit room, full of shadowy forms that moved hither and thither, like things of evil stirring in murky blackness.
They turned their eyes from the depressing scene inside the 'Sheer Hulk,' and saw the moon rising high in the heavens, and every cove and inlet, point and island of the harbor touched with silver. The contrast was so tremendous that both the girls were silent for a long while, wondering perhaps why man, who is a little lower than the angels, descends at times, as though by some mysterious law of gravitational depravity to the level of the foulest demons of the pit.
However, Private Summers cheerfully volunteered to go down into the pit in search of the necessary information. He tapped twice on the door, gave a password, and was at once admitted by old Dan, who welcomed him with a friendly wink of his solitary eye. Clearly, he had been there before, for Black-eyed Poll greeted him with a wide smile, to which he responded with an invitation to the girl to join him in refreshments. He sat down with her at a suitable table at the back of the room, and presently engaged her in an earnest conversation. Poll's tongue was loosened by rum and water, and she spoke without reserve, resorting at the end to open lamentations.
When Private Summers left the 'Sheer Hulk' he had the whole story, which he related to Mary Fitzharding and Margaret Trevithick as the trio stood on the rock under the moonlight.
"She told me she never seen the cully afore," said the soldier. "He wan't her sort, not he. When he talked about a bag o' guineas she thought he was mad, but she got her hand into his pocket and found the guineas was there all right. So she set to work to fill him with rum, and when he was quite full she pinched the bag. Then came the row with the sealer, and when the soldiers broke into the room she couldn't get away. But she got out through being friendly with the sentry on the door, and she buried the bag of guineas under a rock at the back of the shanty, where she lived with her mate, Kitty Moggridge. But Kitty worked the double on her and stole the swag and fenced it, she supposes, with a dealer in George-street, and so she had all her trouble for nothing, after all: and then she cried and began cursing Kitty Moggridge, miss, and so I came away. There's nuthin' wrong about Black-eyed Poll. She's just a born pickpocket, that's all."
When Private Summers brought the two girls back to Government House Mary Fitzharding's heart was lighter than it had been for many days. The barriers that seemed so solid between Tristram and herself had melted away at her touch. If only she could find and tell him so.
Margaret Trevithick accompanied her patroness into Government House, and was accommodated with a bed in the maids' quarters. But before she followed Miss Fitzharding—at a most respectful distance—Private Summers received his promised slap on the other ear.
And he thoroughly deserved it.
It was the custom of Governor Macquarie to give a large dinner party every year on June 4 in honor of the King's birthday, but the idea occurred to him in this particular year to celebrate the occasion by a grand ball, followed by a supper. It may have been instigated by Mrs. Macquarie, urged thereto by the ladies of the regiment, who found life insupportable without an occasional dance, but whether the Governor originated the idea or not, he at any rate carried it out with great enthusiasm.
Invitations were issued to one hundred and fifty guests, including the principal officers, military and civil, of the colony, and many private gentlemen, with their ladies.
Government House, with its long, wide verandah, guarded by sentries, and its beautiful lawns that sloped down towards the waters of Sydney Cove, was brilliantly illuminated. The decorations, which were carried out with native shrubs and flowering plants, evoked unbounded admiration.
His Excellency, attired in full uniform, and wearing all his medals, stood with Mrs. Macquarie, who was gowned in white silk, at the entrance of the ballroom, where the band of the Forty-eighth Regiment was already installed. There they received their guests.
On such an occasion all private animosities were, of course, forgotten.
Hither came Judge Advocate Bent, who had spent the whole morning in writing an elaborate refusal to draft the Port Regulations, in accordance with the Governor's instructions, which he declared to be illegal and so contrary to the spirit of British law that his conscience would not permit him to give them judicial sanction. It was true that the Governor would not receive his communication until next morning; still the Judge Advocate could reflect with satisfaction that he had shown the Governor his opinion of him on the previous Sunday at St. Phillip's Church, by refusing to stand up with the rest of the congregation when the Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief in and over the Territory of New South Wales entered the holy edifice.
His Excellency shook him warmly by the hand. "Glad to see you, Judge," he said courteously. "I trust the gout is better."
Hither also came the Reverend Samuel Marsden, the principal chaplain and chief magistrate of Parramatta, who was Governor Macquarie's particular aversion. The Reverend Samuel devoted more of his time to trade, agriculture, and bartering than to his clerical duties, in the Governor's opinion.
On attending divine service on the previous Sunday, the Governor had noted with horror that the Reverend Mr. Cowper, assistant chaplain, acting under instructions, presumably from Mr. Marsden, had caused a version of the psalms by one, Dr. Goode, to be sung, instead of the version prescribed in the Church of England prayer-book. The Governor was so much offended by this unwarrantable innovation that he sent a sharp reproof to the Reverend Samuel at once, and also dictated a dispatch on the subject to the long suffering Earl Bathurst declaring that the Reverend Samuel was "not qualified by a liberal education in the usual way for the functions entrusted to him," and also that "he was largely tinctured with Methodistical or other sectarian principles." Governor Macquarie could not have been more outraged if he had been compelled to listen to a new and Methodistical version of the Articles of War.
However, he grasped the Reverend Samuel Marsden's fat hand as cordially as he could, and expressed the utmost solicitude regarding the Reverend Samuel's health, which was obviously excellent.
Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth, the civil medical officer, was welcomed with genuine pleasure. He was a strong supporter of Governor Macquarie, concerning whose ability as an administrator he entertained no doubt whatever. He entered the ballroom along with his friend, Mr. Edward Riley, the magistrate, and his other friend, Mr. Blaxell.
There were not, it is safe to say, three more thoroughly loyal gentlemen in the whole assemblage. They had to thank Governor Macquarie for giving them the monopoly of the sale of rum, in return for building a hospital for Sydney. They made an estimated profit of L150,000 on the transaction.
Bowing deferentially, they passed along, making room for a long stream of other distinguished people. For Mr. John Oxley, for instance, the Surveyor-General, whose explorations in the Bathurst district, had added hundreds of square miles of rich land to the resources of the colony: for Mr. Charles Throsby, formerly of the Civil Medical Department, but now a large landowner: for Mr. William Cox, who did so much to open up the road to Bathurst, and Captain John Piper, and Mr. Alexander Bery, and Mr. Edward Wollstonecraft, and Messrs. John and Gregory Blaxland, and other persons of the most unimpeachable respectability.
But Governor Macquarie did not restrict his invitations to persons of unimpeachable respectability.
He took special care to include in his hospitality many persons who had been so unfortunate as to be sent to New South Wales for offences of possibly a minor character. There is no need to particularise them, but it may he hinted that the architect who built Macquarie Tower, the light at South Head, was an emancipist, who was bidden a warm welcome to the King's Birthday ball, while another guest in the same category was a medical man who had been misguided enough to take part in the mutiny at the Nore, and a third was an Irish gentleman who had been mixed up with the rebellion of '98. but whom the Governor made his companion on many of his tours of exploration, and who was a constant guest at his table.
No doubt, Governor Macquarie's sound common-sense and excellent judgment caused him to select the most worthy emancipists as a rule for his distinguished favor. Still, there were occasions upon which his Excellency was unfortunate in his choice, and sometimes in his desire to do justice to every district of the territory he invited persons who were not sufficiently qualified by education to rub shoulders with the polite world.
Thus it came about that Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Wylie, from the Hawkesbury, were announced by a well-trained footman, who had once been in the employ of My Lord Asterisk of Belgravia, and might have remained there, but for a tendency to explore my lord's fob for unconsidered guineas.
And as the footman called the name of Mr. Jonathan Wylie a quiver ran through the body of the tall grey-eyed woman, who stood near Mrs. Macquarie, and then looked anxiously, incredulously, and then amazedly, at the commonplace figure in black bowing to the Governor. So Mary Fitzharding was right, it was Jonathan Wylie after all, and the same Jonathan Wylie whose life story touched her own so strangely.
Mr. Wylie, in his best suit of Sunday black broadcloth, and Mrs. Wylie, in a purple bombazeen, purchased for the occasion from an enterprising Sydney importer, stood under the great cut-glass chandelier, that carried a hundred of the best sperm candles, and blinked uneasily at the Governor and his lady.
"Ah, Mr. Wylie," said his Excellency cheerily, "and how are you all on the Hawkesbury? No more trouble with those confounded blacks, I hope? Eh?"
Mr. Wylie ventured the opinion that the blacks were never any trouble if handled properly. His own method of handling them, which he had found very effective, was with a double-barrelled shotgun.
Governor Macquarie gave a genial laugh, and Mr. Wylie and his wife passed on, being absolutely ignored by the 'haut ton' of the civil and military official world. The ladies did not even seem to see Mrs. Wylie's purple bombazeen, though it was certainly difficult to miss it. Governor Macquarie might bring his emancipist guests into his ballroom if he liked, but he could not get his other guests to recognise them. Autocrat as he was his power stopped short of that. Presently the excellent band of the Forty-Eighth Regiment struck up a stately quadrille, and the company gave themselves up to dancing, with every manifestation of pleasure. After the quadrille came a waltz, that newly-invented dance, which very few were able to manage with ease and grace, and which made the Reverend Samuel Marsden wonder privately what the Governor could be thinking about to allow such proceedings under his roof.
And then came a minuet and a country dance, and more quadrilles, with frequent adjournments for light refreshments, and afterwards more waltzes, until the ladies of the regiments—particularly the young and pretty ones—glowed with pleasure and excitement.
Nearly a century has passed since Governor Macquarie's guests chased the glowing hours with flying feet in the brilliant lighted ballroom looking out over Sydney Cove. No doubt many of those ladies of old time were young and lovely, too, but the sound of the Governor's dance music floats no more over the waters of Sydney Cove, and where are the lovely ladies? Francois Villon answers with his haunting question, "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?"
While the dance was in full swing Mrs. Cuthbert took the opportunity to invite Lieutenant Merriman, of the Forty-Eighth, to attend her while she performed the pleasant duty of engaging in conversation such of the Governor's guests as were not dancing.
Lieutenant Merriman was delighted. He was a fresh-faced lad of 23 and he privately adored Mrs. Cuthbert with a sincere and whole-hearted admiration. He proudly offered the lady his arm and conveyed her down the full length of the ballroom to a row of native shrubs, planted in tubs of earth, that decorated the lower end. Chairs were placed under the spreading foliage of fern and palm, and on these chairs sat Mr. Jonathan Wylie and his wife. Not a soul had spoken to them since they entered the room. With surprise and delight Mrs. Wylie beheld that great and unapproachable lady, Mrs. Cuthbert, bearing down on them upon the arm of her young cavalier who chatted volubly to her all the time.
"And how are you, my dear, Mrs. Wylie?" said Mrs. Cuthbert graciously; "and you, Mr. Wylie, too. So good of you to come all this long way from your beautiful home to help us to do honor to his Majesty the King on his birthday."
Mrs. Wylie was in the seventh heaven of delight at this public mark of consideration from one of the most distinguished ladies present. "Oh, my lady," she stammered, "ain't it beautiful, and the decorations are lovely. I was just saying to Jonathan, 'ere, as I was sure Mrs. Cuthbert had a 'and in them decorations. Wasn't I, Jonathan?"
An inarticulate grunt came from old Wylie, who had sufficient appreciation of etiquette to rise to his feet and offer Mrs. Cuthbert his chair, which she smilingly declined.
"No, thank you, Mr. Wylie," she said; "but you must let me show you round the place a little bit. The view from the verandah in front of the house is quite entrancing. I am sure Mrs. Wylie will not object to my taking you away for a few minutes."
"Oh, no, my lady," Mrs. Wylie was overpowered by the charming and condescending manners of the leader of the fashionable world.
"So Lieutenant Merriman will stay and talk with you until we come back, won't you, Mr. Merriman?" She smiled most sweetly at the unfortunate lieutenant, who had no option but to protest that nothing would entrance him more than to chat with Mrs. Wylie.
Whereupon the dumbfounded Mr. Wylie felt a small gloved hand land on the sleeve of his best black Sunday coat, and before he could collect his thoughts he was being impelled by a slight, though irresistible pressure in the direction of the door.
The ladies of the regiment looked and smiled meaningly at each other. Two or three of them even shrugged their shapely white shoulders. They really pitied poor Mrs. Cuthbert. The Governor's partiality for emancipists was deplorable. But it was really hard on the members of his suite that they should be expected to show attention to the creatures also.
However, Mrs. Cuthbert passed on with Mr. Wylie seemingly unconscious of the whispers of the ladies of the regiment.
Passing through the antechamber, where some of the older gentlemen were refreshing themselves with a dram of spirits after the exertion of the quadrille, she steered Mr. Wylie out on the wide verandah, looking over sloping lawns that reached to the shore of Sydney Cove, which was at that time virgin ground, untouched by quays or warehouses. The verandah was hung with colored lanterns, making a very pretty effect, which could be seen from the ships at anchor in the cove. On the sloping green lawns a few young couples, who had escaped from the ballroom, walked together, whispering of matter that concerned themselves solely.
In the darkest corner of the verandah a small settee had been placed—apparently not without purpose—and it was to this little haven that Mrs. Cuthbert piloted Mr. Wylie, who was lost in wonder at the lady's condescension, and indeed, more than a little perturbed by it.
At last, when she was assured that there were no eavesdroppers in the neighborhood. Mrs. Cuthbert threw off the mask of conventional manners and electrified her companion with her first words.
"Mr. Wylie." she said, "is it possible that you do not recognise me? I am Sybil Granger."
If Jonathan Wylie had been suddenly struck on the head with a knobby stick he could hardly have been rendered speechless more effectively. He stammered incoherently. "But—but—but," and there he stuck.
"Surely I am not so much altered that you cannot recognise me. Captain Wylie," she said, leaning forward so that the light from one of the lamps illuminated her face.
She called him "Captain Wylie," that was what did it. It was many years since he had been called Captain Wylie. He had never enjoyed that dignified title since the long distant days when he used to sail his sturdy little craft across the Channel from the Devon coast and bring back brandy and lace, and an occasional French officer, who paid for his passage at such a generous rate that it was well worth the risk to take him.
"Why yes, Miss Sybil," he said, peering into her face, that had the light of the lamp upon it. "O' course. I remember ye now. Lord, lord, who would ha' thought it?"
For a long time she questioned him, sitting there in the corner of the verandah. There was so much to learn. She told him much, and he told her more, but they talked in whispers, as even walls have ears at times.
"Mounseer told me again and again," continued Wylie at last, a little more loudly, "that he was goin' back to you when the war was over. It was blowing so hard that night that I couldn't hardly 'ear 'im. But he yelled into my ear that the old priest in Plymouth would always know where he was and would tell me. And then I was to tell you. I nodded my head, and when I looked out to leeward I seen the British sloop of war tearing along with as much sail as she could carry. We was about two miles from the French coast, off Cape Gris Nez, at the time."
"Yes, yes; oh, do go on."
"Yonder's the Viper," sez I to Mounseer. "I'm afeared it's all up wi' us."
"No, no," sez he, "plucky as a lion. Not to despair, by Gar. not to despair. Them's his very words, and he began pulling off his boots. The lugger was putting her best leg foremost, but she couldn't sail against the sloop, and I could see we was going to be cut off."
"Oh, Captain Wylie, I am sure you did your best."
"Indeed, I did. Miss Sybil, axin' your pardon, Mrs. Cuthbert, mum, but we was in a tight place. Presently there came a bang, and a big round shot hit the water just in front of us. 'It's no good, mounseer,' sez I. 'If I don't heave to he'll sink us.' 'No, no, my friend.' yelled Mounseer, waving his hand. 'Not stop, not stop. It will be all right.' Well, Miss Sybil, you must know that we had the weather gauge of the sloop, and the lugger was heeling ever handsomely to port. I was so busy watching the big seas and trying to miss the worst of them that I did not look at him for a minute. 'Bang!' went another gun, and the shot struck the sea just astarn of us. I knew it was fired to hit that time, and I ran to get hold of the sheet. Before I could get to it. I seen Mounseer, with nothing on but his shirt and trousers, jump on to the gunwale on the weather side. 'No surrender,' he sings out to me. 'No, by Gar,' and over he plunged."
"We was about a mile from the shore then, and there was a heavy sea running. I never thought he would fetch the land, but he did. I heard it afterwards, from a French prisoner of war. I had not time to think about it any more then, for the next shot from the Viper brought my mast down with a run, and a lieutenant with four men came along in a boat and boarded me."
"But they lost him."
"Indeed, they did, surely, Miss Sybil. All that they found of his was his uniform, and if I'd only thought to throw it overboard, I shouldn't ha' been 'ere now. They arrested me for trafficking with a French officer in time o' war, and I came near to bein' scragged over it, too. Faith. I don't know now how I got out of it."
"He was a brave man, Captain Wylie, if ever there was one."
"True for ye, Miss Sybil, axin' yer pardon, mum. I never seen a braver. That's what I sez to old Father Sebastian, when he came to see me in prison afore I was transported."
"Poor old Father Sebastian, I never saw him again," said Sybil.
"No. Miss," said Wylie. "He told me as 'ow he tried to find you, but the old squire 'ad dropped dead of a stroke and you was gone away up to London. So he never saw you, nor the boy, neither."
And then it was Mrs. Cuthbert's turn to speak.
She unburdened her soul to Jonathan Wylie, sitting there on the verandah, and the hardened old smuggler marvelled at this woman's fortitude when she told him of the deed that the old squire had done before he died.
"But," said Jonathan Wylie wonderingly, "why didn't you tell him the truth. Why didn't you tell him to see—"
"I couldn't," said Sybil, breaking in abruptly in vehement agitation. "I was just going to tell him when he was seized with the stroke."
And then she told Wylie of the Trevithicks, and how she had seen her son in Sydney. Jonathan Wylie listened in amazement to the whole story of Tristram's love for Mary Fitzharding, and of his departure from the Hawkesbury on account of the stigma of his birth, and then of the trouble at the 'Sheer Hulk,' his flight, and, finally, his complete disappearance.
"By the Lord," said Jonathan Wylie, slapping his knee, "I've seen your son, Miss Sybil, axin' your pardon, mum: I thought I knew his face the moment I set eyes on him." He stopped short. He had no desire to tell even Miss Sybil Granger, who was now married to the Governor's aide-de-camp, about the distillery on Lion Island.
"Where did you see him?" asked Mrs. Cuthbert, who was greatly agitated.
"Up on the Hawkesbury, Miss Sybil." said Mr. Wylie evasively, "and I reckon he's somewhere in the district still. Well, well—just to think of it."
He rubbed his hands together and rose to go. "I reckon I must be goin' back to the missus," he said: "but if ever I can help you, Miss Sybil, you just send word to me at the Ferry, and I'll see that you're not left without a friend."
When they got back to the ballroom Lieutenant Merriman was yawning in the most distressful manner. His stock of small talk was quite exhausted, and Mrs. Wylie had none to start with.
Mrs. Cuthbert, wearing her best drawing-room manner again, gave Mr. and Mrs. Wylie a charming smile of adieu, and departed with the gratified young subaltern to see that everything was ready in the supper-room.
The entertainment went on until 5 o'clock in the morning, and the Governor proved to be a wonderful host. He proposed an extensive list of toasts, beginning with 'The King,' and 'Many Happy Returns of the Day,' and including 'The Queen,' 'The Prince of Wales,' 'The Duke of York and the Rest of the Royal Family,' 'The Duke of Wellington,' 'The Navy,' 'The Army,' 'Success to Our Arms by Sea and Land,' 'Governor Phillip, the Founder of the Colony,' 'Prosperity to the Colony of New South Wales,' 'Governor Bligh and the Squadron who lately left us,' 'The Immortal Memory of the Hon. William Pitt,' 'The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson,' 'The Immortal Memory of Sir Ralph Abercrombie,' 'Lord Castlereagh,' 'May British Commerce Ever Flourish all over the Globe,' 'The Archbishop of Canterbury,' and 'May the Single be Married and the Married not be Discontented.'
The sun was shining into her window when Mrs. Cuthbert retired to her own room, and Mary Fitzharding helped her to undress. Mary herself had been bored by the long festivities. She had no heart for dancing when her lover was a wanderer and a fugitive.
She said so to Mrs. Cuthbert. "And yet I feel in my heart that I have not lost him utterly,'' she added in a forlorn voice.
"He will come back to you, dear," said the older woman, with intense conviction, "and the last barrier between you two will be broken down. The last locked door that separates you from him will be opened. I have spoken to-night with the man who holds the key."
Mary Fitzharding looked at her uncle's wife in amazement. But she saw no sign of wandering wit in the tired grey eyes only an immense weariness, and with it an inexpressible relief.
Dawn on the Fish River.
The first red streaks of the sun shot through the mountain mist and lit up a grim and rugged landscape that nevertheless was not without promise. There was water. There were patches of rich pasture for sheep and cattle. Yonder to the west beyond those gloomy mountains, stretched an immense expanse of plain land, all virgin soil that had never known hoof or plough. For hundreds of miles a man might ride along the great fertile untouched country that stretched away towards the sunset, and yet never see the end of those illimitable plains. With the coming of the white man all that spacious land was emerging at last from its profound obscurity, even as this rocky glen on the Fish River was becoming visible in the spreading light of the winter dawn.
It was cold on the Fish River. Tristram Trevithick turned uneasily in his blanket and awoke.
He looked around him and saw the ground dotted thickly with motionless figures wrapped in blankets. The embers of two great camp fires were still burning, and by each fire stood a man dressed in a heavy sheepskin coat leaning on a musket. There must have been fully eighty of those motionless figures stretched out upon the ground.
It was a sleeping army, and the two men who leaned upon their muskets, were the sentinels.
Tristram Trevithick sat up in his blanket and looked about him. He remembered it all now. Captain Jack had brought him to this valley on the evening before—Captain Jack, the man whom he met on the Kurrajong heights, riding a fine bay horse, and armed to the teeth. Captain Jack had found him a fine horse, too, and all equipments. It was a chestnut horse. Tristram looked round anxiously for his new possession, and when he could not see the animal he rose to his feet and began to pick his way among the sleepers down towards the grassy flat at the bend of the river. He had an idea that he would find his horse there.
As he passed round the angle in the valley, where the river swung suddenly to the eastward, he looked with astonishment on the sight that met his eyes. Dimly seen in the first streaks of the dawn, he descried a great herd of horned cattle, together with many sheep and scores of horses, all grazing on the rich river flat. To whom did all those beasts belong, and how had they reached this lonely solitude? He looked again, and saw several blackfellows among the animals. They were rounding up the horses into a separate mob. Here and there a horse, with head held high and tail in the air, would break into a long striding trot, that soon merged into a canter, in an effort to escape from the round up. But gradually the blackfellows separated them from the cattle and drove them across the river. The horses grazed quietly in a mob by themselves, and Tristram picked out his own big chesnut by the white blaze on the forehead and the two white hind feet.
Half a dozen gins, with piccaninnies, were chattering together over fires that they had made outside their rude mia-mias of bushes. The carcase of a freshly slaughtered sheep lay on the ground near the mia-mias. The animal had been speared, and hunks of flesh had been hacked off without method or skill. These hunks the gins were broiling in the wood embers.
There was no need to be careful of the meat, with all that big flock of sheep to draw upon.
The gins were preparing to enjoy themselves thoroughly, as soon as their black masters had had their fill. They knew better than to touch a mouthful before the black boys had eaten. They yabbered cheerfully at Tristram as he passed, squatting on their heels and showing their gleaming teeth.
Tristram walked on a little further, and found a bullock-dray, fully loaded. The working bullocks were grazing in the light scrub. On the dray he saw casks of flour, and a good supply of tea, sugar, and tobacco, also certain barrels that he conjectured were full of spirits. The sleeping army that he had seen on the river bank round the bend was provided with a plentiful commissariat.
He made his way back past the herd of cattle, and the sheep and the grinning black gins in front of their mia-mias. He could smell the meat roasting, and it smelt good. He walked briskly along thinking of the strange things that had happened to him within the last few weeks, and then he thought of the man who had brought him to this great encampment in the unexplored solitude. While still thinking of him he rounded the bend of the river, and almost ran into Captain Jack, who, like himself, was making an early tour of inspection.
Captain Jack still wore his black beaver, his blue cloth coat lined with silk, his snuff-colored trousers, and high boots. He carried two pistols and a long cavalry sword in his belt, and he held a bridle in his hand.
"That's right," he said encouragingly. "Up in good time, I see. Take your bridle and we'll go and catch our horses."
So Tristram ran back and fetched his bridle, which lay beside the saddle that had served him for a pillow, and rejoined Captain Jack.
"Who are all those sleeping men," asked Tristram, who was still greatly perplexed.
He had not grasped the situation at all, yet. It was too big for him.
"Most of them are a useless lot of blackguards." said Captain Jack bitterly, "Runaway assigned servants, without the brains to act together, or the pluck to stand if they are cornered. But about a score out of the lot are the grittiest lot of scoundrels in New South Wales. Up to now, they've done nothing but bully a lot of poor devils of settlers, and lift their cattle and horses, but when the red-coats come—and they won't be long now—I reckon that there'll be the biggest fight that has yet happened in this country."
Tristram was thunderstruck. He realised that he was the last new recruit, a recruit in the ragged regiment of not less than eighty men, who were in arms against the Government of the country, and who recognised no authority except that of Captain Jack—and not always his. They lived on the country like any other invading army, and where they met with resistance no doubt they left dead men, and smoking homesteads behind them. Such things are incidents of war whether it is formal or informal.
Captain Jack pointed to the black boys. "Those fellows are very useful," he said. "I wish I had more of them. The best scouts on earth. But they can only tell me when the enemy is coming. They are no good in a fight. Anyhow, what's the use?" A note of despondency crept into his voice. "I can see that it's all a huge mistake now."
"What is the huge mistake?" asked Tristram wonderingly.
Captain Jack strode along, swinging his bridle and keeping an eye on the mob of horses across the river. "You'll not understand me, I know," he said, with a touch of bitterness in his tone. "But I'll try to tell you why I went into this mad adventure. I saw the vile and hideous treatment that the few who are in power serve out to the many who are in subjection in this great new country, where all should be able to find happiness and plenty. I saw the rule of the bullet, the hangman's rope, and the lash, and the sight maddened me. I dreamed that I could end it.'"
"By appealing to the love of liberty and to the hatred of oppression, tyranny, and cruelty—to the strongest emotion that the human heart can hold. I dreamed that men would flock to join me when they knew that my object was to defy the authority that relies upon the lash for its support: when they knew that I hoped to set up a new form of authority—republican if you will—which should hold sway in all this part beyond the mountains, and which should guarantee to every man the free use of nature's gifts—the land, the water, and the sunshine—without hindrance from any set of men in uniform. Here in this great wide, fruitful, empty land, too far from the rest of the world to be subject to outside interference, was such an opportunity as has never been given to white men before, and how has it been misused? My God! How has it been misused?"
The listener looked at him with astonishment. Captain Jack was quivering with emotion.
"I hoped that the few of us," he continued, "who thought as I did, could get together such a force as would enable us to hem the whole hateful authority of the musket and the lash within the circle of the mountains that surround Sydney—to keen it penned up there, so that it could not interfere with the great new republic that I dreamed might be established over all the rest of New South Wales and ultimately over all Australia."
Tristram caught something of the enthusiasm of this strange man. He felt his own cheeks glow with the generous heat of a pure idealism, one heat that has burned in many a noble soul, only to die out at last in grey ashes of disillusion.
"At least, it was a grand thought," he said simply.
"But I have failed," said Captain Jack. "I know it already. The idea was a just one. But it has come to nothing, because I could not get the men to carry it out. I looked for men—and I found only cattle thieves." He waved his hand with a gesture of infinite disdain toward the sleeping camp. "It is always the same." he said. "It is the men who matter. I know now how true it is that every people get the government that it deserves."
"But what are we going to do now?" asked Tristram. He had always longed for adventure. It seemed that he had found one that went far beyond his dreams.
"We are going to fight," said Captain Jack, "as soon as we meet the enemy. I hoped to raise at least a thousand men. If I had a thousand well-armed men, all inspired with the passion that burns in my own heart. I could march over the mountains to Sydney, overthrow the Government of the bullet and the lash, and hurl into the sea the Governor and the regiment of 800 men that support his rule. But I have only 80 men, all told, and three-quarters of the number are no better than cut-throats and horse stealers."
Captain Jack strode along for a few paces without speaking.
"When I met you in the bush on the Kurrajong," he continued, "I knew at once that you were the man for me. Some men are born poets, others are born grocers, or artists, or thieves, or politicians. You were born a soldier. You have the face of a soldier. The brain of a soldier. The eye of a soldier. That is why I took you. If I had a thousand men like you I would march on Sydney to-day."
Captain Jack's eyes glowed with fire. "How is it that you are a born soldier?" he asked suddenly.
"I do not know," said Tristram, simply. And then, after a long pause, "I do not know who my father was."
Captain Jack was startled by the announcement so quietly made. "Ah," he said. "So that is why you were travelling alone to Bathurst. Only just found out the stigma, I suppose. And probably there is a girl in it, too. Must be—with a fine young fellow like you. Well, that's nothing to do with me. I'm glad to have you, but I give you fair warning that there's a rough time in front of you if you stay with me and with my lot of scoundrels."
"I've quite made up my mind to stay." said Tristram, shortly. "You'll find me beside you whatever comes."
They crossed the river on a great log that spanned it from bank to bank, and caught their horses without difficulty. Slipping the bridle on the bay, Captain Jack placed one hand on the animal's withers and vaulted on its bare back with astonishing agility. Tristram jumped on the chestnut, and rode off beside the captain. The horses forded the river easily.
When they arrived at the camping ground, fires were burning, and the rebel army was at breakfast. A bullock killed on the previous day supplied the men with fresh beef, and there was plenty of tea and damper. But the lack of order, discipline, and organisation was woefully apparent.
Here was seen the curious spectacle of men, clad mostly in rough moleskins and thick flannel shirts, advancing with their sheath knives upon the carcase of the dead bullock, and hacked off lumps of flesh. Each man broiled his own portion in the embers, occasionally with a rough joke for his nearest comrade, but more often in surly silence. They were oppressed with uneasiness that made joking a matter of difficulty, for every man knew that in the conflict in which they were likely to be engaged no prisoners of war would be taken. If they failed to defeat the regular troops the gallows waited for all who survived the bullets and the bayonets of the redcoats.
With a curt nod hither and thither, Captain Jack rode to the spot where he had bivouacked and motioned to Tristram to dismount. They cut slices of the beef for themselves, and cooked and ate their breakfast.
While they were still eating there arrived in front of them a very tall and sinewy man, with sombre eyes. Six other brawny fellows stood behind him.
"I'd like to speak to you a minute, Captain," he said. Captain Jack nodded. "Go on, Black."
"You know, Captain." said Peter Black, speaking with a note of smouldering passion in his voice, "that I was one of the assigned servants of the man Cleverden, at Rocky Hill Station."
"But you did not know what the man, Cleverden, who is a police magistrate, did to me."
"He ordered me this for daring to answer him back one day, when he cursed me for a lazy, useless loafer," Peter Black, with a swift movement, pulled his flannel shirt over his head, and stood bare to the waist, before Captain Jack and Tristram. His back was deeply scored with livid furrows, the weals of the 'cat'—a shocking and terrible sight. Standing there in his coarse moleskin trousers, this victim of the lash was seen to be a superb specimen of manhood. The muscles of his chest and neck rippled under the skin like the muscles of a thoroughbred in training. But the torso of this splendid figure was scarred and marred and ruined by the scourge of the flogger.
Captain Jack's eyes seemed to grow larger and more luminous as he looked first at Peter Black's back and then away to the broken country, beyond which lay the limitless plains of the west—the plains where surely freedom might be found. "The time is coming, Peter," he said, "when deeds like that shall be done no more in this land."
The man Black rode out furiously at those words. "What do I care for that," he said with a horrible curse. "The future is nothing to me. I want revenge on the man who caused me to be flogged. I want to make him understand the meaning of torture himself. I want to pay him out now, and I'm going to do it, too."
The man was beside himself with passion. The ferocity of a tiger gleamed in his eyes, suiting in ghastly fashion with the dark stripes across his back. Peter Black was not at that moment a man. He was, in fact, a tiger. The metamorphosis had been affected by his former employer, Mr. Cleverden, of Rocky Hill Station, who had touched him, not with the wand of the magician, but with the cat o' nine tails.
"Tell me what you propose to do, Black," said Captain Jack, who began to have an inkling of the man's purpose.
"I am going to ride to Rocky Hill Station with six well-armed men," said Peter Black, "and I'm going to take Mr. William Cleverden, police magistrate, out of his own house, and tie his arms round a tree, and strip him, and stand by him, and watch him, while my mate here, Joe Batt, flogs him to death with the same cat o' nine tails that I was flogged with. That's what I'm going to do, and I thought I'd just tell you."
Peter Black put on his shirt again, and stood with his hands clenched and his head thrust forward, staring into Captain Jack's face.
"Take your revenge," said Captain Jack quietly. "It will hurry on the affair for which we are waiting. It will make the redcoats move all the faster to meet us—and the sooner they come the better."
As Peter Black and his followers hurried off to catch their horses, with the object of giving the police magistrate at Rocky Hill Station a fatal dose of his own medicine. Captain Jack turned to Tristram with a mordant smile.
"Justice finds strange agents," he said, pointing towards the hurrying men.
The remark was scarcely intelligible to Tristram. He was shocked and staggered at the ghastly programme outlined by Peter Black. "Justice!" he said. "Murder is not justice!"
"No; but revenge is," said the captain, standing still for a moment and driving his point home with lifted forefinger. "Revenge is a kind of wild justice, according to one of the wisest men who ever lived—a man who took all knowledge for his province. For my part, I find no fault with Peter Black's method. It was not written so, but it is none the less true that those who take the scourge shall perish by the scourge."
Captain Jack was plainly a fanatic for retribution, if not for justice. Tristram wondered vaguely who this man was, and where he came from. An educated man, with a well-stored mind. A man capable of lofty idealism, and yet unable to see that a social system which gave perfect freedom to all would inevitably produce mere anarchy. The republic that he desired to set up west of the Blue Mountains had no more possibility of permanence than a dream. And yet who could say that if sufficient men of the highest type were available, the republic could not be at least established.
It appeared that Captain Jack was like an architect who had designed a great cathedral, but was unable to carry it out because the only stone available was crumbling with rottenness.
As he talked with the captain, it came into Tristram's mind that this man was made of the stuff of martyrs, and would go to his death for the sake of an ideal as cheerfully as any of the martyrs of history.
There was a buzz of excitement in the camp all the morning, for the insurgents were aware of Peter Black's punitive expedition to Rocky Hill station, and they were eager to hear the result of it. They divined that such an audacious exploit would hasten the arrival of the redcoats from Sydney, and accordingly they busied themselves in making ready for the expected battle.
Firelocks and fowlingpieces were carefully cleaned and loaded. Percussion caps were examined to see that they were free from damp. Each man's private supply of ammunition was overhauled, and here and there might be seen men squatting over small fires moulding bullets for muskets and cutting sheet lead into rough slugs for their fowlingpieces. All the arms had been stolen from stations in the districts and were of the most varied description. A few who had no guns were sharpening scythes and billhooks on smooth stones, and they were the glummest and most uneasy of all. What was the use of a scythe or a billhook against a drilled soldier with musket and bayonet?
Presently these men who were without firearm began to collect into small groups and talk together in undertones. It was easy to see that in every group of whisperers dissatisfaction was rife, and trouble was brewing. The men with the billhooks were not idealists. There was nothing of the martyr in their composition. Why should they stand up to be shot at by the cursed 'lobsters' for the sake of Captain Jack? Why should they face the certainty of being scragged on Gallows Hill if they were not killed in the battle? These were the questions that they asked each other with many furtive glances towards the tall, carefully dressed man who stood with his beaver in his hand, and his black curly hair stirred by the morning breeze, as he talked with that young stranger concerning vague ambitions, that were beyond their comprehension.
Their own ambitions were bounded by rum and tobacco. For those tangible benefits they were even prepared to risk their lives on occasion. But not for equality and universal brotherhood in a republic of the west. No d—d fear.
Presently, having finished sharpening their rude weapons, they sauntered away in twos and threes, carrying their saddles and bridles, in the direction of the mob of horses that were feeding on the river flat.
Captain Jack saw them going. "They are deserting," he said bitterly to Tristram. "I knew that they would disappear as soon as the pinch came. I ought to shoot them; but what would be the use. Well. I want no cowards in the cause, so let them go."
The men with scythes and billhooks caught their horses and sneaked away without a word to the leader whom they were leaving. When they had gone the rebel regiment was no more than 50 strong. The fifty looked at each other grimly. Each suspected his comrade. It was not a mood that gave presage of victory.
The men lay about on the ground smoking after they had cleaned and loaded their guns. Their nerves were showing signs of the tension. They spoke seldom and only in monosyllables. They were waiting for the return of Peter Black and his companions.
Tired of remaining in the camp, Captain Jack and Tristram mounted their horses and rode away down the valley of the Fish River, which was shut in by rugged ridges that were then quite unexplored.
The captain called to Wonga, his favorite black boy, to go with them as guide, and the black piloted them through sombre gullies and along the flanks of great flat topped ranges, heavily clothed with the coarsest of mountain scrub. The captain was reconnoitring the country.
"We shall have to shift camp to-night," he said to Tristram, "and I wanted to see this country. I know enough about it now to avoid it. A fine country for a gang of robbers, but that's all. Look at that cave, for instance."
He pointed to a huge cavern that had never been seen by a white man from the creation to that day. It was 'discovered' some years afterwards.
"A man might hide here for a lifetime without being seen," returned Tristram, surveying the grim solitude with interested eyes.
"But why hide?" said Captain Jack with suppressed passion. "Why not stand out and face the world and fight for freedom and for right?" And then without waiting for an answer he turned out of the lonely gully with a real sense of relief, following the black boy by the way that they had come.
"I'd rather fight in more open country than this," said the captain to Tristram. "It's too much like a prison." He pointed to the huge precipitous walls that seemed to close the gully on every side. "And I've lived so much of my life in prison that when I die I want to die in the open."
So Captain Jack rode back to camp with Tristram and Wonga, the black boy went on in front, and the Fish River gully, because it looked like a prison, was ruled out as a possible battlefield though it was in truth as fine a position to a guerilla attack upon regular troops as the Khyber Pass itself.
It seemed that the captain, besides being a fanatic of liberty, was also something of an impracticable visionary; and Tristram, knowing nothing of his history, guessed the Celtic blood. The guess was right, for the captain was indeed a fellow countryman of Wolf Tone and Robert Emmett, whose deeds were known, and whose names were reverenced in many of the remotest regions of New South Wales.
Just as the two men rode slowly up the gully of the river and through the black camp, where the gins were again cooking great lumps of mutton in the embers of their fires, they saw Peter Black and his six followers coming over the rising ground half a mile away to the left at full gallop. They could even hear the drumming of the horses' feet.
The rebel regiment in camp heard it, too, and sprang up from the ground. From their position in the saucer-shaped hollow they could not see the riders who were in such a desperate hurry. But they guessed that Peter Black and his companions were returning.
Captain Jack and Tristram, who were riding slowly along the river bank at right angles to the line of the approaching party of horsemen, touched their horses with the spur, and reached the encampment just as Peter Black and his six men galloped over the last ridge.
The captain rode straight up alongside Peter Black. "Well," he said, "and how did the police magistrate take his flogging?"
"The—was not at the station," said Peter surlily. "He went away to Bathurst yesterday. Just like my cursed luck."
"So you had your journey for nothing." said Captain Jack, eyeing Peter Black closely.
"Not I," said the giant, meeting the captain's gaze without flinching. "I asked his overseer to join us, and when he refused I shot him dead."
Peter Black's announcement fell like a thunderclap on the insurgents. To shoot the police magistrate's overseer dead was the most effective method that could possibly have been devised for accelerating the march of the hated 'lobster.' It was evident that a crisis was fast approaching.
"Boys," said Captain Jack, mounting a flat-topped red rock, in order the better to address the assemblage. "The hour for which we have longed is near. Very soon now the enemy will be before you."
He waited for cheers, but no cheers came. The men looked silently at each other. Several of them shuffled uneasily with their feet.
"You will at last have the chance for which every lover of freedom is craving—the chance of sending a bullet through the heart of a servant of the oppressors."
Still there was not the faintest murmur of applause. It is hard, indeed, to strike a spark in the heart of a clod.
"The soldiers will soon be here," he continued. "What are they? The scum of England's great cities—men who wear the red livery of shame, who have sold their souls for a piece of silver, who shed the blood of their fellow man for hire, and take the lives of the guiltless for a price. Boys, when you see the red coats in front of you, remember that they stand for the cell, the lash, and the iron-gang. Remember that their tunics are stained red with your own blood, and that their pipe-clayed belts are no whiter than the trembling faces of your mothers when they saw you led off to die far away from the country of your birth."
Captain Jack was possessed by his subject. His voice rang with emotion. It was plain that he felt every word that he said.
"I tell you, boys," he went on passionately, "that only a handful of rascals in red coats stand between you and liberty, between you and wealth, between you and the opportunity to use the unknown riches of this new country, for your own benefit and prosperity and happiness."
"What the 'ell, is he torkin' about, Bill," said Joe Greening, to William Bunt, in a loud whisper. But William, who was busy filling his pipe with tobacco, merely muttered, "Danger if oi knaow," and went on pushing down with his thumb.
"Will you allow these wretched minions of tyranny to defeat you, or will you stand fast and destroy them, and walk over their dead bodies to a new, free life in the Republik of the West? Boys, I want your answer."
"We'll fight like 'ell, all right, if that's wot you want to know, captain," said a murderous-looking man in the background. "Better to fight than be scragged, any day."
A low murmur of assent went up from the rebel regiment.
"That's right, boys," said Captain Jack; "I knew I could rely on you. And now for action! As soon as it is discovered that Cleverden's overseer has been shot we shall be hunted, and as this place is unsuitable for a defensive position I have determined to strike camp at once and make for the Abercrombie River. There's a spot there that I know of where fifty brave men, well armed, could defy an army."
"Right you are, captain. We're ready."
Anything was better than the suspense of waiting in idleness for the appearance of the soldiers. The rebel regiment welcomed the prospect of marching again. The men went off to their horses, the bullock-drivers and the blackboys began to round up the cattle, and in a very short time the whole mounted troop was on the march, the sheep and cattle bringing up the rear.
They marched all night, as strange and motley a host as ever supported a fanatical visionary, in striving for a hopeless cause.
In front rode Captain Jack, with Wonga, the blackboy, running beside his stirrup leather, a trusty guide, who found his way through the bush more by instinct than by reason. On the captain's bridle hand rode Tristram, armed with an ancient fowling piece, and with Captain Jack's long cavalry sword stuck through his belt.
Behind the commander and his new aide-de-camp came the rank and file, in defiance of all the rules of military formation. They should have preceded the captain, instead of following him. Also they should have route-marched in column, with scouts thrown out in front and on the flanks, instead of riding bunched up in groups and shameless masses, or struggling along in single file, with such long intervals between each horseman that the tail of the cavalcade speedily lost touch with the head.
Under cover of the night two-thirds of the rebel regiment deserted. They were men who had no stomach for standing up against regular troops. With no great ideal to animate them, and with no real combative instinct to spur them into conflict for the sheer love of fighting, they were lacking in any influence that might have counteracted that paralysing dread of the cold steel and the noose of the hangman's rope.
So they slipped away in the darkness and when morning broke the captain counted his regiment and found it was reduced to fifteen all told. But at least those fifteen could be relied upon. A hard bitten, desperate band they were, and every man knew that he must fight with a rope round his neck.
On the way to the Abercrombie River the rebel regiment—all that was left of it—passed through several large sheep stations, big areas of country that had been taken up by well-to-do pioneers—the gentlemen settlers of the period—who were provided by the paternal government, not only with free land, but also with the free labor of a specified number of 'Government men,' and also, in many cases with rations and clothing for those men. Some of the owner's of these properties lived on their land. Others, of whom the Rev. Samuel Marsden, principal chaplain of the colony, was one, did not live on the land, but left a 'Government man' in charge as overseer.
It was after passing through the reverend gentleman's spacious property that Captain Jack made an unpleasant discovery. The black boys in charge of the sheep and cattle had not kept up with the march. The reduction of the number of men in the regiment, which had shrunk in 24 hours from 80 men to 15, certainly obviated the necessity of driving so many cattle along with them for food. But still it was advisable not to allow themselves to be cut off altogether from their supplies, especially as they were entering very hungry country.
Accordingly Captain Jack notified the position to Tristram and the thirteen fighters who rode behind him. They all agreed that it was desirable to go back and look for the cattle. Wonga, alone, seemed to be uneasy. It appeared that the tribe to which he himself and the black boys in charge of the cattle belonged, was not on the best terms with the Abercrombie River natives, whose territory they had already reached.
"Mine tinkit plenty black fellow sit down alonga bush here." he remarked, with obvious disquietude. "Plenty waddy, plenty spear, plenty fightem maybe bime by."
This was not encouraging. If the hostile blacks made a descent and carried off the sheep and cattle after spearing their hated enemies from further east, the remnant of the regiment might go short of food. The possibility of having to fight on empty stomachs would have to be avoided at all costs.
So the order "Right about face," was given, and the shrunken little band of desperate men turned back in their tracks to see if they could not find a few of their sheep and cattle.
Riding back through the Reverend Samuel Marsden's big property, most of which was still in the same condition of virgin bush as it was when he took possession of it, they passed within a mile of the bark hut where the owner's overseer lived. A white paper fastened to a big-gum tree caught the captain's eye, and he rode up to examine it. To his astonishment he found that the paper was a proclamation addressed by Governor Macquarie to the blacks. A singularly humorless performance for the old martinet, who was by no means devoid of humor as a rule. The proclamation had been issued by the Governor in proper form. It was dated from Government House, Sydney, and was signed by John Thomas Campbell, secretary. It was a decidedly verbose exhortation to the blacks, and Captain Jack read it with grim wonder. He summoned Tristram to read one clause of the proclamation aloud for the benefit of the regiment. Standing up in his stirrups in order the better to read the proclamation, which the Reverend Samuel Marsden, in accordance with his duty as a magistrate, had posted in a conspicuous position, Tristram addressed himself to the paragraph indicated by Captain Jack.
"Thirdly," he read, "that the practice hitherto observed among the native tribes of assembling in large bodies, or parties armed, and of fighting and attacking each other on the plea of inflicting punishments on transgressors of their own customs and manners at or near Sydney, and other principal towns and settlements in the colony, shall be henceforth wholly abolished as a barbarous custom repugnant to the British laws, and strongly militating against the civilisation of the natives, which is an object of the highest importance to effect, if possible.
"Any armed body of natives, therefore, who shall assemble for the foregoing purposes either at Sydney or any of the other settlements of this colony after the said fourth day of June next, shall be considered as disturbers of the public peace, and shall be apprehended and punished in a summary manner accordingly.
"The black natives are therefore hereby enjoined and commanded to discontinue the barbarous custom, not only at and near the British settlements, but also in their own wild and remote places of resort."
This formidable document had a preamble setting forth that it was proclaimed by Lachlan Macquarie, Captain General and Governor-in-Chief in and over the territory of New South Wales. Tristram enjoyed the first hearty laugh that he had had for many years.
"I'll wager, now," he said, "that this proclamation was composed by Mr. John Thomas Campbell, and not by Governor Macquarie. I protest that nobody but the punctilious secretary would ever have thought of addressing such a finely worded document to the barbarous black natives, who can no more understand the meaning of those mysterious black marks on the white paper than can the opossum, the traces of whose claws are plainly perceived across the face of the document."
"With how little wisdom is the world governed!" commented Captain Jack with mordant emphasis.
They were still looking at the Governor's threatening remarks to the Black Natives proclaiming summary punishment for all Disturbers of the Public Peace when yells of fury broke upon their ears mixed with the bellowing of frightened cattle, and the thunder of the galloping beasts as they charged helter-skelter into the thick bush that came down to the edge of the Reverend Samuel Marsden's well-chosen park-like pasture lands.
In an instant it came home to the rebel captain and his attenuated regiment that the Abercrombie River natives had attacked their hereditary enemies of the Kurrajong tribe, partly from sheer lust of bloodshed, but chiefly in order to get possession of the white men's cattle that they were driving.
A bullock, with a long spear sticking in its flank, came charging out of the light scrub, bellowing with pain, and cannoned against Tristram's chesnut, almost throwing the horse off its feet. Further away the yells of attackers and attacked located the scene of the fight.
The Abercrombie blacks numbered about a dozen. They were big, powerful men, who had never been touched by even the rim of the white civilisation. They carried spears with hardwood points, and heavy waddies. The semi-civilised Kurrajong men numbered only six in all, and they were encumbered by the presence of their gins and piccaninnies, but they stood their ground.
The sight of the cattle was too much for the wild blacks. All the black natives, as Governor Macquarie called them, developed a great appetite for beef and mutton on the coming of the white man. They appreciated the fare much more highly than 'possum and kangaroo meat. To the Abercrombie men, the spectacle of cattle and sheep within range of their spears was an irresistible temptation. They threw their spears with great precision, and the wounded bullocks dashed madly through the bush, and out of the theatre of combat. The blacks knew that the animals could not go far, before they would sink upon the ground exhausted. And what did it matter to the Abercrombie men that they had thrown away their spears. Was not the waddy a most effective weapon, with which they had achieved many victories in the past over the Kurrajong tribes?
Some such thoughts evidently passed through the minds of the Abercrombie men, for they advanced to the attack, roaring not only defiance, but also contempt for their foe.
Big Peter, the slayer of Mr. Cleverden's overseer, fingered the trigger of his fowlingpiece, as he sat on his horse watching the caperings of the Abercrombie men. The horsemen were screened by thick timber, and were invisible to both parties of the belligerents.
"Don't shoot yet, Peter," said Captain Jack briefly. "Let 'em fight it out. Time enough for us to come in if our men are getting the worst of it. Besides, we will want all our powder and shot for ourselves before we are much older."
So the insurgents sat on their horses and watched the Homeric combat that was enacted before their eyes.
To the average Australian a whack on the head with an ordinary waddy was, in the great majority of cases, merely a temporary inconvenience. It required a full-powered blow with a war waddy provided with projecting knobs to do any serious damage. A favorite pastime with the blacks, and one that was often witnessed by the early white pioneers was the single combat with hardwood waddies. Armed with these weapons two men would advance from opposing mobs, and would take it turn and turn about to smite each other on their unprotected skulls, while their respective partisans stamped their feet and yelled encouragement to each doughty champion. The contest went on until one or other went down and out under the constant repetition of heavy blows rattling on the crown of his skull.
Many a time had the Abercrombie natives fought in this way, both in single combat and in the melee against the Kurrajong blacks, and had invariably defeated them. Accordingly, after discharging all their spears at the bullocks, they advanced with much shouting, much poking out of derisive chins, much flinging up of arms that brandished waddies, and much stamping of feet upon the principal chaplain's rich pasture land. The dispositions hastily carried out by Wonga were very simple. The gins and the piccaninnies were retired to the rear, and the six Kurrajong blacks were drawn up in line upon a slight eminence, facing the enemy.
After a vast amount of capering and prancing the biggest of the Abercrombie natives dashed out from his comrades and made a rush at Wonga.
Whizz! Crack! The hard wood waddy descended with great force on Wonga's skull, and the Kurrajong man staggered under the mighty blow, and almost fell.
Almost, but not quite. Gathering himself together, Wonga swung his arm, and brought his weapon down upon his assailant's cranium. The Abercrombie man's skull was split in two, as a red, gum log is split by the axe of the sleeper cutter, and the Abercrombie man fell dead in the face of friends and foes.
It appeared to the main body of the wondering assailants that the leader of the despised Kurrajongs was the possessor of some particularly potent magic. Or else some secret enemy had surreptitiously directed a 'pointing bone' at the unfortunate victim. Still, their blood was up. Magic or no magic, they intended to have a slap at the accursed Kurrajong men, who had no business to be in their neighbors' country.
So with loud yells of defiance the eleven survivors rushed to the attack, believing that they would have but little difficulty in annihilating the enemy, after which they would waddy the gins, as a precautionary measure, and then drag them off to hunt for white grubs and wild honey, and to bake the 'possum in his skin for their lords.
But the Abercrombie natives, few of whom had ever seen a white man, paid the dreadful penalty which nature levies upon ignorance, even when it is not the fault of the ignorant. Dashing in with their waddies, they struck blows, any of which would have felled a white man.
Yet the blows rebounded from the skulls of the Kurrajong men like hailstones from a pavement, and in reply came slashing strokes that tore through bone and flesh and sinew, making the hot blood spout, and wrapping those stout-hearted warriors in that red mist of forgetfulness which so quickly merges into the black night of death.
Four of the Abercrombie men staggered back with arms and shoulders slashed and gashed. They fairly turned tail and disappeared into the bush amid yells of derision from the victors. The other seven hapless blackfellows from the west were either dead already or rolling in their death agonies, while the six Kurrajong men, all of whom had emerged from the fray unwounded, stamped and capered and grinned, in a perfect ecstacy of triumph.
They brandished aloft the weapons that had given them the victory, the steel tomahawks of the white men. The weapons of the Iron Age had triumphed over the weapons of the Stone Age, and once again was demonstrated the great vital fact that knowledge was power.
Captain Jack and his men rode out into the open as soon as the fight was over.
"Poor devils," said the Captain to Tristram, as he turned over the dead body of the attacking leader with his toe. "He was beaten by the man with the better weapon. The waddy against the tomahawk, the shotgun of an untrained man against the bayoneted musket of the frilled soldier. The end must be the same in both cases."
He looked down into the dead face of the savage. "Perhaps you had your dreams, too," he said; "who knows."
The insurgents found four cattle and half a dozen sheep that had escaped the spears of the blackfellows. These animals the victorious Kurrajong men drove briskly forward with many hilarious shouts, and a great display of gleaming teeth.
Also, having found a sheep that had been speared to death, they halted and cut it up, and lit a fire and broiled the meat. And having feasted heartily on good fresh mutton, they set out again with their chattering gins and globular little picaninnies, in the track of the main body of the horsemen, who were advancing towards the unexplored valley of the Abercrombie River.
From the verandah from his private house of dressed stone on the right bank of the Hawkesbury, Jonathan could see the approach of the Government cutter, and with his spy glass he could make out the two ladies sitting in the stern. The elder lady was Mrs. Cuthbert, whom he had met at the Governor's King's birthday ball—the Sybil Granger of long ago. The younger one he recognised as Major Cuthbert's niece, Miss Mary Fitzharding. He knew her well by sight, and had seen her on the night of the entertainment.
They were accompanying Major Cuthbert, who was probably coming to inspect the small detachment of troops quartered in the neighborhood to protect the settlers from the Cameragal blacks. On such occasions Jonathan Wylie was accustomed to dispense hospitality to the distinguished visitors. He called out to his wife, bidding her to prepare for the ladies, and Mrs. Wylie hastily set the antimacassars straight on the backs of the chairs in the parlor, took off her blue cotton apron, and put on her best company manners.
After a dish of tea for the ladies on the verandah and something stronger for the Major, who smacked his lips and then went off to interview the lieutenant in charge of the detachment, Mrs. Wylie, at a signal from her husband, retired to the kitchen, and Jonathan found himself alone with the two ladies on the verandah.
"Mr. Wylie," said Mrs. Cuthbert, "I must tell you that Miss Mary Fitzharding is much interested in the young man, Tristram Trevithick, of whom I spoke to you in Sydney."
Jonathan nodded his head and waited.
"Since it is necessary that you should know," she said, "I may say that Miss Fitzharding has the strongest personal regard for the young man, and is much distressed at his disappearance."
Mr. Wylie blinked comprehendingly. He began to see how the land lay. That very pretty young lady was in love with Tristram Trevithick, but she had no idea that the tall, grey-eyed woman who sat beside her was his mother.
Mary could not remain quiet any longer. "Oh! Do help us to find where he is, Mr. Wylie. That is why we have come here to see you," and then she went on passionately, "I simply cannot bear this awful suspense any longer."
Whether it was conscious reason, or some subtle sixth sense, that had guided Mrs. Cuthbert and Mary to Jonathan Wylie, they could not possibly have told, but it was a fact all the same that they had gone to the one man in all New South Wales who was most likely to be able to help them.
Mr. Wylie possessed a long list of acquaintances among the shady portion of the population of the colony, as well as among the respectable class. He knew every emancipist settler, as well as every free settler, between his own place and Richmond. He knew most of the casual nomads of the river, too, and those whom he did not know usually knew him. Consequently, he had extensive sources of information. "There's a man splitting posts for me out in the paddock just now," said Mr. Wylie, reflectively, "who very likely knows where Tristram Trevithick is to be found. I'll bring him up."
Presently be returned to the verandah with a tall, shambling, shifty-eyed individual, who looked furtively and distrustfully at the ladies, and positively refused to open his mouth in their presence. So Jonathan took him round to the side verandah and cross-examined him privately, after which he presented him with a glass of rum, and sent him back to the wood pile happy.
Returning to the ladies, Jonathan reported the result of his enquiry. "That was Bill Matthews, mum," he said. "Bill's wife is second cousin to a man named Peter Black, who took to the bush some months ago."
"Took to the bush," exclaimed Mary, innocently. "What for?"
"To get a living without working for it, miss," said Jonathan, sardonically. "To transfer property from them as 'as it to them as 'asn't."
"Oh, to be a highway robber, you mean?"
"Yes, miss, that's about it. Well, this 'ere Bill Matthews, he saw Peter Black a few days ago—on the day that Mr. Cleverden's overseer got shot in the Fish River country—and Peter Black told him that Captain Jack picked up a young fellow in the Kurrajong forest, and took him along, to join the regiment. He didn't know the young fellow's name, but he told me Peter Black's description of him, and it's your young man, miss, axin' your pardon, sure enough."
Mary's eyes opened wide in astonishment, and Mrs. Cuthbert put in a quick question. "But who is Captain Jack?" she said, "and which, is his regiment?"
"I can't tell you who he is, mum, and I don't know anyone in the colony, 'ceptin' p'raps the Governor, who could answer that question, but I can tell you about 'is regiment, the Ragged Regiment, they call it. It's to fight to upset the Government, and to set up a republic for the 'ole of New South Wales outside the Blue Mountains. Captain Jack is the leader of the Bathurst insurrection. 'E had eight men under 'im last week, but Bill Matthews sez that they didn't look forward to the job of standin' up to the regulars, and most of them deserted. There ain't above twenty left, he told me, but your young man is one of them, miss."
Mary Fitzharding felt something clutching at her throat. Tristram was with some crazy fanatic who dreamed of breaking the power of Britain and establishing a republic in New South Wales, with himself at the head of it. She must go to her lover: she must warn him of the madness of the adventure. She must tell him that he was free from the stain of blood that Jim the Sealer was alive and well.
"Where is Captain Jack's regiment now?" she asked with, the old resolute light in her blue eyes.
"I couldn't e'zactly say, miss," replied Wylie. "I axed Bill Matthews if he knew, but all he could tell me was that they were in the Fish River country, when the young feller rode into the camp with Captain Jack. I reckon they'd not stop there long, though, after the accident to the overseer. Seems to me that Captain Jack would probably make west, to draw the red coats as far as possible, but they'll know all about 'im at Bathurst."
Mary instantly determined to go to Bathurst, and as the Governor himself happened to be going there with a strong body-guard to make a personal enquiry into the strange rumors that had reached him of an insurrection, she would experience no great difficulty. Mrs. Cuthbert decided to accompany her husband, who would be in attendance on Governor Macquarie in his official capacity.
And Mr. Wylie also discovered that he had private business demanding his attention at the remote little central settlement in the plains beyond the Blue Mountains.
And so it was that a few days later Mary and Mrs. Cuthbert entered Bathurst with Governor Macquarie in his great four-horse travelling carriage, and found the little settlement all agog with excitement. A meeting had been held that morning at the court-house, and a score of gentlemen had formed themselves into a corps of volunteer cavalry. The whole township was ablaze with indignation at the unprovoked murder of Mr. Cleverden's overseer, and the volunteers, who were well armed, and had accepted the leadership of Mr. Rutter, holder of one of the largest runs in the district, clamored to be led against Captain Jack's band.
A desperate idea came into Mary Fitzharding's brain, and refused to be banished. She felt a wild longing to visit the camp of the insurgents, and tell Tristram that he had nothing more to fear on account of Jim the Sealer, and to implore him to leave the crack-brained fanatic with whom he had allied himself, and throw himself upon the mercy of the Governor.
And yet, with seething brain and heart on fire, she was compelled to play the woman's part. She had to watch and wait.
She and Mrs. Cuthbert sat together in the parlor of the small house that Governor Macquarie occupied on his visits to Bathurst. To Mary's great surprise, Mrs. Cuthbert was affected more poignantly than herself by the departure of the cavalry intent on killing or capturing the whole of Captain Jack's motley regiment, including Tristram. It was Mary who held Mrs. Cuthbert's hand, and spoke words of encouragement. But she was puzzled to account for the older woman's terrible nervous tension.
They listened to footsteps in the passage outside. Governor Macquarie and Major Cuthbert were coming into the room.
"Send word to the Brigade Major in Sydney at once, Cuthbert, to dispatch that half company of infantry under Captain Cartwright to Bathurst immediately. They ought to be here in six days at the longest. It's a good marching road all the way."
"Very good, sir." said Major Cuthbert. '"You do not think, then, that the volunteer cavalry will be able to deal with the rebels?"
"Volunteer cavalry be d—d," said the choleric Governor. "I want trained troops under an officer of experience to fight these fellows, who call themselves insurgents. Remember, we do not know their strength or where they are likely to be found. A volunteer cavalry would do well enough no doubt against an attack by blacks, or even a raid by cattle stealers, but this rebellion must be stamped out by troops, or there's no knowing where it may spread."
He turned the handle and entered the room as he spoke. "Ah, my dear," he said, "you here still," pinching Mary's cheek playfully. "I really ought not to have brought you up to Bathurst this time. The district is in a state of extreme disorder. But the villains will soon be laid by the heels, never fear, and I'll warrant that they'll never get up another rebellion."
Mary shivered, and Mrs. Cuthbert looked at the stern old soldier with her grey face and burning eyes—eyes that had a question in them.
The younger woman read the question, and put it into words "Then you do not rely on the Bathurst Volunteer Cavalry to exterminate the rebels, General?" she said with a brave attempt at an unconcerned smile.
"I do not," returned the old soldier. "I never rely upon civilians for a job of this kind. You just mark my words. If they ever find Captain Jack, which is very doubtful, that dangerous madman, who wants to set up a republic in this British colony, will defy them to subdue his band of cut-throats and will very likely teach them a bitter lesson."
"And so you are sending for soldiers, General?"
"Ah, I'm afraid you've been listening, my dear, to our State secrets. Well, since you know it already, I may as well tell you. In a few days you will see your friend, Captain Cartwright, marching into Bathurst at the head of 50 regulars with fixed bayonets. Nothing like bayonets to cool the blood, you know. I shall be much surprised if Captain Jack and all his men do not throw down their arms and sue for mercy when they see the bayonets round them."
Mary pressed Mrs. Cuthbert's hand tightly. She intended to find a way to warn her lover.
Whispering a word of encouragement to the elder woman, she slipped out of the house, and at the door of the inn across the road saw Jonathan Wylie harnessing a pair of well-bred horses into a light, strong chaise. She ran to him at once.
Wylie made no secret of the business that he had in hand.
"It's this way, miss," he explained. "Mr. Rutter has got information that Captain Jack and his band have marched with cattle, sheep, and black boys due west in the direction of the Abercrombie River. Mr. Rutter has two of his own black boys with him, and he reckons that he will have no trouble in tracking the rebels to their position. So he and the twenty gentlemen under his command are starting at daybreak, with one of the black boys as guide. They have engaged me to go forward to-night with the other black boy, and meet them at Rocky Ridge with supplies." He opened the 'boot' of the chaise and showed her a big bag of provisions, a keg of spirits, and about a score of sets of heavy manacles.
"These are the irons to put on the prisoners," he remarked with a sardonic grin. "That is to say, if they gets them, miss."
May Fitzharding felt a thrill of expectation. Here was a chance that must not be missed. She walked up to Jonathan, and put her hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Wylie," she said, "take me with you."
Of course, Mr. Wylie would not hear of it. He explained to her with suitable circumlocutions that he had only taken the job in order to keep in favor with the Government, to ensure a continuance of the lucrative contracts from which he was deriving considerable wealth down on the Hawkesbury. But Mr. Wylie was an elderly man, and Mary Fitzharding was a young and very pretty woman, who had, moreover, a most persuasive way with her. Jonathan Wylie's protestations that what she asked was impossible grew fainter and less convincing. As his resistance grew weaker she pressed him all the more strongly, and at last he faltered, and consented.
Mary ran back to the Governor's house and told Mrs. Cuthbert of her desperate project—told her that she intended to visit the rebel camp—find Tristram Trevithick, and appeal to him by his love for her and his loyalty to his king and country to leave the mad-brained, rebel leader to his certain doom.
"Surely," said Mary, "as a free-born Englishman—"
Mrs. Cuthbert quivered under some overpowering emotion, and wrung her hands despairingly.
"As a free-born Englishman, he cannot take up arms with those insurgents who are rebelling against the King's Government, if he realises his true position."
Mary felt that at all costs she must save Tristram from his folly. It was true that the followers of Captain Jack were no better than a robber band, but from all that she could hear, Captain Jack himself stood on a different plane. Wild-eyed visionary though he might be, he was at least sincere in his mad programme. He plainly believed in the sacred right of rebellion, which is a virtue when successful, and a crime when it leads to failure. Hence, she told herself, Tristram, who had been taken into the rebel regiment by Captain Jack, was naturally inspired by Captain Jack's peculiar views. In no other way was his presence with the band intelligible. He might be an insurgent, but at least he was not a common cattle thief. She felt the blood rise to her neck, as the thought formed itself in her brain.
"My dear," said Mrs. Cuthbert, looking at the girl in front of her and dimly realising the struggle that was going on in her heart. "Whatever else that young man may be, believe me, he is the soul of honor; every single action has proved it. If he is a rebel against the Government, it is because he feels that the acts of the Government are often cruel, harsh, intolerable."
"Oh, hush, auntie, hush. If anybody should hear you."
"But, it is true," said Mrs. Cuthbert wildly. "The awful punishments—the lash, ordered so often and with such sickening ferocity by a minister of Christ's gospel; the executions for most trifling offences; the horrors of the iron gang, when men who break under the strain of the mountain roadmaking are knocked on the head and thrown into the deep, dark chasms they have helped to bridge—surely these things are enough to inspire the thought that there must be some better way of governing our fellow countrymen if only it can be found."
"Aunt, aunt, stop, stop, I beg of you. You do not know what you are saying. You are talking treason." Mary Fitzharding was absolutely horrified. "Cannot you understand that severity is necessary in this settlement?"
"Perhaps I can," said Mrs. Cuthbert, "but I can also understand the feelings of those who experience the severity. I am quite sure that Tristram Trevithick burns with a noble sympathy for those unhappy people. Mary, because—because—"
"What is it you are trying to say, auntie?"
"Because I feel the same sympathy in every fibre of my own body," said the other woman hoarsely, and then she turned and covered her face with her hands.
"You are quite overwrought, aunt," said Mary coldly; "you must go and lie down. I am going to Tristram now. I have arranged with Mr. Wylie that he shall take me with him. He is driving in a carriage with supplies for the volunteer cavalry under Mr. Rutter, and with irons for the rebels, of whom Tristram shall not be one if I can help it."
She hurried out of the room to make a few simple preparations for her adventurous journey, and, crossing the road, found Jonathan just getting into the Chaise.
"Jump in, miss," said Jonathan, as he gathered up the reins. "We are to meet Crib, the black boy, at the foot of the range, and he will find the tracks of Captain Jack's band easy enough."
"When we find the rebel camp my orders are to keep well under cover and wait until Mr. Rutter and his cavalry come up. The gentlemen are of opinion that the rebels will show fight, of course, but they think that the fight will not last long, and then there will be nothing to do but put the irons on the men and march them back to Bathurst. Ha, ha."
Again Mr. Wylie laughed that unpleasant laugh of his. Plainly, he anticipated that the volunteer cavalry would be disagreeably surprised.
It was ten o'clock at night when they picked up Crib, the black boy, who jogged on silently ahead of them. There was a bright moon, and the tracks of the rebel regiment with their horses, sheep, and cattle, were easy to follow. Slowly among the rocks and faster across the infrequent patches of level ground they headed steadily westward for the wild and almost unexplored region of the distant Abercrombie. All night long they travelled this, and Mary dozed uneasily, and dreamed terrible dreams in the lurching, lumbering chaise. At sunrise Jonathan Wylie pulled up his horse, and announced a short halt. The horses were fed and watered at the creek to which Crib had guided the party. The black boy pointed to where the bank of the creek had been recently broken away below them by the hoofs of many animals. The thirsty creatures had trodden the bed of the creek into thick mud. The tracks were only a few hours old.
Jonathan lit a fire, and made tea in a billy. He set out a frugal breakfast for himself and Mary—damper and broiled mutton and tea. Mary ate the rough food with a keen appetite. Crib breakfasted handsomely off the mutton bone.
After a halt of an hour they started again, the black telling Jonathan that they would reach the Abercrombie by nightfall. They camped at midday for a little while in the shade of a big gum tree, and pushed on all through the hot afternoon into the rough broken country and towards the low haze-enveloped ranges in the distance. Behind those ranges was the river, where Jonathan intended to camp for the night at a safe distance from Captain Jack.
Not that he really feared Captain Jack, with whom he was perfectly acquainted, and with whose aim he was quite in sympathy, though he dissembled that fact very successfully. Ostensibly a loyal supporter of the official class, with whose assistance he was making a large fortune, as contractor for supplies, he was at heart a friend to all whose hand was against the Government.
He was carrying supplies for Mr. Rutter's volunteer cavalry, and irons for their expected prisoners, solely as a matter of business, and because he was backing the rebels to win in the coming battle, so long as they were not confronted by regulars.
Towards evening the weary horses dragged the chaise to a little hollow in the hill, where Jonathan proposed to camp for the night. Crib, the black boy, pointed to a spiral of blue smoke rising from the bank of the river a mile away.
"Cap'en Jacka, sit down alonga big creek," he remarked, "plenty big mob white fellers, my word. Gottem plenty pundasticks."
This was disquieting news, but Mary Fitzharding did not falter in her progress. After the evening meal, which she ate sitting on a rock with old Jonathan beside the chaise, while the horses, unharnessed and knee-haltered, grazed contentedly, and the black boy knawed his bone a dozen yards away. Mary made ready to visit the rebel's camp.
Taking leave of Wylie, and assuring him that she was perfectly safe, she left the hollow and climbed the crest of the hill, that looked down over a rocky gorge. The moon was nearly full, and the night was clear and still. Yet, as the girl topped the crest of the hill she could see nothing but the outline of more ranges stretching away into the night.
Walking steadily forward she came to a sheer precipitous rock, that made her start back in surprise. Plainly the route from that side was impracticable. She retraced her steps, and followed the line of the ridge, until it began to dip gently.
She descended the sloping ground and climbed the second range a little lower than the first one. Clambering down the further side she found herself in a narrow gully, which she followed until it opened at last into the valley of the Abercrombie, at some little distance higher up stream than the rebel camp.
Then she made out the lie of the country. Between the river and the precipitous cliffs was a lower ridge of spur running at right angles to the course of the river and to the steep face of the range. Between the end of this spur and the precipitous rocky place was a stretch of marshy ground—a regular morass. The extreme end of the ridge, in fact, rested on the morass, which in turn was shut in by the precipice. The other end of the ridge sloped down towards the river, where the ground was very rough and broken, interspersed with huge boulders. Behind the ridge was a stretch of grassy open country, and there she could see the dark shape of horses and cattle grazing.
The girl began to understand that the ground was of such a nature as to favor even a small body of defenders. The rocks along the ridge afforded ample cover, and the defenders were safeguarded by the morass and precipice from a flanking movement on their right. But Mary was no tactician. She simply recognised that Captain Jack had established himself in a position which would enable him to defy an attack except by a greatly superior force. She was vaguely irritated by the man's cleverness in taking up such a strong natural position. She walked back along the back of the ridge and through the grazing horses and cattle without seeing a soul.
As she approached the camp fires on the river bank a figure started up from the ground in front of her and a gun was levelled at her head. "Halt!" said a clear young voice. "Who are you, and what do you want? Speak, or I fire."
"Tristram, do not fire," said Mary, with a shrill cry. "It is I." Then she staggered forward and fell into the arms of Captain Jack's amazed lieutenant.
In a moment the pair were surrounded by angry, threatening faces. The cut-throats who had taken service under Captain Jack were all in a state of extreme nervous tension. Their apprehensions of intending attack were so overpowering that they would have welcomed the end of their suspense. But who was this woman and how had she reached that lonely spot which was far from the nearest settled district of the colony? A spy, of course. A spy who had come to find out their arrangements and to report to the enemy's forces. More than one of the bearded ruffians muttered horrible curses and loudly declared that the spy should not leave the camp alive.
In the circle of the camp fire's light Mary stood at Tristram's side, facing those who sought to take her life as the necessary price of their own safety.
"Shoot, if you like," she said, confronting the dark, scowling faces round her with haughty pride as well as unflinching courage. "I am a woman and unarmed. I have no wish to do you injury. But first let me speak. I come to warn you all, but particularly my friend here, whose honor is as dear to me as his safety."
Louder and more threatening rose the murmurs. "She's a—spy," said a beetle browed ruffian brutally, but the words had hardly left his lips when Tristram's fist shot out and sent him to earth with a crash.
The man was struggling to his feet and groping dazedly for his gun, when into the excited group in front of the leaping flames of the camp fire, strode Captain Jack himself, with his beaver in one hand, and his pistol in the other.
"I ask your pardon, madame, for the rudeness of my fellows," he said with a polite bow to Mary, "and as for you, Joe Greening, keep a more civil tongue in your head if you want to keep the breath in your body."
Joe slunk into the background, muttering dire threats, and presently all the other men followed his example, leaving Captain Jack and Tristram alone with Mary Fitzharding in the glow of the light from the burning log.
"Now, madame," said Captain Jack, with somewhat chilly politeness, "may I venture to enquire the nature of the circumstance that has procured for me the honor of a visit from one whom I am able to recognise as a member of Governor Macquarie's own household?"
"Sir," said Mary Fitzharding firmly, "this is no time for polite phrases. My name you appear to know already, and I live in the house of the Governor of this territory who you are defying in arms."
"By the Lord, you speak bravely," said Captain Jack with a smile, "but I must needs bow to your perspicacity, for you express the situation correctly enough."
"I do not know who you are," said Mary quietly. "I only know that people call you Captain Jack, and say that you cherish a wild dream of establishing a republican form of government in this territory after overthrowing the forces of the British King. But I can see that you are a man of education and refinement, and I ask you to believe what I have come here, taking my life in my hands, to say to you."
She looked wonderfully beautiful as she stood there with her lover beside her, facing the dark-haired rebel leader, whose flashing eyes of Irish blue looked frank homage into her own.
"And I will answer for this lady's honorable conduct with my life," said Tristram with a ring of utter sincerity in his voice.
Captain Jack bowed slightly, but said nothing. He was deeply moved, but the lives of the men under him were at stake. He realised that if he allowed this beautiful woman to outwit him, their lives and his own and the cause that was dearer to him than life itself, would be lost.
"Captain." said Mary Fitzharding, "let me prove my sincerity to you. I have come to tell you that to-morrow at latest you will be attacked by an armed body of volunteers hastily raised at Bathurst."
Captain Jack curved his lips scornfully. "I do not fear them." he said.
"They have brought sets of irons with them to manacle their prisoners before they march them back to Bathurst Gaol. The irons are now in the chaise that brought them here in the hollow beyond the second hill. Jonathan Wylie and a black boy are with the chaise now."
"Ah." The captain's jaw stiffened. So his enemies were closing in upon him at last. Well, the sooner the better. He had not thought it of Jonathan Wylie, though.
"The volunteer cavalry are all well mounted and well armed." said Mary. "They are brave men, that I know."
Captain Jack smiled and tapped the butt of his pistol. "It will be a fair fight," he said, with an air of almost exultation.
"But I have something further to tell you," said Mary, "and I tell it to you now in all sincerity, so that you may disband your men while there is yet time, and perhaps find safety for yourself in some other country. The Governor has ordered a detachment of troops to be sent up from Sydney. They will be here in a few days, and brave though you and your men may be, you will be overpowered by superior strength. You cannot stand against three times the number of trained and disciplined regulars."
At that there was silence for a few tense moments. Then Captain Jack spoke: "Madam," he said. "I am greatly beholden to you for this information. As for your friend here, Mr. Trevithick, he is at liberty to go. He joined us of his own free will, at his own free will he may leave us. But this at least I must tell you. I and my men will abide the issue, whatever it may be."
Mary Fitzharding looked in wonder at the rebel captain, who stood up so straight before her. He seemed to have grown several inches taller. In spite of herself she could not help admiring him at that moment.
"And now, madam, with your permission, I will take my leave. I thank you for your warning, but I cannot accept it. Regulars or irregulars we shall treat them all alike. Such poor entertainment as I and my men can afford them shall be theirs." He bowed low. He kissed her hand. He walked away out of the circle of light from the burning log into the darkness.
Left alone with Tristram, Mary Fitzharding placed her hand on the young man's arm.
"Tristram," she said, and her voice vibrated with emotion as she spoke his name. "I have done this thing for your sake. You have nothing to do with these unhappy men. Give up this mad enterprise and come with me, before it is too late. I have horses and a travelling chaise in the hollow over the hill. Jonathan Wylie is there. At a word from me he will drive us away—together. Come, for I love you." She bowed her head before him. She took his hands in hers.
The young man flushed, and drew himself up. "Mary," he said, "there are some things that a man cannot do, even for love of the noblest woman in the world. A man who is truly a man cannot desert his comrades in arms."
She looked at him proudly again. "I came to tell you in the first place," she said, "that the man whom you struck down did not die—you are guiltless of his blood."
"Thank God for that," he said fervently. "The thought of blood upon my hands, though I shed it in self-defence, has weighed heavily upon me. You have lifted a load from my heart."
"Then why not come with me?" She pleaded. "Tristram, my dear one. I know the story of your birth."
He started at that. A look of horrified incredulity came over her face. "Mrs. Trevithick told me of it," she continued in a low voice, that was scarcely more than a whisper. "It makes no difference to me. I love you—for yourself."
Could any living man resist such an appeal as that? He took her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. "Mary," he said, "You have made it doubly hard for me to give up life as well as love. But for me there is one thing that is more than either love or life, and that is honor. I have pledged myself to this cause whatever its rights or wrongs may be, and I cannot break my pledge. I am a soldier now. I cannot desert my colors in the face of the enemy. Do not ask me, you who are my love, my life. Good-bye."
She stood there dazed and helpless. So all her love and all her courage could not avail to move him, and yet she realised at last that she had asked a hard thing. But she, too, was proud. She, too, had honor to think of.
"So be it, Tristram," she answered, "whatever happens, remember that I love you and tried to save you, and now farewell."
They kissed long and passionately. She left him, and half-blinded by her tears walked away from the firelight where he stood looking after her, and out from the rebel ramp into the night.
Two hours afterwards she reached the chaise in the lonely hollow behind the hill. Wylie and the black boy were sleeping stretched upon the ground. She wrapped herself in her long travelling cloak and lay down on the bare earth beside the chaise.
Far into the night, with sleepless, questioning eyes, she looked upwards to the stars—those inscrutable stars that see so much and tell nothing.
It was the afternoon of the following day when Crib, the black boy, reported the approach of horsemen from the east.
Jonathan and Mary climbed the hut ridge behind the hollow, descended the gully and climbed the opposite hill. They saw Mr. Rutter and his volunteer cavalry riding in very straggling order along the rugged and boulder-strewn bank of the Abercrombie. The men were about a mile from the rebel position, when Wylie and the girl first saw them.
Mr. Rutter halted his squadron out of sight of the rebels, and appeared to be giving them instructions. The leader, with ten men, went on slowly at a walking pace directly towards the front of the position. The other half of the squadron, riding in single file, made a detour to the right and followed the course of the river, which took a wide bend away from the spur that formed Captain Jack's line of defence.
"Ho. That's the move, is it?" said Wylie excitedly to Miss Fitzharding.
"Rutter is going to attack them in front, and the other men are to outflank Captain Jack's left and get round behind them so as to cut off their retreat. Not a bad move either." Most of Captain Jack's men were down on the bank of the river smoking and discussing the outlook, when one of the cavalry horses, in picking his way along the precipitous river bank, stood on a loose stone, which clattered over the edge of the bank and rattled down into the bed of the Abercrombie.
The sound alarmed the rebels, who seized their guns and rushed for cover on the ridge. From the crest of the high ground they looked down to the left upon the river bank, and saw the leaders of the straggling column coming slowly through the light scrub that fringed the water.
Big Peter, lying prone on the top of the ridge, thrust the barrel of his gun through the crevice between two and covered the foremost horseman. Waiting until the cavalryman was well in range, he fired. The cavalryman's horse, hit in the shoulder by the full charge of heavy slugs, toppled over with a crash, pinning the rider's leg between the saddle and the ground.
In an instant the whole line was thrown into confusion.
If the rest of the flanking party had galloped resolutely forward they might have traversed the narrow danger zone between the river and the edge of the ridge, and got in behind the rebels, turning their position, cutting off their retreat, and taking them in the rear. But with their leader down they faltered. There was no one to rally them. They paused irresolutely and began to fall back. Big Peter, by his prompt action, had caused the failure of the flanking movement.
The big grey horse in the light scrub made a frantic attempt to rise, and in its struggles liberated the imprisoned rider, who crawled under cover. But, with a broken shoulder, the grey was powerless, and his rider, creeping forward at the risk of his life, pistolled him and put him out of his pain. Then he crawled back behind his friendly rock, and presently rejoined his main party, who were retreating upon Mr. Rutter's half squadron.
Bitterly disappointed at the failure of his manoeuvre, the leader of the volunteer cavalry ordered his men to dismount and take cover. They left their horses in the rear and advanced carefully, dodging from tree to tree and from rock to rock.
Then began an ineffective fusillade on the part of the attackers, who blazed away at the rebels in position upon the higher ground. Captain Jack had prepared his line of defence by rolling the rocks from the bed of the river to the crest of the ridge. Behind these rocks the rebels lay perfectly protected, and through the narrow loopholes they pushed the barrels of their guns, and fired at the enemy whenever they saw an exposed head.
They had plenty of ammunition and could afford to keep up a steady fire.
The volunteer cavalry men fought at a great disadvantage. They were entirely untrained in military work. They were encumbered with breeches, boots and spurs, and they were obliged to economise powder and shot, for each man had brought no more than 20 rounds, and no further supply was available. Mr. Rutter had not calculated upon having to fight a pitched battle.
The rebels, on the other hand, with plenty of ammunition, and a prepared position, had all the best of it. More-over, most of them were hardy rascals, inured to exposure, and as hard as nails. They fought, too, with the knowledge that defeat meant for every survivor the hangman's rope. Captain Jack, behind the parapet of rocks, cheered them on. The light of battle shone in his eye. He loaded and fired his musket like a man possessed.
Tristram, who lay next to the leader on the extreme right, fired whenever he could see a living target, in the light rock strewn scrub in front of the position. His blood was up. He was carried away by the rapture of combat, and it was plain to him that the defenders were far more than holding their own. A loud cheer from Peter Black heralded a successful shot. He had broken the arm of an incautious volunteer with a bullet. Big Peter was blood-drunk. He was mad to kill—to kill as many as possible of the hated gentleman riders, who had gone out of their way to pursue Captain Jack and his band. Why did not they leave such work to the 'lobsters,' whose trade it was? Peter had a presentiment that his own end was not far off. He intended to make the best use of the time that remained to him.
After half an hour's firing three of the attackers had been wounded, and on the part of the defenders, beetle-browed Joe Greening had lost a thumb, and a bullet had carried away half of Ben Dawson's right ear. The smoke hung so heavily over both firing lines that it was difficult to see anyone to shoot at.
The fire of the assailants slackened perceptibly. It was plain that they were feeling the want of ammunition.
Captain Jack muttered to Tristram:—"Now is our chance, lad, for a decisive counter-stroke. What say you to a charge? We shall have them at our mercy? Their powder and shot is nearly finished." The blood danced in Tristram's veins. A charge! Yes. He would like to die charging. That way better than any other.
The rebels' horses had been brought up to the rear of the position, and were being held in readiness for just such a moment as this by the excited black boys.
Tristram grasped the long cavalry sword that Captain Jack had given him, and his heart bounded at the prospect. At a whistle from Captain Jack the blacks led up the horses, and the rebels hastily collected their long knives and sharpened billhooks. God help the volunteer cavalrymen with their ammunition spent if the cut-throats got amongst them.
But just as they were preparing to mount, a ringing cheer burst from the attackers, and Captain Jack paused before giving the order.
A puff of wind blew away the smoke of the slackened fusillade, and yonder at the rear of the cavalrymen, crouching behind their rocks, came a detachment of redcoats at the double, with the sunlight glinting on their bayonets.
A strident word of command was flung out upon the wind. Then came a line of quivering flashes and the roar of a volley as fifty heavy musket balls rattled on the rocks in front of the defenders. William Blunt fell back dead with a ball in his brain, and Ben Dawson was on the ground writhing and shrieking.
The regulars had fired over the heads of the volunteer cavalry, and their timely appearance had stopped the counterstroke that Captain Jack had determined should be decisive. It was a fine piece of work for Captain Cartwright to march his men all the way from Sydney through that rugged and unknown country. In another few minutes he would have been too late to save the helpless volunteer cavalry from annihilation.
But it was a bitter disappointment for Captain Jack.
Jonathan Wylie and Mary Fitzharding perching unseen on the crest of the great cerrated range that looked down upon the valley of the Abercrombie, heard the crash of the volley and at once divined what had happened.
"It must be Cartwright," said Mary with a groan. "Cartwright and the regulars. The end cannot be far off now."
But Captain Jack, even yet, was not dismayed? "Never mind the cursed lobsters, boys," he called cheerily. "Our guns are just as good as theirs. As long as we keep under cover they cannot touch us, and we can send them all to kingdom come if they try to storm the position in front."
The rebels realised the truth of the captain's words, and they clenched their teeth. In a few hours more it would be darkness. If they could hold off the attack on their front for two hours they might ride away to safety. Their line of retreat was open, and in that rugged country they could defy pursuit of either cavalry or infantry.
By Captain Jack's orders, five men took post at the extreme left of the line, making a new front on the flank, to command the approach on the river bank, and ensure that the regulars should not succeed in the flanking attack, that had been a failure when attempted by the volunteer cavalry. The remaining eight resumed their places on the front to hold the fire of the enemy in check, and to hurl back the stormers if storming should be attempted. The rebel right was completely protected by the morass that ran up to the precipitous cliffs of the range on which Mary and Wylie were standing. Two of the rebels had been killed by the first volley of the infantry. The little force was consequently reduced to thirteen all told.
Captain Jack looked round and counted his men. He was intensely superstitious, like most of his race. His brow clouded as he tallied the unlucky number. Yet he made no comment. "Now, boys, we're ready for them," was all that he said. "I want to know how they can get us out of this?"
The fusilade recommenced intermittently, but the fire of the attackers seemed half-hearted. They were seventy men against thirteen, and a bold, determined rush might well have carried the position, though not, of course, without heavy losses, which it was the duty of a prudent commander to avoid if possible.
The black-browed Captain Cartwright, though by no means an engaging character in private life, knew his business as a soldier. He had a good eye for country, and was a thorough tactician, while his personal bravery was undoubted. He had made up his mind to carry out this job to the full satisfaction of Governor Macquarie, who had specially recommended him for the command.
His first move was to send out a couple of cavalry scouts on each side of the line of advance to reconnoitre the country, and, if possible, to discover a practicable route for troops. This he did immediately upon his arrival at the scene of action. The scouts sent out on the right reported that by reason of the unclimbable ranges and blind gullies an enormous detour would have to be made on that side before the rebels could be enveloped. It could be done, certainly, but it would mean a march of at least twelve hours, through extremely difficult country.
The cavalry men sent out on the left, however, brought back much more cheering news. They had found a hollow behind the second range, and in the hollow they had found a travelling chaise and a pair of well-bred horses grazing. Further search had brought to light an elderly man and a young woman perched on the summit of the first hill across the intervening gully.
Here was news, indeed. Captain Cartwright leaving orders that the fusilade should be continued, so that the suspicions of the rebels might not be aroused, leaped on his horse, and galloped off to the hollow. He was guided by the two cavalry men, and he took with him his own black tracker, Berrilong. In the meantime Mary and Wylie had left their rocky outlook. They were faint with hunger. They had come back to the hollow to get a few mouthfuls of food.
Cartwright saw the two figures in the distance, and drawing nearer, to his amazement, he recognised Jonathan Wylie and Mary Fitzharding. The captain had been well supplied with information and had discovered that Tristram Trevithick had joined Captain Jack's band. The fact inspired him with fresh ardor for the attack. And now he found this extraordinary young woman who had attracted his fancy in bygone days, evidently acting in concert with the rebel chiefs lieutenant, and aiding and abetting the insurrection. It gave Captain Cartwright food for serious thought.
"It is as great a surprise as it is a pleasure to meet Miss Mary Fitzharding so far from the diversions at the town," he began, with a clumsy attempt at irony.
But Mary quickly cut him short. "Whatever you have to say to me, sir," she answered, "say it briefly and go. I have no desire to resume an acquaintanceship which was so disagreeable while it lasted."
Cartwright was stung to the quick by this very direct reference to his unpardonable behaviour at their last meeting. "Very well, madam," he said in his curt, official, soldierly tone. "Since you will have it so, I am here by order of the Governor and Captain-General to capture, dead or alive, the persons of these so-called insurgents, who have been defying his Britannic Majesty's Government in this territory, and who are mad enough to dream of setting up the detestable institution of a republic in its place. I am now conducting a military operation in accordance with my instructions. My purpose here is to ascertain a practicable route for my troops through these mountains. I strongly suspect that you have recently visited the camp of the rebels, among whom, by the way, is a certain Tristram Trevithick, whose presence is doubtless responsible for your country tour."
Mary turned white at that and stamped her foot impatiently. "Enough, sir enough. My private affairs are not concern of yours.
"I require you, therefore, now to point out to me the route by which you reached the camp from this hollow."
"And if I refuse the information?"
"If you refuse, madam, it will be my disagreeable duty to order you under instant arrest."
"You dare not do it, Captain Cartwright. Recollect, sir, that I am a loyal subject of the King and a member of his Excellency's household."
"I recollect, madam," returned the captain dryly, "what you have yourself apparently forgotten. Your presence in this place is incompatible with your professions."
"I have no information to give you, sir. Take what course you please. You shall answer for it at the proper time."
The captain was thoroughly exasperated, but he knew that he held the winning card, and he could afford to deal his blow with a courteous mien.
"Gentlemen," he said, addressing the two volunteer cavalry men, "I require you to arrest this lady, and to hold her in safe keeping pending further instructions. I have reason to believe that she has furnished the rebels with information, in addition to refusing it to myself when I demanded it in the name of the Government. That is conduct for which this lady will be required to answer."
The two cavalry men looked at each other irresolutely. Mr. Purfleet and Mr. Beddington had not bargained for such an unpleasant duty as this when they joined the volunteer cavalry. But there was no way of escape. With embarrassment on every line of their faces, they placed themselves, one on each side of Mary Fitzharding.
"I am afraid you must regard yourself as our prisoner, madam," said Mr. Purfleet, the senior of the two, a benevolent elderly gentleman, with a very red face, a very stiff stock, and very muddy boots and breeches. He looked anything but a soldier.
Mary favored him with a frank smile. "As you please, sir," she said. "I shall not attempt to run away, so you will not find it necessary to shoot me." She awaited the next move on the part of the captain with curiosity, but when he spoke she experienced a severe shock.
"And now for our invaluable dusky ally," said Cartwright pleasantly. He blew a whistle, and Berrilong, the black tracker, emerged from behind the bluff, where he had been lurking, to take his orders, which Captain Cartwright speedily explained to him. "The white Mary had walked from the hollow where they were to the camp where the big mob of white fellers sat down."
"There she had had a yabber yabber with the white men's boss. Berrilong was required to track the white Mary's footprints by the route that she had taken right into the encampment.
"All ri'," said Berrilong, showing his teeth in a wide grin. He bent down and examined the white Mary's dainty French shoes carefully. Then he examined the freshly-made prints of the same shoes in the green turf beside him. He nodded his head with complete confidence, as though to say that nothing could be easier.
And, indeed, the task was ridiculously easy to that gifted child of nature. Mary, who had never heard of the ability of the savages in this matter, turned white with shame and rage, and alarm for the safety of those whom a few days before she had condemned unreservedly, when she saw Berrilong, the black, moving off at a brisk springing walk up the steep side of the range on precisely the line that she had taken that morning.
She was obliged to remain behind under guard, while Captain Cartwright followed the black, giving her a parting smile that was in itself an insult. Far off, on the other side of the hill, she could hear the intermittent rattle of musketry, muffled by distance.
Reaching the summit of the range the black tracker was momentarily at fault. Straight in front was the precipitous cliff face, at the foot of which was a deep blind gully, from which there was no apparent egress.
Cartwright called impatiently to Berrilong to hurry up.
"All ri', boss," said Berrilong, grinning pleasantly. "Mine find 'em plenty soon, bime by, my word."
He made a wide cast, as a huntsman does to pick up a lost scent, and a few hundred yards to the left a loud "hiyei," announced to Cartwright that the line had been hit again.
Forward went the black at a smart pace, and Cartwright, booted and spurred as he was, had to run to keep up with him. They traversed the sunless gully, and half a mile further emerged through the narrow opening and saw the way clear to the rear of the rebel's position.
Whistling to Berrilong, Cartwright made his way back at his best pace, walking and running alternately, and regained the hollow where Mary Fitzharding sat on a rock with her two cavaliers in attendance.
The captain mounted his horse and rode back from the hollow, concealed by a fold in the ground from the defenders of the position. He rode to the rear of the attacking party, who were maintaining a desultory fusilade that puzzled the rebel leader considerably.
Captain Jack could not understand why the troops and cavalry, with their greatly superior numbers, did not storm the position without further delay. If they held off much longer, he told himself, they would find the birds flown and the nest empty when they reached it. The rebels line of retreat was open, and, since they could not hope to defeat such a strong detachment of trained troops, their best course evidently was to retire and draw the soldiers on into the mazing network of ranges and gullies where it might be possible to ambuscade them and destroy them in detail.
These were the ideas that ran through Captain Jack's mind while a quarter of a mile away, screened from view by the gently rising ground in front, Captain Cartwright gave his orders to Lieutenant Merriman, in charge of a detachment of twenty-five men from the main body.
"See here, Merriman," he said, pointing towards the precipitous hills on the right of the rebels position, "You will take twenty-five of the rank and file, with their muskets and bayonets, and also ten of these gentleman riders, and you will march under cover of the rising ground to the foot of the second range yonder. Wheeling to the right after you pass the cliff face, you will find a grassy hollow with a chaise and pair there, and also Mr. Jonathan Wylie and Miss Mary Fitzharding. The lady is now in custody for aiding and abetting the rebels."
Lieutenant Merriman opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. Captain Cartwright disliked argument from junior officers.
"You and your men will find the range, and then bear away to the left for about half a mile, when you will descend into a gully, which has an exit leading into the open ground at the rear of the rebel position. Berrilong, the black tracker, is in the hollow and will guide you. Get into line, under cover, if possible, with the mounted men in your rear, and be ready to attack the position when you hear our first volley on the front. I have Captain Jack and his men in the mouse trap at last. Not a single man of them can escape."
Cartwright indulged in a sinister chuckle while Lieutenant Merriman hurried off to carry out his orders, and, in a very few minutes was on the march with his little detachment of horse and foot, to envelop the enemy by a wide turning movement, and take them in the rear.
After the detachment had passed through the hollow and climbed the hill, Mary Fitzharding turned her frank, blue eyes upon the susceptible Mr. Purfleet, and preferred her simple little request. "Would he have any objection to her climbing the hill, crossing the gully, and then mounting the hill opposite in order to see what was happening at the scene of conflict?"
Mr. Purfleet looked enquiringly at his colleague. "I cannot see any objection; can you, Beddington?"
Mr. Beddington thought heavily for a moment, before admitting that the proposal appeared to him to be one that they might be safe in assenting to. So with the two cavalry men in close attendance, and Jonathan Wylie bringing up the rear, Mary again mounted the second hill, which commanded a fine view of the operations. Her heart beat fast and high, as she looked across to the distant ridge where Tristram was lying down with the rest of the defenders, utterly unconscious of the approach of Lieutenant Merriman's detachment to take the defence in the rear. It was like watching a sham fight at the manoeuvres.
She could hardly believe that this conflict was about to be fought in deadly earnest—not mimic war, but real war. She watched almost maddened by her sense of helplessness, while Lieutenant Merriman and his detachment disappeared into the gully guided by Berrilong. If she could only find some means of letting Tristram know of this new and deadly danger. Alas, she was a prisoner, and there was no possible way of communicating with him.
From the great height upon which she stood with Mr. Purfleet and Mr. Beddington, and Jonathan Wylie, who was hardly less excited than herself, she could see a great deal more than met the eyes of Captain Jack and his men.
"Look," said old Mr. Purfleet, mopping his brow with his big, bandanna, energetically, for the day was hot, and the climb had been a strenuous one. He pointed to the head of Merriman's little column, just emerging from the gully. It was still invisible to the defenders. On the front of the position an ominous silence now reigned, but, in the fold of the ground which concealed the main attacking party Captain Cartwright was marshalling his men in a long line that curved slightly towards the river on the right.
Presently, with watch in hand, he gave the order to advance to the top of the rising ground. The men crept up on their hands and knees, dragging their muskets.
The four observers on the top of the range could see the attack being prepared. They saw something else, too. Captain Jack was uneasy at the complete cessation of the fusillade and the disappearance of the enemy. He anticipated a surprise attack in force. Accordingly he had all the horses brought back again from the valley at the rear of the position, whither he had sent them at the first appearance of the regulars. The blackfellows who had been holding the horses brought them up, and each man took his own mount.
At last the long silence was broken.
Crash! The volleying musketry on the front roared again in the light timber, but the aim was high, and most of the balls passed over the heads of the defenders.
"Down with the horses. Make the horses lie down!" shouted Captain Jack.
Each man took hold of his bridle tightly on the horse's withers, and pulled the animal's head round on the off side, at the same time giving him a sharp blow on the near-side knee. The horses sank down at once on their sides, and each rider crouched behind his mount.
Hardly were the defenders in that position, lying behind the line of low rocks on their front and the horses behind them, when, to their amazement and despair, a second volley was fired, and this time from their rear. They realised that they had been outflanked, after all, and that the enemy was still invisible.
"This is the doing of your lady friend, Tristram," shouted Captain Jack bitterly. "I was right to mistrust her, after all. She must have guided the regulars through the mountains."
"I'll wager my life upon Miss Fitzharding's honesty," said Tristram hotly, "and if I'm wrong I'll pay the wager promptly."
But Captain Jack merely laughed a hard, sardonic laugh. "She's not the first woman that I have mistrusted, my boy, but I'm pretty certain now that she will be the last."
Again came a volley from the front, the musket balls rebounding from the parapet of rocks behind which the defenders crouched secure from the frontal attack.
But they were not sheltered from the fire of the invisible enemy concealed in the long grass and brushwood at the rear. The regulars, and the volunteer cavalry men, who had been formed into an extended line there, were lying prone on the ground, and firing at the fully exposed rebels, who had no cover except that which was furnished by the bodies of their horses.
Jonathan Wylie, and Mary, as well as Mr. Purfleet and Mr. Beddington, saw that the desperate plight of the defenders at once.
"They are caught between two fires; they are done," said Wylie with a groan, and Mary covered her face with her hands as Lieutenant Merriman's detachment began to load and fire as fast as they could, each man for himself, without waiting for the order to volley. She could not endure to look upon the tell-tale dust spots kicked up by the balls as they fell upon the defenders' position.
Down in the ridge the rebels found themselves in a little inferno.
"It's good-bye now, Trevithick," shouted Captain Jack, who lay behind his horse with the rest loading and firing over the animal's back at Merriman's detachment in the rear.
"Ha!" A bullet struck the bay horse behind the shoulder, piercing his heart and killing him instantly. But the horse's dead body still gave Captain Jack ample cover. He continued to load and fire with desperate haste at the assailants who were attacking from the rear.
Tristram Trevithick did the same, though he had hard work to restrain the big chesnut. The horse was still unwounded, but he was terribly scared at the noise of the firing and the 'ping ping' of the bullets all round him. Tristram had all he could do to keep the animal lying down.
A sudden warning yell from Big Peter at the far end of the line made Captain Jack and Tristram face round to the front. What they saw was disquieting enough.
Cartwright, sword in hand, was cheering on a frontal attack. The stormers were running forward with bayonets fixed.
Every twenty yards or so they stopped and lay down. Then up again for another rush.
Merriman's detachment at the rear began to come forward, too. They stopped and fired and then ran forward again.
Eight of the thirteen horses on the line of the defence were already killed and two of the remainder were wounded. Three of the rebels were mortally hit.
"Look, miss, look. There goes Cartwright. The stormers are nearly up to the parapet." It was Jonathan Wylie who shouted the words. He was perfectly frenzied.
Mary Fitzharding steeled herself to look, and she never forgot the scene to the day of her death.
Cartwright, waving his sword above his head, was fifty paces from the parapet, when Captain Jack kneeled behind the low boulder in front of him, rested the barrel of his musket upon it, took a long and careful aim, and fired.
Mary saw the flash. In the same instant she saw Cartwright stagger and fall. Some seconds later she heard the report. She saw Captain Jack stand up and look over the parapet to see the result of his shot. She even heard his yell of defiance. And in that moment a bullet struck him in the heart. He leaped in the air, and fell down dead.
With the death of Captain Jack the handful of survivors on the ridge lost courage. Even Big Peter was for fastening a handkerchief on his gun barrel and holding it up in token of surrender.
Tristram took in the situation at a glance. The captain was dead. The men were thoroughly cowed. The end was not far off. Could it be that Mary Fitzharding had betrayed them after all. He ground his teeth in anguish.
Looking out towards the front, he saw the stormers making ready to take vengeance for Cartwright's death. They were kneeling on the ground in the act of aiming a last volley before charging. The sunlight glinted on the bayonets. The men were in close order.
Then some ancestral surge in his blood shook Tristram to the very foundations of his being. An influence that seemed to act independently of his consciousness took hold of him. It was as though a well-known voice shouted an order in his ear that could not be disobeyed.
Crash! came the volley from the stormers. As the musket balls struck the parapet or whistled overhead, the chesnut horse bounded to his feet, and stood-trembling and snorting. At the same instant Tristram, still belted with Captain Jack's cavalry sword, vaulted into the saddle.
He turned the chesnut towards the parapet, and touched him with his heel. The horse took three strides and leaped the low wall of rock.
Waving the sword above his head, Tristram galloped straight for the astonished detachment of soldiers. The men dropped on their knees and brought their bayonets to the charge in a thick hedge of steel.
The watchers on the hilltop gazed at the scene as though hypnotised.
"My God," burst from Jonathan Wylie, "He's charging the detachment single handed."
Tristram lived a whole glorious lifetime in a few brief seconds that followed the chesnut's leap over the low parapet.
Resolutely the rider held his horse's head straight, guiding him with the steady pressure of calf and thigh, as well as with the bit and bridle. Maddened with all the firing and excitement of the fight, the chesnut stretched himself out a racing pace.
The soldiers fell into a two-deep formation, the front rank kneeling and the rear rank standing. A double line of bayonets made a bristling barrier.
"Stand fast, boys," yelled the amazed sergeant, and in the same moment the chesnut and his rider charged home upon the shining steel.
Wounded in a dozen places the frenzied horse fell upon the infantry men, bearing half a dozen of them to earth in his death struggle. Tristram was flung clean over the bayonets, but they quickly closed round him.
Rising to his feet in an instant, he slashed away with the long cavalry sword, but the unequal combat lasted only a few moments. A tall fellow lunged suddenly; his bayonet went through Tristram's shoulder, and the fight was over.
When Tristram recovered consciousness, he was siting with his back to a tree and his late antagonist was giving him a drink from his water-bottle. His coat had been cut off, and his hurt, which was no more than bad flesh wound, was dexterously bandaged.
"By the Lord, you're a good plucked 'un," said the red-coated giant. "Man, ye ought to be one of us."
Then his captor told him the news. Four of the rebels, including Captain Jack, were dead, and all the rest were prisoners. Lieutenant Merriman, who was in command of the detachment, owing to the death of Captain Cartwright, had ordered a start to be made for Bathurst, as soon as the soldiers who had been sent to procure carts for the wounded, returned with them.
"Man," said the good-humored red-coat, "whatever made you charge on the bayonets that-a-way.
"I can hardly tell you," said Tristram Trevithick, whose eyes shone with strange light.
He passed his hand across his forehead wearily. "I had to do it. But was I alone? It seemed to me that a man in a steel cuirass and plumed helmet rode beside me on a black horse. Just before we reached the double line of bayonets I heard him shout. 'Vive l'Empereur.' And I looked at his face, and recognised—myself."
"But I must see the Governor at once. It's a matter of life and death."
"Can't help it, mum. His Excellency is busy with the major. 'E give me orders not to let anybody in on any account." The sentry's bayonet came down across the door of the room that the Governor used as his office in his official quarters at Bathurst.
Mrs. Cuthbert was desperate. She entreated and implored, but all to no purpose. The sentry was adamant, but the sound of her pleading had penetrated into the room. The door was opened suddenly from the inside and the red-raced major stood in the doorway.
"My dear Sybil," he began in great surprise when he saw that the disturber was his wife. "I must request you to go back to your own rooms. The general is engaged with me upon matters of the utmost importance, arising out of the late insurrection. He cannot possibly see you now. What on earth is the reason of these importunities?"
"George," she answered, and the sudden pallor of her face betrayed the intensity of her emotion, "when a man's life is at stake I can keep silence no longer. I must see the Governor at once. I have something to tell him." The last words were uttered in a whisper.
The red-faced major was utterly amazed. What had come over his wife now? During their short married life she had always been strangely reserved. He had formed the idea that her past life had not been quite happy. But he had never before seen her so terribly agitated.
He made the sentry stand back. He took his wife by the hand. He led her into the room and closed the door.
"Your Excellency," he said, apologetically, "I find that it was my wife who was outside, I have taken the liberty of admitting her. She tells me that she has information of importance to give you."
The Governor was sitting at his writing table facing the door. He looked up from a great pile of papers irritably. "Well, well, madam. How now? Could not your business wait?"
"It can wait no longer, sir. I must speak now."
The major placed a chair for her beside the Governor's table, and she sat down.
Her husband stood up opposite to her at the far end of the table.
"Governor Macquarie," she said, taking her courage in both hands, "I have come to beg for a man's life—for the life of the young man who is called Tristram Trevithick."
"Tut, tut, madam. What does this mean!" ejaculated the astonished Governor, pushing his chair back from the table, and staring at Mrs. Cuthbert as though he could hardly believe that he had heard her aright.
The red-faced major started back, too. Even his stolid perceptions had lately been penetrated by the conviction that his wife had been colder and more reserved towards him of late than she was when he married her in England, just a year after the great victory at Waterloo. So this was the reason of it. He glared at her furiously.
"Oh, pray, do not misunderstand me, sir," she said, addressing herself to the Governor and ignoring her husband. "I have no unfaithfulness to reproach myself with. The young man loves Miss Fitzharding, and is beloved by her."
"By heaven, madam," roared the old General, "let the girl come here and avow her disgrace herself, for I protest I can hardly credit it when I hear it from the lips of another. You tell me that Mary Fitzharding loves a low-born fellow, who was well enough in his way while be stuck to his father's farm, but who has now become a traitor and a felon. It saddens me to think that such a man should bear an honest English name."
"He does bear an honest English name, sir," said the visitor, suddenly flaming out, "but it is not his own."
The-red-faced major kept his small green eyes fixed upon his wife in absolute amazement. It came upon him like a flash that he knew almost nothing about her when he married her, and that he had certainly learned nothing from her studied reticence ever since.
"But surely his name matters a little," said Mrs. Cuthbert, hurrying over that dangerous ground, in the hope that she might even yet be able to save the man's life without giving up her own secret. "I come to ask you to spare his life, sir, on the ground that he was only accidentally associated with those unhappy men. As Mary Fitzharding's affianced husband—"
"God bless my soul. It's incredible," ejaculated the Governor.
"As the affianced husband of my niece, who is very dear to me," continued Mrs. Cuthbert, "the young man's present terrible situation strikes me with horror. Governor Macquarie, I beg of you not to cover Mary Fitzharding's young life with disgrace and, misery by sending that unhappy young man to a shameful death."
"Madam, I can listen to this no longer," said the Governor, impatiently. "Your representations do credit to your womanly feeling of sympathy with your husband's niece, but not to your sense of reason and justice. Were I to pardon this desperate and malignant young rebel. I should have to pardon also every single one of the other prisoners captured with him who could claim to be the object of a woman's sympathy and love. I am truly grieved to think that Miss Fitzharding has allowed her feelings to draw her into such a painful situation. But she is young. She will get over it in time. My regard for her cannot blind me to the consequences that must follow were I to grant your request. Major Cuthbert, pray conduct your wife to her own apartments."
Governor Macquarie rose and stepped out into the middle of the room.
The red-faced major walked forward to escort his wife to the door, but Sybil Cuthbert sprang from her chair and flung herself on her knees in front of the Governor. The mask was off at last. All petty subterfuges were laid aside. The imminence of the deadly peril banished all sophistries and conventions. She was just a pleading, praying, agonising woman. She had something to say in truth—something that she had carried in her own heart for many weary years. She meant to say it now.
Angrily the red-faced major sought to lift her from the floor and to end the unseemly scene. She clung despairingly to Governor Macquarie's knees. Her tongue was loosened by the awful nearness of the peril. She spoke at furious speed.
"Give me his life, sir. Give me his life. On my knees I implore you. You must give it to me. Punish me if you will. Do what you please with me. But give me the young man's life."
"For heaven's sake, take your wife away, Cuthbert," roared Governor Macquarie, stamping his foot. "She is quite hysterical."
"No, no," cried the unhappy woman, her heart wrung by the poignancy of her grief. "You must spare his life. You must grant him a pardon."
"You must pardon him. I tell you!"—her voice rose to a wild shriek—"for he is my son."
Major Cuthbert reeled back at that, and bending forward stared with dismay at the still kneeling woman.
But she had no eyes for him. She kept her face fixed on Governor Macquarie's iron features—the clean-shaved wrinkled cheeks, the obstinate chin, the big aquiline nose, and stern and steadfast eyes. Even Macquarie's resolute poise was momentarily disturbed by this staggering revelation.
"Do not misapprehend me, I beg of you," the woman went on with fiendish speed, the words falling from her lips so fast that it was difficult to follow her. "His father, Count Eugene de Donzenac, was married to me by the French priest Pere Sebastian in Plymouth. That was before the war broke out. We were married secretly because my father hated the French, and I was afraid of him. Then the war came—that long and terrible war. Eugene had to go back to France. He was an officer in the French army. He parted from me on the seashore. He went away in Jonathan Wylie's lugger—Jonathan Wylie—the emancipist—the Government contractor on the Hawkesbury."
"Amazing!" It was the Governor who spoke.
"Eugene was to come back when the war was over. Oh, how I loved him. How brave he was and noble. Then the baby was born. I feared to tell my father that I had married a man who was the enemy of my country and an officer of Napoleon's army. I tried to make my father believe that I had made a mesalliance—that I had married an Englishman below me in station—a man of the people. I always thought he did believe it till it was too late. But someone had seen me with Eugene and had told my father. He was furious. He believed that the Frenchman had ruined me. He stole my child from me and persuaded the Trevithicks to take him away with them to Australia. And my father died before I could tell him the truth. The Trevithick's do not know the truth either. They told the boy what my father told them; that he was a child of shame. It was a lie. They called him Tristram. It is not his name.''
"What is his name?" Again it was the Governor who spoke.
"Eugene, Eugene de Donzenac. Pere Sebastian christened him in his own house at Plymouth. The young man left the home of the Trevithicks because he loved Mary Fitzharding and despaired of winning her on account of the stain on his birth. That is how he came to separate himself from all the companions of his early life, and to cast in his lot with those desperate insurgents. Oh! Cannot you see that he is not to blame, sir, for all that has happened? I was a coward. It is I who am the cause of all this terrible trouble. When my husband, Eugene de Donzenac, was killed at Waterloo, charging alone upon a British square, as your own friend, Colonel Fernyhough has told you, I mourned for him as for a hero. But I was alone in the world—alone with my thoughts and my regrets. To escape from myself I married Major Cuthbert, when he did me the honor to ask for my hand, but I never told him my story. George, I ask your pardon now. And when I came out here, I found my son; alas, too late, too late. General, you will not send my son, Eugene, to die on the scaffold."
The woman stopped speaking at last. Breathless, exhausted, agonised, she looked into Governor Macquarie's face with swimming eyes that sought pitifully for a ray of hope, where nothing showed but resolution, solid and hard as iron.
Governor Macquarie took both hands of the kneeling woman and lifted her to her feet.
"Madam," he said, in slow, deliberate tones that fell upon her brain like notes of doom, "I have heard your story. A strange and sad and terrible one it is. I am a soldier. I have taken an oath to do my duty to my King and country. Were I to consult my private feelings, I should be tempted to grant your prayer. But in this matter I am compelled to forget that I have private feelings. I am an instrument of justice. The future of this territory depends upon the inflexible administration of that justice. I must deal with your son—victim of an unkind fate as he is—not otherwise than I shall deal with his associates in treason against the Crown of England, against the King whose commission I bear, and whose authority in this turbulent settlement I am pledged by my oath and my honor to uphold. I must therefore refuse to withdraw your son from the procedure that the law enjoins. He will be tried by a jury of his peers, together with those other prisoners who were captured in arms against the troops under my command. Upon conviction by that jury he will be required to pay the penalty that the law imperiously demands for the basest of all crimes—treason against one's country. This, too, I tell you," the old soldier drew himself up starkly to his full height, "in like case I would act no differently towards my own son."
Major Cuthbert carried his wife from the room unconscious.
By the special permission of the Governor, Mary Fitzharding was allowed to visit Tristram Trevithick in his cell on the evening that he was to be tried at the Bathurst court-house for treason felony.
Mary knew nothing of Mrs. Cuthbert's vain appeal to the Governor. Mrs. Cuthbert herself was under medical care, and the doctor in attendance upon her had peremptorily refused to allow anyone to see her.
The Governor declined to see Mary at all, after her presence at the Abercrombie River had been reported to him by Mr. Purfleet and Mr. Beddington. He was deeply incensed with her, though he decided on the circumstances reported to him by Mr. Purfleet, that her arrest was unjustifiable, and that she must be released. It was with difficulty that he was prevailed upon to grant her permission to see Tristram in the gaol, but finally, and with some misgiving, he wrote the order to the gaoler.
Governor Macquarie would be heartily glad, he told himself, when the whole of the unpleasant business was over; when the necessary formality of the trial had been completed, and the rebels duly executed in the town of Bathurst, as a warning to all other malcontents in that disaffected district.
Provided with the order bearing the Governor's seal, Mary presented herself at the gaol, heavily cloaked and veiled. The turnkey conducted her to the prisoner's cell, and then, after admitting her and closing the heavy door behind her, he took up his position in the passage outside. He was determined to leave nothing to chance. There should be no attempt at an eleventh-hour escape.
By the light of a candle enclosed in a rough horn lantern, Mary saw her unhappy lover, and advanced to him with outstretched arms. Tristram had been haunted by a torturing doubt. Again and again his thoughts had gone back to Captain Jack's bitter words just before his death. It was incredible that Mary should have guided the regulars through the mountains. Yet how else could they have found a way so quickly. He was thoroughly puzzled.
But one look into Mary's eyes cured him of all these doubts. He could not reconcile that direct and fearless gaze with duplicity. He knew that though the insurrection was detestable to her, she would never have betrayed the insurgents—apart altogether from the fact that he himself was one of them.
When Mary told him that she had been placed under arrest for refusing to act as a spy to Cartwright, and that he had achieved his purpose by causing the blacktracker to follow her footprints all the way from the hollow in the hills to Captain Jack's encampment, Tristram folded her in his arms with an overpowering sense of thankfulness.
He had never really doubted her for a moment in his inmost heart, but Captain Jack's last words had rankled in his memory. The black accusation, launched in error, though it had been, was refuted at last.
"That was what I particularly wanted to tell you, dear," she said in a whisper, looking up into the pale face of her lover, whose wounded shoulder was still bandaged. "I could not bear that you should imagine me capable of yielding and of giving information that would bring the troops to attack that unfortunate regiment. And Tristram, I want to say now, that wrong and wicked as that wretched insurrection was, I am glad, yes, glad that you stayed with your leader and fought it out to the end. I can never tell you all that I felt when I saw you riding out alone to charge the bayonets of the whole detachment. I can only say this, that though you seemed to be going to certain death, I was glad that you had refused me when I asked you to leave the rebels to their fate."
Long time they talked together, these two brave souls, the woman inspiring the man, after the manner of brave women of every age, with new courage to meet undauntedly whatever fate might be in store; and the man in his turn supplying fresh strength and steadfastness to the woman.
"It is hard to part like this, dear," said Tristram at last, "yet perhaps it is better so. Nameless as I am, and not even knowing who my parents were, how can I hope to be your mate. And if I cannot be your mate, I would rather die than live."
Then the turnkey knocked on the door, calling that the allotted time was up, and with one last kiss Mary groped her way from the cell and out into the blackness of the night.
The Bathurst courthouse was crowded next day when the jury was empanelled and the trial of Tristram Trevithick for treason felony began. He was to be tried separately from the other prisoners, because the Crown proposed to show that he was doubly guilty of treason by reason of the fact that he had been accepted as second in command to the dead leader, and was in a sense a sort of officer, whose superior intelligence and ability had been misused, so as to prolong the resistance of the rebels and add to the losses incurred by the military forces in subduing it.
Counsel for the Crown presented the case against the prisoner with damning clearness. That inexperienced young barrister, Mr. Horace Temperley, to whom the duty of furnishing the defence had been assigned, had no hope at all of saving his client's neck, though privately he expressed the opinion that he had a 100 to 1 chance of procuring the commutation of the capital sentence to imprisonment for life in the terrestrial hell of Norfolk Island.
Sergeant Cuffe, having been duly sworn, gave evidence that the prisoner in the dock was the man whom he had captured in the fight on the Abercrombie River. As the sergeant, in full uniform for the occasion, with scarlet tunic, well pipeclayed cross belts, and brass buckles all agleam, described Tristram's single-handed charge against the whole detachment of the stormers, a murmur of admiration was heard in the court, and the judge sharply reproved those responsible for it.
Mr. Temperley saw an opening here. If he could touch the sympathy of the jury as well as of the spectators, he might save his client from the scaffold yet. It was a desperate chance, but the only one left. He questioned Sergeant Cuffe dexterously to get out every detail.
Standing bolt upright in the witness box and as straight as his own ramrod. Sergeant Cuffe told the story of Tristram's last ride, and every person in the court listened spellbound.
"I seen 'im jump 'is 'orse over the low wall of loose rocks on the top of the 'ill," said the sergeant in his strident voice, "an' I sez to myself, 'So, 'e's agoin' to make a bolt for it, is 'e.' I reckoned that 'e would slew round and make for the open ground by the river, to try an' slip past us. But not 'im. 'E never turned a 'air's bredth, but come slap bang at us, waving a big service sabre. I yells out to the men, 'Prepare to receive cavalry,' and they dropped into two lines, the front rank kneelin' and the rear rank standin' with bayonets at the charge. I never took my eyes of 'im from the moment the chesnut 'orse jumped the wall. 'E was goin' great guns, fo' the big 'orse was mad with excitement. 'Stand fast,' I yelled to the men, an' next moment he struck us."
"What happened then?" asked Mr. Temperley rapidly. He felt his own professional coolness deserting him. Even the judge on the bench leaned forward, so as not to miss a word of this remarkable evidence.
"The chesnut fell mortilally wounded," continued the sergeant, "and he bore down about eight or ten men under his weight. 'E broke through the two lines in falling, and the prisoner was thrown clear. But no sooner did he touch the ground than 'e was up and at us like a wild cat. It was sword against bayonet then, but we was too many for 'im. 'E come at me like a 'urricane, but I parried and gave 'im the point through the shoulder, and down he went. When 'e recovered I axed 'im what in 'eaven made 'im go for to act like that, but, Lord bless ye, sir, he didn't hardly know wot he was sayin'."
"But what did he say?" persisted Mr. Temperley. "Tell us in his own words, as far as you can remember."
"'E said," continued the sergeant, "I didn't know as I was alone, 'Ee said. 'I thought as there was a man ridin' alongside me on a black 'orse,' 'e said. The man wore a shiny cuirass and a plumed, 'elmet,' he said, 'and I looked and saw 'is face—an' it was myself.' Them's the very words he said, sir, as Gord is my judge."
A subdued gasp went through the court.
"An'," continued Sergeant Cuffe, looking the barrister straight in the face, as though challenging him to disbelieve the evidence, "the prisoner at the bar then said to me. 'Just before we reached the bayonets the man on the black 'orse waved 'is sword and shouted, 'Vive l'Empereur.''"
"My lord," said the Crown counsel, who was intent upon securing a conviction, and who saw with disgust that the jury were becoming dangerously interested in the evidence of the prisoner's sayings and doings, "I submit that all this rhodomontade about the prisoner charging on the troops and about a man on a black horse or a brown horse or a roan horse, or some other colored horse, charging with him and shouting some unpronounceable and un-English cry, is altogether irrelevant to the issue that is before the court. As my friend has no evidence to call for the defence, I desire to address to the jury a brief summary of the case for the Crown, which is to my mind conclusive."
Up jumped Mr. Temperley at this, and began to argue the point of the alleged irrelevancy, when somebody shoved a pencilled note into his hand, and he read it hurriedly.
"My lord," said Mr. Temperley, after reading the note, "I find that I have several witnesses to call who have very important evidence to give in this case, and with your permission, I will first call Mr. Jonathan Wylie, a well-known and highly-esteemed resident of the Hawkesbury River."
Tristram Trevithick leaned forward with his hands on the spikes of the dock, and looked eagerly round the court. He saw Jonathan Wylie sitting unobtrusively at the back.
Counsel for the Crown was beginning to get seriously annoyed. This delay on the plea of taking more evidence was simply absurd. He was laudably anxious to get his man convicted and sentenced before lunch-time, and now the country gentlemen in the jury-box were actually showing an unmistakable interest in the prisoner, and the case threatened to be protracted for at least an hour or two longer. It was scandalous. However, he could do nothing further.
The judge adjusted a full-bottomed wig, from which his wizened little old face looked out. "Proceed, Mr. Temperley," he said with an air of resignation. "The court will hear your witnesses."
So Jonathan Wylie entered the witness box, and Mr. Temperley, having not the faintest idea of the nature of the evidence that he was to give, began his examination with cautious adroitness.
Had the witness ever seen the prisoner before?—Yes. Then where had he first seen him?
Jonathan Wylie's answer startled the judge, the counsel, and everybody in the court, but it startled nobody as much as the prisoner in the dock.
"I first saw the prisoner when he was a baby," said Mr. Wylie, "in the house of a French priest named Father Sebastian, in Plymouth, England."
The gentlemen of the jury were all thoroughly interested now. They leaned forward in their box and stared first at the witness and then at the prisoner.
"Yes," said Mr. Temperley, again plunging into the unknown. "And what was he doing?''
"He was wriggling about in the arms of the priest," said Mr. Wylie, reminiscently. "The priest was baptising him with water. He sprinkled water on the child and baptised him in the names of Eugene Paul Constant."
The prisoner in the dock turned white and red, and then white again. He clutched nervously at the spikes with his finger. With eyes wide open and parted lips, he kept his gaze fixed on the witness-box.
"Who else was in the room besides yourself and the priest?"
"The child's mother and an old nurse."
"Who was the child's mother?"
"Mrs. Cuthbert, now the wife of Major Cuthbert, attached to the suite of his Excellency Governor Macquarie."
There was a crash in the dock. The prisoner had fallen to the floor in a faint. Warders entered the dock and picked him up. They brought a chair and placed him in it. They gave him a glass of water to drink. He sat in the chair and looked between the iron railings of the dock towards the witness-box. There was fresh blood on the white bandage on his shoulder. He was ghastly pale.
After the interruption Mr. Temperley proceeded with his examination. He was greatly elated. "Was the lady who is now Mrs. Cuthbert married at that time?"
There was dead silence in the court before the witness replied. The tension was terrific.
"Yes," said Jonathan Wylie, in a clear voice.
"Hooray!" cried some unknown spectator at the back of the court, whereupon the judge threatened to clear the court at once if any further demonstration occurred, and the unknown interrupter shrank into his dark corner, and would have shrunk into the earth if it had been possible.
"How do you know that the lady was married?" enquired Mr. Temperley.
"Because I was a witness of her marriage," said Mr. Wylie. "It had been performed twelve months earlier by the same French priest in the same house. An altar had been fitted up in the little sitting room."
"To whom was the lady married?"
"To Count Eugene Paul Constant de Donzenac, an officer in the French army," replied Mr. Wylie. "He was killed in action afterwards at Waterloo, so I heard."
Counsel was on his feet at once. He protested that what the witness had heard was not evidence. Surely his lordship would not allow the time of the court to be taken up in hearing these grossly irrelevant statements as to the prisoner's origin and parentage. The question which the court had to decide was a simple one. "Had the prisoner been concerned in the recent rebellion, or had he not?"
His Lordship's wizened little face peered out from the big full-bottomed wig. "It is customary to allow counsel for the defence a reasonable amount of latitude in capital cases, Mr. McPhea," he croaked.
Mr. McPhea sat down in high dudgeon and the examination of Mr. Wylie proceeded. He told the whole story of the French count's wooing and of his marriage with Squire Granger's daughter. He told how, when the war with France broke out, the count sailed for the French coast in the lugger belonging to witness. And how he jumped overboard and swam to the French coast when the lugger was chased and captured by the English sloop of war. He told how, long afterwards, he, witness, had met Mrs. Cuthbert at the Governor's King's Birthday ball, and had heard from her own lips how her father, acting under a fatal and mistaken belief that she had betrayed the family name, had taken away her child and induced the Trevithick's to bring him to Australia as their own.
The only material episode that Mr. Wylie did not narrate was Tristram's visit to the Lion Island distillery, and his subsequent escape by swimming ashore from the cutter when Captain Cartwright gave chase. Mr. Wylie would have liked to relate that stirring exploit to the court, but he thought better of it. In imagination he could see himself in the dock very soon afterwards, and the wizened-faced judge addressing some extremely disagreeable remarks to him.
When his evidence was finished, Mr. Wylie stepped jauntily from the dock, and a buzz of excitement spread through the court as his place was taken by a heavily veiled lady, who raised her veil to kiss the Book, and was at once identified as Mrs. Cuthbert.
And Tristram, looking from the dock, saw his mother.
Mrs. Cuthbert's evidence was mainly corroborative of Wylie's, and every word that she spoke went straight to the hearts of those very susceptible gentlemen of the jury, in whose hands lay the decision of her son's fate.
Mr. McPhea, looking at the jury out of the corner of his eye, discovered indications that alarmed him. When Mrs. Cuthbert, who had to be repeatedly adjured by his lordship to speak up so that the jury could hear her, related how Tristram had left his home and finally wandered away to the mountains, because he felt himself separated from the woman of his heart by the stigma of his birth, the grizzled old foreman of the jury dropped a tear. And Mr. McPhea emitted a low groan.
But it was not a groan of sympathy, but of disgust. The foreman's tears were a most unwelcome augury to that experienced prosecuting counsel.
But the climax came when Mr. McPhea, who had been watching the witness intently, with a desperate hope that he might catch her tripping, saw her take a paper from the bosom of her dress, and twist it nervously between her fingers. She opened it, as it seemed to him surreptitiously and gave a hasty glance at it.
Mr. McPhea was on his feet in an instant. "My lord," he said, "I would inform your lordship with the greatest respect that the witness has in her hand a paper or document, the contents of which I know not, and that she has been looking at it since she entered the dock, evidently to refresh her memory as to her incredible story. I apply to your lordship for a direction that the witness shall read the paper."
Mr. Temperley was quite nonplussed. He had not the faintest idea, what was in the paper, nor what the witness would say next. He had a feeling that the defence had got out of his hands, and was conducting itself. However, he had the presence of mind to observe that he had no objection to the paper being read.
So Mrs. Cuthbert, by direction of his Lordship, placed the open paper on the ledge of the witness-box, and read it out in a low, but clear voice to the breathlessly silent court. It was the letter from Colonel Fernyhough to his old comrade in arms, General Macquarie, describing the bravest deed that he had ever seen in battle—the single-handed charge of the French cuirassier upon a British regiment in square on the plateau of Mont St. Jean.
Mrs. Cuthbert read the letter through to the end. Silence fell on the court. It was broken by a great sob from the witness as she turned and stretched out her arms in the very abandonment of passion towards the prisoner in the dock. "My son, my son," she said, "that brave man was your father."
And the prisoner, leaning on the spikes of the dock, looked back at her, and answered in an awed voice, "I have seen him. He rode beside me in cuirass and helmet on a black horse. He charged with me upon the bayonets. I hear his last words, 'Vive l'Empereur.'"
The evidence of Mary Fitzharding made matters very much worse for Mr. McPhea. Her youthfulness, her beauty, her courage, and her devotion to the prisoner, all made a deep impression. Every word that she uttered conveyed the feeling that Tristram was the victim of malign fortune, and that his association with the insurgents was the result of pure accident rather than design. The very fact that he had refused to leave Captain Jack, even when the woman of his heart implored him to do so, and when he was plainly a stranger in that company of cut-throats led by a visionary, made a visibly effective appeal to everybody in the court.
Mary's description as an eye-witness of the death of Cartwright and Captain Jack, and of Tristram's last forlorn hope charge, held the jury as well as the spectators fascinated. All the jury were country gentlemen who had been born in England, and had brought all the prejudices and narrow-mindedness of the typical Tory squire with them to Australia. But at least they understood bravery in a man and devotion in a woman. And they could recognise those qualities when they met them. The toughest of the old Tories felt an unaccustomed moisture in the corners of their eyes as Mary Fitzharding, with a stately bow to the wizened old judge and a look of ineffable love and sympathy to the prisoner in the dock, left the witness box.
The jury hardly listened while Mr. McPhea indignantly brushed aside all the 'feeble sentimentalism' that had been imported into a plain and simple case, and pointed out to them in good set terms that the prisoner's bloody-minded treason had been proved up to the hilt.
Nor did they pay much attention while Mr. Temperley floundered elatedly through a perfect bog of glaring "non-sequiturs."
When his Lordship began his summing up they made a great effort to fasten their minds upon what he was saying, but it was quite plain to the enraged Mr. McPhea that their thoughts were far away on the Devonshire coast, on the plateau of Mont St. Jean, on the Hawkesbury River, on the ridge in the valley of the Abercrombie—anywhere, in fact, except on his Lordship's carefully weighed remarks for their guidance.
Not, indeed, that their lack of attention robbed them of much valuable counsel. His Lordship adjourned them to dismiss extraneous matters from their minds, and if they were satisfied that the prisoner was guilty of treason in intention and deed, to find him guilty. If, on the other hand, they had any reasonable doubt, as sensible men, that the prisoner did wickedly and feloniously conspire with certain others against the peace and good government of our sovereign lord the king, with much more to the same complicated effect, then they would, of course, find him not guilty. His Lordship plainly intimated, however, that if they took the latter course, the 12 good men and true would, in his opinion, all be fit candidates for Bedlam.
When his Lordship had finished, the jury filed out into the jury room, where they remained for exactly three minutes, and returned with a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
Mr. McPhea had seen it coming, so the shock of his disappointment was mercifully softened. Then and there he made up his mind to get all the rest of the rebels convicted in globo—and history records that he succeeded.
When Mary Fitzharding and Eugene de Donzenac were married in St. Philip's Church by the same Reverend Mr. Cowper, whose reading of Dr. Goode's new-fangled version of the Psalms had so much upset Governor Macquarie, an ode in honor of the occasion was composed by Mr. Michael Robinson, chief clerk in the Secretary's Department, and the indefatigable poet laureate of the period. Legibly written in the chief clerk's fair round hand, it was presented by the poet to Mary as she left the church. And here it is in all its native beauty:—
LINES ON THE MARRIAGE OF MISS M.F. AND MR. E. DE D.
Hail, glorious day! May Phibus guide his car
Propitious through his azure fields afar;
May Venus rise from out the Austral wave,
To greet this morn when beauty weds the brave.
Where rolls the flood of Hawkesbury's noble tide,
Exploring Cupid, girt with bow at side
Descried the fair and launched the fatal dart
That carried its sweet poison to her heart.
But still the hero, whelmed in sorrow sore,
Who loved his lady, but her honor more,
Was fain to tempt dread Proserpine's decree,
Where Abercrombie's stream flows wild and free.
There kindly Venus vanquished Proserpine,
And when he sought for death gave joy divine.
Now heeding not Bellona's frowns above,
He turns to seek the flowery lists of love.
Hail, loveliest lady and most valiant knight
That e'er did mock misfortune's evil spite!
May plenty fold you to her bounteous breast,
May sons and daughters rise to call you blest;
Long may your feet in joy unsullied rove
Beside the shining waves of Sydney Cove.
But Mr. Robinson very soon had to turn his versatile pen to a widely different composition—an ode of farewell to Governor Macquarie, who proceeded, accompanied by Mrs. Macquarie and his family, with bands playing and colors flying, to the scene of embarkation at Dawes' Point, where he went on board the good ship Surry, homeward bound.
The fine old soldier, autocrat as he was, had written his name bodly across the early history of New South Wales, and after eleven years spent in opening up the settlement with roads and bridges, like a Roman pro-consul of old, administering a new and barbarous province of the Empire, he looked with regret not unmixed with justifiable pride towards the receding shores of Sydney, dotted with buildings that he had designed, as well as erected, and intersected with highways that he had laid out.
He was to spend the few remaining years of his life in writing laborious replies to the accusations of his enemies, chief of whom was Mr. Commissioner Bigge. It was an inglorious end for a great career.
As if with some premonition of the worries and anxieties in front of him when he should have exchanged the sunny sphere of his autocratic rule for the gloom and fogs of London, where he was to be almost a cipher in the hurrying crowd of younger men, pushing forward in the struggle for place and promotion, Governor Macquarie, looked back at Sydney Cove, and at the place that had been his home for eleven years. Its green lawns sloped down towards the water, at that time untouched by wharfs or wool stores. It seemed to the old soldier a pleasant and a desirable home. He felt a pang of regret at leaving it.
He did not bear the "Yeo, heave ho!" of the seamen as the sails were set and the ship gathered way. He was lost in the land of memory. He remembered how he had arrived eleven years earlier in the Hindustan with the Dromedary, her consort. He had his regiment, the Seventy-third, on board. And both ships were ready with double-shotted guns, to hurl a broadside if necessary at the mutinous New South Wales corps, whose officers had deposed Governor Bligh and assumed the control of the settlement.
Happily his arrival was not opposed, and it was not necessary for his troops to force the landing. Fine troops they were, too, the grand old Fighting Seventy-third. They remained in Sydney for only three years, and were then sent back to England in time to fight at Waterloo. Yes. His old regiment, which had been quartered in the barracks that looked down over Sydney Harbor, helped to hold the ridge at Mont St. Jean for Wellington in the greatest battle of all history. Would to God that he had been with them.
And then, with a quaint break in the sequence of his memories, the fine old soldier thought with whimsical remorse of that unlucky morning when he had caused the two soldiers of his bodyguard to arrest Mr. William Blake for trespassing in the grounds of Government House, and had taken steps to have Mr. Blake punished for his trespass with twenty-five lashes. It was the loud lamentation of Mr. Blake, artfully fostered by those two implacable enemies, the Reverend Samuel Marsden and Mr. Justice Bent, who subscribed funds for sending the victim to London to complain in person to the authorities, that was the first cause of the visit of Mr. Commissioner Bigge, and all the annoyance that led up to Macquarie's departure.
Standing on the deck of the Surry, the Governor took his last look at the swelling hills, the multitudinous bays and inlets, the islands and the bold promontories of the matchless harbor. Then, turning to the Major, who stood beside him, he said curtly—"A fine site for a town, Cuthbert; I have never seen a finer one. When you and I are gone the capital of New South Wales should be the loveliest city in the world."
Major Cuthbert quietly assented, and the Governor walked aft and remained looking over the taffrail in silence for many minutes.
But Major Cuthbert was much changed lately. He went across the deck to where his wife was sitting, and wrapped a shawl about her, for the harbor breeze was freshening.
"Are you feeling better now, Sybil?" he asked, with a new note of tenderness in his voice. He realised how tragic her life had been, and it became his constant aim to help her to forget.
She smiled at him with a new happiness. "Much better, thank you, George," she said, and held his bronzed hand for a few seconds before letting it go. Then she turned again to chat with Mrs. Macquarie, who sat beside her, watching her famous chair of rock at the corner of Farm Cove until it disappeared from view.
The Surry cleared the heads at sundown, and stood out to the east to make a good offing before settling down on her homeward course.
After the honeymoon Tristram, who was henceforth to be known by his right name of Eugene, took his bride up the mighty reaches of the Hawkesbury, to the little town of Windsor, to revisit the scenes of his childhood and to see his foster parents. It would be necessary for him to go to Brittany, the home of the De Douzenacs, and pick up the broken threads of family relationships some day. It would also be necessary for him to go to Devonshire, where, indeed, he had arranged that he and Mary should meet his mother in the following year. But in the meantime the Hawkesbury called to him in accents that could not be resisted.
Sailing for many a mile though the towering ranges that stood up stark and sheer from the water's edge, they came at last to the low banks and wide, fertile flats that opened out above the great stone house where Jonathan Wylie still lived, a wealthy and well-contented citizen, who was becoming very religious with advancing years, and had built himself a stone church, under the chancel of which he designed that his remains should rest eventually.
As they glided past the tall, frowning ranges and into the calm reach where the little stone church made a tranquil note in the landscape and then onward towards the corn lands and the orchards on the bank, Mary turned to her husband with a happy smile.
"Life of late has been rather like the Hawkesbury, has it not, Eugene?" she said. "Dark and frowning at first, but gradually opening out into beautiful, calm reaches, that stretch on and on, with flowers and fruit and corn and everything that maketh glad the heart of man."
"Ah, dearest," said the young man, taking her hand in his and looking into her eyes, as they sailed on over the broad stretch of sunlit water. "I have spent all my life on this great river seeking for something—I hardly knew what—to make my existence complete. And now at last I have found it. The Hawkesbury has indeed given me all that my heart desires."
The Sydney Morning Herald,
Saturday, 25 April, 1914.
Although the name of the so-called "historical" novels about our early days is legion, few of them really deserve the title. In most cases the history is decidedly rocky, and the atmosphere which the authors seek to recapture anything but convincing. "A Rebel of the Bush," by Don Delaney, is a notable exception to the rule. Its merits are twofold. It combines an excellent story with a vivid and accurate picture of life under Macquarie's regime. The author makes use of a curious and half-forgotten episode in our past, namely, the attempt of a handful of convicts and ticket-of-leave men, led by a Quixotic and idealistic adventurer, to establish a republic west of the Blue Mountains. The hero thinks himself the son of some worthy farming folk on the Hawkesbury. We and they know that this is not the case, although the whole secret is not revealed till later. But when Tristram hears of the mystery of his birth he naturally imagines he is a nameless child, the stain of whose origin puts an end once and for all to his dreams of love. He seeks consolation, in dissipation, and has to fly for his life to escape the consequences of a brawl in a Rocks drinking den, where he had struck down a man. He gets to Lion Island, in Broken Bay, where he joins a gang of illicit spiritmakers, but he is still pursued by the jealous and arrogant Captain Cartwright. He crosses the mountains, throws in his lot with Captain Jack and his fellow-rebels; fights in the "battle" of the Abercrombie River, and after a dramatic trial scene, in which the secret of his birth is cleared up, is acquitted by a sympathetic jury. A mere resume of the plot, however, does not convey a proper idea of the merits of the story. We are given some extraordinarily intimate glimpses of life on the Hawkesbury, in "the Rocks," among the moonlighters in the rough country north of Sydney. Moreover, there are some very effective touches, as where Jonathan Wylie, ex-contrabandist and smuggler of spies, twice sees history repeat itself in the exploits of the son, whose French father he had once carried across the Channel. The book is sure to be popular, and one could wish that it had been published in a form which would make it available to a wider audience. (N..S.W. Bookstall Company.)
The Advertiser (Adelaide, South Australia)
Friday, 29 May, 1914.
"A Rebel of the Bush." A romance of the reign of Macquarie, by Don Delaney. Sydney: New South Wales Bookstall Company.
The hero of this story of love and adventure comes to Australia with two immigrants. He is a baby at the time, and the son of other parents. Tom Trevithick and his wife settle near the Hawkesbury. Later the hero is told the truth about his birth, and decides to leave the Hawkesbury for Bathurst. There he takes a stirring part in the insurrection of assigned servants, who endeavored to overturn the King's Government and inaugurate a republic. The military, however, crushed the rising, and the story of this gives the author frequent opportunity for picturesque episodes and writing. The hero's mother begs Governor Macquarie to intervene and save the young man's life, but Macquarie refuses, and his fate is decided by a jury. It is a stirring story of an historic event in Australian history.
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