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Title: Moreton Bay Author: F W Mole * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500881h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2015 Most recent update: October 2015 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of 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 Licence which may be viewed online.
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F. W. (Frederick William) Mole (who also wrote under the name of 'Dunbar') was born at Harlaxton, near Toowoomba, on 7 June 1865, and Died 2 October 1946 at Mole Street, Teneriffe, a suburb of Brisbane, aged 81 years. Following his retirement as Public Curator, Mole set himself up in business as a Registered Conveyancer.
None of Mole's works were published in book form, though there is a copy of Moreton Bay in The Oxley Library in Brisbane. Perhaps it is a scrap-book made up of clippings of the story from the papers.
Another story, Lola-Sue, which Mole wrote using the pen name 'Dunbar,' was also serialised in a Brisbane newspaper.
This story of Moreton Bay is not historically accurate in a number of respects, as Mole has two convict ships arriving from England direct to Moreton Bay (which did not happen), but one surprise is that the character of the Commandant in the story (one Captain Pearce Lannigan) is drawn directly from an actual Commandant of Moreton Bay—Captain Patrick Logan. Logan (and Lannigan) was noted for his cruelty and brutality to the convicts under his control. Both came to a savage end at the hands of the local aborigines (though,of course, the killing of Lannigan in the book is more dramatic).
A biographical article regarding F. W. Mole appeard in The Brisbane Courier on Tuesday 13 December 1932.
Away back from the deep red sea walls of Devon, out beyond Countisbury to the north, lay the trim farm of Pentecost, a copyhold of Grassmere Manor, the seat of Earl Belriven. It had descended according to the ordinary rules of succession, as a matter of course, but not of law, to the Worthingtons, a succession dating back to the Conquest. The course of descent was usually to the eldest son and his issue; or, if he had no issue, then to the next son and his issue; falling these, to the daughters and their issue. In the event of the tenant having no issue, or of his issue falling, his estate escheated to his lord.
The present tenant of Pentecost was Stephen Worthington, who by his wife Anne had issue one son and three daughters, all under the age of 21 years. John the son, the eldest of the three, was a replica of his father—strong, sturdy, and self-willed, typical of the yeomanry of England. The daughters, Mary, Grace, and Ellen, in order of their age, were fair daughters of Devon, a county noted for its fair women, and Mary the eldest of the three, was the most beautiful. She was 18 years of age and the senior of her sisters by two years and three years respectively.
Pentecost, haloed by tradition, was one of the happiest homes in Devon. There peace and plenty, family love and inherent pride reigned supreme; but recently a cloud, at first almost imperceptible, appeared low down on the horizon of its happiness and contentment. There were no stabs of angry lightning, no soughing of desolate winds to be seen or heard as yet but in the faint dark arc of portentousness that crept slowly upward over the heavens of Pentecost there were in it potential storms of devastating terror.
Though Worthington's tenure of Pentecost depended upon custom it was so recorded from time to time in the Manor roll; and though copyhold tenure is fast dying out, there are still to be found scattered here and there up and down the country of England tenant farmers, whose name is that of the hamlet where they and their forefathers have lived. These are the remnants of that yeomanry of England which lived under the beneficent autocracy of an agricultural aristocracy bred and trained in the act of promoting good relationship.
As, therefore, Stephen Worthington held his tenure of Pentecost according to the custom of the Manor, Earl Belriven of Grassmere was entitled on the death of a tenant to claim some personal chattel belonging to the deceased. This custom dated back to Feudal ages, when the accoutrements of war of a deceased villain were delivered over to the lord. Latterly, however, the best horse or the best bull or some other asset of value was claimed as a heriot by the lord out of the estate of a deceased tenant.
Stephen Worthington, besides being a prosperous farmer, was a famous horse breeder, and some of the colts bred at Pentecost had won classic races on the English turf; consequently his yearlings were much sought after. In this business of horse breeding he was ably assisted by his daughter Mary. She knew the stud book better than he and there was no keener judge of a colt or filly in England. Horses were part of her life and though but 18 years of age, she was a fearless and daring rider. It was said of her that she could ride the wind if she could only saddle it.
When a blood mare had dropped a foal to a Derby winner and died shortly after it was Mary Worthington, then but 14 years of age, who reared the colt and trained him to her bidding. Though many splendid offers were made for him Mary begged her father not to sell the colt, as he was her pet. Moreover, it would break her heart to part with him. Had she not reared him from a foal, and was he not now the finest horse on Pentecost, if not in all England? This Stephen Worthington acknowledged; and to settle the matter he gave his daughter the colt—a coal-black beauty which she named Lucifer because of his winning ways with her and of his intractableness with stranger's (to whom he was the very devil), to do with as she pleased. Mary Worthington, mounted on Lucifer, was a picture of grace and symmetrical perfection. Her tight-fitting riding jacket of navy blue cloth, moulded to her superb bust and small waist, a looped hat of black beaver pinned carelessly on her red-gold hair, and her upright seat in the saddle as she swayed gracefully with the cantering movements of the horse, made men turn to look at her and vow her to be the most desirable girl in Devon.
It was meet that the colt should be named Lucifer. His love for his mistress seemed as if he were enamoured of her beauty. He would obey her call and appeared to divine her purpose. Even as a dog follows his master, so Lucifer followed his mistress, and like a faithful hound he would guard her against enemies if she had any. This was evidenced by the vicious manner in which he regarded all strangers who approached her. But her control over him was so great that he obeyed her slightest command to behave when he showed signs of dangerous animosity.
Mary coveted the colt not only for the fashionable blood in his pedigree, but for his handsome appearance and staying powers. Her title to the colt as a gift from her father, consummated by delivery, might have held good against the world had he lived, but in the event of his death many strange and unlooked for events might happen.
Anne Worthington, Mary's mother, was born and reared in an atmosphere of romance and adventure. She was the daughter of Thomas Shepherd, a coastguard, and was a native of Polperro, in Cornwall, a village that was made rich on smuggled goods. Her father, after serving ten years in the Navy, was appointed to the coastguard service and was sent on duty to Youghal, in the County of Cork.
The coastguard service was then under the jurisdiction of the Customs, and not, as now, under the control of the navy. It was the settled policy of the service that English men were transferred for duty to Ireland, and Irishmen to England; but disliking his banishment to Ireland and yearning for his homeland of Cornwall, Thomas Shepherd threw up the coastguard service and returned to England with his wife, Harriet, and his only daughter, Anne, and opened a ship chandlery business in Polperro. There, profiting by his experience as a coastguard in Youghal, he discovered a smuggler's hoard beneath a movable duck pond on a farm near by. Brought up among the preventive men, Anne lived in a region of romance and story. Blood-curdling tales of pirates who had their headquarters on Lundy, of cruel Coppinger and Harry Page of Poole, daring Englishmen who had plundered the French and Spanish, were told on the long winter evenings when terrific storms ravaged the rock-bound coasts of Devon and Cornwall. And Anne was a most interested listener to all these tales of murder and daring. It was not surprising, therefore, that among such surroundings she grew up to be a fearless and intrepid daughter of England, and as brave and as beautiful as the fairest daughter of Lyonesse.
As the Worthington holding of Pentecost in Devon was not far from Cornwall it seemed inevitable that young Stephen Worthington, the son of Richard Worthington, the Squire of Pentecost, and Anne Shepherd, should one day meet, as meet they did under a sudden and strange circumstance. Anne was never happier than when traversing alone along that most wonderful of all tracks—the coastguard's path, a trail blazed round the shores of England, the path of white stones. It is never out of sight of the sea, although on occasion it may thread the jungle of an overgrown boulder-strewn under-cliff, where tall fir and bramble almost blot out the light of day. Within such a shelter, a natural hut beside a rock sometimes formed the meeting place of two adjoining patrols, so that he who got there first could await the coming of his comrade. It is open to all the changes of weather, the fierce wind, the driving rain, and the dense sea-fog.
Stephen Worthington, when training for wrestling matches with the sturdy miners of Cornwall, also made use of the coastguard's path on his long walks and gentle runs. Returning home from one of these long walks, he was overtaken by a sudden gale which forced him to pick his way carefully over the crest of a bold headland. Suddenly he saw a girl standing with difficulty on the storm-swept headland looking out to sea. Apparently heedless of the driving rain she stood watching a French lugger making with difficulty for a sheltered cove beneath the headland wherein to land its contraband.
Stephen Worthington came upon her unawares. Taking him for an exciseman and not an exerciseman, she pointed to the lugger and informed him of what she suspected. He stated that he was not a preventive man, but a farmer of Devon, training for a wrestling match with Cornish Jack, of Truro.
"Oh, I know Cornish Jack," Anne Shepherd said, smiling, "but surely, sir, you would not venture to try a wrestling bout with such a doughty opponent?"
Stephen Worthington saw that the girl before him was beautiful, and he replied, "If you would favour me with a gage of battle I would wrestle with the devil himself."
"But, sir," Anne said, demurely, "you but flatter me. To wrestle with the gale were better for the present. Help me along the edge of this cliff to safety and I shall be much beholden to you indeed."
It was not that Anne needed any assistance, for she was young and lithe and as surefooted as a chamois; but she in turn appraised the youth and strength of her chance companion, and made him believe that she was in need of his strong hand along the coastguard's path.
Then together they made all haste to the coastguard station, where Anne, rain-soaked and throbbing with excitement, told the preventive men of what she had seen from the cliffs over towards Countisbury. As a result, before the lugger had reached the cove for which it was making, the officers of the law were there awaiting it.
From this chance meeting a romance was born which was consummated in the marriage of the young Squire Worthington with the beautiful Anne Shepherd.
Inheriting by marriage a part of the demesne of Grassmere, Anne lived up to the proud tradition of the Worthingtons, a tradition probably as old and as conservative as that of the Belrivens of Grassmere which ran back, some averred, even to the days of Hengist and Horsa.
As the years rolled by the Worthingtons under the aegis of Lord Montague Belriven, the old Earl, became prosperous and independent. They were of the race that, with the encircling seas, had made England great. This sturdy independence and love of freedom nurtured by tradition, was inherited by their children; but in Mary all the pride and grace and beauty of the Worthingtons reached their greatest perfection. The allurement of her presence was like some wonderful flower, exquisite in its fragrance, stealing upon the senses and enslaving them. It was unfortunate that she had arrested the attention of Lord Richard Belriven, the young earl who succeeded to Grassmere on the recent death of his noble father. He had met her one day when riding along the Dartmoor road. She was riding Lucifer and the young earl had not believed that a girl with such delightful harmony of curve and poise existed in Devon. He reined in his horse as she approached.
"Madam," he said, smiling, doffing his hat and bowing low, "count me your obedient humble servant."
Lucifer snorted and reared. Instinctively Mary Worthington knew that she was face to face with an enemy. Lucifer's instinct was uncanny.
"Good afternoon, my lord," Mary made reply, raising her head, her agate brown eyes sweeping him with well bred indifference.
"Then you know who I am? We have not met before."
His eyes, sinister and forbidding, never left Mary's face, and to him it was a wondrously beautiful face. Something in its expression thrilled him and impelled him to feast his cunning eyes upon it and to take in all of its beauty.
"Yes," Mary replied, "you are, sir, the new Earl." Then she added demurely, "Everyone loved and respected your late noble and illustrious father. You were at the Plymouth Horse Fair. My father pointed you out to me."
"And pray, fair maid, who may your father be? Surely I must know him if he be the sire of such a graceful filly."
"Sir!" And Mary, her dignity ruffled, unconsciously straightened herself.
"I crave your pardon—a sporting expression merely; but I should prodigiously like your better acquaintance. I'm vastly intrigued."
"You know my father, my lord. He is one of your tenant farmers—Squire Worthington of Pentecost, and I am his eldest daughter, Mary."
"Gad, then that accounts for your riding such a fine horse. Your father's stud is famous. But he looks a vicious brute."
"Who, my lord, my father or my horse?" questioned Mary mischievously.
"Damme, the colt you're riding. None else."
"He is very docile, my lord, but he does not take to strangers." Mary felt inclined to say to persons of ill repute, but forbore.
"If I'm a judge of a good horse I should say he has some pace."
"There are few who can out-run him, my lord. His sire was a Derby winner, and his dam was illustriously bred."
"Then he must be mine. He's just the colt I'm looking for. Ask your father to name his price, fair maid."
"He does not belong to my father, my lord. He belongs to me, and Lucifer is not for sale," and, as she spoke, Richard Belriven saw in her eyes as she looked at him, a sudden glint of defiance. It seemed to him almost a challenge.
"Lucifer you call him! Then if he's a bigger devil than I am we shall be well matched. I believe I'd give my soul to own both you and your horse."
"Sir, you're becoming offensive." The blood rushed unbidden to Mary Worthington's face and she felt its sudden flame hot upon her cheeks. Then as it ebbed to a deathly whiteness, she rode on without more ado, saying: "I give you good-day, my lord."
The young earl Belriven had a suspicion that she had got the better of the interview, but all the same his veins were running liquid fire.
"What a girl to hold and to tame!" he muttered to himself as he looked after her.
With tingling blood, and his brain awhirl with the desire of her, he too rode away, but in the opposite direction.
"Who knows!" he said to himself, and his thoughts as he said it, were evil.
The Manor of Grassmere in Devonshire, abutting on Dartmoor, was the seat of the young Earl Belriven, and his demesne is recorded in the Domesday Survey. Before the Norman Conquest of England, Earls of Belriven held an estate in fee in the lands of Grassmere. After the Battle of Hastings, the then Earl of Belriven swore fealty to King William the Conqueror, to whom he surrendered his lands, both freehold and copyhold, and received them back again from the Conqueror.
The copyhold lands of Grassmere belonged to and were parcel of the Manor, but were not freehold. They were merely an estate at the will of the lord of the Manor at whose will they were expressed to be holden.
The Manor was the unit, and the villagers were more or less dependent on their lord. The Manor lands were divided into the lord's demesne or private grounds, the common fields or arable lands, the common pasture, and the waste or common.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Stephen Worthington was a copyhold tenant of the then Earl Belriven, and he held his copyhold estate under certain customary restrictions. For instance, he could not commit any waste, either voluntary such as the opening up of mines, cutting down timber and pulling down buildings; or permissive, by neglecting to repair; for the land, with all that is on it or under it, belonged to the lord.
The genealogical tree of the present Lord Belriven was an ancient one, its roots striking deep down into the centuries. On its branches had rested and roosted many strange and remarkable human birds of good and evil propensities. Some were lovable, peaceful, and law abiding as was the late Earl, and some as cruel, vindictive, and merciless as the present holder of the title, a sinister bird of prey ever ready to rend with beak and claw.
Perched on the top of his genealogical tree the present earl was known as "The Falcon," and in his veins ran the blood of the infamous Elfrida. Descended of an ancient and noble family, he inherited all of its worst traditions, and few of its best. Though his general conduct, when sober, was not such as to be remarkable, yet his faculties were so impaired by dissipation that when under the influence of drink, he acted with all the wildness, brutality, and irresponsibleness of a madman.
Early in life he married the beautiful, cultured and gentle daughter of Sir Hugh Pendleton, but a more ill-matched pair was not to be found in all England. For a short time after her marriage, his wife perceived nothing which would induce her to repent the step she had taken. Subsequently, however, he behaved towards her with such unwarrantable cruelty that she was compelled to quit his protection and to go back to her father. In those days the Ecclesiastical Courts granted divorce from bed and board, or what is now known as judicial separation. A divorce from the marriage bond was regarded as a blasphemy in the temple of matrimonial purity. But not being without influence, her father induced his saddened daughter to apply to Parliament for redress. An Act was passed under which the gentle Countess was allowed maintenance to be raised out of her husband's estate. Trustees were appointed and one John Gatcombe, bred up in the late Earl's service and distinguished for the regular manner in which he kept his accounts, and his fidelity as a steward, was appointed receiver of the rents for the use of the Countess.
The young earl, on the departure of his wife, took unto himself a mistress, one Julia Darnley, of Spanish descent, a furiously jealous and imperial beauty, with whom he lived openly at the Manor, and by whom he had two natural daughters. The other occupants of the Manor were five men servants and three maids. John Gatcombe lived at Millbrook, a tenancy which he held under his lordship. It was his custom, occasionally, to visit his master to settle the estate accounts; but his lordship gradually conceived a dislike for him, grounded upon the prejudice raised in his mind by the fact of his being the receiver of the Countess's portion. The Earl also charged him with having conspired with the trustees to prevent his receiving a tin contract in Cornwall. Henceforth, he spoke of John Gatcombe in opprobrious terms, and became obsessed with the notion that he was conspiring with his enemies to injure him. In unprintable language he called him a villain, and gave him notice to quit the farm which he held. This he refused to do, as the trustees, under the Act of Separation, had given him a lease of it.
Baffled, the dissolute and imaginative earl became ungovernable in his fury and he meditated a cruel revenge; but whatever shape it had assumed in his debased mind, it was side-tracked for the time being by startling events which followed fast one upon the other. Then his desire for vengeance, with the centrifugal force of his depravity, flew off at a tangent, as a more diabolical scheme became hatched in his malevolent brain or as the moving finger of fate directed.
The sun shone fair over England, and no cloud dulled its brilliancy as Mary Worthington, mounted on Lucifer, rode along the high road into Tavistock. Dressed in her high-necked bodice of navy blue with a smart habit laced with gold, no other costume could have done more justice to her graceful figure. She wore her looped hat of black beaver, from which a golden feather trailed backwards to mingle with her red-gold hair. There was in every line of her something cool, determined, and self-reliant.
Peasants curtsied and yeomen touched their hats to her as she passed them by on the broad highway, for she was known to them all—Mary Worthington of Pentecost farm. Not as a princess or a peeress of the realm was she known to them, but as a yeoman's daughter, with all the ease and grace of perfect maidenhood. To all she had a kind word and a pleasant smile as she rode on her well groomed colt, unaccompanied by page or esquire, and her questing eyes reflected the flawless sky of a perfect June day.
Then came riding towards her out of a cross road one Pearce Lannigan, Commissioned Captain of the 57th regiment, who had served in the Peninsular war under Napier, and who was hated by his soldiery for his ungovernable temper and his wanton acts of unnecessary tyranny.
On this day of destiny he was in a particularly bad temper. He had been detached with his company to take charge of the new settlement at Moreton Bay in the remotest corner of his Majesty's dominions. He was a man of somewhat more than middle height, slender as a rapier is slender, of a steely, supple strength. Mounted on a hunter that he had ridden far, for his jack-boots were splashed with mud and his steel spurs blood-stained, he looked every inch a cavalry man rather than a foot soldier. His keen black eyes were upon the figure of Mary Worthington, as she rode ahead of him, and he hastened to overtake her. But she, disliking the appearance of him from the quick short glance she gave him, stopped at a wayside farriers with the pretence of having her horse's shoes looked over, and the man rode on into Tavistock.
On this day of destiny John Pooler, a swarthy vagrant, was ordered by Earl Belriven, on the unsupported evidence of the steward, to be whipped at the whipping post and placed in the stocks for purloining wood out of the Earl's deer park. The whipping had been duly administered, and the unfortunate vagrant from his uncomfortable position in the stocks, was beseeching passers by for a drink of water to cool his flaming tongue, when Captain Lannigan rode by. He reined in his horse and looked unpityingly at the unfortunate vagrant. At this juncture, the sufferings of the prisoner were balm to his disgruntled mood, and in him there was no pity.
"I'faith my fine fellow, you want water, eh? Now sink me, sirrah, what's Englishmen coming to when they cannot bear a little salutary punishment without whining."
A crowd began to collect.
"What's this rapscallion in the stocks for?" he asked, looking round at the crowd.
"Please zur, 'is 'ides being tanned for pinchin' wood from my Lord Belriven's park, an' the watch clapped 'im in the stocks."
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said the brave Captain looking round with a grin. "Well the rogue should be taught to bear adversity with fortitude. You'd whine, would you, my fine fellow? Well, take that—and that—and that." Suiting his action to the words the gallant captain who had taught his regiment discipline in the campaign under Sir Arthur Wellesley, thrashed the powerless and defenceless prisoner in the stocks with his heavy hunting crop.
Then something very sudden happened. A young girl with flashing eyes and clenched teeth, mounted on a great black horse like polished ebony, charged into the scene, scattering the crowd to right and left.
"You brute! You beast! You coward!" she gasped out. "You take that—and that—and that—!" With each vehement exclamation she struck the brave and gallant Captain Lannigan across the face and neck and shoulders with her whalebone riding whip. The crowd cheered and shouted.
"That's the gime, Miss. Give it 'im 'ot for thrashin' poor Johnnie."
The gallant captain was too amazed at the sudden onslaught upon him to realise precisely what had happened. The jeering of the crowd, however, brought him suddenly to his senses. Turning his horse round, he faced an infuriated Diana, who, with heightened colour and heaving bosom, was now speechless with indignant fury.
"You hell-cat. I'll make you pay for your damned interference." Instantly he spurred his horse at her and attempted to seize her and pull her from her saddle. But she was more than his equal in horsemanship. With a wrist like tempered steel, she wheeled Lucifer round suddenly and the Captain missing her as he leant over to seize her round the waist almost fell to the ground.
"You'd man-handle me, would you, you coward!" she hissed, striking his horse with her whip, which made the hunter bound forward, getting her clear. Turning her horse, she again faced her aggressor, and said with infinite scorn, her eyes flashing defiance. "Did God give you your manhood to thrash and ill-treat a helpless prisoner, and to crush with your brute force a mere girl who has chastised you for your brutality?"
"S'death, you vixen, I'll humble you. No person, man or woman, ever struck Pearce Lannigan but who lived to regret it."
In the madness of his rage and setting at nought all reason; he again attempted to seize her, but she again eluded him by the dexterous handling of her horse.
Then a young man, attracted by the crowd, appeared on the scene. He arrived in time to hear Lannigan's threat, and looked at the girl and the man. Dazed for a moment by the majestic anger and surpassing beauty of the maid, he recovered his bewildered senses and sprang to action. Seizing the rein of the Captain's restless horse at the bit, he steadied him and reaching forward he grasped the Captain's left foot and by a dexterous twist and heave, swung him from the saddle, and he fell heavily in the mud near the town pump.
Such a humiliation was intolerable. Rising quickly, he faced his fresh antagonist. With an oath he said, "God's curse on me if I don't kill you, you meddlesome clod."
The crowd formed a ring. A man led the Captain's horse out of the way. Mary Worthington, still in the saddle, was also in the ring. She wondered who her champion was but when some one in the crowd said, "Stand up to him Mr. Nigel," she knew that her protector was Nigel Lording of whom she had heard, but had never met. He was a Cornishman, and the most famous athlete and wrestler in the South of England. Educated at Oxford and trained in the rough and tumble of Cawsand and Saltash, and among the miners of Cornwall, he was an unknown quantity to Captain Lannigan, who, as the champion boxer of Wellesley's army, laid the flattering unction to his soul that he would soon teach this hoodlum a terrible lesson for his damnable interference.
"Stand back, you fellows, while I thrash this pup," shouted the fuming Captain, picking up his heavy hunting crop.
Nigel Lording grinned as he adroitly dodged a fierce cut made at him by the irate Captain.
Seeing the savage cut made at her champion by the Captain, Mary Worthington said, "I've named you coward and now I'll name you poltroon unless you fight this man fair."
"God's blood, I'll fight him, and claim you as the stake, you jade."
"For that insult, I name you bully and cur," and she dashed one of her riding gauntlets in the Captain's face.
Mary's champion stepped forward to pick up the glove, but Captain Lannigan placed his right foot upon it, crushing it into the mud.
"When I've thrashed this meddlesome bumpkin, my beauty, I'll treat you as I've treated your glove," shouted the infuriated Captain, glaring. "Stand clear!"
"You're speaking in a monstrous big voice my fine bully. I'm staying to see fair play," was the reply that he got from the beautiful Mary.
At the Captain's command to stand clear, the gathering crowd gave way. Instinctively a human ring was formed inside of which were Captain Lannigan, Nigel Lording, and Mary Worthington, who was still seated on Lucifer. Riding round and round, she kept the crowd back with her horse, like a well mounted policeman. So intent were the spectators in anticipation of the coming fight, that their attention was startlingly arrested when a horseman rode among them and shouted.
"Way there! What's to do on the King's Highway! Blister me, but if it's not my fire-eating Lannigan brawling in the street of Tavistock! Why, demme, and there's Lady Godiva herself in the centre of it all. And what have we here? S'death if it isn't the Cornish wrestler himself."
The crowd instantly made way as Lord Belriven rode into the ring.
"A fight, eh? S'blood, I'll be the referee. It's over the lady, I'll wager."
When the position was explained to his lordship, he said; "Blaze in and win my Captain. The prize is worth fighting for. Why, demme, but she's the primest bit of maidenhood in all Devon. Odds fish, but I'd fight the Cornishman myself for such a prize. If ye don't win, my brave Captain, ye'll deserve to be cashiered. Ye'll not fight in the street, though, but over there on the green at the crossroads."
The green was the common recreation ground for the villagers. Here the fair was held and the bonfire lit on Guy Fawkes' night. Here, too, was the quintain erected and merry were the shouts when the tilter failed to hit the board in the middle and was hurled from his saddle by the swinging arm, or enveloped in a shower of soot or flour.
It was on this green that Captain Lannigan and Nigel Lording, stripped to the waist, faced each other. Both were splendidly handsome men. If Nigel Lording excelled in wrestling, Captain Lannigan had learnt boxing in the school of John Gully. In the army, he was regarded as a worthy successor of Jack Shaw, the lifeguard-man, killed at Waterloo.
"Now then, stand clear you gaping loafers," commanded Earl Belriven. "This is a fight to a finish. Gentleman of England in the person of Captain Lannigan, versus Yeoman of England in the person of young Squire Lording of Lannercost farm. Pugilist versus wrestler. Rough and tumble. Go to it."
The Captain took up his stand with his left foot well in advance of his right. With a movement quick as thought, Nigel Lording executed a flying slide and attacked with his legs the advanced leg of the Captain. This attack was so sudden and so unexpected that the Captain was thrown off his balance. If he had guessed his opponent's intention, he would have removed his left leg out of harm's way; but as he didn't, there was nothing that he could do to land an effective blow, as he was out of reach. Then Nigel Lording gave a marvellous exhibition of the leg twist and knee throw. He turned sharply to the left with his muscular body and struck a powerful blow with his right thigh against the back of the Captain's left knee joint. This manoeuvre threw the Captain forcibly on his hands and knees, from which point Nigel Lording followed up his advantage with the toe hold, and waist lock. The Captain cursed, but immediately he was seized by the waist with the right arm of his adversary, who at the same time placed his right hand on the inside of the Captain's right thigh. Simultaneously he took a firm grip of the Captain's left foot pulling hard and outward on it, at the same time bearing down with his entire weight upon his left ankle, which he retained securely locked between his calf and thigh. This deadly hold caused the captain the most excruciating pain, almost breaking his ankle, but the Captain managed to sit on the right thigh of Nigel Lording's, and with a herculean effort regained his feet. Quick as he was, Nigel Lording dived for his left leg using only his left arm to gain the leg grip and his right to cover his face against attack. This, however, left him open to the Captain's rabbit punch with his right, and he was hit a terrific blow on the neck by his opponent, who expected to gain a knock-out, but the blow, however, was nullified by Nigel Lording's hunching his shoulders which shortened his neck, leaving it almost invulnerable, but the blow tore the skin and left a bloody mark. This made Nigel Lording more cautious. He seized the Captain's left leg again but this time with his right arm instead of his left, thus covering his face from a possible attack. Before the Captain could recover, his left leg was lifted from the ground, consequently he had no equilibrium to deliver his rabbit punch, instead, he was thrown violently by a sudden heave and a twist, combined with a deadly heave by Nigel Lording with his left shoulder. Before the Captain could recover Nigel Lording pounced upon him and threw him heavily to the ground, his head striking the turf violently. Though knocked senseless, he escaped a fractured skull by the merest good luck and the softness of the ground. Had this throw been made on the cobblestone road where the disturbance started, he would undoubtedly have been killed, and that, as events turned out, was to be deplored.
The knock-out was complete, and the crowd cheered. Their favourite had won. Bloody and bruised, Nigel Lording, followed by the cheering crowd, walked over to the village pump and washed himself clean. Then he suddenly thought of the glove, the gage of battle. Looking round, he asked if any one had picked it up. It was handed to him soiled and dirty, by a little girl with a smiling face, but soiled as it was, he pressed it to his lips.
Mary Worthington noticed this unrehearsed act of gallantry and felt uplifted by it. Dismounting from her horse and looping the reins over her left arm, she walked over to where her champion stood, and held out her hand. "How can I thank you!" she said, with tears in her eyes, and a suppressed throb in her throat.
"Madame," he replied, "I am honoured to have been of service to you. The only reward I claim is the privilege of keeping your glove," and he pressed it once more to his lips.
"For this great service you have rendered me, I shall ever be beholden to you, sir," she said, as the warm blood suffused the fairness of her face with its sensitive blush. Then she added, as the significance of her defender's act in kissing her glove became manifest to her, "In permitting you, sir, to retain my glove, I name you my true knight in the hope that I shall always find such a doughty champion if I am ever again beset."
"Madame, I accept the honour of your knighthood as from a most gracious queen, and believe me to be your most humble, obedient servant."
And so they parted.
Meanwhile, Captain Lannigan, sullen, battered, and humiliated, painfully mounted his horse which he received from the hands of a labourer who was holding him, and rode away with Earl Belriven to the Manor of Grassmere.
"S'death, Lannigan, but the yeoman was too good for the gentleman after all, eh? You put up a great fight, but your age and condition were against you, forsooth!"
"I'd give years of my life to have both him and the girl in my power to deal with in my own way. Who is she?"
"The daughter of one of my tenants and as proud and high-mettled as the horse she rides. I'll warrant she'll take some taming, Lannigan, and it's my purpose to see more of her."
"Then God help her if she gets into the crutches of 'The Falcon.' Ye'd be no kinder to her than I would be if I had her where I've been ordered to go."
"And where may that be, my Captain?"
"To take over control of the penal settlement at Moreton Bay."
It was but rarely that Earl Belriven visited his tenant farmers. He knew that they existed and contributed to his income, but that was about all. His business with them was transacted by his steward. But having seen Mary Worthington, he desired to see more of her. He could not get the girl out of his mind. Her fresh young beauty, her incomparable grace, and her proud spirit, were to him irresistible. From his exalted position as Earl Belriven, to desire was to command, and he desired Mary Worthington more than he had ever desired anything on earth. He also longed to possess, in a lesser degree, her magnificent horse.
Under cover of his covetousness for her horse, he set out to interview personally his tenant farmer, Stephen Worthington, and to make him an offer for the animal. In reality he wanted to see Mary Worthington in the setting of her home at Pentecost farm.
So he fared forth gaily caparisoned, and as he rode he mused, and musing, schemed. His way to Pentecost led him by the flowing Dart, a river endowed by the ancients with a sentient personality. Even now some regarded it with superstitious awe, and talked of it as a living being. To "hear the Broadstones crying," is said to be a sign of rain. These stories of folklore were part of the early education of the lord of Grassmere, who, as with most men of evil propensities, was eminently superstitious. As he heard the peculiar wailing sound caused by the wind blowing down the valley he was filled with awe. The river was swollen by the rains of winter and the cry that its waters made was interpreted by him as a demand for sacrifice. What sacrifice could he make to ensure him Mary Worthington? She was the burden of his thoughts, and with the vision of her intoxicating his brain as he last saw her on Tavistock green, in all the sublimity of her outraged maidenhood, he arrived at his destination.
Pentecost farm lay in a sheltered spot high up the combe side. Behind was a rise of fields, and beyond, a sweep of down. It was situated in true Devon country, hills, hollows, lanes dipping down into the earth, and little streams gurgling and meandering wherever there was a hollow between the hills. It was harvest time, and the crops in the fields looked their richest. The apples were ripening, and the country seemed to sleep in the sun. The farmhouse was a long white building of brick and timber with three levels of tiled roof shading from red to green, with little outhouses of colour washed plaster crowned with thatch. Being the country home of an old and famous family, it preserved the arrangement of an old manor house.
When Earl Belriven dismounted and hitched his horse to a gate post, Mary Worthington was sitting on a rustic loggia that opened into the orchard. Her sleeves were rolled up showing the round fairness of her plump arms. She was sorting apples for cider.
The barking of dogs announced a visitor, and Mary Worthington looked up and saw the Earl walking towards her. Rising and rolling down her sleeves, she looked perplexed and troubled. She had never known the Earl to visit Pentecost farm before.
"Madame, my visit seems to surprise you."
"I am surprised at the honour, my lord," replied Mary with elegant courtesy. "What does your visit portend?"
"I am come to bargain with your father and—to see you."
"You do me great honour my lord, an honour of which I am most unworthy."
"Nay, as to that, I am the better judge, Madame. The vision of you on Tavistock Green has never left me."
"You came to see my father, my lord. He is over at the stables looking over the horses. I will lead the way."
"My God, madame, don't you understand? I came to see you." He caught hold of her arm as if to detain her. There was passion in his gaze as he took in the glorious curves of her, but she said:
"Father, Earl Belriven is desirous of converse with you."
Then she turned and walked back to the house, perturbed, but paying no further heed to his lordship.
"I've a fancy to look over your stud, Worthington," said the Earl. "There may be a prospective Derby winner among your yearlings!"
Squire Worthington, who was busy with his grooms, tipped his forehead to his Lordship and replied:
"I'm at your service, my lord," and ordered the grooms to lead the young thoroughbreds from their stalls into the exercise yard. They constituted a fine string, but none suited his lordship. The horse he had seen Mary Worthington riding was not among them.
"No, Worthington. I don't fancy any of that string. Where's the colt that your daughter rides?"
"He's out in the clover paddock, my lord. But if you're thinking of buying him, I must refer you to my daughter, Mary. Lucifer and she are inseparable."
"Bring him in and let me have a look at him, then."
The Earl's persistency nettled Stephen Worthington. His gray eyes narrowed in thought as he hesitated to carry out his lordship's request. But there was nothing mean or small about Squire Worthington, and he ordered one of the grooms to bring the colt into the exercise yard.
When Lucifer was brought in, the Earl was loud in his praises. "God, Worthington, that's something like a horse. Put your price on him."
"He's not for sale, my lord. I've already told you that he belongs to my daughter. Money won't buy him."
The Earl went over to the colt to stroke him.
"Take care, my lord. He does not take kindly to strangers. He's a bad tempered brute."
As the earl approached, Lucifer snorted and showed the whites of his eyes in a most unfriendly fashion.
There was stubbornness and grim determination in the constitution of Earl Belriven. The motto of his house, "What I take I hold" was exemplified in him to a superlative degree. Here at once were two forces that were opposed to him—the colt and the girl. He desired both, notwithstanding their undisguised enmity. Both, moreover, were beautiful, and the beautiful appealed to his aesthetic nature in a remarkable degree. Aestheticism and unbridled passion and cruelty in the nature of an individual were a contradiction. One attribute might be regarded as the negative of the other, but in the millions of antecedents who had contributed their quota in the moulding of the character of the present earl, there were many good and bad among them, and though at times he had visions of beauty and appreciated that which appealed to his finer instincts, the attribute of brutality far outweighed any finer feelings that he possessed. This brutality in him urged him to possess and to tame both the colt and the maid.
"Have the brute saddled, Worthington, I have a fancy to see him gallop. I'll warrant he possesses a fine turn of speed."
It was unction to the soul of Stephen Worthington to have any one of his colts admired, and he ordered one of his grooms to saddle Lucifer and to gallop him over the pasture at the back of the orchard.
There was no finer judge of a horse in England than Earl Belriven, unless it was Mary Worthington, and he watched with the enthusiasm of a trainer the movements of the colt as he seemed to spurn the ground beneath his magnificent strides. When the horse was ridden back to the exercise yard, sweating, with heaving flanks and distended nostrils, his lordship remarked that he would like to ride him himself, just to make friends with the brute.
He was no mean horseman, and he looked trim and smart in his riding coat, buckskin breeches, top boots, and silver spurs.
"If you've a mind to try his power yourself, my lord, why, do so by all means," said Stephen Worthington, "but I beg of you don't use crop or spur on him. He's not used to rough handling. A girl with gentle hands and voice has trained him." As the Earl attempted to mount, the colt lashed out with his hoofs as if resenting further handling.
"Have a care, my lord. There's no affinity between you and the colt."
The horse's evident repugnance incensed his lordship, who was now the more determined to ride him. Holding the reins tightly with his left hand and with his right hand placed lightly on the saddle to balance him, his lordship, with an easy spring, placed himself neatly in the saddle. The colt snorted and made a sudden bound forward. The Earl, almost unseated, lost his temper. He lashed the horse savagely across the flank with his hunting crop. Then as he drove his spurs home with vicious jabs of his heels, the maddened animal plunged, turned suddenly, reared and struck out with its front legs at the angry and startled grooms, who instantly jumped aside out of harm's way. But Stephen Worthington, who was not so nimble, was struck on the head by the colt's fore hoof and the iron shoe fractured his skull.
The death of Stephen Worthington, happening with such dramatic suddenness, gave point to the great question: Is everything in life foreordained, and for what inscrutable purpose? Can any caprice of human action or of human nature alter one iota, the eternal plan? It has been written: "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform." To the Worthingtons His way in the ordering of their lives, appeared to them, now and for ever, unfathomable. They became the sports of destiny, but the why and the wherefore of it all was to remain with them an insoluble problem, an inscrutable mystery.
The tragedy at Pentecost Farm was a much talked of event, and among those who called to offer his sympathy was Nigel Lording. He had met Mary Worthington several times since the fight on Tavistock green, and a bond greater than friendship had now linked them together. To Mary Worthington, he was her one great solace. Now that her father was dead, she was prepared to forsake all and to follow him.
Though her brother John, under his mother's guidance and direction, assumed, as the eldest and only son, control of Pentecost, everything connected with the place seemed unreal and unsettled. Mrs. Worthington and her children acted as if waiting expectantly for something else to happen. They felt that the death of husband and father was but the beginning of events which would alter the even tenor of their lives.
Mary Worthington had come to regard Earl Belriven as her evil genius. Sinister and foreboding, his baleful personality hung over her like some black cloud surcharged with terror. When she called to mind the armorial bearings of his house—a gerfalcon, she shuddered at his nick-name: "The Falcon" was well bestowed. She began to believe, not without good reason, that she was the heron of his chase, that in his own appointed time, he would seek her out and rend her with beak and claw unless she submitted to his taming. But then she had her champion. To him her mental vision turned with infinite relief. With him beside her she feared no evil.
Thinking of him this spring day, she walked up the combe and sat on a stile made of a slab of slate, whence she contemplated the steep path up which she had come. Ahead, the path continued beneath the branches that overhung the headlands of a field. The sunlight made a tracery of gold on the close cropped grass beneath the trees where the sheep had grazed. On her right was an orchard where the apple trees in full bloom decorated the landscape with a glory unsurpassable. Overhead were pink and white clouds drifting lazily across the face of the sky.
Expectant, she sat, and then to her came Nigel Lording. She saw his coming and her heart leapt. She had seen him before he had reached the stile, but when a turn in the pathway brought the stile into full view, he looked up and saw her. "Mary—you!" he exclaimed delightedly. "I was on my way to Pentecost to see you."
"And I was waiting here, expectant for my champion. I had an intuition that you would come down the Combe this afternoon, and out of my dreams of you, you have come, and I'm glad."
Nigel Lording stepped on to the stile and sat beside her on the smooth slate slab. Holding her hand and looking into her eyes with all the adoration of his soul, he said: "And why are you glad, my Mary?"
"Because I've been haunted by thoughts of 'The Falcon,' and I'm afraid. Then I thought of you, my champion, and my fears disappeared."
The overhanging branches of the trees formed a canopy above them, and they were there alone in the verduous solitude of the countryside.
"Then you are afraid no longer, my Mary?" he questioned, as he drew her into his arms and held her, his face pressed against the glory of her hair, which she wore loose about her graceful head and neck. There was only Mary in all the world for him.
"No, my Nigel," Mary replied, snuggling against him. "I look upon you as my Rock of Ages."
In a feeling of ecstacy he whispered her name, rather than spoke it, and the soft breath of spring merging into summer caught the whispered adoration and carried it away among the apple blossoms in the near-by orchard, where the soft white petals were falling like silent snow. Raising her head from under his arm and looking at him with her soft brown eyes, with her arm about his neck, she said enquiringly:
"You are soon back from Plymouth?"
"Yes, my Mary, since the death of your father, I have a feeling that I must always be near you."
"I, too, dear, am beset with apprehensions when you are away for any length of time. The shadow of the falcon's wings hover over me like a bird of ill-omen. This morning when exercising Lucifer on the moor, I had speech with Mr. John Gatcombe, who remarked that it was very unwise of me to be riding on the moor alone. When I pressed him for the reason of his remark he merely replied, 'His lordship, the Earl, is in a nasty mood—and dangerous.' Now, what did he mean by that, Nigel?"
"It means, Mary, that his lordship desires not only Lucifer but you as well. He is obsessed with the beauty and winsomeness of you. Before long, he will seek you out. John Gatcombe is your friend, and his advice must be followed. Never ride alone across Dartmoor, and never go unarmed. Take this Spanish stiletto and carry it with you always. I brought it with me from Plymouth. It is a dainty little weapon and I had my name engraved on the handle. Let it be your defender when I'm not with you."
Taking the dainty but deadly little weapon in its embossed leather sheath, Mary Worthington was very serious when she hid it in her bodice and replied:
"I'm afraid, Nigel, I do not think I could ever use it on an enemy. It looks a cruel little toy. But la! if I'm ever molested, I shall cry out 'Nigel! Nigel! To the rescue!' But as it is a bad omen to accept a gift of this nature without giving something in return, take this kiss, my champion," and impulsively she put both arms around her lover's neck and kissed him ardently on the mouth. As they walked arm and arm towards Pentecost, Nigel Lording said:
"Beloved, I had almost forgotten in the joy of seeing you, to tell you some good news. When at Plymouth, I saw the gallant Captain Lannigan embark with a detachment of his regiment, on board a vessel bound for foreign parts. On making inquiry, I was informed that he was going to Australia to take over the commandant-ship of a new penal settlement at Moreton Bay, wherever that place may be."
"Then I thank God with all my heart, Nigel, that England is well rid of a detestable bully."
"And I say Amen! to that, my Mary, with all my heart."
Earl Belriven was more than fortunate in that he had in John Gatcombe, trustee and steward combined, a man of unyielding integrity and unbending honesty. But to say that his lordship appreciated the sterling worth of his steward would be to admit something that was quite foreign to the nature of the noble earl. He never recognised (or if he did he never appreciated it) worth in any one save in his own noble self. The rugged honesty and downright directness of his steward was anathema to the earl inasmuch as he was a legal check to his ambitious villainies. That John Gatcombe was responsible, in spite of the extravagances of his noble master, for the splendid upkeep of the Manor of Grassmere and its magnificent estate, was quite overlooked by the impossible earl, who knew neither justice nor mercy in his hatred of his steward.
It was, therefore, with a certain amount of devilish satisfaction that Earl Belriven, who had a genius for wickedness and was rotten to the core, commanded his steward to ride over to Pentecost farm and claim for heriot, the magnificent hunter of Mary Worthington.
"I would remind your lordship that the horse belongs to the maid of Pentecost and forms no part of her late father's personal estate."
The Earl looked at his steward with the steady eyes of a snake ready to strike; but John Gatcombe, who loathed his master and measured him at his true worth, gave him look for look, for he was unafraid.
"You villain, I'll have either the horse or the maid, or both, for my pleasure. I've ordered you what to do. See that you do it."
"It would be more fitting if your lordship chose some other messenger more akin to your desires. I warn you, no good will come to you of this mad obstinacy."
"No good will come to the maid or to Mistress Worthington if my request be not granted, you fool. It is because you are friendly disposed towards them that I order you to put the matter clearly before them and to point out what will happen if I am denied."
"And what will happen, your lordship?"
"To tell you would expose my hand."
John Gatcombe divined what would happen. He knew the ruthlessness of "The Falcon," and he considered it prudent that it were best for him, in his consideration for the Worthingtons, to make his lordship's wishes known to them. It was, therefore, with a heart full of foreboding that he rode over to Pentecost to make known his master's demands. As spring approaches summer with timid steps, so John Gatcombe approached the farm-house of Pentecost to ask for something that he knew would not be granted. Pentecost had its traditions as well as Grassmere, and among those traditions were the sanctity of the home and the inviolableness of its womenhood.
A heriot had not been claimed from Pentecost since the days of Queen Elizabeth. In the reign of John Plantagenet, according to tradition, an Earl Belriven had claimed for heriot, Eleanor, the beautiful and only daughter of Geoffrey Worthington, ranking her in the same category as a beast of the field, a chattel to be used according to his desires. But the high spirited maiden took her life rather than submit to the lust of her suzerain. The present Earl Belriven had, therefore, a terrible precedent to back him up should he carry out his threat to claim Mary Worthington for heriot and no one knew better than John Gatcombe what daring his lordship was capable of when thwarted.
When John Gatcombe rode up to the homestead of Pentecost, the place still seemed to be mourning for its dead master. The rich red earth of the clustered fields told of the slow taming and bringing into subjection of the virgin soil, of generation after generation living and toiling on the land they had now, loving it with a love born of life-long endeavour. Human life succeeds human life, yet the fields which are the background of a country's stability, remain untouched save by the passing of seasons, and by those little changes which serve as landmarks in their history. There is no wonder that the Worthingtons loved Pentecost with a love nurtured by tradition. To be removed from their holding, or to be forced by oppression to leave a tenancy that had been theirs and their forefathers from time immemorial, would be a tragedy as bad almost as leaving life itself.
Hitching his horse to a gate post, John Gatcombe walked up the flagged pathway that led to the farm-house entrance. As he stood expectant under a pergola entwined with a wealth of crimson roses, he heard the neighing of horses and the distant ring of scythe on whetstone, but no sound of human voice. Stepping inside the porch, he knocked and there came to him Anne Worthington, dressed in mourning for her dead husband. John Gatcombe was impressed by her quiet, simple dignity. She was still in the prime of life and her serene sad face, still beautiful and expressive, was unmarked by the cobwebs of time. Her soft brown hair, parted austerely in the centre of her head, waved in ripples below the ears and was gathered in a knot low down on her firm white neck. Looking at John Gatcombe with her sad brown eyes, she bade him welcome and bade him be seated in the large living room with its red tiled floor. In John Gatcombe's face she read an expression of concern. There was no light cordiality in his greeting of her and a vague fear stole over her. He was not the genial John Gatcombe of her previous meetings with him.
"You—you have something unpleasant to impart to me, Mr. John Gatcombe," she said haltingly, with grave but dignified apprehension.
"I have, Mistress Worthington. My lord of Grassmere is in a bad mood. He claims your daughter Mary's horse—Lucifer—for heriot and will not be denied."
"And you—you have come to tell me this, John Gatcombe?" replied Mrs. Worthington, placing her hand heavily on the table and almost collapsing into a chair.
"I was loth to do so, Mistress Worthington. It were better that I should bear his lordship's demand than some one less friendly disposed towards you."
"I—I'm sorry, John. But you know what it means. Mary will never part with Lucifer. Though the horse killed her father it was not the animal's fault. He was given to her by her dear father, and though he killed Stephen, Mary does not blame Lucifer for that, but his lordship."
"Yes, I know, Mistress Worthington. But as I have said, his lordship is in an ugly mood and you know his vileness—the worst peer in England."
"Know his vileness—yes! No decent, attractive girl in Devon or elsewhere is safe from the talons of 'The Falcon.' Oh, I fear for Mary, John Gatcombe."
"Be assured, Mistress Worthington, if any harm happen to Mary at the hands of his lordship, she'll be the last girl he'll live to interfere with," replied John Gatcombe prophetically.
At this juncture, Mary Worthington, hearing a strange horse whinnying, came up to the house from the stables and entered. Seeing the look of concern on the face of her mother, she, bowing courteously to John Gatcombe, went and stood by her, placing her arm around her shoulders.
"Mary, Gatcombe has come from his lordship to demand Lucifer as a heriot," said Mrs. Worthington to her daughter without preamble.
"But mother, he would not dare. Lucifer belongs to me and has nothing to do with dear father's estate!"
"His lordship would dare anything, Mary. He is prodigiously self willed."
"But if I were to explain the matter to him, surely——"
"It has been explained to his lordship by me, madame," interrupted John Gatcombe, "but opposition makes him all the more determined. With him might is right."
"It would be better to let him have the horse, Mary, to avoid trouble," pleaded her mother.
"Never!" exclaimed Mary vehemently, the light of battle flashing from, her eyes. "Why I'll appeal to my Lord Tenterden. You can tell his 'baseness' that from me, Mr. Gatcombe."
"It is very painful for me to be the bearer of his lordship's message, Mary, but knowing what is in his mind, I agree with your mother. Let him have the horse, lest he demand more."
"What more could he demand?" asked Mary.
"Yes, what more?" echoed her mother.
"It is incumbent upon me to put you on your guard, Mistress Worthington," replied John Gatcombe seriously. "You ask what more does he want? Well to be forewarned is to be forearmed. He wants Miss Mary here. I have been told that at the farrier's his lordship was heard to remark with an oath that he would sell his soul to the devil for all eternity, to have Miss Mary in his keeping. He will claim her for a heriot and forgo the horse."
"Then we have fallen on evil times indeed, John Gatcombe. But the England of to-day is not the England of John Plantagenet," said Mrs. Worthington with quivering lips and trembling hands. "Still, I have a presentiment of evil, a consciousness that our tenure of Pentecost is drawing to its close. But, oh! John Gatcombe, by the friendship that you had for my dead husband, by your friendship for Mary and me, I would entreat you that whatever happens you will stand by us as you love your God. Good-bye."
"There are others beside myself who would defend Miss Mary with their lives," replied John Gatcombe. "Therefore, be of good cheer."
Mary Worthington knew to whom John Gatcombe alluded in particular, and she flushed crimson. When John Gatcombe had ridden away, she knelt down at her mother's knees, buried her face in her lap, and told her the story of Nigel Lording and of her love for him.
When John Gatcombe apprized his noble master of the result of his mission to Pentecost, he was furious. In flaming anger he shouted: "The minx defies me, does she? This defiance is to my liking. She thrashed Lannigan and it served him well right. Now I'll give her a chance to thrash me. Get out of this, Gatcombe, and if you cross me with the vixen, I'll shoot you for the dog that you are."
"I would warn you again, your lordship, to have a care. Your threat of violence to myself passes unheeded. Your obsession to lay claim to your dead tenant's daughter is madness. The Worthingtons have powerful friends. They will appeal to Lord Tenterden, who is the maid's godfather."
"I said, 'Get out of this,' and on your way tell the pert little jade that even if the King of England were her godfather, I'll have my way with her."
A few days later another messenger from Earl Belriven rode up to Pentecost farm with a message to Mary Worthington to call upon him at the Manor of Grassmere on the Sunday afternoon following. The message was couched in such friendly and apparently reasonable terms concerning Lucifer that she thought it might be advisable after all to see his lordship and reason with him. The matter of the heriot had to be settled sooner or later, and she had faith in her winsomeness. Moreover, she argued with herself, if she showed his lordship that she was unafraid and met him boldly, but in a reasonable spirit, he might look at the matter from another viewpoint. She was aware that he was not insensible to her beauty, and by acting diplomatically she might gain time. Therefore, she decided to call upon the noble earl at the time appointed. She was not afraid.
Lest she upset her mother, she did not mention the matter to her, but she sent one of the stable boys with a note to Nigel Lording informing him of his lordship's request and asking him to meet her at the lodge gate of the Manor at 4 o'clock on the Sunday appointed, what time she anticipated her interview with his lordship would have ended.
The earl's dinner hour was over by 2 o'clock, and Mistress Julia Darnley had gone to the still-house. To pave the way for his meeting with Mary Worthington, he went to the still-house and suggested to his mistress that she take the children for a walk as he desired to be alone during the afternoon and did not want to be disturbed. As this was a most unusual request on the part of his lordship, she, with a jealous woman's curiosity, asked the reason for such an unusual procedure.
"Madam," replied his lordship, with an angry flash from his bloodshot eyes, "though you have the privilege of living with me, I do not vouchsafe to you the right to question my orders."
Accepting the rebuke with haughty disdain, Mistress Julia Darnley, beautiful in features and figure, very dark and imperious, prepared herself and her two young daughters for absenting themselves. With a supercilious sneer, she desired to know whether his lordship would vouchsafe to permit her to visit her father, who lived but a short distance from the Manor.
"You may please yourself where you go," replied his lordship, adding, "so that you do go and take your brats with you."
The men servants were next dispatched on different errands, and the maids were permitted to have the afternoon to themselves.
The clock at the lodge struck three as Mary Worthington, with her groom, rode up in a dogcart. She was admitted to the Manor grounds by the lodge-keeper, and walked up the long gravelled drive to the main entrance. As she approached the stately mansion with its architecture of different periods from the Saxon to the Elizabethan, she was somewhat perturbed by the ominous stillness of the place. She saw no one about, and his lordship who was expecting her and was keenly on the look out for her approach, admitted her to the hall and led her to his library.
Mary Worthington, dressed simply, never looked more seductively beautiful. Her easy grace, and shapely figure, the proud uplift of her little head crowned by its glorious mass of red-gold curling hair, made a startling impression on the amorous sensibilities of his lordship. In the heated state of his blood from his after dinner imbibings and the vision of so much loveliness coming to him in his loneliness, made his brain reel and his blood to flow like liquid fire in his veins. His desire for her was unmistakable. She had dressed to attract, not to repel in the hope that the beauty of her, of which she was not unconscious, might be regarded by this libertine as a thing too dainty, too delicate to smirch. Her tight-fitting bodice, accentuating the roundness of her firm round figure, was cut low at the throat, revealing the strong white column of her neck and the incipient swell of her bosom.
"Madame," the young earl spoke, addressing her with courtly grace, for he wished to create an excellent impression with her. "I am honoured that you have come. Pray be seated. You are the fairest maid on God's earth. That I swear."
"It is prodigiously amiable of your lordship to say so," replied Mary, smiling as she seated herself on a richly upholstered couch, "I am but one of your lordship's vassals," she continued demurely, "but I venture you did not invite me here this afternoon to discuss myself."
"I assure you, madame, there is nothing at present more interesting to discuss. You intrigue me immensely," remarked his lordship ardently as he seated himself beside her on the couch and, as Mary thought, uncomfortably near her.
"But, your lordship, I opined that you were more interested in my horse than in me," answered Mary, edging discreetly away from a presence she loathed. "I understand from Mr. John Gatcombe that you wanted my colt Lucifer for your heriot, and it was on that account you were desirous of seeing me to obtain my consent to handing him over."
"You understood correctly, madame, but Gatcombe informed me that you were so attached to your horse that I conceived the idea that it would be most cruel to separate you."
"Oh, it would, your lordship, I assure you most humbly," said Mary beseechingly.
"Then, fairest maid of Devon, I want both you and your horse to grace the Manor of Grassmere."
"Your lordship, I do not understand!" exclaimed Mary most seriously.
"Madame, even as Faust, I would sell my soul to the devil to possess you. It was to tell you this that I desired to see you."
"Surely your lordship is jesting," replied Mary indignantly.
"'Pon honour, never more serious in my life, m'dear," answered his lordship, moving his right arm around her.
"Then you are infamous," exclaimed Mary, jumping up suddenly from the couch and facing the earl with flashing eyes and heaving bosom.
"Neither jesting nor infamous, m'dear, I assure you. I desire to enthrone you here as Mistress of Grassmere, and to crown you with all the wealth and luxury at my command."
"My lord, what you are suggesting is insulting to me and dishonourable. You would not have dared if my father were alive."
"Pooh! I would dare anything to call you mine."
"That can never be, your lordship. You have no claim to me or to my horse, and that you know. I came here at your request, hoping that when you saw me and had the opportunity of hearing me personally to intercede for my horse—a gift from my father—you would be noble and generous enough not to persist in this foolishness."
"Foolishness, forsooth! With you on the scales of my desire, you outweigh both nobility and generosity. I cannot give you up. My desire for you is not a passion of to-day but of many days. When you, in the ravishing beauty of your anger, thrashed Captain Lannigan with your hunting crop, I resolved then that you should be mine. Had your father not been killed, I admit there would have been some difficulty in claiming you. But now that he is dead, the way is made clear. I claim you as a heriot. It has been done before, and I am thankful for the splendid precedent. Law, custom and precedent give you to me. I claim you as a chattel of Pentecost."
The noble lord, dressed in the height of fashion of his day to woo and to captivate, stood up as he gave expression to this specious reasoning. He spoke calmly and deliberately, and in the knowledge that his victim was in his power. There was no one within call. The walls of the library, deeply lined with books, were thick and its doors massive. Notwithstanding his dissipation—he was a noted duellist and gambler—he was lithe, strong and alert, and paced the heavily carpeted floor like a watchful tiger ready to spring as he spoke.
"No m'dear, I cannot give you up. You are too wondrously young and beautiful. I claim you. Won't you come to me?"
As he asked this, he stood facing his visitor, calmly, expectantly. He could not imagine a refusal. He was too used to gaining his ends to be denied. That this girl, a mere nobody, should refuse him, was beyond his belief. It was past his understanding. He took it for granted that she would be pleased to be singled out as worthy of his love, of the adornment of his manor. Was ever magnanimity greater than his? Assuredly the position he took up was unassailable, his reasoning sound. But he received a terrible shock when this frail girl, whom he imagined, in the sublimity of his egotism, that he could so easily bend to his will, answered him in exact converse of his mental reasoning.
"You coward! you poltroon! Me you may claim but never hold. Let me go."
Spurned and tainted with cowardice and brought suddenly to earth in such an unexpected fashion, the noble lord lost his temper and with it his reasoning.
"No, I will not let you go," he shouted. "You are mine, mine, do you understand?" He attempted to take her in his arms, but quick as a fawn she jumped aside and made for the door leading to the hall outside. But his lordship with the spring of an athlete barred her way. Doubling back she took refuge behind a massive oak table laden with books in bronze stands. Then she was really afraid. She felt that she was alone with a sexual maniac. The man was mad in his lust for her.
With his back to the door, the young earl took stock of the situation for a moment, then bent low like a sprinter toeing the mark, waiting for the crack of the pistol. Mary Worthington watched every movement with the tenseness of despair. She felt that shouting would be useless and that she must fight and resist with every ounce of her strength. When the earl sprang on to the table to reach her, she took refuge behind a heavy chair. From the table her assailant jumped on to the chair with the sure-footedness of a chamois. Before she could again elude him he caught her by the neck of her bodice and ripped it to her waist exposing her bosom in all its naked loveliness.
Unconsciously she called out "Nigel! Nigel!" and drew the stiletto which Nigel Lording had given her. The earl caught sight of the deadly blade and became more wary. Pausing for a minute, thinking desperately, he made another attempt to seize her but she again eluded him and took refuge behind the couch where she had first sat down. She was now between the couch and the door but had not time to turn to the door before the earl gave the couch a vicious kick which sent it forward hitting her above the knees and knocking her backward.
In attempting to save herself from being hurled against the marble mantel, she tripped and fell, the stiletto falling from her grasp and dropping near the door. Instantly the Earl was on his knees beside her and held her in his arms, kissing her passionately on the lips and bosom, with kisses that seared like a leaping flame.
Then she fainted.
When she recovered her senses, she found the earl lying across her, dead, his blood streaming over her. Freeing herself of his heavy body she got up and looked with dazed horror at the lifeless body which had rolled face downwards on the blood-drenched carpet. It was then she saw her stiletto buried to the hilt below the left shoulder blade. Ignorant as to how the tragedy had happened, she ran from the room and out of the manor like a despairing soul fleeing from unmentionable demons. Terror-stricken, she ran down the carriage drive towards the Lodge when she met Nigel Lording waiting for her.
"O God, I don't know what I've done! I don't know what I've done!" she moaned, falling helplessly into the arms of her lover.
"Mary, beloved, for Christ's sake, tell me what has happened. You are covered with blood."
"His lordship—dead—stabbed with your stiletto. But I never stabbed him. I couldn't have done it!"
The lodge-keeper, hearing her moaning and crying, ran up to see what was the matter and heard what Mary Worthington had said.
"Then who killed him?" he asked.
"I don't know. Oh, believe me, but I don't know," she wailed.
"I believe you, my darling, you could not do such a thing," interjected Nigel Lording consolingly, supporting his beloved with his arms.
Turning to the lodge-keeper, he said: "You had better see to it, Mason. Proceed at once to Tavistock, obtain a surgeon, and acquaint the watch."
"Come, my beloved, I'll take you home."
It had been a glorious June day, and as the sun slowly dropped behind the western hills, empurpling their crest with its golden splendour, two loving souls weighed down with a terrible fear of what might be the ultimate outcome of this ghastly tragedy, stepped across the threshold of Pentecost, hoping there to find sanctuary.
Shaken by the tempest of her grief, Mary Worthington clung to the only refuge that seemed meet—her mother. Throwing herself into her mother's loving arms, she sobbed convulsively.
"Oh, mother, mother, no matter how tongues may babble, I didn't kill his lordship. As God is my judge, I am innocent of such a crime. I had reason enough to kill him to protect my honour, but I never, never stabbed him. Though he got what he deserved, it was not my hand that struck him down. When I recovered from my swoon he was dead, but who killed him, I don't know. Oh, believe me, mother, I do not know how it happened."
"My precious lamb," sobbed her mother, encompassing her daughter with her arms, "I believe you. But, oh, God, in your great mercy, stand by us in this fearful hour of our tribulation."
Even as she threw out this sudden invocation, she sensed in her wisdom that the matter looked black for her first born and equally black for her lover; and in after years she often wondered why God, in His sovereign and awful prerogative, should, for some inscrutable reason, leave them to work out their destiny in the groove of His immutable rule.
The murder of Earl Belriven excited considerable interest as well on account of his lordship's ancient lineage as of the high respect in which the accused persons, Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington, were held by the people of Devon.
It was not denied that Mary Worthington paid a visit to the Manor on the fatal afternoon of the Earl's murder, nor was it denied that he had been done to death by means of a stiletto which had been the property of Nigel Lording and on which was engraved his name. On these facts alone, the police deemed it prudent to take Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington into custody. Certain other facts were adduced in evidence against them upon their various examinations before the magistrates; but strong as were the suspicions excited against the accused, it was felt that there was still good reason to believe that they would escape conviction, notwithstanding that the Coroner's jury had returned a verdict of wilful murder, and when it was taken into consideration that experienced counsel in the person of Mr. Flower, a well known criminal advocate, was engaged to conduct their defence. On the other hand, a Mr. Hart, one of the ablest criminal barristers in England, was briefed on behalf of the prosecution.
Owing to the vast amount of local feeling, the two prisoners were removed from Plymouth under the Habeas Corpus Act, and placed at the bar of the Central Criminal Court, and arraigned upon the indictment found against them—Nigel Lording for the wilful murder of the deceased, and Mary Worthington for being an accessory in that she consorted, aided, and abetted her fellow prisoner.
Lord Chief Justice Denman, Mr. Justice Coleridge, and Mr. Justice Coltham were the judges. The court was crowded in every corner.
To the indictment, the prisoners pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Hart opened the case to the jury and in the course of his address said:
"The prisoners at the bar are a young man
and a young woman—aged respectively 25 and 18 years, both
natives of Devon. Hitherto, it may be said in their favour, they
have enjoyed unblemished records; but it will be proved by the
evidence that they were lovers. The male prisoner was particularly
obnoxious to the deceased, and a feeling of enmity existed between
them. This enmity had its origin in the fact that he had openly
thrashed a great personal friend of the deceased, one Captain
Lannigan, on Tavistock green, because the said Captain has
chastised a vagrant for stealing wood from the demesne of
Grassmere, and because he conspired with the female prisoner to
resist the deceased's legal and customary right on the death of the
father, the late tenant of Pentecost, to claim for heriot a
particular horse. You are probably aware, gentlemen of the jury,
that hate engenders hate, and it would, moreover, appear that the
male prisoner was insanely jealous of the deceased nobleman because
he had expressed openly his admiration for the female prisoner, an
admiration which the male prisoner deeply resented.
"It will also appear by the evidence that the male prisoner instilled sentiments of loathing in the mind of the female prisoner against the deceased and warned her against him. In fact, he went so far as to give her a Spanish stiletto with his name engraved on the handle (handed in as an exhibit in the case) to use against the person of the deceased if he attempted to molest her in any way. But, gentlemen of the jury, no evidence whatever has been adduced to prove that the sentiments of the deceased towards the female prisoner were anything but honourable. It is admitted that the deceased claimed for heriot, according to the ancient custom of copyhold tenure, a certain horse on the death of the late tenant, Stephen Worthington, and it is in evidence that the female prisoner bitterly resented such claim on the grounds that the said horse was her personal property, and not the property of the estate of her late father; but, gentlemen, no documentary evidence has been submitted to prove that the said horse was the property of the female prisoner and not the property of her late father.
"I desire to impress upon you, gentlemen, that, notwithstanding the attempts of the male prisoner to insidiously poison the mind of the female prisoner against the deceased, she, without any escort and apparently without any fear, went of her own accord to interview the deceased on the fatal day of his death in order to influence him by a personal appeal to the noble nature of the deceased to forgo his customary claim to heriot. And I desire further to impress this upon you: Had she feared the deceased, if she had been at all apprehensive of his conduct towards her, she would have undoubtedly requested the male prisoner to accompany her for her better protection. But no, she did not do this. Instead, she asked him to meet her at a certain time, calculated on the length of the proposed interview, in order to be with him when the interview had ended. What transpired at that interview we do not know from independent evidence. We have only the uncorroborated statement of the female prisoner herself. But that statement you must disregard. It is too preposterous to entertain for a single moment. If you do give credence to it, you are invited to believe the impossible. You are asked to believe that the deceased attempted to criminally assault her, and in the struggle that ensued, she drew a stiletto from her person, but accidentally dropped it near the door of the library when she fainted, but when she regained her senses, she found the deceased lying upon her, dead, with the stiletto buried to the hilt below his left shoulder blade. An impossible story, truly!
"Gentlemen of the jury, it is in evidence that there was none of the deceased's family or household present at the manor on that fatal afternoon, yet, you will be asked to believe that the prisoners at the bar are guiltless of the crime for which they have been indicted. But, gentlemen (and learned counsel became vehement) the male prisoner was at the manor on that fatal afternoon, and both prisoners were seen by the lodge-keeper to leave the premises in a state of terror and extreme agitation with evidence of the crime—the blood of the murdered noble lord—upon them. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to assume that the male prisoner, with his intimate knowledge of the circumstances, went into the hall, and hearing voices in the library, opened the door, which was not locked, became possessed of the stiletto, and stabbed the deceased in an ungovernable fit of jealous rage?
"Gentlemen, what would a guilty man do in such a situation? With no one as a witness to prove otherwise, would he not act in such a way as to avert suspicion? It would be a very simple matter to endeavour to hoodwink the stern majesty of justice, by tearing the female prisoner's clothing to give semblance of an attempted outrage, and to smear her with the blood of the deceased. With this strong presumption before you, gentlemen, will you say whether there is any reasonable doubt of their guilt? It appears to me, having regard to all of the facts, that there can be no reasonable doubt whatever. I have a duty to discharge to the Crown, to the country, and to the public; and I must say that, so far as I have yet learned, there is no reason whatever to believe that the prisoners are innocent."
With a look of pleased satisfaction on his face, counsel resumed his seat at the bar table.
The evidence for the prosecution was then gone through in corroboration of the statements of the learned counsel for the prosecution, but none of it tended materially to incriminate the prisoners.
Mr. Flower then addressed the Jury for the defence:
"Gentlemen of the jury," he commenced,
"you have heard my learned friend, counsel for the prosecution,
admit that the prisoners have had hitherto an unblemished record,
but he has adduced no direct evidence to shatter that admitted
unblemished record, or to prove in any way that the prisoners are
guilty of the shocking crime of which they have been accused and
for which they now stand at the bar. On the contrary, he supports
the case upon the most specious arguments and buttresses his
indictment entirely upon circumstantial evidence. In certain cases
that might be the best evidence as it was certainly the most
difficult to fabricate; but in the case before you, gentlemen, you
must disregard all evidence that is not supported by actual facts.
Has any witness been called to prove that the deceased was struck
the fatal blow by either of the prisoners? No. Did any one, I ask
you, see that blow struck? Again I say No! You have been told the
reason that induced the female prisoner to visit the Manor of
Grassmere on that fatal Sunday afternoon; but you have not been
told that the deceased was a libertine, a sexual pervert, a man of
violent and ungovernable temper. It is well known that he did not
hold sacred the person of any young and beautiful maiden. Unlike
his noble father, the former Earl Belriven, who was esteemed
everywhere for his kindly benevolence, his son, the deceased, for
some unaccountable reason, was a degenerate in whose veins ran the
blood of the infamous Elfrida, a ninth century ancestress; but
centuries of time have not apparently eradicated the strain, though
its recrudescence has been, happily, rare. Indeed, I merely mention
this, gentlemen, to prove to you what manner of man the deceased
commonly known as 'The Falcon' was, and I now say that a
suppositious case only has been made out and placed before you by
my learned friend. But I ask you, is it not reasonable to assume
that the deceased (when we learn what his infamous character was)
had an ulterior motive in luring the female prisoner to the manor
in order, not to obtain possession of her horse as a heriot, but to
violate her? Is it not just as reasonable, nay, more reasonable to
assume—if the weight of the argument of my learned friend is
to rest upon assumption—that the female prisoner, whose
character he admits has hitherto been unimpeachable, fought
desperately to guard her person, and to keep her honour inviolate
from the lecherous fury of a sexual maniac? It is admitted that she
was possessed of a stiletto which she carried on her person as an
instrument of defence, and that the name of the male prisoner was
engraved upon its handle. But what does that suggest, if not prove?
Would it not suggest that in the dreadful situation in which she
found herself placed, she would use the stiletto as her only means
of defence of the weak against the strong? If the story of the
female prisoner is to be believed, she attempted to do precisely
that which I have suggested; but, unfortunately (and I say
unfortunately advisedly, because if the deceased had attempted to
violate her, she would have been justified in killing him in
defence of her honour) the stiletto dropped out of her hand in her
endeavour to save herself from falling, and fell near the door of
the library leading to the hall. At this point, my learned friend
has built up a case against the male prisoner and asks you to
believe that he appeared on the scene at the identical moment that
the stiletto dropped from the female prisoner's hand, entered the
library, picked up the weapon, and stabbed the deceased to his
death. Such an assumption is preposterous.
"I know what is in your minds, gentlemen. Someone must have entered the library at that particular juncture and stabbed the deceased! But who? Gentlemen of the jury, that is for the officers of the law to find out. It is very easy for the Crown to indict the prisoners on any assumption raised by its officers, as an easy way to punish a crime. But it is not assumption that we want. It is facts. You are trying an honourable young man and a brave and virtuous maiden for their lives, and what evidence, I repeat, has been submitted to you to satisfy you of their guilt, especially of the guilt of the male prisoner? None whatever. The ends of justice cannot be satisfied by circumstantial evidence, therefore, I submit, gentlemen of the jury, that your verdict must be—not guilty."
The Lord Chief Justice summed up on the evidence at the end of the second day's trial, and in doing so, stressed the circumstantial nature of it. There is no doubt whatever, that from the tenor of the summing up, had the fate of the prisoners been left to the Bench and not to the jury, the verdict would have been different. After consulting together for some time, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both prisoners.
Nigel Lording was sentenced to death and Mary Worthington to be transported for the rest of her natural life.
Not only the county of Devon, but all England was deeply shocked at the verdict, and the savage nature of the sentences which were in keeping with the Draconian nature of the laws of that period. The life of a nobleman was regarded as sacrosanct, no matter how rotten and forbidden such a life might be; but someone must be made to suffer, some scapegoat must be sacrificed to atone for the taking of it in such a violent and summary manner. So Nigel Lording, young, brave, handsome, was condemned to die, and Mary Worthington, one of the fairest flowers of England's maidenhood, branded for ever as a felon. Henceforth, she must bear to the full all the pangs of her terrible sentence.
Nigel Lording was stunned by the verdict. He could not believe that such a travesty of justice was possible in a land where jurisprudence was regarded as the copestone of its constitution.
Staring at the naked fact of his sentence, he groaned. He could not strip the terror from it by the convulsive movements of his arms or meet it calmly by looking it full in the face. In his despair the words of the Psalmist came to him, "With righteousness shall He judge the world and the people with equity." But here was neither righteousness nor equity. Stretching heavenward his importunate hands he cried in the bitter anguish of his riven soul. "Christ Jesus, teach me what Day is ere yet I go down into Night."
Staggering, as if dazed by a fearful blow, he was led away to his cell whose doors were swung ajar for him.
But friends were not wanting to petition the Crown for mitigation of his sentence, and when he heard this he did not give up hope. It was the practice of the Recorder of London to report to His Majesty in Council, the cases of the various prisoners in custody, upon whom sentence of death had been passed. The case of Nigel Lording, with others, was reported according to custom, and, in due time, the sentence of death was confirmed. This confirmation was made known to the prisoner by the Recorder who intimated that his execution was directed to take place. Then the condemned man gave up all hope. The petition had failed, and his soul dropped to the nadir of despair. He had looked forward with confidence to the result of the exertions of his friends in his favour, but now, all was over, and his mind once more seethed in the cauldron of his agony. He was told to prepare for death, and the reverend ordinary of the gaol proceeded to pay to him those attentions usually expected at his hands.
A blunder of a most extraordinary nature, however, was soon discovered to have been made. This discovery was described in a newspaper published at the time.
On Thursday morning, Sir Thomas Denman, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, in casting his eyes on a newspaper saw the paragraph representing the fact that Nigel Lording was ordered for execution. His Lordship thought that the statement had been published from false information, and he adverted to the circumstance in the presence of one of the under-sheriffs as of a very mischievous nature. The under-sheriff, in some surprise, observed to his lordship that the paragraph was correct—that the recorder's warrant had been received on Wednesday evening at half past six at Newgate—that the intelligence had been communicated to the unfortunate culprit and that notices had been sent to the Sheriffs and other officials.
"What!" said Sir Thomas Denman, "Lording ordered for execution! Impossible! I was myself one of the Privy Council present when the report was made and I know that no warrant for the execution of Lording was ordered. I had intimated to the Privy Council that I was not altogether satisfied with the evidence at the trial—that such evidence was purely circumstantial—and that though in the minds of the jury there was more than a presumption of guilt, nevertheless no actual proof was submitted that the blow that killed Earl Belriven was delivered by Lording, and that consequently, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. The Privy Council then ordered Lording to be placed in solitary confinement and to be kept to hard labour previous to his being transported for life, to which penalty the judgment to die was commuted."
The under-sheriff reported the extraordinary information to his lordship, who instantly requested that he would forthwith apply at the Secretary of State's Office, when he would be reassured of the fact and receive an order in contradiction of the learned recorder's warrant. It is almost needless to say that the under-sheriff, who was very glad to be the bearer of such good tidings to a poor unhappy fellow creature, very speedily executed his mission. He found that the correction of Sir Thomas Denman was accurate according to the records in which the allotted punishment was regularly entered; and Lord Melbourne, immediately upon being informed of the mistake under which they laboured at Newgate, sent thither an authority to countermand the warrant with the Black Seal signed "Newman Nosworthy."
Lording had just twenty-two hours previously been told in the usual solemn way, to prepare for death; and as he had calculated largely and correctly upon the merciful character of the administration, he received the awful news of the confirmation of his sentence to death as if he had been struck to the earth by lightning. The mistake upon being mentioned to him, it is almost unnecessary to state, gave full relief to his heart.
Mr. Nosworthy, who at the time filled the office of Recorder, was immediately called upon to explain to the Common Hall of the City of London, the circumstances which attended the very remarkable error into which he had fallen. When they had heard from him whatever excuse he had to urge, they came to the following conclusion:—
"Resolved unanimously, that the Common
Hall has learned, with feelings of the deepest horror and regret,
that the life of Nigel Lording, a convict under sentence of death
at Newgate, had well nigh been sacrificed by the act of the
Recorder of London in sending down a warrant for his execution,
notwithstanding his Majesty in Privy Council, had, in the gracious
exercise of his royal prerogative of mercy, been pleased to commute
his sentence for an inferior punishment.
"Resolved unanimously, that the mildest and most charitable construction which this Common Hall can put upon this conduct of the Recorder is that it was the result of some mental infirmity incident to his advanced age; but contemplating with alarm the dreadful consequences which, though happily averted in the present instance, may possible ensue from such an infirmity in that important public functionary, this Common Hall feels it an imperative duty to record the solemn expression of its opinion that the Recorder ought forthwith to retire from an office, the virtually important duties of which he is, from whatever cause, incompetent to discharge."
The Recorder, who was present, was received with deep groans, and with every manifestation of hostility. The resolutions of the Common Hall were followed by a resolution of the Court of Aldermen announcing the receipt of a communication from the Recorder that owing to his advanced age, ill-health and debility, consequent upon a late very severe fit of illness, he had felt himself bound, after serving this city for more than 47 years, upwards of 30 as common sergeant and recorder—to resign the office of Recorder.
When the "inferior punishment" was made known to Nigel Lording, he once more looked heavenward with an unspoken prayer of thankfulness. His life was saved and life was dear to him so long as Mary Worthington remained alive. Transportation had then no terrors for him; but had he known what was before him, he might not have regarded it as the "inferior punishment." Almost immediately he was removed in chains to a convict hulk at Portsmouth to await his transportation to New South Wales.
When Mary Worthington, in her cell at Newgate, was apprised of the fact that her lover's death sentence had been commuted, a ray of glory pierced the travail of her darkness and she sighed:
"Thank God! We may meet again in that far off land of living death." But though she instinctively thanked God, still, her dazed brain could not, in the dreadful circumstance in which she was placed, comprehend a God of infinite mercy and justice.
"If there be such a God, what have I to thank Him for?"
And she answered her own doubt. "No, there is neither God, nor mercy, nor justice. Neither is there a heaven, only a deep unfathomable hell into which we, my Nigel and I, have been cast. God of Evangel! Surely, He laughs in His high heaven, and mocks at our impotent prayers."
As the victim of a sentence for life, Mary Worthington was confined to solitary, or as it was termed in the vernacular, put in solitary. This was the lot meted out to the hardest cases. The nature of her sentence earned for her that distinction and when the cell door clanged behind her, her stout heart contracted painfully. There was a terrible finality in the sound. Alone within those narrow stone walls, she discovered primitive feelings in herself, whose existence she had never believed she possessed. She was filled with a sense of outrage. "Put me in a cell, solitary and alone! How dare they!" She was overcome by primitive rage and primitive fear.
"Nigel is blameless! I am blameless!" she cried out in her mental torture and suffering. But what was the use of railing at the pitiless Triads that ruled and mocked and cursed? Of what avail was tearful striving against the hard facts of stone and steel; against solitude, silence and presently dark? There was nothing for her to do but to submit, though she wondered what the end would be. There lacked only madness to fill up her cup of bitterness to the brim.
In a few days, when she was disciplined by solitary confinement and had recovered from her mad but importunate ravings, she would be removed to a hulk in the Thames, there to await transportation. Thereafter, it would be an endless facing of tomorrows, each with a cry of awakening, each with the stretching of impotent hands, following nights in which the soft garment of sleep was rent by horrible dreams.
Meanwhile the case of Mary Worthington occupied much attention. She was generally considered the victim of cruel circumstance. Beautiful, accomplished, of excellent character, her case excited a very strong interest. A petition was immediately signed most respectively and numerously for her respite and pardon; but the Secretary of State deemed the application to arise from ill-judged humanity and refused the petition.
Among the persons who interested themselves in her behalf, was John Gatcombe, who addressed a letter to the Editor of "The Monthly Magazine" setting forth her case and proving her an object of mercy.
"Give me leave to caution you against an implicit credit in the accounts published in most of the public papers respecting the case of the unhappy Mary Worthington. This much only will I say at present—a most extraordinary and affecting case it is. I have never heard of one more so; I have never known one in any degree so much so. I have, as a life-long friend of the Worthingtons, visited her several times with her mother since she has been in prison. I have also visited her with several respectable persons, who were all struck with her sweet and beautiful countenance, the modesty, unhesitating clearness, simplicity and ingenuous character of all she says, and her modest resignation. I am so firmly convinced in my mind that she is innocent of the crime of which she has been found guilty, and a life sentence pronounced upon her, that I will use all the means and intelligence that I possess to prove her innocence."
But all the efforts to have her sentence mitigated were of no avail. After being confined in solitary for ten days, Mary Worthington was removed, with other female prisoners, handcuffed in pairs, to the prison hulk in the Thames below Gravesend. There were a score of women walking two and two with two guards going ahead to force a way through the morbid crowd; and other guards on either side of the dismal procession. To men prisoners the crowd would have been indifferent; but at the women they cruelly grinned. Some of the more modest of the prisoners hung their heads down to hide their shame—Mary Worthington was one of these—but others grinned back mockingly at the crowd. Nearly all the prisoners were pathetically young. By a strange coincidence, the hulk to which Mary Worthington was consigned, was all that remained of H.M.S. Endeavour, or the "Endeavour Bark" as she was officially named by the Admiralty, the vessel in which that illustrious navigator, Captain James Cook, in 1770, discovered Moreton Bay, which he named after the Scottish Earl of Moreton, who was president of the Royal Society in 1764.
When the great navigator sailed northward past Moreton Bay without exploring it, and without knowledge of the magnificent river which emptied into it, he little knew that, fifty-four years later on the shores of that immense bay and on the banks of that noble river—afterwards named the Brisbane—discovered by Lieutenant John Oxley, Surveyor General of New South Wales, a penal settlement of unenviable reputation, would be established. Yet so it turned out. The authorities of the Sydney penal colony wished to found somewhere in the distance, a new settlement in order to receive the "double-dyed felons" who formed a real menace to the welfare of the other members of the prison community. It had become plain to everyone that it was both unwise and unjust that the better class of convicts should be contaminated by compulsory association with abandoned and incorrigible criminals. Consequently, those in authority began to look round for some spot, sufficiently remote, to which the worst class of offenders could be safely consigned. So Moreton Bay was chosen as sufficiently remote. Mary Worthington now trod the decks of that historic vessel as a convict and her bourne was that expansive bay of wooded shores and studded islands which the vessel's navigator had discovered, and that noble river which discharged into it. She was, moreover, destined to go out from the land of her birth—that England which reared her—from that mother who loved her as her first born, in all her innocence and purity, to herd with double-dyed felons and to live in abasement amid a saturnalia of debauchery and crime.
When Mary Worthington was consigned to the Endeavour hulk, it was not known immediately when she, with all its other female prisoners, would be removed to a transport and sail for Moreton Bay. The Secretary of State for the Colonies was awaiting despatches from Sir Ralph Darling who had been recently appointed to take over from Sir Thomas Brisbane, the administration of New South Wales, before sending out a further contingent of female prisoners.
Meanwhile the Ringarooma with its human freightage of incorrigibles, of whom her lover and hero, Nigel Lording, formed a unit, had set sail and was now well on her way across the world. This immense separation numbed her soul. There was no assurance that she would ever see him again and her dejection covered her like a pall, holding her motionless—listless. If the seas that rolled between were to separate them for ever, then there was nothing to live for. But if she had only some tangible straw of hope that in the land of their enforced exile she would look upon him again, even if martyred beyond all the dear semblance of himself, that would be some guerdon to strive for, some hope to cling to. Then she would bear the burden of her misery and shame uncomplainingly.
On board the hulk she was subjected to all sorts of indignities by her fellow prisoners. She was probably the youngest felon among them and her youth and beauty attracted the male members of the hulk's staff. But in the chief female warder she found a warm and considerate friend. At first this friendliness was incomprehensible to her because she treated the other female prisoners with unquestionable severity. She soon learnt, however, that influential efforts had been at work with the most persevering anxiety to obtain a mitigation of her lot so far as it affected her life on the hulk and afterwards, on the transport. Her godfather, Lord Tenterden, than whom no kinder jurist ever lived, without making himself known, was the chief influence working in her favour, whilst her mother spared neither money nor entreaties in bribing her jailers to temper the rigours of prison discipline.
The chief female warder, one Penelope Bailey, came under these powerful influences—influences which she could not resist because they made it worth her while. She was a reprieved convict, having murdered the man who jilted her under exceptionally provocative circumstances. She was possessed of considerable accomplishments, of a fine figure and personal charms.
Another who had been commissioned to take up the case of Mary Worthington, with the purpose of ultimately proving her innocence, was Inspector Joseph Barnes of Bow Street. He was on friendly terms with Penelope Bailey, who kept up a secret correspondence with him in regard to the prisoner. To him she wrote:—
"Respecting the case of Mary Worthington,
I wish that I felt myself capable of writing about her as she
deserves. She gives no trouble, but is subject to long spells of
melancholia. She feels her position most keenly. That she is not
guilty of being accessory to the murder of Lord Belriven, I, with
my woman's intuition, feel positive. She possesses a meek and
modest disposition, perfectly characteristic of a mild and
affectionate temper. But I feel sure that if that temper were
aroused by some great act of injustice and oppression, there is no
knowing to what limits it would rage.
"She has large brown eyes set far apart in a spacious forehead. When she looks through the valance of her long lashes, there is something wonderfully stirring in her gaze. It seems as if below the fathomless depths of her eyes, there lurks a soul that would leap to the tumult of battle, notwithstanding that she has an uncommon and unaffected sweetness in her voice and manner. Without fear or ostentation she is attentive with pure sympathy to those who have interested themselves in her behalf. Therefore to you, Inspector, I say, use all the keenness that you possess, all the sleuth-like genius that you can command, to find out who was the actual slayer of Earl Belriven."
There were not more than 40 female prisoners on the hulk with Mary Worthington, not enough to warrant sending overseas on a single transport; but among those were some demireps, strumpets, and other dames of light habits, who probably more than deserved being transported. To such as these a girl of Mary Worthington's undoubted refinement, elegance, and beauty, irrespective of her prison garb, was a source of vilification and vituperation.
When occasion permitted, the prisoners were exercised on the adjacent docks and it was on these occasions that Mary Worthington was subjected to their spite. One woman in particular, a short, squat, ungainly creature, made a dead set at her. She went by the name of Mulatto Jane, but her proper name was Jane de Therry. She was born in Jamaica, had negro blood in her, and was of that numerous class of women who ply at Covent Garden market as a basket woman. Though not more than 25 years of age, she had a brutal and debauched expression. Her mouth had an ugly twist akin to that caused by a hare lip, but the disfiguration was probably caused by a heavy blow which had cut deeply into her upper lip, knocking out her front teeth and causing her to speak with a lisp. She could not pronounce correctly any word containing the letter "s." In the pursuit of her vocation she became acquainted with a poor but industrious woman who lived by herself in a small apartment. Seizing an opportunity when the owner was from home, Mulatto Jane broke into this woman's room and robbed her of all she possessed. For this burglary and robbery she was brought to trial at the Old Bailey, found guilty and sentenced to seven years' transportation.
One day while exercising on the dock, she spat in Mary Worthington's face. This roused the ire of Martin Kenefake, the Chief Warder, who had witnessed the filthy incident.
"Bad cess to ye, ye filthy blackamoor," he said, cursing. "'Tis the taast of t'lash ye're afther coortin' and be jabers 'tis Martin Kenefake will give it ye. Move on there now an' doant be cultivatin' me anger by interferin' wid that rayspictible gurrl."
"Garn, yer lump o' Irith bog," retorted Mulatto Jane. "It mak'th me thick to thee yer all fall for thith gawd-forthaken fallen angel. Link her ter me for five minuteth while I thpoil the thenery of her face like a thojer in Jamaky thpoilt mine."
This sally was witnessed and overheard by other viragos in the gang who roared with laughter and who also regarded Mary Worthington with envious malice. They also bore Martin Kenefake many a grudge for his disciplining of them. Two of them in particular, Sarah Marsh and Beccy Lloyd, the former transported for shop-lifting, and the other for uttering a "Bank of Fleet" note, the circulation of which was generally entrusted to profligate women who consorted with the men who made them, were as hostile to Mary Worthington as was Jane de Therry.
"'Tis manifest to me, ye harridans, that yer spilin' for throuble. I'll lick yer inther shape afore ye reach Morreton Bahy, th' divile take me if I doant. Move on, there!" Which command Martin Kenefake emphasised by a cut with a heavy plaited leather whip.
Now Martin Kenefake, Chief Warder on the hulk Endeavour, had received special instructions from influential quarters to keep a benevolent eye on Mary Worthington to see that her lot was made as comfortable as was possible under the tragic circumstances in which she was placed. He had sailed with Lieutenant Oxley in the brig Amity and was one of the thirty volunteers from the prisoners' barracks at Sydney who with a party of rank and file had been selected to form a penal settlement at Moreton Bay. He had been transported for smuggling, and was an expert seaman. Owing to the great service he had rendered Lieutenant Oxley in helping to navigate the Amity through rough weather along the unknown coast of New South Wales north of Port Jackson, he was given a ticket of leave and later granted a free pardon. Returning to England, his knowledge of the penal system in vogue at the time gained for him an appointment as warder on the hulk Endeavour with a promise of the position of Chief Warder on one of the next transports to sail for Australia.
As it would have been imprudent to permit Mary Worthington to herd with the prisoners on the hulk who were hostile to her, she was placed in a separate cell 'tween decks with certain other better behaved convicts, to whom Martin Kenefake boasted of his knowledge of Moreton Bay.
"'Tis a grraund counthry yez 'ill be bound for, where ther warrum sun shines in a cloudless sky, an' ther threes, wid lil possums an' lil squrls at play in them, are allus green an' kangaroos an' paddy melons hop about like childer at play; but I'm thinkin' it'll be turribul lonely ther' for yez. But mebbe ye'll take up with some sojjer or some emancerpist and settle down an' be the mothers of piyoneers an' ther builders up of a gr-reat nashun. Howsomever, I'll keep me eyes on yez till yez get there. But what will happen to yez afther yez get there, Gawd only knows."
The fate of spending weary months on a prison hulk was not accorded to Nigel Lording. From Newgate, clothed in convict garb and heavily ironed as befitted a "lifer," he was conveyed, with a number of other felons, to a transport riding at anchor off Spithead awaiting orders to set sail. The transport was the Ringarooma. She was chartered to carry a consignment of incorrigible rogues such as prison breakers and "lifers," or those not amenable to discipline, to Moreton Bay. It was, therefore, to this vessel of 452 tons that Nigel Lording was consigned. She had on board a strong guard of soldiers, consisting of one officer and 30 men, to keep the convicts in order.
As the accredited murderer of Earl Belriven, Nigel Lording was looked upon by the warders and by his fellow transportees as a dangerous and turbulent criminal. The injustice of the sentence, the terrible miscarriage of justice which had forced him to herd with felons and to march in irons, had completely changed his nature. From a laughter loving, easy going, noble hearted athletic Englishman, he was turned into a morose, stubborn, discipline defying brute. Enforced servitude was galling to him, but most of all he resented the autocratic power placed in the hands of brutal and conspicuously unfit officials. When he thought of what might be the fate of Mary Worthington in their hands, the desire to kill every soldier and every official responsible for the preservation of order and discipline in the transport, rose strong within him. He clenched his fists and shut his jaws like a steel trap when he was ordered about by men whom he regarded as more worthy of being in irons than he. The looks of intense hatred and lothing that he gave his captors made them cautious of him and he was carefully guarded. They sensed his youth and strength; for had they not heard that he was England's foremost wrestler? As a measure of safety he was kept in irons. This further injustice made him all the more incorrigible, and he was looked upon more so than the other transported felons as a turbulent, desperate and dangerous criminal. Whilst only 12 prisoners were allowed on deck at a time, he was exercised alone with a soldier on either side, armed with fixed bayonets to guard him. The rigour of his confinement made him wish that his sentence had not been commuted. The gallows would have been preferable. But when he thought that Mary Worthington was bound for the same goal as himself, he became, for her sake, more reconciled to his harsh treatment. Even as a sinner hopes for some gleam of heaven, so did he hope that, some day, in that far off land of exile, he would, by some fortuitous circumstance, again vision his heaven in the partner of his tribulation. It was the glory of his love of her that helped him to keep his sanity and to bear the tortures of his imprisonment.
Years of experience in transporting felons to the West Indies and the American Colonies had made the officers of the prison system of England expert in fitting out transports. Two rows of sleeping berths, one above the other, extended on each side of the 'tween decks of the convict ship, each berth being six feet square, and arranged to hold four convicts, every one of them possessing eighteen inches space to sleep in. The hospital was in the forepart of the ship with a bulkhead across separating it from the prison, having two doors with locks to keep out intruders. Strong wooden stanchions, thickly studded with nails, were fixed round the fore and main hatchways between decks, in each of which was a door with three padlocks to let the convicts out and in, and to secure them at night. The convicts by these means had no access to the hold through the prison, a ladder being placed in each hatchway for them to go up and down by; this ladder was pulled up at night. Scuttle-holes made to open and shut for the admission of air were cut out along the ship's sides. A large stove and funnel were placed between decks for warmth and ventilation, and in fact, according to the regulations, everything that could be thought of was provided to secure the health and proper comfort of the convicts during their enforced voyage. It was ordered that each convict was to be allowed a pair of shoes, three shirts, two pairs of trousers, and other warm clothing on his embarkation, besides a bed, pillow and blankets, while it was also ordered by the regulations that Bibles, testaments, and prayer books were to be distributed among the messes.
The regulations also provided for good and abundant rations consisting of three quarters of a pound of biscuit for each man per day, in addition to a dinner of beef or pork and plum pudding with pea soup four times a week, and a pot of gruel every morning with sugar or butter in it. Vinegar was to be issued to the messes weekly, and as soon as the ship had been three weeks at sea, each man was to be served with one ounce of lime juice and the same of sugar daily to guard against scurvy; while two gallons of good Spanish red wine, and one hundred and fifty gallons of water were to be put on board for issuing to each likewise, in apportionments of three to four gills of wine weekly and three quarts of water daily.
So much for the regulations of the Transport Board, and for the Charter Party which so amply provided for the health and comfort of the unfortunate creatures on their way to exile in a far distant land. But the captains of transports were merely the agents of unscrupulous merchants who contracted to fit out and provision vessels. The master of the Ringarooma shipped on board a far greater quantity of goods and merchandise for his own private trade than could be possibly warranted by the usage of the service he was engaged in. By so doing, the ship was so deeply laden that it became necessary to keep the air scuttles closed. Owing to the humidity thus created by the confined state of the convicts, the air became noxious to such a degree as to extinguish the candles burning in the cabin. That foul air and filth generate disease was justly verified in the Ringarooma. A dangerous dysentry and fever appeared to which numbers fell victims; nor were the necessary means adopted to check the progress of this destroying malady. On the contrary, one half of the sick were obliged to sleep in the prison with other prisoners, who were in health. As the prevailing sickness was contagious to a degree, the infection extended until the malady became almost general. On the upper deck the spars were raised three or four feet high on each side in the waist, and the long boat placed in the centre. The main hatchway was stowed so full of casks that not a breath of air could pass down into the prisoners, and the stanchions of the after hatch way were boarded up so close that it was impossible that a breath of fresh air could pass that way.
The affliction of the convicts did not cease here. The water daily issued and called three quarts did not exceed a quart—infinitely too little for men on a constantly salt regimen. Of the four gills of wine provided by the Charter Party, they received not an ounce. That the thirst and hunger the prisoners endured might bear some proportion to each other, they were defrauded of a great part of their ration of provisions, though, the full measure was charged to the Government.
As the convicts on board the Ringarooma were classed as desperate felons, they were encumbered by two pairs of heavy irons on their legs and one round the neck, with a large padlock as an appendage, that weighed at least a pound and a half. It has been written that intelligent men are cruel, but that profiteering men who made gain at the expense of the lives and souls of human beings, are monstrously cruel.
The master of the Ringarooma and the men under him, including the officers and soldiers, were stupid scoundrels and they became more cruel and oppressive as the voyage extended. They feasted and fattened at the expense of the convicts. But what did that matter! The convicts were the life-timers, the desperate ones, the incorrigibles. It was better for the sake of discipline that they should suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst than that the freemen should go short. Besides, the voyage would be long, and the wine and water and food must perforce be stinted—so far as the convicts were concerned—so that the master, the crew, and the soldiers might suffer no inconvenience in that regard. To starvation and sickness—twin conditions sufficient to discipline the most unconscionable—were added physical punishment and torture.
The master of the Ringarooma was one John Gow as execrable a villain as ever walked a ship's deck. For transportation purposes it was usual to call for tenders for the outward run only (the ships being chartered to load timber for the navy for the return journey) and the practice to accept the tender showing the lowest price per ton even though this meant taking up a larger space in the vessel than was actually required for convicts, this additional space being filled up with stores for trading at South America and South African ports of call. The owners provided the navigating officer and crew and an approved surgeon, and they chose the men best fitted and calculated to carry out their purpose of profiteering.
When the Ringarooma was ready to weigh anchor, the merchants who had fitted out the vessel and had shipped goods on board, came to pay a parting visit to the captain, and to give him their final instructions. It was, moreover, hinted to the captain that the less number of convicts handed over to the Governor on arrival, the better. The surgeon ostensibly appointed to attend to the care and management of the convicts was one Dr. James Honeyman. It was his duty to see that the master fully complied with the terms of the Charter Party, to see that the convicts received their due rations, that the food was properly cooked and regularly served and that sufficient water was provided for the use of all. Dr. James Honeyman was himself a convict, convicted at the Middlesex Sessions for swindling a victualler of his wine, for which offence he was transported for seven years; but as it was found difficult to obtain surgeons to sail to the other end of the world on transports, he was released on parole—that if allowed his liberty on the transport, he would faithfully discharge his prescribed duties as surgeon during the voyage, and would not try to escape. As a surgeon Dr. James Honeyman had failed in his profession, and was incompetent. In other respects he was quite incapable of seeing that the master fulfilled his charter obligations.
The officer in charge of the military guard was Paul Lewis, the son of a worthy clergyman, who put him to a grammar school at a very early age. He had an ambition to become a very fine gentleman and in his spirited attempts to attain that character, he ran into debt with his tailor to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds, which obliged him to run away and go to sea. There he had for some time behaved so well that he was made, first a cadet, then a midshipman, and finally a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He had served with distinction abroad, but growing tired of the sea he enlisted in the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley, served in the Peninsular campaign, and was a captain of infantry at Waterloo. Under Sir Arthur Wellesley he behaved with courage and activity. He had vices, however, not common to bravery, and very different from the irregular sallies of a high spirited and strong passion. He was not only wicked, but base; not only a robber, but a scoundrel; of which he gave proofs while on board the fleet, particularly by collecting three guineas apiece from many of his brother officers to lay in stores for a West Indian voyage, and then running away with the collection from the ship and entering the army. After Waterloo, he returned to England and sought adventure on the broad highway. He went to a public house at Southwark, where he stayed the greater part of the day and supped; and then, going to an inn, hired a horse, rode out between Newington Butts and Vauxhall, and stopped a gentleman and his son in a post chaise and robbed them, returning to the public house in Southwark. Being apprehended for this offence, he was brought to trial at Kingston, when the people of the public house swearing that he had not been absent from noon to midnight more than half an hour, he was acquitted. But the episode brought him under the notice of the police. He was warned, and advised to stick to soldiering. He rejoined his regiment which had been reformed after the final roll call at Waterloo.
But the peace that followed the downfall of Napoleon was irksome to his turbulent spirit, and later on he offered for active service abroad in any capacity. When it was found necessary by the transport office to provide a guard for the transports sailing for Australia, Captain Paul Lewis was assigned to the transport service, and appointed in charge of the detachment of soldiers placed on board the Ringarooma. His fitness for the position was regarded as excellent, firstly because he had seen service in the navy, secondly because he had seen service in the army, and thirdly because by reason of the highway robbery episode he was a tool in the hands of the Chief Police Officer of London, who whispered in his ear before embarking that he wanted to get at the truth of the murder of Lord Belriven, and as Nigel Lording was a convict on the Ringarooma bound for the penal settlement at Moreton Bay, no doubt the opportunity would present itself of getting the truth from him by some means or other, as there was an element of doubt at Bow Street as to whether convict Nigel Lording had really committed the murder of that notorious and profligate nobleman.
When the transport Ringarooma was ready to weigh anchor, the ship-broker and owners of the vessel came on board to give the master of the ship his final instructions and to supply him with a warrant to secure and keep in safe custody the prisoners entrusted to his charge and to enter into the necessary bonds to do so. The captain, agreeable to custom, entertained his company under an awning on the quarter deck, after which he ordered the guards to parade the convicts for their divertisement.
Captain Paul Lewis, who was an interested spectator, asked one of the guards to point out to him the notorious Nigel Lording, whose trial for the murder of Lord Belriven and the subsequent remission of his sentence from capital punishment to transportation for life, under dramatic circumstances, had caused such a sensation at the time. When the "lifer" was pointed out to him, he surveyed the convict with a cold scrutiny as if mentally measuring what amount of torture such a powerful and athletic man as the convict appeared to be, could bear before either confessing his crime or breaking down under discipline.
Captain Paul Lewis was a large and very powerful man and most of the ill-nurtured felons would be but as straw in his strength; but, brave though he was, he would have hesitated to match his great strength with the physical perfection of Nigel Lording were the convict free of his manacles.
"Hell," thought this consummate villain, "what a man to subdue." It was not long before he started on his work of subjugation.
When the vessel had cleared the Channel, he mentioned to the master that he had been requested to obtain from Nigel Lording a confession of his guilt of the murder of Lord Belriven and to use all means in his power, short of murder, to do so. To this the master readily consented. How the convicts were treated during the voyage did not concern him so long as he delivered up alive as many as possible to the Commandant at Moreton Bay, notwithstanding the hints of the ship-brokers.
Almost from the commencement of the voyage the convicts were stinted in their rations; but when off Teneriffe, and the vessel was brought to anchor in Santa Cruz roads, warm weather made it necessary to curtail the water supply. As most of the provisions consisted of salt pork, the thirst of the convicts became almost unbearable, and they preferred a complaint to the master concerning not only ill-treatment, but with regard to the short allowance of water. Nigel Lording who was chosen as spokesman because of his education, allied with his desperate character, preferred the complaint. The burly master, inured to the hardships of the sea, and with thews and sinews of a Hercules, listened while Nigel Lording spoke on behalf of the convicts with all the courtesy and dignity that he could command notwithstanding his iron manacles.
"Have you finished?" asked Captain John Gow, with a snap of his jaws like a steel trap, contracting his eyelids, overshadowed by heavy coarse eyebrows, until his cold grey eyes were focused malignantly on the convict. Nigel Lording stood in dignified silence.
"Then take that for your answer." Instantly the great fist of the Captain shot out at a short arc from his shoulder, and crashed on the point of the manacled convict's jaw. Nigel Lording was felled, unconscious, to the deck. There was a growl of rage from the convicts; but ironed from waist to ankle and with fettered wrists they were powerless to interfere.
Giving the prone convict as he lay on the deck, a vicious kick with his heavy sea boot, he told the guards to remove him to "solitary," one of the strongly barred cells set apart for recalcitrant felons.
"Work you will upon 'im. Break 'is spirit until he confesses 'is crime."
Then to the assembled convicts he said "The next cove who complains will be triced up and flogged into insensibility. Guards, remove this scum below and batten down the hatches."
It is a terrible thing to see a strong man broken, but all the ingenious torture devised by Captain Paul Lewis did not wring a confession from Nigel Lording—for he had nothing to confess save his innocence—nor break his spirit. But still, the eternal question and the eternal following punishment went on. Even the dark cell into which he was thrown, punishment that drove less strong-minded felons into drivelling and yammering terror, had no effect upon him, for the darkness was lit by the radiant glory of the girl he loved. Her he conjured to lighten his darkness; her he enshrined as the warder of his brain to hold him to sanity. Once she had quoted to him—and the words vibrated in his memory: "There's never a day goes by or a night that falls, but some fond thought of you, beloved, calls." And so, with him, never a day or a night passed, but the memory of her, the thought of her, was the bliss of his solitude, the balm that soothed his torn and tortured flesh when clubbed and whipped by inhuman hands.
And because, under the most fiendish torture and the most persistent persecution, he made no moan and uttered no word that might tend to ameliorate his punishment, he was regarded as a super-incorrigible that connoted a human monster capable of the most heinous crimes. And because of what his persecutors termed his obstinacy, he was starved of light and food, spreadeagled and thumbed-up, and openly and privily beaten by brutal guards more criminal and more worthy of punishment than he.
But there revolved in his mind—a mind that could not be numbed by torture—the whirling resolve, with hate for its pivot, that if ever the opportunity was vouchsafed to him, he would make his persecutors suffer with a refinement of torture of which they had no conception. The desire for revenge and his absorbing love which covered him with its invisible protecting shield and dulled his pain like some magic anaesthesia, buoyed him up under the "disciplinary" treatment that was meted out to him.
The stinting of the ship's provisions was not confined to convicts. Captain John Gow had had previous experience in transporting felons to Australia, and as he had served his employers so well not only to their profit but to his own as well, his reputation as an uncompromising pinch-fist, gained for him the captaincy of the Ringarooma. He not only starved the convicts, but he short-rationed the soldiers and the crew as well.
Shortly after leaving the harbour of Rio de Janeiro where the captain landed some of his merchandise, surreptitiously shipped by the owners at the expense of the transport board, Captain John Gow observed that a sailor named Paterson was very dilatory in executing his orders. The captain demanded to know why he did not exert himself to unfurl the sail's, to which the sailor made no direct answer, but was heard to mutter: "As we eat so shall we work." The captain heard the remark but took no notice of it as he was unwilling to proceed to extremities. He had, moreover, noticed that some of the sailors seemed to be in league with the soldiers, and this, together with the fact that his conduct had been complained of and his orders disobeyed, caused him to consult with the first mate, Ambrose Johnson. Thereupon they agreed to deposit a number of small arms in the cabin in order to defend themselves in case of attack. The captain, not desiring to leave anything vital undone, directed Ambrose Johnson to order the second mate and gunner, Thomas Lympus, to clean the arms, a circumstance that plainly hinted to Lympus that the master and first mate were suspicious of a mutiny. He mentioned the matter to Captain Paul Lewis, who, having been a lieutenant in the navy, felt himself superior to the master and chafed at being subservient to his orders. Having some knowledge of navigation, he conceived the idea of fomenting a mutiny, placing himself in charge of the vessel, and turning pirate. To this end he judiciously picked his men from among the crew and soldiers under him; but he was faced with the problem of dealing with the convicts. There were two hundred of them on board, many of them execrable villains, who would welcome any diversion to relieve them of the terrible monotony of the voyage. He decided to take his pick of the most subservient, and the others—well—probably they would not greatly mind if they were made to walk the plank. Death would be an immediate relief from further torture, if not on board the ship, then at any rate in that remote hell on land to which they were consigned.
Having carefully and secretly prepared a list of his "loyal" conspirators, he chose from among them an executive of five which included the second mate Lympus, the carpenter David Morgan, Corporal Richard Bailey, who had in his earlier days been a smuggler, and Convict William Adams, a boatswain who after returning from transportation for attempting, with divers others, to break into the Custom House at Poole, was sentenced to seven years penal servitude. Having served his sentence in Tasmania, he, on his return to England, was again transported, this time for life, for the murder of his master who had employed him as a gardener in his orchard in Kent, the cause of the crime being a dispute respecting the pruning of a vine.
Adams was looked upon as second only to Nigel Lording in being the most desperate criminal on the Ringarooma. One day when being exercised on deck, he, to show his contempt for discipline; jingled his chains in a jig on the teak decking. The master ordered him to be triced up to the mast where he was accommodated with a hundred strokes of the "cat." The master stood by to see that the punishment was inflicted. When the castigation was over, it had so little effect on his hardened frame—he had suffered similar punishment at Hobart town—he turned and spat in the master's face. For this disgusting offence, he was placed in "solitary" for 30 days. His cell was next to that of Nigel Lording. The cells used for solitary confinement were 'tween decks next to the hospital. They were closely boarded up with heavy planking clamped closely together and secured by wrought iron bands and heavy, tight fitting doors securely padlocked. These hell-holes were so constructed that no light whatever could penetrate them when they were shut and locked, and they made "solitary" punishment the abiding terror of weak-minded felons. Even the most hardened criminal would prefer gruelling punishment, at the most, than a term of close imprisonment in these dungeons. For purposes of ventilation, small square holes, strongly barred, were cut in the walls of the cells so that when the port holes were open, a current of air passed through from cell to cell. Sound followed the air from windward to leeward. When the sea was not too rough, voices and even whispers in the windward cell could be heard in the leeward one. Nigel Lording's cell was to the leeward of the one occupied by Adams.
Captain Paul Lewis who had, as officer in charge of the soldiers and the chief warder of the convicts, free run of the ship, found ample opportunity to sound both convicts and soldiers as to their willingness to capture the vessel, and turn pirates. He made a list of those whom he termed the "loyalists." This list comprised the second mate, eight of the crew, ten of the convicts, twelve of the soldiers and himself as captain. He had arranged, when the moment was opportune, to have the irons knocked off the "loyal" convicts and to arm them with cutlasses. The soldiers only were to be armed with firearms. By this means, the convicts could be over-awed if they in turn thought it fit to rebel against the rebels. Lympus was to be first mate and Adams second mate.
The "executive" at midnight, a few weeks later, when the scheme for carrying the mutiny into effect, held a secret meeting in the cell of Adams whose irons were knocked off. The night was still and the vessel sailed on an even keel off the western coast of South Africa. It was not a favourable night for a conspiracy. The slightest sound between decks carried. In the dark cells, day and night were almost merged into one long night and Nigel Lording not knowing the time was awake. He had been beaten up a few hours before by his torturer, Lewis. His pain kept him awake. The darkness of the cells making his eyesight useless, quickened his sense of hearing. He sensed that something unusual was going on in the cell next to him and attuned his hearing to catch the slightest sound. He heard the manacles being removed from Adams, but for what purpose? Then he heard whispering. Whose whispering was it? What was the purport of it? Listening intently for an incautious clue, he was rewarded. The hatred he bore Captain Paul Lewis for his relentless tortures made him sensible of the minutest detail about him, his voice, the odour of him, the peculiar hissing between his teeth when he became excited. He was excited now and he hissed the plot of the mutiny to Adams, Lympus, Morgan and Bailey. As stealthily as a prowling cat, Nigel Lording raised himself as near as he could get to the air hole between his cell and that of Adams and listened with the acute hearing of a wild animal. Though standing up and listening in his tortured state was painful, nevertheless he continued to hear the muttered names of the conspirators, and the method devised to murder the captain and first mate and to seize the ship.
Half of the ship's company were regularly called to prayers in the great cabin at 8 o'clock in the evening, while the other half were doing duty on deck. After service, those who had been in the cabin went to rest in their hammocks. The arrangement was to execute the plot at this juncture. Only two of the conspirators were to remain on duty. The rest were to retire to their hammocks. Between nine and ten at night a watchword was to be given. This was "Moreton Bay." On hearing this watchword, the conspirators were to go to the cabins of the chief mate, the surgeon, and the super-cargo and cut their throats while they were asleep. The captain who would be on the upper deck in charge of the ship, would then be dealt with. The meeting was arranged for the following night.
Now and again Captain Paul Lewis muttered a little too loudly. Lympus growled, "The covey next door will hear yer."
"Plague take the villain!" hissed back Paul Lewis. "To-day I thrashed him into insensibility. He'll be one of the first to go overboard."
Very stealthily the conspirators left the cell of Bill Adams, Lewis then closed the door silently and locked the great padlock with his own key.
When they had gone, Nigel Lording started thinking in deadly earnest. He bore the master of the Ringarooma no love, but after all, he represented authority—the law. Though he had not much respect for a law that had branded him a felon, nevertheless, there was a thing about to be carried into effect which was repugnant to his sense of justice, to his sense of fair play. Though he did not have much regard for a brute such as he considered the master of the Ringarooma to be, his hatred and lothing of Captain Paul Lewis was such that he would side with the master rather than with such a scoundrel and bully as Paul Lewis. With him in charge of the ship it would be hell let loose. Distinguished by the ferocity of his nature, he would, as captain of the mutineers, have such an opportunity of exerting his mania for cruelty, that he would soon prove himself to be a detestable and bloodthirsty villain. Backed up by a criminal, a hell-hound like Adams, he would exert his influence in the direction of cruelty with a degree of severity that would render his memory execrable.
Death at the hands of such monsters was not what Nigel Lording looked forward to. He had not yet abandoned hope. He still cherished the prospect that he would, in the not far distant future, meet Mary Worthington. Whilst she was alive life was still dear to him, and he would, therefore, rather trust to the mercy of John Gow than that of Paul Lewis.
But how to apprise the master? That was a question to be answered. As there was no mention by the conspirators of the name of the first mate, Ambrose Johnson, he concluded that he was not one of the conspirators. At any rate he would have to take that risk.
It was the duty of the first mate each morning to patrol the ship. This brought him into close contact with the convicts including those placed for the time being in "solitary." This duty Ambrose Johnson, well armed, performed alone. He wanted to know each day at first hand, how matters stood with the ship. Nigel Lording seized this as the fitting opportunity to disclose the proposed mutiny. When, therefore, Ambrose Johnson, on the morning following the secret meeting in the cell of the convict, Adams, looked in at the cell of Nigel Lording, he was arrested by Nigel Lording's muttering earnestly, scarcely above a whisper, "Beware of mutiny."
Then he placed a finger on his lips, indicating silence and discretion, and jerked his head towards the cell of convict Bill Adams.
"A mutiny? Are you raving, man?" Ambrose Johnson whispered back.
"My God, no. There's no time to lose. For God's sake take me to the captain. I will explain," pleaded Nigel Lording.
"Can I trust you?"
"Please yourself, sir, but I was never more serious in my life."
"Very well. Keep quiet. I'll see the captain."
When Ambrose Johnson mentioned the matter to Captain John Gow in the privacy of his cabin, the master felt dubious and was inclined to treat the matter lightly.
"What's the villain's game?" asked the master. "Locked up in solitary, how could he possibly learn anything? To hell with him and his mutiny! It's only a ruse to break confinement. He's a cunning dog and I don't trust the blighter."
"I don't think so, sir. Better not run any risk. If Lording's foxing, you can easily take it out of him later."
"By God, you're right, Johnson. Bring the gallow's cheat here. We'll hear what he has to say for himself. When does his term of 'solitary' expire?"
"Good, when he's released, let him exercise on the deck as usual, but see that he speaks to no one. Then leave the matter to me."
It was a pale physical wreck that marched the deck in clanking irons with the first contingent of the exercise squad.
The captain sat on the poop, while the armed guard lined the deck as the convicts paraded.
Nigel Lording, weak from long confinement, and suffering pain from his recent man-handling by Captain Paul Lewis, stumbled as he tried to march with his fellow prisoners. This seemed to displease John Gow.
"Bring that prisoner to me," he shouted with an oath. "I'll teach him how to march properly. By God, he'll learn what discipline is on this ship." Two of the soldiers marched him up to the captain.
"Take him to my cabin," he shouted, drawing his pistol from his belt. "If he shows any sign of disrespect, I'll deal with him. Is he going to contaminate the whole ship with his insubordination?"
In acting in this tyrannical manner, John Gow did so for a purpose. If there was any suspicion on board that convict Nigel Lording had any inkling of the proposed mutiny, his demeanour towards the convict would tend to allay it.
Nigel Lording sensed that the master was acting the Bombastes Furioso in order to hoodwink the conspirators and it was, therefore, with a feeling of elation, which he took good care not to show, that he marched off to the captain's cabin under strict escort.
"Leave him to me," the captain said to the two soldiers. "If he turns a hair in the wrong direction, I'll know how to deal with him. You may return to your quarters."
The soldiers saluted and turned about. They were aware that the master was by nature cruel and hardened by practice in cruelty. Alone in his cabin with Nigel Lording, the captain demanded to know what he knew about this cock-and-bull story of a mutiny.
Nigel Lording knew from bitter experience that the master of the Ringarooma was not a man to be trifled with. He knew also that he was a man who would adopt no half measures in dealing with mutineers.
"Sir," he said to the captain respectfully, but convincingly, "it is not a cock-and-bull story that I have to tell you. If it turns out to be that, as you appear to think, you have the power to deal with me accordingly. My life is in your hands. I'll tell you what I know, not because I'm a traitor, but because you represent authority on this transport and have in your keeping not only the ship, but all the lives on it. If the mutiny be accomplished, I'll get no quarter, nor do I ask any reward at your hands for acquainting you with what I know. The law has condemned me to be a felon, and you, even if you wished, could not lessen my sentence by one hour. I must serve it to the bitter end. But I'm not so base as to keep to myself information that by disclosing it to you may be the means, if you act promptly, of saving not only your own life but the lives of many on board this transport."
The captain, in spite of himself, was impressed by what Nigel Lording had said. He was not an educated man, but he was a man of sound common sense and recognised sincerity and breeding. That Nigel Lording was no common felon he knew, but he was given the impression that he was a most dangerous criminal, and had treated him accordingly.
"Go on, spit it out, Lording. Tell me what you know."
When Nigel Lording had told the captain how he had come to learn of the conspiracy to murder him and the first mate and to seize the ship he was convinced. He wrote down the names of all the persons implicated as told to him. Then he spoke through a speaking tube to Captain Paul Lewis, requesting him to send two of his soldiers to escort convict Nigel Lording back to the lower deck and to trice him up for a flogging.
"His spirit is not yet broken," he informed Lewis. "He still maintains that he is innocent of the murder of Lord Belriven."
As Captain Paul Lewis was an execrable villain, steeped to the ultimate in cruelty, he was not slow in giving the necessary order to his soldiers. If what Nigel Lording had told the captain were true the soldiers then on duty were not among those concerned in the conspiracy to mutiny. The master was aware of this when he ordered the tricing up of Nigel Lording, and his mind worked quickly. The remainder of the soldiers who were off duty and who were unarmed were either resting or lolling about the ship. They would be on night duty fully armed. This had been arranged by Lewis. The mutiny was to take place that night when the soldiers not in the confidence of the mutineers would be in their hammocks all unconscious of their impending fate. The authority of the "old man," as the master was termed, was paramount. No one, not even Captain Paul Lewis, dared dispute his authority on the transport. It pleased him, therefore, to make the flogging of convict Lording as public as possible, as a deterrent and a warning to the soldiers as well as to the crew, that discipline must be rigidly maintained. As the arbiter of life and death on his little floating kingdom, he ordered all those whom he believed to be concerned in the proposed mutiny, to assemble at the flagellation, and as a safeguard, he further ordered the soldiers to form a cordon round the interested spectators.
Now it was a most unusual, if not an unprecedented, action on the part of the master to give orders to the soldiers, and Lewis protested.
"Sir," he said to the master, turning a trifle pale, "I am in command of the soldiers. They get their orders from me."
"Yes," snapped the master with a frown, and sticking out his determined chin. "The way I looks on it is this. When the general commands, the captain must stand aside. 'Ow in the name of Gawd could discipline in the army be maintained otherwise? Cap'n Lewis, ain't I the general in charge of this ship? Next to me is the first mate. Come 'ere Johnson and stand by me. Next to him comes the second mate. Stand by Captain Lewis, Lympus."
The master's contention was unanswerable, and Paul Lewis submitted with the best grace that he could command. His turn would soon come. With this reflection he smiled and said:
"Have it your own way, sir."
Turning to his soldiers he said, "Captain Gow is right, men. He is in charge of the King's ship. His commands are law. See that you obey them."
He had no desire to precipitate the mutiny. It was his policy at present to find no grounds for suspicion. In the fondness of his conceit he did not imagine for one moment that the master had any suspicion of what was afoot. In requesting the soldiers to obey the master, he forged the strongest link in his own fetters.
With a bitter curse, to make the scene the more impressive, Captain Gow, pointing his finger at Nigel Lording, shouted, "This gallow's cheat, the murderer of one of England's nobs, 'as a contession to make. Sink 'is soul in hell, if he doesn't confess now, the onnatural villain will not live to see the voyage out. Two 'undered and fifty strokes with the 'cat' will make 'im so as 'e'll never confess. And this 'cat,'" he continued, holding up a cat o'nine tails, "is not an ordinary 'cat' such as they uses in the navy, but a double 'cat' such as they uses at Macquarie 'Arbour. That other 'lifer' Adams knows. 'E's felt it. 'Ere, Johnson, take two of the guards an' bring Adams 'ere to witness this little ceremony. The 'cat's' licked 'is 'ide at Port Arthur and Macquarie 'Arbour. It'll be eddyfying ter 'im ter see 'is cobber taste the double 'cat' which 'e 'isself taught the sailors to make. A nice fine little 'cat' with a double twist of whipcord, and in each o' its nine tails it 'as nine knots."
When Adams was brought from his dark cell blinking in the strong sunlight he was made to stand near Nigel Lording, and the master said:
"Afore we trice 'im up I'll give 'im a last opportunity to confess. If 'e doesn't may the Lord 'a' mercy on his soul. Now thin, Lording, you gallows cheat, confess. You know what you confessed to me in the cabin. Now confess before the crew and the ship's company. Speak up!"
Standing on the upper deck, abaft the main mast, manacled, gaunt, hollow-cheeked, clad in prison garb, the centre of attraction, the cynosure of all eyes, Nigel Lording faced the master of the vessel, the captain of the guard, the crew, and the assembled soldiers. All, save the master and the first mate, expected to hear his confession of the murder of Lord Belriven. But as he stood on the raised covering of the hatchway no one looked less like a brutal murderer—standing erect with his head thrown back and his manacled arms by his side he looked at his audience squarely and fearlessly. His eyes, bright and piercing in their glance, were focused upon his arch-tormentor, Paul Lewis. Moistening his parched lips with his tongue, he said, slowly and deliberately:
"The law has said I am a murderer. It is useless for a condemned felon to rail against the law. No confession of mine, unless I could bring forward proofs, would mitigate one iota my terrible sentence. Branded as a felon, I must bear to the full the decree of the law for the term of my natural life. Therefore, concerning myself, I have nothing to confess. Even though I receive five hundred or a thousand strokes I have nothing to confess. No good purpose would be served. I am convicted. To say I am innocent of that, for which I have been sentenced would make a liar of the law. That is not my purpose. My purpose is to make an altogether different confession, and as an earnest of what I am going to confess, I offer my life as forfeit it I am proved to be wrong.
"In the darkness of my cell last night I heard whispers. Raising my bruised and writhing body (for I had but an hour before been beaten into insensibility to make me confess a crime that the law says I committed) to the vent hole in my cell. These whispers were borne to me on the wings of mercy. I listened to them. They came from the cell of convict Adams and they spoke of a mutiny on this ship——"
Nigel Lording here stopped and looked straight into the eyes of Captain Paul Lewis who paled under their direct gaze and raised his hand as if to stop the speaker.
Captain John Gow also had his eyes fastened on Lewis and noted his demeanour. The second mate, Lympus looked round as if seeking for some place to hide, and convict Adams glared at the captain of the guard for being such a fool for conspiring in his cell when there was a convict in the next cell who would blow the gaff to get even with his persecutor. Over all there was consternation.
"Go on," shouted the master in a voice that made the innocent jump and the guilty quake. "Finish yer confession. That's what Cap'n Lewis is waiting to 'ear."
"Sir, I object," heatedly shouted Captain Paul Lewis in retort. "The man's raving. I've seen no sign of a mutiny on the ship."
"That's as mebbe, captain. We'll come to that later. I want to 'ear all that this ravin' lunatic 'as to say. Go on, Lording."
"The persons in that cell," continued Nigel Lording, "were Captain Paul Lewis, Lympus the second mate, Morgan the carpenter, and Bailey the boatswain. These, with convict Adams, were the executive. The soldiers now off duty and certain of the convicts who had been sounded, were to be the mutineers. You, sir," he said, turning to John Gow, "and the first mate, the surgeon, and the super-cargo, were the first to have your throats cut. The watchword was 'Moreton Bay.' The remainder of the soldiers and the convicts were to be shot or made to walk the plank. That's my confession, sir."
"So that's their little game, eh?" said the master tensely. "Soldiers on guard," he commanded, in a voice of thunder, "arrest Captain Paul Lewis, Lympus, Morgan, and Bailey, and place them in irons."
The soldiers on guard who were to be victims of the mutiny, made to obey instantly the master's orders. The confession of Nigel Lording rang too true to be doubted.
Then the unexpected happened. Captain Paul Lewis, who never went unarmed on that transport of criminals, drew his pistol and shouted "Moreton Bay," and was about to fire at Gow. Alert as a panther, Nigel Lording, though loaded with irons, manacled at wrists and ankles, jumped with incredible swiftness and caught Captain Paul Lewis in his arms. His eyes during his "confession" never left the captain for an instant, and he interpreted his slightest movement. Before the pistol was properly levelled at the master it was deflected, exploded, and convict William Adams was accidentally shot dead. Paul Lewis was thrown heavily to the deck and the mutiny started. The conspirators, shouting "Moreton Bay" in the hope that the armed guard on duty would understand the watchword and join in the mutiny, attempted to seize the ship. But above the din the voice of the master rose supreme.
"Soldiers, do yer duty," he shouted. This was the voice of authority, and the armed guard obeyed. Were they not ordered by their own commanding officer to obey the authority of the master? Every man who shouted "Moreton Bay" was a mutineer and was either bayoneted or shot. In a few minutes the mutiny was quelled. Those who were not killed or wounded surrendered. The master, with his smoking pistol in his hand—he had accounted for the second mate, who had attempted to stab him—stepped down from the poop.
"I'll teach yer to mutiny, yer blasted scoundrels. Soldiers, arrest them and see that they are placed in irons."
Then turning to Captain Paul Lewis, who, bruised and bleeding, was held to the deck by Nigel Lording, he said, "As f'r you, yer rascal, I'll learn yer ter mutiny. A taste o' the 'cat' will tell yer by its purring what discipline means. 'Ere, Lording, ow d'yer spell discipline? Spell is slowly."
The master counted the ten letters on his fingers. "Ten times ten is an 'undred, ain't that currect, Lording?"
"It is, sir."
"Soldiers, strip 'im to the waist and trice 'im to the main mast, arms lashed apart to the iron rings above 'is 'ead and legs spread apart and tied to rings on the deck. By God, Captain Lewis, yer won't be fit to mutiny when the 'cat's' finished licking of yer back."
Fearfully the hapless captain glanced at the master to see if he really meant it. But he saw no repenting in the scowling and brutal countenance of the master. He was conscious that a terrible retribution at the instance of the man whom he had brutally and mercilessly man-handled to wring repentance and a confession from him had overtaken him. Miserably he grovelled and begged for mercy, but it was as useless to beg for mercy from a demon in the nethermost pit of hell as to beg for it to John Gow.
"'Ere, Johnson," the master said, turning to the first mate, "remove the irons from Lording. 'E won't want them again this voyage. Now, Lording, the 'cat' and give the traitor a taste of 'is own medicine," grinned the master when the irons had been removed from Nigel Lording. Taking the "cat" in his right hand and testing its weight, Nigel Lording answered:
"Sir, I am at present too weak from ill-treatment to do your command justice. I would beg that you place the 'cat' in stronger and more powerful hands than mine. To do the job properly you want two strong men, a left and a right hander."
"Gawd! who but a man out for vengeance would 'a' tho't o' that now. Man, yer a hinspiration."
The master called for volunteers to act as flagellators and several offered their services. They were only too eager to curry the favour of such a tyrant as the master could be when it suited him.
Picking out two of the strongest of those who proffered their services, one a right-hander and the other a left-hander, he bade them lay to and do their worst.
The punishment was a terrible one. Though the two flagellators were not artists in the profession of the "cat" the deck soon became wet with human blood. Before twenty lashes had been inflicted the writhing man howled for mercy, but the flogging went on relentlessly to the bitter end. When it was finished he was untied. He dropped groaning to the deck.
"Throw a bucket of salt water over 'im and then cast the dead mutineers overboard," ordered the master.
The seven months of voyaging was almost at an end. The man on the look out shouted: "Land ahead!" A murmur that rose to a shout formed the one word, "Australia."
Cramped and confined 'tween decks with but short intervals for exercise, in limited numbers at a time, the convicts, notwithstanding disease, sickness and ill-treatment, which made their lot a living horror, and the ship a floating abyss of unmentionable agony, had quickened pulses of eager expectation when word reached them that the land of their ultimate destination was in sight.
If the future had in store for them further trials and punishments, such a contingency was forgotten for the moment. They were sick of the sea. Their hatred of the ship was malevolent and impious. Even if death awaited them in the land of their long imprisonment, they would eagerly go forward to meet it so long as they could feel the solid, stable earth beneath their feet.
To many of the felons there was a ring of hope in the word. To them it meant more than a geographical entity. It meant deliverance from the sea and the ship and the brutality of prison life on board the transport. Even if their stepping on the shore of the unknown land meant exile for ever from the land of their birth and upbringing, yet there was always hope, always unforeseen possibilities that might, somehow, or some day, work in their favour, work towards their reprieve and liberation.
To Nigel Lording, freed of his irons and granted liberty by a grateful master who owed the safety of his ship and his life to him, hope loomed large on the horizon that outlined. Australia. It seemed to him in his semi-liberty—for he was still legally a convict who could not be reprieved by the master of the Ringarooma—that no portals could shut out hope. No matter how terrible his punishment had been, and might still be, there would be a way through and out at last.
And above and beyond all was his love for Mary Worthington. In the seven months' voyaging he had lived on the memory of that love, and watered it with the unshed tears of his anguish. To him it was as measureless as the depths that lie between star and star, and as strong as the roll of a flood when the thunders crash. To his lone soul, the name of Mary Worthington was sweeter than voices attuned to the rhythm of songs divine or the undying fame that men win mid the thunders of battle. And she? What of her? Would the lamp of Destiny guide her steps to his or his to her? Were they not both like children stumbling in the dark? Life for them was but "a chequerboard of nights and days." Destiny moved them hither and hither until some day—perhaps, their paths would converge and ultimately meet. And then?
The land first sighted was the south coast near Cape Leeuwin, but it was a long thrash round the coast from the Leeuwin to Moreton Bay. The convicts were bitterly disappointed when they learnt that it would be some weeks yet before they reached Moreton Bay. They imagined that Australia was but a small island and that Moreton Bay would be but a short distance round the corner from the cape called Leeuwin. They had yet to learn of the immensity of Australia.
As the days passed into weeks, they suffered the poignant feeling of hope deferred. The sea, the sea, the eternal sea! They hated it but a degree less than they hated the transport, and the gruelling discipline that they had been subjected to since the quelling of the mutiny. Many gave up hope of ever treading on land again. They cursed the master for not running into the first inlet that ate into the long low coast line, and for their curses they were answered by the lash. But still they begged to be landed even if they had to walk to Moreton Bay. Their ignorance of the geographical distances of the great Southern Continent was sublime.
But at last the voyage, revolting in the sickening horror of the cruelty and suffering of its continuance, was ended. At the dawn of a May morning, the Ringarooma was tossed over the bar of the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands, and was anchored in Moreton Bay.
To the scurvy stricken voyagers, the calm waters of the bay was a haven of refuge after the seven months' buffeting at sea. In the western distance, mountains and ranges were outlined in diaphanous blue; to the north the towering peaks of the Glass House Mountains, Beerwah, Coonowrin, Tibrogargan, Beerburrum, N'gungun and Tibberoowuccun uprose in their silent, eternal majesty; to the South dense scrub and bush and undulating hills, swept away into immeasurable distance; and beside the long sweeping coast line, clothed with its regalia of trees and mangroves, lay Bribie Island girdled by sloping sands along which the waters of the Bay crept and receded in perpetual murmur; whilst over all as the sun went down on a cloudless day behind the western ranges, hung the vault of the darkening sky tinted in rose and purple, shaded to heliotrope. The calm of the bay, the gorgeousness of a semi-tropical sunset, the quiet and stillness that hung over land and water like a benediction, brought the awe of a wonderful peace that seemed past all understanding into the lives of the felons. So this was Moreton Bay, whose very name had filled them with a fearful dread; but instead of a prison of suffering and torture, it was an earthly paradise. Soft scents were wafted out of the bush by gentle breezes that kissed the grime and hardened faces of the criminals. For a space they forgot their miseries and embittered memories in the contemplation of the wonderful panorama of land and softly curling water spread out before them.
Then as the gold of the setting sun flowed back from the peaks of the Glass House Mountains, night dropped its sombre curtain over land and bay, and the stars from their measureless remoteness glittered in the inverted bowl of the sky.
And this was to be their place of living death! This paradise, the world's remotest hell! But they had yet to learn that man's inhumanity to man could smirch and smear by monstrous hate and pain, the fairest scenes of paradise.
Then from the contemplation of supernal glories, they were brought down to the infernal realities of their merciless existence.
As the Ringarooma lay motionless on the bosom of the Bay, Master John Gow mustered his felons for a last roll-call, and there were many gaps in the ranks. On the morrow he would have to hand over the indents of his "lifers" to the Commandant at the settlement on the Brisbane River.
"If yer think that the worst of yer troubles is over now that y've arrove at Moreton Bay, may Gawd forgive yer for a lot of ignorant blackguards. Yer troubles is only starting. Yer sufferin' and punishment on this 'ere vessel ain't as nothin' to what y'll 'ave ter submit to under the rigid discipline of his Excellency, Commandant Captain Lannigan. When yer step off this 'ere flotin' 'ell as ye've called it, yer'll step right inter a 'ell of 'is making which is worser than this 'ell, and may the Lord 'a' mercy on yer souls."
When Nigel Lording heard this name mentioned by the master, all hope that he had fondly entertained of lenient treatment vanished. There loomed up before his mind the "hue of dungeons and the scowl of night." At the entrance of the great river up which they were about to sail, there seemed to be plainly inscribed on an invisible banner that stretched from bank to bank, "All hope abandon ye who enter here."
Must he, Nigel Lording, under the menace of that name, under the dominance of the man who bore it, bear to the utmost all the horror of this unjust sentence? There was no dodging his destiny. God of heaven! And it was into the custody of this tyrant that Mary Worthington would ultimately pass!
"God of Mercy! If there be such a God, let her die first in the radiant glory of her innocence before she passed under the control of this reputed monster!"
But the predestined plot of dust and soul must be woven out to the ultimate end, and, on the morrow the transport sailed out of the Bay into the mouth of the great river—the gateway to a vast and unknown land, bearing its criminal contingent to the newest settlement of an Empire.
From such a beginning was destined to grow a great city, and a great state. From the loins of such men, the forerunners of a marvellous civilisation, there would spring and grow a virile race, fearless and intrepid, who would walk erect with eyes clear and shining, looking into the future with a sublime confidence, honoured and respected settlers, statesmen, poets, and builders of a dominion of imperial greatness.
No Norman Conquest warriors, Mayflower pilgrims or Huguenots who sailed in their galiots for the New World to make a home in the wilderness free from religious persecution, were these felons who on that May morning of long ago sailed up the Brisbane river in chains and fetters to live or die as circumstance might warrant, but forced adventurers of British blood, victims of penal laws, under which British society rid itself of its most turbulent elements and at the same time supplied labour for the new colonies. Out of the agonising crucible of the infamous system of transportation made notorious by the power of autocratic and sometimes conspicuously unfit officials who were cruel, callous, and merciless in the extreme, there would emerge a new race that would grow to wealth and power and would lay the foundations of an illustrious state in which the infamy of its beginning would be unremembered, and its glory grow brighter and more radiant with the succeeding years.
Pearce Lannigan, Commissioned Captain in the 57th Regiment and Commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, had been advised by the captain of the brig Amity that a transport had arrived in the bay and was now on its way up the Brisbane River. In less than an hour it would be moored in the Bight, a bend in the river formed by a sharp sweep of the current round Kangaroo Point.
The settlement was a very primitive one, governed by a military despotism. Besides the commandant there were other military officers who had charge of the troops. The staff consisted of a captain, two lieutenants, and two ensigns. There were also the hospital surgeon, a surveyor, a botanist, a superintendent of convicts, a superintendent of agriculture, an overseer of works, a commissariat officer, a chaplain, and several other officers of minor grades. The native name of the settlement was Maginchin, subsequently named Brisbane, after Sir Thomas Brisbane, the Governor of New South Wales, who first visited the Moreton Bay Settlement in 1824.
Leaving his quarters on the north bank of the river facing South Brisbane, the commandant, accompanied by the superintendent of convicts, Terence O'Rourke, and a bodyguard consisting of Lieutenant George Partridge and six soldiers of the 57th, armed with loaded carbines, proceeded along a track through the clearing in the bush down to the Bight, there to await the arrival of the transport.
On the way they passed a gang of "incorrigibles," double ironed, who were employed making a main roadway from the official quarters and soldiers' barracks to the Bight. This roadway was named Queen Street. Over the convicts was a guard of soldiers, whilst perched up in the fork of a gumtree, forty feet from the ground, was a sentry box, where a sentry with a loaded carbine was on watch all day, keeping an eye on the toiling convicts and a watch on the blacks who were in the habit of swimming over from Kangaroo Point on the opposite side of the river to steal corn from the cultivation, over which the botanist, Charles Fraser, exercised a superintendence. As the commandant with his bodyguard passed the manacled, toiling convicts he was met with looks of intense hatred, for he was heartily detested for his tyrannical and supercilious character. During his sway the swish of the lash was ever resounding through the settlement, and near Frog Hollow, through which ran a muddy mangrove creek, was a huge pine tree to which the convicts were tied and flogged.
The rule of Commandant Lannigan was arbitrary and despotic in the extreme. Though he was a martinet of the most inflexible type, enforcing his orders with a ruthless hand, yet, it is believed, he was governed by a sense of duty and a great desire to make the settlement a success. Far away from the seat of Government at Sydney, and surrounded by savage blacks and a set of lawless men, perhaps the worst and vilest in the whole colony, the position of the commandant and his officers was not enviable. Though a stern and strict discipline was no doubt absolutely necessary, nevertheless, the commandant was not prone to mercy, and carried his discipline to the extent of ferocious brutality, which drove some of the poor wretches to abscond; this meant either to consort with the blacks, to perish in the unknown bush, or to return, starving and penitent, to the camp and receive merciless punishment by the lash—as many strokes as the commandant might choose to inflict. The last happened most frequently, though several of the absconding felons were adopted by the native tribes and lived with them for years until they lost even their language and all semblance of civilisation.
In the disciplining of the convicts, the commandant was well backed up by the ferocious and pitiless superintendent, O'Rourke, and there was ever before them the possibility of being murdered by the desperate felons if a favourable opportunity to wreak their vengeance on the tyrants presented itself. It was for that reason that the commandant never went unarmed and was always escorted by a bodyguard when he made his rounds of inspection of the works at the settlement, which were being carried out under his personal direction and under the supervision of the overseer for works.
"It's to be hoped, O'Rourke," said the commandant as they walked towards the Bight, "that there'll be some stone masons among the prisoners. I want some good tradesmen to complete the windmill on the hill and the commissariat stores on the Settlement reach."
"To say nothin' of barricks and cells, y'r Excellency, fer the new arrivals. Faith, there'll be some disciplining to do with thim coves or me name ain't O'Rourke," rejoined the superintendent.
Captain Pearce Lannigan brooked no formality with the officers and men under him. He insisted on being spoken to, and of, as "Excellency." The more subservient the demeanour towards him the better he liked it.
"Well, O'Rourke, as for that, we'll give them an object lesson immediately on their arrival. There's nothing like making a good impression, by God."
"Meanin' y'r Excellency?"
"That absconder that crawled back from the bush last evening—his fifth escape and return—Jem Davis. When the convicts are disembarked from the transports, ye'll see that they are lined up in the square round the pine tree to witness the flogging of Jem Davis. It will be a fitting occasion for a sermon on discipline."
"Faith, an' who but y'r Excellency would 'ave thought of such a bit of play actin' 'as that. Sure, its the grrund idea," sycophantly remarked Superintendent O'Rourke.
Arriving at the Bight where the Amity was moored, the commandant inquired of the captain when he expected the transport to arrive.
"In about an hour's time, your excellency," replied Captain Thomas. "It's now about sailing up Hamilton reach."
The Amity had been cruising in the Bay and had learnt of the arrival of the transport.
"Gad, O'Rourke, we'll have our hands full when this batch arrives. There'll be about 200 of them all told if the full complement arrives. It'll take some hominy to feed the brutes."
Then turning to O'Rourke, the Commandant directed that the convicts should be rowed up the river from the Bight to the King's wharf at the Commissariat Stores, marshalled at the barracks to check the inventory, and then assembled at Pine Tree Square to be officially addressed and to witness the flogging of Jem Davis, the absconder.
"And look ye, O'Rourke," enjoined the commandant, "see that all the old hands are also assembled and marched to Pine Tree Square in order to receive their guests in a manner befitting condemned felons. They are not likely to sing, 'For they are jolly good fellows.'"
"That's thrue, y'r Excellency," grinned Terence O'Rourke. "There wan thing sure and sartin, afther a seven months' voyage the gossoons 'ill think they're being marched to a picnic when they thread droy ground and feel the warrum sun, afther all the dirty weather they'd be afther havin' on the rollin' main. An' faith, they'll get a shock whin they see their playmates of Moreton Bay."
"But they won't appreciate their playground, O'Rourke, when you've finished with them," laughed the commandant.
"Begorra, now, y'r Excellency, as chief host, y'r'll do the honours with the lash, I'm thinkin'."
Excitement ran high at the Settlement when it became known that a transport had arrived from overseas, bringing a fresh contingent of prisoners to Moreton Bay. This was the first vessel that had come direct from England and everyone was agog to hear the latest news from Europe. Even the "old hands" at the settlement, men who had known the horrors of Port Macquarie, Norfolk Island, and Botany Bay, forgot for a space their toil and suffering, in the hope of learning something of a world from which they had been long divorced and which they would never see again.
When the vessel anchored at the Bight in mid-stream, she was boarded by the Commandant and his staff in all the panoply of official regalia and official importance. He soon learnt that the man officially in charge of the transport was Captain John Gow. The manifests and official papers were carefully gone through and a complete inventory of the human cargo was taken and checked with the lists that had been handed to the master before leaving Channel waters.
Though the system of classification was very inadequate, it was the custom to give the name of the felon and the ship in which he was transported. Then followed his personal description. For purposes of discipline and administration, the convicts were divided into three main classes according to their sentences—seven years, fourteen years, lifers. In investigating the callings that the prisoners followed in Great Britain before being sentenced, the Commandant was wrathful when he found such a small proportion of skilled labourers or tradesmen among them; but very few men who had been apprenticed to a trade were transported to Australia at any time. This the Commandant deplored and he described the prisoners on the transport as a cargo of human rubbish. He had roads to make, cuttings through hard porphyry rocks to blast, stone to be dressed, stores, prison and barracks to build, and the windmill on the hill at the back of the settlement to complete for the grinding of the corn and wheat grown to feed the convicts.
It was when inspecting the "lifers" on the Ringarooma that the Commandant first heard of the abortive mutiny. He listened attentively to the story graphically told to him by Captain John Gow, and then ordered Captain Paul Lewis, who had been kept in irons, to be brought before him. He was a miserable looking object, dirty and unkempt, but he did his best to maintain a military bearing and to look dignified.
"Captain Lewis," spoke the Commandant in his best military manner, "What have you to say for yourself?"
Captain Paul Lewis finding himself before a higher authority than the master of the Ringarooma, became truculent and assumed an attitude of defiance.
"You are, I understand, Captain Lannigan, the Commandant at Moreton Bay, and, as such, are in supreme authority here?"
"I am," replied the Commandant, in his most dignified manner, drawing himself up.
"Then I ask your protection, Sir. The story of the mutiny is a fabrication, based solely on the evidence of a desperate criminal—one of the convicts on board the ship."
"Ah, indeed, is that so?"
"It is, sir. What was meant as a joke to relieve the monotony of the voyage has been magnified into a desperate attempt to seize the vessel and to embark on a piratical cruise."
"He's a monstrous liar, beggin' yer Excellency's pardon," shouted Captain John Gow, who was standing by.
"Sink me, Gow! Curb yourself. This matter must be looked into. It's a serious thing to place one of his Majesty's commissioned officers in irons on the evidence of a convict. What's the world coming to!"
"And on that evidence, sir, I was not only placed in irons, but triced up to the mainmast and flogged."
"What! And on the evidence of a convict! Dear me, Gow, but I'm afraid you will have to answer for this."
"Answer, yer Excellency. On my ship I am master, as you are here on land. The evidence of the attempted mutiny is beyond question. Beggin' yer Excellency's pardon again, but the man's a traitor—every inch of 'im."
"Steady, steady, Gow. It is not for you to judge and condemn a British officer. That is the duty of a higher authority than you."
"By gawd, then yer Excellency, all I 'opes is that this 'ere 'igher authority, whatever it is, will court martial 'im for a traitor an' 'ang 'im for the scoundrel and liar 'e is," replied Captain John Gow with extreme anger.
For a military despot like Commandant Lannigan to be spoken to in this fashion in a land remote from all civil law and where military law was supreme, was a defiance of his authority which irritated him beyond measure.
"Sink me in hell, Gow, but you forget yourself. I've flogged a man to death for less insolence."
"Mebbe, yer Excellency. But, Gawd Ormighty, it would 'ave been better if I 'ad flogged the villain to death before 'e damned 'is soul ter everlastin' by lying t' yer."
"Well, your chief witness. Where is he? Let me hear his evidence."
"His chief witness, sir, was another convict named Adams, and he's dead."
"Blazes, Gow, but it appears to me that this is a conspiracy of convicts. Come now. Where's this convict who put you wise to this alleged mutiny?"
"You 'ave in yer 'and, yer Excellency, a list of the 'lifers' on the Ringarooma—leastways all that's alive of them. You came aboard to check that list and to learn of their crimes. Might I suggest to yer Excellency that you proceed to do what yer came on board to do? Then ye'll larn in yer own time all about Nigel Lording, the 'lifer'."
"Nigel Lording!" At the mention of that name, the Commandant muttered it, turned round sharply as he was about to walk away to inspect the human cargo of the Ringarooma, and looked with an incredible stare at Captain John Gow.
"Nigel Lording!" he repeated, not quite understanding. "I've heard that name before. But where, I cannot just call to mind. What is the nature of his crime, Gow?"
"Turn to the list in yer 'and, yer Excellency, and ye'll find out officially. If I tell's yer, y'd as lief call me a liar."
Glancing at the alphabetical list in his hand, Captain Lannigan, looking down the printed list, read:
Number: 2,965; name, Lording, Nigel; sentence, life; crime, murder of Earl Belriven.
Then enlightenment dawned on him. This was the man who had humiliated him on Tavistock Green, who had taken from him that beautiful tigress, Mary Worthington. God, and he was here, now a convict under his control, and within his power! But how came it about that he had murdered his friend, Lord Belriven.
Looking up at Captain John Gow, the Commandant eagerly asked:
"What is the story of the murder, Gow?"
"It 'ill take too long in the tellin', yer Excellency. I'm thinkin' you'll find a full account of it in the papers that ye'll find in yer mail bag."
"Very well," the Commandant shouted. "But where is this infernal scoundrel? Have him brought to me. I would look on the fellow."
Captain John Gow requested the guard to bring Nigel Lording before the Commandant.
Though, for his part, in nipping the mutiny in the bud, Nigel Lording was freed of his irons and was treated with a certain amount of consideration by Captain John Gow, he was nevertheless guarded as a prisoner when the transport entered Moreton Bay. The master of the Ringarooma, though an excellent navigator, was not a man of social attainments or one versed in statute or common law, but he had the shrewdness to imagine that it was not within his power to grant a pardon to any convict no matter how much he may have deserved a pardon. A reprieve would have to come from his Majesty the King. All that he, Captain John Gow, could do would be to make such representations to the Commandant at Moreton Bay that would lead him to treat with the utmost leniency, a man who had rendered such a signal service to him, Captain John Gow, in saving his ship from the bloody hands of mutineers. Indeed, he could not conceive from his own standpoint of rugged justice, how the Commandant could act otherwise. But he did not know Captain Pearce Lannigan, nor the height and depth of his savagery.
When Nigel Lording, escorted by two soldiers, was brought before the Commandant, the lieutenant who had assumed command of the guard on the arrest of Captain Paul Lewis, and who desired to make a most favourable impression with the Commandant, roared: "Stand to attention! Salute the Commandant!"
Nigel Lording stood to attention. He could not very well do otherwise, but his saluting of the commandant by the raising of his right hand to his forehead, was very perfunctory.
"You infernal dog," bellowed the Commandant, "I know you!"
There was no mistaking the malignance of his reception by Captain Lannigan, and Nigel Lording stiffened. The favourable treatment that he had received from the master of the Ringarooma had built up his physique and restored to him the manliness of his bearing. Tanned by the sun and wind, clean shaven and masterful, with a face stern and implacable as if hewn out of granite, he faced his uncompromising enemy, for such he knew him to be. Turning to the lieutenant in charge of the guard, the Commandant barked out his imperative orders.
"This villain's a dangerous criminal. Put him in irons. Release Captain Paul Lewis and restore to him his sword and uniform. And Gow is a meddlesome fool. Proceed to disembark the convicts."
When Nigel Lording, again loaded with irons, was forced to take his place among the convicts, he knew that he could expect no gentle treatment from the man whom he had humiliated in Tavistock Green, but he resolved not to cringe. As he took his place in the boat with the other convicts, the Commandant snarled at him:
"I'll teach you what discipline means at Moreton Bay, my man."
"You can go to hell and do your worst," replied Nigel Lording, looking at the commandant with a grim set of determined jaws.
Captain John Gow who was standing near, leaning on the rail of the vessel and looking into the boat that was about to be rowed up to the King's wharf said: "I'm sorry fer yer, Lording; but if yer live through this taste of 'ell 'ere, yer'll 'ear more about this matter when me report reaches the Secretary o' State for the Cawlinies."
When the convicts were landed at the wharf from the transport, they were marched in twos to the barracks situated at the south western end of the road known as Queen Street, their leg irons clanking as they trudged wearily along. Clad in convict garb, profusely adorned with broad arrows, they presented a sorry spectacle as they tramped along the rough bush roadway up from the river to the barrack square, guarded on each side by soldiers in bright red uniforms.
Away back from the sordid surroundings of the settlement and the grim structure of the barracks, with the gallows, an object of serious contemplation to the new arrivals, outside the gate near the river, the country rose gradually up to the crest of a long ridge on which stood the foundations of a huge stone windmill, designed for the grinding of corn grown on the alluvial flats on both sides of the river, for hominy was the principal food of the convicts. The extraordinary loveliness of the background, with its forest, scrub and unexplored mountains, covered with a wealth of pine and cedar and stately gums, and rising to meet the clouds in the distant west, was a strange contrast with the foreground where everything spoke of crime and brutality. The banks of the river, denuded of their trees, fire scorched and littered with felled timber, presented a wanton and unlovely appearance, though the scenery that backed the settlement, with the silver flow of a magnificent river rolling between, was akin to fairyland. It was hell planted in the midst of paradise. And to this hell and paradise in one came Nigel Lording, with his many shipmates, to be ground under the heel of a merciless tyrant until they were done to death either by brutal treatment, by hanging, or by escaping to the bush to become utterly lost and to die of starvation or of murder by the blacks.
At the barracks the new arrivals were drafted into gangs along with the old hands, each gang being in charge of an overseer and a guard of soldiers. They were then marched off to the square, a cleared space in the bush, in the centre of which stood a great pine tree to which Jem Davis, the absconder, was to be triced to receive two hundred and fifty lashes—fifty for each of the five times that he had bolted into the bush.
It pleased the Commandant to order a cessation of all work at the settlement to enable everyone to be present at the introduction of the new arrivals by the transport Ringarooma, to the land of their servitude. It was a suitable occasion on which to impress upon the convicts the importance of his commands, and his views as to the severe disciplinary and deterrent measures which he would resort to, if necessary, for their moral and industrial rehabilitation.
As the infant community was a convict one only, there were at the time no free settlers. The population consisted of the convicts, the military guard, and the civil officers of the Government as embodied solely in the autocratic person of Captain Pearce Lannigan, the Commandant.
When the superintendent of convicts assisted by the military guard had assembled every soul in the settlement at Pine Tree Square—a large clearing hewn out of the trackless and unknown bush by which the settlement was surrounded, the Commandant appeared on the scene in the full military uniform of his regiment. He was smartly and promptly saluted by the soldiers, warders and overseers, and every convict present touched his forelock by way of salute. The greater the obsequiousness shown to him, the more he was pleased. The uncrowned despot had stepped into his kingdom.
Standing on a platform near the Pine Tree, he addressed his subjects,
"Old hands and new arrivals, it has
pleased his Excellency, Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, the
Governor of New South Wales, to establish a convict settlement at
Moreton Bay, in order to relieve the convict settlement at Port
Macquarie and elsewhere. It has also pleased the Secretary of State
for the colonies, through Sir Thomas Brisbane, to appoint me to the
position of Commandant of this settlement. You, old hands, know
what that means. I am in supreme command here, and my word is the
only law that must be obeyed. In spite, however, of the humane
tendencies which I have shown towards you, you have proved
yourselves a lot of incorrigible rascals for whom there is no
"You, old hands, have been sent here from Port Macquarie and elsewhere because your conduct has proved that you are irreclaimable, and if my treatment of you has been characterised by excessive rigour, it is because you are a set of impossible villains. You can only be regarded as unredeemable criminals and confirmed idlers, and treated as such.
"To you, new arrivals, I would say that the situation of the settlement is such that it must be safeguarded by rigorous discipline, and the slightest sign of insubordination will be most severely dealt with, because I believe in the theory that the harsher the punishment, the greater the deterrent.
"Here, you will have to work like slaves, for there is much to do, lands to be cleared and tilled, roads to be made, barracks and prisons to erect, stores and factories to be built, and corn to be ground. Idleness and malingering will not be tolerated. If any of you tries to escape from the settlement, God help you. The only way to civilisation is by the river. All around you is unknown bush. Escape that way is impossible. If you are not hopelessly lost, killed and eaten by the blacks you will return on your knees and beg for food, even though you know that the punishment meted out to the returned bolter is the lash. Jem Davis escaped and returned five times. His punishment for the last bolt is 250 lashes. You will now witness his punishment."
Signing to the superintendent of convicts, the Commandant ordered that Jem Davis be brought forth and triced up to the flagellating post—the pine tree in the centre of the square.
The "old hands" at Moreton Bay, of whom Jem Davis was one, were the most reckless and ferocious of the convicts of Australia; but even they, for all their callousness and inured brutality, were horrified to see the unfortunate Jem Davis, weak and emaciated from hunger and exposure, more like a wild animal than a human being, with his convict uniform torn into shreds by the thorns and dead wood of the bush, dragged forth and tied by the hands and feet to iron staples driven into the pine tree, to receive a sentence that must mean death to him in his present weakened state. But the Commandant, armed with the tremendous powers of a summary and autocratic jurisdiction, desired to impress the new arrivals with the magnitude of his authority. According to custom, the prisoner to be flogged was examined by the hospital surgeon, who reported to the Commandant whether in his opinion the prisoner was physically able to stand the infliction of the prescribed number of lashes. In this instance, the surgeon certified that the man was in such a weak state that he could not survive two hundred and fifty lashes.
"If he collapses under his punishment, report to me again, surgeon."
"Very well, your Excellency."
Then to the superintendent of convicts he said, "Let the flagellators do their duty, O'Rourke."
Each of the flagellators took it in turn, when the convict was relieved of his torn jumper, to deliver fifty lashes. They had flogged Jem Davis before but never got a whimper out of him. The last time he was flogged he turned to his floggers and said, "Is that all you do?" But this time he did not walk jauntily up to the pine tree to receive his flogging like a man. He knew that in his present state he could not survive his savage sentence, so submitted to be triced up in the fervent hope that death would end his agony before his ordered punishment was ended.
When he had received one hundred and twenty lashes he collapsed. The surgeon examined him.
"His heart is very weak, your Excellency. To give him more will mean murder."
"Release the rascal, O'Rourke," ordered the Commandant.
But when the unfortunate felon was untied he fell down at the base of the tree, a lifeless, blood-stained mass of quivering, tortured flesh. The surgeon felt his heart and his pulse and then, looking up, said laconically, "He's dead, your Excellency."
The Commandant, turning to the assembled convicts, raised his head and shouted, "Let this lesson sink into your dense minds. The fate of Jem Davis, the absconder, will be your fate, if you show any insurbordination."
For answer he received a menacing, rumbling growl of hate from the old hands and the new.
The settlement on the Brisbane River, twenty miles from where it pours into Moreton Bay, was comprised within certain prescribed limits beyond which no prisoner was permitted to wander, except on special service. The utmost strictness was manifested, and the intentions of Governor Brisbane, through his despotic commandant, Captain Lannigan, were ably carried out so far as rigour of discipline and the severity of punishment were concerned. Any convict who was bold enough to venture outside the prescribed limits of the camp—for the settlement was little more than a camp—had to risk the hazard of a sentry's bullet.
The prisoners were divided into gangs, the most desperate in chains and loaded with heavy irons, the gangs being employed in various occupations, such as quarrying, road making, clearing and burning-off, and building. The hardest work was allotted to the "incorrigibles." The only one of the new arrivals who was chained and ironed as an incorrigible was Nigel Lording. In him the commandant recognised a proud and militant spirit which he boasted he would break. In this he was actuated by a hatred that was born on Tavistock Green, when he was made to look a poltroon in the eyes of a proud and beautiful girl. This humiliation he now desired to erase from the tablets of his brooding memory.
The overseer in charge of the gang in which Nigel Lording was placed was a brutal martinet named Morrison, who, as a subordinate, outdid the commandant in habits of severity. He was a stonemason by trade, and had charge of the convicts employed in making a marine parade bayward along the northern bank of the river. This meant hewing through the solid porphyry hill at the Bight down and beyond what was known as Breakfast Creek, through another hill that ran into the river at the Hamilton Reach, and on to Eagle Farm flats, which later were brought under cultivation by women convicts and where they were quartered.
The stone excavated from the quarries was dressed by the convicts and used in the building of a windmill on top of the ridge at the back of the settlement and in constructing the commissariat store on the north side of the river.
The work in the stone quarries was hard and gruelling and went on from sunrise to sunset. When the stone was dressed it was placed in roughly-made sledges with hardwood runners which were hauled by the convicts up to the windmill or to the foundations of the Government buildings. These were the prisoners' barracks and cells, the hospital, the commandant's quarters, and soldiers' barracks.
The work was speeded up by liberal doses of the lash. Triangles to which the convicts were triced formed part of the equipment of each quarry. Nigel Lording received his first dose of one hundred lashes the second day after his arrival. Two convicts were harnessed to each sled, which they were forced to pull, whether weak or strong. Many, ill-nourished and with feet cut by the sharp stones on the worn track, collapsed through exhaustion. They were revived by the lash of the overseer and forced to move on so as not to hinder the men following behind. Two collapsed while the overseer was down at the quarry and Nigel Lording, who was following behind, and was young, strong, and well-nourished by reason of the easy time that he had had latterly on the transport, left his load in charge of his fellow-convict despite his warning, and helped the collapsed men to drag their sled over the pinch they were unable to negotiate.
In order to prevent malingering it was a rule of the system at the settlement that no convict under any circumstance was to go to the assistance of another. The penalty for breaking this rule was severe punishment with the "cat." Being a new arrival, Nigel Lording was not aware of the rule, but he was actuated by a feeling of humanity, and he suffered for his indiscretion. The overseer at the quarry noticed the halt in the line of march and looked up to ascertain the cause. He found Nigel Lording out of his place in the line and soon learnt it.
"Who asked you to interfere?" he bellowed.
"I'm the best judge of that," Nigel Lording retorted hotly.
"Stop yer hinsolence. I'll larn yer what discipline means 'ere," raved the overseer, striking Nigel Lording with his fist. Calling the guard, he ordered him to be triced up to receive one hundred lashes. The commandant, riding down to the quarry on his usual round of inspection, was apprised by the overseer of what had happened.
"So my fine buck," he said, addressing Nigel Lording, "your first taste of the lash has come sooner than I expected." Turning to the overseer he enjoined him to see that the flagellators—one for each fifty lashes—did their duty. And they did.
The commandant sat on his horse and watched the flagellation through to the end. Though the punishment was severe Nigel Lording suffered it without a groan. He had been beaten up on the transport and learnt how to take his punishment. If Captain Pearce Lannigan had expected to hear him plead or cry out he was disappointed.
When the thrashing was finished he remarked cynically to Nigel Lording "It'll take more than a hundred lashes to break your spirit, my man, I can see. But the taste that you've had is a commencement. It gives me prodigious satisfaction, my brave wrestler, to have you in my power. If only the fair tiger cat could see you now! I'll warrant she'd understand what the vengeance of Pearce Lannigan means."
Replacing his jumper on his cut and bleeding back and shoulders, Nigel Lording looked at his tormentor with blazing eyes, but remained silent. The rigid sternness of his face was as hard and set as if carved out of granite. To retort would mean further punishment. He was learning his lesson. But his fixed gaze at the brutal commandant spoke more than words. From such a man, scarcely human in the intenseness of his hate, he could expect neither justice nor mercy, only unbridled savagery. From his order or those of the tyrants under him there was no appeal.
At the Moreton Bay settlement there was no Bench of Magistrates as a court of appeal such as existed in New South Wales proper and Tasmania; but such a court of appeal rarely favoured the charged criminal, as the magistrates were clothed with extensive summary jurisdiction, and as they were often settlers directly interested in maintaining the strictest subordination and in exacting the most laborious exertion which the law permitted on the part of the unfortunate convicts he got very little redress. It did not, therefore, take Nigel Lording long to learn that he was absolutely at the mercy of the brutal commandant.
For a space the commandant looked hard at Nigel Lording as he stood erect, his seared heart glaring from his eyes, then turned and rode away. A feeling shot through him that this convict would not break down, but would endure, and he sensed a premonition of danger. It was remarkable, he thought, that their paths in life had met and that they had been thrown together. He was superstitious and feared the felon though he had him in his power. Cause and effect roll on in their sequence, he mused. What was the cause that had thrown him and this convict together and what would the effect be? So far as he saw at present the effect would be the martyrdom of the man who had dared to pit his strength, his brain, against his. He would show him no mercy.
But the tragedies of everyday life have their own immutable laws. They seem to march, Nemesis-like, steadily and irresistibly onward, without rush, to a pre-ordained end, with a blind disregard of all possible avenues of escape from their marked victims.
At night the prisoners were herded together in barracks save the few who had committed capital offences at the settlement. These were placed in cells. Both barracks and cells were at first made of split hardwood slabs, strongly braced, and bolted and dowelled together. Later barracks were built of stone. The chief carpenter was one William Rogers, a foreman of carpenters who had been employed at the Lyceum Theatre in London and who had been in the habit of purloining wood and other material. These he had had made into articles of furniture for his own use by several of the men belonging to the theatre. An inquiry took place and he was apprehended. Found guilty, he was sentenced to be transported for seven years. Under the strict supervision of the commandant and the superintendent of convicts, O'Rourke, he designed and built the barracks with convict labour. The capital offenders who were confined to the cells were mostly thieves. The speculation that prevailed in Sydney had its counterpart at Moreton Bay, where all but the officials were convicts, and it was only natural that clever feats of roguery were now and then performed by men who stood above their fellows in all the arts of villainy. The punishment for stealing was hanging, and the gallows erected outside the barracks square was often in use.
Though the convicts were confined at night time in the barracks their fetters were not removed. As a further precaution two armed sentries patrolled the building throughout the night.
Herded together, the convicts were able to converse, and Nigel Lording learnt much from the old hands that was to stand him in good stead. But a more repulsive lot of scoundrels herded together it would be hard to find. Their closely-cropped beards and hair, their shrivelled, emaciated features, with their restless, furtive eyes sunk deep in their sockets, gave them the appearance of gorillas. Though they appeared beyond redemption there was still some spark of manhood in some of them. One of the men whom he had assisted in helping their sled over a pinch up the hill to the windmill, and for which he had been punished, crawled up to him and spoke in an undertone.
"Ye've a lot to larn in this 'ere 'ell, mister, who ever ye be, but I'm obligated ter ye for yer 'umanity. But ye'll 'ave to cut out capers like vot ye did t'day. Mind your own business is the rool 'ere. But ye varnt to know vot th' Almighty's law is 'ere. By the Almighty I is 'ere. By the Almighty I means the commandant. 'E's God Almighty o' Moreton B'y, s'elp me."
"Thanks for your advice mate. I'm learning Lannigan's top dog here."
"F'Christ's sake call 'im Excellency and pull yer lock when ye speaks ter 'im or ye'll get 'nother 'undred. 'Nother thin' I axes ye to bear in mind. Never answer back to Morrison or any overseer ven 'e speaks to ye. On'y pull yer lock an' nod. Be dumb, covey, be dumb."
"I'll be dumb all right, matey, but by God the day will come when I'll get even with some of the tyrants here."
"That's wot we all think, covey, but dassent speak abaht. 'Nother thin', don't be ketched thievin'. Ef yer do, it'll be up at eight wiv a' hempen necktie on, an' down at nine. But mum's the vord, covey."
Nigel Lording did not speak but pressed the calloused hand of his friendly adviser as evidence of his understanding, then he muttered back.
"What were you transported for matey?"
"F'r stealin'. Th' cop vot arrested me vos f'r makin' me serve in the navy, an' the cove—a jeweller he vos, guv me in charge, guv 'im the tip to make me serve me country; but the commander of the vessel ordered the cop t' take me back. F'r v'y? He didn't vant thieves in the navy. So 'ere I am servin' th' Almighty at Moreton Bay. Vot was you lagged for, covey?"
"Murder! Then ye be a wery bad villain, covey, but not so bad so be ye murdered a cop or a varder. At the Coal River an' Port Macquarie, I've seen varders an' overseers croaked. I'd croak em meself ef I had 'arf a charnse. Mebbe I vill some day. They'r wermin like overseer Morrison."
"Then you were not transported to Moreton Bay?"
"Vy bless ye no covey, I vos sent to Botany Bay, then to the coal mines at Newcastle, an' t' Port Macquarie. I'm an old bolter I am, vot they calls incorrigible, so 'ere I be wiv a lot more hardened villains, starvin' on skillagalle."
"Then they haven't tamed you yet, matey?"
"Lor' bless yer, no, covey. Not even th' Almighty can tame 'Enery Taylor. I'm waiting to do for that tyrant Morrison. Then the Almighty can string me up."
Henry Taylor, otherwise "The Squeaker," was typical of the convicts at the Moreton Bay Settlement. They were as a rule a morose lot, and not given to exchanging confidences, for fear of treachery. It was only to the new arrivals they unburdened their confidences. To these they boasted of their villainy and often made themselves appear worse than they really were. It was from such men as Henry Taylor, men who often spoke lightly to hide their seared hearts, that Nigel Lording learnt all about the discipline of the settlement, its ways and means, and the best methods to adopt to avoid punishment. To be dumb and subservient, to perform the most gruelling tasks uncomplainingly, to submit to the bullying treatment of overbearing officials clothed with the most autocratic powers, was to escape torture. But when, as it sometimes happened, the tasks assigned, the treatment meted out, and the infernal goading became unbearable, the vengeance of the tortured felon became a leaping, overwhelming force, and the murder, swift and terrible, of an official was the result. This was what his Excellency Captain Pearce Lannigan, the supreme tyrant, often feared, despite all the precaution that he took to protect himself.
Though Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales, with his Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Forbes, visited the settlement in Moreton Bay in 1825, their visit of inspection did not in any way alleviate the lot of the convicts. All that they did was to confirm the choice of Lieutenant-Surveyor General Oxley in selecting the site for the settlement in the new territory—not at Umpie Bong, on the shores of the Bay, but twelve miles up the river from its mouth. In the fondness of his conceit Chief Justice Forbes named the settlement Edenglassie, after his own birthplace, but his conceit was not perpetuated, and the settlement soon began to be known as Brisbane Town and the magnificent river on which it was situated the Brisbane. The name was a fitting tribute to the Governor who first ordered the establishment of a convict settlement in the region to the north of Port Macquarie.
Soon after his return to Sydney Sir Thomas Brisbane was recalled by Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, because he was too peace-loving, too prone to rely on subordinates, and too much of an onlooker. He was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Darling, who immediately after his arrival in New South Wales tightened the bonds of both military and convict discipline. He also took a keen interest in the settlement at Moreton Bay. He disliked, however, the site twelve miles up the river because of the tediousness and difficulty of the access. He therefore promised to make a new settlement on Stradbroke Island, which, with Gnourganpin (Moreton Island), almost land-locked Moreton Bay. The proposed new settlement was at a place called by the blacks Goompie, but afterwards changed to Dunwich.
Included in the detachment of convicts from the Brisbane settlement detailed for work on Stradbroke Island was Nigel Lording. The detachment consisted of picked felons of the most desperate type even among the incorrigibles at the settlement. There had been frequent attempts at bolting into the bush and the commandant, notwithstanding his strictest vigilance, could not stop the bolters even though the punishment inflicted upon them on their capture or return was most merciless.
The convicts, chained like galley slaves were made to row in boats laden with utensils and provisions down the river and across the Bay to Goompie, where they were made to clear the land for the growing of cotton. Out of the felled timber slabs and shingles were split for the erection of huts and sheets of bark stripped from standing gums and flattened out by heavy logs to dry for roofing.
Overseer Morrison, with four soldiers well armed with brown besses, were in charge of the gang, and the work of clearing went on apace.
There was very little opportunity for bolting. Though Stradbroke was discovered to be an island its area was immense, and even if a convict absconded from the new settlement at Dunwich the chance of his getting over to the mainland, unless assisted by the blacks, was remote.
Dunwich faced west and looked over the calm waters of the Bay towards the setting sun. Behind rose high hills, and in between these hills and the sea were lagoons of the purest fresh water. Game and fish were plentiful. At night when all was still there came across the island from its eastern shore the roar of billows as they rolled majestically over long miles of perfect beach.
Even this spot of perfect climate and heavenly peace was desecrated by brutality. The lash was the goad that flogged the convicts to a higher endeavour. Overseer Morrison, in supreme command, emulated the commandant in exercising petty tyranny over the felons that formed his gang.
Not far from the clearing the blacks had formed a camp. They were a portion of the Turrubul tribe that had crossed from the mainland to Bribie Island, thence to Moreton Island, and across the South Passage to Amity Point, on Stradbroke Island. In their hunting, guided by the smoke from the burning-off at Dunwich, they paid a visit to the white men's camp. Overseer Morrison warned them off. He threatened to flog any black that overstepped the boundary of the clearing. To emphasise his threat he showed them the "cat."
One young buck, more truculent than the others, had a smattering of English picked up at the settlement up the river. There he was known as "Boney" from his facial resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte. He was cunning, elusive, and of superb physique. The 'possum skin he wore tied round his middle accentuated his nakedness and his symmetry. Looking at the "cat" which Morrison held in his hand, he asked:
"What that pfeller pflog mean?"
"Gammon, you don't know, Boney. Some time you don't look out you taste that fellow," and Morrison made as if to hit him.
Springing back instantly, the black exclaimed:
"Baal, megundawarra!" (spear man), and poised his spear with an angry glint in his eyes. It would have been a very easy thing for the black to spear Morrison, who immediately held up his hands in token of peace, but he had an ugly look on his face, which became all the uglier when the convicts grinned at his fear.
"S'welp m' Gord," muttered a convict named James Brady to Nigel Lording, who was working with him rolling a heavy log with wooden crowbars, "if he ain't scared." Nigel Lording did not reply. He still adhered to his policy of silence. He might have been deaf or dumb for all the speech that Morrison could get out of him. He obeyed every command, performed to the best of his energy every task set him, but he kept his silence. Under it all he did not break down, but endured. He had a feeling that some day not far distant he would want all his strength, and he kept himself fit.
One day not long after this incident a tomahawk was missed. Brady had used it last. He had cut a handle for a crosscut saw and left it sticking in the stump of a felled tree. Morrison missed it when checking the inventory of the tools at the end of the day's work. Brady remembered where he had left it and was ordered by Morrison to go and get it. With his leg irons clanking as he walked he went to where he had last used it. Morrison went with him. It was getting dark and the overseer did not trust any of the convicts going about alone after dark, even though ironed, without a guard. The tomahawk couldn't be found. Morrison accused Brady of hiding it. The convict denied any knowledge of its whereabouts, but Morrison chose to disbelieve him and called him a rogue and a liar, striking him with his fist as he did so. This the convict resented. Unjustly accused, Brady for the moment forgot the golden rule—never to answer back to an overseer.
"Go and find the thing yourself," flung back Brady.
Morrison was furious. This was insubordination of the first degree and was punishable by flogging. Brady knew what to expect—"A hundred in the morning, Brady, to make you keep a civil tongue in yer 'ead."
"Do yer worst, yer cowardly bully——"
"And fifty," added Morrison.
"Make it two hundred. It's all the same to me, Morrison."
"Two hundred it is, Brady, m'earty. It's me that 'ill 'ave the pleasure of tannin yer 'ide. Yer'll get them in relays of fifty m' brazin' 'ero."
It was no boast on Morrison's part that he would flog Brady himself. He was a powerful man and before he was appointed overseer, he was a flagellator. For this, he was mortally detested by the convicts. He had learnt the art of wielding the "cat" at Norfolk Island and Macquarie Harbour, and latterly at Moreton Bay. He prided himself on being able to flog a man without breaking the skin. Consequently there was no blood spilled. But the back of the unfortunate flogged had the appearance of blown veal and shook like a jelly.
That night in the camp as the convicts lay stretched out on the warm sands of the shore as near to the water as possible to escape the mosquitoes, weary from the day's labour of clearing the bush, the incident of the lost tomahawk was made known to them and discussed quietly.
"True as Gord, Brady, did yer sneak it?" asked Henry Taylor known as the "Squeaker" from the tone of his voice, whose major aversion was Overseer Morrison.
"No, Squeaker, I left it stickin' in a stump an' forgot all abaht it. When I went to look for it the blarsted thing was gorn."
Nigel Lording, who was lying near, said: "Do you think the blacks took it, Brady?"
"Hanged if I knows or cares. It's gorn, that's all abaht it, 'cept I gets two 'undred in the mornin'."
The blacks were wily and covetous and a tomahawk was a priceless possession. It made the climbing of gum trees and the cutting out of 'possums from the hollow limbs easy. It therefore became the accepted theory that the tomahawk was stolen by one of the blacks who must have crawled unseen through the bushes and bracken skirting the clearing, and stolen it.
Next morning, after their breakfast of hominy and salt beef, overseer Morrison paraded the convicts and harangued them on the loss of the tomahawk, at the same time accusing Brady of its theft. For that, and insubordination he was to be triced up to receive two hundred lashes.
"My Gord!" exclaimed the Squeaker under his breath.
Nigel Lording, who was standing near to him, heard the expression of horror. He, too, was horrified, but if the theft could be proved against Brady, it was, according to the code of the Commandant, a hanging matter. The flogging was for answering back, thereby offending against the dignity of the overseer; but Nigel Lording reasoned that if the tomahawk were found, there might be a mitigation of the flogging. Stepping up to the overseer and pulling his forelock, the customary salute, he said (though it was much against his pride to show humility to such an offensive bully): "Your pardon, sir. But isn't it just possible that the tomahawk was stolen by the blacks?"
This had never occurred to the dull witted overseer.
"Whot's that to do with you? Who arst you to put in your oar?" That was enough. Nigel Lording stepped back and said no more. But he had set the dull wits of the overseer working. Morrison sent one of the soldiers over to the blacks gunyahs to get them to come over to the white man's camp, but to leave their spears and nulla-nullas behind.
The blacks had respect for any one in the King's uniform and obeyed the summons of the soldier, all except the gins who were ordered by "Boney," the chief in charge of the tribe, to remain behind.
Near the beach, not far from the camp, was a forked sapling which had not been felled in the clearing. It was saved for use as a triangle. Brady's up-stretched arms were lashed to the forks and his ankles fastened to hardwood pegs driven into the ground three feet from the tree and three feet apart. Morrison, stripped to the waist for greater freedom, held the vicious "cat" in his hands, running his fingers lovingly through the cords. The convicts, hobbled with leg irons but with hands free for working, stood around guarded by the soldiers with their loaded flint-locks. The blacks squatted near, interested spectators of a ceremony that they did not understand. It was soon, however, made clear to them. Morrison, throwing the "cat" over his shoulder, picked up a tomahawk. Holding it up to the gaze of the blacks, he said:—
"This feller," pointing to the bound convict, "been steal 'um tomahawk like this feller (holding up tomahawk). Him bad man. Now, I been flog him for steal 'um tomahawk. Suppose black man steal 'um tomahawk, me been flog 'im like this feller." Then the brawny overseer commenced to flog. When he had delivered fifty strokes, he stopped for a rest and a smoke under the shade of the tree. The heat was intense and the waters of the bay were unruffled by a breeze. The sun poured its heat on the bare back of the convict and the sand flies swarmed on the bare flesh. The agony of the heat and the bites of the sand flies were worse than the flogging.
"Morrison, get on with yer job," fiercely shouted Brady.
The overseer, taking no notice, finished his smoke and then deliberately resumed the flogging. Before he had finished the second fifty strokes his arms began to grow weary. He was growing old and he did not place the stripes accurately across the back and shoulders, but struck low across the convict's loins. This was too much for the experienced Brady who had been flogged many times and understood the etiquette of it.
"For Christ sake hit higher, Morrison, yer a novice at the gime."
There was one thing that Morrison prided himself on and that was his ability with the "cat." Brady's remark that he was "a novice at the gime," hurt his pride and he snarled.
"Novice, am I? Well as the 'cat' won't scratch hard enough, let us see what a lawyer 'cat' will do."
This was a cat made out of the long saw-like tendrils of a lawyer vine, with teeth as sharp as those of a band saw. The punishment inflicted by this instrument of torture was terrible in the extreme. Even the soldiers, used as they were to brutal treatment, were horrified, and a deep throaty growl came from the convicts. But Morrison, unperturbed, waited patiently while one of the warders went to his hut to get the "Moreton Bay Stinger" as the new cat was called. All eyes were focused on the overseer, who stood with arms folded by the side of the bound convict. Even the blacks edged nearer and nearer, fascinated by the white man's brutality. Nigel Lording standing at the back of the human cordon nearest to the blacks, felt something move at his feet. Looking down, he saw that it was a spear that "Boney" had been secretly moving forward with his toes. Instantly, he put his foot on it, and warned the black by a gesture not to move further. The warder had returned with the "Stinger" which he handed to Morrison, who said:
"Now, Brady, p'raps this 'ill cool yer onruly tong'." As he flourished the 'Stinger,' prior to striking, and looking intently at the bared back of the convict, he added, "I wonder, Brady, who'll be in 'ell first, you or me——" and he swung the "Stinger" backward and forward to gain direction and momentum, before striking, as a golfer addresses the ball. But no blow fell. A spear hurled with terrific force by an unseen hand, pierced the overseer in the middle of the back and the point come out a foot through his chest. Morrison uttered a groan and fell forward at the feet of the convict, dead. It was a bolt of vengeance, and instantly the eyes of convicts and soldiers turned to see whence the spear had come. They were so intent on watching Morrison's swinging of the cat, that the thrower of the spear was not seen. The soldiers levelled their firearms at the blacks and fired wildly, but the elusive natives had instantly fled into the thick bush. To follow them was useless, if not dangerous, and the soldiers were there to guard the convicts and not to shoot blacks.
The spearing of Morrison was so dramatically sudden, that the convicts were speechless. The first who spoke was "Squeaky" Taylor.
"Strike me, but I sees a tomahawk fall from 'Boney's' 'possum skin as he scooted into the scrub," and he ran to pick it up. It was the missing tomahawk which Brady had been accused of stealing, and hiding—a dangerous weapon in the hands of a convict.
After this incident, the new settlement at Goompie (Dunwich) was broken up. An inquiry into the killing of Morrison was held by the Commandant at Brisbane Town, but no one could swear as to who threw the spear. That the thrower was one of the blacks was generally believed, but the Commandant was not too sure. It was thrown from where Nigel Lording was standing. Of that the warders and soldiers were positive.
"You infernal dog! You know who threw that spear," fumed the Commandant at Nigel Lording. "You stubborn hell-hound, but I'll get you yet at the end of a rope."
Nigel Lording made no reply but looked with eyes glinting with a cold hard hate at the fuming Commandant, who turned away, baffled, fearing the fury of a tortured soul.
The black, "Boney," who was accused of stealing the tomahawk, was subsequently arrested and placed on a small island not far from the mouth of the river, which was afterwards known as St. Helena; but the captured replica of Napoleon escaped a few days later by making a canoe out of a sheet of bark and paddling back across the bay to Stradbroke Island.
Notwithstanding that Captain Lannigan was heartily disliked for his tyrannical and supercilious character, the settlement on the Brisbane made progress. The sway of the lash and the work at Brisbane Town went on apace. The windmill on the hill at the back of the settlement was completed, but all the ingenuity of the commandant and his incompetent staff could not make it work. The sails refused to move. The mechanism was somewhere at fault as the sails could not be kept constantly turned to the wind. Even the form and position of the vanes were at fault. The commandant ordered the clearing of a large space around the huge cylindrical tower in order that the trees would not obstruct the prevailing north-easterly winds, but the labour was expended in vain. The sails refused to revolve. The commandant cursed and flogged, but the winds blew on a motionless windmill cap so that the sails were not presented in the direction of the wind.
In desperation the commandant converted the huge base of the tower into a treadmill and used it in the direction of prison discipline. It therefore answered a twofold purpose, as a machine for grinding the maize grown at the settlement into maize meal for the convicts, and as an instrument of labour and torture. The wheel was sixteen feet long and five feet in diameter, having on the periphery twenty-four equi-distant steps. The wheel was made to revolve by the weight of the prisoners treading on the steps. A horizontal handrail to the height of a man's chest ran along the length of the wheel which the prisoners held on to for support. The work of keeping the wheel revolving continuously was laborious and tiring in the extreme. Its speed was graduated by a brake controlled by an overseer who never erred on the side of leniency. If a prisoner lagged in the eternal treading his failing efforts were speeded up with the lash. As a hard-labour punishment in the confined and ill-ventilated base of the tower when the humid heat approached a temperature of a hundred degrees it was infinitely worse than labouring in the quarries. There were no favours shown. The weak and the strong were compelled to equal exertion and many of the unfortunate wretches collapsed under the strain. With such a wonderful instrument of torture that produced such profitable results at his command the ruthless Captain Lannigan forgot all about the failure of his windmill. The commissariat store on the north bank of the river, built out of stone hewn from the quarries and dressed, was also completed, and the commandant moved into his new quarters up from the King's Wharf and commissariat stores between the rough roadways known as William and George Streets, running parallel with the river from the site of the hospital past the soldiers' barracks down to what was known as the garden reach of the river, where maize and vegetables for the feeding of the settlement were grown on the first cultivated land at Moreton Bay. Through this cultivation ran a muddy mangrove creek into Frog's Hollow, which was later filled up and converted into what was subsequently called Albert Street. From this tidal creek and the one a few hundred yards further to the north, which was also filled up and converted into another roadway, appropriately named Creek Street, fish and crabs were caught which were eagerly devoured by the half-starved convicts as a relief from the eternal salt beef and hominy. It was on the north bank of the creek where the huge pine tree stood to which the convicts were tied and flogged.
A message had come from the authorities at Sydney to the effect that a contingent of female convicts would arrive before many months had passed to swell the population, and preparations were to be made at once to receive them. The commandant at once commenced to build for them quarters in Queen Street where the General Post Office now stands. These quarters were known as the female factory. Other quarters were built at the cultivation at Eagle Farm.
In the intervals between governing the settlement at Moreton Bay and the flogging and hanging of convicts, Captain Lannigan, who, to give him his due, was never idle, and who carried out to the utmost of his ability his thankless task of turning a wilderness into the semblance of a settlement and a civilised community, made frequent journeys of exploration into the unknown bush to the west and south of the settlement, discovering rivers, naming mountains, and searching for botanical specimens. It was on one of these expeditions that he discovered, up beyond the junction of the Brisbane and Bremer rivers, a hill of limestone, where he formed a new settlement, which he named Limestone Hills, subsequently (owing to evil associations) changed to Ipswich.
Lime was very necessary for the manufacture of mortar for use in constructing the stone buildings at the settlement. Prior to the discovery of the deposit at Limestone Hills lime had been brought from Newcastle and it therefore afforded the vigorous and energetic commandant considerable satisfaction to learn that lime could now be obtained in limitless quantities handy to the back door of the settlement at Brisbane Town. Moreover, owing to the lack of transport by teams, the quicklime could be readily conveyed by punts down the Bremer and Brisbane rivers to its destination at the settlement.
For the purpose of burning the limestone the commandant employed a number of the convicts under his control to build the kilns for the manufacture of quicklime. This was carried from the works to the Bremer in bags on the backs of convicts and loaded into the punts. The overseer in charge of the limestone burning at Limestone Hills was a man of ruthless severity who had at his command two scourgers whose jobs were no sinecure. The "cats" were scarcely ever out of their hands. The lime-burners were flogged on the slightest pretext. If from weakness or accident a convict stumbled and spilled the contents of his bag he was flogged with never less than fifty strokes of the "cat." Loaded as the convicts were with heavy leg irons, stumbling over the rough ground to the river was not infrequent, and a flogging always resulted. After the flogging the lime-burners, with raw and bleeding backs, were forced to continue their labour, with the result that the lime was slaked by the blood trickling from their backs, thereby causing the most intense pain.
When the settlement on Stradbroke Island was temporarily abandoned after the murder of Overseer Morrison, Nigel Lording, for whom the commandant still had the utmost hatred, was drafted with a gang of desperate felons to the lime-burners' camp. Whether by design or accident, "Squeaky" Taylor was always included in the gang which contained Nigel Lording. Taylor was as weak as Lording was strong, and between the two convicts there was formed, by their constant association, a bond of genuine attachment. As cunning as a rat and as agile as a monkey, which by his bent back, long arms, his wrinkled facial expression and restless eyes, he strongly resembled, Taylor often put Lording wise to many expedients that lessened the misery of both. Moreover, Taylor was the only living soul who knew that it was Nigel Lording who had thrown the spear that had killed Morrison. In his sight Lording was therefore the hero of the settlement because he was a killer. Had he not killed his man in England and had he not killed another at Moreton Bay? As a rule there was very little loyalty among the felons at any settlement or camp. If a convict, by betraying another to an overseer or to the commandant, could by so doing gain amelioration of his lot he would not hesitate to betray. Though Taylor was aware that Captain Lannigan had the most intense hatred for Lording and that he only wanted the slightest opportunity to have him hanged, he kept his own counsel. He was aware of the fact that if he had given evidence against Lording in the killing of Morrison he would have rendered the brutal commandant such a signal service that he might have qualified for a ticket-of-leave; but his detestation of the commandant was no whit less than that of Nigel Lording's. It was, therefore, with some sincerity that Nigel Lording called this unlettered but faithful specimen of humanity "matey" and Taylor always addressed Lording as "covey."
The burning of the limestone in the rough improvised kilns required a quantity of firewood. This the convicts had to cut and carry to the kilns. The wood mostly used was ironbark, as it burned longer than gum and gave the most intense heat. To cut ironbark it was often necessary for the convicts, under the strict surveillance of an overseer, to travel some distance from the camp at Limestone Hill. This had its dangers, for the blacks were troublesome. They had erected their gunyahs and were camped by a deep waterhole where fish were abundant and wallabies plentiful in the scrub. Two convicts had felled a tree and had cut an opossum out of a hollow limb. This meant food, but they had no knife with which to skin their find. The blacks' camp was not far away and the bucks had not returned from the hunt. The convicts, disregarding the gins and lubras, went over to the camp and broiled the opossum on one of the camp fires, not waiting to remove the entrails. When the hair had been burnt off and the opossum partially roasted, the convicts returned to the tree they had felled and greedily ate the opossum. Fresh meat of any kind was a rarity, and the half-starved wretches tore into the juicy flesh with teeth and fingers. It was an hour before sundown and the returning blacks, hearing the angry barking of their dogs at the camp and the chattering of their gins, ran up to the camp to see what had happened. The blacks resented the cool invasion of their camp by the white-men and tracked them to where they had just finished their meal.
The overseer who had been supervising some distance away, hearing no chopping, went over to find out what the convicts were doing. If they were loafing they would be flogged. Unconscious of any danger he walked towards the convicts, who had stood up to resume their wood cutting when he saw both fall, pierced by spears. Then he saw a number of blacks run forward shouting their tribal war-cry. The overseer, who was armed, fired and killed a black who was about to hurl his spear at him. Before he could fire again the blacks, alarmed, hastily retreated. The shot fired by the overseer startled the camp at Limestone Hills and two soldiers were ordered by the superintendent in charge to go and find out what had happened. When the blacks, who recognised the authority that lay behind the red-coats, saw them approach at a run, they vanished with the whole of their tribe into the dense scrub bordering the waterhole, where pursuit would be both useless and dangerous. The blacks who had speared the convicts were a section of war-like wakkas of the Upper Brisbane River. Hitherto, the white men who had dealings only with the more peaceable tribes of Moreton Bay, such as the Turrubul tribe, the Wogee tribe on Moreton Island and the Goenpul tribe on Stradbroke Island, had regarded the aborigines as harmless and inoffensive; but the sudden hostility of the natives in the region of Limestone Hills brought it home to them that the tribes remote from the sea were more treacherous and dangerous than those of the coast, notwithstanding the fact that certain runaway convicts were treated kindly by them.
Though the murder of a convict or two did not worry the Commandant to any extent, it saved them eventually from being hanged, no doubt—nevertheless he gave orders to the soldiers to shoot any aborigines of the settlement at Limestone Hills, and a stricter lookout was, therefore, kept. Several convicts had managed to rid themselves of their shackles and bolt into the bush. Some had never returned. The Commandant was afraid that if these bolters joined with the blacks and were accepted into their tribes, the aborigines under a white man's evil influence, might become a dangerous menace. A way of cutting through their irons without files was learnt by the convicts, but how it was found out will never be known. In the scrubs where the convicts worked at clearing, there grew a very strong grass which was known as spear grass. Smeared with gum from wattle trees, dusted with sharp sand, and allowed to dry, a primitive pliable file was formed which, carefully used, and with considerable patience, cut through the iron links without making a noise. It is said that human ingenuity can overcome any obstacle, and many of the convicts were resourceful in the extreme. Their wits were made sharp by torture and suffering, and not even the brutal discipline of the Commandant and his overseers could prevent some of them from bolting and ridding themselves of their irons. The overseer who narrowly escaped being speared when the two convicts were killed by the blacks, was a tyrant named Thomas Martin. It was under his direction that the lime kilns were built. He had some knowledge of brick making, and brick laying. He also had some knowledge of masonry and taught the convicts by a liberal use of the lash, how to dress and lay the stones hewn out of the quarries at the settlement on the Brisbane. It was he who superintended and directed, under the orders of the commandant, the building of the stone buildings at the settlement, and the huge windmill tower that was a failure as a windmill. If the stones of these buildings could speak, they would tell a tale of unspeakable inhuman cruelty that synchronised with their building, even as the stones that went to the building of the Pyramids, if endowed with tongues, would tell a story of such infinite horror and cruelty that would cause a shudder to run through the limitless ages.
Nigel Lording and Squeaky Taylor had both felt the sting of Overseer Martin's "cat." If he had been speared by the blacks, the settlement would have had another tyrant less. At intervals between shovelling limestone into the kilns and carrying dead wood from the forest to hurl into the blazing fires, Lording and Taylor found time to make cautious and subdued remarks.
"I 'ears as th' Orlmighty's comin' to Limestone 'Ills, covey, to 'ave a nigger hunt to learn the blacks not to spear us lags in the lawful hexecution of our dooties," muttered Squeaky Taylor under his breath to Nigel Lording, as they were carrying a heavy ironbark log between them to the kilns.
"Well, matey, it is to be hoped that the blacks will get him some day when on his exploring expeditions. If he earns their vengeance, he must look out for payment in full," replied Lording.
"They do say, covey that them there blacks is werry bad cannibals. Would 'e now be afeered to bolt afore the Orlmighty comes, and trust yerself to the savidges?"
"May be, matey, but I've made up my mind to live and see this business through. My life is not my own to lightly throw away. I've dedicated it to another, and she is, I believe, on her way now to Moreton Bay."
"Crikey, covey, yer don't say as they're sendin' wimmen out to this 'ere 'ell?"
"I do, matey."
"My Gawd! But cheese it, covey, Martin's squintin' this way."
While this subdued conversation was going on, Lording and Taylor had eased up in their walking. The log they were carrying on their shoulders was heavy and their leg irons clanked as they walked.
"Now then, you lags, get a move on!" shouted the overseer, coming over and striking both men with the cat to speed them up. As he struck, Taylor stumbled, and the cat cut him across his face instead of his shoulders. Almost blinded by the pain, the convict suddenly dropped his end of the log which fell on the overseer's foot, badly crushing it. Taylor's face under the sunburn and dirt blanched. He knew what the dropping of that log meant. Overseer Martin, fuming and cursing, sat on the grounds nursing his crushed foot. Nigel Lording looked on, with folded arms, stern, contemptuous, motionless. Martin glanced up, saw the look of contempt and the ill-concealed sneer in the eyes and face of Lording, and the terror in the face of Taylor. "You'll pay for your clumsiness, my man," said the overseer, looking fiercely at the unfortunate Taylor. "The scourgers have had an easy time of late, but my God, they'll exercise their muscles on your hide for this outrage. As for you, you swine," he raved, looking savagely at the motionless Lording, "I'll see that you lend a hand."
The soldiers who patrolled the camp, hearing the angry voice of the overseer, had come up to see what had happened. They held no brief for the brutal overseer, and grinned when they saw him get up from the ground, limping and cursing.
"This is no laughing matter, damn you," he snapped out at the soldiers. "Take these lags up to the stockade for a lesson in discipline."
When they arrived at the stockade on Limestone Hills, they found that the Commandant with certain members of his staff, had ridden up from Brisbane Town. Overseer Martin, with much obsequiousness, and much exaggeration, reported to the Commandant the incident. He represented that Taylor had thrown down the log purposely to do him an injury, and in that he was abetted by Lording. It was useless for the convicts to say anything in their own defence. They would not have been believed.
"Well, Martin, you're in charge, here," grinned the Commandant. "What's your sentence?"
"A hundred strokes each with the cat, your Excellency, Lording to give Taylor the last twenty-five before he's triced up for his dose."
"'S death Martin, but you err on the side of leniency. If it had been me, now, why I'd have hanged the fellow. However, sentence confirmed." This was a sample of the judicial functions that frequently took place at Limestone Hills. The Court was surrounded by a military guard under arms, and the show was open to the public, but the public consisted only of the officials and the fellow convicts of the men sentenced to be flogged.
Out there in the bush where tyranny reigned supreme and the "cat" was the sceptre of an uncrowned tyrant, convict Taylor with a nature that could be loyal and faithful to a mate, and a will to endure torture that was marvellous in a body so starved and frail, received his seventy-five lashes and bore his punishment with amazing fortitude. When Lording was called upon to deliver the remaining twenty-five, he refused to do so.
"What! You refuse to obey orders?" bellowed the overseer. Lording did not answer, but the half-dead Taylor, galvanised into life by such an amazing refusal—a refusal unique in the annals of convictdom—spoke for him.
"F' Christ's sake, covey, lay them on. A few more aint neether 'ere nor there."
Still Lording remained motionless.
"Go on covey, yer can't defy them. They'll take it outer yer."
"Take the cat and flog, you mule!" again shouted Martin.
Still Lording remained motionless. He could not, if they flayed him alive, flog little matey.
In exasperation, Martin turned to the Commandant.
"Your Excellency, this is rebellion. What are your orders?"
Captain Pearce Lannigan was a determined expert in malignity where Nigel Lording was concerned, but he merely turned to Martin and said.
"Why, demme, Martin, the fellow's loyalty to his fellow lag is amazingly grotesque, 'pon honour it is. If he won't flog, he won't, and there's an end t' it. The only sensible solution is to trice the fellow up and give him twenty-five instead, with a further twenty-five by way of compound interest. That makes fifty 'cordin' to my calculating, doesn't it, Martin?"
"Aye, aye, your Excellency," answered Overseer Martin, pulling his forelock by way of salute.
The touch of sympathy that makes men more than kin, wrung from Taylor, writhing with pain as he was being released from the triangle, "Gawd, covey, if yer ain't a fool," he groaned out, and collapsed.
Sullen, but obedient and resistless, Nigel Lording permitted himself to be stripped to the waist and to be tied up to receive his fifty lashes. Though the Commandant stood by to see the flogging through to the end, he gained little satisfaction, as Lording bore his punishment without flinching. Dumbly and in a sort of mental haze, he watched the flogging of Taylor. When his turn came, he submitted without resisting. He had evolved a new idea. He would lull the brutal commandant into the belief that his will was being broken, that he might misinterpret his obedience into a willingness to yield to him. When, without a groan, he bore up under his thrashing and made no remark of any kind, the Commandant imagining that his spirit was being broken, remarked, sneeringly, "You dog. I'll make you crawl to me yet." Nigel Lording instantly discerned his week point. The Commandant believed he had him conquered. In future, he would dissimulate. He would obey implicitly every order, submit to every punishment until he had hoodwinked the Commandant and his guards into a sense of self-satisfied security. Then under cover of his abjectness, an opportunity might come when, off their guard, he might elude his tyrants and strike for freedom. Such an opportunity had come when he had killed Morrison, but that opportunity was not of his making. It was thrust in his way, and unhesitatingly and without thought of the terrible consequences that might have followed, he had seized it. In future, he would not be so rash. His every act would be weighed and studied. He would not let a glimmer of his hatred for the Commandant or for any of the overseers escape him. He began to imagine how madmen feel who watch for an opportunity to play tricks on their guards. He would watch for an opportunity to exact a terrible vengeance.
Sir Ralph Darling, who fought with the 31st Regiment under Sir John Moore in the expedition of 1808 that ended at Corunna, succeeded Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane as Governor of New South Wales, a territory which extended from Bass Strait in the south to Torres Strait in the north, and took over the administration of that vast and little known area. When he was not involved in an acrimonious controversy with the independent Press of the new colony over freer political and judicial institutions, emancipists, licensing measures, and stamp duties, Sir Ralph Darling's activities found vent in the direction of promulgating new land laws, opening up good roads, establishing a postal service, and encouraging exploration. More than any other Governor he was credited with the opening up of Moreton Bay district by the encouragement of its commandant, Captain Lannigan, and also by encouraging exploration which led to the discovery of the Darling Downs by Allan Cunningham and the tracing of the Brisbane River to its head by Major Edmund Lockyer. But his best service to the colony was the reorganisation of the administrative departments, and in this connection in a dispatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies he urged the desirability of sending out more female convicts as wives for convicts who had been given tickets-of-leave or for those who were assigned to settlers. At Moreton Bay there were then no female convicts. In 1823 Governor Brisbane developed a scheme by which Port Macquarie would be the prison for those guilty of first grave offences, Moreton Bay for runaways from the former, and Norfolk Island as the final hell of convict degradation. But Governor Darling was not desirous of retaining the settlement at Port Macquarie. In his opinion it was a hindrance to the development of its rich hinterland by free men, and he desired to leave it open for free colonisation. To this end he withdrew the lesser criminals from Port Macquarie to serve in road gangs, and the incorrigible remnant he sent to Moreton Bay. Subsequently the re-convicted women who had been formerly sent to Port Macquarie were sent further north to Moreton Bay. Earl Bathurst approved of Governor Darling's recommendation to send out to New South Wales more female convicts to help to populate the spacious territory, and as a result the hulks in the Thames and in the harbours of Portsmouth and Chatham were emptied of their female prisoners. There were, however, at the time not enough females in the hulks and prisons in England to form a human cargo for transportation, so the streets of London were combed by the police, who gathered up all the strumpets, drabs, cut-purses, and ladies of easy virtue that they could lay their hands on and shanghaied them on board a transport for deportation.
As the idea that prisoners had any claim for humane treatment had hardly made any headway beyond the circles of a few philanthropic reformers, the lot of convicts, more particularly female convicts, was brutal and degrading in the extreme. Any attempt to use the period of imprisonment to improve the nature of the criminals, was unknown, consequently they were at the mercy of their gaolers. In many instances the males were not divided from the females and the hulks and prisons became scenes of abandoned wickedness. This was the state of affairs that existed when Mary Worthington, with a contingent of female transportees—not all convicted felons—were conveyed to the transport Maid of Honour for transportation to Moreton Bay.
Though transportation had its origin in banishment it was expressly forbidden by Magna Charta. It existed, nevertheless, as a practice, because a criminal who had incurred the sentence of hanging and had taken sanctuary to avoid his fate, was permitted in some cases to escape his punishment if he exiled himself. In course of time the privilege of sanctuary was abolished by law and consequently the system of self-banishment which grew out of it; but before then—in the thirty-ninth year of Queen Elizabeth's reign—banishment had been legally established by the Vagrancy Act, which gave quarter sessions the power of transportation.
There was, therefore, some semblance of law in the picking up of undesirables from the streets of London, charging them as vagrants, and transporting them overseas; but it is doubtful whether the law of the reign of Queen Elizabeth would have been revived if the call had not come from New South Wales for more women for the new penal colony.
Mary Worthington had no regrets in leaving the old Endeavour hulk. Everything associated with the hulk system of imprisonment—if system it could be called—was abhorrent to her. It was a system where the inmates were herded together in unchecked association, where vice, profaneness, and demoralisation flourished. Like a white lily in a garden of noxious weeds she suffered her intolerable degradation. If it had not been for the power of influential friends who bribed her gaolers, she would have been engulfed in the sea of demoralisation and infamy that surged unchecked in riotous enjoyment on the hulk.
Though the supervision of the hulks resided in the Court of King's Bench, who steadily neglected their duty, the management was placed under the control of local justices who appointed the overseer, and the overseer appointed the officers. The overseer was also the contractor for the maintenance of the prisoners, and as it was obviously in his interest as contractor to cut short the supplies of food and clothing for the prisoners, his interest was diametrically opposed to his duty and to the welfare of the prisoners in his charge, consequently the prisoners suffered. The lot of those prisoners, therefore, who had neither relatives nor friends to assist them was miserable in the extreme, and they resented with much vindictiveness and malignity the favourable treatment that was meted out to Mary Worthington. This hatred of her followed her from the hulk to the transport Maid of Honour. She was a convicted murderess, they acclaimed, and she should, therefore, be wearing irons, whilst they (many of them)—and this was the agony of their complaint—had been embarked without any pretence at a proper trial.
The leader of the gang, who bitterly reviled Mary Worthington, was the half-bred, Mulatto Jane, a vicious, cruel, and incorrigible harridan. "Thrike me pink, girlths, ain't the one of uth? Ith the to be the pet of the offitherths an' uth the prothtitutes of the seamen? Let uth all be treated alike by officerth and men. Ain't we all laght?"
This speech met with general approval and as the female convicts were allowed free access to the deck during the day a special guard was assigned by the captain, acting under instructions, for the protection of Mary Worthington, otherwise he made no special effort to protect the women.
On board the transport Mary Worthington was nicknamed "The Fallen Angel," and as she was under the special protection of Martin Kenefake, who sailed with the transport as chief warder, she was regarded as his mistress; but no watchdog was more faithful to a trust than was Martin Kenefake to Mary Worthington. Though the other women on the vessel were the common property of the male members of the crew, and this with the connivance of the captain, Martin Kenefake, who went about the ship armed, gave the crew to understand that "The Fallen Angel" would be man-handled only over his fallen body. All the affection that his rough Irish nature contained went out to her, and she, knowing the infamy that went on around her, clung to the faithful chief warder as a lost soul clings to the Rock of Ages.
The lot of Martin Kenefake was almost as difficult as that of his beautiful protégée. There were men on board who hungered for possession of her. Apart from congenital tendency to cruelty the very association with so large a criminal element dulled all sense of respect and honour and engendered demoralisation below the level of brutes. The contamination of mutual bad example in a vessel carrying two hundred females was hard to combat in a space so confined that even the master of the vessel was not immune; but he dared not, if he wished to avoid a mutiny, risk his life by interfering with Martin Kenefake's ward.
Mary Worthington was aware that Martin Kenefake had a terrible record behind him and she marvelled that one so brutal as he—for he had given her many glimpses of his past, little silhouettes of life's tragedies that made her shudder—should be so solicitous for her welfare; but she was not experienced enough to have knowledge of the fact that there is a tender spot of humanity in the most debased criminal if it could only be probed, and, unconsciously, it was she who had plumbed into the depths of Martin Kenefake's soul and called into existence his better nature. The coming of Mary Worthington into his life had irradiated the black well of his life's destiny and changed his nature—so far as she at any rate was concerned—from a human beast who had lapped insatiate at the stream of sin, into a lovable old Irishman whose instincts of goodness and honour before the days of his sinning had not been wholly erased from the tablets of his memory.
"Tell me, Martin," she asked one day when they were sitting together on the poop of the Maid of Honour, as that vessel with all sails bellying to the wind that drove her almost on an even keel over a tropic sea, "why are you so good and gentle to me?"
Lapsing into the brogue of his youth when he capered bootless and barelegged in the green lanes of Kildare, he replied:
"Shure an' it's yerself, Mary asthore, wid y'r greaat brown eyes an' y'r hair like the gold on the holy althr of the church at Naas that reminds me of me own Mary Malone that I loved and was trothed to in ould Ireland before she was pinched. An' it seems to me like a bit of yistherday in a dhrame when we would sneak togither to the races at the Curragh, an' she wid all the love of a horse in her an' the merry soul of the lark. Och, the little whisper of her whin she said she'd marry me, shure it was like the lilt of a lil bird an' me heart beat to music wid ivery shy lil look of her. An' at the dance in Grogan's shebeen her lil feet would skim the flure like a swallow flitting across the face of a sthrame. Shure an' I was her shadder wherever she wint, but she was the divil for the bhoys an' I cracked the skull of more than whan of thim for her sake. In the end she put them all to the door an' meself was the only wan she cared for afther all. Thin one day she heard I was hurted wid a scythe whin cuttin' O'Sullivan's whate, and she wid all her love in her heart for her man, an' that was me, she borrowed the first horse that she cud lay holt on an' came gallopin' over to O'Sullivan's like an angel of mercy, an' shure she cud ride, the harum scarum that she was. Howsomiver, for this innocent escapade she was brought before a magistrate and sent for thrial for stealin' a horse, and was sentenced to seven years' transportation, bad cess to them. An' then me moind wint wrong wid dhrink an' I became woild. I left Kildare an' drifted down to Youghal, where I took t'r smugglin', for shure I wanted to be transported, too. Then I wint over to England and joined up with smugglers at Poole, but before I left Kildare Father Maloney told me—and it's wonderful 'ow them prastes know everythin'—that Mary Malone was shipped in the Royal Admiral for Botany Bay. Howsomiver, I was nabbed at Poole, for smugglin' and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. Wirrah! But that plased me, for shure, I thought, I would meet me Mary in Sydney Town, but sorra the sight of her did I iver see agin. Like a caged birrd she fretted and pined, and what with bad tratement and fever an' dys-sentry she died on the Royal Admiral afor she reached Botany Bay an' her beautiful young body was thrown to the sharks."
"Oh, Martin, what a sad story and what a wicked, wicked place the world is."
"Wicked, begorra, it is that, colleen. Shure the divel's wide awake in the wurruld, an' God in His hiven do be schlaping. Faith an' He's niver guv a glance at Owstralia. An' fur why? Bekase God in His mercy cannot know what hidjus cruelty an' tortshure His subjects are put to in that raymote part iv the wurruld."
"Martin, I sometimes wonder if there is a God after all. It doesn't seem right somehow that a God of heaven, mighty, omnipotent, merciful, should permit such a place as hell to exist. A God of Mercy and a God of Hell! No, Martin, I cannot reconcile myself to such a belief."
"An' ye 'ave rayson to be suspeshus, colleen. Anyhow, I've known more hell than hiven. Ye would not belave me did I tell ye wan half iv the cruelties I've suffered at Port Arthur an' Port Macquarie. God niver looked down on thim hells widout a shudder, bekase if He did His shudder wud shake the wurruld to its foundashuns."
"And Moreton Bay, Martin, what about it? Is that place a hell, too?"
"Shure an it's hell set down at the front dure of hiven, colleen, an' they do say as Captain Lannigan, the commydant, is the divil himself on a hollyday jaint fr'm hell itself."
"May one expect no mercy, no justice there then, Martin? I've met Captain Lannigan. I believe he's an Irishman like yourself, but a bad one and you're such a good one."
"Me a good one, colleen! God, ye make me laff. I'm that good, girrul, that iv I had the power over them brutes that ordered the floggin' of Martin Kenefake ye'd run from me shudderin' did I but tell ye the onmentionable cruelties that I wud put them to."
When Mary Worthington told Martin Kenefake of the circumstances in which she had met Captain Lannigan, and how she had dealt with him, his admiration for her was boundless; but he groaned with horror when he imagined what would be her fate, the fate of a beautiful and desirable girl, in the absolute control of such a degenerate official. There would be little of heaven for her there.
"Ye axed me, colleen, if there would be any justice or mercy at Moreton Bay. I'll not decayve ye, me poor gurrl, divil a bit. An' if ye belave in yer God iv mercy pray to Him that He take Peirce Lannigan to His judgment afoare ye reach Moreton Bay."
That night in her cell on the Maid of Honour there came to Mary Worthington like a divine inspiration the sublimity of Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique." It revealed to her the story of her own tragedy. At first it spoke of anguish, and striving, the anguish and striving of her own tortured soul; and then of the truth that all evils give way before enduring faith, a faith that must be hers no matter what happens; and then, finally, the sonata expressed the joy of deliverance even as the Israelites were delivered from their bondage in the land of the Pharoahs. She had often played the sonata on her own pianoforte at Pentecost, but now in the hour of her tribulations its spiritual story came to her with all its wonderful import prophesying her ultimate deliverance.
"Oh, if that could only be possible!"
"Dear God, vouchsafe to me that inspiring, enduring faith to believe that from this crucible of suffering I shall yet arise radiant and free, that notwithstanding the doubts and uncertainties that have assailed me I am still under Thy divine protection."
Admitting the ferocity of Captain Pearce Lannigan's disposition in the exercise of his merciless and tyrannical prison discipline, this must be said of him in extenuation to a certain degree: he was, though used to society, cut off by remoteness from all the finer attributes of civilisation and obliged to throw in his lot not only with criminals, whose record for blasphemy, mutual hatred, and the unrestricted indulgence of unnatural lust, was perhaps unexcelled, but with officials who were almost as blasphemous, corrupt, and degraded as the felons over whom they exercised their sway.
The element of female society was non-existent, and the yearning of his heart towards such society was indescribable. It was a torment not only to himself but to the convicts as well. To him it was a punishment that forced him to make a pet of a lubra; to them it was a punishment greater than the lash or any other than the cruelty of man could inflict upon them.
When Governor Darling broke up Port Macquarie and sent up the fearful creatures that had lost all semblance of womanhood to Moreton Bay, the old hands with parched mouths and burning flesh and eyes from which blazed desire, naked and unashamed, felt a new sensation. It was the appeal of sex. What mattered their criminal record, their tattered prison garb that barely concealed their nakedness, their blasphemous tongues and snarling lips, and their frenzied hysteria. They were women and were as welcome as angels.
But to Captain Lannigan they brought no finer feelings. They were worse than the degraded women who followed Sir Arthur Wellesley's army in the Peninsula Campaign, and he treated them with the same ruthless severity as he treated the male felons. He forced them to work at Eagle Farm, in the quarries, and on the roads, stripped to the waist. For him they had no sex appeal. They were too degraded. He preferred his young lubra from the bush, a laughing, spontaneous child of nature. He called her Eena, short for the black's Eenaweena, his little woman. The convict women she called Gaddawirra, bad women, who went with Watji-Watji, bad men.
The convict women were not immune from the lash. The commandant gave them no preferential treatment; but at last his excessive severity to both men and women called forth a protest from Governor Darling, who was himself not regarded as a model of mildness, but a man of cruel propensities. His idea of modifying Captain Lannigan's severity was the issuing of an order that no commandant should command that more than one hundred lashes were to be given in one day to one man or woman.
The drinking of rum and gambling was the pastime of the officials; but as the supply of rum was limited, drunkenness was not too prevalent. If the supply had not been limited, the commandant would not have been able to exercise his amazing energy in laying the foundations of a State. The greatest part of the permanent buildings forming the penal settlement on the Brisbane River was constructed during his regime. Though the period of his rule is regarded as the darkest in the history of the Brisbane settlement, he made progress notwithstanding the difficulties that beset him.
His next important step from his point of view was to marry the male and female prisoners. He permitted them to make their own choice, but marry they must. If any refused, the lash broke down their obstinacy. Was it not his purpose to build up a State? Then the building must be done on legitimate lines. Promiscuous union would not be tolerated.
"Damme," he explained to the only parson available—one the Reverend Gabriel Grimstone—"I want to found a State of legitimates, not bastards."
Now the Reverend Gabriel Grimstone was transported for unlawfully performing the marriage ceremony. He had arrived at Moreton Bay in the Ringarooma and was a snuffle-buster of the first order. When Nigel Lording was beaten up by Captain Paul Lewis on the voyage out, the Reverend Gabriel Grimstone exhorted him with unctious mellifluence to confess and to repent. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, therefore, learn ye the way of truth and confess," was his constant exhortation. Nor did he desist in his hypocritical and unwelcome ministrations until threatened with violence by the outraged convict.
He was one of those disreputable and dissolute clergymen who, imprisoned for debt in the Fleet Prison, insulted the dignity of their holy profession by marrying in the precincts of the prison, at a minute's notice, any persons who might present themselves for that purpose. No questions were asked, no stipulations made, except as to the amount of the fee and the quantity of liquor to be drunk on the occasion. For a bribe he would perform any wedding, even going to the extent of making false entries in the registers, antedating weddings, giving fictitious certificates, and marrying persons who would declare only the initials of their names. He even provided for a fee, sham bridegrooms to marry spinsters or widows in debt in order to cheat their creditors by pretending to have been married before the debt was contracted. For this and similar offences he was apprehended and convicted.
Captain Lannigan, with some sense of humour, dubbed him the "Bishop of Hell."
Following on the brain wave of the commandant to join in holy matrimony the male and female convicts at the settlement, came the news that the Maid of Honour, with two hundred—more or less—female convicts on board, had arrived in the Bay. As there were no free settlers at Moreton Bay, to whom these "Maids of Honour," as they came to be known, could he assigned, and as evils had already arisen at the settlement owing to the disproportion of the sexes, which was an incentive to vice, the commandant, in order to make some attempt at reformation, decided to send the "Maids" to the factory and to the farms which he had provided for them in anticipation of their arrival, there to undergo a probationary period in discipline and training before marrying them to the convicts eagerly waiting to espouse them.
But the commandant made it plain that there was to be no relaxation of discipline or punishment. The basic principle of his system of government was that every convict must actually undergo punishment without either pardon or mitigation for some predetermined period proportionate to the length off his or her sentence.
This discipline meant work of the most gruelling kind. The food problem was an insistent one, and now that women as well as men comprised the convict population of the settlement, the women would be employed in cultivation and in the grinding of corn into meal and flour in the treadmill up at the abortive windmill, and the men in the quarries at hewing stone for building, felling and splitting timber for the construction of huts, and quarrying and burning limestone at Limestone Hills.
So strict was the discipline maintained at the settlement, that when the country from the sea to the confines of the Great Dividing Range began to be opened up by the explorations of Lockyer and the discovery of the Darling Downs by Cunningham, no person was permitted to approach the settlement within a radius of fifty miles.
When the Maid of Honour berthed at the King's Wharf near the Commissariat Stores, the condition of the transportees was simply deplorable.
Their emaciated, pallid faces bore sufficient evidence of their suffering. It was obvious to the Commandant, the doctor, the superintendent of convicts and the other officials, that the "Maids" would have to undergo a period of rest and nourishment on land before they could be put to hard labour. As many as possible were accommodated at the new female factory in the bush track, afterwards known as Queen Street, but the room there was limited. Even so, every class of offender was subjected to contamination of mutual bad example; but the women were warned that they would not be spared a flogging if there was any quarrelling among them. In truth, they were too broken by the strict discipline on the transport to make any attempt at insubordination. Those that were marched to the stockade at Eagle Farm were better off, in that they had more room in which to lie down or to walk about.
When Captain Lannigan, resplendent in the uniform of his regiment, went on board the Maid of Honour with his guard of honour, accompanied by the Superintendent of Convicts, O'Rourke, to inspect the cargo of female felons, he requested the Captain to line them up.
"Blind me, Cap'n, they're a tousled lot," he remarked, as he surveyed them, "but there are husbands aplenty at the Settlement awaiting them."
At this remark, some of the women sniggered. Some even looked coyly at the resplendent commandant.
"An' I'm thinkin', Excellency, ye'll find them a tough lot; but if yer reputation's all I've heerd, I'll have no doubt, ye'll know how to discipline them," replied the Captain.
"Gawd, wait till he thpots th' 'Fallen Angel'," audibly remarked Mulatto Jane, nudging her neighbour in the line, with her elbow.
The Commandant heard the remark and noted the lack of discipline—a convict daring to speak before being spoken to.
"Sink me, Cap'n, but the discipline on your ship's bad." Then in his sternest manner, in order to impress his new subjects, the Commandant continued: "A remark like that on land would mean a hundred lashes. Stand out, woman. What's your name?"
"Jane de Thierry, y'r honour."
"Otherwise Mulatto Jane, your Excellency, seven years for theft," interjected the captain.
"By God, captain, she's repulsive enough to mate with the devil." Then to Mulatto Jane the commandant said, "If the 'Fallen Angel,' whoever she be, is no more beautiful than you, she must be bad. But if she's as ugly as sin we'll find her a husband, and you, too, my peerless Jane."
At which remark "Peerless Jane" smirked and curtsied. She felt proud at holding the deck and grinned with her ship-mates at her new name of "Peerless Jane."
"There'll be no time for grinning at Moreton Bay, my beauties. Believe me. But this 'Fallen Angel,' capt'n, which is she?"
"Fetch yer ward, Kenefake, for his Excellency's inspection," shouted the captain. Then to the commandant he said; "She's a lifer, yer Excellency, but was sent out under special protection. She has influential friends."
"But why, in hell's name, is she not lined up with this crew? Isn't she a convict?"
"Sure she is, Excellency, but these women here, especially Mulatto Jane, hold a grudge against her, and as she was sent out under special protection, with Warder Kenefake in charge, she was kept apart from the others for her own safety."
Standing on the quarter-deck of the transport, Captain Lannigan was amazed at what he had been told. Never in his experience had he heard of such a thing as preferential treatment of a convict, man or woman. "Damme, cap'n, you intrigue me, 'pon honour, you do," and he glared at the captain of the transport with his choleric, rum-soaked countenance. "This, this—blast my soul—this 'Fallen Angel,' set apart from her fellows for fear of contamination, of injury! Forsooth, I must behold her."
"It's the truth, yer Excellency—so help me God."
Whilst this conversation was going on between the commandant and the captain, Martin Kenefake, who saw in the former an implacable monster of cruelty, trembled, hardened criminal though he was, for the fate of his ward. He stood irresolute until galvanised into activity by the raging shout of Captain Lannigan.
"What in thunder are ye standing there for, fellow? Bring up your pampered Venus, blast ye, and be quick about it."
Martin Kenefake, the victim of a thousand lashes, forgot for the moment that he was a freeman and visibly wilted under the stern command of the Commandant. Touching his forelock in true convict fashion, and fearing to answer back, he went down 'tween decks for Mary Worthington.
"Darlint," he said, "I've come to fetch ye to the Monsther. Me conthrol over ye' is inded an' its Martin Kenefake that's sorry f'r ye and I'll miss ye sore, so I will."
"Oh, Martin, I'm afraid. Stand by me to the last."
"That an' I will, acushla, f'r there's hate in me sowl for that villain on the deck above."
Then came forth Mary Worthington knowing him whom she was to meet, whereas he of her long nightmares of troubled sleep, had no inkling of her whom he was to meet on the sun-kissed deck of that transport on a glorious day in June. All eyes were on her as she was gently led forward by Warder Kenefake. Lissom, beautiful, even in her prison garb of grey wincey, with the semi-tropical sun glinting through the gold of her aureoled hair, her agate brown eyes filled with apprehension, and her trembling hands pressed to the firm roundness of her heaving bosom, Mary Worthington appeared before the man she had thrashed with her riding whip at Tavistock.
There was not a movement, not a whisper on the deck of the transport, it was like a dead calm before a storm. Up aloft, the Union Jack fluttered at the masthead, and a few sea gulls whirled in graceful gyrations over the surface of the river. All eyes were riveted on the Commandant and on her who was termed the "Fallen Angel." If a mythical angel, stainlessly fair and with wings of iridescent splendour, had swooped down from heaven and stood before him on the deck of the transport instead of Mary Worthington, Captain Lannigan could not have been more startled or amazed.
"S'death! The vixen of Tavistock Green, or am I dreaming!" he exclaimed. Then he remembered. He had read in the last mail from England, how she had been implicated in the murder of Lord Belriven and had been sentenced to transportation for life. Never in his wildest imagining had he the slightest idea that this girl whose will had clashed with him in far away England, would have been sent to Moreton Bay to work out her life sentence under his jurisdiction. Still here she was, in his absolute power, to do with as he willed.
"So they call you the 'Fallen Angel,' eh? Well, the term is not inappropriate, forsooth. Fallen indeed from your high estate, but an angel in beauty in all verity. Well, I will have speech with you later, madame. In the meantime, you will have no special treatment accorded to you. That ends when you step off this vessel. You will march off under guard to the stockade with your fellow prisoners.
"Take charge of these women, O'Rourke. March some of them to the factory and others to the stockade at Eagle Farm. Keep the men from them and see that they are not mistreated in any way. And look you, women, if there's any trouble among you, or any foul play, I'll see to your punishment, and, mark me, it won't be light."
Though Captain Lannigan as a strict disciplinarian, spoke haughtily to Mary Worthington, he desired her beyond measure. Into this hell she had dropped like a fallen angel indeed. Beautiful, accomplished, with the graceful form of vigorous and healthy maidenhood, what had she in common with her fellow female felons? Nothing, save the fact of her banishment to this lonely outpost of crime. To make her come to him of her own free will, he would act the tyrant. He would live up to the reputation that she must have formed of him when in England. He knew that she would not give herself to him for any esteem that she had for him, therefore, he must drive her to him through torture and suffering. But have her he would, whether by fair means or foul. To him in his isolation among the most degraded felons in the world, she was the most desirable thing on earth and he marvelled that fate, or whatever power governs such strange circumstances, should have thrown her, of all the fair women of England, in his way. In England, how he longed to tame her, to break that proud spirit of her. Now the opportunity had come to him in a way that was startling in its inexorableness. Here at this lonely settlement, she was completely in his power and no law but that of his own despotism, could save her from him. God, how his blood tingled and his brain reeled as the thought of this delectable beauty in his arms. Surely his hell would be turned into heaven. Then there flashed across his mind that the man who had been a party to his humiliation in Devon, was also out here under his absolute power. He would now show her what power he had over that man. He would show her how completely both were under his supreme dominance. He would test to the utmost their love for each other, if it ever existed. To gain his own ends, he would make good evil. He would torture to the verge of annihilation, yet be frugal of death.
A few days after the arrival of the Maid of Honour in the river, Superintendent O'Rourke reported to the commandant that the women had so far recovered from their long confinement on the transport that they were becoming rebellious and needed disciplining.
"Y'r Excellency will, no doubt, raymimber that wry faced half-breed Mulatto Jane wot y'r Excellency cautioned f'r spakin' out of her turn on the transport. Well, be jabers, iv she didn't thry fir to shpoil the beauty of the 'Fallen Angel.' She scratched her face crool down at the fact'ry."
"S'death, O'Rourke, bring both the beauties to the barracks in irons. I would have speech with them. This lack of discipline is most deplorable, I assure you."
The commandant, accompanied by his bodyguard of two armed soldiers, left his quarters for the barracks there to interview the prisoners. When they were brought before him, he noticed that the fair face of Mary Worthington was badly scratched and her hair which now waved in rippling splendour to her waist, and which she had managed to keep trim, was badly pulled about.
"What's the trouble, O'Rourke?" asked the commandant in his most superior tone.
"I'm thinkin' its shpite, y'r Excellency."
Looking sternly at Mulatto Jane he said coldly and sternly in a tone that carried menace. "I warned you, woman, the other day that I would not tolerate brawling. Why did you molest this girl?"
"Cauth her beathly pride makth me thick, y'r honour. She thinkth she its thuperior to uth convicth."
"Oh, that's it, is it? Strip her to the waist, O'Rourke, and give her 50 lashes. Her next offence will earn her a hundred."
"Oh, please, sir," pleaded Mary Worthington, "forgive her this time."
"I never forgive, madam, and, by the way, remember this: When' I'm addressed by convicts, and that's seldom, I'm entitled to Excellency not Sir. Remember that in future."
It pleased Captain Lannigan to speak to Mary Worthington in this grandiloquent fashion. It suited his purpose to do so; but the only reply he received was a scornful curl of her lips and a flash of indignation from eyes that looked at him unflinchingly. "And, O'Rourke," spoke the Commandant, carelessly, as he turned to leave, "In order to show the women—the new arrivals—that they are on an equal footing here, give them all a turn at the treadmill, twenty-five at a time and keep them at it for twelve hours. When this half-breed has had her 'fifty,' send her up to the windmill and see that she takes her turn at the treadmill with this girl—side by side, in order that they may become more friendly."
The treadmill was generally worked by twenty-five prisoners at a time; but when it was used as a special punishment, sixteen prisoners, usually men, were kept at it for fourteen hours at a stretch, with only the intervals of release afforded by four being off at a time in succession. The prisoners, especially the women, found the task extremely irksome at first.
The one thought that now consoled Mary Worthington was that at any time she might behold Nigel Lording. Where he was, she couldn't be lonely even if she did not see him. To her there was a sense of protection in his proximity, though at the time he was working in a chain gang making a road from the King's Wharf down to the Bight. Ironed as he was, he was helpless to assist her even if he desired to do so.
Being with others in this particular gang, regarded as a strong and desperate criminal, he, not only by way of punishment, but for the purpose of extra security, dragged about with him at every step he took, "fifty-six pounders"—irons of that weight, without the assistance of a supporting waist-belt. With the incorrigibles, the Commandant took no chances. Every bolter was a menace to the settlement. Besides, now that Mary Worthington was at the settlement, he had diabolical reasons for keeping her lover safe until such time as he matured his plans.
It was no secret among the convicts that the commandant had perfected his scheme of mating the new arrivals by the female transport with the men, and there was eager expectation among them as to the manner of the mating. Were they to make their own choosing, to draw lots, or to be content with the partner assigned to each by the commandant.
Nigel Lording had his own ideas about the matter. He felt certain that Mary Worthington would not be mated with him, and when he thought of what her fate would be in this mating business, he felt as if something had hit him in the pit of the stomach and made him feel weak and faint.
Not far away from where the chain-gang was working was the "factory" where many of the women were imprisoned. Without ceasing in their toil or daring to show any signs of curiosity, the convicts saw the heavy gates of the factory thrown open and a squad of twenty-five women marched out under the escort of two warders and two armed soldiers. They took the track that led up from the flat to the spur on which the windmill stood. Then the convicts knew that the women were bound for the treadmill, to experience their first taste of weary and unremitting servitude. As the women passed the men in the chain gang on their way up the hill, they looked at the brutal and sullen felons with the curiosity that children look at wild beasts in a menagerie.
Then Mary Worthington saw Nigel Lording. With a scream like a wounded bird she cried out "Nigel!" The cry was wrung from her not only by the suddenness of the sight of him, but by the terrible change in his appearance. Gaunt, unkempt, unshaven, stripped to the waist and burnt almost black by the sun, with a small leather skull cap on his head, she saw him quarrying with heavy irons fastened to his legs. But there was no mistaking his symmetrical, athletic body. Of all the felons in the gang, he stood out alone. Despite the disguise, wrought by his martyrdom, she knew him instantly.
At the sudden cry of his name, Nigel Lording dropped his pick and turned to look whence it came. Then he saw Mary Worthington, saw her struck with a whip by a brutal warder and ordered to keep marching. He groaned and the warder in charge of the gang turned from looking at the women in the squad to see him stagger and drop his pick.
"Pick up that dam' pick, you dog. Does so much beauty overpower ye?"
Without a word he obeyed. But under his breath he unconsciously prayed: "God who ordaineth all things, give me strength and courage to help her in this place of torment!"
Twelve hours at the tread-mill, with the barest respite for food of the commonest and most uninviting nature, was enough to break the spirit of any woman unused to such a terrible form of punishment, more especially of a girl of Mary Worthington's tender nurturing. The heat in the tower, and the reeking bodies of the sweating women, made her sick; but still under the watchful eyes of a brutal warder, she was compelled to go on treading, treading, with the smellful Mulatto Jane slobbering and cursing, on one side of her, and a vicious debased but sturdy virago on the other side of her. If she failed to keep pace with the others on the great revolving wheel, which ground their souls as it ground the grain for their food, she was liable to be maimed or beaten. Though her limbs ached with an intolerable agony and her feet and hands became swelled and sore with the ceaseless monotony of her toil, there was no let up, and when the day had ended, more than one sobbing wretch was ready to curse God and die.
Captain Lannigan, with the devilish cunning of his brutal nature, knew what effect 12 hours at the treadmill would have on Mary Worthington after her life of comparative ease on the transport, and he planned accordingly. In the evening he sent a warder to bring her to his quarters and when she arrived, gave orders that he was not to be disturbed. The only being present was the young black lubra, Eena, naked, except for a swarthing of red turkey twill around her waist and down to her thighs. Her he had trained to wait on him. Not more than sixteen, she was at the budding of her savage beauty and was as upright and symmetrical as a sculptured venus in black marble. She belonged to one of the red tribes to the north of Moreton Bay, so called by the colouring of their eyebrows, cheeks, and bodies with a deep red ochre. Eena was an outcast from her tribe. Her father and mother had married out of their classes, and by the stern marriage laws of the tribe they were hunted down and killed. Their child became an outcast, a mongrel. Because of her beauty she was spared. But as her life was made bitter by the eternal taunts and jeers of the tribe, she ran away hoping to fall in with some other tribe. Though she had grown into a comely girl ready for marriage, none would dream of marrying her for she was a Kongara—an outcast. It was during her wanderings in the bush that she was founded by some soldiers from the settlement, who were scouring the country for runaway convicts, and brought, naked and unashamed, to the commandant, who adopted her, trained her, and made her his pampered slave.
Captain Lannigan was dressed in his regimentals as faultlessly as the exigencies of the settlement at the time permitted. His quarters were lit by many candles and Mary Worthington, beholding him in their flickering light, was ill at ease. Though she saw before her a man in the prime of life, vigorous, alert, masterful, there was a ferocity in his features more brutal and more intensely portrayed than when she had first encountered him in Tavistock. The manner of his living and the pitiless nature of his government of the settlement, had not tended to soften his features or to move him to pity. He owed this girl a grudge and he had her in his power, and he swelled with pride at his conception of his power.
Handcuffed, Mary Worthington stood before him; but notwithstanding her aching limbs and toil-wracked body, she raised her beautiful head and stiffened herself into an attitude of defiance.
"Madame," he said, and he smiled grimly as he spoke, standing up before her in the fullness of his masterful manhood, "I have sent for you to renew our acquaintance. Warder, remove the handcuffs from the prisoner and then you may go."
"Sir," replied Mary Worthington, when the warder had gone, "It is an acquaintance I do not crave." Though her flesh was weak, her voice was strong.
"I am hoping that you will before long. Your crime was detestable and your punishment, no doubt, just; but I am not now concerned with what has passed. It is the future that counts. Is not that so, Madam?"
"Oh, I can suffer, if that's what you mean, and claim no indulgence at your hands."
"You will pardon me, madam, but your name is Mary, is it not? Then pray be seated, Mary. It is not so much what you claim as what I am prepared to concede. In the first place, your face and hands are begrimed, and your wonderful hair is untidy. In fact you are scarcely presentable."
"Sir, have you brought me here to taunt me, to insult me?"
"Not so, Mary——"
"I prefer Madam, if you please."
"What! In hell's name, still as dauntless and as defiant as ever? Damme, Mary, I like your pluck. It's so refreshing in this land of grovelling servility. But I'll wager you'd like to bathe that beautiful face of yours and to brush that glorious hair. Eena gawai (come here) you take missie longa lie-down (bedroom). She bin Kombara Thoara (sweet girl) belongum you. Make plenty clean. Plenty walar-karamerra (rain water)."
Mary Worthington was the first white girl the young lubra had ever seen, and she thought her wonderful. With shy, hesitating steps, she walked over to Mary Worthington and took her hand to lead her to the Commandant's room to make her toilet as well as she could.
Self respect being paramount, Mary Worthington had no scruples in going into the Commandant's room to bathe her face and wash her small dainty hands. She even brushed her glowing hair with the Commandant's military hair brushes.
"Murrumba-thoara you (good girl). Boss he bin talk plenty longa you. You look out. Some time he get wamba-wamba (very mad). Then he shout like tumberumba (thunder) and flog 'im abilla (convict)."
Refreshed, Mary Worthington again faced her jailer and Eena went with her. For the company of even this little savage, she was thankful.
"Sit down, Mary. Eena, you go make tea, bring plenty kai-kai (food)." Then turning to Mary Worthington, the Commandant said:
"Is it the decree of heaven or hell that has thrown you to my absolute power? Faith, I know not. But this I do know, Lord Belriven never desired you more than I did. If I had schemed to possess you, I could not have devised in all the ingenuity of my wickedness, a scheme so fraught with success as that which fate has favoured me. To abase you, to humble you for those whip strokes with which you favoured me, has been the unfulfilled and unrepentant desire of my manhood. And yet, now that I can do with you as I will, with no one to withhold me, I feel no joy in my craving for retaliation. A penitent, crouching and pleading for mercy, gives me no satisfaction. Here in this wilderness, alone, uncared for, you must go under unless I throw out a helping hand. You, with your woman's intuition, will have perceived that here in the absence of women to be admired and desired, there is nothing else for a man like me worth while to live for. Your coming is the spark for the long dried fuel of my desire. The mere sight of you flames it into a heaven or a hell. I have willed that a life of degradation and suffering in this thrice accursed hell, is not one that such as you, beautiful, accomplished, proud, must live. You see what I have been content to enshrine on the altar of my affection—a little black Venus. She must now suffer an eclipse. You must take her place. Though I cannot free you from the term of your sentence as a convict, assigned to myself you will have many privileges."
The exclamation was wrung from Mary Worthington by the cold, studied infamy of the proposition made to her by her pitiless jailer. Pale and trembling, she got up from the chair on which she was sitting, and with pale face and haunting eyes, looked in terror at the man she feared most on earth.
"You——You," she stammeringly spoke in her fury. "You dare to claim me as your mistress. Oh, my God, and it was for this I was born! Oh, no, no, never! A convict I may be, and though branded with brands that burn into my soul, hell holds no name that is blacker than yours on its terrible scroll. Too fascinated with horror, I could not interrupt you in your infamous proposal."
"Madame, your railing is useless. I am supreme here. I thought that a day at the treadmill would give you a taste of what you will have to endure here. But it appears that you must undergo greater punishment before your suppliant knees will bend to me."
Captain Lannigan did not expect such a spirited resistance from his victim and he stood up now and angrily faced the girl whose will he had imagined he could so easily bend to his. With head erect, standing tense like a tigress at bay, she repeated:
"A convict I may be and under your sole power as chief jailer of this settlement; but I am innocent. Deeper than mine is the gulf of your guilt and deeper than hell is the depth of my loathing for the cruel suggestion of your power over me."
"Enough, madame, you surely did not imagine that I, the Governor of Moreton Bay, would ask you, a convict, to marry me. You are too credulous. In a few days when you know what punishment for insubordination and open defiance means, you will come to me on my own terms and I will heal your ruined pride and bruised and tortured body with the solace of my love."
"Sir, I defy you. You have no potence to scare me. Full in the face of your fury I tell you that my life is my own, not yours, and I will end it rather than yield to you. Though God-forsaken, alone, I will endure your martyrdom even as the man I still love, endures it. If he can suffer and live, so can I."
"Oh my fine beauty, so in him, your partner in crime, you find inspiration for your strength of will! So be it. Well, he will suffer by reason of your love for him. I'll see that he is mated in holy wedlock with your tormentor, Mulatto Jane."
Then the smiling, merry-souled little black venus, Eena, came in with the tea and cakes; but her smile was quickly dissipated when she beheld the wamba-wamba (very bad) looks in the faces of her master and his thoars (girl). She placed the tray on the table and quickly disappeared. She knew from experience that that ugly look on the face of her "boss" meant trouble. The food was left untouched. Captain Lannigan blew his policeman's whistle. The warder returned, took charge of Mary Worthington, and locked her in the "factory" with her wondering shipmates.
Where had she been?
If Mary Worthington had yielded to the puissant Commandant, she might have softened his brutal nature; but having defied him and spurned his overtures, his rule became more tyrannical than ever. He could have taken any of the "Maids of Honour" for his mistress, and she would have gone to him willingly to escape the racking servitude of the settlement. But Captain Lannigan was too proud to let it be known among them that he, the dominant, the all powerful, had been spurned by a convict. That was gall and wormwood to his almightiness. He would be satisfied with no one but the "Fallen Angel." That was his inflexible resolve. God, how he would torture her to make her yield to him! But he took every care to see that no one else claimed her. He instructed the Superintendent of Convicts to show her no mercy, no favour, but she must be kept from the men. Most of all, she was to be kept remote from the soldiers and above all from Nigel Lording. To this end, she was sent to the stockade at Eagle Farm to work in the cornfields, to dig, to hoe in the fearful heat of the humid summer, stripped to the waist, a victim to the plague of sand flies and mosquitoes.
"She would not stand that servitude long," commented the Commandant to his satellite, O'Rourke. "If she shows any sign of insubordination, make her task the more severe, but see that you do not flog her. I do not want her to come to me seared and scarred by the lash."
"Indade, y'r Excellency," remarked Superintendent O'Rourke, "she gives less throuble thin anny wan iv thim and works like a Throjan. The men look upon her as the darlint of the settlement. I'm thinkin' there's a divil a wan of thim wud raise a hand to sthrike her. As for the sojeers, Gorra'mighty, y'r Excellency, they follys her wid worshipful eyes."
And so the days went by and the lash held sway until the day arrived when the commandant decided to carry out his scheme of marrying the women to the men. Trees had been felled and split, huts built, barracks and stockades completed, and the settlement assumed the aspect of a village.
The sun rose over Gnoorganpin and the day in its gladness awoke. From river and forest and scrubland came the call and the song of the birds, as they in the joyousness of their limitless freedom, mocked the felons at their superhuman tasks. The land, clothed with its vestment of burgeoning trees, was fanned by the winds of the morning, tempering the heat of a cloudless day. All nature seemed to speak of a glorious, exquisite ease, when the peace that overhung the settlement on this new-born day was rudely shattered by a bugle call at the barracks. The soldiers assembled, the warders mustered the convicts, men and women, the Commandant and his staff rode into the barrack square, orders were issued, and the convicts wearing their clanking irons, guarded by soldiers and warders, were marched to Pine Tree Square. The stage was set for the great marriage ceremony. Like a columned colossus, the pine tree stood in the centre of the clearing. All around, save where paths were cut, leading to different parts of the settlement, was a riot of scrub and bracken and tangled undergrowth. Nature in her lavishment had hemmed in the settlement with a wall of bush and scrub.
The Commandant and his staff, impressive in their military uniforms, made a bright picture near the pine tree, and the "Bishop of Hell" was also there in stole and surplice, ready to perform the marriage ceremony.
Captain Lannigan mounted his official platform and addressed the whole population of the settlement, bond and free.
"Felons," he said, "Lieutenant-General
Sir Ralph Darling, the official head of the administration of New
South Wales, has commissioned me to expand this settlement of
Moreton Bay, the foundations of which were laid by his predecessor,
Sir Thomas Brisbane, to the very best of my authority and ability.
To this end, he recommended to the Secretary of State for the
Colonies, to send out to this, the newest of His Majesty's
possessions, a contingent of women (I believe they have been dubbed
'Maids of Honour') to mate with the gallants of Moreton Bay. They
have come twelve thousand miles to meet you, and though you are the
veriest spawn of hell, you will, I am sure, not disappoint them.
Demme, you will not be permitted to do so. Any one of you dogs who
dares to refuse to take and cherish the mate which I, in my
judgment, and not of your own choice, will choose for you, will be
flogged into acquiescence. The law of the lash will be meted out to
the defiant. Lags, this day marks the foundation of a great state.
From your virile loins there will spring a race of pioneers that
will over-run this great continent. What if you are felons and
lags! In a hundred years from now, your descendants will forget
their progenitors. They will guard the secret of their ancestry so
closely that no one will know from whom they have sprung.
Statesmen, lawyers, soldiers, administrators, in fact some of the
highest and best in this Australia, will a hundred years hence,
know you in secret as their great grandfathers. They will be virile
and brainy descendants, because you have lived the open life,
undebauched by the artificialities of civilisation.
"Rascals, we are told that men should use great providence and circumspection in the choice of their wives. But here, unfortunately, choice is limited. But I am contradicting myself. God rot you, villains, you have no choice, only the choice to take the wife I allot to you. See that you refuse not. This country is crying out for population. I will now ask the 'Bishop of Hell' to address you."
The "Bishop of Hell," with all the solemnity of the occasion enfolding him, stepped on to the platform beside the commandant, and holding up his right hand as if to bestow a benediction, bellowed:
"Brethren (for are we not akin, priest and felon?) ye have listened with much attentiveness to the eloquent address of his Excellency, the commandant, and it behoves ye to heed seriously what he has said. I am persuaded it is the Lord's mercy to place ye where ye are. He moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. His ways are past finding out. I need not advise you to love your wife. The Lord will teach you how to do it. Of the justness of his Excellency in choosing your partners, I am firmly persuaded. Do not indulge in romantic ideas of superhuman excellence. Remember that the fairest creature is a fallen creature. Measured by that standard the women here must seem to ye beautiful. And I say to ye in the words of the old proverb, 'Happy is the wooing that is not long a-doing.' It matters not that some of ye may have wives and husbands in England. If ye have ye will never see them again. As his Excellency has told ye, this country wants population. To ease your conscience, if ye ever possessed one, ye will be properly married. God sink ye, but ye are all reprobates, villains and scoundrels, and it doesn't matter whether I marry ye or not, ye'll be mated in any case. His Excellency will see to that. The fear of the Almighty, is the beginning of wisdom. Er—by the Almighty I do not mean his Excellency here, but Almighty God. If ye have wisdom ye will not refuse the wife that his Excellency allots to ye. May God forgive ye what is past, and may He give ye grace to be reconciled to the future. Virtus incendit vires."
This blasphemy, addressed, by such an infamous functionary whose wedding business in England was so extensive and so scandalous, that he was not only ex-communicated by the Bishop of London, but transported for his dangerous and unlawful traffic in marriages, was listened to with considerable amusement by both officials and convicts. Though the men, sunk to the lowest depths of misery and degradation by their manner of living at the settlement, regarded the whole affair with stolid indifference, the women, especially those who had recently arrived on the Maid of Honour indulged in much mental speculation as to who was to be her man. In any case, if the mating proved to be incompatible, they could exchange until each was satisfied. Well, they would see what Fate in this direction had in store for them. Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington looked with horror and abhorrence on the whole proceeding. No man but a devil incarnate, such as they knew Captain Lannigan to be, would have conceived of such promiscuous mating, of such an immoral and degrading proposition. What part were they to play in it?
They were soon to learn.
The commandant, who had made it his business to know the history of every felon under his sway, had made beforehand, with his wonderful genius for organisation and detail, a list of those whom he desired to mate. He made his selection probably with greater fitness than the convicts would have made themselves had the choice of a bride or bridegroom been left to them. He called out their names in pairs and as each mounted the platform (and none dared refuse) the marriage ceremony was duly performed by the Bishop of Hell, with all the ceremony of a sublime hypocrisy. The convicts regarded the whole proceeding as a monstrous joke, and made the comedy complete by a clapping of hands and a jingling of leg irons as each pair—duly pronounced man and wife—descended the platform in Pine Tree Square, and took up their places within the circumference of the cordon of soldiers. All had been duly mated with the exception of three—Nigel Lording, Mary Worthington, and Jane de Therry—otherwise Mulatto Jane. None knew the commandant's intentions in regard to these and there was a great hush and a look of expectancy on every face. Was the "killer," as Lording was known among the convicts, to be mated with the "Fallen Angel" or with Mulatto Jane? None knew, though many suspected some devilry at the back of the mind of the commandant. There was a pause in the proceedings and the silence was impressive.
Then the Commandant, emphasising the dramatic situation by gazing malevolently at Nigel Lording, called his name and that of Jane de Therry. Mulatto Jane giggled and moved forward. The onlookers gasped. Nigel Lording remained stationary. Still Mulatto Jane moved towards the platform leering round to see if the man selected for her husband was following. Mary Worthington, the unselected, standing alone, paled with horror and consternation. The fiendishness of the Commandant overwhelmed her. She staggered and was about to fall when a warder held her up. The Commandant who had looked at her hard and long, had the satisfaction of noting her agitation. He was striking her through her lover. He interpreted the psychology of her agonised soul. The mating of her lover with the most repulsive and debased woman of the settlement would end for ever her claim on him. It was his scheme of what he termed "poetic justice." Mulatto Jane had mounted to the platform. She expressed eagerness to be mated to the finest convict in the settlement, but her pre-ordained mate—by the grace of the Commandant—had not moved from his position in the human circle. This open defiance was rebellion, and the Commandant was furious. His authority was flouted in the presence of the whole settlement, bond and free.
"God rot ye villain, I'll teach ye to defy me," he shouted, in an ecstacy of rage. "Bring that rebellious dog forward!"
Instantly, he was seized by two soldiers and brought up to the platform. There he stood, encumbered with his heavy irons, but defiant.
"So, my fine follow, you dare pit your will against mine, eh? Here's your bride waiting for you. Step up and be spliced."
Nigel Lording did not move, neither did he speak. He knew that anything he might say would be used against him. Instead, he looked with immobile face and eyes that stabbed with hatred, at the infuriated Commandant. Then Mulatto Jane took part in the proceedings.
"Come, be a thport, mate. Y'bride'th waitin' f'yer. It 'th no uth. Ye can't have th' 'Fallen Angel.' The almighty wanth her for hith thelf." In spite of the tragedy looming, the spectators grinned. Some dared to laugh aloud. This made the Commandant more furious.
"Remove that chattering harridan and gag her," he shouted.
"Chrith, y'Excellenthy, I want me man firth," retorted Mulatto Jane, as she was removed from the platform.
"When I'm finished with the obstinate dog, my uxorious beauty, you can nurse him back to life." Then, to the soldiers, he commanded: "Trice him up and give the scoundrel two hundred lashes with the 'cat' to bring him to his senses."
The rough hands of warders seized Nigel Lording, and, ironed though he was, bore him to the pine tree. Deft fingers made brutal by long practice, triced him up to the blood bespattered tree and roughly tore off his jacket, leaving him stripped to the waist. Expectantly the flagellator fondled the flexible lash and combed its thongs with his fingers. He was awaiting the Commandant's order to strike, but before that order was given, Mary Worthington, who had stood speechless in dumb agony at the awful sentence passed upon her captive lover, screamed with sudden terror when she saw the white flesh of Nigel Lording bared for the inhuman flogging. Running forward with sobbing noises she threw herself upon her lover as if to protect him with her beautiful body from such monstrous treatment.
"Spare him! Spare him!" she sobbed. "Do with me what you will, but only spare him."
Soldiers and convicts were moved to pity. Even in the most debased there was still a spark of humanity left. But in the fierce Commandant there was no pity. He had been openly defied. Discipline must be preserved. Some one must suffer.
"Bring that woman to me," he commanded.
"So, madam," he said to her, "your proud spirit has broken at last. Well, sink me, but I thought I could find a way to tame you. But an old score must be wiped out. You were ever prone to thrashing and it is now my purpose to give you a taste of it. Your lover will be set free on condition that you receive a dozen strokes in his place. Then you will come to me better or worse. I'll take my chance."
Then turning to the warders he ordered them to untie Nigel Lording and to trice up Mary Worthington in his place. Stepping down from the platform on which he had been standing, he handed his hunting crop to Nigel Lording and commanded him to give her twelve strokes across her bared back to bring her into proper subjection.
"God's curses on you, you inhuman monster," snarled Nigel Lording. "May he sink me in hell from everlasting to everlasting, if I defile that beautiful body by so much as one stroke."
"Strike, Nigel, strike. I will own each stroke a caress from your dear hands, and will feel no hurt. Oh God, how you must have suffered."
"If he doesn't strike, my chastened beauty, he will not save you. Then his turn will come and his mangled body will be given to Mulatto Jane to heal, while you wait on me."
Turning to the Bishop of Hell, he said, with some pretence at a joke:
"Your lordship, while these two fond lovers make up their minds, it would not be amiss to give an exhortation to these impenitent sinners. Pray proceed."
Then with unctuous rectitude the reverend convict, perhaps the vilest sinner in that circle of martyrdom, conjured the felons to repentance.
"Ye double-dyed villains and thrice hardened sinners as yere own wickedness has caused all this evil to fall upon ye, I exhort ye to repentance, for repentance is the only road to salvation. Pray without ceasing. Quench not the spirit. Put your trust in the Almighty. I mean Almighty God—so that yere souls may find eternal rest with the blessed Saviour. He will wipe all tears from yere eyes, remove yere sorrows, and assuage yere griefs so that yere sin-sick souls shall be healed for evermore."
Then the Bishop of Hell bent his head as if in silent prayer, closed his eyes, and then came forward to where Mary Worthington stood bound.
"Mary Worthington," said he, looking steadfastly into her eyes and then allowing them to roam in ravishment over her half naked body, "ye have placed yerself in the hands of his Excellency to do with ye as he will. That is well. In a few hours ye will know nothing but joy and gladness. Love righteousness, and obey the law, then the Almighty will anoint you with the oil of gladness above yere fellow prisoners. Take heed that ye deny yourself not to his Excellency, for in him here lies the supreme authority. Transgress not beyond the limits of his and heaven's mercy. Speak up now, woman, in open testament before his Excellency and yere fellow convicts, that to save the hide of that incorrigible rogue, ye will go resignedly to his Excellency as his cherished mistress."
"Oh, no, not that! Never!" replied Mary Worthington, twisting her hands together in the agony of her mind. "Kill me first. Kill us both. But, Oh God! Let me die innocent!"
While this terrible discourse was going on, Nigel Lording was crouching down with his hands to his feet. The warders and soldiers were too intent and too amused in listening to the Bishop of Hell to take much heed of the prisoner. If they noticed him at all, they took it for granted that he was a broken man, with no will left, crouching down in the abjectness of his fear.
"Enough," shouted the Commandant. "The law of the lash must prevail, or by God, the gallows will. They've had time enough to make up their minds. Thrash that woman, you stubborn fool or——"
"I can stand no more your Excellency," interrupted Nigel Lording. "I give in; but I cannot thrash a bound woman. Release her and I'll carry out your command. If she goes to you I have no further interest in her."
Nigel Lording still maintained his crouching and abject position, and the Commandant ordered Mary Worthington to be untied. "Stand up then and thrash her, you dog. Damme, what are you crouching there for?" By way of emphasis Captain Lannigan lifted his foot to kick the convict into uprightness. Then an amazing thing happened. In a space of a heartbeat, Nigel Lording leaped to action, tense, swift, appalling, freed of his shackles. Like an untamed beast, goaded to madness by inhuman tyranny, and urged by the strength of his hate, he caught up the unsuspecting commandant in his arms and hurled him bleeding and senseless against the pine tree. Then seizing one of his fetters in his right hand he smashed through the warders to Mary Worthington. Picking her up with a swift encircling sweep of his strong left arm as if she were no more than the weight of a doll, he bounded with the litheness of a panther out of the paralysed circle of soldiers, warders, and convicts, and ran down a bush track leading to the river.
Amazed at the swift, sudden daring, the soldiers shot wide as the convict ran for freedom—or death—with his beautiful burden pressed fiercely to him. The convicts, some of whom had been unfettered for the marriage ceremony, joined in the melee and the pursuing soldiers, whose sympathies were on the side of the daring felon, turned back to assist in quelling the mutiny, their bayonets agleam in the sun. Fear-maddened, but love-strengthened, the fugitive stumbled through tangle of bracken and undergrowth, elusively running and dodging in his frantic concern to escape. Ahead flowed the turbulent river, outrunning in flood to the bay. There hope in all her tempting allurement lay. To drown, maybe, in a great endeavour. To live, perhaps. If to drown, it were better to sink and die together than to stay and live on a pitiless shore, where there was no hope, no mercy, only toil and terror and bodily mutilation—a life worse than death.
For a moment he paused to gain his second wind, and to place his precious burden on her feet. Behind came the hue and cry of the man-hunt, borne to them on a westerly breeze. Taking the hand of the girl in his, together they ran. Fear added to their speed, until they came to the mouth of Breakfast Creek, whose waters were dammed back by the flooded Brisbane River. Still behind them came the coo-ee and echo of shouting with now and then the discharge of a firearm.
Heavy rains a few days before on the Upper Brisbane and Bremer had come down in flood and the swollen river surged bayward in a red turgid stream at their feet. Great trees and heavy logs washed from the banks of tributaries, rolled in mid stream.
"Are you afraid to make the plunge, my beloved?"
"Not with you, my Nigel. If we drown, then we die together. I am content."
With quick furtive glances to the rearward as if to gauge the distance from pursuers, the fugitives then turned and together plunged into the flood-swollen river. Both were expert swimmers, but so long as they could keep afloat, not much swimming was needed. The current swept them on irresistibly and in the cool embrace of the waters they felt infinite rest from their pains. A tree was swept by them, and Nigel Lording seized one of its branches. With his other arm he helped Mary Worthington to a place on its trunk.
"Do you fear, my Mary?"
"Fear, Nigel? Am I not with you? I am frightened of life, not death."
Down by Doughboy Creek, the current swerved into an eddy near the bank. This was the opportunity they had been waiting for. They slid off the tree trunk and swam to the bank. For the present they were safe.
It was night, but the dawn was at hand. The winds soughed softly through the sweet-scented ti-trees and a boobook called to its mate. As Orion dropped down in the west over Coot-tha the scrub quails cheeped their welcome to the creeping dawn. High up on the edge of the scrub the palm fronds waved gently and whispered aloft to the towering pines, while ducks on the waters of a near-by lagoon flapped and dived among the rushes and reeds.
The roving Turrubul tribe were camped by the deep lagoon and their gunyahs were pitched on a clearing at the edge of the scrub, for fish and game were abundant. When the wongas called and were answered from the depth of the scrub by the deep-throated wompoons the myalls awoke from before their dying fires and began to make ready for the day's hunting. Before the kookaburras had finished heralding the sunrise a young lubra stepped out from the camp and walked along the edge of the lagoon to look at the fish traps. Moving with the instinct of primitive caution among the long drawn shadows of the trees she was startled to see two white people lying—dead, she thought—under the shelter of a Moreton Bay fig tree.
They were not of her tribe, not of any tribe that she knew, and she moved back cautiously, staring as she moved, at the inanimate forms lying so closely and so still together. Alert to some imminent danger, she retraced her steps, and, cooeeing, signalled to the vigilant blacks.
The cooee of the lubra awakened Nigel Lording, but Mary Worthington, who slept the sleep of sheer exhaustion, slept on. Gently removing her head from his numbed left arm, he stood up. The blacks, armed with nulla and spear, crept cautiously through the thick undergrowth, peering suspiciously around them as if fearing a lurking enemy.
Nigel Lording, to show that he was unarmed, held up both arms above his head. He was naked to the waist. His jumper had been removed for the thrashing and had not been replaced. Soon he was surrounded by the curious blacks. They looked approvingly at his back, scarred by many healed cuts. In their simplicity they imagined that he had received the scars in some great tribal fight. Looking with still greater wonderment at the white lubra sleeping at his feet, they concluded that he had raided her from some unknown tribe. This and his scars proclaimed him a great warrior, now lonely and tribeless.
"E! E! Cobbawn waruntha!" (big white man), shouted one.
"A! A! Innerah!" (lovely woman), said another, pointing to the sleeping woman.
Then into the camp walked Garawai, the headman of the tribe, who had been out in the lagoon, crawling along the bottom with a hollow reed in his mouth, to catch wild duck.
"Garawai! Garawai!" (come here, come here), the blacks sang out, and Garawai (the cockatoo—because he had a nose like one) came over to see what all the commotion was about. He was amazed when he saw Nigel Lording, whom he instantly recognised.
"Gundawarra! Gundawarra!" he shouted, and laid his spear and his boomerang at the feet of Nigel Lording by way of adoption.
"Bony!" exclaimed Nigel Lording, picking up the weapons and handing them hack to the headman in token of peaceful surrender. This pleased Garawai, who explained to his tribe that this fellow, pointing to Nigel Lording, was Gundawarra, the spear thrower, who had killed with a spear the warder on Stradbroke Island.
The talking and noisy excitement of the natives awakened Mary Worthington. She was alarmed at the sight of the blacks, and clung to Nigel Lording for protection. He answered her that the blacks were friendly and would not harm them. Then making the blacks understand that they were hungry Garawai led the way up to the camp, where the gins were roasting eels and ducks. But Mary Worthington was stiff and cramped from cold and exposure, and walked with difficulty. Nigel Lording, seasoned and hardened, took her up in his strong arms and carried her to the blacks' camp. The gins stared in amazement at a warrior carrying his woman. Then they laughed and were convulsed with laughter. But when Nigel Lording placed her before a fire she collapsed with weariness and hunger.
"Awoi! Sick fellow that one," said an old gin who found that she was burning with fever. Then the understanding blacks made a big fire in a sandy hollow near the lagoon, and when the fire had died down raked out the ashes, scooped away the earth, and made her lie in the warm depression. Then they packed the hot ashes and earth over her and protected her head from the sun with cool green boughs. She perspired freely and groaned in the hot sand-pack. Then the gins rolled her in an opossum skin rug and she slept for a day and a night, awakening thirsty and hungry, with the fever gone from her.
They had travelled far since escaping from the settlement. Ever behind them was the fear of pursuit. When night fell on the day they crossed the river they did not stay to rest. Keeping the setting sun behind them they travelled south by east. It was a dreadful night for Mary Worthington. They passed through scrubs and in silence crossed many gullies, stumbling often in the dark though the night was lit by innumerable stars. They climbed ridges in order not to make a detour, for they were afraid of losing direction. When the sun went down they kept Orion at their back and knew they were headed for the sea and away from the settlement. But whither were they going and to what end? They did not know. All that they knew was they were bolters from the convict settlement. To be recaptured meant for the man death and for the girl a fate worse than death. Better to die in the bush together, locked in each other's arms, than to die under the lash or on the gallows. For the present it was enough that they were together. After long months of separation, enduring agonies of body and torture of mind, the wheel of destiny had made another of its fateful revolutions, and had thrown them together. In the past months how often had they riven the night-watches asunder, he crying, "Give me to see her!" and she "Give me to see him!" Now they had been hurled together by the centripetal force of their destiny, a force that was mighty but unseen, and they marvelled with an exquisite wonder. For were they not together at last? But was the position they were now in, the blessing they craved or a curse in disguise?
At midnight they had passed through another belt of scrub, scratched and torn by thorns and dead branches, and came to a dead-end at the edge of a large lagoon. On the far side they thought they saw the glimmer of a light, but they could go no further. Though the strong had come to the aid of the weak, tired nature rebelled. Sinking to the ground, Mary Worthington groaned.
"My Nigel, I must rest."
Nigel Lording knelt down beside her on the cold, damp ground and supported her for a while in his arms.
"Do you know, my Nigel," she said, ever so wearily, "you have not even kissed me!"
"Beloved," he answered her very tenderly, "I was too anxiously afraid to waste the time."
It was only too true. In the frenzy and excitement of their escape, Nigel Lording had no other thought but that of freedom and safety. For the time being, his great desire was to flee—to flee without resting or halting. Impelled by the fearful danger behind them, the haunting fear of being captured, he had no thoughts but those that impelled him, to hasten, and to protect and safeguard the wonderful girl who was escaping with him. It was not a time for love but a time for herculean action, and so, with all the strength that remained to them, they fled south by east. Now they were too weary almost for speech. It was enough that they had escaped. It was enough for the present that they were free.
As Mary Worthington sank back exhausted in the crook of her lover's arm, he bent over and kissed her with a protective tenderness, in which there was no passion, only reverence. And she, through the thin wall that divides sleeping from waking, heard, as if from a great distance, a low breathing like a benediction: "My beloved!"
In the jubilation of their new-found freedom, Nigel Lording was moved to worship. There beside him lay her for whom he had descended into hell and suffered its torments. He gazed on her with rapture as she slept, the stars shining down on the sweetness of her troubled face now serene in sleep, but thin, and drawn by the terrible ordeal she had gone through. The sense of the tremendous responsibility of her appalled him. But he must go through with it. Was their escape but another milestone on the road of destiny leading to their ultimate deliverance? It must be so, and this thought buoyed him up.
"My beloved," he said, gazing fondly at the sleeping girl. "Surely where the clouds gather darkest, the star of our redemption is shining. Ahead through the night of our travail, who knows, but the dawn may be nigh?" Then he, too, overcome with weariness, slept; nor did the voices that came with the dawn awake him. The cheep of the quail, the wailing cry of the curlew, the twittering of the finches in the bushes above him, the weird call of the cat bird, the beautiful song of the butcher bird from the topmost branch of a dead tree, did not penetrate the thick curtain of his slumbering.
It was only the sharp, penetrating coo-ee of a lubra, a human fearful awakening. He thought that call, that startled him to a sudden and his gaolers were upon him. Instead, he stood facing a shy and frightened lubra. The lagoon on whose margin they rested, was called by the blacks Namboreen. The glimmer of light they had seen at midnight was one of the fires before a gunyah in the blacks' camp. Away to the South loomed a range of mountains scrub-clothed from base to summit, which the myalls also called Namboreen. If they were hidden in the fastnesses of those almost inaccessible ranges, they would be safe from the sleuths of the law. Of the tribe they were with, they had no fear. They looked upon Nigel Lording as a great warrior, who had stolen a white lubra from the redcoats at the settlement. He must love her very much if he was brave enough to steal her from the red-coats, who had death sticks that made thunder and lightning and that killed men from far away.
So the tribe took them in. It was not the first time that the Turrubuls had befriended white men. They were the same tribe that had befriended Pamphlet, Parsons, and Finnegan, three of a party of timber-getters who were wrecked on Moreton Island, and ultimately found their way to the mainland. When they were discovered by Lieutenant John Oxley, they were naked, save for the paint and other adornments of the tribe with whom they lived. It was Pamphlet who told Surveyor-General Oxley that a large river flowed into Moreton Bay, which information led Oxley to the discovery of that great river, afterwards named the Brisbane.
Though the blacks marvelled that two white fellows should walk in among them out of the night, they wondered more because of their, to them, remarkable conduct. Most of them had never seen a white man or woman before, and what struck them as particularly curious was that the white fellow should wait on, and toil for, his gin, for such they took Mary Worthington to be, and that he should relegate her to the gunyahs to the left of the camp set apart for the unmarried lubras. Why did he not permit her to sleep beside him on the opossum rug, to make her carry his spare spears and nulla-nullas. A lazy one, that one, they thought. But when they saw how deftly she had learnt to kindle a fire with twirling fire sticks and dry white fungus; to cook an eel or a carpet snake; to make needles out of the sharpened shin bones of kangaroos; to spin cord from the hair of the 'possum; to prepare sinews from the tails of kangaroo and wallaby for sewing together marsupial skins into warm cloaks to cover their nakedness, they forgave her much.
But most of all they marvelled at her red-gold hair, which now hung in wavy, luxuriance down to her waist. To them it came within their totem, and they, therefore, regarded it with totemic reverence. A gin or a lubra with beautiful flowing hair was a rarity; but when one was found who possessed such an adornment, she was looked upon as something sacred, something to be protected and cherished. Therefore, to the blacks, Mary Worthington, by reason of her wonderful hair, was a person sacred, one to be protected from all harm.
So, in time, Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington adapted themselves with wonderful patience and intelligence, to their environment. Indeed, the blackfellows began to look upon the white fellows as descendants from some great Kalumba-mutta or headman and regarded them as Amoama (sacred). Nigel Lording, besides adopting the weapons of the natives, and adapting himself to their use, taught them how to make snares and springs for catching wild turkeys and bandicoots. He taught the young bucks how to wrestle, and the ease with which he could throw them, amazed them; but when in corroboree he explained to them how he had rid himself of his irons and made his bold dash for liberty taking his white lubra with him, and swimming the flooded river, their delight and amazement were unbounded. In turn, he learnt from them how to make signal smokes with meanings, such as white smokes from certain woods, and black smokes from ti-tree bark, smokes near or far apart to talk across great distances; how to make canoes out of bark; how to make basket traps out of split green sticks plaited together with a swinging door to catch crayfish; how to make stone axes and to fasten them to handles with gum and cured sinews from the kangaroo; how to throw a spear with the aid of the wommera which made the throwing arm longer; how to climb trees for bees nests by passing a tough vine round the tree and holding both ends and so travel upwards rapidly in a series of jerks, leaning back and keeping the feet upon the tree-trunk.
The white man and woman soon learnt that the blacks were wonderful hunters. In quest of game they never camped long at one place. The men spent their time in hunting, fishing, fighting, and in making spears, shields, nulla-nullas, boomerangs, and waddies. The women gathered and prepared the food, made nets and dilly-bags, and attended to the birrahlees (children). On the march they were the camp baggage carriers, and the carriers of the lighted fire sticks. They dug for yams with their yam sticks, and ground seeds with their grinding stones, for making cakes in the ashes.
And so, living with the blacks, the whites learnt to know the track, the cry, the habits of every animal in the bush and scrub, and to take advantage of its every peculiarity or characteristic to secure it for food. They learnt how to find honey by catching bees and sticking pieces of white down on them and following their flight to some hollow tree or large dead limb. With honey, wild raspberries, geebungs, and sweet gunnaberries, Mary Worthington made fruit salads in bark bowls. Had they not learnt the ways and habits of the blacks in securing food, they would have starved, but having acquired the savage lore of the bush, they were able to obtain food in abundance.
Living a life of freedom under the canopy of the sky, they kept themselves fit and well. With yams and berries, meat and fish, wild fowl and shell fish, which they garnered from the storehouse of nature, they grew strong and robust. Their clothing was the skins of animals, and their habitations, huts of bark. In the joy of living together, free and untrammelled, they revelled in the wonders of the bush and lived near to nature's heart. Some day, something would happen that would bring them back to civilisation, rehabilitated. Of that they now began to feel sure. They had faith in their destiny. In the meantime they travelled about from place to place with their native protectors learning their bush craft, but ever fearing capture. Nigel Lording was not foolish enough to imagine that Captain Pearce Lannigan would remain inactive after the attack he had made upon him and his satellites when he had effected his dramatic escape with Mary Worthington. On the contrary, the vindictiveness of his nature would urge him to use every effort in his power to recapture them, dead or alive. Not to do so, would be a stinging blow to his pride, a negation of all the terrible threats of punishment that he had made to break their spirits, in order to make them crawl to him, and to be abject to his mastery. Therefore, to permit them to slip through his hands, without making every effort to recapture them, would be unthinkable.
The paramount desire of Nigel Lording, therefore, was to get as far away as possible from the convict settlement. The more remote their place of hiding the better. But the Turrubul tribe had their geographical limitations. They never wandered far from the Settlement, or from the shores of Moreton Bay. To remain with this tribe indefinitely, was to court recapture. This Nigel Lording made the blacks to understand, and he impressed upon them that they must leave them. There was great objection on the part of the tribe to let them go, but in the end he had his way. This meant that he and Mary Worthington would have to seek the protection of other tribes and in passing from one tribe to another, or through the country of another tribe, a rigid etiquette was observed. The Turrubuls sent a messenger in advance, dressed elaborately in cockatoo feathers or other recognised ornaments. As his credential the messenger carried a message-stick, somewhat larger than a finger or a "pass it on" cubical stone, about three quarters of an inch in size. These message sticks or stones bore markings which could be read by other tribes in the same way as a written message. The stick, in any case, acted as a guarantee of good faith to show there was "no gammon," that it was a good passport and acted as a safeguard, to, or through, other tribes. In this way, Nigel Lording and his fugitive partner who had now developed into a beautiful savage, entered the territory of the Goenpul tribe much further to the South and in whose territory lay the great mountain range of Namboreen overlooking the sea to the east and south, and the territory of Tamrookum and Mundoolum to the south west. With this tribe, and in the fastness of their ranges, they found sanctuary.
* * * * * *
When the Commandant, Pearce Lannigan raised his bruised and outraged majesty from the ground where he had been so ruthlessly flung, and recovered somewhat his dazed senses, he found the convict whom he had believed to be so absolutely at his mercy, gone and with him the beautiful "Fallen Angel." In his rage and bewilderment he could not bring himself to believe that such an incredible thing had happened. But the facts were against him. Pine Tree Square was in an uproar. The convicts were in a state of mutiny. If the disciplined soldiers had not, at the sharp word of authority from the lieutenant in command, turned from the man-hunt instantly, the convicts would probably have murdered the detestable commandant, and taken possession of the settlement.
With loaded pieces and fixed bayonets, the soldiers surrounded the felons and threatened to shoot and charge. Hampered by their manacles, the prisoners had no hope of success against disciplined authority, and order was soon restored. But it was a dramatic climax to the wedding ceremony. A few of the armed warders followed the fugitives, but they, too, soon returned to help in restoring order. Later, the bolters would soon be captured. Nothing was more certain than that. Hampered by a woman, escape was impossible. So many had absconded, but were either captured or returned to give themselves up. But the male escapee was a cunning and desperate villain. His manner of escaping had proved that. The way he picked up the girl and carried her off, with the ease of a tigress carrying her cub, proved the great strength of him. They would have to move very warily to retake him. If hard pressed, he would no doubt, abandon the girl to save himself. A scoundrel like that would stop at nothing. More than likely when starving for food, he would kill and eat her. Other escaped convicts under similar circumstances had turned cannibal. This was the reasoning of the warders, who were unaware of the past history of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington.
That evening when the convicts were safe in the stockades, guarded by armed sentries, the Commandant, Terence O'Rourke, Superintendent of Convicts, and Reuben Martin, the overseer who had followed the bolters to Breakfast Creek, held council in the commandant's quarters.
"Sink me, O'Rourke, in all my experience with desperate villains, never have I witnessed the like," said Pearce Lannigan, twirling his moustache angrily.
"Faith and ye'r roight, there, ye'r Excellency. They do be thransportin' some desperate schoundrels to this part of the wurruld, to be sure," answered the superintendent.
"And you, Martin, you say you lost sight of them at Breakfast Creek?"
"I did, yer Excellency. The villain made for the river all right, but as it was comin' down a banker, he, burdened with the girl, couldn't possibly cross, and the creek was up. He was blocked there."
"Then, damme, they're still in the bush, somewhere on the North bank. They can't get away!" and the mortified commandant thumped the table with his fist to emphasise his conviction.
"Sure they can't," agreed O'Rourke. "'Twud seem to me they've doubled back to hide in the Enoggera ranges, since to cross the river in high flood woud be impossible. The schoundrel wudn't attimpt it."
"Then, to-morrow, O'Rourke, you'll pick your men and follow up Breakfast and Enoggera Creeks and see if you can't come across their tracks. By the way, Martin, did you examine the fetters of the villain to see how he got his irons off?"
"I did, yer Excellency. They were rasped and abraded to the thinness of a pipe stem with sand and gum smeared on spear grass. To escape detection the cunning rogue covered up the filing with wattle gum and dirt. Whilst he was crouching down when yer Excellency ordered him to flog the woman, he snapped his irons with his powerful hands."
"By God, O'Rourke, the rascal is as cunning as the devil. And to think he hoodwinked the lot of us! You'll have to look to your laurels, O'Rourke, or you'll find others of the desperate villains doing the same thing."
"Faith an' they won't, ye'er Excellency. The irons iv ivery wan of thim will be inshpicted daily fr'm this out. Any attimpt at concealmint will be punished as threachery."
For days and weeks the bush to the north-west of the settlement was combed by the commandant's sleuths in the hope of finding the bolters, dead or alive, but they were unsuccessful. They questioned the blacks, but met with no success. The aboriginals to the north, especially the Jindobarries, were cannibals and war-like, and as they were not friendly towards the whites, they would not have harboured them. The blacks to the south of the river were of a more friendly disposition, but it never occurred to the man-hunters to search in the bush to the south. They believed the crossing of the river in a state of high flood, to be an impossible feat. A man on his own desperate venture, might attempt it, but a woman, never.
After a few months, the disappearance of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington, became one of the mysteries of the Moreton Bay settlement. Two theories were advanced for their non-discovery. Either they were drowned in attempting to cross the Brisbane River or Breakfast Creek, both in high flood, or they had travelled north and were killed and eaten by the blacks. In time, their escape was forgotten by all except the commandant and overseer Martin. Captain Lannigan brooded over his failure to hold Nigel Lording and to bend the will of Mary Worthington to his own purpose. Of all the people in the world, these two were to him the most important for the time being. That they should have slipped through his hands in such a sudden and unlooked for manner, was galling to his pride and humiliating to his sovereignty. He felt that the convicts laughed at him, and that the soldiers and officials were more pleased than sorry that a man so brave, even though he were a convict, and a girl so young and beautiful, should escape from the clutches of such a tyrant as they knew the commandant to be. This did not tend to sweeten the commandant's disposition, nor make him more merciful. He began to hate the settlement and decided to leave its management as much as possible in the hands of O'Rourke, the superintendent, whilst he went exploring the new country. He never gave up hope of some day learning what fate had befallen the two prisoners.
"God!" he often muttered to himself, "if I could only find them alive and in my power again!"
He was tortured by the devil of self-accusation. He had the man and the girl in his power when lo! in the twinkling of an eye, almost, they had gone. She the delectable, had spurned him, and yet the image of her flamed in the red cauldron of his desire. The beauty of her, the willowly grace of her, were his by the right of possession, and yet he couldn't hold her. She had eluded him and the bitterness of that agonising thought seared his brain as with unquenchable fire. It was at this stage of his bitter mentality that the commandant began to look beyond his prison environment and to inquire into the character and possibilities of the regions beyond the confines of the settlement. In his official capacity he had the power to extend settlement outside the strict limits of the prison colony. As an instance, his establishment of lime-burning works at Limestone Hills, led to the rise of the town of Ipswich. During his regime, Major Lockyer visited the settlement and in furtherance of the survey work of Lieutenant John Oxley, explored the higher reaches of the Brisbane River. Later, Major Lockyer made a second journey right up to the foot-hills of the great Dividing Range, and on this expedition he was accompanied by the commandant.
Having acquired the taste for exploration, the commandant, accompanied by two armed soldiers, Overseer Martin, and two friendly blacks, made a journey to the south of the settlement in the direction of Mount Warning. This was the chief expedition that he accomplished alone. He discovered several rivers that ran into Moreton Bay to the south, and formed a very high opinion of the country which he traversed. It was when on this expedition he learnt from the blacks that a white man with his gin had been living for some time with the natives of Namboreen. The friendly blacks who accompanied him, were aware that the big white Cubiment man was on the lookout for a man and a woman who had escaped from the settlement and it was from them that he heard of the rumour. At first he discredited it. It seemed to him impossible that the escaped convicts could live so long a life of savagery with its attendant privations and sufferings. Besides, he was aware of the proneness of the natives to make the white fellows believe what they wished to believe, and from his experience, he knew them to be inveterate liars. Still, there might be something in the rumour after all. He would, therefore, return to the settlement and make preparations for a more protracted journey with the main object, this time, of testing the rumour as far as lay within his power.
Meanwhile, deep in the heart of the Namboreen ranges, the sedulous savages, with whom Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington were living, by smoke signals seen from afar, soon learnt that big fellow white men were scouring the country. For what purpose they did not know. This information they made known to Nigel Lording, who sensed an imminent danger in these expeditions of the commandant. He knew, however, that the blacks would never give them up, as they now looked upon them as members of their own tribe. The enemies of Gundawarra (Nigel Lording, the spear thrower) and Amoama-Boonara (Mary Worthington—sacred white one) were their enemies and they would send out the atninga—the vengeance party—if the commandant and his soldiers attempted any of their funny business. Wah! They would see! They would track down this big fellow headman and torture him at their corroboree. Huh! They would pounce on him as a hawk pounces on a bwal (pademelon) if he attempted to take their Amoama-Boonara, with hair like the golden sunset, from them. Hoo! No fear!
And so, unknown to the commandant, the wily natives tracked, watched, and reported by smoke signals his every movement.
Then night dropped from the summer steeped glory that ended a tropical day. Camp fires punctured the darkness where the commandant and his exploring party had camped for the night. Noiseless as lengthening shadows and keen as predatory dingoes, the myalls crept forward and spied on the camp, but a sentinel soldier, armed with the dreadful fire spitter that killed like lightning, was on guard. Fearful of being caught in their spying and silent as the falling of the dew, they retreated to their gunyahs on the mountain and told the wise Gundawarra of what they had seen—a big fellow Kalumba-mulla (great chief) from cobbawn darlobopal (large camping place) on the Brisbane River was camped down by the Coomera. The tribe on hearing the news was a babble of shrill tongues. The old pinnaroos, the elders of the tribe, took counsel together with Gundawarra (Nigel Lording) and it was agreed to send out a dreaded atninga (vengeance party). The news spread through the camp of the blacks and was spoken in tense whispers by the old gins and the young lubras. They looked with tense and soulful eyes at the beautiful Amoama-Boonara (Mary Worthington), for they had learnt that the big Kalumba-mutta (commandant) was bent on the capture of the two white strangers who had come among them with a request for protection from the Turrubuls. If they permitted their capture then the tribe would be false to their trust, and other tribes would make war on them for their cowardice. Kaw! Yes, they would send out their vengeance party, and stalk and capture this evil man who would rob them of the wards of the Turrubuls who had come to them out of the night. Barrai! They must be quick, and each warrior reached for his spears, nulla-nullas, and hielamans (shields made out of soft gympie).
Mary Worthington, in alarm, begged of Nigel Lording not to go with the vengeance party and she clung to him as the vine clings to the scrub fig tree.
"Beloved mine, what shall I do with my life if aught should befall you? Here alone among these savages, what protection would I have, my Nigel, without you?"
"Believe me, my Mary, no mishap will come to me. I have faith in our destiny and have no presentiment of danger."
"Oh, yes, I know, beloved, but our mateship in the bush has been wonderful, and I am fearful for your safety. Captain Lannigan's name fills me with dread. If you are retaken, my capture at his hands would be but a matter of days, perhaps weeks. He would show you no mercy and me even less. You, he would surely kill, but me he would hold in a bondage of shame until I, cursing God, must kill myself."
"My Mary, we must see this grim game through to the end. This existence here cannot go on indefinitely. For your sake as well as for my own I must lead the vengeance party. The blacks have faith in me. If I held back they would scorn me as a coward and my authority over them would be at an end. It is for our sakes that they are bent on the capture of Lannigan. To save us from capture they are bent on capturing him. If they do he will be given the mercy that he would give us if retaken."
"Then go, my warrior and champion. I will say no more, but God (Whom I have cursed for the great sufferings we have endured) be with you. I'm a coward to ask His protection, but I ask it for your dear sake."
The blacks looked on at the parting of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington. They saw the tears in her eyes as she clung to him, and saw how passionately the man held the girl to him as he kissed her.
"Ai! Ai! She's a sad one, that one," said the gins, who marvelled at the manner of parting of the white man from his girl, Amoama-Boonara, but though they laughed there were tears in the deep dreamy eyes of the lubras when they saw how much Mary Worthington took to heart the parting with her man. They seemed to understand.
At sunrise of the next day, away up on the scrub-clothed heights of Namboreen, the remnant of the tribe who remained in camp—the old pinaroos, the gins, the lubras, the little birrahlees, and Mary Worthington—a civilised savage in her warowan (kangaroo skin cloak)—looking down over the Valley of the Coomera, saw the smoke signals of the vengeance party curling upward through the vanishing vapours of the morning. These signals indicated that the warriors had located the camp of the commandant, and they yabbered with excitement. The dark, fathomless eyes of the savages rolled in their sockets, and unconsciously the old men who were left behind gripped their wommeras and spears. The blood-lust was upon them. Then they, too, gathered moist leaves and grass, which they lit and sent up answering signals indicating that they understood. Scarcely had the sun risen over the eastern plateau when the dread avenging party, with Gundawarra at their head, stood ready in a belt of scrub for his orders. They formed a stern group of painted, naked savages, with their tall spears held upright in their hands. Then Gundawarra ordered the eager warriors to encircle the camp of the unsuspecting white men and to watch silently, stealthily, every movement. Dark forms separated, and dark flashing eyes peered out from the sheltering coverts. Cowering low and creeping forward on hands and knees, trailing their spears, the wily blacks saw the commandant mount his yarraman and ride out of the camp, all unsuspecting, alone. He had heard the roar of water which told of a waterfall some distance away, and rode out to explore, fearing no danger. In all his journeys in the bush, he had never been molested by the warrigals, and as no sign of blacks had been seen since the expedition had left the settlement, he did not anticipate any trouble from them. But he had left out of his reckoning the influence that a runaway convict might have over them.
Riding over a ridge and down a ravine, a spear cleft the gum-scented air and pierced the commandant in the leg, passing through his thigh, the flap of the saddle, and into the ribs of his horse. The wounded animal, feeling the prick of the spear, plunged suddenly forward and snorted as if it had smelt the presence of the blacks. Wounded and bleeding, the commandant, unseated by the sudden plunging of his horse, fell to the ground with the spear sticking in his thigh. There was an exultant shout from the blacks who with nulla nullas uplifted, ran forward to kill the prostrate man; but before they reached him, a voice of authority rang out:
The myalls halted before the wounded commandant, but looked with questioning glances at Nigel Lording who had shouted to them not to kill. Then he explained to them that this was the man who as chief gaoler at the settlement had treated him and his white woman with such devilish inhumanity, that they had run away from him trusting rather to the mercy and humanity of the Turrubuls than to a life of torture with the big white tribe who had come to their country in great canoes from over the boorool (big) water. Walking up to Pearce Lannigan, Nigel Lording stood and looked at him without speaking. In his savage and unkempt appearance, with thick beard, body almost black, bare legs and feet, with an opossum skin girdle covering him from waist to knees, the Commandant did not recognise him. He took him for the headman of the tribe, but when he looked at him more closely, and saw the stern unwavering look in his steel blue eyes, a look that he had several times before seen and feared—he exclaimed with astonishment "Lording!"
"At your service, Lannigan."
Stooping down Nigel Lording broke off the spear where it had pierced the thigh and pulled the broken part through the wound, which bled freely.
"Steep me in curses, Lording, but its grotesquely magnanimous of you to save me from these murdering savages. I'll remember that in your favour, my man. Pray, send word to my camp for assistance. This cursed wound bleeds."
"You mistake my intent Lannigan. I saved you, yes. A death in a manner so sudden, does not fit in with my purpose. What recompense would that be to me for all the long bitter months of my torture, for the anguish and blood-dropping tears of that wonderful white soul whom you sought to smirch and to damn for everlasting."
"Sap my vitals, you villain, what is your purpose?" angrily shouted the undone captain.
"To hand you over to the tender mercies of these savages to do what their nature dictates. Mercy! God, Lannigan, you have no conception of the meaning of that word. When did you ever show mercy to any one of the unfortunate prisoners under your control? Not once. And you are now going to pay in suffering indescribable for all the torture and agony that you have, during your infernal sway as commandant at Moreton Bay, inflicted by your studied brutality on the bound and helpless felons who groaned and cursed and sobbed under your mastery. Damn you, man, and you thought in one deluded moment that I would see you safely escorted back to your soldiers. Your faith in the forgiveness of human nature is truly astonishing! There are escaped felons roaming this bush with the blacks who would sacrifice their right to freedom, nay, their very right to a life of everlasting peace, for the glorious privilege of having you helpless in their hands as I have this day."
A sense of his impending fate struck deep into the heart of the tyrant and the blood was drained by his fear from his face. His mouth was parched and his dry tongue licked dry lips. He attempted to stand up but staggered. He felt for his pistol but it was in its holster at the camp. Fearing no danger, he had ridden away without it. Leaning against a tree he looked for a while, tense and speechless, at Nigel Lording. Then the venom in him broke forth.
"You infernal dog! May I writhe in the torments of hell for my foolishness in not killing you when I had you in my power."
Then in his weakness from loss of blood, he huddled to the ground.
The bunyas were ripe on Namboreen. It was the time of the great bunya feast, when tribal hostilities ceased. Tribes came from far and near and sat down on the mountain. In the great bora ground hacked out by stone tomahawks from the heart of a dense scrub, the gunyahs were set up and the camp fires lighted. The Turrubuls, the Jindobarries, the Canungras, the Wogees, the Goenpuls, and tribes from the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, the Coominyas and Tarampas, had gathered together in friendly corroboree to share in the feasting; and with them had come several bolters who had been adopted by the tribes.
There were Bracewell, who a few years later assisted in rescuing from the blacks, Mrs. Fraser, the wife of the captain of the wrecked Stirling Castle, Jem Davis, the Scotch lad, who was transported for going on strike for higher wages, whose native name was Durumboi, and Baker, the notorious ruffian, named by the blacks Boralcho, who a few years later assisted Lieutenant Owen Gorman, a subsequent Commandant of Moreton Bay, in finding a road over the Great Dividing Range, through what is known as Gorman's Gap to the Darling Downs. These bolters had escaped during the terrible regime of Commandant Pearce Lannigan, and had suffered the most brutal punishment by his orders.
The scrub-clothed heights of Namboreen were peopled thick with savages and the bucks were preparing for a great corroboree. In their preparation for some weird drama, they showed meticulous care. Stripped naked, they painted their bodies with red ochre and white pipeclay in designs of circles and lines that followed the contour of the body; and with gum and leathers they weaved grotesque head dresses. They were preparing themselves for the blood ceremony of the dread atninga as they chanted their vengeance song while the work of adornment proceeded.
When night fell, the camp fires were lit in front of many gunyahs that stood in a circle at the edge of the scrub in the bora clearing. The gins had peeled and roasted the bunya nuts, and prepared for the feast, wallaby, carpet snake, wild duck, kangaroo, and eggs from the huge mounds of the scrub turkey. The feast over, the gins and lubras squatted round the great circle of fires and crooned their tribal war songs to the rhythmic beating of boomerang, nulla, and shield. Then with a suddenness that made the ground shake, the warriors bounded into the circle taking up the chanting of the gins and moving and twisting their weirdly painted bodies to the timing of the chanting. As the crooning and chanting of the gins waxed louder and louder, and the rhythmic contortions of the warriors became more vehement, the captured commandant, bound and helpless, was brought into the centre of the avenging demons, to witness the death dance.
"Gundawarra! Gundawarra!" The blacks shouted the native name of Nigel Lording, him whom they looked upon as the son of a dead chieftain reborn from a black to a white, for was it not he who had captured the big fellow chief of the white fellows, who lorded it over the big white camp on the Brisbane River?
Nigel Lording, who was standing back in the dark of the scrub with Mary Worthington, heeded their calling. He would not have dared to have done otherwise. The captured commandant was handed by him and the other white bolters over to the blacks to do with what they, in their savage nature, desired.
"Oh, it is horrible, horrible!" exclaimed Mary Worthington, shuddering. "Merciless tyrant though he has been, cannot he be saved from the vengeance of these savages?"
"Impossible, beloved. His time of reckoning has come, and even if I had the power to save him, these other convicts, especially Boralcho and Durumboi, would see to it that he never left Namboreen alive. They have suffered cruelly at his hands, God only knows." Then Nigel Lording walked into the circle and the other convicts who were also looking on, interested spectators of the fatal corroboree, followed his lead. The time for his and their vengeance had come.
Lying on his back, with outstretched arms and legs bound with green withes to stakes driven into the ground, and with haggard face staring upward at the twinkling stars, Captain Pearce Lannigan, turning his eyes from the starry depths of infinity, saw standing above him Nigel Lording and the other convicts whom he had lashed with the implacable scourge of his hate. From the zenith of his power he had now fallen to the nadir of his impotence. Yet such was his pride, he gave stare for stare till Nigel Lording, breaking the tenseness of a great silence—for the tumult of the corroboree had stopped—spoke. The blacks, expectant, sensing the grim drama before them, stood motionless, their spears held upright before them. The gins ceased their crooning and beating of time.
"Captain Lannigan, from the chain and hell of a life sentence of despair, I am at last free and you are now in my power. Our positions are reversed. Perhaps, in the nightmare of your dreams, you have visioned the vengeance that some time or other might overtake you at the hands of some of the victims of your merciless tyranny. If you have, such visioning has now become a terrible reality. Over the dark, pitiless sky of your sovereignty, the dawn of implacable justice has at last crept—a Nemesis sure, and relentless, has answered the agonising cries wrung from your writhing victims under the lash. I, too, have borne to repleteness the fathomless depth of your hate, and she, that wonderful girl, but a short time ago the fairest in all England, who escaped with me and is here alive and well, looking on the wrath that has overtaken you, has suffered at your hands the tortures of a mental horror, blacker than hell. How often, in the bitterness of her soul, has she cursed God for allowing such tyrants as you to live. She herself and the God she has reviled in her despair, only know. But perhaps God, who claims vengeance as His great prerogative, has given to me and to her and to these other felons whom you have scourged, this purposeful hour. Somewhere, in the great resurrection, when called to account for your trust, what answer to God will you furnish for the souls you have ground into dust? You dare not make any answer and so for all of the tortures that I and she and they have suffered, you must now pay to the uttermost."
It was only when he learnt that Mary Worthington was alive and well that a spasm of hate and unrepentance passed like an evil shadow over the face of the bound commandant. Otherwise, he gave no indication that he was at all impressed by the terrible sentence—a sentence that a stern and relentless judge might have addressed to a person guilty of an unpardonable crime—that Nigel Lording had imposed upon him. But judge and prisoner there in the lone wilds of Australia but gave point to the conception of England's greatest poet of that period, "Man is a battle-ground between angel and devil. Tenderness and roughness, sentiment, sensuality—soaring and grovelling—dirt and deity—all mixed in one compound of inspired clay."
When Nigel Lording and the other escaped convicts who had listened with wonder and amazement to the terrible sentences that he had uttered over the prostrate form of the bound commandant, walked out of the circle of blacks, the savages resumed their corroboree. As they danced around him by the light of the flickering camp fires, they pricked him with their spears. Writhing under the torture, he began to lose consciousness. Between the agony of perceptibility and insensibility, he believed he was in hell, chained to everlasting torment on its withering bars. The weird ululations of the gins and the guttural gruntings of the naked, painted myalls, who danced in wilder frenzy as his agonised groans increased, appeared to his demented imagination as a dance of demons on the shores of an abysmal sea whose billows of lurid fire broke and curled on a pitiless shore. Long after he had sunk into unconsciousness and his moaning cries had ceased the barbarous death dance continued and only ceased with the dawn.
The weeks drifted by and suspicion conjectured the death of the tyrant; but no white man save those bolters who had fled from his spite, knew how he had died. Diligent search with the aid of the black trackers was made for his body, and it was only when the blacks themselves indicated where his bones would be found, that his remains were discovered. A skeleton, weathered bone-white by the sun and the rain, was all that was found. Ants crawled in the track of a long dried tear through the visionless sockets of a skull that seemed to grin in sepulchred silence at the discovery of his fleshless bones. They were gathered together and sent to Sydney for Christian burial.
In the meantime in England, Inspector Joe Barnes, the great Bow Street detective, was not idle. He had gone down to Devonshire in many disguises to endeavour to secure locally, some shred of evidence that, followed up, might lead to the discovery of the murder of the Earl of Belriven. All the witnesses who were called to give evidence at the Coroner's Inquest had been placed under surveillance, but nothing tangible could be obtained from them, and the murder still remained a mystery. The chief witness at the inquest was the beautiful and imperious Julia Darnley, the late Earl's mistress, but her absence from the manor on that fatal Sunday afternoon was satisfactorily explained. It was proved that she was at the residence of her father when the murder had been committed, and her alibi was considered to be beyond doubt. It was known that she was a woman with an ungovernable temper, and that she was of a very jealous and passionate nature. She had admitted, in evidence, that she was very fond of the late Earl and though she bitterly resented his amours with others, she would not think of doing him an injury, at any rate, to the extent of taking his life.
With a life rich in the romance and colour of human lives, and with an imagination instinctive in the unravelling of criminal mysteries, Inspector Barnes could not dismiss from his active brain that in some way the beautiful Julia Darnley was responsible for the murder of the amorous lord. In closely investigating the dead Earl's career, he learnt that he was an implacable breaker of hearts, and where women were concerned he knew neither discretion nor ruth; but in Julia Darnley, he found a devil that appealed to his baser passions. While she was an adorable and willing mistress, she was at the same time an admirable manager of his household. When their tempers clashed, as they often did, she stood up to him to such purpose, that at times he was afraid of her, more especially when her jealousy was aroused. In her imperious way she was infatuated with her masterful mate, and it was very galling to her pride, and a grave reflection on her personal charms, to learn that he was becoming intrigued with some other beauty.
Gossips had linked the Earl's name with that of the beautiful Mary Worthington, and when the story of his mad infatuation for her reached the ears of the temperamental and tempestuous Julia, she warned him that he had better take care, as she would not submit to sharing him with that simpering dairy maid, as she contemptuously termed the attractive daughter of Stephen Worthington.
Inspector Barnes, in thoroughly investigating the life and character of Julia Darnley, learnt that she was the daughter of one Richard Darnley, a person of good repute, who had married a lady of Spanish descent from whom his daughter inherited her beauty. Richard Darnley was a person of known wealth and good credit, who resided in a little village near the manor of Grassmere, and who by his industry and diligence, daily increased his riches. Perceiving his daughter to be of a promising disposition and likely to grow into a regal beauty, he gave her a liberal education to improve and refine those good qualities by art and study wherewith she was so liberally endowed by the bounty of nature. She made so speedy a progress in her learning that she soon out-distanced her school-fellows. Her strong imagination, polite behaviour, and the majestic grace of her carriage made her the admiration of all who came in contact with her. Though her birth gave place to those of higher rank and quality, yet her education was not inferior to them. Indeed, her incomparable wit, united with her beautiful presence, rendered her so agreeable that she was preferred even to many of superior rank. Being in the flower of her youth and beauty, she had several suitors of good and bad repute, who all became captives to her beauty and flattered themselves with the hope of one day possessing such a charming personality.
Amongst her suitors was one Edward Delpratt, a Colonel in the army who had discharged his soldierly duties so well that he was appointed superintendent of His Majesty's affairs in British Honduras, which office he held much to the advantage of the Crown of England, for he obtained from the Crown of Spain some very important privileges. The clashing interests, however, of the inhabitants of British Honduras produced considerable discontent, and the Colonel was accused of various demeanours detrimental to His Majesty's Ministers. As a result, he returned to England and demanded that his conduct should be investigated.
While in Honduras, he married a native of that place, but left his wife behind as he intended to return to settle in South America. In England, however, he became acquainted with the beautiful and accomplished Julia Darnley, with whom he fell violently in love and his marriage was conveniently forgotten. The attraction was mutual, and it was arranged that they would be married when his character had been cleared; but after two years' constant attendance on all the departments of the Government interested, he was officially advised that there was no charge against him worthy of investigation, and that if His Majesty had not thought it proper to abolish the office of Superintendent at Honduras, he would have been reinstated in it. He was assured, however, that his services would not be forgotten, but in due time meet with their reward. He found to his sorrow and chagrin that official promises are most unreliable, and as he was of a highly excitable nature, he began to vent his indignation in an unguarded manner. He became a suspicious character, and assaulted one of His Majesty's ministers. For this offence, he was sentenced to be kept a prisoner in Coldbath Fields.
In the meantime, his wife came to England to look him up. This, together with his imprisonment and the eternal longing for the beautiful girl with whom he had hoped to commit bigamy, increased the rancour of his heart and made him a dangerous and indignant prisoner.
The degradation of her handsome and gallant husband, so affected his faithful wife that she died soon after her husband's ignominious imprisonment. Colonel Delpratt now looked eagerly forward to his liberation, but long before that happened, the beautiful and amorous Julia Darnley came under the notice of the unscrupulous but equally amorous gaze of the young Lord Belriven. The attentions of so exalted a person as an Earl flattered the ambitious Julia, and she, following on the divorce granted to the Countess, became the Earl's mistress. When the first great ecstasies of their love-mating had somewhat cooled, the beautiful Julia soon learnt that the mating with a lord of the temperament of Earl Belriven, brought with it more thorns than roses, and she became intensely jealous. In wit, beauty and attainments she was, though not nobly born into the peerage, more than the equal of her exalted paramour and she resented, in the most hostile manner, the lapses of her noble gentleman from the path of virtue. His conduct not only hurt her pride but made her furious. Some day she would have her revenge.
Immediately on his release from Coldbath Fields, the thoughts of Colonel Delpratt flew to that little village in Devon adjacent to which was the home of the divinity of his dreams. Desperate and impoverished, he looked to a marriage with the matchless Julia Darnley to rehabilitate him in society and to mend his broken fortune. Though he had not seen her for four years, so colossal was his egotism that he imagined she would be waiting for him to look her up when their former happy relations would be renewed. So warm had been their attachment to each other, that any bar to their conjugal union was now unthinkable. The death of his wife had paved the way for a happy, legitimate mating.
It was in this frame of mind that he arrived at the hamlet, where he expected to find his beautiful Julia still residing with her father. His visit was unannounced, and Richard Darnley was surprised and not too well pleased to see him. He had learnt of his imprisonment in Coldbath Fields. When the eager Colonel desired information as to the whereabouts of his daughter, he was disturbed and evasive; but being pressed, he grudgingly admitted that he had no control over his wilful and headstrong daughter and that she had left him. Where she had gone he refused to say, but hinted that it was quite useless for the Colonel to imagine that his former relations with his daughter could be renewed. Indeed, a marriage with her was now impossible.
Stunned by this uncompromising information, the Colonel felt desperate. All his dreams—dreams that he had cherished during the long term of his confinement and on which he had fabricated a future of great happiness with the most beautiful girl that he had ever come in contact with—now lay broken at his feet. In the agony of his disappointment, he held his head in his hands and groaned. He was roused from the depths of his misery by a voice that in the past had thrilled him through and through. Had it now come to mock him with its beautiful cadence? He heard it again.
"Father, you have a visitor. I did not know."
Raising his head from his hands, the Colonel looked upon the girl he imagined he had lost for ever. Instantly he realised how beautiful she still was. Thrilled to the core he got up and with outstretched arms, went to her, exclaiming "Julia!" in a voice that she knew was the voice of his soul. If he had struck her she could not have been more upset.
"Edward," she asked in a voice that shook. "Why are you here?" He saw that she was very excited.
"Why? You ask that? Have you forgotten?"
"Oh, no; but I—Oh, why did you come? So much has happened since—I—I cannot say it. But the old relations between us are now dead—dead, I tell you." She spoke vehemently, "and cannot be brought to life again."
"That I refuse to believe until you tell me all that has happened—all—since I—well, since I fell foul of the law."
She led the way out of the house and he followed. She was still very excited. There was something on her mind. Outside in the flower-scented garden, was a maid with two young children, beautiful as infant angels.
The Colonel looked at them questioningly.
"Yes, they are mine. You may as well know. They are everlasting barriers between you and me."
"Explain," he asked hoarsely, as he fumbled at the latch of a gate that opened out into a green lane.
"They are your children?" he questioned. "You are married, then?" He held on to the wicket gate for support. Forgotten were the years that had rolled between. He had expected to find her the same as yesterday. Was it not only yesterday that they had parted? He pressed his hand to his eyes as if to awaken himself from a dream. Then her voice, the voice that he had always loved with its soft Spanish accent, recalled him to himself.
"Yes, they are my children, but I am not married."
"Then you, what are you?" he gasped out, as if disbelieving.
"The mistress of the Earl of Belriven. Come, I will tell you all."
She led the way in the direction of Grassmere, whose tall gables could be seen in the distance above the trees. Leaving the lane, they followed a footpath that struck right through the heart of a wood. It was a drowsy Sunday afternoon and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers. Julia Darnley would never forget that afternoon, or the tiny incidents that were indelibly etched on the tablets of her memory, the hum of the bees, the lowing of cattle, the birds weaving intricate patterns in the air. Beside the path, sitting on a tree-trunk, she told her former lover of the life she had been living, and now, how she hated it, hated the man who had seduced her, who had heaped insults upon her until life with him had become unendurable—intolerable. Then she paused awhile in her story of degradation. The wind made rustling noises in the trees. She heard the call of a pheasant, then the sudden laugh of a woodpecker. A squirrel ran down a tree trunk and scampered away off and up another tree. How she remembered all these little happenings on this glorious dreamy Sunday afternoon with soft fleecy clouds scurrying across the exquisite blue of the sky.
"Even now, the earl is with a new flame, for whom he has taken a violent fancy, and he is alone with her at the manor. He ordered me to take myself off and my brats with me so that he could be alone with her. God! How I loathe him, and yet how I loved him, too! But now I get nothing from him but scorn. Some day he will go too far and I shall kill him."
Through this recital, Colonel Delpratt made no remark but sat like a man stunned into insensibility; but when the woman whom he had loved so passionately exclaimed in her vehemence that some day she would kill her seducer, he got up and said deliberately and sternly.
"Faith, not at your lovely hands will he meet his death, but at mine. This despoiler of women must die."
Without saying anything further, but like a man demented, he walked quickly away towards the distant manor.
Startled at the suddenness of his going, Julia Darnley ran after him crying: "Ned! Ned! Not by your hands must he die. Please, please, for my sake. I wouldn't have you a murderer." Then he stopped and turned back to her, and she sobbed her misery in his arms.
The speciousness of his behaviour, the gracefulness of his person, and the elegance of his appearance, combined to make Colonel Edward Delpratt a very great favourite with women, and he had so far ingratiated himself into the affections of Julia Darnley that she was now frightened at the fearful thing he had so suddenly resolved to do. She knew that he was not without courage and now that she had awakened a demon in him, she was aghast.
"He is unworthy of death at your hands, Ned. Believe me, dear, he will be punished through his own wickedness and cruelty. Men as evil as he do not live long."
Calmed into a more reasonable frame of mind by her tearful pleadings, he turned and walked back with her to the cottage of her father.
But there was another who had witnessed this woodland scene. It was John Pooler, the poacher, who had been setting snares in the heart of the wood through which wound the path towards Grassmere manor, when he heard voices. Prowling with the stealthiness of a fox, noiseless and unseen, as befitted the training of a poacher, he followed to learn what the beautiful Julia Darnley, the mistress of the hated earl, was up to. She had often befriended and protected him from the high-handed authority of her master, and he adored her for her graciousness to him. His regard for her was only equalled by his hate for the tyrannical earl. Now he learnt that she would be pleased if he were dead. Then he reasoned with himself: "Jack, you must do for this vicked lord. He's a warmint. He treats Mistress Julia Darnley wery bad. He jugs you for poachin' and puts you in the stocks. You must end his caper. This sojer bloke vot loves her ain't got the guts to put out the Earl's lights. Vell, Jack if you does it she'll be happy an' marry him. You'm better get over to the manor and see vots doin'. If his nibs is alone wif anudder hussy vy then she might vant a protector. But then she mightn't. Hussies is hussies. Now, I axe you, Jack, vot abaht you doin' the job. Done, your the cove to do it."
When Julia Darnley and Colonel Delpratt returned on their tracks towards the home of her father, John Pooler, slinking and furtive, went through the woods of Grassmere towards the manor. The place seemed deserted. Creeping cautiously through a hedge into the drive, he stopped and looked carefully about him. Seeing and hearing no human presence or sound, he quickly crossed the gravel and stepped on to the velvety sward that ran along the side of the manor. Taking cover behind every convenient shrub or tree, he made his way to the rear of the vast building and entered it through a door that was only fastened by a latch. As silent as a shadow he moved from room to room, then stopped to listen. In the distance, he heard voices raised in anger. Stepping into the wide hall, he moved cautiously towards the uproar until he came opposite the closed door of the library. He heard furniture being thrown about and the agonised voice of a girl crying for help. Trying the handle of the huge panelled door of the library, he found the door unlocked, and slowly opened it. The fight between the girl and the earl so engrossed their attention that neither perceived the door open and John Pooler enter. As he did so, a stiletto fell at his feet. With an action swift almost as thought, he picked it up and buried it with a vicious stab between the shoulders of the prostrate madman who had fallen on top of an insensible girl. Then he as quickly and as silently withdrew as he entered, leaving no clue save his finger prints; but as this Bertillon system of detecting crime had not then been perfected, the finger prints on the dagger passed unheeded.
As no human eyes witnessed John Pooler enter or leave the manor, the secret of the murder of the Earl of Belriven was safe in his own keeping; and when Nigel Lording was accused of the murder, arrested and convicted, he chuckled to himself that he was safe. He had rid the world of a tyrant against whom he had a bitter personal grudge and it was no part of his duty to save an innocent man from being hanged. If the law made such mistakes, it was no part of his duty to put the law wise. In his own way he had had enough of the law. It was his policy to keep as far away from its clutches as possible.
After weary months of endeavour, Inspector Barnes was forced to dismiss from his mind the belief he had held as to Julia Darnley being primarily concerned in the murder of Earl Belriven. He had thoroughly investigated her life's history and that of Colonel Delpratt and where they were on the Sunday afternoon of the murder. Nothing that he could do or say could shake the testimony of these two people and it was supported by the maid who had left the manor with her mistress and her two young children, and by her father, Richard Darnley. Beyond reaffirming her belief that the Earl was murdered by Nigel Lording, the astute inspector could glean from her nothing that could help him in solving the mystery.
That the murderer was someone well acquainted with Grassmere and its environs, was the inspector's next belief and he worked on it accordingly. Disguising himself as a common labourer he applied to John Gatcombe, who still carried on the trusteeship of the Grassmere Estate for and on behalf of the infant Lord Belriven, for work on the estate. John Gatcombe, not liking his appearance, refused, and roughly bade him begone about his business. Walking away muttering, he turned back after going a few yards, and laughingly said:
"'Sooth, Mr. Gatcombe, my disguise must be most complete, since you did not recognise me."
"What! Inspector Barnes! It is, sure enough. Now what's the game, Inspector?"
"You must know, Mr. Gatcombe, why I have haunted Tavistock and its environments on and off for the past twelve months, and I want you to help me. Under the disguise of a labourer employed at Grassmere, I may be able to pick up some information that will lead to the discovery of the murderer of the late Earl."
"That I will do, Inspector. For the sake of that sweet girl transported to the other end of the world, I will do all in my power to assist you."
And so Inspector Joe Barnes, keen, alert, safe in his disguise of a yokel and a county clown, became an employee on the demesne of Grassmere. From a labourer, he became a poacher, fished in forbidden streams, and laid snares in the coverts and spinneys of the manor, assuming the role of a wily vagabond.
"Where there's a riddle, there's a key to it," muttered Inspector Barnes to himself, as he returned to the servants quarters at the manor after a day's work in the fields, unrecognisable as an astute detective in his excellent make up as a farm labourer.
The riddle of Earl Belriven's death had so far been unsolved, but he hung to his purpose with the tenacity of a bulldog. After he had had his evening meal, he sat outside his quarters on a bench calmly smoking a much used church-warden. Presently he was joined by another labourer, George Docker. Just as he had said to himself introspectively, "The only things which cannot be explained are facts."
"Did 'ee speak, Willum?" At the manor he was known as William Lee.
"No, Garge, I maun been dreamin' awake like. That's all."
"Thee do always be dreamin' an' moochin' round, Willum. What's bitten 'ee?"
"Nawthin' Garge, nawthin', but I can't sleep o' nights thinkin' an' thinkin' as 'ow the ghost of the murdered earl might pay us a wisit some night."
"Thee do make me feel queerish, talkin' like that, Willum; but ghosts only valk ven the murdered cove ain't discovered."
"Mebbo so, Garge, but be 'ee sartin sure that this 'ere Lording cove vas the guilty cove?"
"Vell, I vos vorkin' 'ere at the time an' I knows all abaht it."
"But no one seed 'im do it. Put that in yer pipe an' smoke it, Garge."
"Vell, Villum, ven I see's him snug and comfortable in the hands of the vatch vif blood all over 'im, I sez to meself, 'Garge, that's the cove vot done it.'"
"Here's a pipe o' baccy, Garge. Light up and tell me wever any cove 'ereabahts bore 'is lor'ship a grudge."
"Vell, as to that an' speakin' vivout bevaricatin', no von liked 'im over much; but ven Johnny Pooler cum out of the stocks at Tavistock, vere 'ed been put by the Earl for poachin' firewood, arter been beaten up by that there Cap'n Lannigan, he swore he'd 'ave wengeance some day. I 'eard 'im say that meself."
"But 'ee don't think that sich a simple feller as Johnny Pooler would 'a done the job, now do 'ee Garge?"
"No—but Johnny Pooler ain't as simple as vot some makes out. He's the cunningest poacher out o' Dartmoor gaol, an' vot goes on abaht Grassmere vot 'e don't know, ain't vorth knawin'."
Detective Joe Barnes decided there and then to make the acquaintance of Johnny Pooler. He had come across him several times, lurking in the woods of Grassmere, but pretended not to see him. He wanted to make him believe that though he was employed on the estate, he was not above doing a bit of poaching on his own account. It would be all the easier to gain the confidence of such a cunning rogue if he could make him believe that he, Joe Barnes, was no better than a poacher himself and, therefore, not likely to peach on him.
A few nights later, when the moon rose about midnight, Inspector Barnes went prowling in the woods of Grassmere. He had set a springe in a spinney and caught a fine fat rabbit. This he carried with him in the hope of coming across Johnny Pooler. He was not disappointed. Going along a track in the wood partially lit up by the rising moon, he caught sight of his man getting into the wood through the hedge which skirted a lane on the northern boundary. The poacher had not seen the detective but Joe Barnes had seen him. Johnny Pooler walked warily in the direction where, no doubt, he had set his traps. The detective, cowering low, crept as noiselessly as possible in the direction to intercept the poacher. Then suddenly stepping in front of him, he held up his dead rabbit and said, "Any luck, mate?"
The poacher instantly stood on guard, with a club raised ready to strike, taking the detective for a gamekeeper.
"Be'n't 'ee be scared, Johnny. I ain't a keeper. I do be doin' a bit of trappin' on me own. But mum's the word, covy."
"Christ 'oo be 'ee, then?"
"Me? Oh, I'm William Lee wot works for John Gatcombe on the estate. But don't 'ee let on that you've seen me poachin'. I'd lose me job else."
"Me? Not I, Willum Lee. Mum's wot I sez. But ain't 'ee afeared o' th' keepers?"
"Noam. I allus watches me opportunity. They do be down at the Three Brewers in Tavistock, so the coast is clear to-night. We 'as the woods to ourselves, so to speak."
"Then 'ee'd better coom with me, Willum Lee; and see wot me springes 'ave caught."
When the snares and springes of Johnny Pooler had been duly visited, Inspector Joe Barnes, alias William Lee, suggested a snack of bread and cheese which he had brought with him. This evidence of good fellowship pleased Johnny Pooler who found William Lee to be a man whose acquaintance was worth cultivating. Though employed at the Manor, was he not a poacher and an outlaw as he himself was?
Together they sat on a little footbridge that spanned a running brook and the detective adroitly led the conversation towards the reputation of the late Earl of Belriven.
"Did 'ee know his lordship, Johnny?"
"Know 'im, Willum? Coarse I did. Didn't 'e clap me in the stocks for pinchin' wood and land me in Dartmoor for killin' of a pheasant?"
"But you was sorry, Johnny, when that Cornishman wot was transported, killed him?"
"Don't know as I was. He was a werry windictive man, Willum, a real bad un."
"I did 'ear, Johnny, that the Bow Street runners believe Mistress Julia Darnley cooked 'er masters' goose. They do say she'm a real bad un."
"Aw, them smarters ought to ask Johnny Pooler abaht that. For why? Mistress Darnley and Kunnel Delpratt was in these 'ere woods a love makin' when the wicked willain was killed."
"No! You don't say, Johnny?"
"But I do say, Willum. I seen 'em and heerd 'em. The kunnel was for putting out 'is lordship's lights 'isself when 'e heerd as 'ow bad 'is lordship treated 'er, but she cried and clung to 'im, beggin' 'im not to stain 'is 'ands wiv murder."
"Did 'ee tell that to the crowner at the hinquest, Johnny?"
"Me? No. For why? I was never axed to be a witness at the hinquest. I never let on I heerd or seen anythink."
"Well, wot I say is this, Johnny. That there Cornishman must 'a been a wery brave man to go into the manor and do for his lordship in his own home."
"Aw, I dunno. Mebbe as others 'atin 'is nibs for his croolty, and seein' 'im ravishin' a pretty young vench, 'ud be just as brave."
"If I'd been clapped in the stocks for takin' a bit of wood and jugged for killin' a pheasant, as you vos, Johnny, I'd a done for 'im meself. And for ravishin' a pretty vench, Johnny, why I'd a killed 'im dead an' been a 'ero. For why? It ain't murder, a killin' of a cove for ravishin' a unvillin' vench. It's vot the law calls justiviable 'omecide, Johnny."
"Mebbe, Willum. But I wouldn't take any chance on that. I'd do f'im and keep my mouth shut."
"An' let a hinnercent man an' vench suffer, Johnny?"
"Better they should suffer than me. Gawd, Willum, 'ow I'd 'ate to be stretched at the end of a rope."
"You be a wery close cove, Johnny. For why? I do be thinkin' you'd be brave enough to kill the earl and keep mum abaht it. More power to 'ee, I say, Johnny."
"You ain't far wrong, Willum. But mum's the vord, f'Christ sake. I'm the cove wot killed the villain to free Mistress Darnley from the vicked talons o' the Falcon."
"Gawd, I know'd you for a brave man, Johnny, but we maun be goin'. Mum's the word."
"Mum's the vord, it is Willum?"
* * * * * *
The heart of the nation was stirred to its depths by the dramatic arrest of John Pooler for the murder, over two years before, of the Earl of Belriven. His conviction rested upon the evidence of Inspector Joseph Barnes, of Bow Street. Under a writ of habeas corpus the prisoner was removed to London, where the magistrates, after maturely considering the evidence adduced by the famous detective, thought proper to commit the prisoner for trial at the next Quarter Sessions at the Old Bailey.
When put to the bar, John Pooler, poacher, pilferer, and murderer, appeared to be about forty years of age, of great muscular strength, tall, and of savage, brutal and ferocious countenance, with large thick lips, depressed nose, and high cheek bones.
Such was the eager curiosity of the public to know the issue of the trial that the whole court and area of the Old Bailey was greatly crowded. Their minds went back to that sensational trial a little over two years before, when Nigel Lording was accused, arrested, tried, and condemned to death for the same murder; and Mary Worthington, young, beautiful, and refined, was also found guilty as an accessory and transported. Even of their guilt many had entertained doubts, which were not entirely removed, for their conviction rested upon circumstantial evidence only. If at the trial, John Pooler were found guilty, then the sentence passed on Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington would turn out to be the most shocking miscarriage of justice in the annals of England's criminal records.
There is little cause for wonder, therefore, that the heart of the nation was stirred to its depths. The chief witness was Inspector Barnes, who graphically told the court the story of how he had managed to gain the confidence of the prisoner and to worm out of him his confession of the murder. It was on the strength of that confession, made in the depth of night in the woods of Grassmere, that he had arrested the prisoner, who, however, stoutly denied having made any such confession and brutally and strenuously resisted arrest. He (the detective) admitted that there was no corroborative evidence of the crime, and that it was, after all, only his word against that of the prisoner's; but since the prisoner's arrest and imprisonment, pending his trial, he had made certain statements to other prisoners, which would be used in evidence against him. James Hethercote, a police officer, the next witness called, stated that in the rear of the public office in Worship Street, there were some strongrooms for the safe keeping of prisoners pending their successive examinations before the sitting magistrate at the Police Office, Worship Street. In two of these rooms, adjacent to each other, and separated by a strong partition, the prisoners were separately confined. Immediately behind these rooms was a privy. In this privy he took post regularly after each successive day's examination; and as the privy went behind both rooms he could distinctly overhear the conversation of the prisoners when they spoke fairly audibly to each other from either side of the partition. Of this conversation he took notes which were afterwards copied out very fairly and proved before the magistrates and which he now read as evidence in court.
Mr. Magill, counsel for the prisoner, objected to this sort of evidence, it being impossible, he said, that the officer could overhear all that was said, and that the conversation thus mutilated, might be misconstrued. Besides, the minds of officers, for the sake of reward and promotion, were always prejudiced against the prisoner. His objections were, however, overruled by the Court.
These conversations ran to a very considerable length, but the material points were few. They showed, however, from the words of the prisoner's own conversation, that he had in a moment of reckless bravado admitted to another prisoner that he was in for the murder of the Earl of Belriven against whom he had feelings of great hatred for his inhuman treatment in placing him in the stocks at Tavistock for picking up a bit of firewood in the woods of Grassmere, and for imprisonment in Dartmoor for killing a pheasant and also to avenge the ill-treatment which the late earl had often meted out to Mistress Julia Darnley who had been very good to him and often befriended him. The prosecution being closed, the prisoner was called to make his defence. He protested he was completely innocent of the murder for which he was charged and that the officers of the law had trumped up the statements which they had made to the Court.
The Lord Chief Baron summed up the evidence in a very clear and perspicuous manner, making some very humane observations upon the terrible miscarriage of justice in the previous conviction of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington for a crime which the Court was now satisfied they had not committed and hoping that the earliest opportunity would be taken to obtain for them a Royal pardon.
The jury without retiring brought in a verdict of guilty against the prisoner.
The Recorder immediately passed sentence in the most solemn and impressive manner.
The Regency ended with the death of George III., and the Prince Regent who had been virtually King since his royal father's attack of insanity in 1810, was at this period King of England. It was now the duty of the Lord Chief Baron to bring the facts concerning the trial and sentence of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington for the murder of the Earl of Belriven under the notice of his Majesty, the King. He, therefore, addressed the following report to Mr. Secretary Dutton.
I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of His Majesty the King, that one John Pooler was indicted before me at the Quarter Sessions held at the Old Bailey for the murder of the Earl of Belriven over two years ago, and found guilty. The facts of that murder, and of the trial conviction and sentence of two persons—Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington—for having committed that murder are on record; but the present conviction of John Pooler for that memorable crime has proven the said Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington to be innocent, and I am humbly to recommend them as proper subjects of his Majesty's pardon.
I am, &c.,
In due course, the pardon of the King was made known to the nation and the following is a copy.
Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington
In the name and on behalf of
His Majesty, George R.
Whereas John Pooler was at a Session
holden at the Old Bailey in April last tried and convicted of the
murder of the late Earl of Belriven and,
Whereas Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington who had been previously tried and convicted for the self-same murder are now proven to be innocent; we in consideration of some circumstances humbly represented unto us, touching the said conviction of the said Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington are graciously pleased to extend our grace and mercy unto them and to grant them our free pardon for the said crime; our will and pleasure therefore, is, you cause the said Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington to be forthwith discharged out of custody; and for so doing this shall be your Warrant.
Given at our Court, at Carleton House, the twenty-fourth day of October, 1827, in the year of our reign.
By the command of His Majesty, the King.
To our trusty and well-beloved our Justices of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and County of Middlesex, the Sheriffs of the said City and County and all others whom it may concern.
But the Royal pardon came too late to soothe the aching heart of Ann Worthington for her first born—her beloved and beautiful Mary Worthington. Widowed and mateless, but with sublime courage, she decided since she saw no hope of the mystery surrounding the murder of the Earl of Belriven being solved, to leave that England, which to her was now but a land of sorrow and bitter memories, and to follow her daughter and her unfortunate lover to Australia.
Through the influence of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Home Department, a passage was obtained for her and her three children on the bark Lima for Sydney. It was impossible for her to secure a passage on a boat sailing direct for Moreton Bay, as no free settlers at that time were permitted to land at Brisbane Town, as it was a penal settlement of the closest kind, a fact which had a very important result on the whole country's subsequent history. For several years after the death of Commandant Pearce Lannigan the convict and the free settler were so absolutely cut off the one from the other, the separation between convict life and life outside was so complete, that the penal system remained a mere excrescence on the country's history.
Arriving at Sydney, Ann Worthington found that no possible influence could secure her a passage to Moreton Bay, as the territory surrounding it was exclusively a convict settlement. For all the information she could obtain concerning her daughter, she may just as well have remained in England. But a year later, Governor Darling, just before his recall, received a dispatch from Viscount Goderich, who succeeded Sir George Murray as Secretary of State for the Home Department, covering the reprieve of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington, who had been transported to Moreton Bay. The criminal records in Sydney of that settlement were searched, and when the names of these two transportees were verified, Governor Darling took immediate steps to transmit the King's pardon to Captain Clunie of the 17th Regiment, who succeeded to the Governorship of Moreton Bay on the death of his predecessor, Captain Lannigan. But the pardon, though proclaimed, was not delivered for the very excellent reason that these two convicts had bolted into the unknown bush and it was not known whether they were dead or alive. When Ann Worthington learnt through official channels that her beloved daughter for whom she had broken up her home in England and had come twelve thousand miles to see, had bolted with a dangerous and malignant convict into the trackless bush, and had been probably killed and eaten by the blacks, no words of solace could soothe her agonised soul. She wailed in tearless grief that her first-born, her beautiful, adorable Mary, was lost to her for ever.
All unconscious of the startling events leading up to their ultimate redemption, that were taking place in England, Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington continued to live with the blacks. In appearance, they were akin to the savages with whom they herded. Bearded, burnt by the sun and tanned almost black by exposure, Nigel Lording, with long hair curling to his shoulders, was accepted by the tribe that originally adopted him as some dead member returned to life; and Mary Worthington, clad in skins, barefooted, her fair skin bronzed to the hue of a copper coloured native, was also accepted by the blacks as his gin in their former existence. By means of this general belief, they were able to travel through the surrounding tribes in comparative safety. When questioned by the blacks about their previous existence and the persons whom they were supposed to represent in the flesh, it was their custom to reply that it was so long since they had died that they had forgotten even their former names. This answer was usually found to be regarded as eminently satisfactory, because the belief in reincarnation is firmly held by all the natives. Though some of the tribes through whom they passed were found to be friendly and ready to help, other tribes were often treacherous and fierce. It was only by his superior knowledge and the skill he had acquired in the use of native weapons that made him respected wherever he went among them. By long association with the blacks, they had acquired their skill in hunting and tracking. They obtained food in abundance and lived at ease where a stranger would see and find nothing and starve to death. The making of a fire, native fashion, and the cleaning and cooking of their kills were tasks in which Mary Worthington became very expert. The unadulterated food, the open air life, and the enforced throwing asunder of all the shackles of civilisation, had their beneficial effect on Mary Worthington. She walked with the grace and ease of a savage and constant exercise in walking long distances, made her as well proportioned as a Grecian goddess. But what appealed to the natives most was the abundance of her red-gold hair, and the blue eyes of Nigel Lording. Her hair and his eyes were, in the totemic beliefs of the blacks, their passports to safety.
It was a mystery to the blacks why Mary Worthington, as Nigel Lording's gin, did not have a child. Probably that was the reason why she was so fond of the little birrahlees. The maternal spirit radiated from her, body and soul. As she mothered the little copper-skinned pickaninnies, enveloping them with a broad and deep understanding, so Nigel Lording knew she would mother the child that might be born to her. Her physical and mental vigour, her energy and tireless strength, all blended in one desirable whole. But not yet was she to be the mother of his children. In the lone bush, among savages who respected the moral code within their tribes, it was not for him to claim physical possession of the beautiful and perfect creature who looked to him for safety and protection in their long wanderings. But in the agony of his longing for her, he often exclaimed, "How long, O Lord, how long!"
When the blacks heard a curlew whistling at night, they would remark: "Hallo, there is a child about," and they looked significantly at Mary Worthington. Others would wonder why their great ancestor Anjea who made children out of swamp mud, would not come and make a little birrahlee to put into her.
And so in her wanderings, she had no fear of the blacks. Her honour was safe with them so long as she belonged to Gundawarra.
But Mary Worthington had caught the eye of Boralcho Baker, the escaped convict, and he desired above all else, to possess her. He first saw her at the bunya feast on Namboreen when Captain Lannigan was tortured to death. The sight of a white girl living like a savage among the blacks, turned his brain. Her face, beautiful, calm, dignified under the halo of her wonderful hair, the curve of her cheeks ruddy with the healthy blood that coursed beneath her skin, her strong shoulders, well fleshed arms bare to the armpits, the vital fullness of her firm breasts, but half concealed by her robe of untanned opossum skins, her strong white even teeth that glinted through her lips when she laughed and played with the little birrahlees, appealed to the animal instincts in him, and he, vowing to possess her, planned accordingly. In dexterity and manual strength, he knew he was no match for Nigel Lording; but he was a cunning and notorious criminal, and made up by cunning what he lacked in physical strength.
A son of Sir Edward Baker, he had been a Captain in the Royal Navy. Then he was known as a blackleg and for ungentlemanly, if not dishonest, conduct, had been dismissed from the service. During a residence in London, to support a course of dissipation and profligacy, he, on several occasions, stole plate from his lodgings, but to prevent his being prosecuted for felony and disgracing his family, his friends paid the value of the stolen articles. But having committed further thefts, his friends withheld their interference and allowed the law to take its course. He was tried and convicted and transported to Botany Bay. Having, however, in the territory of New South Wales, procured his freedom, this notorious plate stealer and blackleg again indulged in his thieving propensities, and to rid the colony of a nuisance, he was sentenced to penal servitude at Norfolk Island for seven years. During the time of his penal servitude on the island, he was the designer of a vessel to be secretly built by the prisoners in which to make their escape. This project was discovered by the Commandant long before the completion of the vessel and as the originator of the plot, he received further punishment. On the recovery of his liberty and return to Sydney, he entered a small provision shop in one of the back streets of that city, kept by a lonely widow, almost murdered her, and took the contents of the till which amounted to only a few shillings. For this capital offence he received three hundred lashes and was transported north to Moreton Bay, where he soon made his escape and lived for twenty-one years among the blacks, principally with the Tarampa tribe, below the almost impregnable rampart of the Great Dividing Range and in the region of Upper Lockyer Creek. The headman of this tribe was the notorious Millbong, one of the most bloodthirsty savages of his time; but how far he had been educated in his ruthlessness by Boralcho (as Baker was known among the blacks) is a matter of conjecture. In any case, his influence over the blacks was bad. Always on the hunt, always on ramble and foray, the men of the tribe often left their camp and went far afield. The old pinaroos, the gins, the lubras and young children, remained in camp grinding seeds, making goolays, or digging for yams with their yam sticks in the adjacent bush or searching for edible grubs in wattle trunks or dead logs.
Mary Worthington did not always accompany Nigel Lording when he went hunting with the bucks. She remained behind in the camp making clothing of skins, and cooking food at the fire before her own gunyah. At times she wandered alone from the camp to bathe naked and unashamed in the deep water holes of the Lockyer, revelling in her wonderful freedom, all unconscious of peril or danger; but once in a while when she wandered out of the camp towards the running waters of the creek, or the silent mystery of the dark scrub, a shrill-voiced gin would sometimes cry out "Gawai (come here) you! Baal walk about. Keep close up, you. Maybe someday that wicked blackfellow Millbong been catch you, or that wicked white fellow Boralcho, my word."
At all such warnings, Mary Worthington laughed lightly, exclaiming "Marong (good). I soon come back mahme (old woman)." But one day she did not come back. Boralcho with Millbong, and other hunters of the Tarampa tribe, were on a foray—and Boralcho in these forays always contrived with a sinister purpose that they should be made in the direction of the Coominya country when they saw Mary Worthington swimming alone in a waterhole. Millbong was the first to see her. Beckoning to Boralcho, he crept noiselessly towards the edge of the waterhole, carefully hiding in the reeds and bushes. "White Mary," he whispered, pointing to where Mary Worthington was swimming alone in the clean cool water of the Lockyer. Boralcho Baker, speechless, gazed at the white girl with evil eyes. She was now within his power. This was an opportunity that he had schemed and waited for—to kidnap her had been his supreme desire. Ever since he had beheld her up on Namboreen, he craved to obtain possession of her. God! Was it possible that his great opportunity had come at last! Gundawarra, even as he, Boralcho, was a runaway convict. The girl was, therefore, as much his property as Lording's. They were both outside the law. So was she as far as the law was concerned. If she was once in his power, let Gundawarra take her from him if he could. That remained to be seen. He would take her with the help of Millbong and his tribe to the remote fastnesses of the Great Dividing Range, the ramparts of which no white man had ever scaled, and where no one but a blackfellow could track them.
As they watched, Mary Worthington swam to the bank where she had left her opossum skin cloak; but before she could reach it, Boralcho, followed by the blacks, plunged into and through the waterhole and were upon her. Startled by the suddenness of the assault Mary Worthington, crouching to hide her nakedness, screamed, and the gins in the far away camp of the Coominyas hearing that startled, terrified scream, huddled together in terror.
But the old mahme who had warned Mary Worthington not to wander away from the camp to the swimming pool, all unafraid, ran to see what had happened to the lovely Boonara. "Maybe," she shouted back as she ran as fast as her thin old legs would carry her, "the bunyip in the waterhole has captured her, or the terrible Boralcho. Who knows?"
Arriving at the swimming pool, the old mahme was just in time to see Boralcho and the blood-thirsty Millbong, headman of the Tarampa tribe, carrying the screaming and fighting Boonara away through the scrub. But she was powerless in the hands of her captors. At sundown when the hunters and Nigel Lording returned to the camp of the Coominyas, they found it in a state of great consternation. Yabbering together, the gins, the pinaroos, and the lubras told the hunters what had happened. Nigel Lording became like a man demented. He knew what would be the fate of his beloved in the power of such a man as Baker, in whom she would find no mercy, no pity. Every minute that she was held captive by such an inhuman brute, meant her ruin and degradation. There was nothing else to do but to follow up the captors immediately. If the blacks would not form a vengeance party, he would go alone. He appealed to them, and he did not appeal in vain.
"Eh! Eh!" they yelled. "The Tarampas have stolen our Boonara, and her strong man Gundawarra is now lonely and desolate. We will track the stealers of gins until we find them and spear them."
The day had been hot and a drought lay over the land. Like a coin in a slot the red sun dropped down behind the western ranges that loomed black with jungle in the far distance. The raiders had half a day's start and would travel fast. By now they would be hiding in the dense scrub somewhere up in the foothills of the great Dividing Range. No matter. They must follow.
"Boolibai," (come) shouted Nigel Lording as he gripped his spears and woomera and ran like a human blood hound on the scent of the raiders. The blacks love a man-hunt and, shouting their war cry they ran like a pack following its swift-footed leader. Lilliri, the shadow, led the way, because he was the most fleet of foot of the Coominyas and the keenest tracker. He hung on to his quarry and followed like a shadow, for so he was named. With the swift swinging gait of his race, he moved and tracked with a supple, superlative grace, and Nigel Lording and his faithful warrigals followed close at Lilliri's heels. Each mile that he travelled Nigel Lording breathed a prayer to God that he would uphold him in his present great emergency. Across trackless ridges and hills they sped but when they came to the scrub at the base of the mountains, it was too dark to go further and Lilliri could not pick up the tracks. In an agony of suspense, Nigel Lording called a halt to camp for the night. The blacks slept, but the torture of Nigel Lording's soul was too intense for sleep. To him the hours of the night dragged on with leaden feet. Would dawn never break!
"Oh Mary, my darling," he groaned, "May God in his great mercy sustain you." In the intensity of his emotion, he tried to throw his will-power into the night in the hope that some telepathic force might communicate his feelings to her to sustain her with his hope and strength.
A magpie from its nest on a tree way up overhanging an ironbark ridge was the first to trill a song to the dawn. By the time the sun had sipped the last vestige of the dew from the grass, the avengers were well on their way towards the mountains that loomed ahead through their curtains of blue. Up there, in some mighty recess, the raiders, empanoplied like wild beasts in their lair, were holding captive the white girl. But through the scrub, following unerringly the tracks of the raiders they passed, single file, the keen sleuth, Lilliri, still in the lead. Torn by lawyer vines, leg-weary and shining with the ooze of sweat, the hunters pressed on. Aloft, cockatoos, black and white, screeched in the towering bunya-bunyas and mountain hoop pines.
Emerging from the jungle, Lilliri picked up the tracks which still led far up the mountains. Suddenly he stopped and held up a warning hand. Then he pointed ahead where smoke spiralled up over the trees, and hissed "Tarampa, he been make that pfeller smoke; White Mary, she there alright."
Crawling ahead through the bracken and long grass, the avengers crept silently on towards the smoke. Along a spur they crawled until they came to the edge of a yawning ravine in the heart of the range. Lilliri stopped and, turning, pointed ahead. Far below, in a clear space in the ravine, through which ran a stream of sparkling water, Nigel Lording saw their quarry—Baker, several blacks, and Mary Worthington. Nigel Lording's heart contracted when he beheld her lying on the ground, clothed only by the fall of her flowing hair. What had been her fate? Whether dead or alive he could not say. She lay motionless. The blacks looked to him for a lead in strategy. A dense jungle clothed the sides of the ravine and Nigel Lording in whispers directed the blacks by gestures to crawl noiselessly down the sides of the ravine and surround the raiders. At a given signal, they were to yell and with spears uplifted, run forward. The blacks, suddenly startled, would run into the sheltering scrub. But the white man would not run. Him they were not to spear lest they injure Boonara. If harm had come to her, Boralcho should die. If he had done her no harm, he was to live.
When the fugitives were surrounded Nigel Lording heard Baker speak to Mary Worthington and throw her a possum skin. With this she did her best to hide her nakedness. A shout of joy almost broke from Nigel Lording. She was not dead after all, but lived. That at any rate, was something to be thankful for. Then he breathed with intense fervour, "O God the all powerful, how I thank Thee!"
Then he gave the signal—the howl of a dingo. Instantly his faithful allies took up the ullawaranna (howl) and rushed forward with raised spears. Startled and taken unawares, the Tarampa bucks, not stopping to take up their weapons, fled into the scrub, but Baker, amazed, picked up his hielaman (shield), and nulla-nulla, and stood on guard in front of Mary Worthington, who had, on hearing the howls of the blacks, jumped quickly up from the ground. Then she saw Nigel Lording coming towards her out of the scrub.
Drawn, haggard, and dazed, she ran to him, and crying "Nigel!" fell swooning into the arms of her marvellous mate. Taking advantage of the temporary embarrassment caused to Nigel Lording by the girl throwing herself so suddenly into his arms, Baker, with an agile bound of a panther, shouting "spoils to the victor," sprang forward to brain him with his nulla-nulla. But Nigel Lording had lived too long with the blacks to be caught unaware. Throwing Mary Worthington behind him with a sudden thrust of his encircling right arm, with such force as to send her sprawling into a tussock of plume grass, he nimbly jumped aside. The blow that was meant to crash his skull, grazed his shoulder, tearing the skin of his left arm to the elbow. Instantly pivoting on his left leg and crouching low, he brought his great knowledge of an expert wrestler to his aid. Before Baker could recover his balance to make a second hit, Nigel Lording caught him below the knees with his left arm and using the immense leverage of his left shoulder, threw Baker over his head with such force that he lay dazed and half-stunned then feet away.
"Spoils to the victor, is it, you dog? Well, you're my spoil, you cur. You've cheated the gallows, you ravisher, to die here in the bush," thus Nigel Lording addressed Baker as he jumped upon him, kneeling with his right knee on his abdomen, while he clutched the prostrate man's throat to choke the life out of him.
The suddenness with which Nigel Lording threw his heart's desire from him and the shock of her falling heavily into the tussock of plume grass, brought Mary Worthington back to her alert mentality. Taking in the situation at a glance, she came staggering over to the two men who were claiming her as their "spoil," and said feebly, "Spare him, Nigel. He has done me no physical harm, though God knows what would have happened to me in his vile hands and at his uncontrollable mercy, had you not found me in time."
"Oh, my heart's mate, a despoiler of women is not fit to live. It would be a mercy to kill him before he can commit further crimes."
"But you are not his judge, my Nigel. Do not stain your noble soul with the blood of such a man. Come."
"If he had defiled you, Mary, I would kill him as willingly as I would kill a black snake; but since he has respected you in that, I will let him go, though you were in dangerous custody."
"I know it, my true mate, only too well. From the time he abducted me until he brought me here with his blacks, he never stopped going. In the fastnesses of these mountains he thought he was safe from pursuit. But, oh, my Nigel, I knew better. I knew that you would track him to the end of Australia, to get me back again, dead or alive."
"Dearest of all most dear to me, I hope your faith and trust in me will see us safely through this terrible pilgrimage."
The blacks of both tribes came down out of the scrub on the sides of the ravine to watch the fight between the two white men for possession of the white lubra. When the Tarampas saw their man vanquished and beaten, they accepted the inevitable with true savage philosophy, and went back to their camp on the lower Lockyer, the defeated and humiliated Baker going with them.
Nigel Lording with his faithful Coominyas rested a day and a night by the clear running waters in the ravine. A speared wallaby and an eighteen foot carpet snake provided food and gave them strength to march back to their camp on the upper Lockyer.
When, on the morning of a new day, the sun unrolled its golden splendour over range and forest, and scrub, and painted with its radiant glory the dazzling mountain tops, it seemed to Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington as they walked hand in hand out of the ravine on their way back to the camp, that after all, God was enthroned somewhere above those lofty mountain peaks along whose crests the rising sun ran like fire-fringed rivers of fulgurant gold.
Sir Richard Bourke arrived in Sydney in December, 1831, to succeed General Darling as Governor of New South Wales, but the Royal pardon had not yet been served on Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington. Captain Clunie, the commandant at Moreton Bay, reported to him, after a long interval, that the reprieved prisoners had been swallowed up by the trackless, illimitable bush, and it was feared that their fate would never be known.
At the earnest and tearful importunities of Ann Worthington, Major-General Bourke directed that search without ceasing must continue to be made for the fugitives from the settlement on the Brisbane River, and the services of friendly natives were to be requisitioned for that purpose. Captain Clunie, however, made a mistake in sending natives with soldiers to search the bush for the missing convicts. The soldiers, with their muskets, which, like lightning, killed from a distance, were distrusted by the wild myalls. They looked upon the blacks who accompanied the soldiers as renegades not to be trusted, and would give them no information except that of a misleading nature to those Kongaros (mongrels), as they termed the blacks from the settlement.
But what the honest endeavour of Captain Clunie failed to accomplish a renegade white man with much evil in his heart, and with an evil intention brought about. "Boralcho" Baker, whose knowledge of the bush was only equalled by that of the blacks themselves, was bitterly mortified by the recapture of Mary Worthington from his evil clutches by his superior antagonist, "Gundawarra" Lording. The ease with which that redoubtable wrestler had cast him aside, almost with scorn as it were, rankled bitterly in him and he vowed vengeance. He had been humiliated not only in the sight and presence of the beautiful white girl whom he had hoped to make his mistress, but in the sight of the Tarampa tribe, who hitherto had looked upon him as a warrior superior in cunning and intelligence to themselves. He resolved, therefore, to plan and scheme to have Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington recaptured and brought back to the settlement, where they would suffer the terrible punishment meted out to bolters. If he could bring about their capture he would not only rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the blacks, but would satisfy his lust for vengeance. The only fly in the ointment of his scheming was that of his own safety. As a bolter from constituted authority he would not be present to see them scourged at the triangles or wear again the manacles of convict discipline. In imagination, however, he gloated over the sufferings they would be forced to endure as recaptured felons.
In 1828 Allan Cunningham, botanist and explorer, made his way from Moreton Bay across the Great Dividing Range through the gap which bears his name. The year before, when he discovered the Darling Downs, he had noticed this great cleft in the mountain barrier between the tableland of the interior and the coast, but the forces of circumstance drove him south again via the Dumaresq, Gwydir, Namoi, and Castlereagh; but as he glanced backward at that mighty V-shaped cleft, flanked by a towering mountain on either side, he resolved to explore it the following year, which he did, and passed from the coast lands to the Darling Downs, naming the mountains that he had seen the year before, Cordeaux on the north and Mitchell on the south. Captain Clunie decided to emulate his predecessor, Captain Lannigan, in the work of exploration. With this end in view he set out from Limestone Hills (Ipswich) with a small detachment of the 4th Infantry, two convicts to lead the packhorses and to prepare the camps, and two natives to act as guides.
One evening at sundown, when making camp on the Upper Lockyer, the explorers were surprised to see a stalwart native armed with spears, woomera, and hielaman, stride into the camp. He was the notorious Millbong headman of the Tarampas. Laying down his weapons as a token of peace, he approached the commandant and by signs and broken English picked up from "Boralcho" Baker, made known to Captain Clunie that two run-away tallabillas (outlaws), one a wait-jurk (wanted murderer) and the other a gaddawirra (a bad woman) been sit down longa Coominyas. "Maybe you come, me been shown you Gundawarra's warrabinda (camp at a deep waterhole)."
By signs Captain Clunie, with the help of the blacks as interpreters, made Millbong to understand that if he led him to them he would give him a white man's cumbee (tomahawk). But if he showed any signs of treachery he would kill him with the white man's thunder. To emphasise his threat the commandant shot a hawk with his musket. He held Millbong a close prisoner for the night, and next day they set off for the camp of the Coominyas at their warrabinda on the Upper Lockyer.
When Captain Clunie arrived within a mile of the camp of the Coominyas he gave one of his own blacks a message in writing to take to the fugitive white man who he hoped would turn out to be Nigel Lording, the long searched for escapee, to the effect that owing to the arrest of the murderer of Earl Belriven both he and his female companion had been granted a free pardon.
There was much commotion and yabbering in the camp of the Coominyas when Nigel Lording informed them of the import of the message. They were very angry and refused to let him and Boonara go, fearing treachery at the hands of the soldiers. Nigel Lording was also suspicious and talked the matter over with Mary Worthington. "It would be terrible," he said, "if ultimately this turned out to be a ruse to lure us back to the settlement, to imprisonment, and possibly to death."
But Mary Worthington, with faith in their destiny, looked at the matter differently. With tears in her eyes and a voice tremulous with emotion she said, catching hold of Nigel Lording with both hands:
"Oh, my mate, my heart's desire, my Nigel, I feel that this is our deliverance at last. Believe me, beloved, but I fear no treachery."
"For your sake, my Mary, my Mary of sorrows, dangers, persecutions, and privations, I will go to this man and test his sincerity."
"Then I will go with you, my Nigel. I will never, never leave you. O God, it is too wonderful to be true. O great deliverance, after all these years of terrible tribulation!"
Out of the bush they walked, accompanied by an escort of the Coominya bucks, into the camp of Captain Clunie. The blacks, fearing treachery, carried their native weapons, but Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington, walking hand in hand, came with every semblance of trust and good faith. It was a remarkable sight that the commandant looked upon. A white man of magnificent physique, burnt almost black, with long beard and hair the colour of honey, naked but for the opossum skin that engirdled him from the waist to the thighs, and a young woman, bronzed, barefooted, and erect, of matchless symmetry, with an emu skin hanging from her shoulders, over which hung a rippling fall of luxuriant hair of the tint of natural gold, stood before him.
Looking in amazement at the pair, Captain Clunie asked the man, "In God's name, who are you?"
"I am Nigel Lording, an escaped convict, and this is Mary Worthington, who escaped with me. Is the message you sent me, sir, correct, or was it only a ruse to lure us back to captivity?"
"My man," replied the commandant with dignity, "what I have told you is quite correct. It has been proved that both you and this marvellous girl, the companion of your almost unbelievable sojourn with the blacks, are quite guiltless of the crime for which you were transported. The pardon of his Majesty King George IV., now over a year old is in the hands of Governor Bourke at Sydney. I was directed to use every endeavour to trace your whereabouts and to find you both, dead or alive. Thank God, I have been successful in finding you alive."
To Mary Worthington this intimation seemed incredible. Buoyed up for years by the hope of ultimate emancipation she had borne her lot with her marvellous mate with a courage that was sublime; but now that her—that their—emancipation had come at last, her joy, her happiness was overwhelming. Her heart, after one great beat of joy, seemed to stop beating and her blood to flow. Suddenly she collapsed in a swoon at the feet of the commandant.
Nigel Lording lifted her tenderly in his great strong arms and laid her down gently in the shadow of a flowering apple tree. The blacks looked on in wonderment, sullen and silent. What did it all mean? They did not know, only that they sensed that Gundawarra and Boonara were safe.
True to his promise, Captain Clunie gave Millbong a bright tomahawk, and his smoky eyes glistened. He walked out of the camp of the whites and went back to his own tribe. It was a queer tale he told the treacherous Boralcho. His native instinct told him that Gundawarra and Boonara were with friends, and Baker cursed. Unwittingly he had been the means of restoring the fugitives from justice to civilisation.
The commandant with the greatest solicitude revived Mary Worthington with a mixture of rum and water. Then ordering tea to be made and a meal to be prepared he made her comfortable with blankets.
That night in the commandant's camp they heard the wonderful news that Ann Worthington and her other three children had left England for good and were in Sydney awaiting most anxiously for information concerning her daughter and her great protector. It would be some time yet before they could leave Brisbane Town for Sydney, but as there were no means of communication between the settlement and Sydney, save by boat, it was no use sending on news ahead. They would reach Sydney as soon as a dispatch. In the meantime, as guests of Captain Clunie, who treated them most kindly, they would once more have the privilege of eating the food and wearing the garments of civilisation.
There was great distress in the camp of the Coominyas when they learnt that Gundawarra and the beautiful, light-hearted laughing Amoama-Boonara were leaving them for ever. The goodwill that had grown up between them had made them very friendly. Laughter and play among the children were stilled and the lubras squatted together in the gunyahs and whispered. Even the old pinnaroos wagged their heads. "Huh," they grunted, "wandering ones, those two. One moon they come, another moon they go. Maybe now they go on a long wandering through many tribes. We will make for them a message-stick, which will make our talk known to other tribes. It will tell all that Gundawarra and Amoama-Boonara are friends, loved by all blackfellows."
And so next morning, when Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington, with the commandant and his party, walked into the camp of the Coominyas to bid them a long farewell, the gins and lubras wept and the little birrahlees whimpered. Then came forward old Currumbin, the headman of the tribe, and presented Nigel Lording with the prepared message-stick, carved out of sweet-scented cedar. It was a little larger than a finger and engraved with many markings. It was the tribe's guarantee of good faith, and would act as a safeguard or passport over otherwise hostile country.
Nigel Lording explained to Captain Clunie what the message-stick meant. To a white man travelling among blacks it was a priceless possession, and in return for this evidence of goodwill the commandant presented old Currumbin with a tomahawk, cut spare blankets into strips for the gins, and distributed sugar among the little birrahlees, and so the grief of separation was soon mollified.
The finding of Nigel Lording and Mary Worthington in the wilderness of the unknown bush was such an important event that Captain Clunie immediately turned back and retraced his steps to the settlement. Arriving there he made them his guests and did all in his power to rehabilitate them in the ways of civilisation. They were now no longer convicts branded with the name of felon. That was past and done with for ever. Though the memory of their fearful sufferings was ever present—burnt on their minds with the unquenchable fire of suffering—they could now lift up their eyes in admiration and sigh, "Thank God, it is over."
As they walked together down paths that led to the river along which but a few years ago they had marched in fetters, Nigel Lording pointed out to the girl of his idolatry, the spot where they had plunged together into the flooded river on the day of their dangerous crossing. Shuddering, yet speechless with thankfulness and adoration, true happiness shone like the sun from her face as her saviour drew her to him, and he, beholding her, saw her radiant, elated, clothed with joy as an angel of grace.
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