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Chapter XI.

Mrs Rowley makes a lucky discovery.—Mr Rowley's departure to Sydney.—Tragical event on the passage.—“Lines on a Skeleton.”

“OH, I have such a piece of news to tell you, Peter!” said Mrs Rowley, as she trotted to the front gate to meet her husband, who had just returned on horseback from Daisybank.

“And I have some news to tell you too, mother,” replied Peter, with a serious tone, although he was smiling at his wife's unusual exultation.

“Have you, dear? What is it? Tell it me at once.”

“No, no; you had better tell your news first, mother; it is more cheering than mine, I can see by your merry face. But don't be alarmed, dear;” he added, as he saw her countenance change. “There is not anything the matter with our young folks. What is your good news? Mine will keep for half-an-hour.”

“Come inside, and I will tell you. You know we have often talked of putting a new cover on that old arm-chair of neighbour Stubble's, which you keep in your little cosy. I had nothing particular to do this morning; so after you left, I thought I would rip the old cover off the chair, and get it cleaned, and see if it would do to put on again, before going to the expense of new stuff: for as Joe is rather whimsical, I thought he might like the old cover best. Many people like old things better than new, you know.”

“Yes, but you are a long time getting to the good news, mother. Never mind the old chair.”

“Ha, ha! Old chair, indeed! you will not make fun of it any more, I promise. While I was turning out the dusty horse-hair stuffing, what do you think I found?”

“Some bugs, I daresay, mother.”

“Tut! For shame, Peter! You know there is not one in the house. This is what I found,” said Mrs Rowley, handing a roll of bank-notes to her astonished husband.

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“Hey, day! mother. This is a piece of news indeed!” exclaimed Peter, as he spread out the musty notes, which had apparently been rolled together for many years. Pooh! This one is no good to begin with,—Bank of Australia: stop a bit; hand me my spectacles. All right; I see it is the Bank of Australasia; I made a mistake. Good as gold. £310! Well, well! This is a lucky find, mother. I wonder who it belongs to? Some old miser, no doubt.”

“Do you not think that Mr Stubble put it in the chair, Peter?”

“Not he, dear; no more than I did. Joe is not a miser. He got the chair from his old master at Luckyboy; but Mr Drydun did not put the money there for certain; he was as poor as Lazarus before he left the colony. I wonder who he got the chair from. If we could find that out, we might trace the owner of the money.”

“But you have not told me what your news is,” said Mrs Rowley, as Peter sat gazing abstractedly at the notes in his hand.

“It is sad news, dear, and very strange, or providential I should say, that it should come just at the time of this unexpected discovery. Poor Joe Stubble is ruined!”

“Ruined, Peter!” exclaimed Mrs Rowley. “Has he killed himself? Tell me all about it.”

“No, thank God; he has not killed himself, dear, for that would be eternal ruin. I have quoted the expression in his letter to me which I received this morning. He has lost all his money; and that is generally called being ruined by persons who do not know any better.”

“Dear, dear me! Poor fellow! I am very sorry to hear it,” said Rowley, with real sympathy in her looks.

“The news is not so startling to me, because I feared, from a few remarks which Joe made to me when I was in Sydney, that he was speculating to a great extent; and I know the risk of that sort of thing, especially to men who are wholly inexperienced in mercantile affairs.”

“How silly he must be, to be sure! He had everything a reasonable man could wish for,—good farm, comfortable home, and thousands of pounds in the bank; and yet he could not be satisfied, but must go to Sydney; and now he has lost all his hard earnings. Dear, dear me! Whatever will poor Mrs Stubble say? She will be in a sad way!”

“As I rode home from the township, thinking of our poor

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neighbour's sudden downfall, the words of Job's friend Elihu came to my mind: ‘Lo! all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit; to be enlightened with the light of the living.’ It is all right, mother; depend upon it. It will perhaps turn out the best thing that ever happened to the Stubbles, though they cannot see it yet. I daresay Joe is terribly cast down, and it would not do any good to tell him, at the present time, all I think about the trouble that has befallen him, but I firmly believe he will be glad of it by and bye. I must go to Sydney tomorrow, and see what I can do to help him. I know the value of a cool-headed friend in a time of need. Stubble is an honest man ‘who has fallen among thieves;’ but every one may not know him so well as I do, and the excitement which he cannot help showing will be prejudicial to him, and he may be mistaken for a schemer of the same class as the men who have caused his downfall. I may be able to obviate that to some extent.”

“Will you take this money down to him, Peter?”

“No, my dear. We had better say nothing about it for the present. Lock it up in the strong-box just as it is. I will soon find out from Joe, by an indirect question or two, whether he knows anything about it or not, and I shall then know how to act. I will try to do what is right, you may rest assured.”

The following morning Mr Rowley embarked in the steamer for Sydney, taking with him a kind letter from his wife to Mrs Stubble, inviting her to Briarburn. As the vessel steamed down the river, Mr Rowley was conversing with the captain on the bridge, when the latter casually remarked, “That was a queer start of poor Davis's wife. You have heard of it, I suppose, sir?”

“No; I have heard nothing particular. What has happened to her?”

“Happened to her? Why, she has bolted off to California in the Screaming Eagle, and left three children behind her.”

“The heartless creature!” said Mr Rowley. “What a sad trial for her husband!”

“Well, it almost serves him right, though I am sorry for him,” replied the captain. “He has allowed that long-spliced horse-marine of a fellow to ride about with his wife almost

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every day for the last five weeks, and has encouraged his visits to the house; so what could he expect? If you fondle a snake, it is almost sure to bite you.”

“He could certainly expect his wife to show common affection for her children, even if she were destitute of becoming modesty. To run away from her family, and all young children too, is almost unparalleled barbarity. The woman must be out of her mind.”

“Not she, sir; she is knowing enough. But she has been bewitched in some way that I cannot explain—electrification, I think, they call it. I would hang that fellow to the yard-arm if I had my will, for he is a thorough scoundrel, ten times more dangerous than a mad dog. I have heard him myself boast, when he was half-seas over, that he could do what he liked with any young woman, if she would only let him look straight into her eyes for a minute, or let him get a gripe of her hand.”

“He is a false-hearted villain, whoever he is. What is his name, pray?”

“You must know him, sir. He married a daughter of Mr Stubble, the member for Muddleton, who had a farm out your way somewhere.”

“You don't say so?” exclaimed Mr Rowley, who was shocked. “Goldstone?”

“That is he, sir. A flash, leary-eyed rogue, who would sneak into any man's bunk if he got a chance. My blocks! I would tar his rigging down if I had him on board my ship for a long voyage. I hope that Yankee skipper will give him cowskin before he gets to California.”

When the steamer arrived at the Newcastle wharf, Mr Rowley stepped on shore for a few minutes, and then he heard the captain's statement confirmed. Goldstone had gone to San Francisco in the ship Screaming Eagle, with a dashing-looking woman, the wife of a gentleman who lived a short distance from Newcastle. That information further explained to Mr Rowley his friend Stubble's note to him, which briefly asked him to come to Sydney, as he, the writer, was ruined, and overwhelmed with trouble beside.

Just as the steamer was pushing off from the wharf, a man hurried down and sprang on board. His manner was so excited that Mr Rowley could not but notice him carefully; and it seemed that he was an object of special remark to the

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bystanders on shore. He at once ascended to the bridge or platform between the paddle-boxes, and began to walk to and fro, with his arms behind him, and his head bent downward, as if in deep and painful contemplation. He was genteelly dressed, and his general appearance betokened him a man of intelligence; but his peculiar wildness of manner induced all the passengers on board to avoid him. For two hours after the vessel put to sea, he continued to pace the bridge in the same abstracted manner, until he ceased to attract general notice. Presently he was observed to take off his overcoat, and throw it carelessly on to the deck; whereupon the second mate left his post on the bridge, for the purpose of expressing his fears to the captain respecting the sanity of the stranger; but he had scarcely got aft before the man threw his hat on to the deck beside his coat; and, uttering a piercing scream, he flung himself headlong overboard in front of the paddle-wheel. The engines were stopped as soon as possible, and a boat was lowered, but not a trace of the unhappy man could be seen; and it was supposed that he had been struck by the wheel, and had sunk immediately.

It is needless to describe the thrilling sensation the above tragical incident caused on board the steamer. After the first excitement was over, an eager search was made in the pockets of the overcoat to discover who the man was, when several papers were found, some of which I transcribe. The first was a telegram of that morning's date, as follows:—“From Jane Green, Melbourne, to R. Smith, Esq., Newcastle.—Grieved to say poor Amy died last night—ten o'clock.”

The next document was addressed to some person in Victoria whose name could not be deciphered, for the writing was much blurred and soiled, as with marks of tears. The composition was erratic, evidently the effort of a distracted mind. The first page contained some bitter strictures on the conduct of certain married men who were well known deflowerers of maiden innocence. The next page contained the following pathetic rhapsody:—

“Were there not unhappy victims enough on the midnight pave of Melbourne to satiate the lust of this ——, but he must seek to add my pure, innocent, lovely child to the host of hopeless outcasts? That he must rifle her of her virtue, and ruin my peace for ever! Poor Amy! my heart bleeds when I think of her present degraded position, and contrast her former purity, and her winsome, clinging fondness for me

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in my hours of sorrowful bereavement! The religion which I was taught in my childhood condemns the thirst for revenge which burns in my heart. I know it is wrong. Vengeance belongs to Almighty God: He will repay. I know that, but I cannot resist the force which impels me to seek out and confront the man who has wrecked my once bright, happy girl, and shaken my poor mind to the verge of madness.”

Then followed an incoherent account of the writer's visit to Goldstone's house in Sydney, of his watching before it a whole night, and the discovery that Goldstone had left for Newcastle.

The next part was evidently written at Newcastle. It expressed regret at being too late to meet the man he was seeking, who had sailed on the previous day for California. The letter concluded with an expression of devoted attachment to his fallen daughter, and a hope that he might be allowed the happiness of once more clasping her to his breaking heart before she died; for which object he intended to return to Melbourne by the next steamer.

There was no signature to the letter, and it was evident that the writer intended to add to it before posting it in Sydney. The telegram was dated 11 o'clock A.M., only ten minutes before the steamer left the wharf at Newcastle. The sad news it communicated had broken the last worn link which connected his mind with reason; and in a paroxysm of despair, the wretched, broken-hearted father had hurled himself into the sea of death—a sad, hopeless way of escape from misery, but doubtless the poor man was mad.

The person to whom the letter was addressed was probably connected with the press in some way, for in the same envelope were the following lines, “for insertion if they were thought suitable.” They were in print, and attached thereto was a note stating “that forty years ago the lines appeared in the Morning Chronicle from an unknown contributor. Fifty pounds reward was offered to discover the author, but without success. All that transpired was, that a poem, in a fair clerk's hand, was found under a skeleton of remarkable symmetry of form, in the Museum of Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn.”

The lines in question are so beautiful, that I need not hesitate to transcribe them.

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Behold this ruin! 'Twas a skull,
Once of ethereal spirit full;
This narrow cell was life's retreat,
This space was thought's mysterious seat!
What beauteous visions filled this spot!
What dreams of pleasure long forgot;
Nor hope, nor love, nor joy, nor fear,
Have left one trace of record here.

Beneath this mouldering canopy
Once shone the bright and busy eye;
But—start not at the dismal void—
If social love that eye employed;
If with no lawless fire it gleamed,
But through the dews of kindness beamed,
That eye shall be for ever bright,
When stars and suns are sunk in night.

Within this hollow cavern hung
The ready, swift, and tuneful tongue;
If falsehood's honey it disdained,
And where it could not praise, was chained;
If bold in virtue's cause it spoke,
Yet gentle concord never broke,
This silent tongue shall plead for thee
When time unveils eternity.

Say, did these fingers delve the mine?
Or with its envied rubies shine?
To hew the rock, or wear the gem,
Can little now avail to them.
But if the page of truth they sought,
Or comfort to the mourner brought,
These hands a richer meed shall claim,
Than all that wait on wealth or fame.

A vails it, whether bare or shod,
These feet the paths of duty trod?
If from the bower of ease they fled,
To seek affliction's humble shed;
If grandeur's guilty bribe they spurned,
And home to virtue's cot returned;
These feet with angel's wings shall vie,
And tread the palace of the sky.

Alas! no contemplative human eyes will ever gaze on the skeleton of the unhappy being whose taste had treasured the above exquisite stanzas. Down in the ocean depths his unshrouded bones will lie until the sea shall give up its dead.