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4. Parson Ford's Confessional.

I.

IT is beyond question that Parson Ford's resolve to keep up the amount of his fee for performing marriages was responsible for the annoyance which visited him on the occasion of our story.

Eight pounds sterling was his fee. Parson Knopwood would do the work for three and take payment in currency; and it was generally the easiest thing for an expert bridegroom to relieve the old man of the money as he was returning home the same evening. When Parson Bob performed the ceremony, he invariably celebrated the event at the “Hole in the Wall,” the favourite public-house, where his welcome was always warm and his chalk-score deep, and he would seldom proceed homewards to Cottage Green till the everlasting stars came out in their glory and flaunted their drunkenness in his shame-stricken eyes. At least that was


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what the cheery old chaplain used to say as he stumbled over Macquarie - street cobble-stones. “Wheresh O-rion? Shure I saw O-rion (hic) jush now!—'sh gone! Shtrange—th' bleshed (hic) stars dansh about so. Tell Gov-en-or!” And then perhaps the bridegroom, who had paid him about eleven o'clock that morning £3 in paper notes or dollars, would take his arm respectfully to help the reverend gentleman along—and himself to the £3. Sometimes, indeed, the bridegroom would not wait to tender his assistance. This was when the fee had been paid in forged notes, as several times happened.

Now, Parson Ford was a steady, pure, and sober man, and was not in the least inclined, when he became Principal Chaplain on Bobby Knopwood's official retirement, to view with aught but displeasure the irregularities which his predecessor had tolerated. He never got drunk; he knew the difference between forged currency notes and general currency by the “feel”—he could tell by the touch, so he said, any one tradesman's notes from every other man's—and he went home by dusk, or if detained after dark by pastoral duty, only after he had emptied the contents of his pockets and his fob into the keeping of a trusty acquaintance or officer of the garrison. Consequently, being possessed


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of these defects, he was not at this time beloved by the lower, or, indeed, any orders of society. Not till later did even the official classes come to believe in him. A community in which the heads liked to be drunk by mid-day, where matrimonial arrangements seldom were entered into except for the purpose of securing an additional grant of land or a right to other property, and where it was unsafe for a person to be out of doors after nightfall, because of his liability to be robbed, if not by unofficial criminals, by the men of the watch, was not prepared to take to its bosom at once a strong-minded cleric, whose pockets were never worth robbing, who would not drink to excess, whose only vice was snuffing, and who was so much of a Puritan that he had even admonished his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor for having a plurality of paramours. And when Parson Ford was so ill-advised as to raise the marriage-fee to eight pounds sterling, he placed the coping-stone to the edifice of his unpopular life. One and all, high and low, Lieutenant-Governor and lumberyard transport, who would not have married his “jomar” if the marriage-fee had been nothing, indignantly resented the step.

Why people who disdained marriage should have


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been thus irritated we do not positively know. We can only suppose it was by reason of that perverse trait of humanity which prompts it to value the thing which is beyond reach. If only a few couples could get married, nearly everybody would either wish to go through the ceremony or affect the desire to do so. Perhaps some such consideration had influenced Parson Ford in raising his fee. He assessed matrimony at a pecuniary value far beyond the reach of the mass of persons, and instantly they began to denounce the avarice and the injustice and the wickedness which prevented them from obtaining the blessing of the Church on their very irregular alliances. They forgot they had not rushed to the altar when the terms were only three pounds.

II.

“I hear, Mr. Ford,” remarked his Honour, as the parson paid him the usual morning visit exacted from all Hobart Town gentlemen who drew pay from the Colonial chest, “that you have caused it to be known that your marriage-fee is to be eight pounds in future?”

“That is my fixture, your Honour,” replied the chaplain.




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“But I do not know whether I can allow it! You know that the Governor in Sydney has fixed the fee at four pounds?”

“Guineas, your Honour,” gently corrected the parson. “But that is within two described parishes. I am sure of my legal rights on the matter.”

“But the moral effect, Mr. Chaplain—the effect! Have you sufficiently thought of that? A heavy fee is—ahem—an impediment to marriage!”

One great virtue had Parson Ford. He looked over a lot of things in persons of authority, but, when put on his mettle he never winced before a Governor, whether he was only a “Lieutenant,” or whether he was the omnipotent “General.” He faced his Honour now, and said distinctly, with an uncourtier-like acidity of tone: “Would it have proved so in your case, your Honour? If so, I'll reduce it!”

And his Honour took the unpleasant thrust pleasantly. His wine-reddened face was not unusually flushed as he responded: “Well, well, if you must have it so, you must, I s'pose, Mr. Ford. But don't you think you can make it currency, instead of sterling?”note




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“With all respect, sir, I do not think I can. My object is to make the ceremony valued in the eyes of the people, and I conceive there is no better way of doing it than to attach an expense to its performance. You have seen, your Honour, that Mr. Knopwood's low charges did not encourage marriages. Now, we will see what my method will do.”

“Very well, Mr. Ford, very well, have your own way. I think you are mistaken, but it's your lookout, and not mine. I'm not—h'm—my brother's keeper—of his morals, at all events. That's your duty.”

And with this, his Honour bowed his reverence out, helped himself to a glass of Spanish wine from a bottle which, one of a dozen, had been presented to him by his former comrade-in-arms, John Macarthur, in Sydney—Capt'n John had bought it at a sale of certain prize booty in the year '5, and treasured it greatly—and set to work to devise a scheme by which to revenge himself upon the clergyman. Davey was not given to vindictiveness, but he dearly liked a jest, and when by the same stroke he could have both his joke and his revenge, he would have fallen below the level of his drunken, rollicking, immoral old self if he had refrained from


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applying it. He had all the qualities of a good Governor except dignity, firmness, purity, honour, sobriety, and magnanimity.

As the result of his reflections he outlined a plan which, in the bosom of his irregularly constituted family circle at Government House, was fairly elaborated that same night. It was necessary, you see, for him to use an intermediary in the business. He rather prided himself on his free-and-easy manners. Had he not made his début in the colony in his shirt-sleeves, excusing himself on the score of its being too —— hot to wear full regimentals? Had he not established the custom of drinking and smoking in court? Was it not he who had stopped the trial-gang on their way to the wharf, and treated each of the unfortunates to a drink of rum-punch and a churchwarden pipe at Half-Hanged Jack's beershop? Did he not accept kindly their thankful “God bless yer Honour!” and wish them in return a fair trial, and, if God and the Judge pleased, an easy death? And was it not, too, his identical old blackguard self who, instead of enclosing to Sydney with the depositions of evidence against a convicted forger, the forged note for threepence, put the note, and therefore the evidence, into the fire, with the remark that a throat


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that could give out “Tom Bowling” so well, was too good to be fitted with a throat necklace? As a matter of fact, “free and easy” was an absurdly weak term to apply to Lieutenant-Governor Davey's relaxed manners. Nevertheless, he felt it was “not quite the cheese”—the phrase is not ours but the Governor's—for him to place himself in direct communication with the principal in the plot he had contrived for the discomfiture of Parson Ford. “No, Julia,” he said to the presiding madam of the week —his two “ladies” took week about in doing the honours of his private table (his legal family living quite apart)—“it won't be quite the cheese, my duck, for me to see the little dears at the Factory. One of you will have to do that for me.”

“Oh,” simpered madam—she was the identical pretty piece of frailty respecting whom Captain Colnett, of H.M.S. Glatton, had quarrelled with Governor King,note and the twelve years since the row had only matured her charms—“anythin' to


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please yer, dear Gov'nor—an' really, ye know, none of us leddies like Parson Sniff an' Snuff! Bobby's my 'dea of a parson. Ain't he yours, dear Gov'nor?”

“I'm with ye, madam, in everything, as ye know,” replied the Governor—whose gallant speeches were not yet intermingled with hiccoughs. “Ah, old Bobby never interfered between me an' ye, did he, dear? But ye'll attend to the Factory, Ju, without fail before Monday evening? Ye know, 'twould never do for his Honour, the Gov., to be known in the business.”

“Oh, lud, your Honour, how squeamish we're gettin' all at once,” tittered the sorceress of the week; “why, ye'll be turnin' saint yourself soon an' 'll cry ‘Fie!’ an' blush when I do this.”

And, bending forward, she pressed with her ruby lips the viceregal forehead. Madame Julia knew the ways of Government in early Van Demonian days. Also which side her bread was buttered. She was better off with Colonel Davey than with Captain Colnett, R.N. Immeasurably.note




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III.

What the official lights-o'-love achieved the sequel will show. The Governor did, however, make a specific contribution to the plot, but he kept the knowledge of it from his Cleopatras. He chuckled mightily as he added his fragment of fuel to the flame which was to scorch Parson Ford. He penned the following—

Private.

  “Government House, THURSDAY.

“REVEREND SIR,—The words that passed between us on a delicate subject have afected me, and have not failed to impres me. As one means of helping to releeve me from his reverence's sensure it is likely that a warm discourse on the subject by which you will understand I mean the iregular connections which your reverence does not approve of, on Sunday coming, would strengthen my hands, for I have come to the conclusion that my honourable position does demand from me conduct which would not remain open to your Reverence's objection.

 “Your Reverence's obedient servant,

  “(Sd.)  THOMAS DAVEY, Lieutt.-Gov.

To the REVEREND THEOPHILUS FORD,

at St. Davids Parsonage.”

Like the illustrious Wellington, Colonel Davey was weak in orthography and in grammar, but the Rev. Mr. Ford was too well acquainted with official eccentricities of the kind to dwell upon those features


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of the document. What impressed him was the possibility it held out of a reform in popular morals. And he resolved to accept the hint, “and to give it 'em warm.”

It was on the succeeding Sunday that he rose to the occasion. It was the first Sunday in the month, consequently a muster-Sunday, and pretty well everybody in Hobart Town was crowded into the church or within its precincts. A muster-Sunday for the bond or ticket-of-leave classes was, of course, compulsory, and those who were emancipated or “free” by “servitude” were almost as regular in attendance, for, besides the fun of the thing, there was the gratification of witnessing the subjection of others to a procedure once so galling to themselves. Then the few people who “came free” and the “garrison ladies” came also to witness the spectacle. It was so amusing, you will understand, to note the distress of some poor “ticket-of-leave,” as, from some more or less real peccadillo, his “ticket” was withdrawn, perhaps a little home or business sacrificed, and he himself re-consigned to the purgatory of the lumber-yard or the hell of the road-gang. In an epoch when popular entertainments were rare, the Sunday muster was highly valued by all except those who were compelled to attend it.




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On this Sunday the muster was before Church. The Muster-Master, as though in anticipation of the coming storm, was righteously indignant in the cases of a couple of dissolute fellows, who, having permission to marry, had gone no nearer the altar than the broomstick. They pleaded Parson Ford's increased fee, but 'twas no use. Their tickets were withdrawn, and they were ordered to present themselves before the Police Magistrate in the morning for sentence.

This incident had so agreeably entertained the “free” people, “irregularly-attached” or not, that they would have been prepared to enjoy even a less thrilling sermon than that Mr. Ford preached to them. Therefore, when he gave out his text from Ecclesiastes vii. and 26th—

“And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bonds; whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her”—

they settled down with an unusual zest. They knew by instinct something interesting was coming.

Illustrating his theme by pretty well every Scriptural passage having the remotest relation to it, the preacher denounced the iniquity of “irregular connections.” Then, by way of contrast, he painted


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the virtues of the typical British home, drew tears from many eyes by a description of the conjugal felicity which prevailed in the palace of the Sovereign—he was discreetly silent as to the Regent—and, having insinuated a refined advertisement of his reasons for raising the marriage-fee—“that which costs nothing or next to nothing,” he said, “is never valued,”—he concluded with a most touching peroration. With eyes alternately directed to the roof and upon the viceregal pew, he thanked Heaven that he had it from the best, he might say the very best, authority that henceforth the Local Representative of that pure and pious Personage whose virtues added lustre to the Crown of England, contemplated reflecting in his person and establishment the example of his Gracious Sovereign. With so striking an exemplar on the spot, he reminded his hearers that there would be no excuse for their permitting their irregular unions to remain unblessed by the Church and unsanctioned by the Law.

The effect was tremendous. New South Wales and Van Demonia in the early days had, of course, no opportunity of showing how a C—— could throw an aristocratic splendour over the gallows, or how a H—— could transform by grace of manner a niggardliness of expenditure into a refined economy; but


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yet they possessed, all things considered, as devoted a regard for the representative of the throne as we can claim to-day. The eye of the congregation seemed fixed upon the broad shoulders of the Lieutenant-Governor as he sat a few yards away from the pulpit. A kindly shadow from a pillar prevented, however, all save those in the immediate vicinity observing that the viceregal form shook as though with suppressed emotion. Frequent applications of a yellow handkerchief to his eyes further testified to the impression the sermon had made upon him. Was the Colonel really going to reform? Was he smitten with sorrow for the past, and moved by passionate desire for better things in the future? It seemed so, indeed, and one portly merchant—a conditional pardon man from Sydney-side—reflected ruefully that, eight pounds or no eight pounds, he'd be obliged to follow the Governor's example, if the great man really meant to abandon his harem.

But the merchant and those who noticed his Honour's emotion need not have been afraid. True, he did wipe tears from his eyes, but—it pains us to say it—they were of mirth. The Colonel of Marines was all the time wondering to himself how Jess and Ju were taking the sermon. He had


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never gone so far as to instal them in the viceregal pew—the ladies of his family proper would have drawn the line at that—but he knew they were in church. He'd have given a day's pay in sterling money, and not in those rascally rupees which were worth no more than eighty per cent of their nominal value, to have been able to look round and wink at the sweet creatures. But that he dare not do: it would have spoilt the sport, for did he catch their eyes in return he would to a certainty burst into laughter. Accordingly, he had to wait till afternoon.

IV.

The Parson dined with his Excellency, and received the latter's great compliments for the unstinted and fervid morality of the discourse. The Colonel now coincided with Mr. Ford as to the wisdom of the increased fee, and expressed a hope that not many months would elapse before it would be—er—as difficult to find an irregularly-attached couple in Hobart Town as a needle in the proverbial truss of hay! And the joy which is generated by the consciousness that a good work is meeting with the applause of the high and mighty settled upon


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Parson Ford's soul as he bade his Honour good-bye, and betook himself to the church for afternoon service. It was a joy undimmed by the least doubt as to the sincerity of the Governor's conversion.

After second service he was asked to tea at the table of one of the two married ladies of the garrison. The garrison was, matrimonially considered, very badly organized indeed. With the exception of two, the ladies who looked after the comfort of the officers, drawing married men's lodging and fuel allowances, however frequently they quarrelled among themselves, had one characteristic in common. They possessed no certificate of marriage—at least, they owned no certificates that sanctified their present relationships. And now, in consequence of Parson Ford's sermon, the virtuous and duly married two were more determined than ever to look down upon their unlicensed sisters of the quarters. Accordingly, as a preliminary, they mutually arranged an applausive tribute to that dear man, the clergyman, who at last had put his foot resolutely down “on the shocking, the really too shocking, state of things that prevailed in the town, and particularly within our brother officers' quarters, you know, dear.” Mrs. Lieutenant Bobbin had wished to do the honours, and invited Mrs. Captain D'Ewes, her


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sister in matrimonial distinction, to take tea with her and the dear parson, but Mrs. Captain D'Ewes, by virtue of her husband's rank, pressed for the privilege of first entertainment, which Mrs. Bobbin at once effusively and affectionately conceded. And so at half-past five o'clock the Rev. Theophilus found himself seated at a table with Mrs. D'Ewes and Captain D'Ewes, and Mrs. Bobbin and her Lieutenant. It may be remarked, by the way, that the Lieutenant's experience of wedded life was rather regarded in the town as strong evidence of the advantages of single blessedness.

Mr. Ford having said grace (the circumstance from its unusual nature deserves to be chronicled), and accepted some of the hospitalities of the table, his hostess lost no time in expressing her congratulations on his proper, very proper, course that day. And did he really think his Honour would alter the disgraceful, very disgraceful, condition of Government House society?

“I am, ma'am, firmly convinced in my own mind he really contemplates a change of conduct,” affirmed the Parson.

“Then—then—those women—— Oh, really, Mr. Ford, I blush for my sex to think such things are possible! And will his Honour at once dismiss them


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to the Factory?” Thus spoke the virtuous Bobbin dame.

“I am quite of opinion that he will do so. In fact, I may tell you—in confidence, ladies, of course—that I believe they have already been returned there!”

“No!” exclaimed both ladies in a breath.

“Indeed, I think so. As I was taking off my surplice in the vestry, the matron of the Factory came in and said that the Governor's ladies—you know, ma'am, that the way those low-class women will speak of these disgraces to their sex ——”

“Yes, indeed!” indignantly said Mrs. D'Ewes, “this misuse of words ought to be put down! And the matron said?”

“That those sinful women had been driven out to the Factory. The matron, bringing in the rest of the Protestant women for afternoon service as usual, met them half-way. They looked in a fine fluster—to use Mrs. Chubb's words—just as though the consequences of their sin had at last fallen upon them.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. D'Ewes, “there comes an end to all wrong-doing sooner or later.”

“Why,” said the Lieutenant, “didn't the matron stop and ask them why they were going out?”




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“Oh, Lieutenant, you don't know what a trouble 'tis to that poor woman to get those drabs of Factory girls to church!—she could not attend to anything else! She has to bring them in two batches—morning and afternoon—for it would take her whole staff to march the lot in together, and she must, of course, leave two or three wards-women behind to look after the sick ones.”

“We'd always tell off a corporal's guard to help her,” said Captain D'Ewes, flippantly. “Our men would not object to guard-duty there. ‘Guardians of beauty, if not of virtue,’ and so on, eh, Bobbin?”

Bobbin, with his spouse's eye upon him, dare not acquiesce verbally, but in his heart he approved of his comrade's sentiment. Of course, their respective wives were not aware that among the Lotharios of the camp, D'Ewes and Bobbin were included, even though they were married. Had he wished to reply, however, he would not have found it possible to do so, for Mrs. D'Ewes sharply remonstrated with her husband.

“I think, Captain,” she said, “that you should keep your wit for the low associates of the barrack-room. Remember, a clergyman is present, if you have no respect for ladies. And now, dear Mr. Ford,


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I should like so much to know whether those—those creatures are really at the Factory! You, I suppose, will find out in due course?”

“Oh, to-morrow, ma'am, is my usual Factory day—Monday succeeding Muster-Sunday, y' know!”

“Oh, yes,” broke in that ribald D'Ewes, “tomorrow's your confessional day, is it, Mr. Ford?”

“My what—sir?” returned the astonished Parson, who was nothing, if he was not a sturdy Evangelical.

“That, I believe, sir, is the term given in the town to your—ah—method of interrogating those frisky young madams at the Factory, of whom you're so fond.”

“Sir!” exclaimed the insulted Parson, rising.

“D'Ewes!” appealed his better-half.

“Captain D'Ewes!” ejaculated the horrified Mrs. Bobbin, whose husband simply chuckled to himself under cover of the storm.

And though D'Ewes apologized, and handsomely withdrew the imputation, which, he averred, was merely a jocular nothing, the Parson's sense of injury was not appeased until both Mrs. D'Ewes and Mrs. Bobbin had consented to accompany him to the Factory on the morrow. “Then, ladies, I beg you'll interrogate every woman for yourselves. Ask them what questions you like as to my treatment of them,


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and see if I've ever acted in a manner unbefitting my sacred office!”

As a simple fact, Parson Ford could not have played more nicely into his adversaries' hands than when he extended that invitation. Davey's plan had been merely to suggest a very naughty idea to the frail fair ones in Mrs. Chubb's charge, and to trust to chance for the result finding its way to the knowledge of the townspeople. But here Ford himself had provided the means for his own discomfiture.

V.

On the Monday afternoon, the Rev. Theophilus, accompanied by Mesdames D'Ewes and Bobbin, was respectfully welcomed by Mrs. Chubb. As the matron made her final curtsey, she said—

“Twelve new ones, your Rev'runce!”

“All—ahem—er—delicate?”

Mrs. Chubb simpered and looked down. “Yes, sir!” she said.

“Now, ladies,” and Mr. Ford turned to the garrison ladies, “of course you don't understand what Mrs. Chubb means?”

“No—not exactly, Mr. Ford,” said Mrs. D'Ewes.

“Well, I must tell you, ma'am. You know, of


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course, why so many girls are sent back to the Factory from service?”

Mrs. Bobbin blushed. Mrs. D'Ewes didn't, but replied “Yes.”

“Well, in the interests, first of morality, and then of the finances of the colony, I'm determined to put a stop to that sort of thing, ladies!”

“Quite right, I'm sure,” said Mrs. D'Ewes.

“Quite right, sir,” echoed Mrs. Bobbin.

“Now, there's only one way, and that is to punish the fathers of the children. But to reach the fathers you must know their names.”

“Of course, Mr. Ford!” said both ladies together.

“That is why, then, I have what the Captain very improperly called my confessional, Mrs. D'Ewes. I interrogate each girl separately as to the paternity of her child. Now, to-day, I will ask you ladies to pursue my inquiries for me. Have you any objection, ladies? Then you can tell the Captain the nature of my method.”

“No objection at all,” chorused the gentle beings.

“Then, as there are twelve to be examined, may I suggest you take six, Mrs. D'Ewes, and you the other six, Mrs. Bobbin, and I'll simply look on!”

The twelve girls—they were nearly all on the youthful side of womanhood—were ranged in a row,


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each standing by the foot of her pallet. Some were quivering with suppressed shame—or laughter. Others were biting their lips. But all were silent till the interrogation began.

Humming a hymn, Parson Ford walked up and down. His back was to the line of women, and consequently he did not see the startled looks which were bestowed upon him and then upon each other by the two ladies. By the time, however, he turned in his walk, each interrogator had examined her second girl, and as she obtained a reply, she glanced so strangely at the clergyman that he could not help but notice her manner. He put the singularity of the look down, however, to some surprising revelation. “Revelations” under the like circumstances were so common, that they had long since ceased to be surprising to him.

As Mrs. Bobbin interrogated her third girl, Mrs. D'Ewes finished the examination of her fourth. They exchanged a look of horror—then moving simultaneously into the centre of the room, they exclaimed together—

“Oh, Mr. Ford! You wretch!” called Mrs. D'Ewes.

“Mr. Ford, you're a hypocritical villain!” cried Mrs. Bobbin, and she hysterically searched for her handkerchief.




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“Ladies!” exclaimed Parson Ford, not believing his ears.

“Yes, sir, I'm glad I came to-day to unmask a scoundrel! Each of these four girls says you are the father of her child!” cried Mrs. D'Ewes.

“Madam!”

“And—oh—infamous!—these three girls all say—they—owe—their—ruin to you!” gasped Mrs. Bobbin, in tears.

“And I say the same!” said a girl as yet uninterrogated.

“He's the father of my child too!” said another.

“And of ours!” cried the rest in chorus.

Under this terrible avalanche of accusation Parson Ford was dumb!

Governor Davey and his “leddies” had calculated only on surprising Parson Ford himself—by bribing the girls with a ticket-of-leave apiece to allege that he, the clergyman, was responsible for her presence in the lying-in ward of the Factory. They had not contemplated so astonishing a success for their little plot, as was achieved through Ford's invitation to the garrison ladies.

Not for many years was Ford allowed to forget this episode. Governor Arthur, fifteen years after


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wards, referred, at a birthday dinner, to Parson Ford as one of the “fathers of the colony,” and was immensely surprised at the uproarious laughter his compliment elicited from all colonists present—save Ford.

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