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Chapter I To Play the Game Out

WHEN Sir William Heans first reached Hobarton, Tasmania, he was placed in the Government Architect's office on the strength of having erected additions to the family home in Ireland. Thus he spent a good deal of time designing penitentiaries, riding, reporting himself at the prison, “punting,” and visiting among a few friends to whom he had brought letters. Indeed, when he first reached the island, on the strength of his family connections, he walked for a fine and chequered summer in quite exalted society. And it is of this prolific year—prolific of so much terror and good—that we have first to tell.

A great deal had occurred before he met his friend Mr. Jarvis Carnt, also a prisoner. Not that he would have looked down on Mr. Carnt, if he had met him then; he always had a fine eye for a male acquaintance; but he was living a somewhat protected life for a gentleman prisoner (or “long-coater”) at that time, and being careful not to compromise his friends by frequenting the lower clubs, he had not come across Mr. Carnt.

It is strange how the world will give a man a second chance—especially if he be a good-looking one. This perennial instance of man's patience is no more evident in our male clubs and criminal courts than in the cabinets of the women. Sir William Heans' crime—his sin—which we shall touch on most briefly hereafter, and the committing of which had pushed him from the places that he loved into exile and boredom in a wild island at the bottom of the world—his sin seemed like to have been forgiven him by certain of his new acquaintances, one of whom, in particular, was a woman. This had not arisen from a rumour which had arrived with him—it is said, his own opinion somewhat too freely expressed—that he had been as much the sinned upon as the sinner, nor yet altogether from the far more potent argument of his good health and handsome face.

Captain Hyde-Shaxton and his wife, Matilda, had received him from the first with kindness, and even with warmth. The Captain, a man of forty-six, had some four years previous left a regiment and a young wife in India for a trip to Sydney, then in


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its first fashionable primenote; and afterwards, to his lasting glory, had voyaged thence to Hobarton, in the now famous Beagle, with Captain Fitzroy and Charles Darwin—whom he ever after elected to bring into his chuckling conversation as “young skins and bones.” Unlike Darwin, who could say even of Mount Wellington that it had “little picturesque beauty,” he fell in love with the island, and returned northward only to resign his commission and return with the young wife to Tasmania. Here, taking up land in the ranges near Flat Top Tier, the scenery and solitude had palled on both, and both had been glad when the restless busband had been given a small staff appointment in Hobarton, and moved into a secluded red brick house, facing down the bay over the shingles of the town.

The influence of an aspiring woman for good and peace is incalculable. (What men rare Queen Elizabeth made, giving them something they could not but revere!) Not only in her casual acquaintances did she inspire trust, but even (as a certain Mr. Daunt put it) in her husband, he, in his large way, entrusting her with the financing of both their large establishments—a matter she carried out with her fine financial head, with only the rarest and most hugely forgiven of blunders. This woman with the dreadful name and the Bedouin husband—a man always with his mind's eye over the next mountain—this by no means extraordinary woman, by achieving something every once in a while without a tinge of self in it, drew soon a circle of hard-eyed people about her, whose smiling faces, if they did not become more natural, went away as determined as they came. It seemed her desire to steal rather than to aid, teach, or pass judgment. Her sweet face seldom smiled. It was high, small, bright, and shyly serious. She seemed taller than she was; would have been active if she had not been delicate; and was straight as a needle. You would see her talking with someone in her drawing-room, near a chandelier, with that fine antagonistic eye of hers wild and full of a strained yearning.

Incidentally she was a beautiful woman—if not for exhibition purposes. She seemed to put it away from her as she talked, much as she would thrust back her hair—so golden. She admitted it, but it was not the fact apparently which she most wished to urge upon you. Even had it been it would have bothered but little the kind of women and men who sought her. They went there in homage—most of them—for some clever, invisible unselfishness in which they had caught her, and into which they could argue (clever as they were at scenting them) no slight to themselves or anyone else except herself and her private interests. The prisoner Carnt called her, in his wild, amusing way, “the carpet serpent.” We don't know whether


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he was referring to her selfless subtleties or what. It seems the convict never forgave her for once distinctly bowing to him from a fly—when walking with Sir William Heans—though, with what he curiously described as the remnants of compunction, he had not bowed in return. Carnt, by the way, was not at all a bad fellow. He had been a steward or land-agent in England. He drank seldom, but when he drank heavily, it is said he became a devil of selfish treachery and calculation.

Heans, with his high black collarless stock, matchless claw-hammer, plaid breeks and hunting air, had received slight after slight on landing, and came at last, pale, proud, yet still on his dignity, to the Shaxtons' door. His health had really suffered on ship-board, and he had obtained a Government Pass to ride beyond the town bounds in four directions: the village of New Town, and five miles towards the ferry; Sandy Bay, but not more than two miles towards the Probation Station; and a gallop up the Storm Mountain track towards the Springs. On pain of the withdrawal of the pass, he was to call at no ale or dwellinghouse besides that known as “Muster-Master-Mason's Place” above the Cascades Prison: this being within sight of the courtyards.

As Captain Shaxton's house was a mile outside the Boundary he had, of necessity, applied for a fresh pass giving permission, for one day, to leave the Mountain Road and break his ride at Pitt's Villa. He had obtained this on producing a familiar letter of introduction from an aunt, showing he was distantly related to this family, with the proviso that he would be within boundary before dusk.

In the drawing-room, Daunt, of the foot police, was sitting with Mrs. Shaxton. He was a dark man, quick and neat, in a high-shouldered, kerseymere frock-coat, and duck breeches strapped over Wellingtons. He had slighted Heans (or Heans had fancied that he had) once already on the Hulk, and when the latter came in, having recovered himself, grey and quiet, he recognised him instantly, and entreated something of Mrs. Shaxton in a low voice near the mantel-piece. It sounded like “mauvais sujet.” She rose, however, with her shy, staring, antagonistic look. It was hot and the drawing-room had been darkened: one of those dusky, dreamy interiors of the summer antipodes generally filled with dreamy women. Heans' face and head were in the line of the one raised blind, and he stood gravely before her, fine, pale, and wonderfully dignified. She withdrew her staring eyes in a strange way, and gave him her hand warmly. She was an earnest woman. Her welcome was unmistakably sweet, and kind; but she did not look at him again, searching about her, even while he bowed over her hand, for a chair on which he might sit. She introduced him to Daunt, who had risen. Daunt said darkly that they had met, but Heans, with some appearance of


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good-humour, begged his pardon for a “devilish bad memory for faces.”

“Ah,” said Daunt, “I've a good one.” And he made his little hearty, silent laugh. He was a very witty man in another way. It was he who had given vent to the clever saying: “He did not admire the gossiping ladies: their lips were too red.”

Matilda said into her embroidery, that, “we heard about you, Sir William Heans, from the Gairdeners. Your Aunt wrote one of her wonderful letters.”

“She said she would write,” said Heans.

“She must be eighty-three. She wished to know what had become of Mr. Macaulay, the young orator. He was in Calcutta when I came out to my husband, and people were saying great things of him. I myself heard him say at a dinner-party, in a voice that rang with feeling, that he ‘would not give one fallen pillar of Rome for all the marvellous Colonades of Hindostan.’ ”

They all laughed at her way of saying it.

“Ah,” said Heans, with some patience. “Macaulay has been her hero ever since the death of old Sir Walter. I protest, she would meet Scott wherever she went according to her own account, though, as she would say, ‘he has lately written such dreadful things about us women!’ ‘The great poet,’ she would say, ‘was there with Lady Buccleugh: I knew him by his déshabillé and faithful eyes.’ ”

Matilda glanced at the speaker with her own strange orbs. A soft look lay at the root of their strained stare. She let her chin drop into her needle-hand, and looked into the distance.

“Ah,” she said, in a soft voice, “it is a pleasure to answer Miss Gairdener's letters. Anything will interest her with a great or good wish in it. You can begin a despatch with Mr. Macaulay and end it with a receipt for plum chutney. She tells me she has been reading Pope's Homer, and that she finds Mr. Crabbe's poems so rousing. She begged us to look out for you, Sir William, and see that you took care of your health.”

“Ah,” put in Daunt, with decency, “the old lady will be glad then to hear safe news of you.”

“She has a great heart, sir,” said Sir William, in a fine even voice. He leant a little back in his chair, put a tortoise-shell eyeglass into his eye, and glared at Daunt through it.

Daunt laughed again hissingly. “Great heart, great anxiety,” he said, not so pleasantly. He turned in his neat, brisk way to Matilda. “When you write, don't make us out such bugbears, Mrs. Shaxton. You are inclined to think us severe, but you would be surprised how politeness begets politeness, and contentment a return of tolerance and help, here in Hobarton.”

Mrs. Shaxton frowned and shook her bent head.

“Contentment under suffering—yes, that is what you are always demanding,” she said, into her embroidery, and rather


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fiercely. “Mr. Daunt, you approach every one with a list of rules and a club—isn't that the weapon? Shouldn't suffering be approached with shame—shame and pity,” (A sort of quiver in her breath stopped her.) “I have no experience, but it numbs them I think.”

“Oh, the club's only to save one's head,” said Daunt, with his hissing laugh. “The shame's there, but experience has taught us to take a stick in with it.”

“You're always rappin' 'em,” said Sir William, oh very fine and pale! “Isn't that what Mrs. Shaxton means?”

“I agree,” said Daunt, with a sharp grin. “But what can you do with assurance? Where would you be with pity in one hand, and shame in the other, with a fellow that has none?”

“With the great—and Mr. Robinson,”note said Matilda, steadily.

“With the Chaplains, Mrs. Shaxton, and the unleavened dough they leave for our baking. I'm an advocate, I fear, for less mauling and more discipline. The law or some local rule invariably stops you just as you have your hand upon some old offender. Egad, I'm anything but a convert of Paul Shaxton's! I cannot endure this silent-cell miasma.”

Matilda turned towards Heans, dropping her work, her eyes at first on the window. “You must forgive us,” she said, feelingly. “We have got into a too common Hobarton groove. With the best of intentions we cannot prevent our conversation from tottering back towards the improvement of the prisons. So many here are connected with, or interested in, them.” (Heans felt suddenly easier.) “My husband has just invented a scheme for dealing with the desperado: silent confinement. To me it is hideous beyond words.” (He found her steadily staring at him, her face glowing with excitement.) “He has made plans for a prison in which a man may live for weeks with open air exercise, and yet see no human face, and hear no sound, but that of a slippered warder and clergyman for a few moments in the week.” (Her voice quivered. She seemed entirely unaware, or to have forgotten in her intense interest in the subject, the barrier she was erecting between her husband and herself in Sir William's mind.) “Mr. Daunt,” she added, “if you do not agree with Captain Shaxton, why do you not prevent him?”

“It's of no use,” said Daunt, with his sharp laugh; “they are all wild about it. Government wants to experiment at Port Arthurnote. The Commandants want to try it on the confirmed absconder. The doctors are ardent upon it for the malingerer and the sham. Every warder's grabbing at it as a new handle for discipline—I declare it is marvellous


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clever the way Captain Shaxton gets the light and air into so many massive walls. I really believe Hobart Town has, at least, one architect to be proud of!”

Daunt's shrugging smile and averted eye seemed to emphasize that she was anything but proud of the others. Sir William Heans flushed a little. He was vain of his architectural re-birth, and with a slight tightening of his eyelids towards Daunt, took a masterly triumph.

“Surely it was Captain Shaxton's plan which I was asked to elevate this morning,” he said, with an elegant quietude, “though possibly, being a prisoner, I was given only one half of the prison.” (He lightly brushed his grey plaid trousers with his left hand which clasped, and on which remained, a mourning glove of lavender.) “The passages, all radiating apparently from a central hall, struck me as especially economical. One man might stand in the centre of the building and see any one of the iron signals move at those icy doors.” He sat forward in his chair and slowly removed his eyeglass from his eye. A maid-servant had set some tea beside Matilda, and she was pouring it into the large green cups with a dazed grey face. As he lounged there, he glanced at her with a covert look of regret, seeing doubtless that he had troubled her by his plunge into tragedy, and wishing that he might unsay it for so kind a woman.

“Oh, you got that,” said Daunt, deliberately. “I hope you are giving them sufficient light.”

“Seven inches by three,” said Sir William, with a steady glare at him, “crossed by two iron bars.”

“Glass, I suppose?”

“Ribbed, opaque glass, half-an-inch thick.”

“Egad!” ejaculated Daunt, with a shake; “glad I'm not responsible for it! Thank you,” he said, as he took a cup of tea from Mrs. Shaxton, adding very gently, “Why, your hand's shaking, Mrs. Shaxton! This beastly subject's worrying you.”

There was an uproar in the hall at that moment, and the drawing-room door opened with a clatter and a swish. A man with bushy little whiskers, a depressed moustache, and a jocular little voice, whirled into the room. He bundled heartily to the window and lugged the blind half-down, saying “Too much light for this climate.” Then, with a laugh, he turned and approached the others. “Ah, Daunt,” he bowed, “how are you?” Then to the other, “Sir William Heans, isn't it? I heard you were here. I've seen you in the street. We heard from your aunt. I'm glad to have the honour of making your acquaintance.”

“Thank you—thank you,” said Sir William, in his grey, grand way. The other, who never seemed to see anyone out of his curious little eyes, rolled nautically to a chair in his military uniform, dragged it nearer to the tea-table, and squatted on it.

“Everlasting smash,” he said, seizing his tea-cup, “down at the cantonments. Billy Bannister” (he swallowed his tea and gave a


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great bushy laugh) “brought a woman to a rout in the—oh, this'll be too strong for you, Matty! You fellows—presently! Bannister” (still laughing)—“the new cadet—has arrived with the idea that there's no Mrs. Grundy in this small starched town. You know the way they talk about the place at home. When old Neames gently remonstrated, young Sawyer replies: ‘It wasn't a woman, sir, it was a female prisoner.’” He chuckled so much that a crumb stuck in his throat, and Daunt had to smack him on the back. Meanwhile he was holding out his cup for more, and Heans, who handed it to his wife, saw in the instant that his eye touched her face that she was flushed and cowed.

Daunt had resumed his seat and cup of tea. “Sir William Heans has been telling us, Shaxton,” he said, “how he's been told to put your plans in order. He thinks them wonderfully clever.”

Shaxton looked a little green. “You thought it good, Heans, did you?” (He nodded over his cup after a sharpish glance.) “Keep the expense in as much as possible. They're growling over all those cut edges. He!” (he began to chuckle again), “you'll have a booby old time with the round roof!”

“That was in the right rear court-yard,” said Sir William calmly. “I have a scheme for that. I'm bothered if I know what to do for the middle lighting. What was the suggestion?”

“I'd put the old ship's skylight on it,” said the other, all agog with his subject. “Why—the old three-decker skylight Governor Philip brought with him; had a flat roof where the skipper put his spy-glass—unless, indeed, we need a lantern.”

He began to explain volubly his scheme to Heans.

Daunt drew his chair nearer to Matilda and began to talk to her in a rapid and courteous undertone. He seemed to have a great deal to say. Heans seemed ill-at-ease under the discussion of the prison, and looked once or twice towards his hostess as though, though interested, he could not forget her distaste for it. Shaxton seemed conscious of his stiffening manner, and was trying to pierce it with good-natured jesting. Perhaps Daunt's cold movement towards his wife had brought, for the first time, to his comprehension the peculiarity of the situation for the prisoner. His manner grew warmer.

“Why, Matilda,” he cried, laughing, “hang it, you've been pitching into Sir William Heans about my prison! He's frightened to say a thing. I can't get a word out of him.”

She gave a little, blind look at Heans.

“You know how agitating it is to me,” she said, in a low voice. She seemed to stoop, and her hand fingered among the tea-cups. “Could you not take Sir William Heans to the study?”

“Why yes, come,” Daunt cried, springing up with chivalric impatience. “The ladies don't want the thing in their very drawing-rooms!”

“Indeed, I must be taking my departure,” said Heans. He


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gave a grey look under the blind where the fire of the day was dying stubbornly among the leaves. The three others knew instantly from his tone what was in his mind.

“Nonsense!” cried Hyde-Shaxton. “Daunt will manage that for us. What's it? Must be past the Boundary before five, Mr. Daunt?”

Daunt left a black silence for a full minute. “No, I'll see him past Boundary,” he said, with a look of steady, careful courtesy towards Heans.

“Come, Daunt,” cried Shaxton, “you'll get him a pass to break his rides at Pitt's Villa?”

Daunt gave a sharp, good-natured laugh, saying: “We'll see—we'll see.” Then he added, “Now, Captain Shaxton, what is this that you wish to do with Sir William Heans?”

The Captain was chuckling. Heans' grave dignity was perfect. “Ah,” cries the former, “Daunt's one of these dangerous men! I'll have to have you for my turnkey, Daunt—ha! ha! Why, Matty—have you told Sir William about our chapel? I protest, if ever my plans are used, we'll get a dispensation and put you in the wooden pulpit!”

“Does Mrs. Shaxton, then, think even the malingerer a subject for sentiment?” asked Sir William, with a lame lightness. “I declare I'd throw up the work if——”

“Oh, please, no,” cried Mrs. Shaxton, with a flashing look at Daunt. “Don't do that, Sir William Heans.” She gave him her staring glance in which was something of a proud beseechment.

“Ah,” said Daunt, “we won't require that of you!”

“Ho-ho! it's the ‘poor’ malingerer, the ‘poor’ absconder, to Matty!” chuckled Shaxton, not without signs of pride in his remarkable possession. “She's so soft-hearted, everything's sentiment to Matilda. Don't let her proselytise on you, Heans. She's a dangerous woman. She'll have you buildin' St. Marys and St. Judes all over Tasmania—ho-ho! It was Matty prevailed upon me to put in the chapel. I had to go and invent stalls for it so that the poor fellows couldn't see anyone but the parson. Did they give that to you?”

“Half of it—wasn't it?” said Daunt.

“I have the chapel,” said Sir William. “It will be rather an unpleasing place.”

“Well, that's an outcome of Mrs. Shaxton's sentiment,” cried Shaxton. “There was another one when she had old Thomas Thou to experiment on the grog—I mean the garden. You can't shake her faith. It's all sentiment to Matilda—sentiment and self-discipline. She won't have you disciplining anyone else.”

He gave a great bushy laugh, and whisked out of the room, beckoning the men after him. They went out. His chuckling voice was heard subsiding down the hall. “That reminds me,


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I've got a laugh for you fellows over old Clisby, the corn contractor. It seems that old Miss Milly Shadwell, the old maid” (even this appeared to be a fact of some amusement), “wouldn't marry him because she said he looked too goody-goody. Ho-ho ho!”

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