― 90 ―

Chapter XIII Shaxton Nudges Daunt

ON the 19th there was a banquet to the officers of the bomb-ships at “Hodgson's celebrated Macquarie Hotel,” and Captain Hyde-Shaxton and Daunt, of the foot police, found themselves only divided at the table by Lieutenant Cooke, a mutual acquaintance. A rich globe-trotter and savant, Homely O'Crone, who sat on Shaxton's right, claimed much of the Captain's attention during luncheon, more especially as the former did not seem to be in good odour with the Colonial officials about him—neither with old Magruder, the police magistrate, who was grumbling his food in on his right, nor yet with Daunt, who twice ignored his approaches. This gentleman enveloped Shaxton in an excited discussion on navigation, in a rapid, cultivated voice. In the muddle of it, Shaxton laughed—agreeable—jolly—if, for instants at a time, lost and abstracted. He would lean over his plate chuckling as he related some anecdote of his Beagle voyage, but his gaze would float away sometimes as though he heard “voices in the wind.”

Duty took Cooke away before the speeches, and Shaxton, with a lack of ceremony which would have been brutal if it had not been somehow a part of his Bedouin nature, forsook his excitable friend, and slid talking into Cooke's seat. He seemed, though once he chuckled out a tale, mentally to lean on Daunt. He tittered gloomily.

“I'm sorry to hear that,” said Daunt, frowning about him with wide eyes and neat air. “Was she taken ill suddenly?”

“It seemed to me sudden enough,” said the other. “She had a sort of fainting-fit. Dr. Wardshaw won't say anything. We couldn't get her out of it. She'd had people calling about the young girl's death, you see. Heans was there. I thought him bad-tempered. He may have been losing his temper with the women.”

“Creating a scene—destroying the harmony, and that, you mean?” Daunt leant forward half-smiling, half-indignant. His hand was clenched on the tablecloth.

“Ho-ho-ho—indiscreet, poor beggar! The women were purring on his raw side possibly. But if that's it—he mustn't

  ― 91 ―
go up there when I'm away any more. Matilda feels for him. She's far too delicate for these tragic situations.”

Daunt was staring stern and concerned at his plate. The other gave a little look at his face.

“Of course your wife told you,” Daunt said, at last, very deliberately, “about my tiff with Heans in your drawing-room?”

“No,” said the other, chuckling, but turning white. “What's this? Quarrel?”

“Surely you've forgotten, Shaxton?” speaking very quietly. “She must have said something about it?”

“No,” said Shaxton, “I never heard of it.”

“Well, it was nothing,” said Daunt, briskly. “I'm afraid I lost my temper with the man for being there. His—I can't say it delicately enough—the idea of his gross behaviour—and all that, in connection with that pure bower makes me mad whenever I meet him there. I hated—forgive me, Shaxton—I hated to see your wife even look at him. I must remind you I'm a constable, and am not touched by the good appearance of a prisoner. I felt she wasn't discreet enough with him. See them as I saw them together. Finding him there, sitting like a full dog among my old friend's embroideries and flowers—and his languid greeting of the privileged guest—of ‘Oh Daunt—so it's you, is it?’—I say this drove me mad that afternoon, and for a moment I—I lost control of my feelings. I said he was there for no good. I beg your pardon. Indeed I beg your pardon, Shaxton. Your wife interrupted us. At the sight of her face, with signs of tears (she had been mourning her friend), I admit I was very much ashamed of my show of feeling.”

At this moment, old Magruder's growling voice rose in answer to some rattling of O'Crone: “You should take your pleasure-boat round to Port Macquarie, sir. There is some clever prison-building there. The scenery's wind-blown and harsh for those fond of it, and empty of human sadness, as you know—abandoned.”

“My skipper is frightened of your Hell's Gates,” said O'Crone, stooping a little, with his fingers in his beard. “Once in, and I and my schooner might stay among those abandoned prisons for life.” He turned suddenly to Shaxton. “Forgive me, Captain Shaxton,” he said, “but did I hear you mention a name, ‘Sir William Heans?’ I am acquainted with a certain Miss Gairdener, a relation of this prisoner, and knew him a little before his conviction. Indeed, I thought I saw him at the police muster. Has he passed down out of all communication?”

Shaxton puffed out his pale cheeks, and stirred himself in a frowning way.

“Oh, he's all serene,” he said. “You can meet him if you like—I can get him up to tea at my house, if you want to meet him.” He gave Daunt a nudge with his left arm. Now, Daunt was a strange man to nudge.

  ― 92 ―

“Can I—can I?” nodded O'Crone, with keen interest. “Well, I must say I'd like to see the man. Thank you—wouldn't it be putting Mrs. Shaxton in a curious position?”

“A curious position! Oh, bother it, no!” chuckled Shaxton. “We see a lot of Heans. She had a letter from your Miss Gairdener about him.”

“Indeed—indeed!” said the other, stooping over and feeling the table with his hand in a somewhat harassed manner. On his little finger there was a peculiar black ring with red hair in it. His nature seemed to be that either of an untactful intellectual, or one to whom life had allowed a peculiar and, perhaps, just egoism.

“I'll tell you what,” said Shaxton, with a hospitality half-bright, half-wounded; “Mrs. Shaxton's in ill health. Dr. Wardshaw orders a change to my place on the Tier. It's a grand drive. When you've lionized the Factory, you come up for the day with a party. Daunt, you'll bring Mr. O'Crone up. We'll get Cooke. Perhaps Captain Crozier would come. And Daunt” (with a drooping of the lips), “you could get Sir William Heans a pass out. I said I'd show him the place, and he'd meet somebody he'd known,”

Daunt poured himself out a glass of wine. His face was meditatively knitted, but he gave a little worried nod towards O'Crone. It seemed like acquiescence.

“Indeed, very happy!” said O'Crone. “It might be as well, Mr. Daunt, not to mention names. If he is the man he used to be, he might refuse to meet me.”

“Ah, I suppose he would come, if he was told directly?” asked Shaxton, looking palely round at Daunt; “he's a proud man.”

“Do you wish him particularly to come?” said Daunt.

“Yes, I do,” scrambled out Hyde-Shaxton, who looked suddenly almost drawn.

“I may say—I am not so prejudiced in this man's favour, Mr. O'Crone,” said Daunt. “He is one of a class which—as Sir John Franklin puts it—has no sense of compunction. Superior in manner, of course, but, still, to me, one of that class of men.”

“Ah, Mr. Daunt,” cried O'Crone, in his rattling, cultivated way, “you police are too prosaic! This is a man who was condemned on a woman's code. In men's eyes he committed a capital crime in the meshes of a net of intrigue and allurement. He was a man, by repute, peculiarly sought after by women.”


“Ah, sir,” returned Daunt, in a somewhat ironical tone, “you, with your pleasure-yacht and your musical-glasses, have leisure for these intricacies. I give you my word of honour as a gentleman, women are given as the excuse for their downfall by every four convicts out of seven! We police have come to regard it as a particular sign. Experience brings us to that decision. We are interested to hear it in so far as it tells us the kind of man we are facing.”

“Upon my soul, sir,” said O'Crone, with signs of anger, “you're a trifle stern, sir! You make me damn glad, sir, I'm not a prisoner in one of your prisons!”

He said this in such a significant way, and his heat was so sudden and evident, that Magruder and others bent over the table to see who it was.

“Oh, yes,” said Shaxton, chuckling out wildly. “That's Daunt—all over. Too stern—too severe! Now, Daunt—ho-ho!—have him up! Mr. O'Crone is interested! Matilda, too, will be glad to——

“You shall have the prisoner, Shaxton,” said the Superintendent, who, unusually for him, had lost control of himself, and seemed to speak for O'Crone's admonishing; “he shall come up to Flat Top Tier if I have to send a message by him to the District Constable at Jerusalem!”

“Pon my soul, you're good, Daunt! Thanks—thanks. Who's this speaking? Why, there's Jeanerret up!”

  ― 94 ―

A tall florid man was speaking, now with wit, now with a sort of bitter indignation. He was using impassioned gesticulations and such phrases as “Let a man put his hand to his heart and say” and “an arrearage of justice.” He seemed to be appealing for the exiled Blacks of Flinders Island, and said they “were dying like bears.”note