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  ― 99 ―

Chapter XV Shaxton Forgets the Canister

“Bingo is shy. We must give him a little line.” St. Ronan's Well.

OH very fine and grey, Sir William entered the large central room at Flat Top Tier! There must have been over forty guests. The morning had been clear and frosty: the day was sunny. Many of the men stood in their cord gaiters, and a few even of the women wore their riding-habits and male waistcoats of satin. Some lounged on the veranda—high over a plunge of forests; others simpered within over their tea, or Tokay, their spirited eyes laughing unseeingly through the four double casements of amber-coloured cedar, shipped by Shaxton from Singapore.

Sir William in a pair of exquisite duck breeches, with white leather straps, a high-shouldered clawhammer, and a “pudding cravat” of blue satin, held his grey hat and cane by the door. A few women placed pale eyes on him; a few looked coldly; a few stared evilly. How shocking is evil in a woman! The men—benevolent, courtly, diplomatic, grizzled, grave, jocose—treated the appearance of the newcomer after their several ways: some—of those that knew him—simulating surprise; others concealing discomfort; one or two speaking suddenly to him, as they passed, of the weather, this or that.

His eyeglassed eye passed slowly round. Daunt was not present—yes—there on the veranda edge in his Wellington grey—hatless, efficient, and rather wan—with a proud top-hatted young lady. Where was—no—no—no—pretty women, but no Matilda Shaxton! Just outside one of the windows, stood the Captain, his jolly, pale face half towards Heans, with a fine old lady in a poke and sable shawl. With them was a little man in a peaked tasselled cap, with a tight face and whiskers. That man was Crozier. Sir William saw and possibly envied the dapper, little gentleman. We see one doomed to achieve a series of singular heroisms—a burial of Sir John Franklin—a last letter from that starving army in the snow—an agonizing spectre-march through sleet—tracked—shadowed—swallowed—by half-told Fate.

Here and there were grim heads, poised like decapitated John the Baptists, on chargers of satin cravat, and offered up to some


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epicure Herodias in a wreathing of social smiles, which Heans had seen in situations less gentle. The transmigration, if convincing, did not seem to reassure the absconder, whose eyes, if indifferent, had a chilled look when resting on them. By the chimney, however, to the right of the cedar mantelpiece, there was a figure which had a much stranger effect on him. It was that of a small, aquiline-faced man, somewhat archaically dressed, with a white cravat loosely knotted up in a bow, showing a small frill, in wellingtons with tassels. He held a grey chimney-pot and a little tasselled rattan, and stood alone, rather shouldered out of a group of which he made one and yet did not make one. His eyes—his restless eyes—were on Sir William in a wild concentration, when the latter's, catching upon them, blazed to a grey dismay. Instantly—and very sharply—the other depressed significant brows, and a faint amazement flushed in on the pallor of Sir William's stately face.

At that moment someone touched his arm, and looking down out of his astonishment, he found Matilda, very haggard and unlike herself, passing out with the Colonial Chaplain in gaiters. She stopped and welcomed him; that old hero, who had reformed the wilder elements of old Hobart, bowing beside her. Matilda looked feverish and tremulous, and her forehead was shrunken in its fair ringlets. Her strained eyes, softening on him as he stood bowing, were steadfast, if not quite guiltless of fear. How proudly, how conventionally, in what pain of precarious change, with what burden of doubt and risk—did these two meet—for the snapping of their erring love. Matilda would have been better had she valued less the attachment of such a man. Sir William would have been better had he loved the woman just so little more that he could have seen no reason to regret leaving her.

“You have not been well!” said Sir William, with a slight hoarseness of sympathy. “I hope, madam, your health is better?”

“Thank you, sir. Have you met your friend, Sir William?”

He laughed a little. “Do you mean Mr. Daunt? I have seen him.”

“Yes, Mr. Daunt is here——” (She let her eyes wheel quickly round.)

“There is Mr. Daunt on the veranda. See, he is looking at us!”

“Yes. He is looking fine. I hardly recognised him.”

“Indeed, he is looking wonderful—But I mean Mr. O'Crone. He has come specially up in the hope of seeing you, Sir William Heans.”

“Mr. O'Crone—I don't know Mr. O'Crone.”

“It is an English traveller who says he has met you: a Mr. Homely O'Crone: a very learned little man.”

“Would you be kind enough to point him out?”




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“Mr. O'Crone,” said old Mr. Bedford, “is standing alone to the left of the mantelpiece.”

There is an alarm of movement, chuckling, and chatter, and Shaxton comes pushing through towards them. His moustaches fall in a good-humoured, hospitable grin, but he looks restless and out of place. “Matilda,” called he, “they are starting for the Waterfall. Ah! Heans! You've got up. Good of you. I asked Cooke and Garion if they'd seen you behind. Our party made a regular troop. Sheriff Fereday said it brought to mind the Bllack String days. Lacy told him he wasn't swell enough in his old cabbage-tree for The Line.note ‘'Pon my word, sir,’ says he, ‘you look more like a Five Pounds Catcher.note Ho—ho—ho!”

“Ah,” grinned the old Chaplain, “Lacy was one of the Elegant Extracts.note He was pitching into the Sheriff, who was chaffing the Battery Guard.”

“We're all King's Ownnote to-day,” chuckled Shaxton. “You're very late, Heans! Matilda, you'll look after your cousin! See that he gets some of that Indian sherry. Bedford, they're asking for you! Come along! Sir William Heans, you'll look after my wife. No, she's not to come. She's been unwell. Hang it, yes—very! Don't let her take you down the garden! Too restless—too restless!”

Matilda had moved aside to whisper to the young lady named Henrietta, whose copper-coloured ringlets were tucked away under her ears in imitation of pretty Queen Victoria. Old Mr. Bedford lumbered obediently towards the windows, and Shaxton butted after him, rousing this group and that with hospitable bursts of humour. Preoccupied group after group rose and stirred. People were departing on the veranda.

Natty Daunt of the foot-police, looking as depressed as if he'd been getting a wigging, gallanted out with an active old lady in gigot sleeves and buckles. As they talked their way by, he darted up a bow at Sir William, saying with a flash of surprise, “Why, Sir William Heans! What a giant you are, sir! A foot taller, 'pon my soul!”

In the general movement for the windows, “Sir William—Sir William Heans,” muttered a rapid, rattling voice, and Heans, drawing white eyes from Daunt's back, found beside him the solitary gentleman from the mantelpiece. The proud, agitated, aquiline face, with now a narrow, Jewish glare, and now a gleam of wonderful goodness, gave a strange impression of one not quite


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honest, aspiring after moral good. “I remember you, Sir William Heans,” he said, “if you have forgotten me.”

Heans was staring at him now with a courteous intentness.

“Ah, I remember you—your face—well sir,” he said, bowing twice, and speaking as with a great effort.

“Do you come with us up the valley?” asked the other, looking towards the windows where the people were departing. “The ladies and gentlemen are carrying tea and bushman cakes to the Waterfalls—quite à la champetre!

“'Pon my word, I hardly know! I am, I think, to take some refreshment here.”

“You are late arrived! May I make the remark that as you entered you struck me as looking very fatigued? Your health keeps well, I hope?”

“My health! It's well—I was delayed over some despatches for the police.”

“I am to have the honour of gallanting my Lady Grumpus up the valley. I should be happy to have had a few words with you.”

“You honour me, indeed—sir,” said Heans.

He was standing with white legs apart and hands behind back; and he looked away through the windows, his eyeglass up and a very faint smile on a sallow face somewhat wildly sad in the eye. The room was near emptied, though a few people still darkened the windows and veranda.

“Ha,” cried O'Crone, clutching up his cane, “Captain Shaxton calls me! I must go! Sir William, I shall discover from Shaxton where I may call on you. All the way to the Waterfall, Sir William, as I stumble over your mountainous trees, and thread your twenty-feet ferns, I shall be discussing the musical glasses, and endeavouring honestly to explain my presence in Hobarton. The Almanac, it seems, has been vague about me. Ah, sir, these funny human worms! They do not believe in nature—poetry! They cannot—will not—believe a sane being capable of keeping a yacht full of idle sailors from a love of nature!”

He seemed sensible of the agony in Sir William's pale, proud, preoccupied, yet would-be attentive face. Sir William, on his part, seemed to have discovered a hidden agony in what he said.

“Could you not persuade the lady,” said the latter, somewhat balefully, “to abate her curiosity over a poetical lingering, with which she cannot sympathise?”

“No. Let me reply in the words of Miss Fanny Burney: ‘Her character, and the violence of her disposition, intimidate me from making the attempt; she is too ignorant for instruction, too obstinate for entreaty, and too weak for reason.’ God forgive me, talking so of the women! This lady will ask me, grim enough, if I grow tired of Hobarton——” (Suddenly he dropped his voice). “What should I say, Sir William Heans, if I wished to confuse her?”

“Hardly a possible contingency, sir,” answered the other, with


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a slight hoarseness; “and one more tragic than I looked for as I rode up through those clear valleys” (he waved outward with his glass), “that you, so distinguished and high-hearted, as I remember you, should find a vital necessity for confusing any impudent woman!”

O'Crone stared steadily at him.

“And are you then so unchanged, sir!” he said, half-ironically. “Has adversity left your spirit unimpaired? Indeed, how little can the world change us! It has no respect for difficulty; but with a gentleman's heart it can do little. Hush, here's a lady approaching! (In a hearty voice) “I hope I find you of a calm mind, Sir William; with plenty of optimism. Congenial male companionship; the more kind sex, indeed, as your Aunt Miss Gairdener would say, not being accountable—ha-ha——! I hope I find you happier than—than we all might be?”

“You put calamity as the chance of all,” said Sir William, quietly. “Strange indeed, sir, if you had come upon it!” His voice trembled—either at some pleasanter recollection of his little acquaintance, or from the nearer presence of Mrs. Shaxton, who passed at the instant through the door.

“Now, now, sir,” laughed the other, “do I look like one struggling in a web of affliction!” (A voice shouted “Mr. Homely O'Crone” from the emptying veranda. He made to go off, waving his hat; but as suddenly returned.) “Look! I laugh, do I not, quite nicely! I discuss with acumen! I am courteous with the ladies! I sing—I am in good voice at the forte-piano. And yet, you, who hardly know me, hint that I am harassed.” He stared at him suddenly, with great sadness, in the face.

“Egad, sir,” said Heans, “it was your name that stung me!”

O'Crone—the last but Heans in the room—turned and went to the windows, a curious figure with his nervous and agitated face, his bent shoulders, and his tasselled boots. As he put on his hat in the veranda, he was greeted by an impatient summons. At the same instant Shaxton's voice called: “Mr. Daunt, will you bring a rug for the ladies!” O'Crone vanished past the windows with a nervous step. But for Sir William, the large room with its chairs littered with shawls, cloaks, pelisses, surtouts, paletots, and pea-jackets, was now empty. He stood for a few minutes where O'Crone had left him, his eyes looking across the room into the lit plunge of forests.

Matilda Shaxton came quickly in with tears in her eyes, and said—though she could barely speak—“I'll say good-bye now, sir. I think—I believe this is the last time I shall see you.”

He was pale also. He took from her the decanter and sandwiches she carried, and put them on a table. Then he said, “May a fellow have—those hands?”

She gave her hands to him, staring. Tears pressed out and dropped. She was not graceful in her love—no, she seemed an


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awkward woman. Neither was Heans his fine, grey self. He dropped on his knee, and put them against his forehead.

“Ah, friend, friend,” he said, “this is for life! Am I to yield up this? I'm a worldly fellow. No, madam, I am not a man to believe in love! What's this—what's this that begs God not to take you from me? What is it that would speak with you: that would not lose your face? My God,” he said, “I think there's faithful love!”

“Oh, yes … very faithful, sir.”

“I go to-morrow. The schooner is now off Spring Bay.”

“To-morrow—how dreadful!”

“Would you tell me—not to go?”

Her whole figure shivered. “Why, I shall lose you, sir,”

“Well … I'm going …” He raised his head, and his eyes stared on hers. “There's just one thing. Look away,” he cried, “those staring eyes won't let me speak.”

“Nay, Sir William. I'll not look away.” She did not move her trembling hands.

“How true they are! How brave! How proud! .. for whom are they sorrowful?”

“Why—when a friend goes——?”

“Turn them away, Matilda … This is the crying of a man's soul—I tell you—as he rides up those deep valleys. See, the sun leaves them! What a grey return!”

They both stared out in silence.

The faces of both were haggard and sad.

“As I came up, my escape to-morrow seemed a romance. With the schooner gone, and all my risk an afternoon's canter a few miles beyond my pass—I began to long for happiness—because freedom seemed so simple. Your guests passed me on the road, and I thought of them returning in the dusk to Hobart Town. I reflected that you would be returning with them, and that I might ride behind the coach, and see your face and—a stranger—hear you speak …”

The faces of both were haggard and sad.

“Then my heart cried, ‘My God, I can't lose her!’ If there is anything true in human love, she will come with me in the Emerald! If she knows anything of this agony of broken affection—this bitter sense of things snapped and finished—this longing for a face that—for all you had of it—might be vanished—torn away like a scrip—in death——”

“Ah—sir!”

He stopped.

“Good-bye, Sir William Heans,” she said. “Death—and, they say, a better re-uniting—nay, even a kinder affection—are not so far from us all … No—no—no, the other is not for me—no—nor you.”

He stared up and cried out: “Ah, you'll not come with me?”

She glared down … and he let her hands go, and groaning


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turned away. She was gone from the room when he rose to his feet. Stooping, very old, he walked over to the left of the French-windows, emerging presently on the veranda. Standing there, his nostrils were assailed by a strong odour of bruised rosemary.

Three minutes previous, a man had been sitting in the veranda on a low chair by this window. That he might shelter himself from the wind, he had sought guard behind the backs of some armchairs, and the view over that end of the veranda was hidden from him. Over to the left, however, he could observe Nature at her wildest; unimpeded by aught but a few English hollyhocks.

At first he sits far back, and very erect. Afterwards he leans a little forward. His hair is dark and neat. He wears a high-waisted, grey-frock-coat, a white cravat, and his cord trousers are stretched over wellingtons. There are flat surfaces in his face, which make it slightly too solid for his costume; for though thin to refinement, it is thickly boned, and gives promise, at some future day, of a heavy, aldermanic weight.

His expression is at first so stern that it seems—as he sits there—as if it is set in bands of black iron. Perhaps his very stillness increases its sullen energy. It is one of those faces which look as though they have been hardened with human hands, or like some species of rock have become indurated with exposure. Though a latent and almost malignant self-sufficiency invites opposition, you are forewarned it is already world-petrified.

He is not long in this resolution of mind. The demeanour of our doomsman gives way to something tragic, dark, and moved. Stay—has the brass armour of the punisher crumpled a little before some deeper reality—has the riveted ceremonial of justice backed aghast before unexpected pleas! Ho for our code dealing with the shocks of human contact—our police-book on the human heart—our learned inken precedent touching these documents in blood. Our justicer has some troublesome affection of the bowels, which still a tone too high can irritate—a breath too quick can inconveniently disturb. He would grace the bench better with a still tougher stomach.

See—he seeks to recall himself—to look his stern conviction. Nay, he cannot. Nay, a jaundiced judge. See him as he leans on his chair-arm, with his hand on his chin; a sharp, keen-edged efficient, yet momentarily at throat-grapples with frenzy. Order conquers! His small, delicate hand flings away. A dark stain is on his determined face. He springs more erect. See him, the reliable, the patient hearer, the man of feeling power—his mind is settled. He is right with himself. O just judge! It is the pillar of order, the hearth-protector, the experienced in violence, wickedness and bounce, with whom the scarifying of social “growths” is duty. He must work—stern


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orderer—even if his ears be assailed with sadness. Ah, the fortitude! It is a Daniel come to judgment, with arms custom-bound! See him push in, e'en though he have no stomach for it.

Hush! It is a kindly day! How prettily the near hollyhocks shine out against the mountains. The orderer's stony eyes look out upon these harmonies of Art and Nature. How far is he from seeing them! He draws from his pocket a revolving-pistol, and fixes the paper of caps under the hammer! This is ready on his left knee. Half out of his breast comes an iron gyve.

Tragic—dark—moved! Bah! a fine business if your Honour cannot go through with it better! A more even air—pray A less mercurial countenance. For very dignity, contemn. Scorn them, justice! Silence in this court! See, where his Honour crouches forward. He is about to admonish—nay, to cry us a mercy—nay, to grant time—nay, to cry “Death.” Grim execratory, if you must condemn, condemn less implacably. If pardon, come not so hardly at an admitting—finger not at credence with so cynical a touch. O drab judge—O shaken Judge—O dark, dispirited orderer, what tone unthought of, what inhuman plea has shivered those tense bands, and frenzied those hard eyes with hope unwelcome!

Pallid sentencer, what tickle of compunction stills thee! Stern man of order, what delays the march of proved, smooth precedent. Haste, dark efficient—haste, honest hand of retribution—veteran hound of the state—hungry fang for right! To your feet, reluctant minister! Oh, strange! Crouch not there half-risen—hands clenched to strike—eyes glazed outward on the sun-blessed gullies! Action—action! Strike, bloody lash! Snake whose venom is for right, dart in your stinged tooth and anguish out another good! Press in your stiletto, right's assassin! What hinders thee! Tried punisher, what tickle of compunction still delays thee! Ah, yellow Hamlet—what do you among the headsmen!

Hold! There is yet another doomsman upon the bench today! No judge, this; yet one singularly interested in the case. Is he one of those onlookers, who half in sympathy, half curiosity, attend these tragic functions—one of those strange beings who, with their feet in the quicksands, find a pleasure in contemplating the sinking of others? Is he there by some accident of eminence on a holiday; or for some selfish or some malicious interest? There he listens.

With the grate of the new-comer's footsteps, Daunt shrinks back. It is as well for his Honour's privacy that he has taken shelter from the breeze. For as the other lowers a basket to the veranda, he glances along among the cloak-hung chairs. Is he so certain of its emptiness? He does not give it another


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glance. Some thought or sound stops him in the very act, for he remains turned inward, his head down, and the basket-handle tense in his hand.

The new-comer's breeches and waistcoat incline to the mode, and like his broadcloth coat—so tight of sleeve and waist—seem over-nicely fitted for the stoutish face. On his head is a hat of rice-straw, cocked forward. His face is broad and sad. Who is it? Bah, what a pother over some old police magistrate or clipper-commodore! Some joking ancient (say you) and pet of the young ladies—some retired notable, with wit undaunted if legs surrendering. He seeks quietness. His soul—like his jocular face—has become grave. He would rest, and look at life grimly. We cannot all be joking with the children.…

Nay, he is restless! He turns away, and swings back again! Has he got a fright or something! Bah! no peace in the quicksands, even for your detached student of 'em! Yet what in Nature could be so fascinating and yet so aging! He turns purple, then white! God Almighty—the poor gossip's mouth hangs like a dead man's! Ah, listening Tom—listening Tom—here's treasure-trove of a fearful kind—here's grave gossip—here's a common crying in the court that spreads like a chill about the heart!

Hark, your Honours both, is it the prisoner speaking? Nay, it is an interruption from the prisoner's accomplice. Weigh it carefully. A grave fine voice: yet judging by your Honours' four white eyes, an unjust one, hardly tolerable! The eyelids of the doomsman behind the chairs are thin, however. He seems bitterly to mutter, “Duty and I will bear with this much!” But our contemplating clipper-commodore looks fighting-white. His fallen mouth whimpers: “God, I cannot bear with it!”

“Turn them away, Matilda. This is the crying of a man's soul—I tell you—as he rides up through those deep valleys. See, the sun leaves them! What a grey return!”

“As I came up, my escape to-morrow.…”

“Then my heart cried out, I can't lose her.…”

“This longing for a face that—for all you had of it—might be vanished—torn away like a scrip—in death—”

“Ah—sir!”

Would your Honours tell us who spoke at the end? Will your Honours have the sound investigated? Fetch the policebook, constable! It was like the cry of a point of granite in the ebb of the sea, or a woman's voice in travail. Of what? Of a soul, an't please your brooding lordships—of a fine soul—a soul, in verity, larger than life, oh sour incredulous! An anomaly in human regulations! Have it catalogued! A disconcerting sound in the grim routine of prisons! We have blundered into this! What, you sway forward! Shall the court rise?




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Aye, and you too, an't pleasure your straw-hatted excellency—of a little soul! Think you, the lady does as well as can be expected? A healthy woman—ready we think to tend another at pleasure! Your hat-brim nods against the wall, and your strong fingers loose the basket till it trembles on the ground! Greedy sib! These fine births, though rare for the gossip, smack something tragically upon the holiday palate!

“Good-bye, Sir William Heans. … Death—and, they say, a better re-uniting—nay, even a kinder affection—are not so far from us all. … No—no—no, the other is not for me—or you.”

Ah, old commodore, there you stand in the wind, with your face towards the wall! We might be reading into that cold stone and plaster—what? Hope—amazement—grief—despair—ruth—remorse! He sighs. Sick of courts, your worship! Let us spend our holiday with nature! Ho, for the waterfalls! He gathers up his basket with both hands, and, as he does so, stares round at the view. My God, what sunken eyes! What eyes! There! He turns away! He's gone! The path flings back his jerking footsteps!

And you—dark judge—have risen too! Those eyes show a glare of agitation. What is it that you would aid—what is it that you would spare? Nay, God defend us from that ugly brow: if it is not sparing, is it serving? Thou to serve—thou veteran punisher, what dost thou serve? An aroma of rectitude? A smell of honesty? Some small, smug tinkle of inner comfort? Indeed, where would we be, my lord, these wraiths dispersed!

Gyve and pistol slap slickly away. Risen, and holding to a chair-back, he glances this way and that. To the right, the long veranda, raised on a four-feet parapet, stretches before three drawing-room casements; to the left, a shorter and higher span runs to a lofty corner, past the fourth and another. Cautiously pushing aside an armchair, he creeps stooping to the parapet, and drops into the garden. There, crouching on his haunches, he creeps through mignonette and “ragged Robin” to the corner. His wellingtons bruise the rosemary, and its sickly smell rises about him. The thorn of a white lady slits his coat sleeve. The sun yet dabbles the far hillsides.

At the corner he rises, hurrying rearwards past woodbined windows, past kitchen and through stables, past coaches and diffident grooms—till, circling the house, he runs—runs—heavy-footed and fearful, sinister of face, to join the ladies at the Waterfall. Nay, it is a holiday, Mr. Daunt, for us lovers of Nature! Let to-morrow do for the treadmill of stern work again: “let tomorrow take thought for the things of itself.”

Above the lash of water, where, in a stepped gorge, behind the


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butterfly wings of ferns, the ladies could be seen exclaiming and laughing as they ascended, Daunt came upon his host, who had retraced his steps, it seems, for the forgotten tea-caddy and “a couple of those Indian cheroots for Captain Crozier.” Here he was overtaking his guests with a gleaming face.

He laughed out, when, staring back, he saw Daunt. “Here are the cheroots,” he said, thrusting the box towards the Superintendent; “will you run on and beg a hero's tolerance for the Captain?”

As Daunt received it in his efficient, steadying way, he met the other's eyes.

“You asked me, sir,” he said, “to bring a rug for the ladies, but I could find none in the drawing room or on the veranda.”

“Egad,” muttered Shaxton, pressing on with a bottomless stare, “you could find none in the drawing-room or on the veranda?”

“No,” answered Daunt, in a laughing voice; “but you would hardly tell me to go back!”

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