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  ― 122 ―

Chapter III “My once Dear Friends, the Hyde-Shaxtons”

IT was an afternoon a year and two months after Carnt's evening at Magruder's, and he was to meet Heans at the tavern known as “Muster-Master-Mason's Place,” at the top end of Macquarie Street, on the right of the old place of execution. It was a roughish house, frequented by sub-overseers, people with business in the prison, and turnkeys, and that he might catch the late-working clerk, Heans, when he could get it, armed himself with the after-sunset pass. Their reason for meeting to-night was one of some excitement. As for the place, it was handy to Mr. Carnt, and there was attention and a view! From its veranda you saw the town and bay (forsaken now of the heroic bomb-ships), and across the pretty rivulet, under your eyes, sat the heavy courtyards of the prison, gold of stone and black of bars. Heans, dismounting at the veranda, could see the women taking the air in their grey gowns and mutches—some sad and dark, some light and lackadaisical—like figures in a frowning box. A few were gazing up, past him, at the vast hills.

It was a close evening. Keeping the bridle in his hand, he carefully wiped a bench with a faded handkerchief, and sat down in the veranda. Out past the horse, his eye looked down with a glint of eagerness, a touch of the haggard, upon the gate of the near courtyard, and the foliaged bridge, by which Carnt would come. Sir William would show a certain agitation—in a word his gold eyeglass would drop on his breast—when his “acquaintance, Mr. Carnt,” emerged lightly from that spy-holed port. Poor Carnt, with his secret sentiment and hidden feeling (Sir William would reflect) was “d——bly out-of-place” behind those gates.

Sir William's thin, ceremonious face, to-night was slightly hectic—that is more so than its habit. It seemed that he, with difficulty, viewed the hated prospect before him without exhilaration. Now he would fan himself with a worn canary glove, or knock the dust artistically from his much-brushed if divinely fitted spencer; now rise on his tight plaid trousers—so carefully embroidered—and clink delicately to and fro in the tether of his bridle.

There was no one but himself on the veranda, though from


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the passage came a scraping of feet, eager speaking and a tapping of glass. A single elbow in a torn black cloak projected about the doorway, as though the accommodation of the little room were overtaxed. This lively and somewhat mud-bespattered limb held something arresting for Sir William Heans; twice he turned about and gave it his stare. The man, however, disclosed no more of his identity—only once showing the point of a sharp nose, and a hand uplifting a hair ring and a porter glass.

Heans rose and called “Islip” through the doorway. He had been reseated for some minutes, when the landlord hurried out, followed by the prison porter, Shaneson. The latter seemed in a hurry to be gone, not only from the tavern, but from the company of the man in the dirty cloak whose bearded face Heans could now see in the door, delaying him as he came.

“Mr. Carnt!” exclaimed Shaneson, rather blatantly, “yes, he'll be by now if he's not wanted by the ‘biddies.’ There's a couple asking out, though the bulk's due on Friday. I tell you a gentleman like you would never have resisted 'em!”

There was some energetic giggling within, and Shaneson hurried down upon the road, followed suddenly by the passage-loafer at an undignifying run. He was holding a chimney-pot to his head and his glass dribbled over in the other hand, while he plied Shaneson with questions—to be answered at last, as Shaneson disappeared over the embankment, by a halt and a swart cry of, “It's not discipline. I'll not move an inch for that—not if you was to appeal till you was blue for it.”

Heans had observed them quietly. Something of a student of the human being, he might well have been excused had he failed to place the meagre man in the cloak. Voluble in speech, and full of an insinuating disquiet, he gave an impression of crazy strain. The whole cunning make up of him from his beard to his coarse boots seemed made for another. While his ingratiating talk constantly struggled back into the reserved, his grating comradely tone shrilled with a high demand for sympathy in some ill-stifled need. It looked as if he relied rather on appeal and persuasion—even hectoring—than an attempt to rate or outwit his fellow-man. The easy half-jocular manner of the turnkey would alone have assured this. Observe two men, and if one address the other with the deference due to a woman at one moment, and the next with a jocose good-fellowship, you may be fairly certain there is disappointment threatening one of them.

As the stranger returned, the landlord—a tall, sly man, with grey hair—came along the veranda. “Mr. Shaneson's not the one to sweat a thing out of,” he said, in a slow, distinct voice. “Your order, Sir William? Them turnkeys want knowing.”

“Yes, indeed,” said the other; “gin, Islip. I pity the man that attempts it.”

Islip, an old sub-overseer, knew well when to chime with the well-known “prisoner's growl.”




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“Gentleman interested in the factory,” he gave information in a low voice; “skipper of a private-sealer, they tell me, endeavouring to ease the drefful life of a relative immersed in them walls. Odd gentleman! One day he'll question Mr. Carnt or Mr. Shaneson, and next he'll pass them by without a look!”

The man in question was again mounting the veranda. He lifted his head and glared at Sir William Heans, but that gentleman looked away with almost an insulting languor. To Islip Heans was nodding graciously, and presently he asked if Mr. Carnt had sent a message.

“Will be up, if possible, at twenty to the hour,” said the landlord, “and would be up before, but the biddies' as been playing up over the new washing regulations. A guard of redcoats went in over the bridge this very morning.”

“What! Won't the little vixens soap themselves?”

“Nay, it's the floors, your honour. They prefers to pass the water over them as they has a grudge with, so Mr. Jarvis says. Mr. Jarvis 'as 'imself, I understand, had several buckets.”

Sir William was never sympathetic about your bad women.

“The huzzies!” says he, in a quick, distinct voice. “Carnt has no luck. I declare I would sooner be wardsman to a road-gang than cooped up in that female bedlam. 'Pon my word, what a life Government leads us fellows! No consideration for feelings, repute, habit! Remonstrance or complaint unheeded! Your most courteous letter unanswered! The publicist at home careless what befalls us!”

He leant forward, slapping his mouth with his fine canary glove, with a throw of his eyes towards the man in the torn cloak, who, again in the veranda, was standing somewhat heavily beside the door, kicking the plaster with one foot. Sir William Heans, it may be mentioned, had penned in all eight pompous, distinguished, painstaking “complaints” to the Home Office, only one of which had gone further than the waste-basket of the head constable—that one, indeed, grown flippant with despair, penetrating to the desk of a police magistrate, and pulling its writer after it into the sour gloom of the bar, where he was told to remove his canary gloves, where his fine air barely stood him before the stern phrase “admonished” and the term “an impudent fellow”; and whence he escaped with the “obnoxious smell” of the dock on his delicate hands.

“Just what I says to Mr. Shaneson two years ago,” fluted the soft voice of the landlord. “What be they thinking of shutting up a gentleman among them termagants? But—himself—he cocks his eye in 'is funny way—you know Mr. Carnt!—and flings off one of his jokes about his ‘ladies of the Cask-hades.’ All the same, Mr. Carnt's not the man he was two years past. You'll agree, Sir William, the years are showing on him. A joke's a rare thing now from Mr. Jarvis.”

“Carnt is a very soft-hearted man, you know,” said Sir William,


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loudly and bitterly. “They're breaking Mr. Carnt's heart.” As he spoke, the other man came along the veranda, demanding in a sort of patter “some of the bottled pale ale.” “A moment—a moment,” added he, with a singularly dreadful pallor, “I can't help hearing you talking of Mr. Carnt. Now, sir, is not your name Sir William Heans?”

“And yours, sir, I am informed, is Captain O'Crone.” (Bowing in a half-abstracted, gracious manner.)

“Yes, sir, but if you are Sir William Heans, I may say I know Mr. Carnt well, and have heard him speak of you in a friendly way.”

Heans' face did not respond to these overtures. It was also somewhat yellow.

“Now then, sir, you musn't bother the gentleman,” laughed the landlord, taking his glass. “Was it gin, Sir William?”

“Gin, Islip.” (He tapped his canary knuckles on the form beside him.) “You do not bother me, sir,” continued he. “Sit here and talk, if it is your wish.”

Islip shot down on the speaker a sly, sour, blindish look, and passed indoors. For Heans, he leant forward, fiddling with his bridle, a little flushed suddenly, and knocked out of his reserve. The other, having taken his seat on the form, sat looking down on the prison with little, blind, pale eyes, and a small ineffectual snarl of good fellowship.

“Good heavens,” drawled Sir William, bronzing somewhat, “is it really you, sir?”

“Sir—sir, no irony!” whispered the other, in a tone of querulous disquiet; “I cannot do it. You and Mr. Carnt would engage me and all I hope for in a calamitous project—no, I cannot. Sir, it spells ruin! I was friendless and hopeless when I met Mr. Carnt at Albuera House. My God—he was sympathetic then! Now I am in a net between you and that man. You know what you would do. Yet I look in your face, and I say you have kindness and—and honour. I wish to appeal to you as a broken-hearted man—as one who has been patient—one who has haunted these hills in fear and longing.”

Sir William had suddenly risen, and now, turned half-away, he bit his lip over the prison, his arms folded, his face brooding and somewhat fallen.

“It is no use, sir,” said he; “you cannot get rid of me. Carnt will not move without his friend Sir William Heans, and I admit I have made but a poor attempt to prejudice him against my freedom. Ah, sir, you find us somewhat weak! I little thought a year ago that I should come to understand the word ‘desperate,’ and how it preys on a fellow's courtesy and endurance. Upon my word, sir, Carnt has had degradation on degradation thrust upon him, culminating in the post of conductor of the prison women, sir, from the factory to their place of service; dragging him raw through the town, subject to silly indignity from


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every free cad or vicious emancipist! I, sir—I have stood the indignities showered upon a prisoner who” (he made a little gesture with his canary gloves down his yet marvellous trousers), “still dresses as he would wish to be remembered by his English friends. My status is known to be such that I may be whipped at any time for disobedience or negligence, and the underlings do not forget it. I am repeatedly told that I am ‘dead to the law.’ I can hold nothing of my own—no particle of property. I must obtain a pass from a reluctant source, or be within doors at sundown. Should I go out for a game of cards, every petty official I meet halts me, and orders out my permission.”

“Sir,” cried O'Crone, “I heard you were an architect.”

“I am no longer employed … in that capacity.”

They were silent as Islip came out with their refreshment and returned.

For a while O'Crone looked as if he would have asked what was his business, but in the event elected not to. He had listened during this bitter revelation with a glare of cynical irony. Yet a gleam of sympathy, quite gentle and kind, glinted in the daunted and sorrowful cunning of his face. With his head low on his shoulders, he rose and moved nearer to Sir William Heans.

“I could almost forgive you, sir,” he said, hushing his voice, “in your bitter desire. If anything could prevail on me to risk it with you, it would be that repeated irritation of a prey of petty power. If anything could make palatable to me the way in which you and your friend have netted me about, have taken advantage of my anguish and my adoration for an erring woman, it would be this destructive suffering which you have confided to me … yet” (in a low, impressive, almost gentle tone), “have you thought well to what you—you in your weariness, jeopardy, and impatience of spirit—nay, you as I met you at the Shaxtons' a year ago—would risk this tender and shrinking soul?”

“Yes—yes, Captain O'Crone,” said Heans, now patting his horse with an air of quizzical weariness; “should the plan miscarry, a year perhaps upon her sentence, if your great friends do not interfere with a suddenness for which I give them credit; for Jarvis Carnt and myself, it will be, at the best, that thing they call a ‘chain-gang’ (you have seen them working on the roads), with Port Arthur waiting on a last skedaddle for it.” He put up his tumbler and finished its contents, the other watching him rather sympathetically than evilly.

“My G—d, sir, not that place of dogs and black mountains!”

Heans turned with his glove still on his horse, and quizzed him a little through his eyeglass.

“Dogs?” he said, with an ironical obtundity; “well, sir, they tell me there are dogs that guard the isthmus—good dogs, many of them, I daresay; and mountains—yes, there are mountains—devilish, high, black mountains. And you go there


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in an old decayed cutter, sir, through a cold yellow sea. And you pass in, they say, through giant gates of decayed black rock. And the harbour, sir—the harbour is all o'erhung with a blight of foliage; and choked with a blight of leathery seaweeds; and shadowed with a blight of immeasurable forests, so that if a man cast himself overboard, he is like to be strangled in the seaweeds; and if he get away his voice only will be heard of; and if he be carried ashore, he soon grows desperate in that wall of close, black hills, and in case he should escape his sins, they bury him in a graveyard out in the sea. And the very ships, sir, crawl in stubbornly round this dead-man's isle for the clogging kelp about their keels. And if you ask me what they do there, sir, I'll inform you that they spend their lives like legendary Sisyphus with his unruly globe, shouldering trees from those unending forests and replanting them as jetties pour encourager the navies of Tasmania.”

Sir William made a little laughing noise, and straightened his handsome shoulders. “That is what these fellows tell me, Captain O'Crone,” he added, tautening his gloves at the wrist and speaking in a somewhat forced and social manner. “It may be a paradise for what faith I place in their veracity!” So saying, he stepped down upon the road, and patting his old beast upon the neck, began to hitch up his girths.

“You're going?” asked O'Crone, staring out amazement, anger and pity at him from under grudging brows.

“The sun's going and so must I,” said Sir William, “unless I wish to be stopped by every small official in Macquarie Street in whose harried eyes my trousers catch. My once dear friends, the Hyde-Shaxtons, used to call it my ‘evening bathe.’ … See, Mr. O'Crone, you have angered the turnkey, and he has delayed Carnt. I beg of you, as you hope soon to see that woman's face—as you hope for Carnt's help—to assume some dignity and reserve.”

You should have seen O'Crone laugh.

“Now, now, Sir William Heans, you take too much for granted!” whispered he. “Should our connection with you add to my calmness! When first I met Carnt, it was pure sympathy with him. He would take a given sum for having her out on the bridge, there. I believed him, too, when he came saying it meant certain discovery for him, and he couldn't do it. I persuaded him to come too. He agreed. Then greed grew upon him, and nothing would do for him but he must have the woman risked with a certain Sir William Heans, who, they told me, had been saved hardly from the penalties of one ‘absconding’ by official clemency. Is this interesting story true? I ask you. Or is a piece of gossip more accurate which whispers of a reputation being bound up with your forgiveness? See—I care not which it is! They are equally threatening. Sir William, I am explaining my wild demeanour—my somewhat desperate air.


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Sir William Heans thinks it sufficient to advise a more discreet demeanour!”

Heans put one foot in the stirrup, and before answering, looked over his saddle at the prison. “You put it,” he said, “as if Sir William Heans had counselled calmness of a drowning friend while his hands were hanging on his shoulders. I put it that your hands are on the rocks while mine are on the heaving seaweeds.” (He got gracefully into the saddle. The valley was already in twilight. High in a remote wood flashed the retreating spears. Sir William drew out a black enamel watch).

“Ah, it is past six. When you see Mr. Carnt, would you be good enough to tell him I have an engagement with a Mr. Charles Oughtryn?” (He cackled amiably.) “He and his remarkable daughter are desirous of seeing me no later than 6.30.”

O'Crone went to the steps, and came down, still with those bereaved, dissatisfied eyes.

“Ah, I saw you only last Friday,” he said, spitefully, “with a child on horseback. I suppose that was your Miss Oughtryn?”

“Miss Abelia Oughtryn,” corrected Sir William handsomely. He was somewhat hectically jocund as he arranged his reins. “I can assure you, sir, a lady as uncommon as her name.”

“Indeed I have heard rumours of an uncommon lady, but pictured her somewhat older than the girl who accompanied you. This was a quite young girl, weak-looking, with blue glasses.”

Sir William's glass fell from an abstracted eye, and he stared at the harbour. “Miss Abelia rode with me on that day,” he said, grandly enough. “We went towards the ferry to see the first heath. But there was none in bloom.”

“Ah, there was romance in it!” snarled the other. “Indeed, the lady I was with told me you had taught the young woman to ride, and that her attachment to you was pathetic.”

Heans greyed just a little more. “Sir,” said he, with a light laugh, “I fear she would have better suited herself with some one less pettily tyrannised—than your light words suggest.”

“And you desert your charge without a thought?”

“It is only a child, Mr. O'Crone,” said the other, laughing a little, yet with a groaning in his tone, “a young thing, who will forget me before my old nag here.”

“And yet you have been living in the man Oughtryn's house, sir, and benefiting by his friendship and hospitality?—so the woman informed me, in whose carriage I sat.”

Sir William was still laughing a little. “In what capacity—tell me—did the lady tell you I—er—used the man's house?'

“Rather as you pleased in your self-liberality—nay, forgive me—I did not credit the rancorous woman.”

“A kind woman,” said Sir William.

“What!”

“She knew very well—the truth.”

“The truth?” cried the other, advancing nearer, a tremor of


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apprehension in his ironical face … Heans put in his eyeglass and leant over on his knee towards him.

“I will tell you,” he said, swinging his cane slowly and speaking with a somewhat hectic air, “since you will have me even earthier than it is wise for me yet to believe I am. I was assigned as groom, or (let us be definite) ‘pass-holder servant-man’ to this Charles Oughtryn sixteen months ago. I had been seen in conversation with Captain Stifft, of the schooner Emerald, too frequently for the police, and in the end—a humorous end of which you appear to have heard an echo—I was ordered by the police-magistrate to be assigned out as a servant. ‘White-fingered men’ were not then in demand, but some one told Oughtryn at Fraser's Club, and Oughtryn applied for me. Some time before, he had asked me if I would train his young miss to the saddle. What would have become of me I don't know, but for this old fellow—himself a freed prisoner—who had often seen me riding for my pleasure. He was jubilant at obtaining for his own what he was pleased to describe as ‘a gentleman with some varnish.’ Indeed, he seems to have a feeling that it is a perishable article, which it is a public duty to preserve. Oughtryn has a small property at Bagdad, and I would gladly have been altogether removed there from Hobarton, but this, as I am under the personal guidance of Mr. Daunt, is forbidden. Oughtryn, if rough beyond notion, has treated me with consideration; and I have had considerable latitude for a convict servant.”

O'Crone was glaring at him with his bearded face fallen and sinister.

“And now,” he said, at last, “it is cut and run at the first opportunity!”

“And now,” echoed the other, tapping his varnished boot with his cane, “it is cut and run—at the first opportunity.”

His fingers clenched, as he spoke, upon his whip, and relaxed with the worn, canary glove split across the knuckles. He smiled a faint, forced smile and advanced it ruefully towards the other's face. “Answer that, sir, if you can,” he said. “My pride, under raw supervision, is wearing bare. It has been long past the standing capacity of just anger. Look at these darns—rotting fast, my old acquaintance, Mr. O'Crone. Human thread will no more!”

O'Crone threw up his hand despairingly, and turned back towards the veranda. He had gone but a few steps—his head bowed, his cane rapping on the great stones of the fore-way—when a party of three men issued from the door and descended helter-skelter upon him. They were sub-overseers in grey, and as they moved aside for O'Crone, one plucked at his cloak with a rude laugh, and pointed down upon the prison. “There's Mr. Jarvis, now,” said he, “stringing the biddies out of the gate.”

O'Crone put up his elbow and snarled, but as they went joking down the sloping bank, he turned and stared back at the bridge.


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A small door had been opened in the nearest gate, and a black figure, which might have been that of Shaneson, stood just outside. A man in a tall hat, with a swaggering air, was accompanying three shawled women across the rivulet: the latter arm in arm, the former sauntering a pace in the rear. One of the women tripped in the twilight as she went for sheer light-heartedness; the others seemed old, and did not remove their faces from the ground. The man kept his eyes up upon the ale-house, and hardly once changed their direction.

Sir William had started off down the inn-approach, but reined up suddenly some twenty yards from the road. His fine voice came up in a polite hail. “You will not be able to see him, Captain O'Crone. Here comes Carnt, now, with his three women.”

O'Crone said nothing, but stood glooming at the party with his two hands on his cane. The thin, nice figure of Islip was clearing the glasses from the veranda, pallid with the valley's pallor. They heard the door in the prison-gate close, and the sudden “mingle-mangle” of a bell. Sir William sat where he was until Carnt and the women vanished underneath the eminence, when with a sharp farewell of O'Crone, he urged his horse towards the road. On a sudden, there, halted before him at the bottom, was Jarvis Carnt, and the women, and in another moment Carnt's figure, detaching itself, came running up towards him. As the prison-writer approached Heans (who pulled up) he laughed loudly, though his pale face was agitated. He put a hand on Sir William's knee, muttering something, and patting his old beast. “Oh, I'm famous, thanks,” he said, and suddenly turning, ran back. Sir William's stiff figure had hardly stirred in his saddle, and he had said nothing at all.

O'Crone had been late to detect Carnt's approach, but had instantly started to meet him. Carnt had broken back, however, before Captain O'Crone reached Sir William's side, and as the other came behind him, Heans put out his hand.

“Stay, sir,” he said, “Carnt gives us terrible news. Leete is worse, and is to have command at Port Arthur, and my Heaven, sir, they say he'll take his servants with him!”

“What's that,” cried O'Crone, “his servants! Why then, my God, they'll take my Ruth away!”

“Yes, she will be taken! Next Monday is the day rumoured.”

“Mr. Carnt will get her out on Friday! There'll be women out on Friday!”

“Else she'll go, sir, and we're left,” said Sir William, trembling in his saddle.

“This may be false! You and that man——”

“False!”

“You and that man——”

“It is all false—false as life itself! There's not a word of truth in it, or in any of us, or Life, sir—in man, woman, or


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child. It is a lie. You and I are a lie, sir; and that prison; and the confounded, jangling bell. And the hills in their shadow—what a pitiful lie! Everything—hurt or joy, or faithfulness like yours, or hope like mine, Carnt's generosity, Islip's spying deference—all a damnable fancy! Why should I be brave enough to hope—or you mad enough to care!”

“Hold!” snarled O'Crone, touching his arm, “I believe in your bitterness.”

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