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Chapter XII A Last Shift—Carnt's News

FOLLOWING on our account of the solicitude of Hobarton in the daft Earl of Daisley and the woman in the Cascades, the reader will be startled to learn the contents of Mr. Carnt's letter, which (as he will remember) reached Sir William Heans by the hand of Conapanny on the sad night of his farewell of the Earl— hidden in the womb of the perfume pad. Along with these hurried tidings, we will acquaint him with that other find of an eventful day: the short but very dreadful narrative of Walter Surridge as written with a nail on the leather of the French hat: though Sir William himself, baffled by a day of contrary and clashing eddies, did not actually complete the reading of it till the following morning.

Mr. Carnt's letter, which had caused Heans so much emotion, was written in a tremulous hand, very clear, readable, and fine. It went:—

HONOURED FRIEND,

No time to lose. Saw O'Crone; risked night call at Oughtryn's; bilked at lights and uniforms. This morning heard military had quartered Oughtryn, and deemed dangerous to approach. A soiree on you, devil's luck or Heaven's help! Got early from prison, and saw soldier in garden. Caution—caution! At wit's end! Met old landlady near cemetery and stopped her. Asked after you. Old lady very done up; had a visit from police; taken to watch-house to give evidence against constable who had allowed prisoner to slip money through search-room. Man violent. Maintained stoutly it was a lie. Police want to see relic; gave Daunt a bit of her mind, she did; poor, old, pale cheese. Put it on to you. Told him she'd returned it you at your request. 'Ware heroics!

Old lady had smelt police, however, and was arranging relic's transportation with blackwoman in back yard, who had the thing in her hand. Old black hid it in her dress. Mrs. Conapanny from Orphanage! If she was still in the yard! What of poor old Psalmy Providence now! Life or death, I gasped, and tried Quaid with Daisley's money. “Mr. Daunt's injured me,” moans the old lady, “and I've injured him, poor gentleman,” and


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presently she beckons me in. Old black sitting there when we came through. Weeping. Had a fright. Quaid quiets her down. Mr. Carnt shows gold old black—weighty sum. Crosswheedles her. No go. Old lady gossips endless with her. I agree write short message go inside handkerchief-pad. Old black handles pad, and agrees, God save her soul! Put it to-night in possession of neighbour's pass-holder.

It will here be necessary to explain—what has been only hinted at—that it had been Carnt's plot, in his first moment of sympathy with O'Crone, for a certain stipulated sum (at grim personal risk) to smuggle Madam Ruth out of the factory among a batch of Friday's prisoners committed to his charge for service: in a word, that it should be contrived that madam bribe another woman by a trinket of some sort to let her creep through the gate as an assignee in her place. The connivance or silence of the bribed woman was to be further ratcheted by the promise of a heavy sum to her account, left with Six of the jumble shop after the attempt had been made, whether successful or not—whether or no madam got out of the prison and afterwards escaped the island. Carnt's notion had originated from an episode which had occurred during these “discharges,” in which, as we know, he had accepted the duty of the harassing post of conductor. He had actually lost a wild, red-headed girl from a batch of check-aproned women in the main street of Hobarton. On this memorable Friday he had forced the remaining prisoners to run with him incontinently after the culprit, to the immense ticklement of the town. It had, for a while, been his wild intention (with the adventitious aid of Leete's illness) to repeat the accident in favour of Madam Ruth. She had even been communicated with, and had shown a fearful willingness. But this mood of reckless generosity did not survive. On the excuse that the risk to himself was insuperable, but possibly because O'Crone had been injudicious in his disclosures, Carnt decided to throw in his lot with the Earl and the object of his infatuation, and soon, not satisfied with this, insisted that his honoured friend, Sir William Heans, be made a party. O'Crone, having accepted himself with demur, choked altogether over so now dangerous a mouthful as Sir William; indeed, for a while he seems to have dropped all thought of his dangerous design, sailing for Sydney, but returning in a month with a cargo of Indian sherry, much appreciated in the barracks. After this venture, imitating other savants, he voyaged less, but rode horseback about the island. He was understood to be preparing a book on the Tasmanian native, and several articles in the local sheets upon this subject, and the flora and fauna—with hints to intending settlers—over the nom-de-plume of Peter Van Diemen—were keenly criticized as emanating from his pen. His was a sad and curious history. He seemed unable to leave the neighbourhood of these proud


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and irritated officials and that unfortunate and violent woman. Yet one more interview with Carnt was followed by yet another sailing, this time among the northern islands, from which he had just returned, bringing back fabulous tales of a community of convicts, backed however with a fine shipload of seal-skins. His dip into this grim industry had coarsened him, or rendered him more strange and reckless. He was back but a few weeks when it was reported he was grown fond of rough company; at any rate, he cared less what company he kept. He seemed strange in his mind, went ungroomed, dressed rough, and cut with looks of anger his old acquaintances.

Once again, as in the early days of his disappointment, he hung about within sketching distance of the factory; haunting the mountains above the prison; or harrying the jailers and prisoners who had access to the gates. And no—he would no longer know his old friends. That was but the truth. He seemed to have forgotten or to nurse a natural injury against the society he had frequented. Thus much for him of whom the town already talked as the “daft departed,” and gentler society as “the poor, distracted Earl of Daisley.” How little is there between the inclusion of a being by a community in the intricate knots of its humanity, and his thrusting, remarkable and solitary, without the ropes! But we, further behind the scenes, have better news of him. In point of fact, he had returned from that island voyage more inclined, for some reason, to the risks of Heans' company, and it had been to meet him that Carnt had made the appointment, we remember, at Muster-Master-Mason's Place. We now know how the change in Leete's illness, which seemed to shatter all plans and hopes, served only to knit the plotters, and whatever the failure of Carnt's earlier negotiations, we see by this letter that, giving way to desperation, with Captain O'Crone, at the disaster of the woman's departure, he had, with the Earl's help (immediately on their meeting at the ale-house) concluded their desperate plan of escape, including himself and Heans, and promising no insuperable risk.

Now for Daisley's news (he writes.) Daisley comes across Emerald north of Flinders Island. Emerald full of skins, pumping, and weed-clogged. Stifft noble, and if timeous to agreement, now lying off Vansittart. O'Crone sails to-night, and will signal him to run for the Tamarnote and hang off West Head on Sunday morning, when he will run in and pick up boat. O'Crone will run west and return. Keeping hull down, he will watch light and flag on 9th, and if Stifft shows red and green, run on out of


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sailing-route, and pick us up in the inlet north of Gun-carriage. Stifft bungling, Daisley will bring in yacht under beacon.

Signalled the Irishwoman, Kate O'Mara (approached last October, the same bright luminary who has been seven times convoyed to “respectability” by Mr. Carnt, but continues to revolve upon us), passed her madam's bracelet, and got a fresh promise, kind and strong enough, “blast her, she would never need to rob no more!” Madam herself was the difficulty. Thought it was up. She had been growing very sick, and goes to and fro with haggard eyes ever since the verdict. She was at the door on Monday evening when the news got to me, and Shaneson and Hewet went across and spoke with her encouragingly, She looks from one to the other very ill, and I hear her say she's sorry to be leaving the people. At the corner of the gate where I stood, I winked and violently frowned to rouse her to the notion I was going to do it, and she gives me a stare between the warders, but seems too weak to care much. This morning Dr. Goodrich came early, and as he returns through the gate, I step out and ask how she is. He says he must have her up and make her go down to Hospital. I saw her when she descended into the court, and called to Shaneson I'd go after, and say “good-bye” to her. Shaneson won't permit it. At one o'clock Major Ellis brought the Launceston doctor and a French traveller and Mr. Carnt to show them round. At Hospital door Matron takes them in, and I see through crack Madam Ruth folding nightdresses near door. I call out, “Hope you're better, ma'am, and can I wish you good-bye?” She looks up dazy, but doesn't move, and Matron says to her kindly, “she may go and say good-bye to Mr. Carnt.” French gentleman much interested in her hair—in the pathos of it—asks the story. She came to door not very willingly, and before she could speak I cautioned her and told her what was to do. I thought she'd fall. Egad, I felt her weight on the door! “Go on, Mr. Carnt,” says she, “I can hear you. I'm sensible of all you say,” and then she says, “I'll be fit for it, but the journey's very heavy.” Presently, “I think I may die,” says she. “We must all die—even the worst of us—that's a comfort,” says Mr. Carnt. Sympathetic Frenchman, with tears in his eyes, moves a little further into dormitory. Pathetic parting scene, for Galignani or the Daily News! She will manage to be delayed in the dormitory till late in afternoon. When she returns, she will stand no risk of being occupied in kitchen or above stairs. I will send Kate O'Mara upstairs to inform Orderly women are below, and while man is in with Leete, Madam Ruth will exchange shawl and apron, and she will come quickly down as he returns. Poor Kate will lock herself in madam's room, and slip back to chamber, but if madam's companion is there, or attempts to give alarm, she will hold her there “all night.” God be kind to her incurable generosity, and give her heaven in the diamonds! I don't know what she'll catch for it!




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If pass gates, (concludes the letter), leave madam with steward from Quenosabia who has room in Collins Street. Madam changes; Carnt leaves charges, and changes. Rev. Padsdow, in dyed wig and grey whiskers, goes to Tanner's stables, orders carriage for gentleman and lady to wait at Orphanage, and pays fare to Bridgewater. Rev. Padsdow and sister (in heavy black bonnet and fair curls) may be joined by friend at Orphanage (30 past 6), and drive comfortably to join coach at Bridgewater. Dismiss hackneyman. Pick up night-coach to Launceston. For Heaven's sake (and hers), unless hard put to it, don't join carriage at Orphanage! Mustn't peril the lady. Jarvis knows Sir William. Coach leaves Ship Inn 7.10. Take old bay and ride to the ferry (or across it in morning, as if you were going message to Oughtryn's farm at Bagdad), and join coach as consulting-surgeon. Dr. Charles Chandos. If hard put to it, come to carriage— and may the great Architect see to the rest. The above is compendious but final.

Believe me, honoured friend, in considerable trepidation,

Yours very faithfully,

JARVIS CARNT.”

Perhaps the fact most to be remarked in Carnt's plot, as indeed in most of the prison-breakings not fictional to which humanity has put its mind, is not the precaution painfully taken, but the risk indifferently assumed. Either man is a much more gallant and cynical animal than the novelists suppose, or than the reading public will accept. “Bah,” he seems to say, with his gambler's eye on vacancy, “even if the free bourn be won, the hated bondage put off, are we so much further than from one prison to another—is the grave any deeper to be dug?” And hardly plotting, they seem barely to go beyond a precaution, the rest being left to mother-wit, chance, or human frailty. In the novel, on the contrary, the pining captive is shown planning horribly for the “happy ever after”; miserly of the risk to life and precious body; grasping at the heavenly chance with avarice and matchless pains. Nor does your novelist allow for the private bitterness, the little disease, the sense of humour of his jailers, on which many an historic captive has broke ward. No—in the convict Carnt's plan of escape from Hobarton like that somewhat resembling it, and used twelve years after by the exile, John Mitchell, questionably, painfully, and disastrously, yet as the ante-chamber to a yet more reckless and quite successful plot— I say, in the plans of Carnt, inscribed so trig and tremulous on a cancelled pass, seemingly so tentative, and involving issue for at least two parties final and fatal as a gun-shot, we see the complot of the human being, behind a veneer of stratagem, playing gallant with his life to a singular degree. It will be noted that a similar idiosyncrasy is to be found in the older document


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before us, the narrative of the convict Surridge, though in this case a something sullen in the character of the stone-mason makes him take his risks for purposes deeper and more dread. We may imagine Sir William's feelings when that night he fetched and opened the old cocked hat in the breakfast-room.

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