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(1) A CARRIAGE DRIVE

THERE was no end to Mr. Daunt's understanding—his experience of what was wisest. Early on Thursday morning, a messenger arrived at Pitt's Villa, with a note, hoping that Mrs. Shaxton would accompany the commandant to the Cascades Prison, and that she would be pleased to expect the fly at thirty past two. The letter contained something more. There had, it seems, been some arrangement, but it is still a matter of doubt for which of the many reasons Mr. Daunt repeated the request, and for which it was accepted by Mrs. Shaxton. Of course the sending of the message intimated, in a stern and courteous way, that the Commandant was ready to keep to himself the “accident” to Captain Shaxton. It might have been meant only to convey that point. As well it wrote in polite cold English that it would be a sensible move. Did the matter leak out through “Oughtryn's household,” and the abrasions on Shaxton's face, the preparations for Sir John and Lady Franklin's entertainment would be jeopardised—irremediably, it was likely—and an unhappy meeting take a formidable importance. Did, however, Mrs. Shaxton keep to the arrangement to drive down with Mr. Daunt (the “patient, he was told, had been less nervous and distressed”), it would render any rumour of it burlesque and out of court.

We wonder if Matilda accompanied the Commandant for any of the reasons in or even between the lines of his message. It is known she did not inform her husband with whom she was going, and, evidently, he did not suspect her. She left him in his bedroom. Mr. Daunt had appointed a place in Davey Street at which he would join her, and the carriage had picked him up. Why, then, if she was not moved by this somewhat urgent argument, did she—whom Carnt, in his amusing way, had called “nothing human alien to her”—go down through the heavy rain that afternoon in the Commandant's fly?

Do not let us be sentimental about it. Yet do not let us be hard. Her action is only too easily explicable in a hard way. Can we not give something to “womanly forgiveness?” Hobarton


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knew in the morning, through Captain Carne and Garion, of the mounted police, that Heans had produced and forwarded the handkerchief pad—it was said, with singular good taste—and old Chedsey had examined it on Garion's verandah. So all seemed right on that score. Why then did she surprise Hobarton by her feminine volte face, her “charitable journey,” her quiet turning upon fortune in the afternoon?

We know that she had heard on Wednesday evening something that Hobarton did not know. Indeed, Hobarton did not know all then, nor for some time after.

Of course, in a hard sense, she went to save her poor old husband and herself from further danger from this skilful man. It may well be the poor lady was still frightened of Mr. Daunt. Yet this could hardly be, when she had known him so well. Looking back on her history, and its connection with Mr. Daunt, he appears on the whole in quite a protecting light, if severe and determined, with the two exceptions, so unaccountable. Again, Daunt had shown discretion when attacked by her headlong husband, and perhaps she felt she owed him something, as well as the prisoner who stood by. Or perhaps she was touched by his very weakness—as we have once already hinted, and as history tells great Queens have been of those prisoners who had been their companions, and who had turned aside to be unkind to them, even to “grudge the continuance of their lives.” Perhaps, again, there was something about the Commandant she liked that no man was open to—it seems the way of women to deal in that fashion. And last—let us be hard for once—perhaps she agreed to go because of her old attachment for the prisoner, Heans, who might have increased the Commandant's dislike for himself—by diverting the pad. It was not believable of any one, yet if such a gentleman as Mr. Daunt were socially ruined, would Sir William Heans be worse placed or any differently treated?

We know there were those who “protested” she wished to “increase her figure” by pretending to countenance the Commandant; that the lady was at the bottom of it. We have no leisure for the quags of embittered enmity. There is no doubt the Commandant approached her, and that on this occasion he “made no mistake” of the state of her feelings, whatever that mysterious one had been. Despite of the comments of Cadet Tipton and Miss Meurice (already chronicled) that “old Daunt was in a funk,” and that “his visit meant he was at Matilda's feet,” we cling to the fact that she was a good and wise lady, and that the simplest explanation is often the truest. Looked at in its frankest terms, was she more than courageous, did she more than accept Daunt's implied petition for forgiveness, and go and shed a calming drop in the ear of a distracted woman?

By arrangement Daunt stopped the carriage at the turn from Davey Street; just beneath the very oil-lamp under which she


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had dropped the purse. He was protected in a blue greatcoat, and held an umbrella over his hat. Someone who saw him as he entered the white-wheeled carriage said that he had the manners of a grave and reassuring gentleman, and heard the words rapidly uttered, “I was on the point of thinking your courage was not the weapon I have known it.”

What they said, how they politely whiled the way, as they drove down the short distance to Macquarie Street, and along to the Cascades, we know little, and we hazard a guess it was little enough. Perhaps the reader can see Daunt looking from the window, as he sat beside the lady he had so hurt. We know, however, just so much: that Daunt comforted her with the assurance that the distance to be traversed in the prison was infinitesimal—“ in at the gate and up Major Leete's stairs—and lo the woman who had so enchained our poor friend!” And she had said, very agitated, she was only frightened of seeing some cold face that wouldn't accept her, and which she could never forget. And Daunt answered: “Ah, our Mesdames Les Gehennesnote are under lock and key to-day!” He was very cool and steady, and in these later days it would have been a kind of rudeness to speak of him as “efficient.” The window was down, and he sat rather heavily, with his small hand upon the door: in the narrow road lifting his hat sharp to a black whiskered turnkey and a Mr. Six, the latter the collector of curios, such a pale, draggled figure for the Commandant to notice so markedly. Mrs. Shaxton, however, sat forward, her eager neck poking from her pretty, white collar and shawl, her eyes hot and narrow in her bonnet. Six reported they were red, but as he was almost in tears of excitement himself, how could he have perceived so much through the rain? Of what use is it to hang about the thudding hood of that old vehicle! What happened, however, when the Commandant had seen her under his umbrella through the tall gates, we have an account. Mr. Six ran back almost to the bridge, and saw the gentle creature go in in her brown coal-scuttle, with the gold riband and the grey feather.

Daunt had spoken about the woman's hand-paintings, and he took Mrs. Shaxton into the side room under the arched gate, pointing out the pretty pieces of band-box stacked and slung among guns, chains, tawse, gags, and other implements of correction. Matilda pretended to examine one or two, and bought a dark red rose held in an infant's hand, which Mr. Shaneson said, with a clarion laugh, was also his favourite. The prison accountant, Mr. Carnt, was seated at his desk in the corner beyond


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the slant spy-window, and he rose in his shrunken broad-cloth, watching them all the while they were there, with one hand on his papers. Matilda, though she had the side of her bonnet towards him, thought him a dispirited little man without his hat. She looked again in his direction when Mr. Daunt named him and enquired after his health. It was strange of him to laugh such a wild and silly answer. Daunt, who was waiting behind Matilda, said, in a sort of subdued aside, “Mr. Carnt, you are looking oppressed with this place. Shall we put you out of it for a bit?” And Carnt muttered, with a wild laugh, “it was certainly time he had a rise; would the Commandant get him a secretaryship to Mr. Montague?” Oh, how ironically Mr. Daunt nodded his head! At the door she gave him a bow with Mr. Shaneson, but he turned pallidly away.

There were some neat back stairs, and afterwards, in a small, oblong room, through a door on the left, there was the woman “who had so enchained our poor friend.” A tall, slim figure, with reddish hair, and a long, fine face, was seated with a book by a fire in an inner corner. She stooped slightly, and seemed from the way she had her knees doubled beside her chair to be in a sad mood. Yet the marble face which looked up at Matilda Shaxton was at first so unwelcoming and unfriendly that she stopped in the door: her little umbrella clutched in her soft hand. A look at her surprised, small face softened the other's somewhat—not much, but as it were allowing herself to be interrupted. She lowered the book she had been holding, eyeing her with a jealousy less superior and dejected.

It may be supposed that she had read there through the years of her punishment in this noble and pale jealousy of the mind.

Daunt's voice said, “This is Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton, prisoner. See how kind! I have prevailed upon her to come and talk with you.”

Madam Ruth answered in a voice hardly audible: “It is you, sir? Come in, madam. I may not rise, madam.” There was an embroidered black chair by the second bed, and she drew up her knees about her book, and indicated it with quiet grace. “Madam,” she said, “why have you done this for Madam Ruth! It is heroical!”

“Please,” Matilda said, looking at her with strained brave eyes, “you won't be troubled or disturbed with me. I am told you are better. Ah, that's better news! And now you're in the fair way to health?” She came forward beside the other woman, standing between her and Daunt, and stood looking down.

Madam Ruth looked up white, dejected, and rather discomposed than touched. “Why, madam, it is nothing,” she said, with a perverse softening of her proud face. “They say it is


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mere disobedience. But you have come here with an open mind. I see you are not afraid of poor Ruth and her perverseness. You have bought my picture, madam? Ah, it would be happier if we had it all in our helpless hands like that rose!”

Mrs. Shaxton, after a motionless pause, moved away and sank upon a chair, which Daunt had lifted near the fire. She raised and glanced from her bonnet at the little picture in her trembling hand. “True,” she said, “this rose is too often like our health, and that is the kind of clasp we have upon it. … But you have so many accomplishments: your hand-painting and your studies. …” The speaker turned and examined the elaborate embroidery upon the bed at her side. And for a few sentences the women talked on these and kindred interests—each with a sort of accomplished kindness—the visitor leaning forward with an eagerness just free from feverishness, the other sunk in her chair with a noble, half shrinking dejection.

Daunt, having put his hat down on a table by the window, and examined for a long while a sketch of a dead knight which was there, and the books which hung above the bed, came back and stood a little removed between the women, his gloved hands stroking his side whiskers with a sort of brooding air. His eyes were upon a painting over the chimney of an old rough-cast house among decrepit trees. Yet he seemed to listen rather than look at what was before them. More than probably he heard only such scraps and snatches of the talk as “By Heaven's Providence … A mercy it was not on the night of the ball … They had the day's grace,” being only half with them. Or possibly the malfeasance of the night was clinging upon his shoulder, and he saw only that he was there with the wife of Captain Shaxton, in the cell of the artist-woman. Matilda Shaxton and Madam Ruth more than once lifted glances to his rigid cheek.

“Ah, madam,” said Madam Ruth, in answer to sympathetic Mrs. Shaxton, “I protest, you are as stern as the gentlemen. Do you too tell me I can sadden myself at my will? The gentlemen are John Knoxes, every one of them; to them a woman's will is her one reason.”

“Indeed, prisoner,” said Mr. Daunt, breaking somewhat wearily in, “speak gentler if you can! We have ladies and gentlemen in our prisons who can do that and more. No one has ignored the sad cause of your suffering, nor the necessity there is of overcoming it. No one has pretended to himself you have no cause. Mrs. Shaxton will express by the gift of her presence the sympathy we have so clumsily spoken.”

Madam Ruth fingered her great book, staring dejectedly into the fire. She did not show any feeling—unless by the proud and rigid paleness of her cheeks. Her thin shrinking head and neck lay like some sad sculpture upon her black dress and shawl: the calm harshness of her set face, the gentle coronel of her soft hair.

“Mr. Daunt,” she said, “you speak as usual as if you knew


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the depth of all difficulties. Do you indeed know the bottom of all my secrets? I am in fear of you. You are a gentleman of so much experience.”

“You in fear of me, Madam Ruth!” he answered, with a sharp quiet laugh. “In what way, tell me, could a watchful care do more to make you resigned?”

She answered nothing.

“Then why, faithless prisoner, shame me before Mrs. Shaxton by telling me you have me in such awe?”

“Indeed, I know that you consider me,” she said; yet never looking up from her dejection. “And you do it from your habit, sir.”

Mr. Daunt might have said to the singular woman, “Expect more of humanity than that and you will get less,” but what he said was: “You are open with me, madam. I will be frank with you. I have besides a strong personal belief in and regard for you.”

“Fie, sir! you mean I have not your dislike. Well, though you do not hold me in disapproval, still I am in dreadful awe of you.”

“But honestly, madam,” said he, advancing to the mantelpiece and taking in his glove a parrot's feather of scarlet and green, blue and yellow, which lay there, “if you had that disapproval—even my dislike—would you, while you behaved, fear my firm determination of mind?”

Without moving her face, Madam Ruth gave a quiver of those despondent shoulders. “Ah, do not hate me, Commandant Daunt,” she said, in a low, care-nothing way. “I shall be afraid for my life.”

“As much as that?” he asked, speaking with a sort of grave shrug. “And just because I warn you to grasp after your own health?”

“Indeed, sir, how kind of you to confer my peace back upon me!”

He dropped the feather upon the mantelpiece.

“You would not have us let you drift into folly,” asked the pale, stern man between the two women, “without a protest against so weak and foolhardy a policy! See, I warn you against a grave danger. Sympathy is a hold-fast and a medicine, but where the penalty is grave, we do not haggle with our doctors, or secretly amuse ourselves with the pretensions of well-wishers. Get well, madam, and be discreet. Take the safer way—I beg you—though upon it your feet are leaden, and your secret hope and longing have been unsatisfied.”

He spoke somewhat harshly. Madam Ruth's shoulder quivered up a little, her head drooped yet further, and her thin fingers clasped and wrestled with the leather corners of the ashgrey book in her lap.

As for eager Matilda, she reddened in her bonnet and cried


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out: “Stop, Mr. Daunt, you speak too gravely. Do not misunderstand him, madam. He means divertingly. Indeed, sir, are you one to—can the best of us—advise upon opportunity, and how we shall brave our disappointments, and the things that menace us?”

Daunt drew back with a tragic look. “I am not fit—I am not fit,” he muttered briefly. “Speak for me, madam. You are a healing in yourself. I was forgetting I had prevailed upon your lenient heart. This shall be the drawing-room of a private acquaintance; it shall have no bad record. I will use not one further word but simple kindness—I promise you—not one.”

Matilda said nothing—indeed, seemed confused and troubled she had said so much—but throwing the crossed ruches of her shawl aside, she put her hand upon the book where Madam Ruth's hands moved. The latter raised her head from her still lassitude.

The anger in Mrs. Shaxton's voice seemed to have attracted her. She slowly moved aside the five wrestling fingers over the five hot ones. “I am a sour woman,” she said in a trembling and petitioning voice: “a hermit who has forgotten how to like—indeed, or thank. You have braved me, Mrs. Shaxton, and it is to Commandant Daunt I owe the fact that you are here, and my life is broader. Mrs. Shaxton will come again one day before I go. Madam, will you let me paint a picture of you as you came into my room? Mr. Daunt—won't you bring Mrs. Shaxton again? Don't—don't misunderstand a harsh woman, Mrs. Shaxton, Mr. Daunt. And madam, let a sour woman say, do not be vexed with the Commandant. He has been very good to me. And he speaks of you, madam, with a sort of reverence.”

Did she know he had not always spoken so of her?

Matilda rather wildly answered: “Yes, I will come. I would not have had this pleasure had Commandant Daunt not chosen me, and assured me I should find some one who would like to see me. There, Madam Ruth, perhaps after all the Commandant knows us better than ourselves! Mr. Daunt persuaded me the sight of a lame duck like me might do you good.”

Her staring eyes held the other's with the brightness of tears. Madam Ruth looked at her without tears, her white fingers holding upon her hot hand.

Daunt had observed the prisoner severely, his face not softening much. If he had an opinion, he was not for surrendering it at their devotion. With just sufficient civility for manners, he bowed, saying “he would be glad to have the honour of again escorting Mrs. Shaxton.” He added, with a stern sharpness of feature, “it was surely the kindest of motives which had urged her to make a second journey, while the prisoner's sudden offer to make an effort and devote herself to colouring a portrait of her visitor, was surprising and good news: unless,” he concluded,


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saddening and making a little joke of it, “unless it will have an additional attraction for Mrs. Shaxton to possess a souvenir of herself standing against the bars of the prison?”

And Madam Ruth said in her pale, harsh way, “she would like to paint her, but not by the window.” “Dear madam—as you came in by the door, with the Commandant's inflexible face behind your bonnet.”

“Indeed,” cried Mr. Daunt, laughing rather loudly and pacing away towards the window, “indeed, indeed, do I appear so grim as this?”

And there he stood looking out upon the cosy, dripping court.

“Ah, well,” said Matilda Shaxton gently—and the face in the bonnet near Madam Ruth's stared and smiled a little—“it is not all a good world outside. And bars, if they keep in, shut so much out that we might not have seen or been vexed with. That is an idea congenial to me—if you will allow it. I wish you would paint me at your window, Madam Ruth; where you have sat so long. If you will bring me down here, Mr. Daunt, quite soon, and Madam Ruth thinks I will make a good drawing, I will dress in my best for it.”

As for Captain Daunt, he stood steadily by the window, weightily feeling his palish face; urbane enough in his white cravat, high-shouldered great-coat, and wellingtons, if somewhat too occupied with stern matters for true good manners. He roused himself with a heavy shake to answer Matilda Shaxton.

“I promise Mrs. Shaxton a very willing servitude,” he said, and gave a little harsh bow and smile, but did not turn. “It is truly angelical in her, upon my word it is! And what a healthy pleasure for the prisoner! I promise you, I will give it attention after our historic night, and even arrange with Leete before we leave.” And then he turned to the table, took up his hat and cane, and stood staring solemnly at the unfinished painting which hung above it.

Major Leete presently hobbled to the door upon his stick, and softly requested an interview with Mr. Daunt. The Commandant immediately went out, leaving the door ajar, and he and Leete were heard talking in a low tone. For some while longer, Mrs. Shaxton talked with the shrinking, noble-looking woman by the fire.

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