For the Term of His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke

Chapter XVI.

Fifteen Hours.

Sarah flew to Rex. “Rouse yourself, John, for Heaven’s sake. We have not a moment.” John Rex passed his hand over his forehead wearily.

“I cannot think. I am broken down. I am ill. My brain seems dead.”

Nervously watching the prostrate figure on the floor, she hurried on bonnet, cloak, and veil, and in a twinkling had him outside the house and into a cab.

“Thirty-nine, Lombard Street. Quick!”

“You won’t give me up?” said Rex, turning dull eyes upon her.

“Give you up? No. But the police will be after us as soon as that woman can speak, and her brother summon his lawyer. I know what her promise is worth. We have only got about fifteen hours start.”

“I can’t go far, Sarah,” said he; “I am sleepy and stupid.”

She repressed the terrible fear that tugged at her heart, and strove to rally him.

“You’ve been drinking too much, John. Now sit still and be good, while I go and get some money for you.”

She hurried into the bank, and her name secured her an interview with the manager at once.

“That’s a rich woman,” said one of the clerks to his friend. “A widow, too! Chance for you, Tom,” returned the other; and, presently, from out the sacred presence came another clerk with a request for “a draft on Sydney for three thousand, less premium”, and bearing a cheque signed “Sarah Carr” for £200, which he “took” in notes, and so returned again.

From the bank she was taken to Green’s Shipping Office. “I want a cabin in the first ship for Sydney, please.”

The shipping-clerk looked at a board. “The Highflyer goes in twelve days, madam, and there is one cabin vacant.”

“I want to go at once — to-morrow or next day.”

He smiled. “I am afraid that is impossible,” said he. Just then one of the partners came out of his private room with a telegram in his hand, and beckoned the shipping-clerk. Sarah was about to depart for another office, when the clerk came hastily back.

“Just the thing for you, ma’am,” said he. “We have got a telegram from a gentleman who has a first cabin in the Dido, to say that his wife has been taken ill, and he must give up his berth.”

“When does the Dido sail?”

“To-morrow morning. She is at Plymouth, waiting for the mails. If you go down to-night by the mail-train which leaves at 9.30, you will be in plenty of time, and we will telegraph.”

“I will take the cabin. How much?”

“One hundred and thirty pounds, madam,” said he.

She produced her notes. “Pray count it yourself. We have been delayed in the same manner ourselves. My husband is a great invalid, but I was not so fortunate as to get someone to refund us our passage-money.”

“What name did you say?” asked the clerk, counting. “Mr. and Mrs. Carr. Thank you,” and he handed her the slip of paper.

“Thank you,” said Sarah, with a bewitching smile, and swept down to her cab again. John Rex was gnawing his nails in sullen apathy. She displayed the passage-ticket. “You are saved. By the time Mr. Francis Wade gets his wits together, and his sister recovers her speech, we shall be past pursuit.”

“To Sydney!” cries Rex angrily, looking at the warrant. “Why there of all places in God’s earth?”

Sarah surveyed him with an expression of contempt. “Because your scheme has failed. Now this is mine. You have deserted me once; you will do so again in any other country. You are a murderer, a villain, and a coward, but you suit me. I save you, but I mean to keep you. I will bring you to Australia, where the first trooper will arrest you at my bidding as an escaped convict. If you don’t like to come, stay behind. I don’t care. I am rich. I have done no wrong. The law cannot touch me — Do you agree? Then tell the man to drive to Silver’s in Cornhill for your outfit.”

Having housed him at last — all gloomy and despondent — in a quiet tavern near the railway station, she tried to get some information as to this last revealed crime.

“How came you to kill Lord Bellasis?” she asked him quietly.

“I had found out from my mother that I was his natural son, and one day riding home from a pigeon match I told him so. He taunted me — and I struck him. I did not mean to kill him, but he was an old man, and in my passion I struck hard. As he fell, I thought I saw a horseman among the trees, and I galloped off. My ill-luck began then, for the same night I was arrested at the coiner’s .”

“But I thought there was robbery,” said she.

“Not by me. But, for God’s sake, talk no more about it. I am sick — my brain is going round. I want to sleep.”

“Be careful, please! Lift him gently!” said Mrs. Carr, as the boat ranged alongside the Dido, gaunt and grim, in the early dawn of a bleak May morning.

“What’s the matter?” asked the officer of the watch, perceiving the bustle in the boat.

“Gentleman seems to have had a stroke,” said a boatman.

It was so. There was no fear that John Rex would escape again from the woman he had deceived. The infernal genius of Sarah Purfoy had saved her lover at last — but saved him only that she might nurse him till he died — died ignorant even of her tenderness, a mere animal, lacking the intellect he had in his selfish wickedness abused.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37