Geoffrey Hamlyn, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 23

Toonarbin.

“But,” I think I hear you say, “What has become of Mary Hawker all this time? You raised our interest about her somewhat, at first, as a young and beautiful woman, villain-beguiled, who seemed, too, to have a temper of her own, and promised, under circumstances, to turn out a bit of a b — mst-ne. What is she doing all this time? Has she got fat, or had the small-pox, that you neglect her like this? We had rather more than we wanted of her and her villanous husband in the first volume; and now nothing. Let us, at all events, hear if she is dead or alive. And her husband, too — although we hope, under Providence, that he has left this wicked world, yet we should be glad to hear of it for certain. Make inquiries, and let us know the result. Likewise, be so good as inform us, how is Miss Thornton?”

To all this I answer humbly, that I will do my best. If you will bring a dull chapter on you, duller even than all the rest, at least read it, and exonerate me. The fact is, my dear sir, that women like Mary Hawker are not particularly interesting in the piping times of peace. In volcanic and explosive times they, with their wild animal passions, become tragical and remarkable, like baronesses of old. But in tranquil times, as I said, they fall into the back-ground, and show us the value and excellence of such placid, noble helpmates, as the serene, high-bred Mrs. Buckley.

A creek joined the river about a mile below the Buckleys’ station, falling into the main stream with rather a pretty cascade, which even at the end of the hottest summer poured a tiny silver thread across the black rocks. Above the cascade the creek cut deep into the table land, making a charming glen, with precipitous blue stone walls, some eighty or ninety feet in height, fringed with black wattle and lightwood, and here and there, among the fallen rocks nearest the water, a fern tree or so, which last I may say are no longer there, Dr. Mulhaus having cut the hearts out of them and eaten them for cabbage. Should you wander up this little gully on a hot summer’s day, you would be charmed with the beauty of the scenery, and the shady coolness of the spot; till coming upon a black snake coiled away among the rocks, like a rope on the deck of a man of war, you would probably withdraw, not without a strong inclination to “shy” at every black stick you saw for the rest of the day. For this lower part of the Moira creek was, I am sorry to say, the most troubled locality for snakes, diamond, black, carpet, and other, which I ever happened to see.

But following this creek you would find that the banks got rapidly less precipitous, and at length it swept in long curves through open forest glades, spreading, too, into deep dark water-holes, only connected by gravelly fords, with a slender stream of clear water running across the yellow pebbles. These water-holes were the haunts of the platypus and the tortoise. Here, too, were flocks of black duck and teal, and as you rode past, the merry little snipe would rise from the water’s edge, and whisk away like lightning through the trees. Altogether a pleasant woodland creek, alongside of which, under the mighty box-trees, ran a sandy road, bordered with deep beds of bracken fern, which led from Baroona of the Buckleys to Toonarbin of the Hawkers.

A pleasant road, indeed, winding through the old forest straight towards the mountains, shifting its course so often that every minute some new vista opened upon you, till at length you came suddenly upon a clear space, beyond which rose a picturesque little granite cap, at the foot of which you saw a charming house, covered with green creepers, and backed by huts, sheepyards, a woolshed, and the usual concomitants of a flourishing Australian sheep station. Behind all again towered lofty, dark hanging woods, closing the prospect.

This is Toonarbin, where Mary Hawker, with her leal and trusty cousin Tom Troubridge for partner, has pitched her tent, after all her spasmodic, tragical troubles, and here she is leading as happy, and by consequence as uninteresting, an existence as ever fell to the lot of a handsome woman yet.

Mary and Miss Thornton had stayed with the Buckleys until good cousin Tom had got a house ready to receive them, and then they moved up and took possession. Mary and Tom were from the first copartners, and, latterly, Miss Thornton had invested her money, about 2,000 pounds, in the station. Matters were very prosperous, and, after a few years, Tom began to get weighty and didactic in his speech, and to think of turning his attention to politics.

To Mary the past seemed like a dream — as an old dream, well-nigh forgotten. The scene was so changed that at times she could hardly believe that all those dark old days were real. Could she, now so busy and happy, be the same woman who sat worn and frightened over the dying fire with poor Captain Saxon? Is she the same woman whose husband was hurried off one wild night, and transported for coining? Or is all that a hideous imagination?

No. Here is the pledge and proof that it is all too terribly real. This boy, whom she loves so wildly and fiercely, is that man’s son, and his father, for aught she knows, is alive, and only a few poor hundred miles off. Never mind; let it be forgotten as though it never was. So she forgot it, and was happy.

But not always. Sometimes she could not but remember what she was, in spite of the many kind friends who surrounded her, and the new and busy life she led. Then would come a fit of despondency, almost of despair, but the natural elasticity of her temper soon dispersed these clouds, and she was her old self again.

Her very old self, indeed. That delicate-minded, intellectual old maid, Miss Thornton, used to remark with silent horror on what she called Mary’s levity of behaviour with men, but more especially with honest Tom Troubridge. Many a time, when the old lady was sitting darning (she was always darning; she used to begin darning the things before they were a week out of the draper’s shop), would her tears fall upon her work, as she saw Mary sitting with her child in her lap, smiling, while the audacious Tom twisted a flower in her hair, in the way that pleased him best. To see anything wrong, and to say nothing, was a thing impossible. She knew that speaking to Mary would only raise a storm, and so, knowing the man she had to deal with, she determined to speak to Tom.

She was not long without her opportunity. Duly darning one evening, while Mary was away putting her boy to bed, Tom entered from his wine. Him, with a combination of valour and judgment, she immediately attacked, acting upon a rule once laid down to Mary —“My dear, if you want to manage a man, speak to him after dinner.”

“Mr. Troubridge,” said Miss Thornton. “May I speak a few words to you on private affairs?”

“Madam,” said Tom, drawing up a chair, “I am at your service night or day.”

“A younger woman,” said Miss Thornton, “might feel some delicacy in saying what I am going to say. But old age has its privileges, and so I hope to be forgiven.”

“Dear Miss Thornton,” said Tom, “you must be going to say something very extraordinary if it requires forgiveness from me.”

“Nay, my dear kinsman,” said Miss Thornton; “if we begin exchanging compliments, we shall talk all night, and never get to the gist of the matter after all. Here is what I want to say. It seems to me that your attentions to our poor Mary are somewhat more than cousinly, and it behoves me to remind you that she is still a married woman. Is that too blunt? Have I offended you?”

“Nay — no,” said Tom; “you could never offend me. I think you are right too. It shall be amended, madam.”

And after this Mary missed many delicate little attentions that Tom had been used to pay her. She thought he was sulky on some account at first, but soon her good sense showed her that, if they two were to live together, she must be more circumspect, or mischief would come.

For, after all, Tom had but small place in her heart. Heart filled almost exclusively with this poor sulky little lad of hers, who seemed born to trouble, as the sparks went upward. In teething even, aggravating beyond experience, and afterwards suffering from the whole list of juvenile evils, in such a way as boy never did before; coming out of these troubles too, with a captious, disagreeable temper, jealous in the extreme — not a member who, on the whole, adds much to the pleasure of the little household — yet, with the blindest passionate love towards some folks. Instance his mother, Thomas Troubridge, and Sam Buckley.

For these three the lad had a wild hysterical affection, and yet none of them had much power over him. Once by one unconsidered word arouse the boy’s obstinacy, and all chance of controlling him was gone. Then, your only chance was to call in Miss Thornton, who had a way of managing the boy, more potent than Mary’s hysterics, and Tom’s indignant remonstrances, or Sam’s quiet persuasions.

For instance — once, when he was about ten years old, his mother set him to learn some lesson or another, when he had been petitioning to go off somewhere with the men. He was furiously naughty, and threw the book to the other end of the room, all the threats and scoldings of his mother proving insufficient to make him pick it up again. So that at last she went out, leaving him alone, triumphant, with Miss Thornton, who said not a word, but only raised her eyes off her work, from time to time, to look reproachfully on the rebellious boy. He could stand his mother’s anger, but he could not stand those steady wondering looks that came from under the old lady’s spectacles. So that, when Mary came in again, she found the book picked up, and the lesson learned. Moreover, it was a fortnight before the lad misbehaved himself again.

In sickness and in health, in summer and in winter, for ten long years after they settled at Toonarbin, did this noble old lady stand beside Mary as a rock of refuge in all troubles, great or small. Always serene, patient, and sensible, even to the last; for the time came when this true and faithful servant was removed from among them to receive her reward.

One morning she confessed herself unable to leave her bed; that was the first notice they had. Doctor Mayford, sent for secretly, visited her. “Break up of the constitution,” said he — “no organic disease,”— but shook his head. “She will go,” he added, “with the first frost. I can do nothing.” And Dr. Mulhaus, being consulted, said he was but an amateur doctor, but concurred with Dr. Mayford. So there was nothing to do but to wait for the end as patiently as might be.

During the summer she got out of bed, and sat in a chair, which Tom used to lift dexterously into the verandah. There she would sit very quietly; sometimes getting Mrs. Buckley, who came and lived at Toonarbin that summer, to read a hymn for her; and, during this time, she told them where she would like to be buried.

On a little knoll, she said, which lay to the right of the house, barely two hundred yards from the window. Here the grass grew shorter and closer than elsewhere, and here freshened more rapidly beneath the autumn rains. Here, on winter’s evenings, the slanting sunbeams lingered longest, and here, at such times, she had been accustomed to saunter, listening to the sighing of the wind, in the dark funeral sheoaks and cypresses, like the far-off sea upon a sandy shore. Here, too, came oftener than elsewhere a flock of lories, making the dark low trees gay with flying living blossoms. And here she would lie with her feet towards the east, her sightless eyes towards that dreary ocean which she would never cross again.

One fresh spring morning she sat up and talked serenely to Mrs. Buckley, about matters far higher and more sacred than one likes to deal with in a tale of this kind, and, after a time, expressed a wish for a blossom of a great amaryllis which grew just in front of her window.

Mrs. Buckley got the flower for her, and so holding the crimson-striped lily in her delicate, wasted fingers, the good old lady passed from this world without a struggle, as decently and as quietly as she had always lived in it.


This happened when Charles was about ten years old, and, for some time, the lad was subdued and sad. He used to look out of the window at night towards the grave, and wonder why they had put her they all loved so well, to lie out there under the wild-sweeping winter rain. But, by degrees, he got used to the little square white railing on the sheoak knoll, and, ere half a year was gone, the memory of his aunt had become very dim and indistinct.

Poor Mary, too, though a long while prepared for it, was very deeply and sincerely grieved at Miss Thornton’s death; but she soon recovered from it. It came in the course of nature, and, although the house looked blank and dull for a time, yet there was too much life all around her, too much youthful happy life, to make it possible to dwell very long on the death of one who had left them full of years and honour. But Lord Frederick, before spoken of incidentally in this narrative, playing billiards at Gibraltar, about a year after this; had put into his hand a letter, from which, when opened, there fell a lock of silver grey hair on the green cloth, which he carefully picked up, and, leaving his game, went home to his quarters. His comrades thought it was his father who was dead, and when they heard it was only his sister’s old governess, they wondered exceedingly; “for Fred,” said they, “is not given to be sentimental.”

And now, in a year or two, it began to be very difficult to keep Master Charley in order. When he was about thirteen, there was a regular guerilla-war between him and his mother, on the subject of learning, which ended, ultimately, in the boy flatly refusing to learn anything. His natural capacities were but small, and, under any circumstances, knowledge would only have been acquired by him with infinite pains. But, as it was, with his selfishness fostered so excessively by his mother’s indulgence, and Tom’s good-humoured carelessness, it became totally impossible to teach him anything. In vain his mother scolded and wept, in vain Tom represented to him the beauties and excellences of learning — learn the boy would not; so that at fourteen he was given up in despair by his mother, having learnt nearly enough of reading, writing, and ciphering, to carry on the most ordinary business of life, a most lamentable state of things for a lad who, in after life, would be a rich man, and who, in a young and rapidly-rising country, might become, by the help of education, politically influential.

I think that when Samuel Buckley and James Brentwood were grown to be young men of eighteen or nineteen, and he was about seventeen or so, a stranger would have seen a great deal of difference between the two former and the latter, and would, probably, have remarked that James and Sam spoke and behaved like two gentlemen, but that Charles did not, but seemed as though he had come from a lower grade in society — with some truth too, for there was a circumstance in his bringing up which brought him more harm than all his neglect of learning, and all his mother’s foolish indulgences.

Both Major Buckley and Captain Brentwood made it a law of the Medes and Persians that neither of their sons should hold any conversation with the convict servants, save in the presence of competent authorities; and, indeed, they both, as soon as increased emigration enabled them, removed their old household servants, and replaced them by free men, newly arrived: a lazy independent class, certainly, with exaggerated notions of their own importance in this new phase of their life, but without the worse vices of the convicts. This rule, even in such well-regulated households, was a very hard one to get observed, even under flogging penalties; and, indeed, formed the staple affliction of poor thoughtless Jim’s early life, as this little anecdote will show:—

One day going to see Captain Brentwood, when Jim was about ten years old, I met that young gentleman (looking, I thought, a little out of sorts) about two hundred yards from the house. He turned with me to go back, and, after the first salutations, I said —

“Well, Jim, my boy, I hope you’ve been good since I saw you last?”

“Oh dear, no,” was the answer, with a shake of the head that meant volumes.

“I’m sorry to hear that; what is the matter?”

“I’ve been CATCHING it,” said Jim, in a whisper, coming close alongside of me. “A tea-stick as thick as my forefinger all over.”— Here he entered into particulars, which, however harmless in themselves, were not of a sort usually written in books.

“That’s a bad job,” I said; “what was it for?”

“Why, I slipped off with Jerry to look after some colts on the black swamp, and was gone all the afternoon; and so Dad missed me; and when I got home didn’t I CATCH IT! Oh lord, I’m all over blue wales; but that ain’t the worst.”

“What’s the next misfortune?” I inquired.

“Why, when he got hold of me he said, ‘Is this the first time you have been away with Jerry, sir?’ and I said, ‘Yes’ (which was the awfullest lie ever you heard, for I went over to Barker’s with him two days before); then he said, ‘Well, I must believe you if you say so. I shall not disgrace you by making inquiries among the men;’ and then he gave it to me for going that time, and since then I’ve felt like Cain and Abel for telling him such a lie. What would you do — eh?”

“I should tell him all about it,” I said.

“Ah, but then I shall catch it again, don’t you see! Hadn’t I better wait till these wales are gone down?”

“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” I answered; “I’d tell him at once.”

“I wonder why he is so particular,” said Jim; “the Delisles and the Donovans spend as much of their time in the huts as they do in the house.”

“And fine young blackguards they’ll turn out,” I said; in which I was right in those two instances. And although I have seen young fellows brought up among convicts who have turned out respectable in the end, yet it is not a promising school for good citizens.

But at Toonarbin no such precautions as these were taken with regard to Charles. Tom was too careless, and Mary too indulgent. It was hard enough to restrain the boy during the lesson hours, falsely so called. After that he was allowed to go where he liked, and even his mother sometimes felt relieved by his absence; so that he was continually in the men’s huts, listening to their yarns — sometimes harmless bush adventures, sometimes, perhaps, ribald stories which he could not understand; but one day Tom Troubridge coming by the hut looked in quietly, and saw master Charles smoking a black pipe, (he was not more than fourteen,) and heard such a conversation going on that he advanced suddenly upon them, and ordered the boy home in a sterner tone than he had ever used to him before, and looked out of the door till he had disappeared. Then he turned round to the men.

There were three of them, all convicts, one of whom, the one he had heard talking when he came in, was a large, desperate-looking fellow. When these men mean to deprecate your anger, I have remarked they always look you blankly in the face; but if they mean to defy you and be impudent, they never look at you, but always begin fumbling and fidgetting with something. So when Tom saw that the big man before mentioned (Daniel Harvey by name) was stooping down before the fire, he knew he was going to have a row, and waited.

“So boss,” began the ruffian, not looking at him, “we ain’t fit company for the likes of that kinchin — eh?”

“You’re not fit company for any man except the hangman,” said Tom, looking more like six-foot-six than six-foot-three.

“Oh my —— (colonial oath!)” said the other; “oh my —— ‘cabbage tree!’ So there’s going to be a coil about that scrubby little myrnonger; eh? Don’t you fret your bingy; boss; he’ll be as good a man as his father yet.”

For an instant a dark shadow passed over Tom’s face.

“So,” he thought, “these fellows know all about George Hawker, eh? Well, never mind; what odds if they do?” And then he said aloud, turning round on Harvey, “Look you here, you dog; if I ever hear of your talking in that style before that boy, or any other boy, by George I’ll twist your head off!”

He advanced towards him, as if to perform that feat on the spot; in a moment the convict had snatched his knife from his belt and rushed upon him.

Very suddenly indeed; but not quite quick enough to take the champion of Devon by surprise. Ere he was well within reach Tom had seized the hand that held the knife, and with a backward kick of his left foot sent the embryo assassin sprawling on his back on the top of the fire, whence Tom dragged him by his heels, far more astonished than burnt. The other two men had, meanwhile, sat taking no notice, or seeming to take none, of the disturbance. Now, however, one of them spoke, and said —

“I’m sure, sir, you didn’t hear me say nothing wrong to the young gent,” and so on, in a whining tone, till Tom cut him short by saying that, “if he had any more nonsense among them, he would send ’em all three over to Captain Desborough, to the tune of fifty (lashes) a-piece.”

After this little EMEUTE Charles did not dare to go into the huts, and soon after these three men were exchanged. But there remained one man whose conversation and teaching, though not, perhaps, so openly outrageously villanous as that of the worthy Harvey, still had a very unfortunate effect on his character.

This was a rather small, wiry, active man, by name Jackson, a native, colonially convicted, very clever among horses, a capital light-weight boxer, and in running superb, a pupil and PROTEGE of the immortal “flying pieman,” (May his shadow never be less!) a capital cricketer, and a supreme humbug. This man, by his various accomplishments and great tact, had won a high place in Tom Troubridge’s estimation, and was put in a place of trust among the horses; consequently having continual access to Charles, to whom he made himself highly agreeable, as being heir to the property; giving him such insights into the worst side of sporting life, and such truthful accounts of low life in Sydney, as would have gone far to corrupt a lad of far stronger moral principle than he.

And so, between this teaching of evil and neglect of good, Mary Hawker’s boy did not grow up all that might be desired. And at seventeen, I am sorry to say, he got into a most disreputable connexion with a Highland girl, at one of the Donovans’ out-station huts; which caused his kindly guardian, Tom Troubridge, a great deal of vexation, and his mother the deepest grief, which was much increased at the same time by something I will relate in the next chapter.

So sixteen years rolled peacefully away, chequered by such trifling lights and shadows as I have spoken of. The new generation, the children of those whom we knew at first, are now ready to take their places, and bear themselves with more or less credit in what may be going on. And now comes a period which in the memory of all those whom I have introduced to you ranks as the most important of their lives. To me, looking back upon nearly sixty years of memory, the events which are coming stand out from the rest of my quiet life, well defined and remarkable, above all others. As looking on our western moors, one sees the long straight sky-line, broken only once in many miles by some fantastic Tor.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44