The state of terror and dismay into which poor Mary Hawker was thrown on finding that her husband, now for many years the BETE NOIR of her existence, was not only alive, but promising fairly to cause her more trouble than ever he did before, superadded, let me say, for mere truth’s sake, to a slight bilious attack, brought on by good living and want of exercise, threw her into a fever, from which, after several days’ delirium, she rose much shattered, and looking suddenly older. All this time the Doctor, like a trusty dog, had kept his watch, and done more, and with a better will than any paid doctor would have been likely to do. He was called away a good deal by the prosecution arising out of that unhappy affair with the other doctor, and afterwards with a prosecution for perjury, which he brought against the sawyer; but he was generally back at night, and was so kind, so attentive, and so skilful that Mary took it into her head, and always affirmed afterwards, that she owed her life to him.
She was not one to receive any permanent impression from anything. So now, as day by day she grew stronger, she tried to undervalue the mischief which had at first so terrified her, and caused her illness; — tried, and with success, in broad daylight; but, in the silent dark nights, as she lay on her lonely bed, she would fully appreciate the terrible cloud that hung over her, and would weep and beat her pillow, and pray in her wild fantastic way to be delivered from this frightful monster, cut off from communion with all honest men by his unutterable crimes, but who, nevertheless, she was bound to love, honour, and obey, till death should part her from him.
Mrs. Buckley, on the first news of her illness, had come up and taken her quarters at Toonarbin, acting as gentle a nurse as man or woman could desire to have. She took possession of the house, and managed everything. Mrs. Barker, the house-keeper, the only one who did not submit at once to her kindly rule, protested, obstructed, protocolled, presented an ultimatum, and, at last, was so ill advised as to take up arms. There was a short campaign, lasting only one morning — a decisive battle — and Mrs. Barker was compelled to sue for peace. “Had Mr. Troubridge been true to himself,” she said, “she would never have submitted;” but, having given Tom warning, and Tom, in a moment of irritation, having told her, without hesitation or disguise, to go to the devil (no less), she bowed to the circumstances, and yielded.
Agnes Buckley encouraged Dr. Mulhaus, too, in his legal affairs, and, I fear, was the first person who proposed the prosecution for perjury against the sawyer: a prosecution, however, which failed, in consequence of his mate and another friend, who was present at the affair, coming forward to the sawyer’s rescue, and getting into such a labyrinth and mist of perjury, that the Bench (this happened just after quarter sessions) positively refused to hear anything more on either side. Altogether, Agnes Buckley made herself so agreeable, and kept them all so alive, that Tom wondered how he had got on so long without her.
At the end of three weeks Mary was convalescent; and one day, when she was moved into the verandah, Mrs. Buckley beside her, Tom and the Doctor sitting on the step smoking, and Charles sleepily reading aloud “Hamlet,” with a degree of listlessness and want of appreciation unequalled, I should say, by any reader before; at such time, I say, there entered suddenly to them a little-cattle dealer, as brimful of news as an egg of meat. Little Burnside it was: a man about eight stone nothing, who always wore top-boots and other people’s clothes. As he came in, Charles recognised on his legs a pair of cord breeches of his own, with a particular grease patch on the thigh: a pair of breeches he had lent Burnside, and which Burnside had immediately got altered to his own size. A good singer was Burnside. A man who could finish his bottle of brandy, and not go to bed in his boots. A man universally liked and trusted. An honest, hearty, little fellow, yet, one who always lent or spent his money as fast as he got it, and was as poor as Job. The greatest vehicle of news in the district, too. “Snowy river Times,” he used to be called.
After the usual greetings, Tom, seeing he was bursting with something, asked him, “What’s the news?”
Burnside was in the habit of saying that he was like the Lord Mayor’s fool — fond of everything that was good. But his greatest pleasure, the one to which he would sacrifice everything, was retailing a piece of news. This was so great an enjoyment with him that he gloried in dwelling on it, and making the most of it. He used to retail a piece of news, as a perfect novel, in three volumes. In his first he would take care to ascertain that you were acquainted with the parties under discussion; and, if you were not, make you so, throwing in a few anecdotes illustrative of their characters. In In his second, he would grow discursive, giving an episode or two, and dealing in moral reflections and knowledge of human nature rather largely. And in his third he would come smash, crash down on you with the news itself, and leave you gasping.
He followed this plan on the present occasion. He answered Tom’s question by asking —
“Do you know Desborough?”
“Of course I do,” said Tom; “and a noble good fellow he is.”
“Exactly,” said Burnside; “super of police; distinguished in Indian wars; nephew of my Lord Covetown. An Irishman is Desborough, but far from objectionable.”
This by way of first volume: now comes his second:—
“Now, sir, I, although a Scotchman born, and naturally proud of being so, consider that until these wretched national distinctions between the three great nations are obliterated we shall never get on, sir; never. That the Scotch, sir, are physically and intellectually superior ——”
“Physically and intellectually the devil,” burst in Tom. “Pick out any dozen Scotchmen, and I’ll find you a dozen Londoners who will fight them, or deal with them till they’d be glad to get over the borders again. As for the Devon and Cornish lads, find me a Scotchman who will put me on my back, and I’ll write you a cheque for a hundred pounds, my boy. We English opened the trade of the world to your little two millions and a-half up in the north there; and you, being pretty well starved out at home, have had the shrewdness to take advantage of it; and now, by Jove, you try to speak small of the bridge that carried you over. What did you do towards licking the Spaniards; eh? And where would you be now, if they had not been licked in 1588, eh? Not in Australia, my boy! A Frenchman is conceited enough, but, by George, he can’t hold a candle to a Scotchman.”
Tom spoke in a regular passion; but there was some truth in what he said, I think. Burnside didn’t like it, and merely saying, “You interrupt me, sir,” went on to his third volume without a struggle.
“You are aware, ladies, that there has been a gang of bushrangers out to the north, headed by a miscreant, whom his companions call Touan, but whose real name is a mystery.”
Mrs. Buckley said, “Yes;” and Tom glanced at Mary. She had grown as pale as death, and Tom said, “Courage, cousin; don’t be frightened at a name.”
“Well, sir,” continued Burnside, putting the forefinger and thumb of each hand together, as if he was making “windows” with soapsuds, “Captain Desborough has surprised that gang in a gully, sir, and,” spreading his hands out right and left, “obliterated them.”
“The devil!” said Tom, while the Doctor got up and stood beside Mary.
“Smashed them, sir,” continued Burnside; “extinguished them utterly. He had six of his picked troopers with him, and they came on them suddenly and brought them to bay. You see, two troopers have been murdered lately, and so our men, when they got face to face with the cowardly hounds, broke discipline and wouldn’t be held. They hardly fired a shot, but drew their sabres, and cut the dogs down almost to a man. Three only out of twelve have been captured alive, and one of them is dying of a wound in the neck.” And, having finished, little Burnside folded his arms and stood in a military attitude, with the air of a man who had done the thing himself, and was prepared to receive his meed of praise with modesty.
“Courage, Mary,” said Tom; “don’t be frightened at shadows.”— He felt something sticking in his throat, but spoke out nevertheless.
“And their redoubted captain,” he asked; “what has become of him?”
“What, Touan himself?” said Burnside. “Well, I am sorry to say that that chivalrous and high-minded gentleman was found neither among the dead nor the living. Not to mince, matters, sir, he has escaped.”
The Doctor saw Mary’s face quiver, but she bore up bravely, and listened.
“Escaped, has he?” said Tom. “And do they know anything about him?”
“Desborough, who told me this himself,” said Burnside, “says no, that he is utterly puzzled. He had made sure of the arch-rascal himself; but, with that remarkable faculty of saving his own skin which he has exhibited on more than one occasion, he has got off for the time, with one companion.”
“A companion; eh?”
“Yes,” said Burnside, “whereby hangs a bit of romance, if I may profane the word in speaking of such men. His companion is a young fellow, described as being more like a beautiful woman than a man, and bearing the most singular likeness in features to the great Captain Touan himself, who, as you have heard, is a handsome dog. In short, there is very little doubt that they are father and son.”
Tom thought to himself, “Who on earth can this be? What son can George Hawker have, and we not know of it?” He turned to Burnside.
“What age is the young man you speak of?” he asked.
“Twenty, or thereabouts, by all description,” said the other.
Tom thought again: “This gets very strange. He could have no son of that age got in Van Diemen’s Land: it was eight years before he was free. It must be some one we know of. He had some byeblows in Devon, by all accounts. If this is one of them, how the deuce did he get here?”
But he could not think. We shall see presently who it was. Now we must leave these good folks for a time, and just step over to Garoopna, and see how affairs go there.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52