Troubridge’s Station, Toonarbin, lay so far back from the river, and so entirely on the road to nowhere, that Tom used to remark, that he would back it for being the worst station for news in the country. So it happened that while these terrible scenes were enacting within ten miles of them, down, in fact, to about one o’clock in the day when the bushrangers were overtaken and punished, Mary and her cousin sat totally unconscious of what was going on.
But about eleven o’clock that day, Burnside, the cattle dealer, mentioned once before in these pages, arrived at Major Buckley’s, from somewhere up country, and found the house apparently deserted.
But having coee’d for some time, a door opened in one of the huts, and a sleepy groom came forth, yawning.
“Where are they all?” asked Burnside.
“Mrs. Buckley and the women were down at Mrs. Mayford’s, streaking the bodies out,” he believed. “The rest were gone away after the gang.”
This was the first that Burnside had heard about the matter. And now, bit by bit, he extracted everything from the sleepy groom.
I got him afterwards to confess to me, that when he heard of this terrible affair, his natural feeling of horror was considerably alloyed with pleasure. He saw here at one glance a fund of small talk for six months. He saw himself a welcome visitor at every station, even up to furthest lonely Condamine, retailing the news of these occurrences with all the authenticity of an eye witness, improving his narrative by each repetition. Here was the basis of a new tale, Ode, Epic, Saga, or what you may please to call it, which he Burnside, the bard, should sing at each fireside throughout the land.
“And how are Mrs. and Miss Mayford, poor souls!” he asked.
“They’re as well,” answered the groom, “as you’d expect folks to be after such a mishap. They ran out at the back way and down the garden towards the river before the chaps could burst the door down. I am sorry for that little chap Cecil; I am, by Jove! A straightforward, manly little chap as ever crossed a horse. Last week he says to me, says he, ‘Benjy, my boy,’ says he, ‘come and be groom to me. I’ll give you thirty pound a-year.’ And I says, ‘If Mr. Sam ——’ Hallo, there they are at it, hammer and tongs! Sharp work, that!”
They both listened intensely. They could hear, borne on the west wind, a distant dropping fire and a shouting. The groom’s eye began to kindle a bit, but Burnside, sitting yet upon his horse, grasped the lad’s shoulder and cried, “God save us, suppose our men should be beaten!”
“Suppose,” said the groom, contemptuously shaking him off; “why, then you and I should get our throats cut.”
At this moment the noise of the distant fight breezed up louder than ever.
“They’re beat back,” said Burnside. “I shall be off to Toonarbin, and give them warning. I advise you to save yourself.”
“I was set to mind these here things,” said Benjy, “and I’m a-going to mind ’em. And they as meddles with ’em had better look out.”
Burnside started off for Toonarbin, and when halfway there he paused and listened. The firing had ceased. When he came to reflect, now that his panic was over, he had very little doubt that Desborough’s party had gained the day. It was impossible, he thought, that it could be otherwise.
Nevertheless, being half-way to Toonarbin, he determined to ride on, and, having called in a moment, to follow a road which took a way past Lee’s old hut towards the scene of action. He very soon pulled up at the door, and Tom Troubridge came slowly out to meet him.
“Hallo, Burnside!” said Tom. “Get off, and come in.”
“Not I, indeed. I am going off to see the fight.”
“What fight?” said Mary Hawker, looking over Tom’s shoulder.
“Do you mean to say you have not heard the news?”
“Not a word of any news for a fortnight.”
For once in his life, Burnside was laconic, and told them all that had happened. Tom spoke not a word, but ran up to the stable and had a horse out, saddled in a minute, he was dashing into the house again for his hat and pistols when he came against Mary in the passage, leaning against the wall.
“Tom,” she whispered hoarsely. “Bring that boy back to me safe, or never look me in the face again!”
He never answered her, he was thinking of some one beside the boy. He pushed past her, and the next moment she saw him gallop away with Burnside, followed by two men, and now she was left alone indeed, and helpless.
There was not a soul about the place but herself; not a soul within ten miles. She stood looking out of the door fixedly, at nothing, for a time; but then, as hour by hour went on, and the afternoon stillness fell upon the forest, and the shadows began to slant, a terror began to grow upon her which at length became unbearable, and well-nigh drove her mad.
At the first she understood that all these years of anxiety had come to a point at last, and a strange feeling of excitement, almost joy, came over her. She was one of those impetuous characters who stand suspense worse than anything, and now, although terror was in her, she felt as though relief was nigh. Then she began to think again of her son, but only for an instant. He was under Major Buckley’s care, and must be safe; so she dismissed that fear from her mind for a time, but only for a time. It came back to her again. Why did he not come to her? Why had not the Major sent him off to her at once? Could the Major have been killed? even if so, there was Doctor Mulhaus. Her terrors were absurd.
But not the less terrors that grew in strength hour by hour, as she waited there, looking at the pleasant spring forest, and no one came. Terrors that grew at last so strong, that they took the place of certainties. Some hitch must have taken place, and her boy must be gone out with the rest.
Having got as far as this, to go further was no difficulty. He was killed, she felt sure of it, and none had courage to come and tell her of it. She suddenly determined to verify her thoughts at once, and went in doors to get her hat.
She had fully made up her mind that he must be killed at this time. The hope of his having escaped was gone. We, who know the real state of the case, should tremble for her reason, when she finds her fears so terribly true. We shall see.
She determined to start away to the Brentwoods’, and end her present state of terror one way or another. Tom had taken the only horse in the stable, but her own brown pony was running in the paddock with some others; and she sallied forth, worn out, feverish, halfmad, to try to catch him.
The obstinate brute wouldn’t be caught. Then she spent a weary hour trying to drive them all into the stockyard, but in vain. Three times she, with infinite labour, drove them up to the slip-rack, and each time the same mare and foal broke away, leading off the others. The third time, when she saw them all run whinnying down to the further end of the paddock, after half an hour or so of weary work driving them up, when she had run herself off her poor tottering legs, and saw that all her toil was in vain, then she sank down on the cold hard gravel in the yard, with her long black hair streaming loose along the ground, and prayed that she might die. Down at full length, in front of her own door, like a dead woman, moaning and crying, from time to time, “Oh, my boy, my boy.”
How long she lay there she knew not. She heard a horse’s feet, but only stopped her ears from the news she thought was coming. Then she heard a steady heavy footstep close to her, and some one touched her, and tried to raise her.
She sat up, shook the hair from her eyes, and looked at the man who stood beside her. At first she thought it was a phantom of her own brain, but then looking wildly at the calm, solemn features, and the kindly grey eyes which were gazing at her so inquiringly, she pronounced his name —“Frank Maberly.”
“God save you, madam,” he said. “What is the matter?”
“Misery, wrath, madness, despair!” she cried wildly, raising her hand. “The retribution of a lifetime fallen on my luckless head in one unhappy moment.”
Frank Maberly looked at her in real pity, but a thought went through his head. “What a magnificent actress this woman would make.” It merely past through his brain and was gone, and then he felt ashamed of himself for entertaining it a moment; and yet it was not altogether an unnatural one for him who knew her character so well. She was lying on the ground in an attitude which would have driven Siddons to despair; one white arm, down which her sleeve had fallen, pressed against her forehead, while the other clutched the ground; and her splendid black hair fallen down across her shoulders. Yet how could he say how much of all this wild despair was real, and how much hysterical?
“But what is the matter, Mary Hawker,” he asked. “Tell me, or how can I help you?”
“Matter?” she said. “Listen. The bushrangers are come down from the mountains, spreading ruin, murder, and destruction far and wide. My husband is captain of the gang: and my son, my only son, whom I have loved better than my God, is gone with the rest to hunt them down — to seek, unknowing, his own father’s life. There is mischief beyond your mending, priest!”
Beyond his mending, indeed. He saw it. “Rise up,” he said, “and act. Tell me all the circumstances. Is it too late?”
She told him how it had come to pass, and then he showed her that all her terrors were but anticipations, and might be false. He got her pony for her, and, as night was falling, rode away with her along the mountain road that led to Captain Brentwood’s.
The sun was down, and ere they had gone far, the moon was bright overhead. Frank, having fully persuaded himself that all her terrors were the effect of an overwrought imagination, grew cheerful, and tried to laugh her out of them. She, too, with the exercise of riding through the night-air, and the company of a handsome, agreeable, well-bred man, began to have a lurking idea that she had been making a fool of herself; when they came suddenly on a hut, dark, cheerless, deserted, standing above a black, stagnant, reed-grown waterhole.
The hut where Frank had gone to preach to the stockmen. The hut where Lee had been murdered — an ill-omened place; and as they came opposite to it, they saw two others approaching them in the moonlight — Major Buckley and Alice Brentwood.
Then Alice, pushing forward, bravely met her, and told her all — all, from beginning to end; and when she had finished, having borne up nobly, fell to weeping as though her heart would break. But Mary did not weep, or cry, or fall down. She only said, “Let me see him,” and went on with them, silent and steady.
They got to Garoopna late at night, none having spoken all the way. Then they showed her into the room where poor Charles lay, cold and stiff, and there she stayed hour after hour through the weary night. Alice looked in once or twice, and saw her sitting on the bed which bore the corpse of her son, with her face buried in her hands; and at last, summoning courage, took her by the arm and led her gently to bed.
Then she went into the drawing-room, where, besides her father, were Major Buckley, Doctor Mulhaus, Frank Maberly, and the drunken doctor before spoken of, who had had the sublime pleasure of cutting a bullet from his old adversary’s arm, and was now in a fair way to justify the SOBRIQUET I have so often applied to him. I myself also was sitting next the fire, alongside of Frank Maberly.
“My brave girl,” said the Major, “how is she?”
“I hardly can tell you, sir,” said Alice; “she is so very quiet. If she would cry now, I should be very glad. It would not frighten me so much as seeing her like that. I fear she will die!”
“If her reason holds,” said the Doctor, “she will get over it. She had, from all accounts, gone through every phase of passion, down to utter despair, before she knew the blow had fallen. Poor Mary!”
There, we have done. All this misery has come on her from one act of folly and selfishness years ago. How many lives are ruined, how many families broken up, by one false step! If ever a poor soul has expiated her own offence, she has. Let us hope that brighter times are in store for her. Let us have done with moral reflections; I am no hand at that work. One more dark scene, reader, and then. —
It was one wild dreary day in the spring; a day of furious wind and cutting rain; a day when few passengers were abroad, and when the boatmen were gathered in knots among the sheltered spots upon the quays, waiting to hear of disasters at sea; when the ships creaked and groaned at the wharfs, and the harbour was a sheet of wind-driven foam, and the domain was strewed with broken boughs. On such a day as this, Major Buckley and myself, after a sharp walk, found ourselves in front of the principal gaol in Sydney.
We were admitted, for we had orders; and a small, wiry, clever-looking man about fifty bowed to us as we entered the white-washed corridor, which led from the entrance hall. We had a few words with him, and then followed him.
To the darkest passage in the darkest end, of that dreary place; to the condemned cells. And my heart sank as the heavy bolt shot back, and we went into the first one on the right.
Before us was a kind of bed-place. And on that bedplace lay the figure of a man. Though it is twenty years ago since I saw it, I can remember that scene as though it were yesterday.
He lay upon a heap of tumbled blankets, with his face buried in a pillow. One leg touched the ground, and round it was a ring, connecting the limb to a long iron bar, which ran along beneath the bed. One arm also hung listlessly on the cold stone floor, and the other was thrown around his head, a head covered with short black curls, worthy of an Antinous, above a bare muscular neck, worthy of a Farnese Hercules. I advanced towards him.
The governor held me back. “My God, sir,” he said, “take care. Don’t, as you value your life, go within length of his chain.” But at that moment the handsome head was raised from the pillow, and my eyes met George Hawker’s. Oh, Lord! such a piteous wild look. I could not see the fierce desperate villain who had kept our country-side in terror so long. No, thank God, I could only see the handsome curly-headed boy who used to play with James Stockbridge and myself among the gravestones in Drumston churchyard. I saw again the merry lad who used to bathe with us in Hatherleigh water, and whom, with all his faults, I had once loved well. And seeing him, and him only, before me, in spite of a terrified gesture from the governor, I walked up to the bed, and, sitting down beside him, put my arm round his neck.
“George! George! Dear old friend!” I said. “O George, my boy, has it come to this?”
I don’t want to be instructed in my duty. I know what my duty was on that occasion as well as any man. My duty as a citizen and a magistrate was to stand at the further end of the cell, and give this hardened criminal a moral lecture, showing how honesty and virtue, as in my case, had led to wealth and honour, and how yielding to one’s passions led to disgrace and infamy, as in his. That was my duty, I allow. But then, you see, I didn’t do my duty. I had a certain tender feeling about my stomach which prevented me from doing it. So I only hung there, with my arm round his neck, and said, from time to time, “O George, George!” like a fool.
He put his two hands upon my shoulders, so that his fetters hung across my breast; and he looked me in the face. Then he said, after a time, “What! Hamlyn? Old Jeff Hamlyn! The only man I ever knew that I didn’t quarrel with! Come to see me now, eh? Jeff, old boy, I’m to be hung tomorrow.”
“I know it,” I said. “And I came to ask you if I could do anything for you. For the sake of dear old Devon, George.”
“Anything you like, old Jeff,” he said, with a laugh, “so long as you don’t get me reprieved. If I get loose again, lad, I’d do worse than I ever did yet, believe me. I’ve piled up a tolerable heap of wickedness as it is, though. I’ve murdered my own son, Jeff. Do you know that?”
I answered —“Yes; I know that, George; but that was an accident. You did not know who he was.”
“He came at me to take my life,” said Hawker. “And I tell you, as a man who goes out to be hung tomorrow, that, if I had guessed who he was, I’d have blown my own brains out to save him from the crime of killing me. Who is that man?”
“Don’t you remember him?” I said. “Major Buckley.”
The Major came forward, and held out his hand to George Hawker. “You are now,” he said, “like a dead man to me. You die tomorrow; and you know it; and face it like a man. I come to ask you to forgive me anything you may have to forgive. I have been your enemy since I first saw you: but I have been an honest and open enemy; and now I am your enemy no longer. I ask you to shake hands with me. I have been warned not to come within arm’s length of you, chained as you are. But I am not afraid of you.”
The Major came and sat on the bed-place beside him.
“As for that little animal,” said George Hawker, pointing to the governor as he stood at the further end of the cell, “if he comes within reach of me, I’ll beat his useless little brains out against the wall, and he knows it. He was right to caution you not to come too near me. I nearly killed a man yesterday: and tomorrow, when they come to lead me out —— But, with regard to you, Major Buckley, the case is different. Do you know I should be rather sorry to tackle you; I’m afraid you would be too heavy for me. As to my having anything to forgive, Major, I don’t know that there is anything. If there is, let me tell you that I feel more kind and hearty towards you and Hamlyn for coming to me like this today, than I’ve felt towards any man this twenty year. By-the-bye; let no man go to the gallows without clearing himself as far as he may. Do you know that I set on that red-haired villain, Moody, to throttle Bill Lee, because I hadn’t pluck to do it myself.”
“Poor Lee,” said the Major.
“Poor devil,” said Hawker. “Why that man had gone through every sort of villany, from” (so and so up to so and so, he said; I shall not particularize) “before my beard was grown. Why that man laid such plots and snares for me when I was a lad, that a bishop could not have escaped. He egged me on to forge my own father’s name. He drove me on to ruin. And now, because it suited his purpose to turn honest, and act faithful domestic to my wife for twenty years, he is mourned for as an exemplary character, and I go to the gallows. He was a meaner villain than ever I was.”
“George,” I asked, “have you any message for your wife?”
“Only this,” he said; “tell her I always liked her pretty face, and I’m sorry I brought disgrace upon her. Through all my rascalities, old Jeff, I swear to you that I respected and liked her to the last. I tried to see her last year, only to tell her that she needn’t be afraid of me, and should treat me as a dead man; but she and her blessed pig-headed lover, Tom Troubridge, made such knife and pistol work of it, that I never got the chance of saying the word I wanted. She’d have saved herself much trouble if she hadn’t acted so much like a frightened fool. I never meant her any harm. You may tell her all this if you judge right, but I leave it to you. Time’s up, I see. I ain’t so much of a coward, am I, Jeff? Good-bye, old lad, good-bye.”
That was the last we saw of him; the next morning he was executed with four of his comrades. But now the Major and I, leaving him, went out again into the street, into the rain and the furious wind, to beat up against it for our hotel. Neither spoke a word till we came to a corner in George Street, nearest the wharf: and there the Major turned back upon me suddenly and I thought he had been unable to face the terrible gust which came sweeping up from the harbour: but it was not so. He had turned on purpose, and putting his hands upon my shoulders, he said —
“Hamlyn, Hamlyn, you have taught me a lesson.”
“I suppose so,” I said. “I have shown you what a fool a tender-hearted soft-headed fellow may make of himself by yielding to his impulses. But I have a defence to offer, my dear sir, the best of excuses, the only real excuse existing in this world. I couldn’t help it.”
“I don’t mean that, Hamlyn,” he answered. “The lesson you have taught me is a very different one. You have taught me that there are bright points in the worst man’s character, a train of good feeling which no tact can bring out, but yet which some human spark of feeling may light. Here is this man Hawker, of whom we heard that he was dangerous to approach, and whom the good chaplain was forced to pray for and exhort from a safe distance. The man for whose death, till ten minutes ago, I was rejoicing. The man I thought lost, and beyond hope. Yet you, by one burst of unpremeditated folly, by one piece of silly sentimentality; by ignoring the man’s later life, and carrying him back in imagination to his old schoolboy days, have done more than our good old friend the Chaplain could have done without your assistance. There is a spark of the Divine in the worst of men, if you can only find it.”
In spite of the Major’s parliamentary and didactic way of speaking, I saw there was truth at the bottom of what he said, and that he meant kindly to me, and to the poor fellow who was even now among the dead; so instead of arguing with him, I took his arm, and we fought homewards together through the driving rain.
Imagine three months to have passed. That stormy spring had changed into a placid, burning summer. The busy shearing-time was past; the noisy shearers were dispersed, heaven knows where (most of them probably suffering from a shortness of cash, complicated with delirium tremens). The grass in the plains had changed from green to dull grey; the river had changed his hoarse roar for a sleepy murmur, as though too lazy to quarrel with his boulders in such weather. A hot dull haze was over forest and mountain. The snow had perspired till it showed long black streaks on the highest eminences. In short, summer had come with a vengeance; every one felt hot, idle, and thirsty, and “there was nothing doing.”
Now that broad cool verandah of Captain Brentwood’s, with its deep recesses of shadow, was a place not to be lightly spoken of. Any man once getting footing there, and leaving it, except on compulsion, would show himself of weak mind. Any man once comfortably settled there in an easy chair, who fetched anything for himself when he could get any one else to fetch it for him, would show himself, in my opinion, a man of weak mind. One thing only was wanted to make it perfect, and that was niggers. To the winds with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and “Dred” after it, in a hot wind! What can an active-minded, self-helpful lady like Mrs. Stowe, freezing up there in Connecticut, obliged to do something to keep herself warm — what can she, I ask, know about the requirements of a southern gentleman when the thermometer stands at 125 degrees in the shade? Pish! Does she know the exertion required for cutting up a pipe of tobacco in a hot north wind? No! Does she know the amount of perspiration and anger superinduced by knocking the head off a bottle of Bass in January? Does she know the physical prostration which is caused by breaking up two lumps of hard white sugar in a pawnee before a thunderstorm? No, she doesn’t, or she would cry out for niggers with the best of us! When the thermometer gets over 100 degrees in the shade, all men would have slaves if they were allowed. An Anglo–Saxon conscience will not, save in rare instances, bear a higher average heat than 95 degrees.
But about this verandah. It was the model and type of all verandahs. It was made originally by the Irish family, the Donovans, before spoken of; and, like all Irish-made things, was nobly conceived, beautifully carried out, and then left to take care of itself, so that when Alice came into possession, she found it a neglected mine of rare creepers run wild. Here, for the first time, I saw the exquisite crimson passion-flower, then a great rarity. Here, too, the native passion-flower, scarlet and orange, was tangled up with the common purple sarsaparilla and the English honeysuckle and jessamine.
In this verandah, one blazing morning, sat Mrs. Buckley and Alice making believe to work. Mrs. Buckley really was doing something. Alice sat with her hands fallen on her lap, so still and so beautiful, that she might then and there have been photographed off by some enterprising artist, and exhibited in the printshops as “Argia, Goddess of Laziness.”
They were not alone, however. Across the very coolest, darkest corner was swung a hammock, looking at which you might perceive two hands elevating a green paper-covered book, as though the owner were reading — the aforesaid owner, however, being entirely invisible, only proving his existence by certain bulges and angles in the canvas of the hammock.
Now, having made a nice little mystery as to who it was lying there, I will proceed to solve it. A burst of laughter came from the hidden man, so uproarious and violent, that the hammock-strings strained and shook, and the magpie, waking up from a sound sleep, cursed and swore in a manner fearful to hear.
“My dearest Jim!” said Alice, rousing herself, “What is the matter with you?”
Jim read aloud the immortal battle of the two editors, with their carpet bags, in “Pickwick,” and, ere he had half done, Alice and Mrs. Buckley had mingled their laughter with his, quite as heartily, if not so loudly.
“Hallo!” said Jim; “here’s a nuisance! There’s no more of it. Alice, have you got any more?”
“That is all, Jim. The other numbers will come by the next mail.”
“How tiresome! I suppose the governor is pretty sure to be home to-night. He can’t be away much longer.”
“Don’t be impatient, my dear,” said Alice. “How is your leg?”
Please to remember that Jim’s leg was broken in the late wars, and, as yet, hardly well.
“Oh, it’s a good deal better. Heigho! This is very dull.”
“Thank you, James!” said Mrs. Buckley. “Dear me! the heat gets greater every day. If they are on the road, I hope they won’t hurry themselves.”
Our old friends were just now disposed in the following manner:—
The Major was at home. Mary Hawker was staying with him. Doctor Mulhaus and Halbert staying at Major Brentwood’s, while Captain Brentwood was away with Sam and Tom Troubridge to Sydney; and, having been absent some weeks, had been expected home now for a day or two. This was the day they came home, riding slowly up to the porch about five o’clock.
When all greetings were done, and they were sat down beside the others, Jim opened the ball by asking, “What news, father?”
“What a particularly foolish question!” said the Captain. “Why, you’ll get it all in time — none the quicker for being impatient. May be, also, when you hear some of the news, you won’t like it!”
“Oh, indeed!” said Jim.
“I have a letter for you here, from the Commander-inChief. You are appointed to the 3-th Regiment, at present quartered in India.”
Alice looked at him quickly as she heard this, and, as a natural consequence, Sam looked too. They had expected that he would have hurra’d aloud, or thrown up his hat, or danced about, when he heard of it. But no; he only sat bolt upright in his hammock, though his face flushed scarlet, and his eyes glistened strangely.
His father looked at him an instant, and then continued —
“Six months’ leave of absence procured at the same time, which will give you about three months more at home. So you see you now possess the inestimable privilege of wearing a red coat; and what is still better, of getting a hole made in it; for there is great trouble threatening with the Affghans and Beloochs, and the chances are that you will smell powder before you are up in your regimental duties. Under which circumstances I shall take the liberty of requesting that you inform yourself on these points under my direction, for I don’t want you to join your regiment in the position of any other booby. Have the goodness to lie down again and not excite yourself. You have anticipated this some time. Surely it is not necessary for you to cry about it like a great girl.”
But that night, after dark, when Sam and Alice were taking one of those agreeable nocturnal walks, which all young lovers are prone to, they came smoothly gliding over the lawn close up to the house, and then, unseen and unheard, they saw Captain Brentwood with his arm round Jim’s neck, and heard him say —
“O James! James! why did you want to leave me?”
And Jim answered. “Father, I didn’t know. I didn’t know my own mind. But I can’t call back now.”
Sam and Alice slipt back again, and continued their walk. Let us hear what conversation they had been holding together before this little interruption.
“Alice, my darling, my love, you are more beautiful than ever!”
“Thanks to your absence, my dear Sam. You see how well I thrive without you.”
“Then when we are ——”
“Well?” said Alice. For this was eight o’clock in the evening, you know, and the moon being four days past the full, it was pitch dark. “Well?” says she.
“When we are married,” says Sam, audaciously, “I suppose you will pine away to nothing.”
“Good gracious me!” she answered. “Married? Why surely we are well enough as we are.”
“Most excellently well, my darling,” said Sam. “I wish it could last for ever.”
“Oh, indeed!” said Alice, almost inaudibly though.
“Alice, my love,” said Sam, “have you thought of one thing? Have you thought that I must make a start in life for myself?”
No, she hadn’t thought of that. Didn’t see why Baroona wasn’t good enough for him.
“My dear!” he said. “Baroona is a fine property, but it is not mine. I want money for a set purpose. For a glorious purpose, my love! I will not tell you yet, not for years perhaps, what that purpose is. But I want fifty thousand pounds of my own. And fifty thousand pounds I will have.”
Good gracious! What an avaricious creature. Such a quantity of money. And so she wasn’t to hear what he was going to do with it, for ever so many years. Wouldn’t he tell her now? She would so like to know. Would nothing induce him?
Yes, there was something. Nay, what harm! Only an honest lover’s kiss, among the ripening grapes. In the dark, you say. My dear madam, you would not have them kiss one another in broad day, with the cook watching them out of the kitchen window?
“Alice,” he said, “I have had one object before me from my boyhood, and since you told me that I was to be your husband, that object has grown from a vague intention to a fixed purpose. Alice, I want to buy back the acres of my forefathers; I wish, I intend, that another Buckley shall be the master of Clere, and that you shall be his wife.”
“Sam, my love!” she said, turning on him suddenly. “What a magnificent idea. Is it possible?”
“Easy,” said Sam. “My father could do it, but will not. He and my mother have severed every tie with the old country, and it would be at their time of life only painful to go back to the old scenes and interests. But with me it is different. Think of you and I taking the place we are entitled to by birth and education, in the splendid society of that noble island. Don’t let me hear all that balderdash about the founding of new empires. Empires take too long in growing for me. What honours, what society, has this little colony to give, compared to those open to a fourth-rate gentleman in England? I want to be a real Englishman, not half a one. I want to throw in my lot heart and hand with the greatest nation in the world. I don’t want to be young Sam Buckley of Baroona. I want to be the Buckley of Clere. Is not that a noble ambition?”
“My whole soul goes with you, Sam,” said Alice. “My whole heart and soul. Let us consult, and see how this is to be done.”
“This is the way the thing stands,” said Sam. “The house and park at Clere, were sold by my father for 12,000L. to a brewer. Since then, this brewer, a most excellent fellow by all accounts, has bought back, acre by acre, nearly half the old original property as it existed in my great grandfather’s time, so that now Clere must be worth fifty thousand pounds at least. This man’s children are all dead; and as far as Captain Brentwood has been able to find out for me, no one knows exactly how the property is going. The present owner is the same age as my father; and at his death, should an advantageous offer be made, there would be a good chance of getting the heirs to sell the property. We should have to pay very highly for it, but consider what a position we should buy with it. The county would receive us with open arms. That is all I know at present.”
“A noble idea,” said Alice, “and well considered. Now what are you going to do?”
“Have you heard tell yet,” said Sam, “of the new country to the north, they call the Darling Downs?”
“I have heard of it, from Burnside the cattle dealer. He describes it as a paradise of wealth.”
“He is right. When you get through the Cypress, the plains are endless. It is undoubtedly the finest piece of country found yet. Now do you know Tom Troubridge?”
“Slightly enough,” said Alice, laughing.
“Well,” said Sam. “You know he went to Sydney with us, and before he had been three days there he came to me full of this Darling Down country. Quite mad about it in fact. And in the end he said: ‘Sam, what money have you got?’ I said that my father had promised me seven thousand pounds for a certain purpose, and that I had come to town partly to look for an investment. He said, ‘Be my partner;’ and I said, ‘What for?’ ‘Darling Downs,’ he said. And I said I was only too highly honoured by such a mark of confidence from such a man, and that I closed with his offer at once. To make a long matter short, he is off to the new country to take up ground under the name of Troubridge and Buckley. There!”
“But oughtn’t you to have gone up with him, Sam?”
“I proposed to do so, as a matter of course,” said Sam. “But what do you think he said?”
“I don’t know.”
“He gave me a great slap on the back,” said Sam; “and, said he, ‘Go home, my old lad, marry your wife, and fetch her up to keep house.’ That’s what he said. And now, my own love, my darling, will you tell me, am I to go up alone, and wait for you; or will you come up, and make a happy home for me in that dreary desert? Will you leave your home, and come away with me into the grey hot plains of the west?”
“I have no home in future, Sam,” she said, “but where you are, and I will gladly go with you to the world’s end.”
And so that matter was settled.
And now Sam disclosed to her that a visitor was expected at the station in about a fortnight or three weeks; and he was no less a person than our old friend the dean, Frank Maberly. And then he went to ask, did she think that she could manage by that time to — eh? Such an excellent opportunity, you know; seemed almost as if his visit had been arranged, which, between you and I, it had.
She thought it wildly possible, if there was any real necessity for it. And after this they went in; and Alice went into her bedroom.
“And what have you been doing out there with Alice all this time, eh?” asked the Captain.
“I’ve been asking a question, sir.”
“You must have put it in a pretty long form. What sort of an answer did you get?”
“I got ‘yes’ for an answer, sir.”
“Ah, well! Mrs. Buckley, can you lend Baroona to a new married couple for a few weeks, do you think? There is plenty of room for you here.”
And then into Mrs. Buckley’s astonished ear all the new plans were poured. She heard that Sam and Alice were to be married in a fortnight, and that Sam had gone into partnership with Tom Troubridge.
“Stop there,” she said; “not too much at once. What becomes of Mary Hawker?”
“She is left at Toonarbin, with an overseer, for the present.”
“And when,” she asked, “shall you leave us, Sam?”
“Oh, in a couple of months, I suppose. I must give Tom time to get a house up before I go and join him. What a convenient thing a partner like that is, eh?”
“Oh, by-the-bye, Mrs. Buckley,” said Captain Brentwood, “what do you make of this letter?”
He produced a broad thick letter, directed in a bold running hand,
“Baroonah, Combermere County,
“If absent, to be left with the nearest magistrate, and a receipt taken for it.”
“How very strange,” said Mrs. Buckley, turning it over. “Where did you get it?”
“Sergeant Jackson asked me, as nearest magistrate, to take charge of it; and so I did. It has been forwarded by orderly from Sydney.”
“And the Governor’s private seal, too,” said Mrs. Buckley. “I don’t know when my curiosity has been so painfully excited. Put it on the chimney-piece, Sam; let us gaze on the outside, even if we are denied to see the inside. I wonder if your father will come tonight?”
“No; getting too late,” said Sam. “Evidently Halbert and the Doctor have found themselves there during their ride, and are keeping him and Mrs. Hawker company. They will all three be over tomorrow morning, depend on it.”
“What a really good fellow that Halbert is,” said Captain Brentwood. “One of the best companions I ever met. I wish his spirits would improve with his health. A sensitive fellow like him is apt not to recover from a blow like his.”
“What blow?” said Mrs. Buckley.
“Did you never hear?” said the Captain. “The girl he was going to be married to got drowned coming out to him in the Assam.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56