For the Term of His Natural Life

by Marcus Clarke

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Chapter XI: A Relic of Macquarie Harbour

"You must try and save him from further punishment," said Sylvia next day to Frere. "I did not mean to betray the poor creature, but I had made myself nervous by reading that convict's story."

"You shouldn't read such rubbish," said Frere. "What's the use? I don't suppose a word of it's true."

"It must be true. I am sure it's true. Oh, Maurice, these are dreadful men. I thought I knew all about convicts, but I had no idea that such men as these were among them."

"Thank God, you know very little," said Maurice. "The servants you have here are very different sort of fellows from Rex and Company."

"Oh, Maurice, I am so tired of this place. It's wrong, perhaps, with poor papa and all, but I do wish I was somewhere out of the sight of chains. I don't know what has made me feel as I do."

"Come to Sydney," said Frere. "There are not so many convicts there. It was arranged that we should go to Sydney, you know."

"For our honeymoon? Yes," said Sylvia, simply. "I know it was. But we are not married yet."

"That's easily done," said Maurice.

"Oh, nonsense, sir! But I want to speak to you about this poor Dawes. I don't think he meant any harm. It seems to me now that he was rather going to ask for food or something, only I was so nervous. They won't hang him, Maurice, will they?"

"No," said Maurice. "I spoke to your father this morning. If the fellow is tried for his life, you may have to give evidence, and so we came to the conclusion that Port Arthur again, and heavy irons, will meet the case. We gave him another life sentence this morning. That will make the third he has had."

"What did he say?"

"Nothing. I sent him down aboard the schooner at once. He ought to be out of the river by this time." "Maurice, I have a strange feeling about that man."

"Eh?" said Maurice.

"I seem to fear him, as if I knew some story about him, and yet didn't know it."

"That's not very clear," said Maurice, forcing a laugh, "but don't let's talk about him any more. We'll soon be far from Port Arthur and everybody in it."

"Maurice," said she, caressingly, "I love you, dear. You'll always protect me against these men, won't you?"

Maurice kissed her. "You have not got over your fright, Sylvia," he said. "I see I shall have to take a great deal of care of my wife."

"Of course," replied Sylvia.

And then the pair began to make love, or, rather, Maurice made it, and Sylvia suffered him.

Suddenly her eye caught something. "What's that--there, on the ground by the fountain?" They were near the spot where Dawes had been seized the night before. A little stream ran through the garden, and a Triton--of convict manufacture--blew his horn in the middle of a--convict built--rockery. Under the lip of the fountain lay a small packet. Frere picked it up. It was made of soiled yellow cloth, and stitched evidently by a man's fingers. "It looks like a needle-case," said he.

"Let me see. What a strange-looking thing! Yellow cloth, too. Why, it must belong to a prisoner. Oh, Maurice, the man who was here last night!"

"Ay," says Maurice, turning over the packet, "it might have been his, sure enough."

"He seemed to fling something from him, I thought. Perhaps this is it!" said she, peering over his arm, in delicate curiosity. Frere, with something of a scowl on his brow, tore off the outer covering of the mysterious packet, and displayed a second envelope, of grey cloth--the "good-conduct" uniform. Beneath this was a piece, some three inches square, of stained and discoloured merino, that had once been blue.

"Hullo!" says Frere. "Why, what's this?"

"It is a piece of a dress," says Sylvia.

It was Rufus Dawes's talisman--a portion of the frock she had worn at Macquarie Harbour, and which the unhappy convict had cherished as a sacred relic for five weary years.

Frere flung it into the water. The running stream whirled it away. "Why did you do that?" cried the girl, with a sudden pang of remorse for which she could not account. The shred of cloth, caught by a weed, lingered for an instant on the surface of the water. Almost at the same moment, the pair, raising their eyes, saw the schooner which bore Rufus Dawes back to bondage glide past the opening of the trees and disappear. When they looked again for the strange relic of the desperado of Port Arthur, it also had vanished.


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