THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
BROCKLEBANK’S TENT. A TALE OF UNFOUNDED ACCUSATION. “I have this day received information cf a most startling character.” “Indeed ! ” “You saw me talking to Superintendent Roberts, did you not I ” “I don’t know Superintendent Roberts,” I returned. “No, I forgot, you are a new chum. Well, Roberts gave me some very valuable information, you will be astonished, as I was, when you hear it. We are living, Mr. Barker, in a den of thieves and murderers. ” “ I have always understood,” I replied, “ that there are a great many bad characters on the diggings, hut—” “ I am not speaking generally, I allude to our own immediate neighborhood—our own so-called acquaintances, companions, and friends. I will begin with Fry.” ‘ ‘ Fry ! 1 thought you knew his family in Liverpool, and that his father was a highly respected horse-dealer there! ” “So I believed, but I was mistaken. Fry is a thorough-paced villain. He has already been twice convicted of burglary.” “ Good Heavens, can this be true 1 ” “ I have all the documents to prove my assertions tied up in this bundle,” continued Brocklebank, in the most businesslike tone. As for that old Scotchman, Adamson—” “Adamson! I should have believed him to be a most worthy old fellow.” ‘ ‘ Mr. I’arker, you are very young, and appearances are deceitful. Adamson is a desperate character, an escaped prisoner from Port Arthur, a monster stained with innumerable crimes. But the Langfords, in Bjiite of their plausible outward aspect, are the worst wretches of all. From their earliest years they have pursued a career of Hark !” he exclaimed, springing to this feet, and grasping his revolver, “ they are coining now.” He pointed his weapon towards the four corners of the tent, and continued, 1 ‘ They are coming from north, east, south, and west. ” As he spoke his face changed, his eyes glittered with the baleful glare of insanity. I once more beheld the terrific figure which I had believed to he the offspring of a brain oppressed with nightmare, but which I now perceived, too plainly, to be a sad reality. Brocklebank’s exclamations w T ere not altogether based on delusion. Rapid footsteps were without doubt approaching the tent, for the bull-dog began to growl ominously. A moment later I heard a well-known voice saying, ‘ ‘ Down, Boxer ; don’t you know us, old fellow ?” “It’s Langford,” I remarked, in an explanatory tone, being convinced by this time that Brocklebank was laboring under some unaccountable delusion. The words were scarcely out of my mouth, when he uttered a sharp cry of anger, and suddenly seizing me by the collar flung me on my knees. The next instant I saw the muzzle of his revolver pointed at my head. “Parker,” he shouted, “ you are a traitor, a traitor and a villian ; you are in league with the rest of the gang. I must kill you. ” My chances of escape would have been small, for the whole of this terrific scene had been enacted in a few seconds ; but at that critical moment, when the homicide’s hand was on the trigger, the frail canvas door of the tent was thrown open, and Langford and Adamson burst in. Langford immediately threw himself on Brocklebank, while Adamson seized the wrist of the murderous hand which held the revolver. The shot which, a few moments earlier, would assuredly have penetrated my brain, passed harmlessly through the roof of the tent. After a brief struggle the unfortunate maniac, for such I now plainly perceived him to bo, was secured, and held in safe custody till daylight. Langford lost no time in communicating with Melbourne, where Brocklebank, who had been settled for several years in the colony, had many friends, who held him in high estimation. We afterwards learnt that, some years before, when at home in Liverpool, he had shown symptoms of mental derangement, but that he had apparently been perfectly cured. The doctors recommended him, on his recovery, to seek a totally new sphere of action, and he had accordingly emigrated to the southern hemisphere. Since his arrival in Victoria no one had detected in him any traces of insanity, but the seeds of that fell malady had evidently only lain dormant, and had suddenly sprung up in full vigor. A few days later, after a careful medical examination, the poor fellow was removed from Iron Back Gully to the Lunatic Asylum at the Yarra Bend, near Melbourne. lam not aware what became of him subsequently It was doubtless in the confusion of mind common in cases of approaching insanity, that he had forgotten where he had placed the two parcels of gold which had caused me so much trouble.
As for myself, I shortly afterwards heard news of my London friends, who came out by the John Taylor, but found out that neither of them was a suitable companion for one who was determined to serve a steady apprenticeship to the trade of gold-digging. Hard manual labor did not suit them; they only stayed three weeks on the mines, and then gave up the profession in disgust. They afterwards obtained more congenial occupations, the one as assistant in a ready-made clothes mart in Great Bourke street, the other as advertisement collector to a Geelong newspaper of limited circulation. I was, therefore, w T ell content to remain in company with Langford and Adamson. I worked for twelve months with them, and could not possibly have fallen in with pleasanter or more trustworthy companions. None of us, however, made our fortunes at gold-digging. We toiled steadily and perseveringly, we seldom sank a hole that had not some gold in, yet, on reckoning up our earnings at the end of the year, we found that we had prospered about as well as Victorian day laborers in constant employment, that is, we had earned about ten shillings a day apiece. Notwithstanding this comparative ill-success, I shall always recollect with satisfaction the time I spent on the Bendigo gold-field, for I Laid in a stock of vigorous health and self-reliance, which are better worth having than a tin dish full of nuggets. At the same time I never see an alleged thief in custody without remembering that I once stood in that painful position, and thanking God for my providential escape. CONCLUDED. A CRITICAL POSITION. AN AD VENTURE AT SEA. On our homeward voyage from the East in the good ship Shepherd Mary, we had, for some time, had such unfavorable winds that there seemed little prospect of our making even a decent passage of it. When in India we had boasted much of the splendid sailing qualities of our vessel, and had set our hearts upon making a glorious run, for many and heavy bets had been made on us. She was indeed a noble vessel, but at times we were becalmed for days together, so that she really had not a fair chance ; at other times we would have gales right in our teeth, and after beating about for many days we found that but little progress had been made., The Cape of Good Hope was reached at last, and when about a hundred miles to the southward we got a fair wind and plenty of it. The weather for some days previously had been very unsettled, the wind flying about to all points of the compass. One
evening, however, the sun set red and angrily, and it was evident that a gale from some quarter was imminent. As I have said, it was in our favor, and right glad we were. For two days we bowled along, running right before it under a heavy press of sail. With feelings of exultation wc saw our gallant ship bound over the foam, for as she tore through each successive wave we felt that we were by so much nearer home. The huge, white albatross came wheeling round, and with fierce swoop and angry scream contrasted with the familiar litt’e Cape pigeons that fluttered under our stern in vast numbers ; whilst the stormy petrels piped shrilly as they skimmed along the wreaths of white foam left in our ocean track. On every hand, to the horizon, the great sea was ploughed into gigantic, white-ridged furrows by the strength of the gale, and the whole surface was covered with a white drift of blinding spray blown from the crests of the surging billows. We had been making an average of fourteen knots an hour, and although the outward bound vessels were wrestling with the breeze under double-reefed topsails, our skipper was not content with setting all his light sails, but must needs carrying his studding-sails as well. It will be well here to remark that a ship’s studding-sails are set outside the square sails, on booms which extend from the yards, half the length of the yards themselves ; they are only available with fair winds. As each additional sail was spread, the ship flew through the water with increased speed, and plunged madly through the seas, as though no earthly power could stop her. The last sail requiring more care and management than the others, I went on the forecastle to assist in setting it. The vessel was rolling slowly but heavily, and the operation was one of no ordinary difficulty. The skipper remained on the poop, superintending the whole thing, and occasionally favoring us with a savage growl. The sail was about half set, and I was slacking away a rope attached to it and leading through a block at the topmast head, when, the breeze suddenly freshening, the skipper shouted to us to keep all fast, and not set the sail. But he was too late. The wind filling the sail, put such a sudden strain on the rope to which I was holding, that it took me off my feet, and with the roll of the ship I swung out about fifty feet from the vessel’s side, and there remained suspended from the masthead like a plummet. As I felt the sickening sweep of my rush through the air, I instinctively closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them, while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death struggles with the water. Moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. I took courage, and looked around, and then 1 fully realised the horror of my situation. Death—inevitable death —stared mo in the face. Were the rope to break —and if was a very old one —I must drop into the sea, and drown before the eyes of my comrades. No boat of ours could float in such a sea. If the ship rolled over a few degrees more, I should he so lowered that I should drag in the water. This could be but for an instant, for the rope, my only hope, would he torn from my grasp. No hands could stand the strain of a body towing through the tvater at the rate of sixteen knots an hour.
Worst of all, when the vessel rolled back in the opposite direction, I should acquire such a frightful velocity, on account of the great length of my rope, that I could not fail to be dashed to pieces against the ship’s side, her mast, or rigging. In the last case, the rigging formed by no means the least part of the danger. By reason of the enormous strain, it more resembled a system of iron bars than of flexible ropes. Strangely enough, the vessel would not roll over the other way. I was told afterwards that I was hanging thus for more than five minutes before she took her back roll. I should have thought that it had been five hours. Every second seemed an eternity ; and yet I began to dread the time when I should swing in. The rope was about the thickness of my little finger. It burned and cut into my hands like a red hot bar. Close beneath my feet the angry waves leaped up and hissed at me as though impatient of their prey. Once —ay, twice—my feet dragged in the raging, seething foam, and as the cold wet spray dashed in my face, I thought the end had come. Would she never roll in 2 I began to get giddy with watching the waves at my feet as they seemed to tear past with frightful rapidity. I speculated as to whether it would be better to let go and drown quietly, or hold on and be smashed against the ship’s side, and then fall back, mutilated and stunned, into the sea. By holding on I should defer the fatal moment, but the end would be more horrible. Then I watched the great ship proudly dashing the opposing seas from her sharp bows, sending them crashing back in huge cataracts of flashing foam, baffled and beaten in their vain attempts to check her headlong career. Aloft towered a cloud of snowy canvas, making the strong spars bend like fishing-rods, whilst the wind in the rigging seemed to my excited imagination to be chanting a weird requiem, h ever had I seen that gallant ship look so noble, and the tears filled my eyes as I thought how soon I should see her sailing away from mo, and leaving me to my ineffectual struggle with the hungry albatross and more voracious waves.
It is only, I think in times of extreme peril that one can realise the intensity of emotion with which the mind is effected by the thought suggested by the little word “ home.lt is simply indescribable, and is therefore only to be known by actual experience. I hope that none of my readers may ever experience it. I felt myself getting more and more giddy, when I observed a giant wave, a very mountain of water, approaching the ship. It rushed under my feet, on, on towards the vessel, and with a crash against her broadside seemed to bury her; but in an instant she shook the water off, and rolled heavily over from the force of the blow. The same fearful swing through the air, but with double the velocity of my outward rush. I cleared the ship’s side and rigging, and sped on like a thunderbolt straight for the mast. At that instant I felt many hands clutch me by the feet. I was dragged down to the deck, my head falling at the foot of the foremast. The men had watched my swinging in, and as I swept over their heads, they w r ere just able to seize me by the heels, and thus I was saved. Had I been ten inches higher I should have been out of reach.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 78, 25 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 78, 25 March 1880
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