Moondyne/The Darkness of Desolation

The recovery of Captain Draper was regarded as a good omen by the sailors and convicts; and with a return of confidence to them the fever daily declined.

The average of recoveries grew larger, and there were few new seizures.

From the day of his interview with Harriet, Draper saw her no more. Neither did he see Mr. Wyville. The steward alone attended him. He was forced to ponder on the future, and every new possibility was harder to accept than the last. During those days of convalescence, his coward soul preyed upon by his villainous imagination, Draper suffered almost the torments of the damned.

When the heartbroken Harriet recovered from the excitement of the dreadful interview, her soul had only one feeling—remorse. As one dying of thirst might sit down on the burning sand, and commune with the devouring fire in the body, so this unhappy one sat upon her pallet in the hospital room, and communed for hours with the newly-lighted consuming fire in her soul.

At last Mr. Wyville entered the hospital, with the physician. He approached Harriet, and spoke in a low tone, such as he had used when addressing her once before.

"Do you remember me?"

She looked at him in surprise, at first; but, as she continued to gaze, there rose in her mind a recollection that brought the blood strongly from her heart. She clasped her hands beseechingly.

"I thought I had dreamt it in the cell—I did not know that it was real. Oh, sir, did you not come to me and speak blessed words of comfort? Did you not say that he was guilty of part of my crime?"

"Yes; it was I who visited you in Walton-le-Dale. I come now to say the same words—to ask you to save the innocent one who has borne your penalty."

"Thank Heaven, it is not too late! This moment let me do what is to be done. Oh, Sir, I know now the whole of my crime—I never saw it till this day. I never pitied her nor thought of her; but now, when I could ask for even God's pardon, I dare not ask for hers."

Seeing Harriet in this repentant mind, Mr. Wyville lost no time in having her confession formally taken down and witnessed. This done, he spoke comforting words to Harriet, who, indeed, was relieved by the confession, and felt happier than she had been for years. Assembling the officers of the convict service in the cabin, immediately afterwards, Mr. Wyville took his first step as Comptroller-General, by announcing that Alice Walmsley was no longer a prisoner, that her innocence had been fully established by the confession of the real criminal, and that henceforth she was to be treated respectfully as a passenger.

When this news was given to Sister Cecilia, she almost lost her placid self-control in an outburst of happiness. But she controlled herself, and only wept for very gladness. Then she started up, and almost ran towards her secluded room, to break the tidings to Alice.

Alice was sewing when Sister Cecilia entered. She had acquired a habit of sewing during her long solitary confinement, and now she was happiest while working at a long seam. She smiled pleasantly as Sister Cecilia entered.

The kind little nun almost regretted that she bore news that would break the calm stream of Alice's life. She was happy as she was; would she be happier under better circumstances? Would the awakened memories counterbalance or sink the benefit?

"Good news, Alice!"

Alice looked up from her sewing inquiringly.

"Is the fever over at last?" she asked.

"Better than that, my child," said Sister Cecilia, sitting clown beside her, and putting an arm around her with tender affection. "I have special good news, that will gladden every kind heart on the ship. One of our prisoners, who has been in prison a long time, has been proved innocent, and has been made free by order of the Comptroller-General!"

As Sister Cecilia spoke, she still embraced Alice, and looked down at her face. But there was no perceptible change, except a slight contraction of the brow-muscles denoting awakened interest.

"And she, who was a poor prisoner an hour ago, is now a respected passenger on the Queen's ship!" continued Sister Cecilia, lightly; but in truth she was alarmed at Alice's calmness.

"It is a woman, then?" said Alice.

"Yes, dear; a woman who has been nine years in prison, suffering for another's crime. And that other has confessed— Alice! Alice!" cried Sister Cecilia, dismayed at the effect of her words. But Alice did not hear; she had slipped from her seat, pale as marble, fainting; and were it not for the supporting arms of the nun she would have fallen headlong to the floor.

Sister Cecilia did not alarm anyone; she was experienced in emotional climaxes. She did the few things proper for the moment, then quietly awaited Alice's recovery.

In a few minutes the pale face was raised, and the mild eyes sought Sister Cecilia as if they asked a heartrending question. The little Sister did not understand the appeal; so she only encouraged Alice by a kind word to regain strength.

"And she!" whispered Alice, with quivering lips, now speaking what she had looked; "where is she—the forsaken one?"

"She is on board, my child; she is a prisoner, and a most unhappy one. She has no hope but the peace of atonement. God send her comfort!

"Amen! Amen!" cried Alice, laying her head on the Sister's arm, and sobbing without restraint.