When Captain Henry Charlton generally
known as “Bully Charlton” stepped
on shore at Townsville in North Queensland with his
newly-wedded wife, his acquaintances stared at them
both in profound astonishment. They had heard
that he had married in Sydney, and from their past
knowledge of his character expected to see a loudly-attired
Melbourne or Sydney barmaid with peroxided hair, and
person profusely adorned with obtrusive jewelry.
Instead of this they beheld a tall, ladylike girl
with a cold, refined face, and an equally cold and
“Well, I have seen some
curious things in my time,” said Fryer, the
American master of a Torres Straits pearling schooner,
to the other men, as they watched Charlton and his
wife drive away from the hotel, “but to think
that that fellow should marry a lady! I
wonder if she has the faintest idea of what an anointed
scoundrel he is?”
“He’s been mighty smart
over it, anyway,” said a storekeeper named Lee.
“Why, it isn’t six months since Nina drowned
herself. I suppose it’s true, Fryer, that
she did bolt with Jack Lester?”
The American struck his hand upon
the table in hot anger. “That’s a
lie! I know Lester well, and Nina Charlton was
as good a woman as ever breathed.”
“Well, you see, Fryer, we don’t
know as much as you do about the matter. But
when Nina cleared out from her husband and Lester disappeared
a day or two later and went no one knows where, it
did look pretty queer.”
“And I tell you that Lester
never saw Mrs. Charlton after the day he took it out
of Charlton. He’s a gentleman. And
if you want to know where he is now I’ll tell
you. He’s pearling at Thursday Island in
Torres Straits. And Nina Charlton, thank God,
is at rest. After the fight between Lester and
her husband she ran away, and reached Port Denison
almost dead from exposure in the bush. Shannon,
of the Lynndale, who had known her in her childhood,
gave her a passage to Sydney. Two days before
the steamer reached there she disappeared jumped
overboard in the night, I suppose.”
“Well, I’m sorry I repeated
what is common gossip; but Charlton himself put the
story about. And the papers said a lot about the
elopement of the wife of a well-known plantation manager.’”
Fryer laughed contemptuously.
“Just the thing Charlton would do. He’s
an infernal scoundrel. He told Lester that he’d
make it warm for him the beast. But
I’m sorry for that sad-faced girl we saw just
now. Fancy the existence she will lead with an
unprincipled and drunken brute like Charlton!
Good-bye; I’m off aboard. And look here,
if ever any of you hear any more talk about Lester
and Nina Charlton and repeats it in my hearing I’ll
do my best to make him sorry.”
Lester was the manager of a mine and
quartz-crushing battery near Charlton’s plantation
on the Lower Burdekin River when he “took it
out” of its owner. He was a quiet, self-possessed
man of about thirty, and occasionally visited Charlton
and his wife and played a game of billiards if
Charlton was sober enough to stand. Sometimes
in his rides along the lonely bush tracks he would
meet Mrs. Charlton and go as far as the plantation
gates with her. She was a small, slenderly built
woman, or rather girl, with dark, passionate eyes,
in whose liquid depths Lester could read the sorrows
of her life with such a man as Henry Charlton.
Once as he rode beside her through the grey monotone
of the lofty, smooth-barked gum-trees she told him
that her father was an Englishman and her mother a
“I married Captain Charlton
in Macao. He was in the navy, you know; and although
it is only four years since I left my father’s
house I feel so old; and sometimes when I awake in
the night I think I can hear the sound of the beating
surf and the rustle of the nipa-palms in the trade
wind. And, oh! I so long to see ”
Her eyes filled with tears, and she turned her face
Perhaps Lester’s unconsciously
pitying manner to her whenever they met, and the utter
loneliness of her existence on the Belle Grace Plantation
made Nina Charlton think too much of the young mine
manager, and, without knowing it, to eagerly look
forward to their chance meetings.
One day as Lester was walking through
Charlton’s estate, gun in hand, looking for
wild turkeys, he met her. She was seated under
the widespreading branches of a Leichhardt-tree, and
was watching some of her husband’s labourers
felling a giant gum.
“I came out to see it fall,”
she said. “It is the largest tree on Belle
Grace. And it is so dull in the house.”
She turned her face away quickly.
Lester muttered a curse under his
breath. He knew what she meant. Charlton
had returned from Townsville the day before in a state
of frenzy, and after threatening to murder his servants
had flung himself upon a couch to sleep the sleep
As the men hewed at the bole of the
mighty tree Lester and Nina Charlton talked.
She had spent the first year of her married life in
Sydney, which was Lester’s native town, and
in a few minutes she had quite forgotten the tree,
and was listening eagerly to Lester’s account
of his wanderings through the world, for his had been
an adventurous career sailor, South Sea
trader, pearl-sheller, and gold miner in New Guinea
and the Malayan Archipelago.
“And now here I am, Mrs. Charlton,
over thirty years of age, and not any the richer for
all my roving. Of course,” he added, with
boyish candour, “I know when I’m well
off, and I have a good billet here and mean to save
money. And I intend to be back in Sydney in another
“But you will return to Queensland,
will you not?” she said quickly.
Lester laughed. “Oh yes,
I suppose I shall settle down here finally. But
I’m going to Sydney to be married. Would
you care to see my future wife’s photograph?
You see, Mrs. Charlton, you’re the only lady
I’ve ever talked to about her, and I should
like you to see what she is like.”
She made no answer, and Lester in
wondering ignorance saw that her face had paled to
a deathly white and that her hands were trembling.
“You are ill, Mrs. Charlton.
You must be getting a touch of fever. Let me
take you home.”
“No,” she answered quickly;
“let me stay here. I shall be better in
a minute.” And then she began to sob passionately.
Charlton, awakening from his drunken
sleep, looked at them from the window of the sitting-room.
He hated his wife because she feared him, and of late
had almost shuddered when he touched her. Picking
up his whip from the table, he walked out of the house
to where she was sitting.
“So this is your little amusement,
is it?” he said savagely to Nina; “and
this fellow is the cause of all my trouble. I
might have known what to expect from a woman like
you. Your Portuguese nature is too much for you.
Go back to the house, and leave me to settle with your
The next instant Lester launched out
and struck him on the mouth. He lay where he
fell, breathing heavily, and when he rose to his feet
he saw Lester carrying his wife, who had fainted,
to the house.
Placing Mrs. Charlton in the care
of a servant, Lester returned quickly to where Charlton,
who was no coward, awaited him.
“You drunken scoundrel!”
he burst out; “I’ve come back to settle
up with you!”
And Lester did “settle up”
to his heart’s content, for he half-killed Charlton
with his own whip.
A week later, however, Charlton had
his first bit of revenge. Lester was dismissed,
the directors of the mine being determined, as they
said, to show their disapproval of his attack upon
“a justice of the peace and one of their largest
Lester sat down and wrote to the “girl
of his heart,” and told her that he could not
see her for another year or so. “I have
had to leave the mine, Nell, dear,” he said.
“I won’t tell you why it would
anger you perhaps. But it was not all my fault.
However, I have decided what to do. I am going
back to my old vocation of pearler in Torres Straits.
I can make more money there than I could here.”
The following morning, as he was leaving
Belle Grace, he heard that Mrs. Charlton had left
her husband two days previously, and had made her way
through the bush to Port Denison, from where she had
gone to Sydney.
Soon after Lester had sailed for Torres
Straits in Fryer’s schooner, the owner of Belle
Grace Plantation received a telegram from Sydney telling
him that his wife was dead she had jumped
overboard on the passage down. And, later on,
Lester heard it also.
Lester was doing well, but wondering
why Nellie March did not write. He little knew
that Charlton was in Sydney working out his revenge.
This he soon accomplished.
From the local postmistress at Belle
Grace Charlton had learned the address of the girl
Lester was to marry; and the first thing he did when
he arrived in Sydney was to call upon her parents,
and tell them that Lester had run away with his wife.
And they and Nellie March as well believed
his story when he produced some Queensland newspapers
which contained the accounts of the “elopement.”
He was a good-looking man, despite his forty years
of hard drinking, and could lie with consummate grace,
and Nellie, after her first feelings of shame and
anger had subsided, pitied him, especially when he
said that his poor wife was at rest now, and he had
forgiven her. Before a month was out she married
Then Charlton, who simply revelled
in his revenge, sent the papers containing the announcement
of his marriage to Lester.
Lester took it very badly at first.
But his was a strong nature, and he was too proud
a man to write to the woman he loved and ask for an
explanation. It was Charlton’s money, of
course, he thought. And as the months went by
he began to forget. He heard of Charlton sometimes
from the captains of passing vessels. He was
drinking heavily they said, and whenever he came to
town boasted of having “got even” with
the man who had thrashed him. Lester set his
teeth but said nothing, and in time even such gossip
as this failed to disturb him. But he swore to
give Charlton another thrashing when the opportunity
A year had come and gone, and Lester
found himself in Sydney. He liked the free, open
life among the pearlers, and intended to go back after
a month or so of idleness in the southern city.
One evening he strolled into the bar of Pfahlerts
Hotel and ordered a whisky-and-soda. The girl
he spoke to looked into his face for a moment and then
nearly fainted it was Nina Charlton!
“Give me your address,”
she said quickly, as she put out her hand. “I
will come and see you in an hour from now.”
She came, and in a few minutes told
him her history since he had seen her last. The
captain of the Lynniale pitying her terror at
the prospect of her husband following her, had concealed
her when the steamer was near Sydney, and it was he
who telegraphed to Charlton that his wife had disappeared
on the passage and was supposed to have jumped or
fallen overboard. And she told Lester that she
knew of her husband’s second marriage and knew
who it was whom he had married.
What was she going to do? Lester asked.
Nothing, she said. She would
rather die than let Charlton know she was alive.
When she had saved money enough she would go back to
her own people.
Lester walked home with her.
At the door of the hotel she bade him good-night.
“We shall meet sometimes, shall
we not?” she asked wistfully. “I have
not a friend in all Sydney.”
“Neither have I,” he said,
“and I shall only be too happy to come and see
you.” She was silent a moment, then as she
placed her hand in his she asked softly
“Have you forgotten her altogether?”
“Yes,” he answered, “I
have. I did cut up a bit at first. But I’m
over it now.”
Her fingers pressed his again, and
then with an almost whispered “Good-night”
she was gone.
Before a month was over Lester was
honestly in love with her. And she knew it, though
he was too honourable a man to tell her so. Then
one day he came to her hurriedly.
“I’m going back to Torres
Straits to-morrow,” he said. “I may
be away for two years.... You will not forget
“No,” she answered, with
a sob, “I shall never forget you; you are all
the world to me. And go now, dear, quickly; for
I love you and I am only a woman.”
But there is a kindly Providence in
these things, for when Lester reached Thursday Island
in Torres Straits he heard that Charlton was dead.
He had been thrown from his horse and died shortly
after. His widow, Lester also heard, had returned
So Lester made quick work. Within
twenty-four hours he had sold his business and was
on his way back to Sydney.
He dashed up in a cab to his old lodgings.
In another hour he would see Nina. He had sent
her a telegram from Brisbane, telling her when the
steamer would arrive, and was in a fever of excitement.
And he was late. As he tumbled his things about,
his landlady came to the door with a letter.
“There was a lady called here,
sir, a week ago, and asked for your address.
I had just got your telegram saying you were coming
back to-day, and she said she would write, and this
letter came just now.”
Lester knew the handwriting.
It was from Nellie. He opened it.
“I know now how I have wronged
you. My husband, before he died, told me
that he had deceived me. My life has been a very
unhappy one, and I want to see you and ask for your
forgiveness. Will you send me an answer to-night? Nellie!”
Lester held the letter in his hand
and pondered. What should he do? Answer
it or not? Poor Nellie!
He sat down to think and
then Nina Charlton opened the door and flung her arms
around his neck.
“I could not wait,” she
whispered, “and I am not afraid now to
say I love you.”
That night Lester wrote a letter to
the woman he had once loved. “I am glad
to know that Charlton told you the truth before he
died,” he said. “But let the past
He never told Nina of this. But
one day as they were walking along the “Block”
in George Street, she saw her husband raise his hat
to a tall, fair-haired woman with big blue eyes.
“Is that she, Jack?” murmured Nina.
“She’s very lovely.
And yet I felt once that I could have killed her when
you and I sat together watching the big tree fall.
But I couldn’t hate any one now.”