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Book II.

Chapter I.

The Topography of Van Diemen's Land.

THE south-east coast of Van Diemen's Land, from the solitary Mewstone to the basaltic cliffs of Tasman's Head, from Tasman's Head to Cape Pillar, and from Cape Pillar to the rugged grandeur of Pirates' Bay, resembles a biscuit at which rats have been nibbling. Eaten away by the continual action of the ocean which, pouring round by east and west, has divided the peninsula from the mainland of the Australasian continent—and done for Van Diemen's Land what it has done for the Isle of Wight—the shore line is broken and ragged.

Viewed upon the map, the fantastic fragments of island and promontory which lie scattered between the South-West Cape and the greater Swan Port, are like the curious forms assumed by melted lead spilt into water. If the supposition were not too extravagant, one might imagine that when the Australian continent was fused, a careless giant upset the crucible, and spilt Van Diemen's land in the ocean. The coast navigation is as dangerous as that of the Mediterranean. Passing from Cape Bougainville to the east of Maria Island, and between the numerous rocks and shoals which lie beneath the triple height of the Three Thumbs, the mariner is suddenly checked by Tasman's Peninsula, hanging, like a huge double-dropped earring, from the mainland. Getting round under the Pillar rock,


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through Storm Bay to Storing Island, we sight the Italy of this miniature Adriatic. Between Hobart Town and Sorrell, Pittwater and the Derwent, a strangely-shaped point of land—the Italian boot with its toe bent upwards—projects into the bay, and, separated from this projection by a narrow channel, dotted with rocks, the long length of Bruny Island makes, between its western side and the cliffs of Mount Royal, the dangerous passage known as D'Entrecasteaux Channel. At the southern entrance of D'Entrecasteaux Channel, a line of sunken rocks, known by the generic name of the Actæon reef, attests that Bruny Head was once joined with the shores of Recherche Bay; while, from the South Cape to the jaws of Macquarie Harbour, the white water caused by sunken reefs, or the jagged peaks of single rocks abruptly rising in mid sea, warn the mariner off shore.

It would seem as though nature, jealous of the beauties of her silver Derwent, had made the approach to it as dangerous as possible; but once through the archipelago of D'Entrecasteaux Channel, or the less dangerous eastern passage of Storm Bay, the voyage up the river is delightful. From the sentinel solitude of the Iron Pot to the smiling banks of New Norfolk, the river winds in a succession of reaches, narrowing to a deep channel cleft between rugged and towering cliffs. A line drawn due north from the source of the Derwent would strike another river winding out from the northern part of the island, as the Derwent winds out from the south. The force of the waves, expended, perhaps, in destroying the isthmus which, two thousand years ago, probably connected Van Diemen's Land with the continent has been here less violent. The rounding currents of the Southern Ocean, meeting at the mouth of the Tamar, have rushed upwards over the isthmus they have devoured, and pouring against the south coast of Victoria, have excavated there that inland sea called Port Philip Bay. If the waves have gnawed the south coast of Van Diemen's Land, they have bitten a mouthful out of the south coast of Victoria. The Bay is a millpool, having an area of nine hundred square miles, with a race between the heads two miles across.

About a hundred and seventy miles to the south of this millrace lies Van Diemen's Land, fertile, fair, and rich, rained upon by the genial showers from the clouds which, attracted by the Frenchman's Cap, Wyld's Crag, or the lofty peaks of the Wellington


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and Dromedary range, pour down upon the sheltered valleys their fertilizing streams. No parching hot wind—the scavenger, if the torment, of the continent—blows upon her crops and corn. The cool south breeze ripples gently the blue waters of the Derwent, and fans the curtains of the open windows of the city which nestles in the broad shadow of Mount Wellington. The hot wind, born amid the burning sand of the interior of the vast Australian continent, sweeps over the scorched and cracking plains, to lick up their streams and wither the herbage in its path, until it meets the waters of the great south bay; but in its passage across the straits it is reft of its fire, and sinks, exhausted with its journey, at the feet of the terraced slopes of Launceston.

The climate of Van Diemen's Land is one of the loveliest in the world. Launceston is warm, sheltered, and moist; and Hobart Town, protected by Bruny Island and its archipelago of D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Storm Bay from the violence of the southern breakers, preserves the mean temperature of Smyrna; whilst the district between these two towns spreads in a succession of beautiful valleys, through which glide clear and sparkling streams. But on the western coast, from the steeple-rocks of Cape Grim to the scrub-encircled barrenness of Sandy Cape, and the frowning entrance to Macquarie Harbour, the nature of the country entirely changes. Along that iron-bound shore, from Pyramid Island and the forest-backed solitude of Rocky Point, to the great Ram Head, and the straggling harbour of Port Davey, all is bleak and cheerless. Upon that dreary beach the rollers of the southern sea complete their circuit of the globe, and the storm that has devastated the Cape, and united in its eastern course with the icy blasts which sweep northward from the unknown terrors of the southern pole, crashes unchecked upon the Huon pine forests, and lashes with rain the grim front of Mount Direction. Furious gales and sudden tempests affright the natives of the coast. Navigation is dangerous, and the entrance to the “Hell's Gates” of Macquarie Harbour—at the time of which we are writing (1833), in the height of its ill-fame as a convict settlement—is only to be attempted in calm weather. The sea-line is marked with wrecks. The sunken rocks are dismally named after the vessels they have destroyed. The air is chill and moist, the soil prolific only in prickly undergrowth and noxious weeds, while fœtid


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exhalations from swamp and fen cling close to the humid, spongy ground. All around breathes desolation; on the face of nature is stamped a perpetual frown. The shipwrecked sailor, crawling painfully to the summit of basalt cliffs, or the ironed convict, dragging his tree trunk to the edge of some beetling plateau, looks down upon a sea of fog, through which rise mountain-tops like islands; or sees through the biting sleet a desert of scrub and crag rolling to the feet of Mount Heemskirk and Mount Zeehan—crouched like two sentinel lions keeping watch over the seaboard.

Chapter II.

The Solitary of “Hell's Gates.”

“HELL'S GATES,” formed by a rocky point, which runs abruptly northward, almost touches, on its eastern side, a projecting arm of land which guards the entrance to King's River. In the middle of the gates is a natural bolt—that is to say, an island—which, lying on a sandy bar in the very jaws of the current, creates a double whirlpool, impossible to pass in the roughest weather. Once through the gates, the convict, chained on the deck of the inward-bound vessel, sees in front of him the bald cone of the Frenchman's Cap, piercing the moist air at a height of five thousand feet; while, gloomed by overhanging rocks, and shadowed by gigantic forests, the black sides of the basin narrow to the mouth of the Gordon. The turbulent stream is the colour of indigo, and, being fed by numerous rivulets, which ooze through masses of decaying vegetable matter, is of so poisonous a nature that it is not only undrinkable, but absolutely kills the fish, which in stormy weather are driven in from the sea. As may be imagined, the furious tempests which beat upon this exposed coast create a strong surf-line. After a few days of north-west wind, the waters of the Gordon will be found salt for twelve miles up from the bar. The head-quarters of the settlement were placed on an island not far from the mouth of this inhospitable river, called Sarah Island.

Though now the whole place is desolate, and a few rotting


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posts and logs alone remain—mute witnesses of scenes of agony never to be revived—in the year 1833 the buildings were numerous and extensive. On Philip's Island, on the north side of the harbour, was a small farm, where vegetables were grown for the use of the officers of the establishment; and, on Sarah Island, were sawpits, forges, dockyards, gaol, guard-house, barracks, and jetty. The military force numbered about sixty men, who, with convict-warders and constables, took charge of more than three hundred and fifty prisoners. These miserable wretches, deprived of every hope, were employed in the most degrading labour. No beast of burden was allowed on the settlement; all the pulling and dragging was done by human beings. About one hundred “good-conduct” men were allowed the lighter toil of dragging timber to the wharf, to assist in shipbuilding; the others cut down the trees that fringed the mainland, and carried them on their shoulders to the water's edge. The denseness of the scrub and bush rendered it necessary for a “roadway,” perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, to be first constructed; and the trunks of trees, stripped of their branches, were rolled together in this roadway, until a “slide” was made, down which the heavier logs could be shunted towards the harbour. The timber thus obtained was made into rafts, and floated to the sheds, or arranged for transportation to Hobart Town. The convicts were lodged on Sarah Island, in barracks flanked by a two-storied prison, whose “cells” were the terror of the most hardened. Each morning they received their breakfast of porridge, water, and salt, and then rowed, under the protection of their guard, to the wood-cutting stations, where they worked without food, until night. The launching and hewing of the timber compelled them to work up to their waists in water. Many of them were heavily ironed. Those who died were buried on a little plot of ground, called Halliday's Island (from the name of the first man buried there), and a plank stuck into the earth, and carved with the initials of the deceased, was the only monument vouchsafed him.

Sarah Island, situated at the south-east corner of the harbour, is long and low. The commandant's house was built in the centre, having the chaplain's house and barracks between it and the gaol. The hospital was on the west shore, and in a line with it lay the two penitentiaries. Lines of lofty palisades ran round the settlement, giving it the appearance of a fortified


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town. These palisades were built for the purpose of warding off the terrific blasts of wind, which, shrieking through the long and narrow bay as through the keyhole of a door, had in former times tore off roofs and levelled boat-sheds. The little town was set, as it were, in defiance of Nature, at the very extreme of civilization, and its inhabitants maintained perpetual warfare with the winds and waves.

But the gaol of Sarah Island was not the only prison in this desolate region.

At a little distance from the mainland is a rock, over the rude side of which the waves dash in rough weather. On the evening of the 3rd December, 1833, as the sun was sinking behind the tree-tops on the left side of the harbour, the figure of a man appeared on the top of this rock. He was clad in the coarse garb of a convict, and wore round his ankles two iron rings, connected by a short and heavy chain. To the middle of this chain a leathern strap was attached, which, splitting in the form of a T, buckled round his waist, and pulled the chain high enough to prevent him from stumbling over it as he walked. His head was bare, and his coarse, blue-striped shirt, open at the throat, displayed an embrowned and muscular neck. Emerging from out a sort of cell, or den, contrived by nature or art in the side of the cliff, he threw on a scanty fire, which burned between two hollowed rocks, a small log of pine wood, and then returning to his cave, and bringing from it an iron pot, which contained water, he scooped with his toil-hardened hands a resting-place for it in the ashes, and placed it on the embers. It was evident that the cave was at once his storehouse and larder, and that the two hollowed rocks formed his kitchen.

Having thus made preparations for supper, he ascended a pathway which led to the highest point of the rock. His fetters compelled him to take short steps, and, as he walked, he winced as though the iron bit him. A handkerchief or strip of cloth was twisted round his left ankle, on which the circlet had chafed a sore. Painfully and slowly, he gained his destination, and flinging himself on the ground, gazed around him. The afternoon had been stormy, and the rays of the setting sun shone redly on the turbid and rushing waters of the bay. On the right lay Sarah Island; on the left the bleak shore of the opposite coast, and the tall peak of the Frenchman's Cap; while the recent storm hung sullenly over the barren hills to the eastward.


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Below him appeared the only sign of life. A brig was being towed up the harbour by two convict-manned boats.

The sight of this brig seemed to rouse in the mind of the solitary of the rock a strain of reflection, for, sinking his chin upon his hand, he fixed his eyes on the incoming vessel, and immersed himself in moody thought. More than an hour had passed, yet he did not move. The ship anchored, the boats detached themselves from her sides, the sun sank, and the bay was plunged in gloom. Lights began to twinkle along the shore of the settlement. The little fire died, and the water in the iron pot grew cold; yet the watcher on the rock did not stir. With his eyes staring into the gloom, and fixed steadily on the vessel, he lay along the barren cliff of his lonely prison as motionless as the rock on which he had stretched himself.

This solitary man was Rufus Dawes.

Chapter III.

A Social Evening.

IN the house of Major Vickers, Commandant of Macquarie Harbour, there was, on this evening of December 3rd, unusual gaiety.

Lieutenant Maurice Frere, late in command at Maria Island, had unexpectedly come down with news from head-quarters. The Ladybird, Government schooner, visited the settlement on ordinary occasions twice a year, and such visits were looked forward to with no little eagerness by the settlers. To the convicts the arrival of the Ladybird meant arrival of new faces, intelligence of old comrades, news of how the world, from which they were exiled, was progressing. When the Ladybird arrived, the chained and toil-worn felons felt that they were yet human, that the universe was not bounded by the gloomy forests which surrounded their prison, but that there was a world beyond, where men, like themselves, smoked, and drank, and laughed, and rested, and were Free. When the Ladybird arrived, they heard such news as interested them—that is to say, not mere foolish accounts of wars or ship arrivals, or city gossip, but matters appertaining to their own world—how Tom was with


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the road gangs, Dick on a ticket-of-leave, Harry taken to the bush, and Jack hung at the Hobart Town Gaol. Such items of intelligence were the only news they cared to hear, and the new-comers were well posted up in such matters. To the convicts the Ladybird was town talk, theatre, stock quotations, and latest telegrams. She was their newspaper and post-office, the one excitement of their dreary existence, the one link between their own misery and the happiness of their fellow-creatures. To the Commandant and the “free men” this messenger from the outer life was scarcely less welcome. There was not a man on the island who did not feel his heart grow heavier when her white sails disappeared behind the shoulder of the hill.

On the present occasion business of more than ordinary importance had procured for Major Vickers this pleasurable excitement. It had been resolved by Governor Arthur that the convict establishment should be broken up. A succession of murders and attempted escapes had called public attention to the place, and its distance from Hobart Town rendered it inconvenient and expensive. Arthur had fixed upon Tasman's Peninsula—the earring of which we have spoken—as a future convict depôt, and naming it Port Arthur, in honour of himself, had sent down Lieutenant Maurice Frere with instructions for Vickers to convey the prisoners of Macquarie Harbour thither.

In order to understand the magnitude and meaning of such an order as that with which Lieutenant Frere was entrusted, we must glance at the social condition of the penal colony at this period of its history.

Nine years before, Colonel Arthur, late Governor of Honduras, had arrived at a most critical moment. The former Governor, Colonel Sorrell, was a man of genial temperament, but little strength of character. He was, moreover, profligate in his private life; and, encouraged by his example, his officers violated all rules of social decency. It was common for an officer to openly keep a female convict as his mistress. Not only would compliance purchase comforts, but strange stories were afloat concerning the persecution of women who dared to choose their own lovers. To put down this profligacy was the first care of Arthur; and in enforcing a severe attention to etiquette and outward respectability, he perhaps erred on the side of virtue. Honest, brave, and high-minded, he was also penurious and


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cold, and the ostentatious good humour of the colonists dashed itself in vain against his polite indifference. In opposition to this official society created by Governor Arthur was that of the free settlers and the ticket-of-leave men. The latter were more numerous than one would be apt to suppose. On the 2nd November, 1829, thirty-eight free pardons and fifty-six conditional pardons appeared on the books; and the number of persons holding tickets-of-leave, on the 26th of September the same year, was seven hundred and forty-five.

Of the social condition of these people at this time it is impossible to speak without astonishment. According to the recorded testimony of many respectable persons—Government officials, military officers, and free settlers—the profligacy of the settlers was notorious. Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours of public worship, in order to continue their carousing. As for the condition of the prisoner population, that, indeed, is indescribable. Notwithstanding the severe punishment for sly grog-selling, it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be cheaply bought at the price of twenty lashes. In the factory—a prison for females—the vilest abuses were committed, while the infamies current, as matters of course, in chain gangs and penal settlements, were of too horrible a nature to be more than hinted at here. All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised without restraint and without shame.

Seven classes of criminals were established in 1826, when the new barracks for prisoners at Hobart Town were finished. The first class were allowed to sleep out of barracks, and to work for themselves on Saturday; the second had only the last-named indulgence; the third were only allowed Saturday afternoon; the fourth and fifth were “refractory and disorderly characters—to work in irons;” the sixth were “men of the most degraded and incorrigible character—to be worked in irons, and kept entirely separate from the other prisoners;” while the seventh were the refuse of this refuse—the murderers, bandits, and villains, whom neither chain nor lash could tame. They


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were regarded as socially dead, and shipped to Hell's Gates, or Maria Island. Hell's Gates was the most dreaded of all these houses of bondage. The discipline at the place was so severe, and the life so terrible, that prisoners would risk all to escape from it. In one year, of eighty-five deaths there, only thirty were from natural causes; of the remaining dead, twenty-seven were drowned, eight killed accidentally, three shot by the soldiers, and twelve murdered by their comrades. In 1822, one hundred and sixty-nine men out of one hundred and eighty-two were punished to the extent of two thousand lashes. During the ten years of its existence, one hundred and twelve men escaped, out of whom sixty-two only were found—dead. The prisoners killed themselves to avoid living any longer, and if so fortunate as to penetrate the desert of scrub, heath, and swamp, which lay between their prison and the settled districts, preferred death to recapture. Successfully to transport the remnant of this desperate band of doubly-convicted felons to Arthur's new prison, was the mission of Maurice Frere.

He was sitting by the empty fire-place, with one leg carelessly thrown over the other, entertaining the company with his usual indifferent air. The six years that had passed since his departure from England had given him a sturdier frame and a fuller face. His hair was coarser, his face redder, and his eye more hard, but in demeanour he was little changed. Sobered he might be, and his voice had acquired that decisive, insured tone which a voice exercised only in accents of command invariably acquires, but his bad qualities were as prominent as ever. His five years' residence at Maria Island had increased that brutality of thought, and overbearing confidence in his own importance, for which he had been always remarkable, but it had also given him an assured air of authority, which covered the more unpleasant features of his character. He was detested by the prisoners—as he said, “it was a word and a blow with him”—but, among his superiors, he passed for an officer, honest and painstaking, though somewhat bluff and severe.

“Well, Mrs. Vickers,” he said, as he took a cup of tea from the hands of that lady, “I suppose you won't be sorry to get away from this place, eh? Trouble you for the toast, Vickers!”

“No, indeed,” says poor Mrs. Vickers, with the old girlishness shadowed by six years; “I shall be only too glad. A dreadful place! John's duties, however, are imperative. But


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the wind! My dear Mr. Frere, you've no idea of it; I wanted to send Sylvia to Hobart Town, but John would not let her go.”

“By the way, how is Miss Sylvia?” asked Frere, with the patronising air which men of his stamp adopt when they speak of children.

“Not very well, I'm sorry to say,” returned Vickers. “You see, it's lonely for her here. There are no children of her own age, with the exception of the pilot's little girl, and she cannot associate with her. But I did not like to leave her behind, and endeavoured to teach her myself.”

“Hum! There was a—ha—governess, or something, was there not?” said Frere, staring into his tea-cup. “That maid, you know—what was her name?”

“Miss Purfoy,” said Mrs. Vickers, a little gravely. “Yes, poor thing! A sad story, Mr. Frere.”

Frere's eye twinkled.

“Indeed! I left, you know, shortly after the trial of the mutineers, and never heard the full particulars.” He spoke carelessly, but he awaited the reply with keen curiosity.

“A sad story!” repeated Mrs. Vickers. “She was the wife of that wretched man, Rex, and came out as my maid in order to be near him. She would never tell me her history, poor thing, though all through the dreadful accusations made by that horrid doctor—I always disliked that man—I begged her almost on my knees. You know how she nursed Sylvia and poor John. Really a most superior creature. I think she must have been a governess.”

Mr. Frere raised his eyebrows abruptly, as though he would say, Governess! Of course. Happy suggestion. Wonder it never occurred to me before. “However, her conduct was most exemplary—really most exemplary—and during the six months we were in Hobart Town she taught little Sylvia a great deal. Of course she could not help her wretched husband, you know. Could she?”

“Certainly not!” said Frere heartily. “I heard something about him too. Got into some scrape, did he not? Half a cup, please.”

“Miss Purfoy, or Mrs. Rex, as she really was, though I don't suppose Rex is her real name either—sugar and milk, I think you said—came into a little legacy from an old aunt in England.”


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Mr. Frere gave a little bluff nod, meaning thereby, Old aunt! Exactly. Just what might have been expected. “And left my service. She took a little cottage on the New Town road, and Rex was assigned to her as her servant.”

“I see. The old dodge!” says Frere, flushing a little. “Well?”

“Well, the wretched man tried to escape, and she helped him. He was to get to Launceston, and so on board a vessel to Sydney; but they took the unhappy creature, and he was sent down here. She was only fined, but it ruined her.”

“Ruined her?”

“Well, you see, only a few people knew of her relationship to Rex, and she was rather respected. Of course, when it became known, what with that dreadful trial and the horrible assertions of Dr. Pine—you will not believe me, I know, there was something about that man I never liked—she was quite left alone. She wanted me to bring her down here to teach Sylvia; but John thought that it was only to be near her husband, and wouldn't allow it.”

“Of course it was,” said Vickers, rising. “Frere, if you'd like to smoke, we'll go on the verandah.—She will never be satisfied until she gets that scoundrel free.”

“He's a bad lot, then?” says Frere, opening the glass window, and leading the way to the sandy garden. “You will excuse my roughness, Mrs. Vickers, but I have become quite a slave to my pipe. Ha, ha, it's wife and child to me!”

“Oh, a very bad lot,” returned Vickers; “quiet and silent, but ready for any villainy. I count him one of the worst men we have. With the exception of one or two more, I think he is the worst.”

“Why don't you flog 'em?” says Frere, lighting his pipe in the gloom. “By George, sir, I cut the hides off my fellows if they show any nonsense!”

“Well,” says Vickers, “I don't care about too much cat myself. Barton, who was here before me, flogged tremendously, but I don't think it did any good. They tried to kill him several times. You remember those twelve fellows who were hung? No! Ah, of course, you were away.”

“What do you do with 'em?”

“Oh, flog the worst, you know; but I don't flog more than a man a week, as a rule, and never more than fifty lashes. They're


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getting quieter now. Then we iron, and dumb-cells, and maroon them.”

“Do what?”

“Give them solitary confinement on Grummet Island. When a man gets very bad, we clap him into a boat with a week's provisions, and pull him over to Grummet. There are cells cut in the rock, you see, and the fellow pulls up his commissariat after him, and lives there by himself for a month or so. It tames them wonderfully.”

“Does it?” said Frere. “By Jove! it's a capital notion. I wish I had a place of that sort at Maria.”

“I've a fellow there now,” says Vickers; “Dawes. You remember him, of course—the ringleader of the mutiny in the Malabar. A dreadful ruffian. He was most violent the first year I was here. Barton used to flog a good deal, and Dawes had a childish dread of the cat. When I came, in—when was it?—in '29, he'd made a sort of petition to be sent back to the settlement. Said that he was innocent of the mutiny, and that the accusation against him was false.”

“The old dodge,” said Frere again. “A match? Thanks.”

“Of course, I couldn't let him go; but I took him out of the chain-gang, and put him on the Osprey. You saw her in the dock as you came in. He worked for some time very well, and then tried to bolt again.”

“The old trick. Ha! ha! don't I know it?” says Mr. Frere, emitting a streak of smoke in the air, expressive of preternatural wisdom.

“Well, we caught him, and gave him fifty. Then he was sent to the chain-gang, cutting timber. Then we put him into the boats, but he quarrelled with the coxswain, and then we took him back to the timber-rafts. About six weeks ago he made another attempt—together with Gabbett, the man who nearly killed you—but his leg was chafed with the irons, and we took him. Gabbett and three more, however, got away.”

“Haven't you found 'em?” asked Frere, puffing at his pipe.

“No. But they'll come to the same fate as the rest,” said Vickers, with a sort of dismal pride. “No man ever escaped from Macquarie Harbour.”

Frere laughed. “By the Lord!” said he, “it will be rather hard for 'em if they don't come back before the end of the month, eh?”




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“Oh,” said Vickers, “they're sure to come—if they can come at all; but once lost in the scrub, a man hasn't much chance for his life.”

“When do you think you will be ready to move?” asked Frere.

“As soon as you wish. I don't want to stop a moment longer than I can help. It is a terrible life this.”

“Do you think so?” asked his companion, in unaffected surprise. “I like it. It's dull, certainly. When I first went to Maria I was dreadfully bored, but one soon gets used to it. There is a sort of satisfaction to me, by George, in keeping the scoundrels in order. I like to see the fellows' eyes glint at you as you walk past 'em. 'Gad, they'd tear me to pieces, if they dared, some of 'em!” and he laughed grimly, as though the hate he inspired was a thing to be proud of.

“How shall we go?” asked Vickers. “Have you got any instructions?”

“No,” says Frere; “it's all left to you. Get 'em up the best way you can, Arthur said, and pack 'em off to the new peninsula. He thinks you too far off here, by George! He wants to have you within hail.”

“It's a dangerous thing taking so many at once,” suggested Vickers.

“Not a bit. Batten 'em down and keep the sentries awake, and they won't do any harm.”

“But Mrs. Vickers and the child?”

“I've thought of that. You take the Ladybird with the prisoners, and leave me to bring up Mrs. Vickers in the Osprey.”

“We might do that. Indeed, it's the best way, I think. I don't like the notion of having Sylvia among those wretches, and yet I don't like to leave her.”

“Well,” says Frere, confident of his own ability to accomplish anything he might undertake, “I'll take the Ladybird, and you the Osprey. Bring up Mrs. Vickers yourself.”

“No, no,” said Vickers, with a touch of his old pomposity, “that won't do. By the King's Regulations ——”

“All right,” interjected Frere, “you needn't quote 'em. ‘The officer commanding is obliged to place himself in charge’—all right, my dear sir. I've no objection in life.”

“It was Sylvia that I was thinking of,” said Vickers.

“Well, then,” cries the other, as the door of the room inside


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opened, and a little white figure came through into the broad verandah. “Here she is! Ask her yourself. Well, Miss Sylvia, will you come and shake hands with an old friend?”

The bright-haired baby of the Malabar had become a bright-haired child of some eleven years old, and as she stood in her simple white dress in the glow of the lamplight, even the unæsthetic mind of Mr. Frere was struck by her extreme beauty. Her bright blue eyes were as bright and as blue as ever. Her little figure was as upright and as supple as a willow rod; and her innocent, delicate face was framed in a nimbus of that fine golden hair—dry and electrical, each separate thread shining with a lustre of its own—with which the dreaming painters of the middle ages endowed and glorified their angels.

“Come and give me a kiss, Miss Sylvia!” cries Frere. “You haven't forgotten me, have you?”

But the child, resting one hand on her father's knee, surveyed Mr. Frere from head to foot with the charming impertinence of childhood, and then, shaking her lovely hair, inquired—“Who is he, papa?”

“Mr. Frere, darling. Don't you remember Mr. Frere, who used to play ball with you on board the ship, and who was so kind to you when you were getting well? For shame, Sylvia!”

There was in the chiding accents such an undertone of tenderness, that the reproof fell harmless.

“I remember you,” said Sylvia, tossing her head; “but you were nicer then than you are now. I don't like you at all.”

“You don't remember me,” said Frere, a little disconcerted, and affecting to be intensely at his ease. “I am sure you don't. What is my name?”

“Lieutenant Frere. You knocked down a prisoner who picked up my ball. I don't like you.”

“You're a forward young lady, upon my word!” says Frere, with a great laugh. “Ha! ha! so I did, begad, I recollect now. What a memory you've got!”

“He's here now, isn't he, papa?” went on Sylvia, regardless of interruption. “Rufus Dawes is his name, and he's always in trouble. Poor fellow, I'm sorry for him. Danny says he's queer in his mind.”

“And who's Danny?” asked Frere, with another laugh.

“The cook,” replied Vickers. “An old man I took out of


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hospital. Sylvia, you talk too much with the prisoners. I have forbidden you once or twice before.”

“But Danny is not a prisoner, papa—he's a cook,” says Sylvia, nothing abashed, “and he's a clever man. He told me all about London, where the Lord Mayor rides in a glass coach, and all the work is done by free men. He says you never hear chains there. I should like to see London, papa!”

“So would Mr. Danny, I have no doubt,” said Frere.

“No—he didn't say that. But he wants to see his old mother, he says. Fancy Danny's mother! What an ugly old woman she must be! He says he'll see her in heaven. Will he, papa?”

“I hope so, my dear.”

“Papa!”

“Yes.”

“Will Danny wear his yellow jacket in heaven, or go as a free man?”

Frere burst into a roar at this.

“You're an impertinent fellow, sir?” cried Sylvia, her bright eyes flashing. “How dare you laugh at me? If I was papa, I'd give you half an hour at the triangles. Oh, you impertinent man!” and, crimson with rage, the spoilt little beauty ran out of the room.

Vickers looked grave, but Frere was constrained to get up to laugh at his ease.

“Good! 'Pon honour, that's good! The little vixen!—Half an hour at the triangles! Ha-ha! ha, ha, ha!”

“She is a strange child,” said Vickers, “and talks strangely for her age; but you mustn't mind her. She is neither girl nor woman, you see; and her education has been neglected. Moreover, this gloomy place and its associations—what can you expect from a child bred in a convict settlement?”

“My dear sir,” says the other, “she's delightful! Her innocence of the world is amazing!”

“She must have three or four years at a good finishing school at Sydney. Please God, I will give them to her when we go back—or send her to England if I can. She is a good-hearted girl, but she wants polishing sadly, I'm afraid.”

Just then some one came up the garden path and saluted.

“What is it, Troke?”

“Prisoner given himself up, sir.”




  ― 98 ―

“Which of them?”

“Gabbett. He came back to-night.”

“Alone?”

“Yes, sir. The rest have died—he says.”

“What's that?” asked Frere, suddenly interested.

“The bolter I was telling you about—Gabbett, your old friend. He's returned.”

“How long has he been out?”

“Nigh six weeks, sir,” said the constable, touching his cap.

“Gad, he's had a narrow squeak for it, I'll be bound. I should like to see him.”

“He's down at the sheds,” said the ready Troke—a “good conduct” burglar. “You can see him at once, gentlemen, if you like.”

“What do you say, Vickers?”

“Oh, by all means.”

Chapter IV.

The Bolter.

IT was not far to the sheds, and after a few minutes' walk through the wooden palisades they reached a long stone building, two stories high, from which issued a horrible growling, pierced with shrilly screamed songs. At the sound of the musket butts clashing on the pine wood flagging, the noises ceased, and a silence more sinister than sound fell on the place.

Passing between two rows of warders, the two officers reached a sort of ante-room to the gaol, containing a pine-log stretcher, on which a mass of something was lying. On a roughly-made stool, by the side of this stretcher, sat a man, in the grey dress (worn as a contrast to the yellow livery) of “good conduct” prisoners. This man held between his knees a basin containing gruel, and was apparently endeavouring to feed the mass on the pine logs.

“Won't he eat, Steve?” asked Vickers.

And at the sound of the Commandant's voice, Steve arose.

“Dunno what's wrong wi' 'un, sir,” he said, jerking up a finger


  ― 99 ―
to his forehead. “He seems jest muggy-pated. I can't do nothin' wi' 'un.”

“Gabbett!”

The intelligent Troke, considerately alive to the wishes of his superior officers, dragged the mass into a sitting posture, and woke it.

Gabbett—for it was he—passed one great hand over his face, and leaning exactly in the position in which Troke placed him, scowled, bewildered, at his visitors.

“Well, Gabbett,” says Vickers, “you've come back again, you see. When will you learn sense, eh? Where are your mates?”

The giant did not reply.

“Do you hear me? Where are your mates?”

“Where are your mates?” repeated Troke.

“Dead,” says Gabbett.

“All three of them?”

“Ay.”

“And how did you get back?”

Gabbett, in eloquent silence, held out a bleeding foot.

“We found him on the point, sir,” said Troke, jauntily explaining, “and brought him across in the boat. He had a basin of gruel, but he didn't seem hungry.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Why don't you eat your gruel?”

Gabbett curled his great lips.

“I have eaten it. Ain't yer got nuffin better nor that to flog a man on? Ugh! yer a mean lot! Wot's it to be this time, Major? Fifty?”

And laughing, he rolled down again on the logs.

“A nice specimen!” said Vickers, with a hopeless smile. “What can one do with such a fellow?”

“I'd flog his soul out of his body,” said Frere, “if he spoke to me like that!”

Troke and the others, hearing the statement, conceived an instant respect for the new comer. He looked as if he would keep his word.

The giant raised his great head and looked at the speaker, but did not recognize him. He saw only a strange face—a visitor perhaps. “You may flog, and welcome, master,” said he, “if


  ― 100 ―
you'll give me a fig o' tibbacky.” Frere laughed. The brutal indifference of the rejoinder suited his humour, and, with a glance at Vickers, he took a small piece of cavendish from the pocket of his pea-jacket, and gave to the recaptured convict. Gabbett snatched it as a cur snatches at a bone, and thrust it whole into his mouth.

“How many mates had he?” asked Maurice, watching the champing jaws as one looks at a strange animal, and asking the question as though a “mate” was something a convict was born with—like a mole, for instance.

“Three, sir.”

“Three, eh? Well, give him thirty lashes, Vickers.”

“And if I ha' had three more,” growled Gabbett, mumbling at his tobacco, “you wouldn't ha' had the chance.”

“What does he say?”

But Troke had not heard, and the “good-conduct” man, shrinking, as it seemed, slightly from the prisoner, said he had not heard either. The wretch himself, munching hard at his tobacco, relapsed into his restless silence, and was as though he had never spoken.

As he sat there gloomily chewing, he was a spectacle to shudder at. Not so much on account of his natural hideousness, increased a thousand-fold by the tattered and filthy rags which barely covered him. Not so much on account of his unshaven jaws, his hare-lip, his torn and bleeding feet, his haggard cheeks, and his huge, wasted frame. Not only because, looking at the animal, as he crouched, with one foot curled round the other, and one hairy arm pendant between his knees, he was so horribly unhuman, that one shuddered to think that tender women and fair children must, of necessity, confess to fellowship of kind with such a monster. But also because, in his slavering mouth, his slowly grinding jaws, his restless fingers, and his bloodshot, wandering eyes, there lurked a hint of some terror more awful than the terror of starvation—a memory of a tragedy played out in the gloomy depths of that forest which had vomited him forth again; and the shadow of this unknown horror, clinging to him, repelled and disgusted, as though he bore about with him the reek of the shambles.

“Come,” said Vickers, “let us go back. I shall have to flog him again, I suppose. Oh, this place! No wonder they call it ‘Hell's Gates.’”




  ― 101 ―

“You are too soft-hearted, my dear sir,” said Frere, halfway up the palisaded path. “We must treat brutes like brutes.”

Major Vickers, inured as he was to such sentiments, sighed. “It is not for me to find fault with the system,” he said, hesitating, in his reverence for “discipline,” to utter all the thought; “but I have sometimes wondered if kindness would not succeed better than the chain and the cat.”

“Your old ideas!” laughed his companion. “Remember, they nearly cost us our lives on the Malabar. No, no. I've seen something of convicts—though, to be sure, my fellows were not so bad as yours—and there's only one way with 'em. Keep 'em down, sir. Make 'em feel what they are. They're there to work, sir. If they won't work, flog 'em until they will. If they work well—why a taste of the cat now and then keeps 'em in mind of what they may expect if they get lazy.”

They had reached the verandah now. The rising moon shone softly on the bay beneath them, and touched with her white light the summit of the Grummet Rock.

“That is the general opinion, I know,” returned Vickers. “But consider the life they lead. Good God!” he added, with sudden vehemence, as Frere paused to look at the bay. “I'm not a cruel man, and never, I believe, inflicted an unmerited punishment, but since I have been here ten prisoners have drowned themselves from yonder rock, rather than live on in their misery. Only three weeks ago, two men, with a wood-cutting party in the hills, having had some words with the overseer, shook hands with the gang, and then, hand in hand, flung themselves over the cliff. It's horrible to think of!”

“They shouldn't get sent here,” said practical Frere. “They knew what they had to expect. Serve 'em right.”

“But imagine an innocent man condemned to this place!”

“I can't,” said Frere, with a laugh. “Innocent man, be hanged! They're all innocent, if you'd believe their own stories. Hallo! what's that red light there?”

“Dawes's fire, on Grummet Rock,” says Vickers, going in; “the man I told you about. Come in and have some brandy-and-water, and we'll shut the door on the place.”




  ― 102 ―

Chapter V.

Sylvia.

“WELL,” said Frere, as they went in, “you'll be out of it soon. You can get all ready to start by the end of the month, and I'll bring on Mrs. Vickers afterwards.”

“What is that you say about me?” asked the sprightly Mrs. Vickers from within. “You wicked men, leaving me alone all this time!”

“Mr. Frere has kindly offered to bring you and Sylvia after us in the Osprey. I shall, of course, have to take the Ladybird.”

“You are most kind, Mr. Frere, really you are,” says Mrs. Vickers, a recollection of her flirtation with a certain young lieutenant, six years before, tinging her cheeks. “It is really most considerate of you. Won't it be nice, Sylvia, to go with Mr. Frere and mamma to Hobart Town?”

“Mr. Frere,” says Sylvia, coming from out a corner of the room, “I am very sorry for what I said just now. Will you forgive me?”

She asked the question in such a prim, old-fashioned way, standing in front of him, with her golden locks streaming over her shoulders, and her hands clasped on her black silk apron (Julia Vickers had her own notions about dressing her daughter), that Frere was again inclined to laugh.

“Of course I'll forgive you, my dear,” he said. “You didn't mean it, I know.”

“Oh, but I did mean it, and that's why I'm sorry. I am a very naughty girl sometimes, though you wouldn't think so” (this with a charming consciousness of her own beauty), “especially with Roman history. I don't think the Romans were half as brave as the Carthaginians; do you, Mr. Frere?”

Maurice, somewhat staggered by this question, could only ask, “Why not?”

“Well, I don't like them half so well myself,” says Sylvia, with feminine disdain of reasons. “They always had so many soldiers, though the others were so cruel when they conquered.”

“Were they?” says Frere.




  ― 103 ―

“Were they! Goodness gracious, yes! Didn't they cut poor Regulus's eyelids off, and roll him down hill in a barrel full of nails? What do you call that, I should like to know?” and Mr. Frere, shaking his red head with vast assumption of classical learning, could not but admit that that was not kind on the part of the Carthaginians.

“You are a great scholar, Miss Sylvia,” he remarked, with a consciousness that this self-possessed girl was rapidly taking him out of his depth. “Are you fond of reading?”

“Very.”

“And what books do you read?”

“Oh, lots! ‘Paul and Virginia,’ and ‘Paradise Lost,’ and ‘Shakspeare's Plays,’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ and ‘Blair's Sermons,’ and ‘The Tasmanian Almanack,’ and ‘The Book of Beauty,’ and ‘Tom Jones.’”

“A somewhat miscellaneous collection, I fear,” said Mrs. Vickers, with a sickly smile—she, like Gallio, cared for none of these things,—“but our little library is necessarily limited, and I am not a great reader. John, my dear, Mr. Frere would like another glass of brandy-and-water. Oh, don't apologize; I am a soldier's wife, you know. Sylvia, my love, say good-night to Mr. Frere, and retire.”

“Good-night, Miss Sylvia. Will you give me a kiss?”

“No!”

“Sylvia, don't be rude!”

“I'm not rude,” cries Sylvia, indignant at the way in which her literary confidence had been received. “He's rude! I won't kiss you. Kiss you indeed! My goodness gracious!”

“Won't you, you little beauty?” cried Frere, suddenly leaning forward, and putting his arm round the child. “Then I must kiss you!

To his astonishment, Sylvia, finding herself thus seized and kissed despite herself, flushed scarlet, and, lifting up her tiny fist, struck him on the cheek with all her force.

The blow was so sudden, and the momentary pain so sharp, that Maurice nearly slipped into his native coarseness, and rapped out an oath.

“My dear Sylvia!” cried Vickers, in tones of grave reproof.

But Frere laughed, caught both the child's hands in one of his own, and kissed her again and again, despite her struggles.


  ― 104 ―
“There!” he said, with a sort of triumph in his tone. “You got nothing by that, you see.”

Vickers rose, with annoyance visible on his face, to draw the child away; and as he did so, she, gasping for breath, and sobbing with rage, wrenched her wrist free, and in a storm of childish passion, struck her tormentor again and again. “Man!” she cried, with flaming eyes, “Let me go! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”

“I am very sorry for this, Frere,” said Vickers, when the door was closed again. “I hope she did not hurt you.”

“Not she! I like her spirit. Ha, ha! That's the way with women all the world over. Nothing like showing them that they've got a master.”

Vickers hastened to turn the conversation, and, amid recollections of old days, and speculations as to future prospects, the little incident was forgotten. But when, an hour later, Mr. Frere traversed the passage that led to his bedroom, he found himself confronted by a little figure wrapped in a shawl. It was his childish enemy.

“I've waited for you, Mr. Frere,” said she, “to beg pardon. I ought not to have struck you; I am a wicked girl. Don't say no, because I am; and if I don't grow better I shall never go to heaven.”

Thus addressing him, the child produced a piece of paper, folded like a letter, from beneath the shawl, and handed it to him.

“What's this?” he asked. “Go back to bed, my dear; you'll catch cold.”

“It's a written apology; and I sha'n't catch cold, because I've got my stockings on. If you don't accept it,” she added, with an arching of the brows, “it is not my fault. I have struck you, but I apologize. Being a woman, I can't offer you satisfaction in the usual way.”

Mr. Frere stifled the impulse to laugh, and made his courteous adversary a low bow.

“I accept your apology, Miss Sylvia,” said he.

“Then,” returned Miss Sylvia, in a lofty manner, “there is nothing more to be said, and I have the honour to bid you good night, sir.”

The little maiden drew her shawl around her with immense dignity, and marched down the passage as calmly as though she had been Amadis of Gaul himself.




  ― 105 ―

Frere, gaining his room choking with laughter, opened the folded paper by the light of the tallow candle, and read, in a quaint, childish hand—

SIR,—I have struck you. I apologize in writing.

  Your humble servant to command,

SYLVIA VICKERS.

“I wonder what book she took that out of?” he said. “'Pon my word she must be a little cracked. Gad, it's a queer life for a child in this place, and no mistake.”

Chapter VI.

A Leap in the Dark.

TWO or three mornings after the arrival of the Ladybird, the solitary prisoner of the Grummet Rock noticed mysterious movements along the shore of the island settlement. The prison boats, which had put off every morning at sunrise to the foot of the timbered ranges on the other side of the harbour, had not appeared for some days. The building of a pier, or breakwater, running from the western point of the settlement, was discontinued; and all hands appeared to be occupied with the newly-built Osprey, which was lying on the slips. Parties of soldiers also daily left the Ladybird, and assisted at the mysterious work in progress. Rufus Dawes, walking his little round each day, in vain wondered what this unusual commotion portended. Unfortunately, no one came to enlighten his ignorance.

A fortnight after this, about the 15th of December, he observed another curious fact. All the boats on the island put off one morning to the opposite side of the harbour, and in the course of the day a great smoke arose along the side of the hills. The next day the same was repeated; and on the fourth day the boats returned, towing behind them a huge raft. This raft, made fast to the side of the Ladybird, proved to be composed of planks, beams, and joists, all of which were duly hoisted up, and stowed in the hold of the brig.

This set Rufus Dawes thinking. Could it possibly be that


  ― 106 ―
the timber-cutting was to be abandoned, and that the Government had hit upon some other method of utilizing its convict labour? He had hewn timber and built boats, and tanned hides and made shoes. Was it possible that some new trade was to be initiated? Before he had settled this point to his satisfaction, he was startled by another boat expedition. Three boats' crews went down the bay, and returned, after a day's absence, with an addition to their number in the shape of four strangers and a quantity of stores and farming implements. Rufus Dawes, catching sight of these last, came to the conclusion that the boats had been to Philip Island, where the “garden” was established, and had taken off the gardeners and garden produce. Rufus Dawes decided that the Ladybird had brought a new commandant — his sight, trained by his half-savage life, had already distinguished Mr. Maurice Frere—and that these mysteries were “improvements” under the new rule. When he arrived at this point of reasoning, another conjecture, assuming his first to have been correct, followed as a natural consequence. Lieutenant Frere would be a more severe commandant than Major Vickers. Now, severity had already reached its height, so far as he was concerned; so the unhappy man took a final resolution—he would kill himself. Before we exclaim against the sin of such a determination, let us endeavour to set before us what the sinner had suffered during the past six years.

We have already a notion of what life on a convict ship means; and we have seen through what a furnace Rufus Dawes had passed before he set foot on the barren shore of Hell's Gates. But to appreciate in its intensity the agony he had suffered since that time, we must multiply the infamy of the 'tween decks of the Malabar an hundred fold. In that prison was at least some ray of light. All were not abominable; all were not utterly lost to shame and manhood. Stifling though the prison, infamous the companionship, terrible the memory of past happiness—there was yet ignorance of the future, there was yet hope. But at Macquarie Harbour was poured out the very dregs of this cup of desolation. The worst had come, and the worst must for ever remain. The pit of torment was so deep that one could not even see Heaven. There was no hope there so long as life remained. Death alone kept the keys of that island prison.




  ― 107 ―

Is it possible to imagine, even for a moment, what an innocent man, gifted with ambition, endowed with power to love and to respect, must have suffered during one week of such punishment? We ordinary men, leading ordinary lives—walking, riding, laughing, marrying and giving in marriage—can form no notion of such misery as this. Some dim ideas we may have about the sweetness of liberty and the loathing that evil company inspires; but that is all. We know that were we chained and degraded, fed like dogs, employed as beasts of burden, driven to our daily toil with threats and blows, and herded with wretches among whom all that savours of decency and manliness is held in an open scorn, we should die, perhaps, or go mad. But we do not know, and can never know, how unutterably loathsome life must become when shared with such beings as those who dragged the tree trunks to the banks of the Gordon, and toiled, blaspheming, in their irons, on the dismal sandpit of Sarah Island. No human creature could describe to what depth of personal abasement and self-loathing one week of such a life would plunge him. Even if he had the power to write, he dared not. As one who, in a desert, seeking for a face, should come to a pool of blood, and seeing his own reflection, fly—so would such a one hasten from the contemplation of his own degrading agony. Imagine such torment endured for six years!

Ignorant that the sights and sounds about him were symptoms of the final abandonment of the settlement, and that the Ladybird was sent down to bring away the prisoners, Rufus Dawes decided upon getting rid of that burden of life which pressed upon him so heavily. For six years he had hewn wood and drawn water; for six years he had hoped against hope; for six years he had lived in the valley of the shadow of Death. He dared not recapitulate to himself what he had suffered. Indeed, his senses were deadened and dulled by torture. He cared to remember only one thing—that he was a Prisoner for Life. In vain had been his first dream of freedom. He had done his best, by good conduct, to win release; but the villainy of Vetch and Rex had deprived him of the fruit of his labour. Instead of gaining credit by his exposure of the plot on board the Malabar, he was himself deemed guilty, and condemned, despite his asseverations of innocence. The knowledge of his “treachery”—for so it was deemed among his associates—while it gained for him no credit with the authorities, procured for him


  ― 108 ―
the detestation and ill-will of the monsters among whom he found himself. On his arrival at Hell's Gates he was a marked man—a Pariah among those beings who were Pariahs to all the world beside.

Thrice his life was attempted; but he was not then quite tired of living, and he defended it. This defence was construed by an overseer into a brawl, and the irons from which he had been relieved were replaced. His strength — brute attribute that alone could avail him—made him respected after this, and he was left at peace. At first this treatment was congenial to his temperament; but by-and-by it became annoying, then painful, then almost unendurable. Tugging at his oar, digging up to his waist in slime, or bending beneath his burden of pine-wood, he looked greedily for some excuse to be addressed. He would take double weight when forming part of the human caterpillar along whose back lay a pine-tree, for a word of fellowship. He would work double tides to gain a kindly sentence from a comrade. In his utter desolation he agonized for the friendship of robbers and murderers. Then the reaction came, and he hated the very sound of their voices. He never spoke, and refused to answer when spoken to. He would even take his scanty supper alone, did his chain so permit him. He gained the reputation of a sullen, dangerous, half-crazy ruffian. Captain Barton, the superintendent, took pity on him, and made him his gardener. He accepted the pity for a week or so, and then Barton, coming down one morning, found the few shrubs pulled up by the roots, the flower-beds trampled into barrenness, and his gardener sitting on the ground among the fragments of his gardening tools. For this act of wanton mischief he was flogged. At the triangles his behaviour was considered curious. He wept and prayed to be released, fell on his knees to Barton, and implored pardon. Barton would not listen, and at the first blow the prisoner was silent. From that time he became more sullen than ever, only at times he was observed, when alone, to fling himself on the ground and cry like a child. It was generally thought that his brain was affected.

When Vickers came, Dawes sought an interview, and begged to be sent back to Hobart Town. This was refused, of course, but he was put to work on the Osprey. After working there for some time, and being released from his irons, he concealed himself on the slip, and in the evening swam across the harbour.


  ― 109 ―
He was pursued, retaken, and flogged. Then he ran the dismal round of punishment. He burnt lime, dragged timber, and tugged at the oar. The heaviest and most degrading tasks were always his. Shunned and hated by his companions, feared by the convict overseers, and regarded with unfriendly eyes by the authorities, Rufus Dawes was at the very bottom of that abyss of woe into which he had voluntarily cast himself. Goaded to desperation by his own thoughts, he had joined with Gabbett and the unlucky three in their desperate attempt to escape; but, as Vickers stated, he had been captured almost instantly. He was lamed by the heavy irons he wore, and though Gabbett—with a strange eagerness for which after events accounted—insisted that he could make good his flight, the unhappy man fell in the first hundred yards of the terrible race, and was seized by two volunteers before he could rise again. His capture helped to secure the brief freedom of his comrades; for Mr. Troke, content with one prisoner, checked a pursuit which the nature of the ground rendered dangerous, and triumphantly brought Dawes back to the settlement as his peace-offering for the negligence which had resulted in the loss of the other four. For this madness the refractory convict had been condemned to the solitude of the Grummet Rock.

In that dismal hermitage, his mind, preying on itself, had become disordered. He saw visions and dreamt dreams. He would lie for hours motionless, staring at the sun or the sea. He held converse with imaginary beings. He enacted the scene with his mother over again. He harangued the rocks, and called upon the stones about him to witness his innocence and his sacrifice. He was visited by the phantoms of his early friends, and sometimes thought his present life a dream. Whenever he awoke, however, he was commanded by a voice within himself to leap into the surges which washed the walls of his prison, and to dream these sad dreams no more.

In the midst of this lethargy of body and brain, the unusual occurrences along the shore of the settlement roused in him a still fiercer hatred of life. He saw in them something incomprehensible and terrible, and read in them threats of an increase of misery. Had he known that the Ladybird was preparing for sea, and that it had been already decided to fetch him from this rock and iron him with the rest for safe passage to Hobart Town, he might have paused; but he knew nothing, save that


  ― 110 ―
the burden of life was insupportable, and that the time had come for him to be rid of it.

In the meantime, the settlement was in a fever of excitement. In less than three weeks from the announcement made by Vickers, all had been got ready. The Commandant had finally arranged with Frere as to his course of action. He himself would accompany the Ladybird with the main body. His wife and daughter were to remain until the sailing of the Osprey, which Mr. Frere—charged with the task of final destruction—was to bring up as soon as possible. “I will leave you a corporal's guard, and ten prisoners as a crew,” Vickers said. “You can work her easily with that number.” To which Frere, smiling at Mrs. Vickers in a self-satisfied way, had replied that he could do with five prisoners if necessary, for he knew how to get double work out of the lazy dogs.

Among the incidents which took place during the breaking up, was one which it is necessary to chronicle. Near Philip's Island, on the north side of the harbour, is situated Coal Head, where a party had been lately at work. This party, hastily withdrawn by Vickers to assist in the business of devastation, had left behind it some tools and timber, and at the eleventh hour a boat's crew was sent to bring away the débris. The tools were duly collected, and the pine logs—worth twenty-five shillings apiece in Hobart Town—duly rafted and chained. The timber was secured, and the convicts, towing it after them, pulled for the ship just as the sun sank. In the general relaxation of discipline and haste, the raft had not been made with as much care as usual, and the strong current against which the boat was labouring assisted the negligence of the convicts. The logs began to loosen, and though the onward motion of the boat kept the chain taut, when the rowers slackened their exertions the mass parted, and Mr. Troke, hooking himself on to the side of the Ladybird, saw a huge log slip out from its fellows and disappear into the darkness. Gazing after it with an indignant and disgusted stare, as though it had been a refractory prisoner who merited two days “solitary,” he thought he heard a cry from the direction in which it had been borne. He would have paused to listen, but all his attention was needed to save the timber, and to prevent the boat from being swamped by the struggling mass at her stern.

The cry had proceeded from Rufus Dawes. From his solitary


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rock he had watched the boat pass him and make for the Ladybird in channel, and he had decided—with that curious childishness into which the mind relapses on such supreme occasions—that the moment when the gathering gloom swallowed her up, should be the moment when he would plunge into the surge below him. The heavily labouring boat grew dimmer and dimmer, as each tug of the oars took her farther from him. Presently, only the figure of Mr. Troke in the stern sheets was visible; then that also disappeared, and as the nose of the timber raft rose on the swell of the next wave, Rufus Dawes flung himself into the sea.

He was heavily ironed, and he sank like a stone. He had resolved not to attempt to swim, and for the first moment kept his arms raised above his head, in order to sink the quicker. But, as the short, sharp agony of suffocation caught him, and the shock of the icy water dispelled the mental intoxication under which he was labouring, he desperately struck out, and, despite the weight of his irons, gained the surface for an instant. As he did so, all bewildered, and with the one savage instinct of self-preservation predominant over all other thoughts, he became conscious of a huge black mass surging upon him out of the darkness. An instant's buffet with the current, an ineffectual attempt to dive beneath it, a horrible sense that the weight at his feet was dragging him down,—and the huge log, loosened from the raft, was upon him, crushing him beneath its rough and ragged sides. All thoughts of self-murder vanished with the presence of actual peril, and uttering that despairing cry which had been faintly heard by Troke, he flung up his arms to clutch the monster that was pushing him down to death. The log passed completely over him, thrusting him beneath the water, but his hand, scraping along the splintered side, came in contact with the loop of hide rope that yet hung round the mass, and clutched it with the tenacity of a death grip. In another instant he got his head above water, and making good his hold, twisted himself, by a violent effort, across the log.

For a moment he saw the lights from the stern windows of the anchored vessels low in the distance, Grummet Rock disappeared on his left, then, exhausted, breathless, and bruised, he closed his eyes, and the drifting log bore him swiftly and silently away into the darkness.




  ― 112 ―

At daylight the next morning, Mr. Troke, landing on the prison rock, found it deserted. The prisoner's cap was lying on the edge of the little cliff, but the prisoner himself had disappeared. Pulling back to the Ladybird, the intelligent Troke pondered on the circumstance, and in delivering his report to Vickers mentioned the strange cry he had heard the night before. “It's my belief, sir, that he was trying to swim the bay,” he said. “He must ha' gone to the bottom anyhow, for he couldn't swim five yards with them irons.”

Vickers, busily engaged in getting under weigh, accepted this very natural supposition without question. The prisoner had met his death either by his own act, or by accident. It was either a suicide or an attempt to escape, and the former conduct of Rufus Dawes rendered the latter explanation a more probable one. In any case, he was dead. As Mr. Troke rightly surmised, no man could swim the bay in irons; and when the Ladybird, an hour later, passed the Grummet Rock, all on board her believed that the corpse of its late occupant was lying beneath the waves that seethed at its base.

Chapter VII.

The Last of Macquarie Harbour.

RUFUS DAWES was believed to be dead by the party on board the Ladybird, and his strange escape was unknown to those still at Sarah Island. Maurice Frere, if he bestowed a thought upon the refractory prisoner of the Rock, believed him to be safely stowed in the hold of the schooner, and already halfway to Hobart Town; while not one of the eighteen persons on board the Osprey suspected that the boat which had put off for the marooned man had returned without him. Indeed the party had little leisure for thought; Mr. Frere, eager to prove his ability and energy, was making strenuous exertions to get away, and kept his unlucky ten so hard at work that within a week from the departure of the Ladybird the Osprey was ready for sea. Mrs. Vickers and the child, having watched with some excusable regret the process of demolishing their old home, had settled down in their small cabin in the


  ― 113 ―
brig, and on the evening of the 11th of January, Mr. Bates, the pilot, who acted as master, informed the crew that Lieutenant Frere had given orders to weigh anchor at daybreak.

At daybreak accordingly the brig set sail, with a light breeze from the south-west, and by three o'clock in the afternoon anchored safely outside the Gates. Unfortunately the wind shifted to the north-west, which caused a heavy swell on the bar, and prudent Mr. Bates, having consideration for Mrs. Vickers and the child, ran back ten miles into Wellington Bay, and anchored there again at seven o'clock in the evening. The tide was running strongly, and the brig rolled a good deal. Mrs. Vickers kept her cabin, and sent Sylvia to entertain Lieutenant Frere. Sylvia went, but was not entertaining. She had conceived for Frere one of those violent antipathies which children sometimes own without reason, and since the memorable night of the apology had been barely civil to him. In vain did he pet her and compliment her, she was not to be flattered into liking him. “I do not like you, sir,” she said in her stilted fashion, “but that need make no difference to you. You occupy yourself with your prisoners; I can amuse myself without you, thank you.” “Oh, all right!” said Frere, “I don't want to interfere;” but he felt a little nettled nevertheless. On this particular evening the young lady relaxed her severity of demeanour. Her father away, and her mother sick, the little maiden felt lonely, and as a last resource accepted her mother's commands and went to Frere. He was walking up and down the deck, smoking.

“Mr. Frere, I am sent to talk to you.”

“Are you? All right—go on.”

“Oh dear no. It is the gentleman's place to entertain. Be amusing!”

“Come and sit down then, and we'll talk,” said Frere, who was in good humour at the success of his arrangements. “What shall we talk about?”

“You stupid man! As if I knew! It is your place to talk. Tell me a fairy story.”

“‘Jack and the Beanstalk’?” suggested Frere.

“Jack and the grandmother! Nonsense! Make one up out of your head, you know.”

Frere laughed.

“I can't,” he said. “I never did such a thing in my life.”

“Then why not begin? I shall go away if you don't begin.”




  ― 114 ―

Frere rubbed his brows. “Well, have you read—have you read ‘Robinson Crusoe’?”—as if the idea was the most brilliant one in the world.

“Of course I have,” returned Sylvia, pouting. “Read it?—yes. Everybody's read ‘Robinson Crusoe’!”

“Oh, have they? Well, I didn't know; let me see now.” And pulling hard at his pipe, he plunged into literary reflection.

Sylvia sitting beside him, eagerly watching for the happy thought that never came, pouted and said, “What a stupid, stupid man you are! I shall be so glad to get back to papa again. He knows all sorts of stories, nearly as many as old Danny.”

“Danny knows some, then?”

“Danny!”—with as much surprise as if she said “Walter Scott!” “Of course he does. I suppose now,” putting her head on one side, with an amusing expression of superiority, “you never heard the story of the Banshee?”

“No, I never did.”

“Nor the ‘White Horse of the Peppers’?”

“No.”

“No, I suppose not. Nor the ‘Changeling’? nor the ‘Leprechaun’?”

“No.”

Sylvia got off the skylight on which she had been sitting, and surveyed the smoking animal beside her with profound contempt.

“Mr. Frere, you are really a most ignorant person. Excuse me if I hurt your feelings; I have no wish to do that; but really you are a most ignorant person—for your age, of course.”

Maurice Frere grew a little angry. “You are very impertinent, Sylvia,” said he.

“Miss Vickers is my name, Lieutenant Frere, and I shall go and talk to Mr. Bates.”

Which threat she carried out on the spot; and Mr. Bates, who had filled the dangerous office of pilot, told her about divers and coral reefs, and some adventures of his—a little apocryphal—in the China seas. Frere resumed his smoking, half angry with himself, and half angry with the provoking little fairy. This elfin creature had a fascination for him which he could not account for.

However, he saw her no more that evening, and at breakfast


  ― 115 ―
the next morning she received him with quaint haughtiness.

“When shall we be ready to sail? Mr. Frere, I'll take some marmalade. Thank you.”

“I don't know, Missy,” said Bates. “It's very rough on the Bar; me and Mr. Frere was a soundin' of it this marnin', and it ain't safe yet.”

“Well,” said Sylvia, “I do hope and trust we sha'n't be shipwrecked, and have to swim miles and miles for our lives.”

“Ho, ho!” laughed Frere; “don't be afraid. I'll take care of you.”

“Can you swim, Mr. Bates?” asked Sylvia.

“Yes, Miss, I can.”

“Well, then, you shall take me; I like you. Mr. Frere can take mamma. We'll go and live on a desert island, Mr. Bates, won't we, and grow cocoa-nuts and bread-fruit, and—what nasty hard biscuits!—I'll be Robinson Crusoe and you shall be Man Friday. I'd like to live on a desert island, if I was sure there were no savages, and plenty to eat and drink.”

“That would be right enough, my dear, but you don't find them sort of islands every day.”

Then,” said Sylvia, with a decided nod, “we won't be shipwrecked, will we?”

“I hope not, my dear.”

“Put a biscuit in your pocket, Sylvia, in case of accidents,” suggested Frere, with a grin.

“Oh! you know my opinion of you, sir. Don't speak; I don't want any argument.”

“Don't you?—that's right.”

“Mr. Frere,” said Sylvia, gravely pausing at her mother's cabin door, “if I were Richard the Third, do you know what I'd do with you?”

“No,” says Frere, eating complacently; “what would you do?”

“Why, I'd make you stand at the door of St. Paul's Cathedral in a white sheet, with a lighted candle in your hand, until you gave up your wicked aggravating ways—you Man!”

The picture of Mr. Frere in a white sheet, with a lighted candle in his hand, at the door of St. Paul's Cathedral, was too much for Mr. Bates's gravity, and he roared with laughter. “She's a queer child, ain't she, sir? A born nateral, and yet a good-natered little soul.”




  ― 116 ―

“When shall we be able to get away, Mr. Bates?” asked Frere, whose dignity was wounded by the mirth of the pilot.

Bates felt the change of tone, and hastened to accommodate himself to his officer's humour. “I hopes by evening, sir,” said he; “if the tide slackens then I'll risk it; but it's no use trying it now.”

“The men were wanting to go ashore to wash their clothes,” said Frere. “If we are to stop here till evening, you had better let them go after dinner.”

“All right, sir,” said Bates.

The afternoon passed off auspiciously. The ten prisoners went ashore and washed their clothes. Their names were James Barker, James Lesly, John Lyon, Benjamin Riley, William Cheshire, Henry Shiers, William Russen, James Porter, John Fair, and John Rex.

This last scoundrel had come on board latest of all. He had behaved himself a little better recently, and during the work attendant upon the departure of the Ladybird, had been conspicuously useful. His intelligence and influence among his fellow prisoners combined to make him a somewhat important personage, and Vickers had allowed him privileges from which he had been hitherto debarred. Mr. Frere, however, who superintended the shipment of some stores, seemed to be resolved to take advantage of Rex's evident willingness to work. He never ceased to hurry and find fault with him. He vowed that he was lazy, sulky, or impertinent. It was “Rex, come here! Do this! Do that!” As the prisoners declared among themselves, it was evident that Mr. Frere had a “down” on the Dandy. The day before the Ladybird sailed, Rex—rejoicing in the hope of speedy departure—had suffered himself to reply to some more than usually galling remark, and Mr. Frere had complained to Vickers. “The fellow's too ready to get away,” said he. “Let him stop for the Osprey, it will be a lesson to him.”

Vickers assented, and John Rex was informed that he was not to sail with the first party. His comrades vowed that this order was an act of tyranny; but he himself said nothing. He only redoubled his activity, and—despite all his wish to the contrary—Frere was unable to find fault. He even took credit to himself for “taming” the convict's spirit, and pointed out Rex—silent and obedient—as a proof of the excellence of severe


  ― 117 ―
measures. To the convicts, however, who knew John Rex better, this silent activity was ominous.

He returned with the rest, however, on the evening of the 13th, in apparently cheerful mood. Indeed Mr. Frere, who, wearied by the delay, had decided to take the whaleboat in which the prisoners had returned, and catch a few fish before dinner, observed him laughing with some of the others, and again congratulated himself.

The time wore on. Darkness was closing in, and Mr. Bates, walking the deck, kept a look-out for the boat, with the intention of weighing anchor and making for the bar. All was secure. Mrs. Vickers and the child were safely below. The two remaining soldiers (two had gone with Frere) were upon deck, and the prisoners in the forecastle were singing. The wind was fair, and the sea had gone down. In less than an hour the Osprey would be safely outside the Harbour.

Chapter VIII.

The Power of the Wilderness.

THE drifting log that had so strangely served as a means of saving Rufus Dawes swam with the current that was running out of the bay. For some time the burden that it bore was an insensible one. Exhausted with his desperate struggle for life, the convict lay along the rough back of this Heaven-sent raft without motion, almost without breath. At length a violent shock awoke him to consciousness, and he perceived that the log had become stranded on a sandy point, the extremity of which was lost in darkness. Painfully raising himself from his uncomfortable posture, he staggered to his feet, and crawling a few paces up the beach, flung himself upon the ground and slept.

When morning dawned, he recognised his position. The log had, in passing under the lee of Philip Island, been cast upon the southern point of Coal Head, and some three hundred yards from him were the mutilated sheds of the coal-gang. For some time he lay still, basking in the warm rays of the rising sun, and scarcely caring to move his bruised and shattered limbs. The sensation of rest was so exquisite, that it overpowered all


  ― 118 ―
other considerations, and he did not even trouble himself to conjecture the reason for the apparent desertion of the huts close by him. If there was no one there—well and good. If the coal party had not gone, he would be discovered in a few moments, and brought back to his island prison. In his exhaustion and misery, he accepted the alternative and slept again.

As he laid down his aching head, Mr. Troke was reporting his death to Vickers, and while he still slept, the Ladybird, on her way out, passed him so closely, that any one on board her might, with a good glass, have espied his slumbering figure as it lay upon the sand.

When he woke it was past mid-day, and the sun poured its full rays upon him. His clothes were dry in all places, save the side on which he had been lying, and he rose to his feet refreshed by his long sleep. He scarcely comprehended, as yet, his true position. He had escaped, it was true, but not for long. He was versed in the history of escapes, and knew that a man alone on that barren coast was face to face with starvation or recapture. Glancing up at the sun, he wondered, indeed, how it was that he had been free so long. Then the coal sheds caught his eye, and he understood that they were untenanted. This astonished him, and he began to tremble with vague apprehension. Entering, he looked around, expecting every moment to see some lurking constable, or armed soldier. Suddenly his glance fell upon the loaves which lay in the corner where the departing convicts had flung them the night before. At such a moment, this discovery seemed like a direct revelation from Heaven. He would not have been surprised had they disappeared. Had he lived in another age, he would have looked round for the angel who had brought them.

By-and-by, having eaten of this miraculous provender, the poor creature began—reckoning by his convict experience—to understand what had taken place. The coal workings were abandoned; the new Commandant had probably other work for his beasts of burden to execute, and an absconder would be safe here for a few hours at least. But he must not stay. For him there was no rest. If he thought to escape, it behoved him to commence his journey at once. As he contemplated the meat and bread, something like a ray of hope entered his gloomy soul. Here was provision for his needs. The food before him represented the rations of six men. Was it not


  ― 119 ―
possible to cross the desert that lay between him and freedom on such fare? The very supposition made his heart beat faster. It surely was possible. He must husband his resources; walk much and eat little; spread out the food for one day into the food for three. Here was six men's food for one day, or one man's food for six days. He would live on a third of this, and he would have rations for eighteen days. Eighteen days! What could he not do in eighteen days? He could walk thirty miles a day—forty miles a day—that would be six hundred miles and more. Yet stay; he must not be too sanguine; the road was difficult; the scrub was in places impenetrable. He would have to make détours, and turn upon his tracks, to waste precious time. He would be moderate, and say twenty miles a day. Twenty miles a day was very easy walking. Taking a piece of stick from the ground, he made the calculation in the sand. Eighteen days, and twenty miles a day—three hundred and sixty miles. More than enough to take him to freedom. It could be done! With prudence, it could be done! He must be careful and abstemious. Abstemious! He had already eaten too much, and he hastily pulled a barely-tasted piece of meat from his mouth, and replaced it with the rest. The action which at any other time would have seemed disgusting, was, in the case of this poor creature, merely pitiable.

Having come to this resolution, the next thing was to disencumber himself of his irons. This was more easily done than he expected. He found in the shed an iron gad, and with that and a stone he drove out the rivets. The rings were too strong to be “ovalled,”note or he would have been free long ago. He packed the meat and bread together, and then pushing the gad into his belt—it might be needed as a weapon of defence—he set out on his journey.

His intention was to get round the settlement to the coast, reach the settled districts, and, by some tale of shipwreck or of wandering, procure assistance. As to what was particularly to be done when he found himself among free men, he did not pause to consider. At that point his difficulties seemed to him to end. Let him but traverse the desert that was before him, and he would trust to his own ingenuity, or the chance of fortune,


  ― 120 ―
to avert suspicion. The peril of immediate detection was so imminent, that, beside it, all other fears were dwarfed into insignificance.

Before dawn next morning he had travelled ten miles, and by husbanding his food, he succeeded by the night of the fourth day in accomplishing forty more. Footsore and weary, he lay in a thicket of the thorny melaleuca, and felt at last that he was beyond pursuit. The next day he advanced more slowly. The bush was unpropitious. Dense scrub and savage jungle impeded his path; barren and stony mountain ranges arose before him. He was lost in gullies, entangled in thickets, bewildered in morasses. The sea that had hitherto gleamed, salt, glittering, and hungry upon his right hand, now shifted to his left. He had mistaken his course, and he must turn again. For two days did this bewilderment last, and on the third he came to a mighty cliff that pierced with its blunt pinnacle the clustering bush. He must go over or round this obstacle, and he decided to go round it. A natural pathway wound about its foot. Here and there branches were broken, and it seemed to the poor wretch, fainting under the weight of his lessening burden, that his were not the first footsteps which had trodden there. The path terminated in a glade, and at the bottom of this glade was something that fluttered. Rufus Dawes pressed forward, and stumbled over a corpse!

In the terrible stillness of that solitary place he felt suddenly as though a voice had called to him. All the hideous fantastic tales of murder which he had read or heard seemed to take visible shape in the person of the loathly carcase before him, clad in the yellow dress of a convict, and lying flung together on the ground as though struck down. Stooping over it, impelled by an irresistible impulse to know the worst, he found the body was mangled. One arm was missing, and the skull had been beaten in by some heavy instrument! The first thought—that this heap of rags and bones was a mute witness to the folly of his own undertaking, the corpse of some starved absconder—gave place to a second more horrible suspicion. He recognised the number imprinted on the coarse cloth as that which had designated the younger of the two men who had escaped with Gabbett. He was standing on the place where a murder had been committed! A murder!—and what else? Thank God the food he carried was not yet exhausted! He


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turned and fled, looking back fearfully as he went. He could not breathe in the shadow of that awful mountain.

Crashing through scrub and brake, torn, bleeding, and wild with terror, he reached a spur of the Range, and looked around him. Above him rose the iron hills, below him lay the panorama of the bush. The white cone of the Frenchman's Cap was on his right hand, on his left a succession of ranges seemed to bar further progress. A gleam, as of a lake, streaked the eastward. Gigantic pine trees reared their graceful heads against the opal of the evening sky, and at their feet the dense scrub through which he had so painfully toiled, spread without break and without flaw. It seemed as though he could leap from where he stood upon a solid mass of tree-tops. He raised his eyes, and right against him, like a long dull sword, lay the narrow steel-blue reach of the harbour from which he had escaped. One darker speck moved on the dark water. It was the Osprey making for the Gates. It seemed that he could throw a stone upon her deck. A faint cry of rage escaped him. During the last three days in the bush he must have retraced his steps, and returned upon his own track to the settlement! More than half his allotted time had passed, and he was not yet thirty miles from his prison. Death had waited to overtake him in this barbarous wilderness. As a cat allows a mouse to escape her for a while, so had he been permitted to trifle with his fate, and lull himself into a false security. Escape was hopeless now. He never could escape; and as the unhappy man raised his despairing eyes, he saw that the sun, redly sinking behind a lofty pine which topped the opposite hill, shot a ray of crimson light into the glade below him. It was as though a bloody finger pointed at the corpse which lay there, and Rufus Dawes, shuddering at the dismal omen, averting his face, plunged again into the forest.

For four days he wandered aimlessly through the bush. He had given up all hopes of making the overland journey, and yet, as long as his scanty supply of food held out, he strove to keep away from the settlement. Unable to resist the pangs of hunger, he had increased his daily ration; and though the salted meat, exposed to rain and heat, had begun to turn putrid, he never looked at it but he was seized with a desire to eat his fill. The coarse lumps of carrion and the hard rye-loaves were to him delicious morsels fit for the table of an emperor. Once or twice


  ― 122 ―
he was constrained to pluck and eat the tops of tea-trees and peppermint shrubs. These had an aromatic taste, and sufficed to stay the cravings of hunger for a while, but they induced a raging thirst, which he slaked at the icy mountain springs. Had it not been for the frequency of these streams, he must have died in a few days. At last, on the twelfth day from his departure from the Coal Head, he found himself at the foot of Mount Direction, at the head of the peninsula which makes the western side of the harbour. His terrible wandering had but led him to make a complete circuit of the settlement, and the next night brought him round the shores of Birches Inlet to the landing-place opposite to Sarah Island. His stock of provisions had been exhausted for two days, and he was savage with hunger. He no longer thought of suicide. His dominant idea was now to get food. He would do as many others had done before him—give himself up to be flogged and fed. When he reached the landing-place, however, the guard-house was empty. He looked across at the island prison, and saw no sign of life. The settlement was deserted!

The shock of this discovery almost deprived him of reason. For days, that had seemed centuries, he had kept life in his jaded and lacerated body solely by the strength of his fierce determination to reach the settlement; and now that he had reached it, after a journey of unparalleled horror, he found it deserted. He struck himself to see if he was not dreaming. He refused to believe his eyesight. He shouted, screamed, and waved his tattered garments in the air. Exhausted by these paroxysms, he said to himself, quite calmly, that the sun beating on his unprotected head had dazed his brain, and that in a few moments he should see well-remembered boats pulling towards him. Then, when no boat came, he argued that he was mistaken in the place; the island yonder was not Sarah Island, but some other island like it, and that in a second or so he would be able to detect the difference. But the inexorable mountains, so hideously familiar for six weary years, made mute reply, and the sea, crawling at his feet, seemed to grin at him with a thin-lipped, hungry mouth. Yet the fact of the desertion seemed so inexplicable that he could not realize it. He felt as might have felt that wanderer in the enchanted mountains, who, returning in the morning to look for his companions, found them turned to stone.




  ― 123 ―

At last the dreadful truth forced itself upon him; he retired a few paces, and then, with a horrible cry of furious despair, stumbled forward towards the edge of the little reef that fringed the shore. Just as he was about to fling himself for the second time into the dark water, his eyes, sweeping in a last long look around the bay, caught sight of a strange appearance on the left horn of the sea beach. A thin, blue streak, uprising from behind the western arm of the little inlet, hung in the still air. It was the smoke of a fire!

The dying wretch felt inspired with new hope. God had sent him a direct sign from Heaven. The tiny column of bluish vapour seemed to him as glorious as the Pillar of Fire that led the Israelites. There were yet human beings near him!—and turning his face from the hungry sea, he tottered with the last effort of his failing strength towards the blessed token of their presence.

Chapter IX.

The Seizure of the “Osprey.”

FRERE'S fishing expedition had been unsuccessful, and in consequence prolonged. The obstinacy of his character appeared in the most trifling circumstances, and though the fast deepening shades of an Australian evening urged him to return, yet he lingered, unwilling to come, back empty-handed. At last a peremptory signal warned him. It was the sound of a musket fired on board the brig: Mr. Bates was getting impatient; and with a scowl, Frere drew up his lines, and ordered the two soldiers to pull for the vessel.

The Osprey yet sat motionless on the water, and her bare masts gave no sign of making sail. To the soldiers, pulling with their backs to her, the musket shot seemed the most ordinary occurrence in the world. Eager to quit the dismal prison-bay, they had viewed Mr. Frere's persistent fishing with disgust, and had for the previous half-hour longed to hear the signal of recall which had just startled them. Suddenly, however, they noticed a change of expression in the sullen face of their commander. Frere, sitting in the stern sheets, with his


  ― 124 ―
face to the Osprey, had observed a peculiar appearance on her decks. The bulwarks were every now and then topped by strange figures, who disappeared as suddenly as they came, and a faint murmur of voices floated across the intervening sea. Presently the report of another musket shot echoed among the hills, and something dark fell from the side of the vessel into the water. Frere, with an imprecation of mingled alarm and indignation, sprang to his feet, and shading his eyes with his hand, looked towards the brig. The soldiers, resting on their oars, imitated his gesture, and the whale-boat, thus thrown out of trim, rocked from side to side dangerously. A moment's anxious pause, and then another musket shot, followed by a woman's shrill scream, explained all. The prisoners had seized the brig! “Give away!” cried Frere, pale with rage and apprehension, and the soldiers, realizing at once the full terror of their position, forced the heavy whale-boat through the water as fast as the one miserable pair of oars could take her.

Mr. Bates, affected by the insidious influence of the hour, and lulled into a sense of false security, had gone below to tell his little playmate that she would soon be on her way to the Hobart Town of which she had heard so much; and, taking advantage of his absence, the soldier not on guard went to the forecastle to hear the prisoners singing. He found the ten together, in high good humour, listening to a “shanty” sung by three of their number. The voices were melodious enough, and the words of the ditty—chanted by many stout fellows in many a forecastle before and since—of that character which pleases the soldier nature. Private Grimes forgot all about the unprotected state of the deck, and sat down to listen.

While he listened, absorbed in tender recollections, James Lesly, William Cheshire, William Russen, John Fair, and James Barker slipped to the hatchway and got upon deck. Barker reached the aft hatchway as the soldier who was on guard turned to complete his walk, and passing his arm round his neck, pulled him down before he could utter a cry. In the confusion of the moment the man loosed his grasp of the musket to grapple with his unseen antagonist, and Fair, snatching up the weapon, swore to blow out his brains if he raised a finger. Seeing the sentry thus secured, Cheshire, as if in pursuance of


  ― 125 ―
a preconcerted plan, leapt down the after-hatchway, and passed up the muskets from the arm-racks to Lesly and Russen. There were three muskets in addition to the one taken from the sentry, and Barker, leaving his prisoner in charge of Fair, seized one of them, and ran to the companion ladder. Russen, left unarmed by this manœuvre, appeared to know his own duty. He came back to the forecastle, and passing behind the listening soldier, touched the singer on the shoulder. This was the appointed signal, and John Rex, suddenly terminating his song with a laugh, presented his fist in the face of the gaping Grimes. “No noise!” he cried. “The brig's ours;” and ere Grimes could reply, he was seized by Lyon and Riley, and bound securely.

“Come on, lads!” says Rex, “and pass the prisoner down here. We've got her this time, I'll go bail!” In obedience to this order, the now gagged sentry was flung down the fore hatchway, and the hatch secured. “Stand on the hatchway, Porter,” cries Rex again; “and if those fellows come up knock 'em down with a handspike. Lesly and Russen, forward to the companion ladder! Lyon, keep a look-out for the boat, and if she comes too near, fire!”

As he spoke the report of the first musket rang out. Barker had apparently fired up the companion hatchway.

When Mr. Bates had gone below, he found Sylvia curled upon the cushions of the state-room, reading. “Well, Missy!” he said, “we'll soon be on our way to papa.”

Sylvia answered by asking a question altogether foreign to the subject. “Mr. Bates,” said she, pushing the hair out of her blue eyes, “what's a coracle!”

“A which?” asked Mr. Bates.

“A coracle. C-o-r-a-c-l-e,” said she, spelling it slowly. “I want to know.”

The bewildered Bates shook his head. “Never heard of one, Missy,” said he, bending over the book. “What does it say?”

“‘The ancient Britons,’” said Sylvia, reading gravely, “‘were little better than barbarians. They painted their bodies with woad,’—that's blue stuff, you know, Mr. Bates—‘and, seated in their light coracles of skin stretched upon slender wooden frames, must have presented a wild and savage appearance.’”




  ― 126 ―

“Hah,” said Mr. Bates, when this remarkable passage was read to him, “that's very mysterious, that is. A corricle, a cory—,” a bright light burst upon him. “A curricle you mean, Miss! It's a carriage! I've seen 'em in Hy' Park, with young bloods a drivin' of 'em.”

“What are young bloods?” asked Sylvia, rushing at this “new opening.”

“Oh, nobs! Swell coves, don't you know,” returned poor Bates, thus again attacked. “Young men o' fortune that is, that's given to doing it grand.”

“I see,” said Sylvia, waving her little hand graciously,—“Noblemen and Princes and that sort of people. Quite so. But what about coracle?”

“Well,” said the humbled Bates, “I think it's a carriage, Missy. A sort of Pheayton, as they call it.”

Sylvia, hardly satisfied, returned to the book. It was a little mean-looking volume—a “Child's History of England,”—and after perusing it awhile with knitted brows, she burst into a childish laugh.

“Why, my dear Mr. Bates!” she cried, waving the History above her head in triumph, “what a pair of geese we are! A carriage! Oh you silly man! It's a boat!

“Is it?” said Mr. Bates, in admiration of the intelligence of his companion. “Who'd ha' thought that now? Why couldn't they call it a boat at once, then, and ha' done with it?” and he was about to laugh also, when, raising his eyes, he saw in the open doorway the figure of James Barker, with a musket in his hand.

“Hallo! What's this? What do you do here, sir?”

“Sorry to disturb yer,” says the convict, with a grin, “but you must come along o' me, Mr. Bates.”

Bates, at once comprehending that some terrible misfortune had occurred, did not lose his presence of mind. One of the cushions of the couch was under his right hand, and snatching it up, he flung it across the little cabin full in the face of the escaped prisoner. The soft mass struck the man with force sufficient to blind him for an instant. The musket exploded harmlessly in the air, and ere the astonished Barker could recover his footing, Bates had hurled him out of the cabin, and crying “Mutiny!” locked the cabin door on the inside.

The noise brought out Mrs. Vickers from her berth, and the poor little student of English history ran into her arms.




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“Good heavens, Mr. Bates, what is it?”

Bates, furious with rage, so far forgot himself as to swear. “It's a mutiny, ma'am,” said he. “Go back to your cabin and lock the door. Those bloody villains have risen on us!” Julia Vickers felt her heart grow sick. Was she never to escape out of this dreadful life? “Go into your cabin, ma'am,” says Bates again, and don't move a finger till I tell ye. Maybe it ain't so bad as it looks; I've got my pistols with me, thank God, and Mr. Frere 'll hear the shot any way. Mutiny! On deck there!” he cried at the full pitch of his voice, and his brow grew damp with dismay when a mocking laugh from above was the only response.

Thrusting the woman and child into the state berth, the bewildered pilot cocked a pistol, and snatching a cutlass from the arm stand fixed to the butt of the mast which penetrated the cabin, he burst open the door with his foot, and rushed to the companion ladder. Barker had retreated to the deck, and for an instant he thought the way was clear, but Lesly and Russen thrust him back with the muzzles of the loaded muskets. He struck at Russen with the cutlass, missed him, and seeing the hopelessness of the attack, was fain to retreat.

In the meanwhile, Grimes and the other soldier had loosed themselves from their bonds, and encouraged by the firing, which seemed to them a sign that all was not yet lost, made shift to force up the forehatch. Porter, whose courage was none of the fiercest, and who had been for years given over to that terror of discipline which servitude induces, made but a feeble attempt at resistance, and forcing the handspike from him, the sentry, Jones, rushed aft to help the pilot. As Jones reached the waist, Cheshire, a cold-blooded blue-eyed man, shot him dead. Grimes fell over the corpse, and Cheshire, clubbing the musket—had he another barrel he would have fired,—coolly battered his head as he lay, and then seizing the body of the unfortunate Jones in his arms, tossed it into the sea. “Porter, you lubber!” he cried, exhausted with the effort to lift the body, “come and bear a hand with this other one!” Porter advanced aghast, but just then another occurrence claimed the villain's attention, and poor Grimes's life was spared for that time.

Rex, inwardly raging at this unexpected resistance on the part of the pilot, flung himself on the skylight, and tore it up bodily. As he did so, Barker, who had reloaded his musket,


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fired down into the cabin. The ball passed through the state-room door, and splintering the wood, buried itself close to the golden curls of poor little Sylvia. It was this hair's breadth escape which drew from the agonized mother that shriek which, pealing through the open stern window, had roused the soldiers in the boat.

Rex, who, by the virtue of his dandyism, yet possessed some abhorrence of useless crime, imagined that the cry was one of pain, and that Barker's bullet had taken deadly effect. “You've killed the child, you villain!” he cried.

“What's the odds?” asked Barker sulkily. “She must die any way, sooner or later.”

Rex put his head down the skylight, and called on Bates to surrender; but Bates only drew his other pistol. “Would you commit murder?” he asked, looking round with desperation in his glance.

“No, no,” cried some of the men, willing to blink the death of poor Jones. “It's no use making things worse than they are. Bid him come up, and we'll do him no harm.”

“Come up, Mr. Bates,” says Rex, “and I give you my word you sha'n't be injured.”

“Will you set the major's lady and child ashore, then?” asked Bates, sturdily facing the scowling brows above him.

“Yes.”

“Without injury?” continued the other, bargaining, as it were, at the very muzzles of the muskets.

“Ay, ay! It's all right!” returned Russen. “It's our liberty we want, that's all.”

Bates, hoping against hope for the return of the boat, endeavoured to gain time. “Shut down the skylight, then,” said he, with the ghost of an authority in his voice, “until I ask the lady.”

This, however, John Rex refused to do. “You can ask well enough where you are,” he said.

But there was no need for Mr. Bates to put a question. The door of the state-room opened, and Mrs. Vickers appeared, trembling, with Sylvia by her side. “Accept, Mr. Bates,” she said, “since it must be so. We should gain nothing by refusing. We are at their mercy—God help us!”

“Amen to that,” says Bates under his breath, and then aloud, “We agree!”




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“Put your pistols on the table, and come up, then,” says Rex, covering the table with his musket as he spoke. “Nobody shall hurt you.”

Chapter X.

John Rex's Revenge.

MRS. VICKERS, pale and sick with terror, yet sustained by that strange courage of which we have before spoken, passed rapidly under the open skylight, and prepared to ascend. Sylvia—her romance crushed by too dreadful reality—clung to her mother with one hand, and with the other pressed close to her little bosom the “English History.” In her all-absorbing fear she had forgotten to lay it down.

“Get a shawl, ma'am, or something,” says Bates, “and a hat for Missy.”

Mrs. Vickers looked back across the space beneath the open skylight, and shuddering, shook her head. The men above impatiently swore at the delay, and the three hastened on deck.

“Who's to command the brig now?” asked undaunted Bates, as they came up.

“I am,” says John Rex; “and, with these brave fellows, I'll take her round the world.”

The touch of bombast was not out of place. It jumped so far with the humour of the convicts that they set up a feeble cheer, at which Sylvia frowned. Frightened as she was, the prison-bred child was as much astonished at hearing convicts cheer as a fashionable lady would be to hear her footman quote poetry. Bates, however—practical and calm—took quite another view of the case. The bold project, so boldly avowed, seemed to him a sheer absurdity. The “Dandy” and a crew of nine convicts navigate a brig round the world! Preposterous; why, not a man aboard could work a reckoning! His nautical fancy pictured the Osprey helplessly rolling on the swell of the Southern Ocean, or hopelessly locked in the ice of the Antarctic Seas, and he dimly guessed at the fate of the deluded ten. Even if they got safe to port, the chances of final escape were all against


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them, for what account could they give of themselves? Over-powered by these reflections, the honest fellow made one last effort to charm his captors back to their pristine bondage.

“Fools!” he cried, “do you know what you are about to do? You will never escape. Give up the brig, and I will declare, before my God, upon the Bible, that I will say nothing, but give all good characters.”

Lesly and another burst into a laugh at this wild proposition, but Rex, who had weighed his chances well beforehand, felt the force of the pilot's speech, and answered seriously.

“It's no use talking,” he said, shaking his still handsome head. “We have got the brig, and we mean to keep her. I can navigate her, though I am no seaman, so you needn't talk further about it, Mr. Bates. It's liberty we require.”

“What are you going to do with us?” asked Bates.

“Leave you behind.”

Bates's face blanched. “What, here?

“Yes. It don't look a picturesque spot, does it? And yet I've lived here for some years;” and he grinned.

Bates was silent. The logic of that grin was unanswerable.

“Come!” cried the Dandy, shaking off his momentary melancholy, “look alive there! Lower away the jolly-boat. Mrs. Vickers, go down to your cabin and get anything you want. I am compelled to put you ashore, but I have no wish to leave you without clothes.” Bates listened, in a sort of dismal admiration, at this courtly convict. He could not have spoken like that had life depended on it. “Now, my little lady,” continued Rex, “run down with your mamma, and don't be frightened.”

Sylvia flashed burning red at this indignity. “Frightened! If there had been anybody else here but women, you never would have taken the brig. Frightened! Let me pass, prisoner!

The whole deck burst into a great laugh at this, and poor Mrs. Vickers paused, trembling for the consequences of the child's temerity. To thus taunt the desperate convict who held their lives in his hands seemed sheer madness. In the boldness of the speech, however, lay its safeguard. Rex—whose politeness was mere bravado—was stung to the quick by the reflection upon his courage, and the bitter accent with which the child had pronounced the word prisoner (the generic name of convicts)


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made him bite his lips with rage. Had he had his will, he would have struck the little creature to the deck, but the hoarse laugh of his companions warned him to forbear. There is “public opinion” even among convicts, and Rex dared not vent his passion on so helpless an object. As men do in such cases, he veiled his anger beneath an affectation of amusement. In order to show that he was not moved by the taunt, he smiled upon the taunter more graciously than ever.

“Your daughter has her father's spirit, madam,” said he to Mrs. Vickers, with a bow.

Bates opened his mouth to listen. His ears were not large enough to take in the words of this complimentary convict. He began to think that he was the victim of a nightmare. He absolutely felt that John Rex was a greater man at that moment than John Bates.

As Mrs. Vickers descended the hatchway, the boat with Frere and the soldiers came within musket range, and Lesly, according to orders, fired his musket over their heads, shouting to them to lay to. But Frere, boiling with rage at the manner in which the tables had been turned on him, had determined not to resign his lost authority without a struggle. Disregarding the summons, he came straight on, with his eyes fixed on the vessel. It was now nearly dark, and the figures on the deck were indistinguishable. The indignant lieutenant could but guess at the condition of affairs. Suddenly, from out of the darkness a voice hailed him—

“Hold water! back water!” it cried, and was then seemingly choked in its owner's throat.

The voice was the property of Mr. Bates. Standing near the side, he had observed Rex and Fair bring up a great pig of iron, erst used as part of the ballast of the brig, and poise it on the rail. Their intention was but too evident; and honest Bates, like a faithful watch-dog, barked to warn his master. Blood-thirsty Cheshire caught him by the throat, and Frere, unheeding, ran the boat alongside, under the very nose of the revengeful Rex.

The mass of iron fell half in-board upon the now stayed boat, and gave her sternway, with a splintered plank.

“Villains!” cried Frere, “would you swamp us?”

“Aye,” laughed Rex, “and a dozen such as ye! The brig's ours, can't ye see, and we're your masters now!”




  ― 132 ―

Frere, stifling an exclamation of rage, cried to the bow to hook on, but the blow had driven the boat backward, and she was already beyond arm's length of the brig. Looking up, he saw Cheshire's savage face, and heard the click of the lock as he cocked his piece. The two soldiers, exhausted by their long pull, made no effort to stay the progress of the boat, and almost before the swell caused by the plunge of the mass of iron had ceased to agitate the water, the deck of the Osprey had become invisible in the darkness.

Frere struck his fist upon the thwart in sheer impotence of rage. “The scoundrels!” he said, between his teeth, “they've mastered us. What do they mean to do next?”

The answer came pat to the question. From the dark hull of the brig broke a flash and a report, and a musket ball cut the water beside them with a chirping noise. Between the black indistinct mass which represented the brig, and the glimmering water, was visible a white speck, which gradually neared them.

“Come alongside with ye!” hailed a voice, “or it will be worse for ye!”

“They want to murder us,” says Frere. “Give way, men!”

But the two soldiers, exchanging glances one with the other, pulled the boat's head round, and made for the vessel. “It's no use, Mr. Frere,” said the man nearest him, “we can do no good now, and they won't hurt us, I dare say.”

“You dogs, you are in league with them,” bursts out Frere, purple with indignation. “Do you mutiny?”

“Come, come, sir,” returned the soldier, sulkily, “this ain't the time to bully; and, as for mutiny, why, one man's about as good as another just now.”

This speech from the lips of a man who, but a few minutes before, would have risked his life to obey the orders of his officer, did more than an hour's reasoning to convince Maurice Frere of the hopelessness of resistance. His authority—born of circumstance, and supported by adventitious aid—had left him. The musket shot had reduced him to the ranks. He was now no more than any one else; indeed, he was less than many, for those who held the firearms were the ruling powers. With a groan he resigned himself to his fate, and looking at the sleeve of the undress uniform he wore, it seemed to him that virtue had gone out of it.

When they reached the brig, they found that the jolly-boat


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had been lowered and laid alongside. In her were eleven persons: Bates, with forehead gashed, and hands bound, the stunned Grimes, Russen and Fair pulling, Lyon, Riley, Cheshire, and Lesly with muskets, and John Rex in the stern sheets, with Bates's pistols in his trousers' belt, and a loaded musket across his knees. The white object which had been seen by the men in the whale-boat was a large white shawl which wrapped Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia.

Frere muttered an oath of relief when he saw this white bundle. He had feared that the child was injured. By the direction of Rex, the whale-boat was brought alongside the jolly-boat, and Cheshire and Lesly boarded her. Lesly then gave his musket to Rex, and bound Frere's hands behind him, in the same manner as had been done for Bates. Frere attempted to resist this indignity, but Cheshire, clapping his musket to his ear, swore he would blow out his brains if he uttered another syllable; and Frere, catching the malignant eye of John Rex, remembered how easily a twitch of the finger would pay off old scores, and was silent. “Step in here, sir, if you please,” said Rex, with polite irony. “I am sorry to be compelled to tie you, but I must consult my own safety as well as your convenience.” Frere scowled, and, stepping awkwardly into the jolly-boat, fell. Pinioned as he was, he could not rise without assistance, and Russen pulled him roughly to his feet, with a coarse laugh. In his present frame of mind, that laugh galled him worse than his bonds.

Poor Mrs. Vickers, with a woman's quick instinct, saw this, and, even amid her own trouble, found leisure to console. “The wretches!” she said, under her breath, as Frere was flung down beside her, “to subject you to such indignity!” Sylvia said nothing, and seemed to shrink from the lieutenant. Perhaps in her childish fancy, she had pictured him as coming to her rescue, armed cap-a-pie, and clad in dazzling mail, or, at the very least, as a muscular hero, who should settle affairs out of hand by sheer personal prowess. If she had entertained any such notion, the reality must have struck coldly upon her senses. Mr. Frere, purple, clumsy, and bound, was not at all heroic.

“Now, my lads,” says Rex—who seemed to have endued the cast-off authority of Frere—“we give you your choice. Stay at Hell's Gates, or come with us!”

The soldiers paused, irresolute. To join the mutineers


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meant a certainty of hard work, with a chance of ultimate hanging. Yet to stay with the prisoners was—as far as they could see—to incur the inevitable fate of starvation on a barren coast. As is often the case on such occasions, a trifle sufficed to turn the scale. The wounded Grimes, who was slowly recovering from his stupor, dimly caught the meaning of the sentence, and in his obfuscated condition of intellect, must needs make comment upon it. “Go with him, ye beggars!” said he, “and leave us honest men! Oh, ye'll get a tying-up for this!”

The phrase “tying-up” brought with it recollection of the worst portion of military discipline, the cat, and revived in the minds of the pair already disposed to break the yoke that sat so heavily upon them, a train of dismal memories. The life of a soldier on a convict station was at that time a hard one. He was often stinted in rations, and of necessity deprived of all rational recreation, while punishment for offences was prompt and severe. The companies drafted to the penal settlements were not composed of the best material, and the pair had good precedent for the course they were about to take.

“Come,” says Rex, “I can't wait here all night. The wind is freshening, and we must make the Bar. Which is it to be?”

“We'll go with you!” says the man who had pulled the stroke in the whale-boat, spitting into the water with averted face. Upon which utterance the convicts burst into joyous oaths, and the pair were received with much hand-shaking.

Then Rex, with Lyon and Riley as a guard, got into the whale-boat, and having loosed the two prisoners from their bonds, ordered them to take the places of Russen and Fair. The whale-boat was manned by the seven mutineers, Rex steering, Fair, Russen, and the two recruits pulling, and the other four standing up, with their muskets levelled at the jolly-boat. Their long slavery had begotten such a dread of authority in these men, that they feared it even when it was bound and menaced by four muskets. “Keep your distance!” shouted Cheshire, as Frere and Bates, in obedience to orders, began to pull the jolly-boat towards the shore; and in this fashion was the dismal little party conveyed to the mainland.

It was night when they reached it, but the clear sky began to thrill with a late moon as yet unarisen, and the waves, breaking gently upon the beach, glimmered with a radiance born of their own motion. Frere and Bates, jumping ashore, helped out Mrs.


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Vickers, Sylvia, and the wounded Grimes. This being done under the muzzles of the muskets, Rex commanded that Bates and Frere should push the jolly-boat as far as they could from the shore, and Riley catching her by a boot-hook as she came towards them, she was taken in tow.

“Now, boys,” says Cheshire, with a savage delight, “three cheers for old England and Liberty!”

Upon which a great shout went up, echoed by the grim hills which had witnessed so many miseries.

To the wretched five, this exultant mirth sounded like a knell of death. “Great God!” cried Bates, running up to his knees in water after the departing boats, “would you leave us here to starve?”

The only answer was the jerk and dip of the retreating oars.

Chapter XI.

Left at “Hell's Gates.”

THERE is no need to dwell upon the mental agonies of that miserable night. Perhaps, of all the five, the one least qualified to endure it realized the prospect of suffering most acutely. Mrs. Vickers—lay-figure and noodle as she was—had the keen instinct of approaching danger, which is in her sex a sixth sense. She was a woman and a mother, and owned to a double capacity for suffering. Her feminine imagination pictured all the horrors of death by famine, and having realized her own torments, her maternal love forced her to live them over again in the person of her child. Rejecting Bates's offer of a pea-jacket and Frere's vague tenders of assistance, the poor woman withdrew behind a rock that faced the sea, and, with her daughter in her arms, resigned herself to her torturing thoughts. Sylvia, recovered from her terror, was almost content, and, curled in her mother's shawl, slept. To her little soul, this midnight mystery of boats and muskets had all the flavour of a romance. With Bates, Frere, and her mother so close to her, it was impossible to be afraid; besides, it was obvious that Papa—the Supreme Being of the settlement—must at once return and severely punish the impertinent prisoners who had


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dared to insult his wife and child, and as Sylvia dropped off to sleep, she caught herself, with some indignation, pitying the mutineers for the tremendous scrape they had got themselves into. How they would be flogged when Papa came back! In the mean time this sleeping in the open air was rather pleasant.

Honest Bates produced a piece of biscuit, and, with all the generosity of his nature, suggested that this should be set aside for the sole use of the two females, but Mrs. Vickers would not hear of it. “We must all share alike,” said she, with something of the spirit that she knew her husband would have displayed under like circumstance; and Frere wondered at her apparent strength of mind. Had he been gifted with more acuteness, he would not have wondered; for when a crisis comes to one of two persons who have lived much together, the influence of the nobler spirit makes itself felt. Frere had a tinder-box in his pocket, and he made a fire with some dry leaves and sticks. Grimes fell asleep, and the two men sitting at their fire discussed the chances of escape. Neither liked to openly broach the supposition that they were finally deserted. It was concluded between them that, unless the brig sailed in the night—and the now risen moon showed her yet lying at anchor—the convicts would return and bring them food. This supposition proved correct, for about an hour after daylight they saw the whale-boat pulling towards them.

A discussion had arisen amongst the mutineers as to the propriety of at once making sail, but Barker, who had been one of the pilot-boat crew, and knew the dangers of the Bar, vowed that he would not undertake to steer the brig through the Gates until morning; and so the boats being secured astern, a strict watch was set, lest the helpless Bates should attempt to rescue the vessel. During the evening—the excitement attendant upon the outbreak having passed away, and the magnitude of the task before them being more fully apparent to their minds—a feeling of pity for the unfortunate party on the mainland took possession of them. It was quite possible that the Osprey might be recaptured, in which case five useless murders would have been committed; and however callous to bloodshed were the majority of the ten, not one among them could contemplate in cold blood, without a twinge of remorse, the death of the harmless child of the Commandant. John Rex, seeing how matters were going, made haste to take to himself the credit of mercy.


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He ruled, and had always ruled, his ruffians not so much by suggesting to them the course they should take, as by leading them on the way they had already chosen for themselves.

“I propose,” said he, “that we divide the provisions. There are five of them and ten of us. Then nobody can blame us.”

“Ay,” said Porter, mindful of a similar exploit, “and if we're taken, they can tell what we have done. Don't let our affair be like that of the Cypress, to leave them to starve.”

“Ay, ay,” says Barker, “you're right! When Fergusson was topped at Hobart Town, I heard old Troke say that if he'd not refused to set the tucker ashore, he might ha' got off with a whole skin.”

Thus urged, by self-interest, as well as sentiment, to mercy, the provision was got upon deck by daylight, and a division made. The soldiers, with generosity born of remorse, were for giving half to the marooned men, but Barker exclaimed against this. “When the schooner finds they don't get to head-quarters, she's bound to come back and look for 'em,” said he; “and we'll want all the tucker we can get, maybe, afore we sights land.”

This reasoning was admitted and acted upon. There was in the harness-cask about fifty pounds of salt meat, and a third of this quantity, together with half a small sack of flour, some tea and sugar mixed together in a bag, and an iron kettle and pannikin, was placed in the whale-boat. Rex, fearful of excesses among his crew, had also lowered down one of the two small puncheons of rum which the store room contained. Cheshire disputed this, and stumbling over a goat that had been taken on board from Philip Island, caught the creature by the leg, and threw it into the sea, bidding Rex take that with him also. Rex dragged the poor beast into the boat, and with this miscellaneous cargo pushed off to the shore. The poor goat, shivering, began to bleat piteously, and the men laughed. To a stranger it would have appeared that the boat contained a happy party of fishermen, or coast settlers, returning with the proceeds of a day's marketing.

Laying off as the water shallowed, Rex called to Bates to come for the cargo, and three men with muskets standing up as before, ready to resist any attempt at capture, the provisions, goat and all, were carried ashore. “There!” says Rex, “you can't say we've used you badly, for we've divided the provisions.”


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The sight of this almost unexpected succour revived the courage of the five, and they felt grateful. After the horrible anxiety they had endured all that night, they were prepared to look with kindly eyes upon the men who had come to their assistance.

“Men,” said Bates, with something like a sob in his voice, “I didn't expect this. You are good fellows, for there ain't much tucker aboard, I know.”

“Yes,” affirmed Frere, “you're good fellows.”

Rex burst into a savage laugh. “Shut your mouth, you tyrant,” said he, forgetting his Dandyism in the recollection of his former suffering. “It ain't for your benefit. You may thank the lady and child for it.”

Julia Vickers hastened to propitiate the arbiter of her daughter's fate. “We are obliged to you,” she said, with a touch of quiet dignity resembling her husband's; “and if I ever get back safely, I will take care that your kindness shall be known.”

The swindler and forger took off his leather cap with quite an air. It was five years since a lady had spoken to him, and the old time when he was Mr. Lionel Crofton, a “gentleman sportsman,” came back again for an instant. At that moment, with liberty in his hand, and fortune all before him, he felt his self-respect return, and he looked the lady in the face without flinching.

“I sincerely trust, madam,” said he, “that you will get back safely. May I hope for your good wishes for myself and my companions?”

Listening, Bates burst into a roar of astonished enthusiasm. “What a dog it is!” he cried. “John Rex, John Rex, you were never made to be a convict, man!”

Rex smiled. “Good-bye, Mr. Bates, and God preserve you!”

“Good-bye,” says Bates, rubbing his hat off his face, “and I—I—damme, I hope you'll get safe off—there!—for liberty's sweet to every man.”

“Good-bye, prisoners!” says Sylvia, waving her handkerchief; “and I hope they won't catch you, too.”

So, with cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, the boat departed.

In the emotion which the apparently disinterested conduct of John Rex had occasioned the exiles, all earnest thought of their


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own position had vanished, and, strange to say, the prevailing feeling was that of anxiety for the ultimate fate of the mutineers. But as the boat grew smaller and smaller in the distance, so did their consciousness of their own situation grow more and more distinct; and when at last the boat had disappeared in the shadow of the brig, all started, as if from a dream, to the wakeful contemplation of their own case.

A council of war was held, with Mr. Frere at the head of it, and the possessions of the little party were thrown into common stock. The salt meat, flour, and tea were placed in a hollow rock at some distance from the beach, and Mr. Bates was appointed purser, to apportion to each, without fear or favour, his stated allowance. The goat was tethered with a piece of fishing line sufficiently long to allow her to browse. The cask of rum, by special agreement, was placed in the innermost recess of the rock, and it was resolved that its contents should not be touched except in case of sickness, or in last extremity. There was no lack of water, for a spring ran bubbling from the rocks within a hundred yards of the spot where the party had landed. They calculated that, with prudence, their provision would last them for nearly four weeks.

It was found, upon a review of their possessions, that they had among them three pocket knives, a ball of string, two pipes and a fig of tobacco, a portion of fishing line, with hooks, and a big jack-knife which Frere had taken to gut the fish he had expected to catch. But they saw with dismay that there was nothing which could be used axe-wise among the party. Mrs. Vickers had her shawl, and Bates a pea-jacket, but Frere and Grimes were without extra clothing. It was agreed that each should retain his own property, with the exception of the fishing lines, which were confiscated to the commonwealth.

Having made these arrangements, the kettle, filled with water from the spring, was slung from three green sticks over the fire, and a pannikin of weak tea, together with a biscuit, served out to each of the party, save Grimes, who declared himself unable to eat. Breakfast over, Bates made a damper, which was cooked in the ashes, and then another council was held as to future habitation.

It was clearly evident that they could not sleep in the open air. It was the middle of summer, and though no annoyance from rain was apprehended, the heat in the middle of the day


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was most oppressive. Moreover, it was absolutely necessary that Mrs. Vickers and the child should have some place to themselves. At a little distance from the beach was a sandy rise, that led up to the face of the cliff, and on the eastern side of this rise grew a forest of young trees. Frere proposed to cut down these trees, and make a sort of hut with them. It was soon discovered, however, that the pocket knives were insufficient for this purpose, but by dint of notching the young saplings and then breaking them down, they succeeded, in a couple of hours, in collecting wood enough to roof over a space between the hollow rock which contained the provisions and another rock, in shape like a hammer, which jutted out within five yards of it. Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia were to have this hut as a sleeping place, and Frere and Bates, lying at the mouth of the larder, would at once act as a guard to it and them. Grimes was to make for himself another hut where the fire had been lighted on the previous night.

When they got back to dinner, inspirited by this resolution, they found poor Mrs. Vickers in great alarm. Grimes, who, by reason of the dint in his skull, had been left behind, was walking about the sea-beach, talking mysteriously, and shaking his fist at an imaginary foe. On going up to him, they discovered that the blow had affected his brain, for he was delirious. Frere endeavoured to soothe him, without effect; and at last, by Bates's advice, the poor fellow was rolled in the sea. The cold bath quelled his violence, and, being laid beneath the shade of a rock hard by, he fell into a condition of great muscular exhaustion, and slept.

The damper was then portioned out by Bates, and, together with a small piece of meat, it formed the dinner of the party. Mrs. Vickers reported that she had observed a great commotion on board the brig, and thought that the prisoners were throwing overboard such portions of the cargo as were not absolutely necessary to them, in order to lighten her. This notion Bates declared to be correct, and further pointed out that the mutineers had got out a kedge-anchor, and by hauling on the kedge-line, were gradually warping the brig down the harbour. Before dinner was over a light breeze sprang up, and the Osprey, running up the union-jack reversed, fired a musket, either in farewell or triumph, and spreading her sails, disappeared round the western horn of the harbour.




  ― 141 ―

Mrs. Vickers, taking Sylvia with her, went away a few paces, and leaning against the rugged wall of her future home, wept bitterly. Bates and Frere affected cheerfulness, but each felt that he had hitherto regarded the presence of the brig as a sort of safeguard, and had never fully realized his own loneliness until now.

The necessity for work, however, admitted of no indulgence of vain sorrow, and Bates setting the example, the pair worked so hard that by nightfall they had torn down and dragged together sufficient brushwood to complete Mrs. Vickers's hut. During the progress of this work they were often interrupted by Grimes, who persisted in vague rushes at them, exclaiming loudly against their supposed treachery in leaving him at the mercy of the mutineers. Bates also complained of the pain caused by the wound in his forehead, and that he was afflicted with a giddiness which he knew not how to avert. By dint of frequently bathing his head at the spring, however, he succeeded in keeping on his legs, until the work of dragging together the boughs was completed, when he threw himself on the ground, and declared that he could rise no more.

Frere applied to him the remedy that had been so successfully tried upon Grimes, but the salt water inflamed his wound and rendered his condition worse. Mrs. Vickers recommended that a little spirit and water should be used to wash the cut, and the cask was got out and broached for that purpose. Tea and damper formed their evening meal; and by the light of a blazing fire, their condition looked less desperate. Mrs. Vickers had set the pannikin on a flat stone, and dispensed the tea with an affectation of dignity which would have been absurd, had it not been heart-rending. She had smoothed her hair and pinned the white shawl about her coquettishly; she even ventured to lament to Mr. Frere that she had not brought more clothes. Sylvia was in high spirits, and scorned to confess hunger. When the tea had been drunk, she fetched water from the spring in the kettle, and bathed Bates's head with it. It was resolved that, on the morrow, a search should be made for some place from which to cast the fishing-line, and that one of the number should fish daily.

The condition of the unfortunate Grimes now gave cause for the greatest uneasiness. From maundering foolishly, he had taken to absolute violence, and had to be watched by Frere.


  ― 142 ―
After much muttering and groaning, the poor fellow at last dropped off to sleep, and Frere, having assisted Bates to his sleeping place in front of the rock, and laid him down on a heap of green brushwood, prepared to snatch a few hours' slumber. Wearied by excitement and the labours of the day, he slept heavily, but, towards morning, was awakened by a strange noise.

Grimes, whose delirium had apparently increased, had succeeded in forcing his way through the rude fence of brushwood, and had thrown himself upon Bates with the ferocity of insanity. Growling to himself, he had seized the unfortunate pilot by the throat, and the pair were struggling together. Bates, weakened by the sickness that had followed upon his wound in the head, was quite unable to cope with his desperate assailant, but calling feebly upon Frere for help, had made shift to lay hold upon the jack-knife of which we have before spoken. Frere, starting to his feet, rushed to the assistance of the pilot, but was too late. Grimes, enraged by the sight of the knife, tore it from Bates's grasp, and before Frere could catch his arm, plunged it twice into the unfortunate man's breast.

“I'm a dead man!” cried Bates faintly.

The sight of the blood, together with the exclamation of his victim, recalled Grimes to consciousness. He looked in bewilderment at the bloody weapon, and then flinging it from him, rushed away towards the sea, into which he plunged headlong.

Frere, aghast at this sudden and terrible tragedy, gazed after him, and saw from out the placid water, sparkling in the bright beams of morning, a pair of arms, with outstretched hands, emerge; a black spot, that was a head, uprose between these stiffening arms, and then, with a horrible cry, the whole disappeared, and the bright water sparkled as placidly as before. The eyes of the terrified Frere travelling back to the wounded man, saw, midway between this sparkling water and the knife that lay on the sand, an object that went far to explain the maniac's sudden burst of fury. The rum cask lay upon its side by the remnants of last night's fire, and close to it was a clout, with which the head of the wounded man had been bound. It was evident that the poor creature, wandering in his delirium, had come across the rum cask, drank a quantity of its contents, and been maddened by the fiery spirit.

Frere hurried to the side of Bates, and lifting him up, strove


  ― 143 ―
to staunch the blood that flowed from his chest. It would seem that he had been resting himself on his left elbow, and that Grimes, snatching the knife from his right hand, had stabbed him twice in the right breast. He was pale and senseless, and Frere feared that the wound was mortal. Tearing off his neck-handkerchief, he endeavoured to bandage the wound, but found that the strip of silk was insufficient for the purpose. The noise had roused Mrs. Vickers, who, stifling her terror, made haste to tear off a portion of her dress, and with this a bandage of sufficient width was made. Frere went to the cask to see if, haply, he could obtain from it a little spirit with which to moisten the lips of the dying man, but it was empty. Grimes, after drinking his fill, had overturned the unheaded puncheon, and the greedy sand had absorbed every drop of liquor. Sylvia brought some water from the spring, and Mrs. Vickers bathing Bates's head with this, he revived a little. By-and-by Mrs. Vickers milked the goat—she had never done such a thing before in all her life—and the milk being given to Bates in a pannikin, he drank it eagerly, but vomited it almost instantly. It was evident that he was sinking from some internal injury.

None of the party had much appetite for breakfast, but Frere, whose sensibilities were less acute than those of the others, ate a piece of salt meat and damper. It struck him, with a curious feeling of pleasant selfishness, that now Grimes had gone, the allowance of provisions would be increased, and that if Bates went also, it would be increased still further. He did not give utterance to his thoughts, however, but sat with the wounded man's head on his knees, and brushed the settling flies from his face. He hoped, after all, that the pilot would not die, for he should then be left alone to look after the women. Perhaps some such thought was agitating Mrs. Vickers also. As for Sylvia, she made no secret of her anxiety.

“Don't die, Mr. Bates—oh, don't die!” she said, standing piteously near, but afraid to touch him. “Don't leave mamma and me alone in this dreadful place!”

Poor Bates of course said nothing, but Frere frowned heavily, and Mrs. Vickers said, reprovingly, “Sylvia!” just as if they had been in the old house on distant Sarah Island.

In the afternoon Frere went away to drag together some wood for the fire, and when he returned, he found the pilot near his end. Mrs. Vickers said that for an hour he had lain without


  ― 144 ―
motion, and almost without breath. The major's wife had seen more than one death-bed, and was calm enough; but poor little Sylvia, sitting on a stone hard by, shook with terror. She had a dim notion that death must be accompanied by violence. As the sun sank, Bates rallied; but the two watchers knew that it was but the final flicker of the expiring candle. “He's going!” said Frere at length, under his breath, as though fearful of awaking his half-slumbering soul. Mrs. Vickers, her eyes streaming with silent tears, lifted the honest head, and moistened the parched lips with her soaked handkerchief. A tremor shook the once stalwart limbs, and the dying man opened his eyes. For an instant he seemed bewildered, and then, looking from one to the other, intelligence returned to his glance, and it was evident that he remembered all. His gaze rested upon the pale face of the affrighted Sylvia, and then turned to Frere. There could be no mistaking the mute appeal of those eloquent eyes.

“Yes, I'll take care of her,” said Frere.

Bates smiled, and then observing that the blood from his wound had stained the white shawl of Mrs. Vickers, he made an effort to move his head. It was not fitting that a lady's shawl should be stained with the blood of a poor fellow like himself. The fashionable fribble, with quick instinct, understood the gesture, and gently drew the head back upon her bosom. In the presence of death the woman was womanly. For a moment all was silent, and they thought he had gone; but all at once he opened his eyes, and looked round for the sea.

“Turn my face to it once more,” he whispered: and as they raised him, he inclined his ear to listen. “It's calm enough here, God bless it,” he said; “but I can hear the waves a-breaking hard upon the Bar!”

And so his head drooped, and he died.

As Frere relieved Mrs. Vickers from the weight of the corpse, Sylvia ran to her mother. “Oh, mamma, mamma,” she cried, “why did God let him die when we wanted him so much?”

Before it grew dark, Frere made shift to carry the body to the shelter of some rocks at a little distance, and spreading the jacket over the face, he piled stones upon it to keep it steady. The march of events had been so rapid, that he scarcely realized that since the previous evening two of the five human creatures left in this wilderness had escaped from it. As he did realize it, he began to wonder whose turn it would be next.




  ― 145 ―

Mrs. Vickers, worn out by the fatigue and excitement of the day, retired to rest early; and Sylvia, refusing to speak to Frere, followed her mother. This manifestation of unaccountable dislike on the part of the child hurt Maurice more than he cared to own. He felt angry with her for not loving him, and yet he took no pains to conciliate her. It was with a curious pleasure that he remembered how she must soon look up to him as her chief protector. Had Sylvia been a few years older, the young man would have thought himself in love with her.

The following day passed gloomily. It was hot and sultry, and a dull haze hung over the mountains. Frere spent the morning in scooping a grave in the sand, in which to inter poor Bates. Practically awake to his own necessities, he removed such portions of clothing from the body as would be useful to him, but hid them under a stone, not liking to let Mrs. Vickers see what he had done. Having completed the grave by mid-day, he placed the corpse therein, and rolled as many stones as possible to the sides of the mound. In the afternoon he cast the fishing-line from the point of a rock he had marked the day before, but caught nothing. Passing by the grave, on his return, he noticed that Mrs. Vickers had placed at the head of it a rude cross, formed by tying two pieces of stick together.

After supper—the usual salt meat and damper—he lit an economical pipe, and tried to talk to Sylvia. “Why won't you be friends with me, Missy?” he asked.

“I don't like you,” said Sylvia. “You frighten me.”

“Why?”

“You are not kind. I don't mean that you do cruel things, but you are—oh, I wish Papa was here!”

“Wishing won't bring him!” says Frere, pressing his hoarded tobacco together with prudent forefinger.

“There! That's what I mean! Is that kind? ‘Wishing won't bring him!’ Oh, if it only would!”

“I didn't mean it unkindly,” says Frere. “What a strange child you are.”

“There are persons,” says Sylvia, “who have no Affinity for each other. I read about it in a book Papa had, and I suppose that's what it is. I have no Affinity for you. I can't help it, can I?”

“Rubbish!” Frere returned. “Come here, and I'll tell you a story.”




  ― 146 ―

Mrs. Vickers had gone back to her cave, and the two were alone by the fire, near which stood the kettle and the newly-made damper. The child, with some show of hesitation, came to him, and he caught and placed her on his knee. The moon had not yet risen, and the shadows cast by the flickering fire seemed weird and monstrous. The wicked wish to frighten this helpless creature came to Maurice Frere.

“There was once,” said he, “a Castle in an old wood, and in this Castle there lived an Ogre, with great goggle eyes.”

“You silly man!” said Sylvia, struggling to be free. “You are trying to frighten me!”

“And this Ogre lived on the bones of little girls. One day a little girl was travelling the wood, and she heard the Ogre coming. ‘Haw! haw! Haw! haw!’”

“Mr. Frere, let me down!”

“She was terribly frightened, and she ran, and ran, and ran, until all of a sudden she saw ——”

A piercing scream burst from his companion. “Oh! oh! What's that?” she cried, and clung to her persecutor.

On the other side of the fire stood the figure of a man. He staggered forward, and then, falling on his knees, stretched out his hands, and hoarsely articulated one word—“Food.” It was Rufus Dawes.

The sound of a human voice broke the spell of terror that was on the child, and as the glow from the fire fell upon the tattered yellow garments, she guessed at once the whole story. Not so Maurice Frere. He saw before him a new danger, a new mouth to share the scanty provision, and snatching a brand from the fire he kept the convict at bay. But Rufus Dawes, glaring round with wolfish eyes, caught sight of the damper resting against the iron kettle, and made a clutch at it. Frere dashed the brand in his face. “Stand back!” he cried. “We have no food to spare!”

The convict uttered a savage cry, and raising the iron gad, plunged forward desperately to attack this new enemy: but, quick, as thought, the child glided past Frere, and snatching the loaf, placed it in the hands of the starving man, with “Here, poor prisoner, eat!” and then, turning to Frere, she cast upon him a glance so full of horror, indignation, and surprise, that the man blushed and threw down the brand.

As for Rufus Dawes, the sudden apparition of this golden-haired


  ― 147 ―
girl seemed to have transformed him. Allowing the loaf to slip through his fingers, he gazed with haggard eyes at the retreating figure of the child, and as it vanished into the darkness outside the circle of firelight, the unhappy man sank his face upon his blackened, horny hands, and burst into tears.

Chapter XII.

“Mr.” Dawes.

THE coarse tones of Maurice Frere roused him. “What do you want?” he asked.

Rufus Dawes, raising his head, contemplated the figure before him, and recognized it. “Is it you?” he said, slowly.

“What do you mean? Do you know me?” asked Frere, drawing back. But the convict did not reply. His momentary emotion passed away, the pangs of hunger returned, and greedily seizing upon the piece of damper, he began to eat in silence.

“Do you hear, man?” repeated Frere, at length. “What are you?”

“An escaped prisoner. You can give me up in the morning. I've done my best, and I'm beat.”

This sentence struck Frere with dismay. The man did not know that the settlement had been abandoned!

“I cannot give you up. There is no one but myself and a woman and child on the settlement.” Rufus Dawes, pausing in his eating, stared at him in amazement. “The prisoners have gone away in the schooner. If you choose to remain free, you can do so as far as I am concerned. I am as helpless as you are.”

“But how do you come here?”

Frere laughed bitterly. To give explanations to convicts was foreign to his experience, and he did not relish the task. In this case, however, there was no help for it. “The prisoners mutinied and seized the brig.”

“What brig?”

“The Osprey.”

A terrible light broke upon Rufus Dawes, and he began to


  ― 148 ―
understand how he had again missed his chance. “Who took her?”

“That double-dyed villain, John Rex,” says Frere, giving vent to his passion. “May she sink, and burn, and ——”

“Have they gone, then?” cried the miserable man, clutching at his hair with a gesture of hopeless rage.

“Yes; two days ago, and left us here to starve.”

Rufus Dawes burst into a laugh so discordant that it made the other shudder. “We'll starve together, Maurice Frere,” said he; “for while you've a crust, I'll share it. If I don't get liberty, at least I'll have revenge!”

The sinister aspect of this famished savage, sitting with his chin on his ragged knees, rocking himself to and fro in the light of the fire, gave Mr. Maurice Frere a new sensation. He felt as might have felt that African hunter who, returning to his camp fire, found a lion there. “Wretch!” said he, shrinking from him, “why should you wish to be revenged on me?

The convict turned upon him with a snarl. “Take care what you say! I'll have no hard words. Wretch! If I am a wretch, who made me one? If I hate you and myself and the world, who made me hate it? I was born free—as free as you are. Why should I be sent to herd with beasts, and condemned to this slavery, worse than death? Tell me that, Maurice Frere—tell me that!”

“I didn't make the laws,” says Frere; “why do you attack me?”

“Because you are what I was. You are FREE! You can do as you please. You can love, you can work, you can think. I can only hate!” He paused as if astonished at himself, and then continued, with a low laugh, “Fine words for a convict, eh! But, never mind, it's all right, Mr. Frere; we're equal now, and I sha'n't die an hour sooner than you, though you are a ‘free man’!”

Frere began to think that he was dealing with another madman. “Die! There's no need to talk of dying,” he said, as soothingly as it was possible for him to say it. “Time enough for that by-and-by.”

“There spoke the free man. We convicts have an advantage over you gentlemen. You are afraid of death; we pray for it. It is the best thing that can happen to us—Die! They were going to hang me once. I wish they had. My God, I wish they had!”




  ― 149 ―

There was such a depth of agony in this terrible utterance that Maurice Frere was appalled at it. “There, go and sleep, my man,” he said. “You are knocked up. We'll talk in the morning.”

“Hold on a bit!” cried Rufus Dawes, with a coarseness of manner altogether foreign to that he had just assumed. “Who's with ye?”

“The wife and daughter of the Commandant,” replied Frere, half afraid to refuse an answer to a question so fiercely put.

“No one else?”

“No.”

“Poor souls!” said the convict, “I pity them.” And then he stretched himself, like a dog, before the blaze, and went to sleep instantly.

Maurice Frere, looking at the gaunt figure of this addition to the party, was completely puzzled how to act. Such a character had never before come within the range of his experience. He knew not what to make of the fierce, ragged, desperate man, who wept and threatened by turns—who was now snarling in the most repulsive bass of the convict gamut, and now calling upon heaven in tones which were little less than eloquent. At first he thought of precipitating himself upon the sleeping wretch and pinioning him, but a second glance at the sinewy, though wasted, limbs forbade him to follow out the rash suggestion of his own fears. Then a horrible prompting—arising out of this former cowardice—made him feel for the jack-knife with which one murder had already been committed. The stock of provisions was so scanty, and, after all, the lives of the woman and child were worth more than that of this unknown desperado! But, to do him justice, the thought no sooner shaped itself than he crushed it out. “We'll wait till morning, and see how he shapes,” said Frere to himself; and pausing at the brushwood barricade, behind which the mother and daughter were clinging to each other, he whispered that he was on guard outside, and that the absconder slept. But when morning dawned, he found that there was no need for alarm. The convict was lying in almost the same position as that in which he had left him, and his eyes were closed. His threatening outbreak of the previous night had been produced by the excitement of his sudden rescue, and he was now incapable of violence. Frere advanced, and shook him by the shoulder.




  ― 150 ―

“Not alive!” cried the poor wretch, waking with a start, and raising his arm to strike. “Keep off!”

“It's all right,” said Frere. “No one is going to harm you, Wake up.”

Rufus Dawes glanced around him stupidly, and then remembering what had happened, with a great effort, he staggered to his feet. “I thought they'd got me!” he said; “but it's the other way, I see. Come, let's have breakfast, Mr. Frere. I'm hungry.”

“You must wait,” said Frere. “Do you think there is no one here but yourself?”

Rufus Dawes, swaying to and fro from weakness, passed his shred of a cuff over his eyes. “I don't know anything about it. I only know I'm hungry.”

Frere stopped short. Now or never was the time to settle future relations. Lying awake in the night, with the jack-knife ready to his hand, he had decided on the course of action that must be adopted. The convict should share with the rest, but no more. If he rebelled at that, there must be a trial of strength between them. “Look you here,” he said. “We have but barely enough food to serve us until help comes—if it does come. I have the care of that poor woman and child, and I will see fair play for their sakes. You shall share with us to our last bit and drop; but, by Heaven, you shall get no more.”

The convict, stretching out his wasted arms, looked down upon them with the uncertain gaze of a drunken man. “I am weak now,” he said. “You have the best of me;” and then he sank suddenly down upon the ground, exhausted. “Give me drink,” he moaned, feebly motioning with his hand.

Frere got him water in the pannikin, and having drunk it, he smiled, and lay down to sleep again. Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia coming out while he still slept, recognized him as the desperado of the settlement.

“He was the most desperate man we had,” said Mrs. Vickers, identifying herself with her husband. “Oh, what shall we do?”

“He won't do much harm,” returned Frere, looking down at the notorious ruffian with curiosity. “He's as near dead as can be.”

Sylvia looked up at him with her clear child's glance. “We mustn't let him die,” said she. “That would be murder.”




  ― 151 ―

“No, no,” returned Frere, hastily; “no one wants him to die. But what can we do?”

“I'll nurse him!” cried Sylvia.

Frere broke into one of his coarse laughs, the first one that he had indulged in since the mutiny. “You nurse him! By George, that's a good one!” The poor little child, weak and excitable, felt the contempt in the tone, and burst into a passion of sobs. “Why do you insult me, you wicked man? The poor fellow's ill, and he'll—he'll die, like Mr. Bates. Oh, mamma, mamma, let's go away by ourselves.”

Frere swore a great oath, and walked away. He went into the little wood under the cliff, and sat down. He was full of strange thoughts, which he could not express, and which he had never owned before. The dislike the child bore to him made him miserable, and yet he took delight in tormenting her. He was conscious that he had acted the part of a coward the night before in endeavouring to frighten her, and that the detestation she bore him was well earned; but he had fully determined to stake his life in her defence, should the savage who had thus come upon them out of the desert attempt violence, and he was unreasonably angry at the pity she had shown. It was not fair to be thus misinterpreted. But he had done wrong to swear, and more so in quitting them so abruptly. The consciousness of his wrong-doing, however, only made him more confirmed in it. His native obstinacy would not allow him to retract what he had said—even to himself. Walking along, he came to Bates's grave, and the cross upon it. Here was another evidence of ill-treatment. She had always preferred Bates. Now that Bates was gone, she must needs transfer her childish affections to a convict. “Oh,” said Frere to himself, with pleasant recollections of many coarse triumphs in lovemaking, “if you were a woman, you little vixen, I'd make you love me!” When he had said this, he laughed at himself for his folly—“He was turning romantic!”

When he got back, he found Dawes stretched upon the brushwood, with Sylvia sitting near him.

“He is better,” said Mrs. Vickers, disdaining to refer to the scene of the morning. “Sit down and have something to eat, Mr. Frere.”

“Are you better?” asked Frere, abruptly.

To his surprise, the convict answered quite civilly, “I shall


  ― 152 ―
be strong again in a day or two, and then I can help you, sir.”

“Help me? How?”

“To build a hut here for the ladies. And we'll live here all our lives, and never go back to the sheds any more.”

“He has been wandering a little,” said Mrs Vickers. “Poor fellow, he seems quite well behaved.”

The convict began to sing a little German song, and to beat the refrain with his hand. Frere looked at him with curiosity. “I wonder what the story of that man's life has been,” he said. “A queer one, I'll be bound.”

Sylvia looked up at him with a forgiving smile. “I'll ask him when he gets well,” she said, “and if you are good, I'll tell you, Mr. Frere.”

Frere accepted the proffered friendship. “I am a great brute, Sylvia, sometimes, ain't I?” he said, “but I don't mean it.”

“You are,” returned Sylvia, frankly, “but let's shake hands, and be friends. It's no use quarrelling when there are only four of us, is it?

And in this way was Rufus Dawes admitted a member of the family circle.

Within a week from the night on which he had seen the smoke of Frere's fire, the convict had recovered his strength, and had become an important personage. The distrust with which he had been at first viewed had worn off, and he was no longer an outcast, to be shunned and pointed at, or to be referred to in whispers. He had abandoned his rough manner, and no longer threatened or complained, and though at times a profound melancholy would oppress him, his spirits were more even than those of Frere, who was often moody, sullen, and overbearing. Rufus Dawes was no longer the brutalized wretch who had plunged into the dark waters of the bay to escape a life he loathed, and had alternately cursed and wept in the solitudes of the forests. He was an active member of society—a society of four—and he began to regain an air of independence and authority. This change had been wrought by the influence of little Sylvia. Recovered from the weakness consequent upon this terrible journey, Rufus Dawes had experienced for the first time in six years the soothing power of kindness. He had now an object to live for beyond himself. He was of use to somebody, and had he died, he would have been regretted. To us this means


  ― 153 ―
little, to this unhappy man it meant everything. He found, to his astonishment, that he was not despised, and that, by the strange concurrence of circumstances, he had been brought into a position in which his convict experiences gave him authority. He was skilled in all the mysteries of the prison sheds. He knew how to sustain life on as little food as possible. He could fell trees without an axe, bake bread without an oven, build a weather-proof hut without bricks or mortar. From the patient he became the adviser; and from the adviser, the commander. In the semi-savage state to which these four human beings had been brought, he found that savage accomplishments were of most value. Might was Right, and Maurice Frere's authority of gentility soon succumbed to Rufus Dawes's authority of knowledge.

As the time wore on, and the scanty stock of provisions decreased, he found that his authority grew more and more powerful. Did a question arise as to the qualities of a strange plant, it was Rufus Dawes who could pronounce upon it. Were fish to be caught, it was Rufus Dawes who caught them. Did Mrs. Vickers complain of the instability of her brushwood hut, it was Rufus Dawes who worked a wicker shield, and plastering it with clay, produced a wall that defied the keenest wind. He made cups out of pine-knots, and plates out of bark-strips. He worked harder than any three men. Nothing daunted him, nothing discouraged him. When Mrs. Vickers fell sick, from anxiety and insufficient food, it was Rufus Dawes who gathered fresh leaves for her couch, who cheered her by hopeful words, who voluntarily gave up half his own allowance of meat that she might grow the stronger on it. The poor woman and her child called him “Mr.” Dawes.

Frere watched all this with dissatisfaction that amounted at times to positive hatred. Yet he could say nothing, for he could not but acknowledge that, beside Dawes, he was incapable. He even submitted to take orders from this escaped convict—it was so evident that the escaped convict knew better than he. Sylvia began to look upon Dawes as a second Bates. He was, moreover, all her own. She had an interest in him, for she had nursed and protected him. If it had not been for her, this prodigy would not have lived. He felt for her an absorbing affection that was almost a passion. She was his good angel, his protectress, his glimpse of heaven. She had given him food


  ― 154 ―
when he was starving, and had believed in him when the world—the world of four—had looked coldly on him. He would have died for her, and, for love of her, hoped for the vessel which should take her back to freedom and give him again to bondage.

But the days stole on, and no vessel appeared. Each day they eagerly scanned the watery horizon; each day they longed to behold the bowsprit of the returning Ladybird glide past the jutting rock that shut out the view of the harbour—but in vain. Mrs. Vickers's illness increased, and the stock of provisions began to run short. Dawes talked of putting himself and Frere on half allowance. It was evident that, unless succour came in a few days, they must starve.

Frere mooted all sorts of wild plans for obtaining food. He would make a journey to the settlement, and, swimming the estuary, search if haply any casks of biscuit had been left behind in the hurry of departure. He would set springes for the seagulls, and snare the pigeons at Liberty Point. But all these proved impracticable, and with blank faces they watched their bag of flour grow smaller and smaller daily. Then the notion of escape was broached. Could they construct a raft? Impossible without nails or ropes. Could they build a boat? Equally impossible for the same reason. Could they raise a fire sufficient to signal a ship? Easily; but what ship would come within reach of that doubly-desolate spot? Nothing could be done but wait for a vessel, which was sure to come for them sooner or later; and, growing weaker day by day they waited.

One day Sylvia was sitting in the sun reading the “English History,” which, by the accident of fright, she had brought with her on the night of the mutiny. “Mr. Frere,” said she, suddenly, “what is an alchemist?”

“A man who makes gold,” was Frere's not very accurate definition.

“Do you know one?”

“No.”

“Do you, Mr. Dawes?”

“I knew a man once who thought himself one.”

“What! A man who made gold?”

“After a fashion.”

“But did he make gold?” persisted Sylvia.




  ― 155 ―

“No, not absolutely make it. But he was, in his worship of money, an alchemist for all that.”

“What became of him?”

“I don't know,” said Dawes, with so much constraint in his tone that the child instinctively turned the subject.

“Then, alchemy is a very old art?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Did the Ancient Britons know it?”

“No, not so old as that.”

Sylvia suddenly gave a little scream. The remembrance of the evening when she read about the Ancient Britons to poor Bates came vividly into her mind, and though she had since reread the passage that had then attracted her attention a hundred times, it had never before presented itself to her in its full significance. Hurriedly turning the well-thumbed leaves, she read aloud the passage which had provoked remark:—

“The Ancient Britons were little better than Barbarians. They painted their bodies with Woad, and, seated in their light coracles of skin stretched upon slender wooden frames, must have presented a wild and savage appearance.”

“A coracle! That's a boat! Can't we make a coracle, Mr. Dawes?”

Chapter XIII.

What the Seaweed Suggested.

THE question gave the marooned party new hopes. Maurice Frere, with his usual impetuosity, declared that the project was a most feasible one, and wondered—as such men will wonder—that it had never occurred to him before. “It's the simplest thing in the world!” he cried. “Sylvia, you have saved us!” But upon taking the matter into more earnest consideration, it became apparent that they were as yet a long way from the realization of their hopes. To make a coracle of skins seemed sufficiently easy, but how to obtain the skins! The one miserable hide of the unlucky she-goat was utterly inadequate for the purpose. Sylvia—her face beaming with hope of escape, and with delight at having been the means of suggesting it—watched narrowly the countenance


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of Rufus Dawes, but she marked no answering gleam of joy in those downcast eyes. “Can't it be done, Mr. Dawes?” she asked, trembling for the reply.

The convict knitted his brows gloomily.

“Come, Dawes!” cried Frere, forgetting his enmity for an instant, in the flash of new hope, “can't you suggest something?”

Rufus Dawes, thus appealed to as the acknowledged Head of the little society, felt a pleasant thrill of self-satisfaction. “I don't know,” he said, “I must think of it. It looks easy, and yet ——” He paused as something in the water caught his eye. It was a mass of bladdery seaweed that the returning tide was wafting slowly to the shore. This object, which would have passed unnoticed at any other time, suggested to Rufus Dawes a new idea. “Yes,” he added slowly, with a change of tone, “it may be done. I think I see my way.”

The others preserved a respectful silence until he should speak again. “How far do you think it is across the bay?” he asked of Frere.

“What, to Sarah Island?”

“No, to the Pilot Station.”

“About four miles.”

The convict sighed. “Too far to swim now, though I might have done it once. But this sort of life weakens a man. It must be done after all.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Frere.

“To kill the goat.”

Sylvia uttered a little cry; she had become fond of her dumb companion. “Kill Nanny! Oh, Mr. Dawes! What for?”

“I am going to make a boat for you,” he said; “and I want hides, and thread, and tallow.”

A few weeks back Maurice Frere would have laughed at such a sentence, but he had begun now to comprehend that this escaped convict was not a man to be laughed at, and though he detested him for his superiority, he could not but admit that he was superior.

“You can't get more than one hide off a goat, man?” he said, with an inquiring tone in his voice—as though it was just possible that such a marvellous being as Dawes could get a second hide, by virtue of some secret process known only to himself.




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“I am going to catch other goats.”

“Where?”

“At the Pilot Station.”

“But how are you going to get there?”

“Float across. Come, there is no time for questioning! Go and cut down some saplings, and let us begin!”

The lieutenant-master looked at the convict prisoner with astonishment, and then gave way to the power of knowledge, and did as he was ordered. Before sundown that evening, the carcase of poor Nanny, broken into various most unbutcherly fragments, was hanging on the nearest tree; and Frere, returning with as many young saplings as he could drag together, found Rufus Dawes engaged in a curious occupation. He had killed the goat, and having cut off its head close under the jaws, and its legs at the knee-joint, had extracted the carcase through a slit made in the lower portion of the belly, which slit he had now sewn together with string. This proceeding gave him a rough bag, and he was busily engaged in filling this bag with such coarse grass as he could collect. Frere observed, also, that the fat of the animal was carefully preserved, and the intestines had been placed in a pool of water to soak.

The convict, however, declined to give information as to what he intended to do. “It's my own notion,” he said. “Let me alone. I may make a failure of it.” Frere, on being pressed by Sylvia, affected to know all about the scheme, but to impose silence on himself. He was galled to think that a convict brain should contain a mystery which he might not share.

On the next day, by Rufus Dawes's directions, Frere cut down some rushes that grew about a mile from the camping ground, and brought them in on his back. This took him nearly half a day to accomplish. Short rations were beginning to tell upon his physical powers. The convict, on the other hand, trained by a woeful experience in the Boats, to endurance of hardship, was slowly recovering his original strength.

“What are they for?” asked Frere, as he flung the bundles down.

His master condescended to reply. “To make a float.”

“Well?”

The other shrugged his broad shoulders. “You are very dull, Mr. Frere. I am going to swim over to the Pilot Station,


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and catch some of those goats. I can get across on the stuffed skin, but I must float them back on the reeds.”

“How the doose do you mean to catch 'em?” asked Frere, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The convict motioned to him to approach. He did so, and saw that his companion was cleaning the intestines of the goat. The outer membrane having been peeled off, Rufus Dawes was turning the gut inside out. This he did by turning up a short piece of it, as though it were a coat-sleeve, and dipping the turned-up cuff into a pool of water. The weight of the water pressing between the cuff and the rest of the gut, bore down a further portion; and so, by repeated dippings, the whole length was turned inside out. The inner membrane having been scraped away, there remained a fine transparent tube, which was tightly twisted, and set to dry in the sun.

“There is the catgut for the noose,” said Dawes. “I learnt that trick at the settlement. Now come here.”

Frere, following, saw that a fire had been made between two stones, and that the kettle was partly sunk in the ground near it. On approaching the kettle, he found it full of smooth pebbles.

“Take out those stones,” said Dawes.

Frere obeyed, and saw at the bottom of the kettle a quantity of sparkling white powder, and the sides of the vessel crusted with the same material.

“What's that?” he asked.

“Salt.”

“How did you get it?”

“I filled the kettle with seawater, and then heating those pebbles red-hot in the fire, dropped them into it. We could have caught the steam in a cloth and wrung out fresh water had we wished to do so. But, thank God, we have plenty.”

Frere started. “Did you learn that at the settlement, too?” he asked.

Rufus Dawes laughed, with a sort of bitterness in his tones.

“Do you think I have been at the ‘settlement’ all my life? The thing is very simple; it is merely evaporation.”

Frere burst out in sudden, fretful admiration: “What a fellow you are, Dawes! What are you—I mean, what have you been?”

A triumphant light came into the other's face, and for the


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instant he seemed about to make some startling revelation. But the light faded, and he checked himself with a gesture of pain.

“I am a convict. Never mind what I have been. A sailor, shipbuilder, prodigal, vagabond—what does it matter? It won't alter my fate, will it?”

“If we get safely back,” says Frere, “I'll ask for a free pardon for you. You deserve it.”

“Come,” returned Dawes, with a discordant laugh. “Let us wait until we do get back.”

“You don't believe me?”

“I don't want favour at your hands,” he said, with a return of the old fierceness. “Let us get to work. Bring up the rushes here, and tie them with a fishing-line.”

At this instant Sylvia came up.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Dawes. Hard at work? Oh! what's this in the kettle?”

The voice of the child acted like a charm upon Rufus Dawes. He smiled quite cheerfully.

“Salt, miss. I am going to catch the goats with that.”

“Catch the goats! How? Put it on their tails?” she cried, merrily.

“Goats are fond of salt, and when I get over to the Pilot Station, I shall set traps for them baited with this salt. When they come to lick it, I shall have a noose of catgut ready to catch them—do you understand?”

“But how will you get across?”

“You will see to-morrow.”

Chapter XIV.

A Wonderful Day's Work.

THE next morning Rufus Dawes was stirring by daylight. He first got his catgut wound upon a piece of stick, and then, having moved his frail floats alongside the little rock that served as a pier, he took a fishing-line and a larger piece of stick, and proceeded to draw a diagram on the sand. This diagram when completed represented a rude outline of a punt,


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eight feet long and three broad. At certain distances were eight points—four on each side—into which small willow rods were driven. He then awoke Frere, and showed the diagram to him.

“Get eight stakes of celery-top pine,” he said. “You can burn them where you cannot cut them, and drive a stake into the place of each of these willow wands. When you have done that, collect as many willows as you can get. I shall not be back until to-night. Now give me a hand with the floats.”

Frere, coming to the pier, saw Dawes strip himself, and piling his clothes upon the stuffed goat-skin, stretch himself upon the reed bundles, and, paddling with his hands, push off from the shore. The clothes floated high and dry, but the reeds, depressed by the weight of the body, sank so that the head of the convict alone appeared above water. In this fashion he gained the middle of the current, and the out-going tide swept him down towards the mouth of the harbour.

Frere, sulkily admiring, went back to prepare the breakfast—they were on half rations now, Dawes having forbidden the slaughtered goat to be eaten, lest his expedition should prove unsuccessful—wondering at the chance which had thrown this convict in his way. “Parsons would call it ‘a special providence,’” he said to himself. “For if it hadn't been for him, we should never have got thus far. If his ‘boat’ succeeds, we're all right, I suppose. He's a clever dog. I wonder who he is.” His training as a master of convicts made him think how dangerous such a man would be on a convict station. It would be difficult to keep a fellow of such resources. “They'll have to look pretty sharp after him if they ever get him back,” he thought. “I'll have a fine tale to tell of his ingenuity.” The conversation of the previous day occurred to him. “I promised to ask for a free pardon. He wouldn't have it though. Too proud to accept it at my hands! How confoundedly impudent a little liberty makes these beggars! Wait until we get back. I'll teach him his place; for, after all, it is his own liberty that he is working for as well as mine—I mean, ours.” Then a thought came into his head that was in every way worthy of him. “Suppose we took the boat, and left him behind!” The notion seemed so ludicrously wicked, that he laughed involuntarily.

“What is it, Mr. Frere?”




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“Oh, it's you, Sylvia, is it? Ha, ha, ha! I was thinking of something—something funny.”

“Indeed,” said Sylvia, “I am glad of that. Where's Mr. Dawes?”

Frere was displeased at the interest with which she asked the question.

“You are always thinking of that fellow. It's Dawes, Dawes, Dawes, all day long. He has gone.”

“Oh!” with a sorrowful accent. “Mamma wants to see him.”

“What about?” says Frere roughly.

“Mamma is ill, Mr. Frere.”

“Dawes isn't a doctor. What's the matter with her?”

“She is worse than she was yesterday. I don't know what is the matter.”

Frere, somewhat alarmed, strode over to the little cavern.

The “lady of the Commandant” was in a strange plight. The cavern was lofty, but narrow. In shape it was three cornered, having two sides open to the wind. The ingenuity of Rufus Dawes had closed these sides with wicker-work and clay, and a sort of door of interlaced brushwood hung at one of them. Frere pushed open this door and entered. The poor woman was lying on a bed of rushes strewn over young brushwood, and was moaning feebly. From the first she had felt the privation to which she was subjected most keenly, and the mental anxiety from which she suffered increased her physical debility. The exhaustion and lassitude to which she had partially succumbed soon after Dawes's arrival, had now completely overcome her, and she was unable to rise.

“Cheer up, ma'am,” said Maurice, with an assumption of heartiness. “It will be all right in a day or two.”

“Is it you? I sent for Mr. Dawes.”

“He is away just now. I am making a boat. Did not Sylvia tell you?”

“She told me that he was making one.”

“Well I—that is we—are making it. He will be back again to-night. Can I do anything for you?”

“No, thank you. I only wanted to know how he was getting on. I must go soon—if I am to go. Thank you, Mr. Frere, I am much obliged to you. This is a—he-e—dreadful place to have visitors, isn't it?”




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“Never mind,” said Frere, again, “you will be back in Hobart Town in a few days now. We are sure to get picked up by a ship. But you must cheer up. Have some tea or something.”

“No, thank you—I don't feel well enough to eat. I am tired.”

Sylvia began to cry.

“Don't cry, dear. I shall be better by-and-by. Oh, I wish Mr. Dawes was back.”

Maurice Frere went out indignant. This “Mr.” Dawes was everybody, it seemed, and he was nobody. Let them wait a little. All that day, working hard to carry out the convict's directions, he meditated a thousand plans by which he could turn the tables. He would accuse Dawes of violence. He would demand that he should be taken back as an “absconder.” He would insist that the law should take its course, and that the “death” which was the doom of all who were caught in the act of escape from a penal settlement, should be enforced. Yet if they got safe to land, the marvellous courage and ingenuity of the prisoner would tell strongly in his favour. The woman and child would bear witness to his tenderness and skill, and plead for him. As he had said, the convict deserved a pardon. The mean, bad man, burning with wounded vanity and undefined jealousy, waited for some method to suggest itself, by which he might claim the credit of the escape, and snatch from the prisoner, who had dared to rival him, the last hope of freedom.

Rufus Dawes, drifting with the current, had allowed himself to coast along the eastern side of the harbour until the Pilot Station appeared in view on the opposite shore. By this time it was nearly seven o'clock. He landed at a sandy cove, and drawing up his raft, proceeded to unpack from among his garments a piece of damper. Having eaten sparingly, and dried himself in the sun, he replaced the remains of his breakfast, and pushed his floats again into the water. The Pilot Station lay some distance below him, on the opposite shore. He had purposely made his second start from a point which would give him this advantage of position; for had he attempted to paddle across at right angles, the strength of the current would have swept him out to sea. Weak as he was, he several times nearly lost his hold of the reeds. The clumsy bundle


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presenting too great a broadside to the stream, whirled round and round, and was once or twice nearly sucked under. At length, however, breathless and exhausted, he gained the opposite bank, half a mile below the point he had attempted to make, and carrying his floats out of reach of the tide, made off across the hill to the Pilot Station.

Arrived there about mid-day, he set to work to lay his snares. The goats, with whose hides he hoped to cover the coracle, were sufficiently numerous and tame, to encourage him to use every exertion. He carefully examined the tracks of the animals, and found that they converged to one point—the track to the nearest water. With much labour, he cut down bushes, so as to mask the approach to the waterhole on all sides save where these tracks immediately conjoined. Close to the water, and at unequal distances along the various tracks, he scattered the salt he had obtained by his rude distillation of sea-water. Between this scattered salt and the points where he judged the animals would be likely to approach, he set his traps, made after the following manner. He took several pliant branches of young trees, and having stripped them of leaves and twigs, dug with his knife and the end of the rude paddle he had made for the voyage across the inlet, a succession of holes, about a foot deep. At the thicker end of these saplings he fastened, by a piece of fishing-line, a small cross-bar, which swung loosely, like the stick handle which a schoolboy fastens to the string of his pegtop. Forcing the ends of the saplings thus prepared into the holes, he filled in and stamped down the earth all around them. The saplings, thus anchored as it were by the cross-pieces of stick, not only stood firm, but resisted all his efforts to withdraw them. To the thin ends of these saplings he bound tightly, into notches cut in the wood, and secured by a multiplicity of twisting, the catgut springes he had brought from the camping ground. The saplings were then bent double, and the gutted ends secured in the ground by the same means as that employed to fix the butts. This was the most difficult part of the business, for it was necessary to discover precisely the amount of pressure that would hold the bent rod without allowing it to escape by reason of this elasticity, and which would yet “give” to a slight pull on the gut. After many failures, however, this happy medium was discovered; and Rufus Dawes, concealing his springes by means of twigs,


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smoothed the disturbed sand with a branch, and retired to watch the effect of his labours.

About two hours after he had gone, the goats came to drink. There were five goats and two kids, and they trotted calmly along the path to the water. The watcher soon saw that his precautions had been in a manner wasted. The leading goat marched gravely into the springe, which, catching him round the neck, released the bent rod, and sprang him off his legs into the air. He uttered a comical bleat, and then hung kicking. Rufus Dawes, though the success of the scheme was a matter of life and death, burst out laughing at the antics of the beast. The other goats bounded off at this sudden elevation of their leader, and three more were entrapped at a little distance. Rufus Dawes now thought it time to secure his prize, though three of the springes were as yet unsprung. He ran down to the old goat, knife in hand, but before he could reach him, the barely-dried cat-gut gave way, and the old fellow, shaking his head with grotesque dismay, made off at full speed. The others, however, were secured and killed. The loss of the springe was not a serious one, for three traps remained unsprung, and before sundown Rufus Dawes had caught four more goats. Removing with care the cat-gut that had done such good service, he dragged the carcases to the shore, and proceeded to pack them upon his floats. He discovered, however, that the weight was too great, and that the water, entering through the loops of the stitching in the hide, had so soaked the rush-grass as to render the floats no longer buoyant. He was compelled, therefore, to spend two hours in re-stuffing the skin with such material as he could find. Some light and flock-like seaweed, which the action of the water had swathed after the fashion of haybands along the shore, formed an excellent substitute for grass, and having bound his bundle of rushes lengthwise, with the goat-skin as a centre-piece, he succeeded in forming a sort of rude canoe, upon which the carcases floated securely.

He had eaten nothing since the morning, and the violence of his exertions had exhausted him. Still, sustained by the excitement of the task he had set himself, he dismissed with fierce impatience the thought of rest, and dragged his weary limbs along the sand, endeavouring to kill fatigue by further exertion. The tide was now running in, and he knew it was imperative


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that he should regain the further shore while the current was in his favour. To cross from the Pilot Station at low water was impossible. If he waited until the ebb, he must spend another day on the shore, and he could not afford to lose an hour. Cutting a long sapling, he fastened to one end of it the floating bundle, and thus guided it to a spot where the beach shelved abruptly into deep water. It was a clear night, and the risen moon, large and low, flung a rippling streak of silver across the sea. On the other side of the bay all was bathed in a violent haze, which veiled the inlet from which he had started in the morning. The fire of the exiles, hidden behind a point of rock, cast a red glow into the air. The ocean breakers rolled in upon the cliffs outside the bar, with a hoarse and threatening murmur; and the rising tide rippled and lapped with treacherous melody along the sand. He touched the chill water and drew back. For an instant he determined to wait until the beams of morning should illumine that beautiful but treacherous sea, and then the thought of the helpless child, who was, without doubt, waiting and watching for him on the shore, gave new strength to his wearied frame; and fixing his eyes on the glow that, hovering above the dark tree line, marked her presence, he pushed the raft before him into the sea.

The reeds sustained him bravely, but the strength of the current sucked him underneath the water, and for several seconds he feared that he should be compelled to let go his hold. But his muscles, steeled in the slow fire of convict-labour, withstood this last strain upon them, and, half-suffocated, with bursting chest and paralyzed fingers, he preserved his position, until the mass, getting out of the eddies along the shore-line, drifted steadily down the silvery track that led to the settlement. After a few moments' rest, he set his teeth, and urged his strange canoe towards the shore. Paddling and pushing, he gradually edged it towards the fire-light; and at last, just when his stiffened limbs refused to obey the impulse of his will, and he began to drift onwards with the onward tide, he felt his feet strike firm ground. Opening his eyes—closed in the desperation of his last efforts—he found himself safe under the lee of the rugged promontory which hid the fire. It seemed that the waves, tired of persecuting him, had, with disdainful pity, cast him ashore at the goal of his hopes. Looking back, he for the first time realized the frightful peril he had escaped,


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and shuddered. To this shudder succeeded a thrill of triumph. “Why had he stayed so long, when escape was so easy?” Dragging the carcases above high-water mark he rounded the little promontory and made for the fire. The recollection of the night when he had first approached it came upon him, and increased his exultation. How different a man was he now from then! Passing up the sand, he saw the stakes which he had directed Frere to cut, whiten in the moonshine. His officer worked for him! In his own brain alone lay the secret of escape! He—Rufus Dawes—the scarred, degraded “prisoner,” could alone get these three beings back to civilization. Did he refuse to aid them, they would for ever remain in that prison, where he had so long suffered. The tables were turned—he had become a gaoler! He had gained the fire before the solitary watcher there heard his footsteps, and spread his hands to the blaze in silence. He felt as Frere would have felt, had their positions been reversed, disdainful of the man who had stopped at home.

Frere, starting, cried, “It is you! Have you succeeded?”

Rufus Dawes nodded.

“What! Did you catch them?”

“There are six carcases down by the rocks. You can have meat for breakfast to-morrow!”

The child, at the sound of the voice, came running down from the hut. “Oh, Mr. Dawes! I am so glad! We were beginning to despair—mamma and I.”

Dawes snatched her from the ground, and bursting into a joyous laugh, swung her into the air. “Tell me,” he cried, holding up the child with two dripping arms above him, “what you will do for me if I bring you and mamma safe home again?”

“Give you a free pardon,” says Sylvia, “and papa shall make you his servant!” Frere burst out laughing at this reply; and Dawes, with a choking sensation in his throat, put the child upon the ground, and walked away.

This was in truth all he could hope for. All his scheming, all his courage, all his peril, would but result in the patronage of a great man like Major Vickers. His heart, big with love, with self-denial, and with hopes of a fair future, would have this flattering unction laid to it. He had performed a prodigy of skill and daring, and for his reward he was to be made a


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servant to the creatures he had protected. Yet what more could a convict expect? Sylvia saw how deeply her unconscious hand had driven the iron, and ran up to the man she had wounded. “And, Mr. Dawes, remember that I shall love you always.” The convict, however, his momentary excitement over, motioned her away; and she saw him stretch himself wearily under the shadow of a rock.

Chapter XV.

The Coracle.

IN the morning, however, Rufus Dawes was first at work, and made no allusion to the scene of the previous evening. He had already skinned one of the goats, and he directed Frere to set to work upon another. “Cut down the rump to the hock, and down the brisket to the knee,” he said. “I want the hides as square as possible.” By dint of hard work they got the four goats skinned, and the entrails cleaned ready for twisting, by breakfast time; and having broiled some of the flesh, made a hearty meal. Mrs. Vickers being no better, Dawes went to see her, and seemed to have made friends again with Sylvia, for he came out of the hut with the child's hand in his. Frere, who was cutting the meat in long strips to dry in the sun, saw this, and it added fresh fuel to the fire of his unreasonable envy and jealousy. However, he said nothing, for his enemy had not yet shown him how the boat was to be made. Before mid-day, however, he was a partner in the secret, which, after all, was a very simple one.

Rufus Dawes took two of the straightest and most taper of the celery-top pines which Frere had cut on the previous day, and lashed them tightly together, with the butts outwards. He thus produced a spliced stick about twelve feet long. About two feet from either end he notched the young tree until he could bend the extremities upwards; and having so bent them, he secured the bent portions in their places by means of lashings of raw hide. The spliced trees now presented a rude outline of the section of a boat, having the stem, keel, and stern all in one piece. This having been placed lengthwise between


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the stakes, four other poles, notched in two places, were lashed from stake to stake, running crosswise to the keel, and forming the knees. Four saplings were now bent from end to end of the upturned portions of the keel that represented stem and stern. Two of these four were placed above, as gunwales; two below as bottom rails. At each intersection the sticks were lashed firmly with fishing-line. The whole framework being complete, the stakes were drawn out, and there lay upon the ground the skeleton of a boat eight feet long by three broad.

Frere, whose hands were blistered and sore, would fain have rested; but the convict would not hear of it. “Let us finish,” he said, regardless of his own fatigue; “the skins will be dry if we stop.”

“I can work no more,” says Frere, sulkily; “I can't stand. You've got muscles of iron, I suppose. I haven't.”

“They made me work when I couldn't stand, Maurice Frere. It is wonderful what spirit the cat gives a man. There's nothing like work to get rid of aching muscles—so they used to tell me.”

“Well, what's to be done now?”

“Cover the boat. There, you can set the fat to melt, and sew these hides together. Two and two, do you see? and then sew the pair at the necks. There is plenty of catgut yonder.”

“Don't talk to me as if I was a dog!” says Frere suddenly. “Be civil, can't you.”

But the other, busily trimming and cutting at the projecting pieces of sapling, made no reply. It is possible that he thought the fatigued lieutenant beneath his notice. About an hour before sundown the hides were ready, and Rufus Dawes, having in the meantime interlaced the ribs of the skeleton with wattles, stretched the skins over it, with the hairy side inwards. Along the edges of this covering he bored holes at intervals, and passing through these holes thongs of twisted skin, he drew the whole to the top rail of the boat. One last precaution remained. Dipping the pannikin into the melted tallow, he plentifully anointed the seams of the sewn skins. The boat, thus turned topsy-turvey, looked like a huge walnut shell covered with red and reeking hide, or the skull of some Titan who had been scalped. “There!” cried Rufus Dawes,


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triumphant. “Twelve hours in the sun to tighten the hides, and she'll swim like a duck.”

The next day was spent in minor preparations. The jerked goat-meat was packed securely into as small a compass as possible. The rum barrel was filled with water, and water-bags were improvised out of portions of the intestines of the goats. Rufus Dawes, having filled these last with water, ran a wooden skewer through their mouths, and twisted it tight, tourniquet fashion. He also stripped cylindrical pieces of bark, and having sewn each cylinder at the side, fitted to it a bottom of the same material, and caulked the seams with gum and pine-tree resin. Thus four tolerable buckets were obtained. One goatskin yet remained, and out of that it was determined to make a sail. “The currents are strong,” said Rufus Dawes, “and we shall not be able to row far with such oars as we have got. If we get a breeze it may save our lives.” It was impossible to “step” a mast in the frail basket structure, but this difficulty was overcome by a simple contrivance. From thwart to thwart two poles were bound, and the mast, lashed between these poles with thongs of raw hide, was secured by shrouds of twisted fishing-line running fore and aft. Sheets of bark were placed at the bottom of the craft, and made a safe flooring. It was late in the afternoon of the fourth day when these preparations were completed, and it was decided that on the morrow they should adventure the journey. “We will coast down to the Bar,” said Rufus Dawes, “and wait for the slack of the tide. I can do no more now.”

Sylvia, who had seated herself on a rock at a little distance, called to them. Her strength was restored by the fresh meat, and her childish spirits had risen with the hope of safety. The mercurial little creature had wreathed seaweed about her head, and holding in her hand a long twig decorated with a tuft of leaves to represent a wand, she personified one of the heroines of her books.

“I am the Queen of the Island,” she said merrily, “and you are my obedient subjects. Pray, Sir Eglamour, is the boat ready?”

“It is, your Majesty,” said poor Dawes.

“Then we will see it. Come, walk in front of me. I won't ask you to rub your nose upon the ground, like Man Friday, because that would be uncomfortable. Mr. Frere, you don't play?”




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“Oh, yes!” says Frere, unable to withstand the charming pout that accompanied the words. “I'll play. What am I to do?”

“You must walk on this side, and be respectful. Of course it is only Pretend, you know,” she added, with a quick consciousness of Frere's conceit. “Now then, the Queen goes to the Seashore surrounded by her Nymphs! There is no occasion to laugh, Mr. Frere. Of course, Nymphs are very different from you, but then we can't help that.”

Marching in this pathetically ridiculous fashion across the sand, they halted at the coracle. “So that is the boat!” says the Queen, fairly surprised out of her assumption of dignity. “You are a Wonderful Man, Mr. Dawes!”

Rufus Dawes smiled sadly. “It is very simple.”

“Do you call this simple?” says Frere, who in the general joy had shaken off a portion of his sulkiness. “By George, I don't! This is ship-building with a vengeance, this is. There's no scheming about this—it's all sheer hard work.”

“Yes!” echoed Sylvia, “sheer hard work—sheer hard work by good Mr. Dawes!” And she began to sing a childish chant of triumph, drawing lines and letters in the sand the while, with the sceptre of the Queen.

“Good Mr. Dawes!
Good Mr. Dawes!
This is the work of Good Mr. Dawes!”

Maurice could not resist a sneer.

“See-saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed, and lay upon straw!”

said he.

“Good Mr. Dawes!” repeated Sylvia, “Good Mr. Dawes! Why shouldn't I say it? You are disagreeable, sir. I won't play with you any more,” and she went off along the sand.

“Poor little child,” said Rufus Dawes. “You speak too harshly to her.”

Frere—now that the boat was made—had regained his self-confidence. Civilization seemed now brought sufficiently close to him to warrant his assuming the position of authority to which his social position entitled him. “One would think that a boat had never been built before to hear her talk,” he said.


  ― 171 ―
“If this washing-basket had been one of my old uncle's three-deckers, she couldn't have said much more. By the Lord!” he added, with a coarse laugh, “I ought to have a natural talent for ship-building; for if the old villain hadn't died when he did, I should have been a ship-builder myself.”

Rufus Dawes turned his back at the word “died,” and busied himself with the fastenings of the hides. Could the other have seen his face, he would have been struck by its sudden pallor.

“Ah!” continued Frere, half to himself, and half to his companion, “that's a sum of money to lose, isn't it?”

“What do you mean?” asked the convict, without turning his face.

“Mean! Why, my good fellow, I should have been left a quarter of a million of money, but the old hunks who was going to give it me died before he could alter his will, and every shilling went to a scapegrace son, who hadn't been near the old man for years. That's the way of the world, isn't it?”

Rufus Dawes, still keeping his face away, caught his breath as if in astonishment, and then, recovering himself, he said, in a harsh voice, “A fortunate fellow—that son!”

“Fortunate!” cries Frere, with another oath. “Yes, he was fortunate! He was burnt to death in the Hydaspes, and never heard of his luck. His mother has got the money, though. I never saw a shilling of it.” And then, seemingly displeased with himself for having allowed his tongue to get the better of his dignity, he walked away to the fire, musing, doubtless, on the difference between Maurice Frere, with a quarter of a million, disporting himself in the best society that could be procured, with command of dog-carts, prize-fighters, and game-cocks galore; and Maurice Frere, a penniless lieutenant, marooned on the barren coast of Macquarie Harbour, and acting as boatbuilder to a runaway convict.

Rufus Dawes was also lost in reverie. He leant upon the gunwale of the much-vaunted boat, and his eyes were fixed upon the sea, weltering golden in the sunset, but it was evident that he saw nothing of the scene before him. Struck dumb by the sudden intelligence of his fortune, his imagination escaped from his control, and fled away to those scenes which he had striven so vainly to forget. He was looking far away—across the glittering harbour and the wide sea beyond it—looking at the old house at Hampstead, with its well-remembered gloomy


  ― 172 ―
garden. He pictured himself escaped from this present peril, and freed from the sordid thraldom which so long had held him. He saw himself returning, with some plausible story of his wanderings, to take possession of the wealth which was his—saw himself living once more, rich, free, and respected, in the world from which he had been so long an exile. He saw his mother's sweet pale face, the light of a happy home circle. He saw himself—received with tears of joy and marvelling affection—entering into this home circle as one risen from the dead. A new life opened radiant before him, and he was lost in the contemplation of his own happiness.

So absorbed was he, that he did not hear the light footstep of the child across the sand. Mrs. Vickers, having been told of the success which had crowned the convict's efforts, had overcome her weakness so far as to hobble down the beach to the boat, and now, heralded by Sylvia, approached, leaning on the arm of Maurice Frere.

“Mamma has come to see the boat, Mr. Dawes!” cries Sylvia, but Dawes did not hear.

The child reiterated her words, but still the silent figure did not reply.

“Mr. Dawes!” she cried again, and pulled him by the coat-sleeve.

The touch aroused him, and looking down, he saw the pretty, thin face upturned to his. Scarcely conscious of what he did, and still following out the imagining which made him free, wealthy, and respected, he caught the little creature in his arms—as he might have caught his own daughter—and kissed her. Sylvia said nothing; but Mr. Frere—arrived, by his chain of reasoning, at quite another conclusion as to the state of affairs—was astonished at the presumption of the man. The lieutenant regarded himself as already reinstated in his old position, and with Mrs. Vickers on his arm, reproved the apparent insolence of the convict as freely as he would have done had they both been at his own little kingdom of Maria Island. “You insolent beggar!” he cried. “Do you dare! Keep your place, sir!”

The sentence recalled Rufus Dawes to reality. His place was that of a convict. What business had he with tenderness for the daughter of his master? Yet, after all he had done, and proposed to do, this harsh judgment upon him seemed cruel.


  ― 173 ―
He saw the two looking at the boat he had built. He marked the flush of hope on the cheek of the poor lady, and the full-blown authority that already hardened the eye of Maurice Frere, and all at once he understood the result of what he had done. He had, by his own act, given himself again to bondage. As long as escape was impracticable, he had been useful, and even powerful. Now he had pointed out the way of escape, he had sunk into the beast of burden once again. In the desert he was “Mr.” Dawes, the saviour; in civilized life he would become once more Rufus Dawes, the ruffian, the prisoner, the absconder. He stood mute, and let Frere point out the excellences of the craft in silence; and then, feeling that the few words of thanks uttered by the lady were chilled by her consciousness of the ill-advised freedom he had taken with the child, he turned on his heel, and strode up into the bush.

“A queer fellow,” said Frere, as Mrs. Vickers followed the retreating figure with her eyes. “Always in an ill temper.”

“Poor man! he has behaved very kindly to us,” said Mrs. Vickers. Yet even she felt the change of circumstance, and knew that, without any reason she could name, her blind trust and hope in the convict who had saved their lives had been transformed into a patronizing kindliness which was quite foreign to esteem or affection.

“Come, let us have some supper,” says Frere. “The last we shall eat here, I hope. He will come back when his fit of sulks is over.”

But he did not come back, and, after a few expressions of wonder at his absence, Mrs. Vickers and her daughter, rapt in the hopes and fears of the morrow, almost forgot that he had left them. With marvellous credulity they looked upon the terrible stake they were about to play for as already won. The possession of the boat seemed to them so wonderful, that the perils of the voyage they were to make in it were altogether lost sight of. As for Maurice Frere, he was rejoiced that the convict was out of the way. He wished that he was out of the way altogether.




  ― 174 ―

Chapter XVI.

The Writing on the Sand.

HAVING got out of eye-shot of the ungrateful creatures he had befriended, Rufus Dawes threw himself upon the ground in an agony of mingled rage and regret. For the first time for six years he had tasted the happiness of doing good, the delight of self-abnegation. For the first time for six years he had broken through the selfish misanthropy he had taught himself. And this was his reward! He had held his temper in check, in order that it might not offend others. He had banished the galling memory of his degradation, lest haply some shadow of it might seem to fall upon the fair child whose lot had been so strangely cast with his. He had stifled the agony he suffered, lest its expression should give pain to those who seemed to feel for him. He had forborne retaliation, when retaliation would have been most sweet. Having all these years waited and watched for a chance to strike his persecutors, he had held his hand now that an unlooked-for accident had placed the weapon of destruction in his grasp. He had risked his life, foregone his enmities, almost changed his nature,—and his reward was cold looks and harsh words, so soon as his skill had paved the way to freedom. This knowledge coming upon him while the thrill of exultation at the astounding news of his riches yet vibrated in his brain, made him grind his teeth with rage at his own hard fate. Bound by the purest and holiest of ties,—the affection of a son to his mother—he had condemned himself to social death, rather than buy his liberty and life by a revelation which would shame the gentle creature whom he loved. By a strange series of accidents, fortune had assisted him to maintain the deception he had practised. His cousin had not recognized him. The very ship in which he was believed to have sailed, had been lost with every soul on board. His identity had been completely destroyed—no link remained which could connect Rufus Dawes, the convict, with Richard Devine, the vanished heir to the wealth of the dead shipbuilder.

Oh, if he had only known! If, while in the gloomy prison, distracted by a thousand fears, and weighed down by crushing evidence of circumstance, he had but guessed that death had


  ― 175 ―
stepped between Sir Richard and his vengeance, he might have spared himself the sacrifice he had made. He had been tried and condemned as a nameless sailor, who could call no witnesses in his defence, and give no particulars as to his previous history. It was clear to him now that he might have adhered to his statement of ignorance concerning the murder, locked in his breast the name of the murderer, and have yet been free. Judges are just, but popular opinion is powerful, and it was not impossible that Richard Devine, the millionaire, would have escaped the fate which had overtaken Rufus Dawes, the sailor. Into his calculations in the prison—when, half-crazed with love, with terror, and despair, he had counted up his chances of life—the wild supposition that he had even then inherited the wealth of the father who had disowned him, had never entered. The knowledge of that fact would have altered the whole current of his life, and he learnt it for the first time now—too late.

Now, lying prone upon the sand; now, wandering aimlessly up and down among the stunted trees that bristled white beneath the mist-barred moon; now, sitting—as he had sat in the prison long ago—with his head gripped hard between his hands, swaying his body to and fro, he thought out the frightful problem of his bitter life. Of little use was the heritage that he had gained. A convict-absconder, whose hands were hard with menial service, and whose back was scarred with the lash, could never be received among the gently nurtured. Let him lay claim to his name and rights, what then? He was a convicted felon, and his name and rights had been taken from him by the law. Let him go and tell Maurice Frere that he was his lost cousin. He would be laughed at. Let him proclaim aloud his birth and innocence, and the convict-sheds would grin, and the convict overseer set him to harder labour. Let him even, by dint of reiteration, get his wild story believed, what would happen? If it was heard in England—after the lapse of years, perhaps—that a convict in the chain-gang in Macquarie Harbour—a man held to be a murderer, and whose convict career was one long record of mutiny and punishment—claimed to be the heir to an English fortune, and to own the right to dispossess staid and worthy English folk of their rank and station, with what feeling would the announcement be received? Certainly not with a desire to redeem this ruffian from his bonds and place him in the honoured seat of his dead father. Such intelligence


  ― 176 ―
would be regarded as a calamity, an unhappy blot upon a fair reputation, a disgrace to an honoured and unsullied name. Let him succeed, let him return again to the mother who had by this time become reconciled, in a measure, to his loss; he would, at the best, be to her a living shame, scarcely less degrading than that which she had dreaded.

But success was almost impossible. He did not dare to retrace his steps through the hideous labyrinth into which he had plunged. Was he to show his scarred shoulders as a proof that he was a gentleman and an innocent man? Was he to relate the nameless infamies of Macquarie Harbour as a proof that he was entitled to receive the hospitalities of the generous, and to sit, a respected guest, at the tables of men of refinement? Was he to quote the horrible slang of the prison-ship, and retail the filthy jests of the chain-gang and the hulks, as a proof that he was a fit companion for pure-minded women and innocent children? Suppose even that he could conceal the name of the real criminal, and show himself guiltless of the crime for which he had been condemned, all the wealth in the world could not buy back that blissful ignorance of evil which had once been his. All the wealth in the world could not purchase the self-respect which had been cut out of him by the lash, or banish from his brain the memory of his degradation.

For hours this agony of thought racked him. He cried out as though with physical pain, and then lay in a stupor, exhausted with actual physical suffering. It was hopeless to think of freedom and of honour. Let him keep silence, and pursue the life fate had marked out for him. He would return to bondage. The law would claim him as an absconder, and would mete out to him such punishment as was fitting. Perhaps he might escape severest punishment, as a reward for his exertions in saving the child. He might consider himself fortunate if such was permitted to him. Fortunate! Suppose he did not go back at all, but wandered away into the wilderness and died? Better death than such a doom as his. Yet need he die? He had caught goats, he could catch fish. He could build a hut. There was, perchance, at the deserted settlement some remnant of seed corn that, planted, would give him bread. He had built a boat, he had made an oven, he had fenced in a hut. Surely he could contrive to live alone,


  ― 177 ―
savage and free. Alone! He had contrived all these marvels alone! Was not the boat he himself had built below upon the shore? Why not escape in her, and leave to their fate the miserable creatures who had treated him with such ingratitude?

The idea flashed into his brain, as though some one had spoken the words into his ear. Twenty strides would place him in possession of the boat, and half an hour's drifting with the current would take him beyond pursuit. Once outside the Bar, he would make for the westward, in the hopes of falling in with some whaler. He would doubtless meet with one before many days, and he was well supplied with provision and water in the mean time. A tale of shipwreck would satisfy the sailors, and—he paused—he had forgotten that the rags which he wore would betray him. With an exclamation of despair, he started from the posture in which he was lying. He thrust out his hands to raise himself, and his fingers came in contact with something soft. He had been lying at the foot of some loose stones that were piled cairnwise beside a low-growing bush; and the object that he had touched was protruding from beneath these stones. He caught it and dragged it forth. It was the shirt of poor Bates. With trembling hands he tore away the stones, and pulled forth the rest of the garments. They seemed as though they had been left purposely for him. Heaven had sent him the very disguise he needed.

The night had passed during his reverie, and the first faint streaks of dawn began to lighten in the sky. Haggard and pale, he rose to his feet, and scarcely daring to think about what he proposed to do, ran towards the boat. As he ran, however, the voice that he had heard encouraged him. “Your life is of more importance than theirs. They will die, but they have been ungrateful and deserve death. You will escape out of this Hell, and return to the loving heart who mourns you. You can do more good to mankind than by saving the lives of these people who despise you. Moreover they may not die. They are sure to be sent for. Think of what awaits you when you return—an absconded convict!”

He was within three feet of the boat, when he suddenly checked himself, and stood motionless, staring at the sand with as much horror as though he saw there the Writing which


  ― 178 ―
foretold the doom of Belshazzar. He had come upon the sentence traced by Sylvia the evening before, and glittering in the low light of the red sun suddenly risen from out the sea, it seemed to him that the letters had shaped themselves at his very feet.

  GOOD MR. DAWES.

“Good Mr. Dawes!” What a frightful reproach there was to him in that simple sentence! What a world of cowardice, baseness, and cruelty, had not those eleven letters opened to him! He heard the voice of the child who had nursed him, calling on him to save her. He saw her at that instant standing between him and the boat, as she had stood when she held out to him the loaf, on the night of his return to the settlement.

He staggered to the cavern, and seizing the sleeping Frere by the arm, shook him violently. “Awake! awake!” he cried, “and let us leave this place!”

Frere, starting to his feet, looked at the white face and bloodshot eyes of the wretched man before him with blunt astonishment.

“What's the matter with you, man?” he said. “You look as if you'd seen a ghost!”

At the sound of his voice Rufus Dawes gave a long sigh, and drew his hand across his eyes.

“Come, Sylvia!” shouted Frere, “it's time to get up. I am ready to go!”

The sacrifice was complete. The convict turned away, and two great glittering tears rolled down his rugged face, and fell upon the sand.

Chapter XVII.

At Sea.

AN hour after sunrise, the frail boat, which was the last hope of these four human beings, drifted with the outgoing current towards the mouth of the Harbour. When first launched she had come nigh swamping, being overloaded,


  ― 179 ―
and it was found necessary to leave behind a great portion of the dried meat. With what pangs this was done can be easily imagined, for each atom of food seemed to represent an hour of life. Yet there was no help for it. As Frere said, it was “neck or nothing with them.” They must get away at all hazards.

That evening they camped at the mouth of the Gates, Dawes being afraid to risk a passage until the slack of the tide, and about ten o'clock at night adventured to cross the bar. The night was lovely, and the sea calm. It seemed as though Providence had taken pity on them; for, notwithstanding the insecurity of the craft and the violence of the breakers, the dreaded passage was made with safety. Once indeed, when they had just entered the surf, a mighty wave, curling high above them, seemed about to overwhelm the frail structure of skins and wickerwork; but, Rufus Dawes keeping the nose of the boat to the sea, and Frere baling with his hat, they succeeded in reaching deep water. A great misfortune, however, occurred. Two of the bark buckets, left by some unpardonable oversight uncleated, were washed overboard, and with them nearly a fifth of their scanty store of water. In the face of the greater peril, the accident seemed trifling; and as, drenched and chilled, they gained the open sea, they could not but admit that fortune had almost miraculously befriended them.

They made tedious way with their rude oars; a light breeze from the north-west sprung up with the dawn, and, hoisting the goatskin sail, they crept along the coast. It was resolved that the two men should keep watch and watch; and Frere for the second time enforced his authority by giving the first watch to Rufus Dawes. “I am tired,” he said, “and shall sleep for a little while.”

Rufus Dawes, who had not slept for two nights, and who had done all the harder work, said nothing. He had suffered so much during the last two days that his senses were becoming dulled to pain.

Frere slept until late in the afternoon, and, when he woke, found the boat still tossing on the sea, and Sylvia and her mother both sea-sick. This seemed strange to him. Sea-sickness appeared to be a malady which belonged exclusively to civilization. Moodily watching the great green waves which curled incessantly between him and the horizon, he marvelled


  ― 180 ―
to think how curiously events had come about. A leaf had, as it were, been torn out of his autobiography. It seemed a life-time since he had done anything but moodily scan the sea or shore. Yet, on the morning of leaving the settlement, he had counted the notches on a calendar-stick he carried, and had been astonished to find them but twenty-two in number. Taking out his knife, he cut two nicks in the wicker gunwale of the coracle. That brought him to twenty-four days. The mutiny had taken place on the 13th of January; it was now the 6th of February. “Surely,” thought he, “the Ladybird might have returned by this time.” There was no one to tell him that the Ladybird had been driven into Port Davey by stress of weather, and detained there for seventeen days.

That night the wind fell, and they had to take to their oars. Rowing all night, they made but little progress, and Rufus Dawes suggested that they should put in to the shore and wait until the breeze sprang up. But, upon getting under the lee of a long line of basaltic rocks which rose abruptly out of the sea, they found the waves breaking furiously upon a horse-shoe reef, six or seven miles in length. There was nothing for it but to coast again.

They coasted for two days, without a sign of a sail, and on the third day a great wind broke upon them from the south-east, and drove them back thirty miles. The coracle began to leak, and required constant baling. What was almost as bad, the rum-cask, that held the best part of their water, had leaked also, and was now half empty. They caulked it, by cutting out the leak, and plugging the hole with linen.

“It's lucky we ain't in the tropics,” said Frere.

Poor Mrs. Vickers, lying at the bottom of the boat, wrapped in her wet shawl, and chilled to the bone with the bitter wind, had not the heart to speak. Surely the stifling calm of the tropics could not be worse than this bleak and barren sea.

The position of the four poor creatures was now almost desperate. Mrs. Vickers, indeed, seemed completely prostrated; and it was evident that, unless some help came, she could not long survive the continued exposure to the weather. The child was in somewhat better case. Rufus Dawes had wrapped her in his woollen shirt, and, unknown to Frere, had divided with her daily his allowance of meat. She lay in his arms at night, and in the day crept by his side for shelter and


  ― 181 ―
protection. As long as she was near him she felt safe. They spoke little to each other, but when Rufus Dawes felt the pressure of her tiny hand in his, or sustained the weight of her head upon his shoulder, he almost forgot the cold that froze him, and the hunger that gnawed him.

So two more days passed, and yet no sail! On the tenth day after their departure from Macquarie Harbour, they came to the end of their provisions. The salt water had spoiled the goat-meat, and soaked the bread into a nauseous paste. The sea was still running high, and the wind, having veered to the north, was blowing with increased violence. The long low line of coast that stretched upon their left hand was at times obscured by a blue mist. The water was the colour of mud, and the sky threatened rain. The wretched craft to which they had entrusted themselves was leaking in four places. If caught in one of the frequent storms which ravaged that iron-bound coast, she could not live an hour. The two men, wearied, hungry, and cold, almost hoped for the end to come quickly. To add to their distress, the child was seized with fever. She was hot and cold by turns, and in the intervals of moaning talked deliriously. Rufus Dawes, holding her in his arms, watched the suffering he was unable to alleviate, with a savage despair at his heart. Was she to die after all?

So another day and night passed, and the eleventh morning saw the boat yet alive, rolling in the trough of the same deserted sea. The four exiles lay in her almost without breath.

All at once Dawes uttered a cry, and seizing the sheet, put the clumsy craft about. “A sail! a sail!” he cried. “Do you not see her?”

Frere's hungry eyes ranged the dull water in vain.

“There is no sail, fool!” he said. “You mock us!”

The boat, no longer following the line of coast, was running nearly due south, straight into the great Southern Ocean. Frere tried to wrest the thong from the hand of the convict, and bring the boat back to her course. “Are you mad,” he asked, in fretful terror, “to run us out to sea?”

“Sit down!” returned the other, with a menacing gesture, and staring across the grey water. “I tell you I see a sail!”

Frere, overawed by the strange light which gleamed in the eyes of his companion, shifted sulkily back to his place. “Have


  ― 182 ―
your own way,” he said, “madman! It serves me right for putting off to sea in such a devil's craft as this!”

After all, what did it matter? As well be drowned in mid-ocean as in sight of land.

The long day wore out, and no sail appeared. The wind freshened towards evening, and the boat, plunging clumsily on the long brown waves, staggered as though drunk with the water she had swallowed, for at one place near the bows the water ran in and out as through a slit in a wine-skin. The coast had altogether disappeared, and the huge ocean—vast, stormy, and threatening—heaved and hissed all around them. It seemed impossible that they should live until morning. But Rufus Dawes, with his eyes fixed on some object visible alone to him, hugged the child in his arms, and drove the quivering coracle into the black waste of night and sea. To Frere, sitting sullenly in the bows, the aspect of this grim immovable figure, with its back-blown hair and staring eyes, had in it something supernatural and horrible. He began to think that privation and anxiety had driven the unhappy convict mad.

Thinking and shuddering over his fate, he fell—as it seemed to him—into a momentary sleep, in the midst of which some one called to him. He started up, with shaking knees and bristling hair. The day had broken, and the dawn, in one long pale streak of sickly saffron, lay low on the left hand. Between this streak of saffron-coloured light and the bows of the boat gleamed for an instant a white speck.

“A sail! a sail!” cried Rufus Dawes, a wild light gleaming in his eyes, and a strange tone vibrating in his voice. “Did I not tell you that I saw a sail?”

Frere, utterly confounded, looked again, with his heart in his mouth, and again did the white speck glimmer. For an instant he felt almost safe, and then a blanker despair than before fell upon him. From the distance at which she was, it was impossible for the ship to sight the boat.

“They will never see us!” he cried. “Dawes—Dawes! Do you hear? They will never see us!”

Rufus Dawes started as if from a trance. Lashing the sheet to the pole which served as a gunwale, he laid the sleeping child by her mother, and tearing up the strip of bark on which he had been sitting, moved to the bows of the boat. “They will see this! Tear up that board! So! Now, place it thus


  ― 183 ―
across the bows. Hack off that sapling end! Now that dry twist of osier! Never mind the boat, man; we can afford to leave her now. Tear off that outer strip of hide! See the wood beneath is dry! Quick—you are so slow.”

“What are you going to do?” cried Frere, aghast, as the convict tore up all the dry wood he could find, and heaped it on the sheet of bark placed on the bows.

“To make a fire! See!”

Frere began to comprehend. “I have three matches left,” he said, fumbling, with trembling fingers, in his pocket. “I wrapped them in one of the leaves of the book to keep them dry.”

The word “book” was a new inspiration. Rufus Dawes seized upon the “English History,” which had already done such service, tore out the drier leaves in the middle of the volume, and carefully added them to the little heap of touchwood.

“Now, steady!”

The match was struck and lighted. The paper, after a few obstinate curlings, caught fire, and Frere blowing the young flame with his breath, the bark began to burn. He piled upon the fire all that was combustible, the hides began to shrivel, and a great column of black smoke rose up over the sea.

“Sylvia!” cried Rufus Dawes, “Sylvia! My darling! You are saved!”

She opened her blue eyes and looked at him, but gave no sign of recognition. Delirium had hold of her, and in the hour of safety the child had forgotten her preserver. Rufus Dawes, overcome by this last cruel stroke of fortune, sat down in the stern of the boat, with the child in his arms, speechless. Frere, feeding the fire, thought that the chance he had so longed for had come. With the mother at the point of death, and the child delirious, who could testify to this hated convict's skilfulness? No one but Mr. Maurice Frere, and Mr. Maurice Frere, as commandant of convicts, could not but give up an “absconder” to justice.

The ship changed her course, and came towards this strange fire in the middle of the ocean. The boat, the fore part of her blazing like a pine torch, could not float above an hour. The little group of the convict and the child remained motionless. Mrs. Vickers was lying senseless, ignorant even of the approaching succour.




  ― 184 ―

The ship—a brig, with American colours flying—came within hail of them. Frere could almost distinguish figures on her deck. He made his way aft to where Dawes was sitting, unconscious, with the child in his arms, and stirred him roughly with his foot.

“Go forward,” he said, in tones of command, “and give the child to me.”

Rufus Dawes raised his head, and seeing the approaching vessel, awoke to the consciousness of his duty. With a low laugh, full of unutterable bitterness, he placed the burden he had borne so tenderly in the arms of the lieutenant, and moved to the blazing bows.

The brig was close upon them. Her canvas loomed large and dusky, shadowing the sea. Her wet decks shone in the morning sunlight. From her bulwarks peered bearded and eager faces, looking with astonishment at this burning boat and its haggard company, alone on that barren and stormy ocean.

Frere, with Sylvia in his arms, waited for her.

END OF BOOK II.
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