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Book I.

Chapter I.

The Prison Ship.

IN the breathless stillness of a tropical afternoon, when the air was hot and heavy, and the sky brazen and cloudless, the shadow of the Malabar lay solitary on the surface of the glittering sea.

The sun—who rose on the left hand every morning a blazing ball, to move slowly through the unbearable blue, until he sank fiery red in mingling glories of sky and ocean on the right hand—had just got low enough to peep beneath the awning that covered the poop deck, and awaken a young man, in an undress military uniform, who was dozing on a coil of rope.

“Hang it!” said he, rising and stretching himself, with the weary sigh of a man who has nothing to do, “I must have been asleep;” and then holding by a stay, he turned about and looked down into the waist of the ship.

Save for the man at the wheel and the guard at the quarter-railing, he was alone on the deck. A few birds flew round about the vessel, and seemed to pass under her stern windows only to appear again at her bows. A lazy albatross, with the white water flashing from his wings, rose with a dabbling sound to leeward, and in the place where he had been, glided the hideous fin of a silently-swimming shark. The seams of the well-scrubbed deck were sticky with melted pitch, and the brass plate of the compass-case sparkled in the sun like a


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jewel. There was no breeze, and as the clumsy ship rolled and lurched on the heaving sea, her idle sails flapped against her masts with a regularly recurring noise, and her bowsprit would seem to rise higher with the water's swell, to dip again with a jerk that made each rope tremble and tauten. On the forecastle, some half-dozen soldiers, in all varieties of undress, were playing at cards, smoking, or watching the fishing-lines hanging over the catheads.

So far the appearance of the vessel differed in nowise from that of an ordinary transport. But in the waist a curious sight presented itself. It was as though one had built a cattle-pen there. At the foot of the foremast, and at the quarter-deck, a strong barricade, loop-holed and furnished with doors for ingress and egress, ran across the deck from bulwark to bulwark. Outside this cattle-pen an armed sentry stood on guard; inside, standing, sitting, or walking monotonously, within range of the shining barrels in the arm chest on the poop, were some sixty men and boys, dressed in uniform grey. The men and boys were prisoners of the Crown, and the cattle-pen was their exercise ground. Their prison was down the main hatchway, on the 'tween decks, and the barricade, continued down, made its side walls.

It was the fag end of the two hours' exercise graciously permitted each afternoon by His Majesty King George the Fourth to prisoners of the Crown, and the prisoners of the Crown were enjoying themselves. It was not, perhaps, so pleasant as under the awning on the poop-deck, but that sacred shade was only for such great men as the captain and his officers, Surgeon Pine, Lieutenant Maurice Frere, and, most important personages of all, Captain Vickers and his wife.

That the convict leaning against the bulwarks would like to have been able to get rid of his enemy the sun for a moment, was probable enough. His companions, sitting on the combings of the mainhatch, or crouched in careless fashion on the shady side of the barricade, were laughing and talking, with blasphemous and obscene merriment hideous to contemplate; but he, with cap pulled over his brows, and hands thrust into the pockets of his coarse grey garments, held aloof from their dismal joviality.

The sun poured his hottest rays on his head unheeded, and though every cranny and seam in the deck sweltered hot pitch


  ― 13 ―
under the fierce heat, the man stood there, motionless and morose, staring at the sleepy sea. He had stood thus, in one place or another, ever since the groaning vessel had escaped from the rollers of the Bay of Biscay, and the miserable hundred and eighty creatures among whom he was classed had been freed from their irons, and allowed to sniff fresh air twice a day.

The low-browed, coarse-featured ruffians grouped about the deck cast many a leer of contempt at the solitary figure, but their remarks were confined to gestures only. There are degrees in crime, and Rufus Dawes, the convicted felon, who had but escaped the gallows to toil for all his life in irons, was a man of mark. He had been tried for the robbery and murder of Lord Bellasis. The friendless vagabond's lame story of finding on the heath a dying man would not have availed him, but for the curious fact sworn to by the landlord of the Spaniards' Inn, that the murdered nobleman had shaken his head when asked if the prisoner was his assassin. The vagabond was acquitted of the murder, but condemned to death for the robbery, and London, who took some interest in the trial, considered him fortunate when his sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

It was customary on board these floating prisons to keep each man's crime a secret from his fellows, so that if he chose, and the caprice of his jailers allowed him, he could lead a new life in his adopted home, without being taunted with his former misdeeds. But, like other excellent devices, the expedient was only a nominal one, and few out of the doomed hundred and eighty were ignorant of the offence which their companions had committed. The more guilty boasted of their superiority in vice; the petty criminals swore that their guilt was blacker than it appeared. Moreover, a deed so bloodthirsty and a respite so unexpected, had invested the name of Rufus Dawes with a grim distinction, which his superior mental abilities, no less than his haughty temper and powerful frame, combined to support. A young man of two-and-twenty owning to no friends, and existing among them but by the fact of his criminality, he was respected and admired. The vilest of all the vile horde penned between decks, if they laughed at his “fine airs” behind his back, cringed and submitted when they met him face to face—for in a convict ship the greatest villain is the


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greatest hero, and the only nobility acknowledged by that hideous commonwealth is that Order of the Halter which is conferred by the hand of the hangman.

The young man on the poop caught sight of the tall figure leaning against the bulwarks, and it gave him an excuse to break the monotony of his employment.

“Here, you!” he called out, with an oath, “get out of the gangway!”

Rufus Dawes was not in the gangway—was, in fact, a good two feet from it, but at the sound of Lieutenant Frere's voice he started, and went obediently towards the hatchway.

“Touch your hat, you dog!” cries Frere, coming to the quarter railing. “Touch your damned hat! Do you hear?”

Rufus Dawes touched his cap, saluting in half military fashion.

“I'll make some of you fellows smart, if you don't have a care,” went on the angry Frere, half to himself, and half aloud. “Insolent blackguards!”

And then the noise of the sentry, on the quarter deck below him, grounding arms, turned the current of his thoughts. A thin, tall, soldier-like man, with a cold blue eye, and prim features, came out of the cuddy below, handing out a fair-haired, affected, mincing lady, of middle age. Captain Vickers of Mr. Frere's regiment, ordered for service in Van Diemen's Land, was bringing his lady on deck to get an appetite for dinner.

Mrs. Vickers was forty-two (she owned to thirty-three), and had been a garrison-belle for eleven weary years before she married prim John Vickers. The marriage was not a happy one. Vickers found his wife extravagant, vain, and snappish, and she found him harsh, disenchanted, and commonplace. A daughter, born two years after their marriage, was the only link that bound the ill-assorted pair. Vickers idolized little Sylvia, and when the recommendation of a long sea-voyage for his failing health induced him to exchange into the —th, he insisted upon bringing the child with him, despite Mrs. Vickers's reiterated objections on the score of educational difficulties. “He could educate her himself, if need be,” he said; “and she should not stay at home.”

So Mrs. Vickers, after a hard struggle, gave up the point and her dreams of Bath together, and followed her husband with


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the best grace she could muster. When fairly out to sea she seemed reconciled to her fate, and employed the intervals between scolding her daughter and her maid, in fascinating the boorish young Lieutenant, Maurice Frere.

Fascination was an integral portion of Julia Vickers's nature; admiration was all she lived for: and even in a convict ship, with her husband at her elbow, she must flirt, or perish of mental inanition. There was no harm in the creature. She was simply a vain, middle-aged woman, and Frere took her attentions for what they were worth. Moreover, her good feeling towards him was useful, for reasons which will shortly appear.

Running down the ladder, cap in hand, he offered her his assistance.

“Thank you, Mr. Frere. These horrid ladders. I really—he, he—quite tremble at them. Hot! Yes, dear me, most oppressive. John, the camp-stool. Pray, Mr. Frere—oh, thank you! Sylvia! Sylvia! John, have you my smelling salts? Still a calm, I suppose? These dreadful calms!”

This semi-fashionable slip-slop, within twenty yards of the wild beasts' den, on the other side of the barricade, sounded strange; but Mr. Frere thought nothing of it. Familiarity destroys terror, and the incurable flirt fluttered her muslins, and played off her second-rate graces, under the noses of the grinning convicts, with as much complacency as if she had been in a Chatham ball-room. Indeed, if there had been nobody else near, it is not unlikely that she would have disdainfully fascinated the 'tween-decks, and made eyes at the most presentable of the convicts there.

Vickers, with a bow to Frere, saw his wife up the ladder, and then turned for his daughter.

She was a delicate-looking child of six years old, with blue eyes and bright hair. Though indulged by her father, and spoiled by her mother, the natural sweetness of her disposition saved her from being disagreeable, and the effects of her education as yet only showed themselves in a thousand imperious prettinesses, which made her the darling of the ship. Little Miss Sylvia was privileged to go anywhere and do anything, and even convictism shut its foul mouth in her presence. Running to her father's side, the child chattered with all the volubility of flattered self-esteem. She ran hither and thither, asked questions, invented answers, laughed, sang,


  ― 16 ―
gambolled, peered into the compass-case, felt in the pockets of the man at the helm, put her tiny hand into the big palm of the officer of the watch, even ran down to the quarter-deck and pulled the coat-tails of the sentry on duty.

At last, tired of running about, she took a little striped leather ball from the bosom of her frock, and calling to her father, threw it up to him as he stood on the poop. He returned it, and, shouting with laughter, clapping her hands between each throw, the child kept up the game.

The convicts—whose slice of fresh air was nearly eaten—turned with eagerness to watch this new source of amusement. Innocent laughter and childish prattle were strange to them. Some smiled, and nodded with interest in the varying fortunes of the game. One young lad could hardly restrain himself from applauding. It was as though, out of the sultry heat which brooded over the ship, a cool breeze had suddenly arisen.

In the midst of this mirth, the officer of the watch, glancing round the fast crimsoning horizon, paused abruptly, and shading his eyes with his hand, looked out intently to the westward.

Frere, who found Mrs. Vickers's conversation a little tiresome, and had been glancing from time to time at the companion, as though in expectation of some one appearing, noticed the action.

“What is it, Mr. Best?”

“I don't know exactly. It looks to me like a cloud of smoke.”

And, taking the glass, he swept the horizon.

“Let me see,” said Frere; and he looked also.

On the extreme horizon, just to the left of the sinking sun, rested, or seemed to rest, a tiny black cloud. The gold and crimson, splashed all about the sky, had overflowed around it, and rendered a clear view almost impossible.

“I can't quite make it out,” says Frere, handing back the telescope. “We can see as soon as the sun goes down a little.”

Then Mrs. Vickers must, of course, look also, and was prettily affected about the focus of the glass, applying herself to that instrument with much girlish giggling, and finally declaring, after shutting one eye with her fair hand, that “positively she could see nothing but sky, and believed that wicked Mr. Frere was doing it on purpose.”




  ― 17 ―

By-and-by, Captain Blunt appeared, and, taking the glass from his officer, looked through it long and carefully. Then the mizen-top was appealed to, and declared that he could see nothing; and at last the sun went down with a jerk, as though it had slipped through a slit in the sea, and the black spot, swallowed up in the gathering haze, was seen no more.

As the sun sank, the relief guard came up the after hatchway, and the relieved guard prepared to superintend the descent of the convicts. At this moment Sylvia missed her ball, which, taking advantage of a sudden lurch of the vessel, hopped over the barricade, and rolled to the feet of Rufus Dawes, who was still leaning, apparently lost in thought, against the side.

The bright spot of colour rolling across the white deck caught his eye; stooping mechanically, he picked up the ball, and stepped forward to return it. The door of the barricade was open, and the sentry—a young soldier, occupied in staring at the relief guard—did not notice the prisoner pass through it. In another instant he was on the sacred quarter-deck.

Heated with the game, her cheeks aglow, her eyes sparkling, her golden hair afloat, Sylvia had turned to leap after her plaything, but even as she turned, from under the shadow of the cuddy glided a rounded white arm; and a shapely hand caught the child by the sash and drew her back. The next moment the young man in grey had placed the toy in her hand.

Maurice Frere, descending the poop ladder, had not witnessed this little incident; on reaching the deck, he saw only the unexplained presence of the convict uniform.

“Thank you,” said a voice, as Rufus Dawes stooped before the pouting Sylvia.

The convict raised his eyes and saw a young girl of eighteen or nineteen years of age, tall, and well-developed, who, dressed in a loose-sleeved robe of some white material, was standing in the doorway. She had black hair, coiled around a narrow and flat head, a small foot, white skin, well-shaped hands, and large dark eyes, and as she smiled at him, her scarlet lips showed her white even teeth.

He knew her at once. She was Sarah Purfoy, Mrs. Vickers's maid, but he never had been so close to her before; and it seemed to him that he was in the presence of some strange tropical flower, which exhaled a heavy and intoxicating perfume.




  ― 18 ―

For an instant the two looked at each other, and then Rufus Dawes was seized from behind by his collar, and flung with a shock upon the deck.

Leaping to his feet, his first impulse was to rush upon his assailant, but he saw the ready bayonet of the sentry gleam, and he checked himself with an effort, for his assailant was Mr. Maurice Frere.

“What the devil do you do here?” asked that gentleman with an oath. “You lazy skulking hound, what brings you here? If I catch you putting your foot on the quarter-deck again, I'll give you a week in irons!”

Rufus Dawes, pale with rage and mortification, opened his mouth to justify himself, but he allowed the words to die on his lips. What was the use?

“Go down below, and remember what I've told you,” cried Frere; and comprehending at once what had occurred, he made a mental minute of the name of the defaulting sentry.

The convict, wiping the blood from his face, turned on his heel without a word, and went back through the strong oak door into his den.

Frere leant forward and took the girl's shapely hand with an easy gesture, but she drew it away, with a flash of her black eyes.

“You coward!” she said.

The stolid soldier close beside them heard it, and his eye twinkled. Frere bit his thick lips with mortification, as he followed the girl into the cuddy. Sarah Purfoy, however, taking the astonished Sylvia by the hand, glided into her mistress's cabin with a scornful laugh, and shut the door behind her.

Chapter II.

Sarah Purfoy.

CONVICTISM having been safely got under hatches, and put to bed in its government allowance of sixteen inches of space per man, cut a little short by exigencies of shipboard, the cuddy was wont to pass some not unpleasant evenings.


  ― 19 ―
Mrs. Vickers, who was poetical and owned a guitar, was also musical and sang to it. Captain Blunt was a jovial, coarse fellow, Surgeon Pine had a mania for story-telling, while if Vickers was sometimes dull, Frere was always hearty. Moreover, the table was well-served, and what with dinner, tobacco, whist, music, and brandy-and-water, the sultry evenings passed away with a rapidity of which the wild beasts 'tween decks, cooped by sixes in berths of five feet three inches, had no conception.

On this particular evening, however, the cuddy was dull. Dinner fell flat, and conversation languished.

“No signs of a breeze, Mr. Best?” asked Blunt, as the first officer came in and took his seat.

“None, sir.”

“These—he he!—awful calms,” says Mrs. Vickers. “A week, is it not, Captain Blunt?”

“Thirteen days, mum,” growled Blunt.

“I remember, off the Coromandel Coast,” put in cheerful Pine, “when we had the plague in the Rattlesnake ——”

“Captain Vickers, another glass of wine?” cries Blunt, hastening to cut the anecdote short.

“Thank you, no more. I have the headache.”

“Headache—um—don't wonder at it, going down among those fellows. It is infamous the way they crowd these ships. Here we have over two hundred souls on board, and not boat room for half of 'em.”

“Two hundred souls! Surely not,” says Vickers. “By the King's Regulations ——”

“One hundred and eighty convicts, fifty soldiers, thirty in ship's crew, all told, and—how many?—one, two, three—seven in the cuddy. How many do you make that?”

“We are just a little crowded this time,” says Best.

“It is very wrong,” says Vickers, pompously. “Very wrong. By the King's Regulations ——”

But the subject of the King's Regulations was even more distasteful to the cuddy than Pine's interminable anecdotes, and Mrs. Vickers hastened to change the subject.

“Are you not heartily tired of this dreadful life, Mr. Frere?”

“Well, it is not exactly the life I had hoped to lead,” said Frere, rubbing a freckled hand over his stubborn red hair; “but I must make the best of it.”




  ― 20 ―

“Yes, indeed,” said the lady, in that subdued manner with which one comments upon a well-known accident, “it must have been a great shock to you to be so suddenly deprived of so large a fortune.”

“Not only that, but to find that the black sheep who got it all, sailed for India within a week of my uncle's death! Lady Devine got a letter from him on the day of the funeral to say that he had taken his passage in the Hydaspes for Calcutta, and never meant to come back again!”

“Sir Richard Devine left no other children?”

“No, only this mysterious Dick, whom I never saw, but who must have hated me.”

“Dear, dear! These family quarrels are dreadful things. Poor Lady Devine to lose in one day a husband and a son!”

“And the next morning to hear of the murder of her cousin! You know that we are connected with the Bellasis family. My aunt's father married a sister of the second Lord Bellasis.”

“Indeed. That was a horrible murder. So you think that the dreadful man you pointed out the other day, did it?”

“The jury seemed to think not,” said Mr. Frere, with a laugh; “but I don't know anybody else who could have a motive for it. However, I'll go on deck and have a smoke.”

“I wonder what induced that old hunks of a shipbuilder to try to cut off his only son in favour of a cub of that sort,” said Surgeon Pine to Captain Vickers as the broad back of Mr. Maurice Frere disappeared up the companion.

“Some boyish follies abroad, I believe; self-made men are always impatient of extravagance. But it is hard upon Frere. He is not a bad sort of fellow for all his roughness, and when a young man finds that an accident deprives him of a quarter of a million of money and leaves him without a sixpence beyond his commission in a marching regiment under orders for a convict settlement, he has some reason to rail against fate.”

“How was it that the son came in for the money after all, then?”

“Why it seems that when old Devine returned from sending for his lawyer to alter his will, he got a fit of apoplexy, the result of his rage, I suppose, and when they opened his room door in the morning they found him dead.”




  ― 21 ―

“And the son's away on the sea somewhere,” said Mr. Vickers, “and knows nothing of his good fortune. It is quite a romance.”

“I am glad that Frere did not get the money,” said Pine, grimly sticking to his prejudice; “I have seldom seen a face I liked less, even among my yellow jackets yonder.”

“Oh dear, Dr. Pine! How can you?” interjected Mrs. Vickers.

“'Pon my soul, ma'am, some of them have mixed in good society, I can tell you. There's pickpockets and swindlers down below who have lived in the best company.”

“Dreadful wretches!” cried Mrs. Vickers, shaking out her skirts. “John, I will go on deck.”

At the signal, the party rose.

“Ecod, Pine,” says Captain Blunt, as the two were left alone together, “you and I are always putting our foot into it!”

“Women are always in the way aboard ship,” returned Pine.

“Ah! doctor, you don't mean that, I know,” said a rich soft voice at his elbow.

It was Sarah Purfoy emerging from her cabin.

“Here is the wench!” cries Blunt. “We were talking of your eyes, my dear.”

“Well, they'll bear talking about, captain, won't they?” asked she, turning them full upon him.

“By the Lord, they will!” says Blunt, smacking his hand on the table. “They're the finest eyes I've seen in my life, and they've got the reddest lips under 'm that ——”

“Let me pass, Captain Blunt, if you please. Thank you, doctor.”

And before the admiring commander could prevent her, she modestly swept out of the cuddy.

“She's a fine piece of goods, eh?” asked Blunt, watching her. “A spice o' the devil in her, too.”

Old Pine took a huge pinch of snuff.

“Devil! I tell you what it is, Blunt, I don't know where Vickers picked her up, but I'd rather trust my life with the worst of those ruffians 'tween decks, than in her keeping, if I'd done her an injury.”

Blunt laughed.




  ― 22 ―

“I don't believe she'd think much of sticking a man, either!” he said rising. “But I must go on deck, doctor.”

Pine followed him more slowly. “I don't pretend to know much about women,” he said to himself, “but that girl's got a story of her own, or I'm much mistaken. What brings her on board this ship as lady's maid is more than I can fathom.” And as, sticking his pipe between his teeth, he walked down the now deserted deck to the main hatchway, and turned to watch the white figure gliding up and down the poop deck, he saw it joined by another and a darker one, he muttered, “She's after no good, I'll swear.”

At that moment his arm was touched by a soldier in undress uniform, who had come up the hatchway.

“What is it?”

The man drew himself up and saluted.

“If you please, doctor, one of the prisoners is taken sick, and as the dinner's over, and he's pretty bad, I ventured to disturb your honour.”

“You ass!” says Pine—who, like many gruff men, had a good heart under his rough shell—“why didn't you tell me before?” and knocking the ashes out of his barely-lighted pipe, he stopped that implement with a twist of paper and followed his summoner down the hatchway.

In the meantime the woman who was the object of the grim old fellow's suspicions was enjoying the comparative coolness of the night air. Her mistress and her mistress's daughter had not yet come out of their cabin, and the men had not yet finished their evening's tobacco. The awning had been removed, the stars were shining in the moonless sky, the poop guard had shifted itself to the quarter-deck, and Miss Sarah Purfoy was walking up and down the deserted poop, in close tête-à-tête with no less a person than Captain Blunt himself. She had passed and repassed him twice silently, and at the third turn, the big fellow, peering into the twilight ahead somewhat uneasily, obeyed the glitter of her great eyes, and joined her.

“You weren't put out, my wench,” he asked, “at what I said to you below?”

She affected surprise.

“What do you mean?”

“Why, at my—at what I—at my rudeness, there! For I was a bit rude, I admit.”




  ― 23 ―

“I? O dear, no. You were not rude.”

“Glad you think so!” returned Phineas Blunt, a little ashamed at what looked like a confession of weakness on his part.

“You would have been—if I had let you.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw it in your face. Do you think a woman can't see in a man's face when he's going to insult her?”

“Insult you, hey! Upon my word!”

“Yes, insult me. You're old enough to be my father, Captain Blunt, but you've no right to kiss me, unless I ask you.”

“Haw, haw!” laughed Blunt. “I like that. Ask me! Egad I wish you would, you black-eyed minx!”

“So would other people, I have no doubt.”

“That soldier officer for instance. Hey, Miss Modesty? I've seen him looking at you as though he'd like to try.”

The girl flashed at him with a quick side glance.

“You mean Lieutenant Frere, I suppose. Are you jealous of him?”

“Jealous! Why, damme, the lad was only breeched the other day. Jealous!”

“I think you are—and you've no need to be. He is a stupid booby, though he is Lieutenant Frere.”

“So he is. You are right there, by the Lord.”

Sarah Purfoy laughed a low, full-toned laugh, whose sound made Blunt's pulse take a jump forward, and sent the blood tingling down to his fingers' ends.

“Captain Blunt,” said she, “you're going to do a very silly thing.”

He came close to her and tried to take her hand.

“What?”

She answered by another question.

“How old are you?”

“Forty-two, if you must know.”

“Oh! And you are going to fall in love with a girl of nineteen.”

“Who is that?”

“Myself!” she said, giving him her hand and smiling at him with her rich red lips.

The mizen hid them from the man at the wheel, and the twilight of tropical stars held the main deck. Blunt felt the breath of this strange woman warm on his cheek, her eyes


  ― 24 ―
seemed to wax and wane, and the hard, small hand he held burnt like fire.

“I believe you are right,” he cried, “I am half in love with you already.”

She gazed at him with a contemptuous sinking of her heavily fringed eyelids, and withdrew her hand.

“Then don't get to the other half, or you'll regret it.”

“Shall I?” asked Blunt. “That's my affair. Come, you little vixen, give me that kiss you said I was going to ask you for below,” and he caught her in his arms.

In an instant she had twisted herself free, and confronted him with flashing eyes.

“You dare!” she cried. “Kiss me by force! Pooh! you make love like a schoolboy. If you can make me like you, I'll kiss you as often as you will. If you can't, keep your distance, please.”

Blunt did not know whether to laugh or be angry at this rebuff. He was conscious that he was in rather a ridiculous position, and so decided to laugh.

“You're a spit-fire, too. What must I do to make you like me?”

She made him a curtsey.

“That is your affair,” she said; and as the head of Mr. Frere appeared above the companion, Blunt walked aft, feeling considerably bewildered, and yet not displeased.

“She's a fine girl, by jingo,” he said, cocking his cap, “and I'm hanged if she ain't sweet upon me.”

And then the old fellow began to whistle softly to himself as he paced the deck, and to glance towards the man who had taken his place with no friendly eyes. But a sort of shame held him as yet, and he kept aloof.

Maurice Frere's greeting was short enough.

“Well, Sarah,” he said,—“have you got out of your temper?”

She frowned.

“What did you strike the man for? He did you no harm.”

“He was out of his place. What business had he to come aft? One must keep these wretches down, my girl.”

“Or they will be too much for you, eh? Do you think one man could capture a ship, Mr. Maurice?”

“No, but one hundred might.”

“Nonsense! What could they do against the soldiers? There are fifty soldiers.”




  ― 25 ―

“So there are, but ——”

“But what?”

“Well, never mind. It's against the rules, and I won't have it.”

“‘Not according to the King's Regulations,’ as Captain Vickers would say.”

Frere laughed at her imitation of his pompous captain.

“You are a strange girl; I can't make you out. Come,” and he took her hand, “tell me what you are really?”

“Will you promise not to tell?”

“Of course.”

“Upon your word?”

“Upon my word.”

“Well, then—but you'll tell?”

“Not I. Come, go on.”

“Lady's-maid in the family of a gentleman going abroad.”

“Sarah, can't you be serious?”

“I am serious. That was the advertisement I answered.”

“But I mean, what you have been. You were not a lady's-maid all your life?”

She pulled her shawl closer round her and shivered.

“People are not born ladies' maids, I suppose?”

“Well, who are you, then? Have you no friends? What have you been?”

She looked up into the young man's face—a little less harsh at that moment than it was wont to be—and creeping closer to him, whispered,—

“Do you love me, Maurice?”

He raised one of the little hands that rested on the taffrail, and, under cover of the darkness, kissed it.

“You know I do,” he said. “You may be a lady's-maid or what you like, but you are the loveliest woman I ever met.”

She smiled at his vehemence.

“Then, if you love me, what does it matter?”

“If you loved me, you would tell me,” said he, with a quickness which surprised himself.

“But I have nothing to tell, and I don't love you—yet.”

He let her hand fall with an impatient gesture; and at that moment Blunt—who could restrain himself no longer—came up.

“Fine night, Mr. Frere!”




  ― 26 ―

“Yes, fine enough.”

“No signs of a breeze yet, though.”

“No, not yet.”

Just then, from out of the violet haze that hung over the horizon, a strange glow of light broke.

“Hallo!” cries Frere, “did you see that?”

All had seen it, but they looked for its repetition in vain.

Blunt rubbed his eyes.

“I saw it,” he said, “distinctly. A flash of light.”

They strained their eyes to pierce through the obscurity.

“Best saw something like it before dinner. There must be thunder in the air.”

At that instant a thin streak of light shot up and then sank again.

There was no mistaking it this time, and a simultaneous exclamation burst from all on deck. From out the gloom which hung over the horizon rose a column of flame that lighted up the night for an instant, and then sunk, leaving a dull red spark upon the water.

“It's a ship on fire!” cried Frere.

Chapter III.

The Monotony Breaks.

THEY looked again, the tiny spark still burned, and immediately over it there grew out of the darkness a crimson spot, that hung like a lurid star in the air. The soldiers and sailors on the forecastle had seen it also, and in a moment the whole vessel was astir. Mrs. Vickers, with little Sylvia clinging to her dress, came up to share the new sensation; and at the sight of her mistress, the modest maid withdrew discreetly from Frere's side. Not that there was any need to do so; no one heeded her. Blunt, in his professional excitement, had already forgotten her presence, and Frere was in earnest conversation with Vickers.

“Take a boat!” said that gentleman. “Certainly, my dear Frere, by all means. That is to say, if the captain does not object, and it is not contrary to the Regulations ——”




  ― 27 ―

“Captain, you'll lower a boat, eh? We may save some of the poor devils,” cries Frere, his heartiness of body reviving at the prospect of excitement.

“Boat!” said Blunt, “why, she's twelve miles off and more, and there's not a breath o' wind!”

“But we can't let 'em roast like chestnuts!” cried the other, as the glow in the sky broadened and became more intense.

“What is the good of a boat?” said Pine. “The long-boat only holds thirty men, and that's a big ship yonder.”

“Well, take two boats—three boats! By heaven, you'll never let 'em burn alive without stirring a finger to save 'em!”

“They've got their own boats,” says Blunt, whose coolness was in strong contrast to the young officer's impetuosity; “and if the fire gains, they'll take to 'em, you may depend. In the meantime, we'll show 'em that there's some one near 'em.” And as he spoke, a blue light flared hissing into the night.

“There, they'll see that, I expect!” he said, as the ghastly flame rose, extinguishing the stars for a moment, only to let them appear again brighter in a darker heaven.

“Mr. Best—lower and man the quarter-boats! Mr. Frere—you can go in one, if you like, and take a volunteer or two from those grey jackets of yours amidships. I shall want as many hands as I can spare to man the long-boat and cutter, in case we want 'em. Steady there, lads! Easy!” and as the first eight men who could reach the deck parted to the larboard and starboard quarter-boats, Frere ran down on the main-deck.

Mrs. Vickers, of course, was in the way, and gave a genteel scream as Blunt rudely pushed past her with a scarce-muttered apology; but her maid was standing erect and motionless, by the quarter-railing, and as the captain paused for a moment to look round him, he saw her dark eyes fixed on him admiringly. He was, as he said, over forty-two, burly and grey-haired, but he blushed like a girl under her approving gaze. Nevertheless, he said only, “That wench is a trump!” and swore a little.

Meanwhile Maurice Frere had passed the sentry and leapt down into the 'tween decks. At his nod, the prison door was thrown open. The air was hot, and that strange, horrible odour peculiar to closely-packed human bodies filled the place. It was like coming into a full stable.

He ran his eye down the double tier of bunks which lined the side of the ship, and stopped at the one opposite him.




  ― 28 ―

There seemed to have been some disturbance there lately, for instead of the six pair of feet which should have protruded therefrom, the gleam of the bull's-eye showed but four.

“What's the matter here, sentry?” he asked.

“Prisoner ill, sir. Doctor sent him to hospital.”

“But there should be two.”

The other came from behind the break of the berths. It was Rufus Dawes. He held by the side as he came, and saluted.

“I felt sick, sir, and was trying to get the scuttle open.”

The heads were all raised along the silent line, and eyes and ears were eager to see and listen. The double tier of bunks looked terribly like a row of wild beast cages at that moment.

Maurice Frere stamped his foot indignantly.

“Sick! What are you sick about, you malingering dog? I'll give you something to sweat the sickness out of you. Stand on one side here!”

Rufus Dawes, wondering, obeyed. He seemed heavy and dejected, and passed his hand across his forehead, as though he would rub away a pain there.

“Which of you fellows can handle an oar?” Frere went on. “There, curse you, I don't want fifty! Three'll do. Come on now, make haste!”

The heavy door clashed again, and in another instant the four “volunteers” were on deck. The crimson glow was turning yellow now, and spreading over the sky.

“Two in each boat!” cries Blunt. “I'll burn a blue light every hour for you, Mr. Best; and take care they don't swamp you. Lower away, lads!”

As the second prisoner took the oar of Frere's boat, he uttered a groan and fell forward, recovering himself instantly. Sarah Purfoy, leaning over the side, saw the occurrence.

“What is the matter with that man?” she said. “Is he ill?”

Pine was next to her, and looked out instantly. “It's that big fellow in No. 10,” he cried. “Here, Frere!”

But Frere heard him not. He was intent on the beacon that gleamed ever brighter in the distance. “Give way, my lads!” he shouted. And amid a cheer from the ship, the two boats shot out of the bright circle of the blue light, and disappeared into the darkness.

Sarah Purfoy looked at Pine for an explanation, but he turned


  ― 29 ―
abruptly away. For a moment the girl paused, as if in doubt; and then, ere his retreating figure turned to retrace its steps, she cast a quick glance around, and slipping down the ladder, made her way to the 'tween decks.

The iron-studded oak barricade that, loop-holed for musketry, and perforated with plated trapdoor for sterner needs, separated soldiers from prisoners, was close to her left hand, and the sentry at its padlocked door looked at her inquiringly. She laid her little hand on his big rough one—a sentry is but mortal—and opened her brown eyes at him.

“The hospital,” she said. “The doctor sent me;” and before he could answer, her white figure vanished down the hatch, and passed round the bulkhead, behind which lay the sick man.

Chapter IV.

The Hospital.

THE hospital was nothing more nor less than a partitioned portion of the lower deck, filched from the space allotted to the soldiers. It ran fore and aft, coming close to the stern windows, and was, in fact, a sort of artificial stern cabin. At a pinch, it might have held a dozen men.

Though not so hot as in the prison, the atmosphere of the lower deck was close and unhealthy, and the girl, pausing to listen to the subdued hum of conversation coming from the soldiers' berths, turned strangely sick and giddy. She drew herself up, however, and held out her hand to a man who came rapidly across the mis-shapen shadows, thrown by the sulkily swinging lantern, to meet her. It was the young soldier who had been that day sentry at the convict gangway.

“Well, miss,” he said, “I am here, yer see, waiting for yer.”

“You are a good boy, Miles; but don't you think I'm worth waiting for?”

Miles grinned from ear to ear.

“Indeed you be,” said he.

Sarah Purfoy frowned, and then smiled.

“Come here, Miles; I've got something for you.”




  ― 30 ―

Miles came forward, grinning harder.

The girl produced a small object from the pocket of her dress. If Mrs. Vickers had seen it she would probably have been angry, for it was nothing less than the captain's brandy-flask.

“Drink,” said she. “It's the same as they have upstairs, so it won't hurt you.”

The fellow needed no pressing. He took off half the contents of the bottle at a gulp, and then, fetching a long breath, stood staring at her.

“That's prime!”

“Is it? I daresay it is.” She had been looking at him with unaffected disgust as he drank. “Brandy is all you men understand.”

Miles—still sucking in his breath—came a pace closer.

“Not it,” said he, with a twinkle in his little pig's eyes. “I understand something else, miss, I can tell yer.”

The tone of the sentence seemed to awaken and remind her of her errand in that place. She laughed as loudly and merrily as she dared, and laid her hand on the speaker's arm. The boy—for he was but a boy, one of those many ill-reared country louts who leave the plough-tail for the musket, and, for a shilling a day, experience all the “pomp and circumstance of glorious war”—reddened to the roots of his closely cropped hair.

“There, that's quite close enough. You're only a common soldier, Miles, and you mustn't make love to me.”

“Not make love to yer!” says Miles. “What did yer tell me to meet yer here for then?”

She laughed again.

“What a practical animal you are! Suppose I had something to say to you?”

Miles devoured her with his eyes.

“It's hard to marry a soldier,” he said, with a recruit's proud intonation of the word; “but yer might do worse, miss, and I'll work for yer like a slave, I will.”

She looked at him with curiosity and pleasure. Though her time was evidently precious, she could not resist the temptation of listening to praises of herself.

“I know you're above me, Miss Sarah. You're a lady, but I love yer, I do, and you drives me wild with yer tricks.”




  ― 31 ―

“Do I?”

“Do yer? Yes, yer do. What did yer come an' make up to me for, and then go sweetheartin' with them others?”

“What others?”

“Why, the cuddy folk—the skipper, and the parson, and that —— Frere. I see yer walkin' the deck wi' un o' nights. Dom 'um, I'd put a bullet through his red head as soon as look at un.”

“Hush! Miles dear—they'll hear you.”

Her face was all aglow, and her expanded nostrils throbbed. Beautiful as the face was, it had a tigerish look about it at that instant.

Encouraged by the epithet, Miles put his arm round her slim waist, just as Blunt had done, but she did not resent it so abruptly. Miles had promised more.

“Hush!” she whispered, with admirably-acted surprise—“I heard a noise!” and as the soldier started back, she smoothed her dress complacently.

“There is no one!” cried he.

“Isn't there? My mistake, then. Now come here, Miles.”

Miles obeyed.

“Who is in the hospital?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, I want to go in.”

Miles scratched his head, and grinned.

“Yer carn't.”

“Why not? You've let me in before.”

“Against the doctor's orders. He told me special to let no one in but himself.”

“Nonsense.”

“It ain't nonsense. There was a convict brought in to-night, and nobody's to go near him.”

“A convict!” She grew more interested. “What's the matter with him?”

“Dunno. But he's to be kep' quiet until old Pine comes down.”

She became authoritative.

“Come, Miles, let me go in.”

“Don't ask me, miss. It's against orders, and ——”

“Against orders! Why, you were blustering about shooting people just now.”




  ― 32 ―

The badgered Miles grew angry.

“Was I? Bluster or no bluster, you don't go in.”

She turned away. “Oh, very well. If this is all the thanks I get for wasting my time down here, I shall go on deck again.”

Miles became uneasy.

“There are plenty of agreeable people there.”

Miles took a step after her.

“Mr. Frere will let me go in, I daresay, if I ask him.”

Miles swore under his breath.

“Dom Mr. Frere! Go in if yer like,” he said; “I won't stop yer, but remember what I'm doin' of.”

She turned again at the foot of the ladder, and came quickly back. “That's a good lad. I knew you would not refuse me;” and smiling at the poor lout she was befooling, she passed into the cabin.

There was no lantern, and from the partially-blocked stern windows came only a dim, vaporous light. The dull ripple of the water as the ship rocked on the slow swell of the sea made a melancholy sound, and the sick man's heavy breathing seemed to fill the air. The slight noise made by the opening door roused him; he rose on his elbow and began to mutter. Sarah Purfoy paused in the doorway to listen, but she could make nothing of the low, uneasy murmuring. Raising her arm, conspicuous by its white sleeve in the gloom, she beckoned Miles.

“The lantern,” she whispered—“bring me the lantern!”

He unhooked it from the rope where it swung, and brought it towards her. At that moment the man in the bunk sat up erect, and twisted himself towards the light. “Sarah!” he cried, in shrill, sharp tones. “Sarah!” and swooped with a lean arm through the dusk, as though to seize her.

The girl leapt out of the cabin like a panther, struck the lantern out of her lover's hand, and was back at the bunk-head in a moment. The convict was a young man of about four-and-twenty. His hands—clutched convulsively now on the blankets—were small and well-shaped, and the unshaven chin bristled with promise of a strong beard. His wild black eyes glared with all the fire of delirium, and as he gasped for breath, the sweat stood in beads on his sallow forehead.

The aspect of the man was sufficiently ghastly, and Miles,


  ― 33 ―
drawing back with an oath, did not wonder at the terror which had seized Mrs. Vickers's maid. With open mouth and agonized face, she stood in the centre of the cabin, lantern in hand, like one turned to stone, gazing at the man on the bed.

“Ecod, he be a sight!” says Miles, at length. “Come away, miss, and shut the door. He's raving, I tell yer.”

The sound of his voice recalled her.

She dropped the lantern, and rushed to the bed.

“You fool; he's choking, can't you see? Water! give me water!”

And wreathing her arms around the man's head, she pulled it down on her bosom, rocking it there, half savagely, to and fro.

Awed into obedience by her voice, Miles dipped a pannikin into a small unheaded puncheon, cleated in the corner of the cabin, and gave it her; and, without thanking him, she placed it to the sick prisoner's lips. He drank greedily, and closed his eyes with a grateful sigh.

Just then the quick ears of Miles heard the jingle of arms.

“Here's the doctor coming, miss!” he cried. “I hear the sentry saluting. Come away! Quick!”

She seized the lantern, and, opening the horn slide, extinguished it.

“Say it went out,” she said in a fierce whisper, “and hold your tongue. Leave me to manage.”

She bent over the convict as if to arrange his pillow, and then glided out of the cabin, just as Pine descended the hatchway.

“Hallo!” cried he, stumbling, as he missed his footing; “where's the light?”

“Here, sir,” says Miles, fumbling with the lantern. “It's all right, sir. It went out, sir.”

“Went out! What did you let it go out for, you blockhead!” growled the unsuspecting Pine. “Just like you boobies? What is the use of a light if it ‘goes out,’ eh?”

As he groped his way, with out-stretched arms, in the darkness, Sarah Purfoy slipped past him unnoticed, and gained the upper deck.




  ― 34 ―

Chapter V.

The Barracoon.

IN the prison of the 'tween decks reigned a darkness pregnant with murmurs. The sentry at the entrance to the hatchway was supposed to “prevent the prisoners from making a noise,” but he put a very liberal interpretation upon the clause, and so long as the prisoners refrained from shouting, yelling, and fighting—eccentricities in which they sometimes indulged—he did not disturb them. This course of conduct was dictated by prudence, no less than by convenience, for one sentry was but little over so many; and the convicts, if pressed too hard, would raise a sort of bestial boo-hoo, in which all voices were confounded, and which, while it made noise enough and to spare, utterly precluded individual punishment. One could not flog a hundred and eighty men, and it was impossible to distinguish any particular offender. So, in virtue of this last appeal, convictism had established a tacit right to converse in whispers, and to move about inside its oaken cage.

To one coming in from the upper air, the place would have seemed in pitchy darkness; but the convict eye, accustomed to the sinister twilight, was enabled to discern surrounding objects with tolerable distinctness. The prison was about fifty feet long and fifty feet wide, and ran the full height of the 'tween decks, viz., about five feet ten inches high. The barricade was loop-holed here and there, and the planks were in some places wide enough to admit a musket barrel. On the aft side, next the soldiers' berths, was a trap door, like the stoke-hole of a furnace. At first sight, this appeared to be contrived for the humane purpose of ventilation, but a second glance dispelled this weak conclusion. The opening was just large enough to admit the muzzle of a small howitzer, secured on the deck below. In case of a mutiny, the soldiers could sweep the prison from end to end with grape shot. Such fresh air as there was, filtered through the loop holes, and came, in somewhat larger quantity, through a wind-sail passed into the prison from the hatchway. But the wind-sail being necessarily at one end only of the place, the air it brought was pretty well absorbed by the twenty or thirty lucky fellows near it, and


  ― 35 ―
the other hundred and fifty did not come so well off. The scuttles were open, certainly, but as the row of bunks had been built against them, the air they brought was the peculiar property of such men as occupied the berths into which they penetrated. These berths were twenty-eight in number, each containing six men. They ran in a double tier round three sides of the prison, twenty at each side, and eight affixed to that portion of the forward barricade opposite the door. Each berth was presumed to be five feet six inches square, but the necessities of stowage had deprived them of six inches, and even under that pressure twelve men were compelled to sleep on the deck. Pine did not exaggerate when he spoke of the custom of overcrowding convict ships; and as he was entitled to half a guinea for every man he delivered alive at Hobart Town, he had some reason to complain.

When Frere had come down, an hour before, the prisoners were all snugly between their blankets. They were not so now; though, at the first clink of the bolts, they would be back again in their old positions, to all appearances sound asleep. As the eye became accustomed to the fœtid duskiness of the prison, a strange picture presented itself. Groups of men, in all imaginable attitudes, were lying, standing, sitting, or pacing up and down. It was the scene on the poop deck over again; only, here being no fear of restraining keepers, the wild beasts were a little more free in their movements. It is impossible to convey, in words, any idea of the hideous phantasmagoria of shifting limbs and faces which moved through the evil-smelling twilight of this terrible prison-house. Callot might have drawn it, Dante might have suggested it, but a minute attempt to describe its horrors would but disgust. There are depths in humanity which one cannot explore, as there are mephitic caverns into which one dare not penetrate.

Old men, young men, and boys, stalwart burglars and highway robbers, slept side by side with wizened pickpockets or cunning-featured area-sneaks. The forger occupied the same berth with the body-snatcher. The man of education learned strange secrets of house-breakers' craft, and the vulgar ruffian of St. Giles took lessons of self-control from the keener intellect of the professional swindler. The fraudulent clerk and the flash “cracksman” interchanged experiences. The smuggler's stories of lucky ventures and successful runs were capped


  ― 36 ―
by the footpad's reminiscences of foggy nights and stolen watches. The poacher, grimly thinking of his sick wife and orphaned children, would start as the night-house ruffian clapped him on the shoulder and bade him, with a curse, to take good heart and “be a man.” The fast shopboy, whose love of fine company and high living had brought him to this pass, had shaken off the first shame that was on him, and listened eagerly to the narratives of successful vice that fell so glibly from the lips of his older companions. To be transported seemed no such uncommon fate. The old fellows laughed, and wagged their grey heads with all the glee of past experience, and listening youth longed for the time when it might do likewise. Society was the common foe, and magistrates, jailers, and parsons, were the natural prey of all note-worthy mankind. Only fools were honest, only cowards kissed the rod, and failed to meditate revenge on that world of respectability which had wronged them. Each new comer was one more recruit to the ranks of ruffianism, and not a man penned in that reeking den of infamy but became a sworn hater of law, order, and “free-men.” What he might have been before mattered not. He was now a prisoner, and—thrust into a suffocating barracoon, herded with the foulest of mankind, with all imaginable depths of blasphemy and indecency sounded hourly in his sight and hearing—he lost his self-respect, and became what his jailers took him to be—a wild beast to be locked under bolts and bars, lest he should break out and tear them.

The conversation ran upon the sudden departure of the four.

What could they want with them at that hour?

“I tell you there's something up on deck,” says one to the group nearest him. “Don't you hear all that rumbling and rolling?”

“What did they lower boats for? I heard the dip o' the oars.”

“Don't know, mate. P'r'aps a burial job,” hazarded a short, stout fellow, as a sort of happy suggestion.

“One of those coves in the parlour!” said another; and a laugh followed the speech.

“No such luck. You won't hang your jib for them yet awhile. More like the skipper agone fishin'.”




  ― 37 ―

“The skipper don't go fishin', yer fool. What would he do fishin'?—special in the middle o' the night.”

“That 'ud be like old Dovery, eh?” says a fifth, alluding to an old grey-headed fellow, who—a returned convict—was again under sentence for body snatching.

“Ay,” put in a young man, who had the reputation of being the smartest “crow”* in London—“‘fishers of men,’ as the parson says.”

The snuffling imitation of a Methodist preacher was good, and there was another laugh.

Just then a miserable little cockney pick-pocket, feeling his way to the door, fell into the party.

A volley of oaths and kicks received him.

“I beg your pardon, gen'l'men,” cries the miserable wretch, “but I want h'air.”

“Go to the barber's and buy a wig, then!” says the Crow, elated at the success of his last sally.

“Oh, sir, my back!”

“Get up!” groaned some one in the darkness. “O Lord, I'm smothering! Here, sentry!”

“Vater!” cried the little cockney. “Give us a drop o' vater, for mercy's sake. I haven't moist'ned my chaffer this blessed day.”

“Half a gallon a day, bo,' and no more,” says a sailor next him.

“Yes, what have yer done with yer half gallon, eh?” asked the Crow, derisively.

“Some one stole it,” said the sufferer.

“He's been an' blued it,” squealed some one. “Been an' blued it to buy a Sunday veskit with! Oh, ain't he a vicked young man?” And the speaker hid his head under the blankets, in humorous affectation of modesty.

All this time the miserable little cockney—he was a tailor by trade—had been grovelling under the feet of the Crow and his companions.

“Let me h'up, gents,” he implored—“let me h'up. I feel as if I should die—I do.”

“Let the gentleman up,” says the humorist in the bunk. “Don't yer see his kerridge is avaitin' to take him to the Hopera?”




  ― 38 ―

The conversation had got a little loud, and, from the topmost bunk on the near side, a bullet head protruded.

“Ain't a cove to get no sleep?” cried a gruff voice. “My blood, if I have to turn out, I'll knock some of your empty heads together.”

It seemed that the speaker was a man of mark, for the noise ceased instantly; and, in the lull which ensued, a shrill scream broke from the wretched tailor.

“Help! they're killing me? Ah-h-h-h!”

“Wot's the matter?” roared the silencer of the riot, jumping from his berth, and scattering the Crow and his companions right and left. “Let him be, can't yer?”

“H'air!” cried the poor devil — “h'air; I'm fainting!”

Just then there came another groan from the man in the opposite bunk.

“Well I'm blessed!” said the giant, as he held the gasping tailor by the collar and glared round him. “Here's a pretty go! All the blessed chickens ha' got the croup!”

The groaning of the man in the bunk redoubled.

“Pass the word to the sentry,” says some one more humane than the rest.

“Ah,” says the humorist, “pass him out; it'll be one the less. We'd rather have his room than his company.”

“Sentry, here's a man sick.”

But the sentry knew his duty better than to reply. He was a young soldier, but he had been well informed of the artfulness of convict stratagems; and, moreover, Captain Vickers had carefully apprised him “that by the King's Regulations, he was forbidden to reply to any question or communication addressed to him by a convict, but, in the event of being addressed, was to call the non-commissioned officer on duty.” Now, though he was within easy hailing distance of the guard on the quarter-deck, he felt a natural disinclination to disturb those gentlemen merely for the sake of a sick convict, and knowing that, in a few minutes, the third relief would come on duty, he decided to wait until then.

In the meantime the tailor grew worse, and began to moan dismally.

“Here! 'ullo!” called out his supporter, in dismay. “Hold up 'ere! Wot's wrong with yer? Don't come the drops 'ere.


  ― 39 ―
Pass him down, some of yer,” and the wretch was hustled down the line to the doorway.

“Vater!” he whispered, beating feebly with his hand on the thick oak. “Get us a drink, mister, for Gord's sake!”

But the prudent sentry answered never a word, until the ship's bell warned him of the approach of the relief guard; and then honest old Pine, coming with anxious face to inquire after his charge, received the intelligence that there was another prisoner sick. He had the door unlocked and the tailor outside in an instant. One look at the flushed, anxious face was enough.

“Who's that moaning in there?” he asked.

It was the man who had tried to call for the sentry an hour back, and Pine had him out also; convictism beginning to wonder a little.

“Take 'em both aft to the hospital,” he said; “and, Jenkins, if there are any more men taken sick, let them pass the word for me at once. I shall be on deck.”

The guard stared in each other's faces, with some alarm, but said nothing, thinking more of the burning ship, which now flamed furiously across the placid water, than of peril nearer home; but as Pine went up the hatchway he met Blunt.

“We've got the fever aboard!”

“Good God! Do you mean it, Pine?”

Pine shook his grizzled head sorrowfully.

“It's this cursed calm that's done it; though I expected it all along, with the ship crammed as she is. When I was in the Hecuba ——”

“Who is it?”

Pine laughed a half-pitying, half-angry laugh.

“A convict, of course. Who else should it be? They are reeking like bullocks at Smithfield down there. A hundred and eighty men penned into a place fifty feet long, with the air like an oven—what could you expect?”

Poor Blunt stamped his foot.

“It isn't my fault,” he cried. “The soldiers are berthed aft. If the Government will overload these ships, I can't help it.”

“The Government! Ah! The Government! The Government don't sleep, sixty men a-side, in a cabin only six feet high. The Government don't get typhus fever in the tropics, does it?”




  ― 40 ―

“No—but ——”

“But what does the Government care, then?”

Blunt wiped his hot forehead.

“Who was the first down?”

“No. 97 berth; ten on the lower tier. John Rex he calls himself.”

“Are you sure it's the fever?”

“As sure as I can be yet. Head like a fire-ball, and tongue like a strip of leather. Gad, don't I know it?” and Pine grinned mournfully. “I've got him moved into the hospital. Hospital! It is a hospital! As dark as a wolf's mouth. I've seen dog-kennels I liked better.”

Blunt nodded towards the volume of lurid smoke that rolled up out of the glow.—“Suppose there is a shipload of those poor devils? I can't refuse to take 'em in.”

“No,” says Pine, gloomily, “I suppose you can't. If they come, I must stow 'em somewhere. We'll have to run for the Cape, with the first breeze, if they do come, that is all I can see for it,” and he turned away to watch the burning vessel.

note

Chapter VI.

The Fate of the “Hydaspes.”

IN the meanwhile the two boats made straight for the red column that uprose like a gigantic torch over the silent sea.

As Blunt had said, the burning ship lay a good twelve miles from the Malabar, and the pull was a long and a weary one. Once fairly away from the protecting sides of the vessel that had borne them thus far on their dismal journey, the adventurers seemed to have come into a new atmosphere. The immensity of the ocean over which they slowly moved revealed itself for the first time. On board the prison ship, surrounded with all the memories if not with the comforts of the shore they had quitted, they had not realized how far they were from that civilization which had given them birth. The well-lighted, well-furnished cuddy, the homely mirth of the forecastle, the setting of sentries and the changing of guards, even the gloom and


  ― 41 ―
terror of the closely-locked prison, combined to make the voyagers feel secure against the unknown dangers of the sea. That defiance of nature which is born of contact with humanity, had hitherto sustained them, and they felt that, though alone on the vast expanse of waters, they were in companionship with others of their kind, and that the perils one man had passed might be successfully dared by another. But now—with one ship growing smaller behind them, and the other, containing they knew not what horror of human agony and human helplessness, lying a burning wreck in the black distance ahead of them—they began to feel their own littleness. The Malabar, that huge sea monster, in whose capacious belly so many human creatures lived and suffered, had dwindled to a walnut-shell, and yet beside her bulk how infinitely small had their own frail cock-boat appeared as they shot out from under her towering stern! Then the black hull rising above them, had seemed a tower of strength, built to defy the utmost violence of wind and wave; now it was but a slip of wood floating—on an unknown depth of black, fathomless water. The blue-light, which, at its first flashing over the ocean, had made the very stars pale their lustre, and lighted up with ghastly radiance the enormous vault of heaven, was now only a point, brilliant and distinct it is true, but which by its very brilliance dwarfed the ship into insignificance. The Malabar lay on the water like a glow-worm on a floating leaf, and the glare of the signal-fire made no more impression on the darkness than the candle carried by a solitary miner would have made on the abyss of a coal-pit.

And yet the Malabar held two hundred creatures like themselves!

The water over which the boats glided was black and smooth, rising into huge foamless billows, the more terrible because they were silent. When the sea hisses, it speaks, and speech breaks the spell of terror; when it is inert, heaving noiselessly, it is dumb, and seems to brood over mischief. The ocean in a calm is like a sulky giant; one dreads that it may be meditating evil. Moreover, an angry sea looks less vast in extent than a calm one. Its mounting waves bring the horizon nearer, and one does not discern how for many leagues the pitiless billows repeat themselves. To appreciate the hideous vastness of the ocean one must see it when it sleeps.

The great sky uprose from this silent sea without a cloud.


  ― 42 ―
The stars hung low in its expanse, burning in a violet mist of lower ether. The heavens were emptied of sound, and each dip of the oars was re-echoed in space by a succession of subtle harmonies. As the blades struck the dark water, it flashed fire, and the tracks of the boats resembled two sea-snakes writhing with silent undulations through a lake of quicksilver.

It had been a sort of race hitherto, and the rowers, with set teeth and compressed lips, had pulled stroke for stroke. At last the foremost boat came to a sudden pause. Best gave a cheery shout and passed her, steering straight into the broad track of crimson that already reeked on the sea ahead.

“What is it?” he cried.

But he heard only a smothered curse from Frere, and then his consort pulled hard to overtake him.

It was, in fact, nothing of consequence—only a prisoner “giving in.”

“Curse it!” says Frere, “what's the matter with you? Oh, you, is it?—Dawes! Of course, Dawes. I never expected anything better from such a skulking hound. Come, this sort of nonsense won't do with me. It isn't as nice as lolloping about the hatchways, I dare say, but you'll have to go on, my fine fellow.”

“He seems sick, sir,” said compassionate bow.

“Sick! Not he. Shamming. Come, give way now! Put your backs into it!” and the convict having picked up his oar, the boat shot forward again.

But, for all Mr. Frere's urging, he could not recover the way he had lost, and Best was the first to run in under the black cloud that hung over the crimsoned water.

At his signal, the second boat came alongside.

“Keep wide,” he said. “If there are many fellows yet aboard, they'll swamp us; and I think there must be, as we haven't met the boats,” and then raising his voice, as the exhausted crew lay on their oars, he hailed the burning ship.

She was a huge, clumsily-built vessel, with great breadth of beam, and a lofty poop-deck. Strangely enough, though they had so lately seen the fire, she was already a wreck, and appeared to be completely deserted. The chief hold of the fire was amidships, and the lower deck was one mass of flame. Here and there were great charred rifts and gaps in her sides, and the red-hot fire glowed through these as through the bars


  ― 43 ―
of a grate. The main-mast had fallen on the starboard side, and trailed a blackened wreck in the water, causing the unwieldy vessel to lean over heavily. The fire roared like a cataract, and huge volumes of flame-flecked smoke poured up out of the hold, and rolled away in a low-lying black cloud over the sea.

As Frere's boat pulled slowly round her stern, he hailed the deck again and again.

Still there was no answer, and though the flood of light that dyed the water blood-red struck out every rope and spar distinct and clear, his straining eyes could see no living soul aboard. As they came nearer, they could distinguish the gilded letters of her name.

“What is it, men?” cried Frere, his voice almost drowned amid the roar of the flames. “Can you see?”

Rufus Dawes, impelled, it would seem, by some strong impulse of curiosity, stood erect, and shaded his eyes with his hand.

“Well—can't you speak? What is it?”

“The Hydaspes!

Frere gasped.

The Hydaspes! The ship in which his cousin Richard Devine had sailed! The ship for which those in England might now look in vain! The Hydaspes which—something he had heard during the speculations as to this missing cousin flashed across him.

“Back water, men! Round with her! Pull for your lives!”

Best's boat glided alongside.

“Can you see her name?”

Frere, white with terror, shouted a reply.

“The Hydaspes! I know her. She is bound for Calcutta, and she has five tons of powder aboard!”

There was no need for more words. The single sentence explained the whole mystery of her desertion. The crew had taken to the boats on the first alarm, and had left their death-fraught vessel to her fate. They were miles off by this time, and unluckily for themselves, perhaps, had steered away from the side where rescue lay.

The boats tore through the water. Eager as the men had been to come, they were more eager to depart. The flames


  ― 44 ―
had even now reached the poop; in a few minutes it would be too late. For ten minutes or more not a word was spoken. With straining arms and labouring chests, the rowers tugged at the oars, their eyes fixed on the lurid mass they were leaving. Frere and Best, with their faces turned back to the terror they fled from, urged the men to greater efforts. Already the flames had lapped the flag, already the outlines of the stern-carvings were blurred by the fire.

Another moment, and all would be over. Ah! it had come at last.

A dull rumbling sound; the burning ship parted asunder; a pillar of fire, flecked with black masses that were beams and planks, rose up out of the ocean; there was a terrific crash, as though sea and sky were coming together; and then a mighty mountain of water rose, advanced, caught, and passed them, and they were alone—deafened, stunned, and breathless, in a sudden horror of thickest darkness, and a silence like that of the tomb.

The splashing of the falling fragments awoke them from their stupor, and then the blue light of the Malabar struck out a bright pathway across the sea, and they knew that they were safe.

On board the Malabar two men paced the deck, waiting for dawn.

It came at last. The sky lightened, the mist melted away, and then a long, low, far-off streak of pale yellow light floated on the eastern horizon. By-and-by the water sparkled, and the sea changed colour, turning from black to yellow, and from yellow to lucid green. The man at the masthead hailed the deck. The boats were in sight, and as they came towards the ship, the bright water flashing from the labouring oars, a crowd of spectators hanging over the bulwarks cheered and waved their hats.

“Not a soul!” cried Blunt. “No one but themselves. Well, I'm glad they're safe any way.”

The boats drew alongside, and in a few seconds Frere was upon deck.

“Well, Mr. Frere?”

“No use,” cried Frere, shivering. “We only just had time to get away. The nearest thing in the world, sir.”




  ― 45 ―

“Didn't you see any one?”

“Not a soul. They must have taken to the boats.”

“Then they can't be far off,” cried Blunt, sweeping the horizon with his glass. “They must have pulled all the way, for there hasn't been enough wind to fill a hollow tooth with.”

“Perhaps they pulled in the wrong direction,” said Frere. “They had a good four hours' start of us, you know.”

Then Best came up, and told the story to a crowd of eager listeners. The sailors having hoisted and secured the boats, were hurried off to the forecastle, there to eat, and relate their experience between mouthfuls, and the four convicts were taken in charge and locked below again.

“You had better go and turn in, Frere,” said Pine gruffly. “It's no use whistling for a wind here all day.”

Frere laughed—in his heartiest manner. “I think I will,” he said. “I'm dog tired, and as sleepy as an owl,” and he descended the poop-ladder.

Pine took a couple of turns up and down the deck, and then, catching Blunt's eye, stopped in front of Vickers.

“You may think it a hard thing to say, Captain Vickers, but it's just as well if we don't find these poor devils. We have quite enough on our hands as it is.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Pine?” says Vickers, his humane feelings getting the better of his pomposity. “You would not surely leave the unhappy men to their fate.”

“Perhaps,” returned the other, “they would not thank us for taking them aboard.”

“I don't understand you.”

“The fever has broken out.”

Vickers raised his brows. He had no experience of such things; and though the intelligence was startling, the crowded condition of the prison rendered it easy to be understood, and he apprehended no danger to himself.

“It is a great misfortune; but, of course, you will take such steps ——”

“It is only in the prison, as yet,” says Pine, with a grim emphasis on the word; “but there is no saying how long it may stop there. I have got three men down as it is.”

“Well, sir, all authority in the matter is in your hands. Any suggestions you make, I will, of course, do my best to carry out.”




  ― 46 ―

“Thank ye. I must have more room in the hospital to begin with. The soldiers must lie a little closer.”

“I will see what can be done.”

“And you had better keep your wife and the little girl as much on deck as possible.”

Vickers turned pale at the mention of his child. “Good heaven! do you think there is any danger?”

“There is, of course, danger to all of us; but with care we may escape it. There's that maid, too. Tell her to keep to herself a little more. She has a trick of roaming about the ship I don't like. Infection is easily spread, and children always sicken sooner than grown-up people.”

Vickers pressed his lips together. This old man, with his harsh, dissonant voice, and hideous practicality, seemed like a bird of ill-omen.

Blunt, hitherto silently listening, put in a word for the defence of the absent woman. “The wench is right enough, Pine,” said he. “What's the matter with her?”

“Yes, she's all right, I've no doubt. She's less likely to take it than any of us. You can see her vitality in her face—as many lives as a cat. But she'd bring infection quicker than anybody.”

“I'll—I'll go at once,” cried poor Vickers, turning round.

The woman of whom they were speaking met him at the ladder. Her face was paler than usual, and dark circles round her eyes gave evidence of a sleepless night. She opened her red lips to speak, and then, seeing Vickers, stopped abruptly.

“Well, what is it?”

She looked from one to the other. “I came for Dr. Pine.”

Vickers, with the quick intelligence of affection, guessed her errand. “Some one is ill?”

“Miss Sylvia, sir. It is nothing to signify, I think. A little feverish and hot, and my mistress ——”

Vickers was down the ladder in an instant, with scared face.

Pine caught the girl's round firm arm. “Where have you been?”

Two great flakes of red came out in her white cheeks, and she shot an indignant glance at Blunt.

“Come, Pine, let the wench alone!”

“Were you with the child last night?” went on Pine, without turning his head.




  ― 47 ―

“No; I have not been in the cabin since dinner yesterday. Mrs. Vickers only called me in just now. Let go my arm, sir, you hurt me.”

Pine loosed his hold as if satisfied at the reply. “I beg your pardon,” he said, gruffly. “I did not mean to hurt you. But the fever has broken out in the prison, and I think the child has caught it. You must be careful where you go.”

And then, with an anxious face, he went in pursuit of Vickers.

Sarah Purfoy stood motionless for an instant, in deadly terror. Her lips parted, her eyes glittered, and she made a movement as though to retrace her steps.

“Poor soul!” thought honest Blunt, “how she feels for the child! D—— that lubberly surgeon, he's hurt her!—Never mind, my lass,” he said, aloud. It was broad daylight, and he had not as much courage in love-making as at night. “Don't be afraid. I've been in ships with fever before now.”

Awaking, as it were, at the sound of his voice, she came closer to him. “But ship fever! I have heard of it! Men have died like rotten sheep in crowded vessels like this.”

“Tush! Not they. Don't be frightened; Miss Sylvia won't die, nor you neither.” He took her hand. “It may knock off a few dozen prisoners or so. They are pretty close packed down there ——”

She drew her hand away, and then, remembering herself, gave it him again.

“What is the matter?”

“Nothing—a pain. I did not sleep last night.”

“There, there; you are upset, I dare say. Go and lie down.”

She was staring away past him over the sea, as if in thought. So intently did she look that he involuntarily turned his head, and the action recalled her to herself. She brought her fine straight brows together for a moment, and then raised them with the action of a thinker who has decided on his course of conduct.

“I have a toothache,” said she, putting her hand to her face.

“Take some laudanum,” says Blunt, with dim recollections of his old mother's treatment of such ailments. “Old Pine 'll give you some.”

To his great astonishment she burst into tears.




  ― 48 ―

“There—there! Don't cry, my dear. Hang it, don't cry. What are you crying about?”

She dashed away the bright drops, and raised her face with a rainy smile of trusting affection.

“Nothing! I am lonely. So far from home; and—and Dr. Pine hurt my arm. Look!”

She bared that shapely member as she spoke, and sure enough there were three red marks on the white and shining flesh.

“The ruffian!” cried Blunt, “it's too bad.” And, after a hasty look round him, the infatuated fellow kissed the bruise. “I'll get the laudanum for you,” he said. “You sha'n't ask that bear for it. Come into my cabin.”

Blunt's cabin was in the starboard side of the ship, just under the poop awning, and possessed three windows—one looking out over the side, and two upon deck. The corresponding cabin on the other side was occupied by Mr. Maurice Frere. He closed the door, and took down a small medicine chest, cleated above the hooks where hung his signal-pictured telescope.

“Here,” said he, opening it. “I've carried this little box for years, but it ain't often I want to use it, thank God. Now, then, put some o' this into your mouth, and hold it there.”

“Good gracious, Captain Blunt, you'll poison me! Give me the bottle; I'll help myself.”

“Don't take too much,” says Blunt. “It's dangerous stuff, you know.”

“You need not fear. I've used it before.”

The door was shut, and as she put the bottle in her pocket, the amorous captain caught her in his arms.

“What do you say? Come, I think I deserve a kiss for that.”

Her tears were all dry long ago, and had only given increased colour to her face. This agreeable woman never wept long enough to make herself distasteful. She raised her dark eyes to his for a moment, with a saucy smile. “By-and-by,” said she, and escaping gained her cabin. It was next to that of her mistress, and she could hear the sick child feebly moaning. Her eyes filled with tears—real ones this time.

“Poor little thing,” she said; “I hope she won't die.”

And then she threw herself on her bed, and buried her hot


  ― 49 ―
head in the pillow. The intelligence of the fever seemed to have terrified her. Had the news disarranged some well-concocted plan of hers? Being near the accomplishment of some cherished scheme long kept in view, had the sudden and unexpected presence of disease falsified her carefully-made calculations, and cast an almost insurmountable obstacle in her path?

“She die! and through me? How did I know that he had the fever? Perhaps I have taken it myself—I feel ill.” She turned over on the bed, as if in pain, and then started to a sitting position, stung by a sudden thought. “Perhaps he might die! The fever spreads quickly, and if so, all this plotting will have been useless. It must be done at once. It will never do to break down now,” and taking the phial from her pocket, she held it up, to see how much it contained. It was three parts full. “Enough for both,” she said, between her set teeth. The action of holding up the bottle reminded her of amorous Blunt, and she smiled. “A strange way to show affection for a man,” she said to herself, “and yet he doesn't care, and I suppose I shouldn't by this time. I'll go through with it, and, if the worst comes to the worst, I can fall back on Maurice.” She loosened the cork of the phial, so that it would come out with as little noise as possible, and then placed it carefully in her bosom. “I will get a little sleep if I can,” she said. “They have got the note, and it shall be done to-night.”

Chapter VII.

Typhus Fever.

THE felon Rufus Dawes had stretched himself in his bunk and tried to sleep. But though he was tired and sore and his head felt like lead, he could not but keep broad awake. The long pull through the pure air, if it had tired him had revived him, and he felt stronger; but for all that, the fatal sickness that was on him maintained its hold; his pulse beat thickly, and his brain throbbed with unnatural heat. Lying in his narrow space—in the semi-darkness—he tossed his limbs


  ― 50 ―
about, and closed his eyes in vain—he could not sleep. His utmost efforts induced only an oppressive stagnation of thought, through which he heard the voices of his fellow-convicts; while before his eyes was still the burning Hydaspes—that vessel, whose destruction had destroyed for ever all trace of the unhappy Richard Devine.

It was fortunate for his comfort, perhaps, that the man who had been chosen to accompany him was of a talkative turn, for the prisoners insisted upon hearing the story of the explosion a dozen times over, and Rufus Dawes himself had been roused to give the name of the vessel with his own lips. Had it not been for the hideous respect in which he was held, it is possible that he might have been compelled to give his version also, and to join in the animated discussion which took place upon the possibility of the saving of the fugitive crew. As it was, however, he was left in peace, and lay unnoticed, trying to sleep.

The detachment of fifty being on deck—airing—the prison was not quite so hot as at night, and many of the convicts made up for their lack of rest by snatching a dog-sleep in the bared bunks. The four volunteer oarsmen were allowed to “take it out.”

As yet there had been no alarm of fever. The three seizures had excited some comment, however, and had it not been for the counter excitement of the burning ship, it is possible that Pine's precaution would have been thrown away. The “Old Hands”—who had been through the passage before—suspected, but said nothing, save among themselves. It was likely that the weak and sickly would go first, and that there would be more room for those remaining. The “Old Hands” were satisfied.

Three of these old hands were conversing together just behind the partition of Dawes's bunk. As we have said, the berths were five feet square, and each contained six men. No. 10, the berth occupied by Dawes, was situated in the corner made by the joining of the starboard and centre lines, and behind it was a slight recess, in which the scuttle was fixed. His “mates” were at present but three in number, for John Rex and the cockney tailor had been removed to the hospital. The three that remained were now in deep conversation in the shelter of the recess. Of these, the giant—who


  ― 51 ―
had the previous night asserted his authority in the prison—seemed to be the chief. His name was Gabbett. He was a returned convict, now on his way to undergo a second sentence for burglary. The other two were a man named Sanders, known as “the Moocher,” and Jemmy Vetch the “Crow.” They were talking in whispers, but Rufus Dawes, lying with his head close to the partition, was enabled to catch much of what they said.

At first the conversation turned on the catastrophe of the burning ship and the likelihood of saving the crew. From this it grew to anecdote of wreck and adventure, and at last Gabbett said something which made the listener start from his indifferent efforts to slumber, into sudden broad wakefulness.

It was the mention of his own name, coupled with that of the woman he had met on the quarter deck, that roused him.

“I saw her speaking to Dawes yesterday,” said the giant, with an oath. “We don't want no more than we've got. I ain't goin' to risk my neck for Rex's woman's fancies, and so I'll tell her.”

“It was something about the kid,” says the Crow, in his elegant slang. “I don't believe she ever saw him before. Besides, she's nuts on Jack, and ain't likely to pick up with another man.”

“If I thort she was agoin' to throw us over, I'd cut her throat as soon as look at her!” snorts Gabbett, savagely.

“Jack ud have a word in that,” snuffles the Moocher; “and he's a curious cove to quarrel with.”

“Well, stow yer gaff,” grumbled Mr. Gabbett, “and let's have no more chaff. If we're for bizness, let's come to bizness.”

“What are we to do now?” asked the Moocher. “Jack's on the sick-list, and the gal won't stir a'thout him.”

“Ay,” returned Gabbett, “that's it.”

“My dear friends,” said the Crow,—“my keyind and keristian friends, it is to be regretted that when natur' gave you such tremendously thick skulls, she didn't put something inside of 'em. I say that now's the time. Jack's in the 'orspital; what of that? That don't make it no better for him, does it? Not a bit of it; and if he drops his knife and fork, why then, it's my opinion that the gal won't stir a peg. It's on his account, not ours, that she's been manoovering, ain't it?”




  ― 52 ―

“Well!” says Mr. Gabbett, with the air of one who was but partly convinced, “I s'pose it is.”

“All the more reason of getting it off quick. Another thing, when the boys know there's fever aboard, you'll see the rumpus there'll be. They'll be ready enough to join us then. Once get the snapper chest, and we're right as ninepenn'orth o' hapence.”

This conversation, interspersed with oaths and slang as it was, had an intense interest for Rufus Dawes. Plunged into prison, hurriedly tried, and by reason of his surroundings ignorant of the death of his father and his own fortune, he had hitherto—in his agony and sullen gloom—held aloof from the scoundrels who surrounded him, and repelled their hideous advances of friendship. He now saw his error. He knew that the name he had once possessed was blotted out, that any shred of his old life which had clung to him hitherto, was shrivelled in the fire that consumed the Hydaspes. The secret, for the preservation of which Richard Devine had voluntarily flung away his name, and risked a terrible and disgraceful death, would be now for ever safe; for Richard Devine was dead—lost at sea with the crew of the ill-fated vessel in which, deluded by a skilfully-sent letter from the prison, his mother believed him to have sailed. Richard Devine was dead, and the secret of his birth would die with him. Rufus Dawes, his alter ego, alone should live. Rufus Dawes, the convicted felon, the suspected murderer, should live to claim his freedom, and work out his vengeance; or, rendered powerful by the terrible experience of the prison-sheds, should seize both, in defiance of jail or jailer.

With his head swimming, and his brain on fire, he eagerly listened for more. It seemed as if the fever which burnt in his veins had consumed the grosser part of his sense, and given him increased power of hearing. He was conscious that he was ill. His bones ached, his hands burned, his head throbbed, but he could hear distinctly, and, he thought, reason on what he heard profoundly.

“But we can't stir without the girl,” Gabbett said. “She's got to stall off the sentry and give us the orfice.”

The Crow's sallow features lighted up with a cunning smile.

“Dear old caper merchant! Hear him talk!” said he, “as if he had the wisdom of Solomon in all his glory? Look here!”




  ― 53 ―

And he produced a dirty scrap of paper, over which his companions eagerly bent their heads.

“Where did yer get that?”

“Yesterday afternoon Sarah was standing on the poop throwing bits o' toke to the gulls, and I saw her a-looking at me very hard. At last she came down as near the barricade as she dared, and throwed crumbs and such like up in the air over the side. By-and-by a pretty big lump, doughed up round, fell close to my foot, and, watching a favourable opportunity, I pouched it. Inside was this bit o' rag-bag.”

“Ah!” said Mr. Gabbett, “that's more like. Read it out, Jemmy.”

The writing, though feminine in character, was bold and distinct. Sarah had evidently been mindful of the education of her friends, and had desired to give them as little trouble as possible.

All is right. Watch me when I come up to-morrow evening at three bells. If I drop my handkerchief, get to work at the time agreed on. The sentry will be safe.

Rufus Dawes, though his eyelids would scarcely keep open, and a terrible lassitude almost paralysed his limbs, eagerly drank in the whispered sentence. There was a conspiracy to seize the ship. Sarah Purfoy was in league with the convicts—was herself the wife or mistress of one of them. She had come on board armed with a plot for his release, and this plot was about to be put in execution. He had heard of the atrocities perpetrated by successful mutineers. Story after story of such nature had often made the prison resound with horrible mirth. He knew the characters of the three ruffians who, separated from him by but two inches of planking, jested and laughed over their plans of freedom and vengeance. Though he conversed but little with his companions, these men were his berth mates, and he could not but know how they would proceed to wreak their vengeance on their jailers.

True, that the head of this formidable chimera—John Rex, the forger—was absent, but the two hands, or rather claws—the burglar and the prison-breaker—were present, and the slimly-made, effeminate Crow, if he had not the brains of his master, yet made up for his flaccid muscles and nerveless frame by a cat-like cunning, and a spirit of devilish volatility that nothing could subdue. With such a powerful ally outside as the mock


  ― 54 ―
maid-servant, the chance of success was enormously increased. There were one hundred and eighty convicts and but fifty soldiers. If the first rush proved successful—and the precautions taken by Sarah Purfoy rendered success possible—the vessel was theirs. Rufus Dawes thought of the little bright-haired child who had ran so confidingly to meet him, and shuddered.

“There!” said the Crow, with a sneering laugh, “what do you think of that? Does the girl look like nosing us now?”

“No,” says the giant, stretching his great arms with a grin of delight, as one stretches one's chest in the sun, “that's right, that is. That's more like bizness.”

“England, home, and beauty!” said Vetch, with a mockheroic air, strangely out of tune with the subject under discussion. “You'd like to go home again, wouldn't you, old man?”

Gabbett turned on him fiercely, his low forehead wrinkled into a frown of ferocious recollection.

You!” he said—“You think the chain's fine sport, don't yer? But I've been there, my young chicken, and I knows what it means.”

There was silence for a minute or two. The giant was plunged in gloomy abstraction, and Vetch and the Moocher interchanged a significant glance. Gabbett had been ten years at the colonial penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour, and he had memories that he did not confide to his companions. When he indulged in one of these fits of recollection, his friends found it best to leave him to himself.

Rufus Dawes did not understand the sudden silence. With all his senses stretched to the utmost to listen, the cessation of the whispered colloquy affected him strangely. Old artillerymen have said that, after being at work for days in the trenches, accustomed to the continued roar of the guns, a sudden pause in the firing will cause them intense pain. Something of this feeling was experienced by Rufus Dawes. His faculties of hearing and thinking—both at their highest pitch—seemed to break down. It was as though some prop had been knocked from under him. No longer stimulated by outward sounds, his senses appeared to fail him. The blood rushed into his eyes and ears. He made a violent, vain effort to retain his consciousness, but with a faint cry, fell back, striking his head against the edge of the bunk.




  ― 55 ―

The noise roused the burglar in an instant. There was some one in the berth! The three looked into each other's eyes, in guilty alarm, and then Gabbett dashed round the partition.

“It's Dawes!” said the Moocher. “We had forgotten him!”

“He'll join us, mate—he'll join us!” cried Vetch, fearful of bloodshed.

Gabbett uttered a furious oath, and flinging himself on to the prostrate figure, dragged it, head foremost, to the floor. The sudden vertigo had saved Rufus Dawes's life. The robber twisted one brawny hand in his shirt, and pressing the knuckles down, prepared to deliver a blow that should for ever silence the listener, when Vetch caught his arm. “He's been asleep,” he cried. “Don't hit him! See, he's not awake yet.”

A crowd gathered round. The giant relaxed his grip, but the convict gave only a deep groan, and allowed his head to fall on his shoulder.

“You've killed him!” cried some one.

Gabbett took another look at the purpling face and the bedewed forehead, and then sprang erect, rubbing at his right hand, as though he would rub off something sticking there.

“He's got the fever!” he roared, with a terror-stricken grimace.

“The what?” asked twenty voices.

“The Fever, ye grinning fools!” cried Gabbett. “I've seen it before to-day. The Typhus is aboard, and he's the fourth man down!”

The circle of beast-like faces, stretched forward to “see the fight,” widened at the half-uncomprehended, ill-omened word. It was as though a bombshell had fallen into the group. Rufus Dawes lay on the deck motionless, breathing heavily. The savage circle glared at his prostrate body. The alarm ran round, and all the prison crowded down to stare at him. All at once he uttered a groan, and turning, propped his body on his two rigid arms, and made an effort to speak. But no sound issued from his convulsed jaws.

“He's done,” said the Moocher brutally. “He didn't hear nuffin, I'll pound it.”

The noise of the heavy bolts shooting back broke the spell. The first detachment were coming down from “exercise.” The door was flung back, and the bayonets of the guard gleamed in


  ― 56 ―
a ray of sunshine that shot down the hatchway. This glimpse of sunlight—sparkling at the entrance of the fœtid and stifling prison—seemed to mock their miseries. It was as though heaven laughed at them. By one of those terrible and strange impulses which animate crowds, the mass, turning from the sick man, leapt towards the doorway. The interior of the prison flashed white with suddenly turned faces. The gloom scintillated with rapidly moving hands. “Air! air! Give us air!”

“That's it!” said Sanders to his companions. “I thought the news would rouse 'em.”

Gabbett—all the savage in his blood stirred by the sight of flashing eyes and wrathful faces—would have thrown himself forward with the rest, but Vetch plucked him back.

“It'll be over in a moment,” he said. “It's only a fit they've got.”

He spoke truly. Through the uproar was heard the rattle of iron on iron, as the guard “stood to their arms,” and the wedge of grey cloth broke, in sudden terror of the levelled muskets.

There was an instant's pause, and then old Pine walked, unmolested, down the prison and knelt by the body of Rufus Dawes.

The sight of the familiar figure, so calmly performing its familiar duty, restored all that submission to recognized authority which strict discipline begets. The convicts slunk away into their berths, or officiously ran to help “the doctor,” with affectation of intense obedience. The prison was like a school-room, into which the master had suddenly returned. “Stand back, my lads! Take him up, two of you, and carry him to the door. The poor fellow won't hurt you.” His orders were obeyed, and the old man, waiting until his patient had been safely received outside, raised his hand to command attention. “I see you know what I have to tell. The fever has broken out. That man has got it. It is absurd to suppose that no one else will be seized. I might catch it myself. You are much crowded down here, I know; but, my lads, I can't help that; I didn't make the ship, you know.”

“'Ear, 'ear!”

“It is a terrible thing, but you must keep orderly and quiet, and bear it like men. You know what the discipline is, and it


  ― 57 ―
is not in my power to alter it. I shall do my best for your comfort, and I look to you to help me.”

Holding his grey head very erect indeed, the brave old fellow passed straight down the line, without looking to the right or left.

He had said just enough, and he reached the door amid a chorus of “'Ear, 'ear!” “Bravo!” “True for you, docther!” and so on. But when he got fairly outside, he breathed more freely. He had performed a ticklish task, and he knew it.

“'Ark at 'em,” growled the Moocher from his corner, “a-cheerin' at the bloody noos!”

“Wait a bit,” said the acuter intelligence of Jemmy Vetch. “Give 'em time. There'll be three or four more down afore night, and then we'll see!”

Chapter VIII.

A Dangerous Crisis.

IT was late in the afternoon when Sarah Purfoy awoke from her uneasy slumber. She had been dreaming of the deed she was about to do, and was flushed and feverish; but, mindful of the consequences which hung upon the success or failure of the enterprise, she rallied herself, bathed her face and hands, and ascended, with as calm an air as she could assume, to the poop-deck.

Nothing was changed since yesterday. The sentries' arms glittered in the pitiless sunshine, the ship rolled and creaked on the swell of the dreamy sea, and the prison-cage on the lower deck was crowded with the same cheerless figures, disposed in the attitudes of the day before. Even Mr. Maurice Frere, recovered from his midnight fatigues, was lounging on the same coil of rope, in precisely the same position.

Yet the eye of an acute observer would have detected some difference beneath this outward varnish of similarity. The man at the wheel looked round the horizon more eagerly, and spit into the swirling, unwholesome-looking water with a more dejected air than before. The fishing-lines still hung dangling


  ― 58 ―
over the catheads, but nobody touched them. The soldiers and sailors on the forecastle, collected in knots, had no heart even to smoke, but gloomily stared at each other. Vickers was in the cuddy writing; Blunt was in his cabin; and Pine, with two carpenters at work under his directions, was improvising increased hospital accommodation. The noise of mallet and hammer echoed in the soldiers' berth ominously; the workmen might have been making coffins. The prison was strangely silent, with the lowering silence which precedes a thunderstorm; and the convicts on deck no longer told stories, nor laughed at obscene jests, but sat together, moodily patient, as if waiting for something. Three men—two prisoners and a soldier—had succumbed since Rufus Dawes had been removed to the hospital; and though as yet there had been no complaint or symptom of panic, the face of each man, soldier, sailor, or prisoner, wore an expectant look, as though he wondered whose turn would come next. On the ship—rolling ceaselessly from side to side, like a wounded creature, on the opaque profundity of that stagnant ocean—a horrible shadow had fallen. The Malabar seemed to be enveloped in an electric cloud, whose sullen gloom a chance spark might flash into a blaze that should consume her.

The woman who held in her hands the two ends of the chain that would produce this spark, paused, came up upon deck, and, after a glance round, leant against the poop-railing and looked down into the barricade. As we have said, the prisoners were in knots of four and five, and to one group in particular her glance was directed. Three men, leaning carelessly against the bulwarks, watched her every motion.

“There she is, right enough,” growled Mr. Gabbett, as if in continuation of a previous remark. “Flash as ever, and looking this way, too.”

“I don't see no wipe,” said the practical Moocher.

“Patience is a virtue, most noble knuckler!” says the Crow, with affected carelessness. “Give the young woman time.”

“Blowed if I'm going to wait no longer,” says the giant, licking his coarse blue lips. “'Ere we've been bluffed off day arter day, and kep' dancin' round the Dandy's wench like a parcel o' dogs. The fever's aboard, and we've got all ready. What's the use o' waitin'? Orfice, or no orfice, I'm for bizniss at once! ——”




  ― 59 ―

“—— There, look at that,” he added, with an oath, as the figure of Maurice Frere appeared side by side with that of the waiting-maid, and the two turned away up the deck together.

“It's all right, you confounded muddlehead!” cried the Crow, losing patience with his perverse and stupid companion. “How can she give us the office with that cove at her elbow?”

Gabbett's only reply to this question was a ferocious grunt, and a sudden elevation of his clenched fist, which caused Mr. Vetch to retreat precipitately. The giant did not follow; and Mr. Vetch, folding his arms, and assuming an attitude of easy contempt, directed his attention to Sarah Purfoy. She seemed an object of general attraction, for at the same moment a young soldier ran up the ladder to the forecastle, and eagerly bent his gaze in her direction.

Maurice Frere had come behind her and touched her on the shoulder. Since their conversation the previous evening, he had made up his mind to be fooled no longer. The girl was evidently playing with him, and he would show her that he was not to be trifled with.

“Well, Sarah!”

“Well, Mr. Frere,” dropping her hand, and turning round with a smile.

“How well you are looking to-day! Positively lovely!”

“You have told me that so often,” says she, with a pout. “Have you nothing else to say?”

“Except that I love you.” This in a most impassioned manner.

“That is no news. I know you do.”

“Curse it, Sarah, what is a fellow to do?” His profligacy was failing him rapidly. “What is the use of playing fast and loose with a fellow this way?”

“A ‘fellow’ should be able to take care of himself, Mr. Frere. I didn't ask you to fall in love with me, did I? If you don't please me, it is not your fault, perhaps.”

“What do you mean?”

“You soldiers have so many things to think of—your guards and sentries, and visits and things. You have no time to spare for a poor woman like me.”

“Spare!” cries Frere, in amazement. “Why, damme, you won't let a fellow spare! I'd spare fast enough, if that was all.”

She cast her eyes down to the deck, and a modest flush rose


  ― 60 ―
in her cheeks. “I have so much to do,” she said, in a half-whisper. “There are so many eyes upon me, I cannot stir without being seen.”

She raised her head as she spoke, and to give effect to her words, looked round the deck. Her glance crossed that of the young soldier on the forecastle, and though the distance was too great for her to distinguish his features, she guessed who he was—Miles was jealous. Frere, smiling with delight at her change of manner, came close to her, and whispered in her ear. She affected to start, and took the opportunity of exchanging a signal with the Crow.

“I will come at eight o'clock,” said she, with modestly averted face.

“They relieve guard at eight,” he said, deprecatingly.

She tossed her head. “Very well, then, attend to your guard; I don't care.”

“But, Sarah, consider ——”

“As if a woman in love ever considers!” said she, turning upon him a burning glance, which in truth might have melted a more icy man than he.

—— She loved him then! What a fool he would be to refuse. To get her to come was the first object; how to make duty fit with pleasure would be considered afterwards. Besides, the guard could relieve itself for once without his supervision.

“Very well, at eight then, dearest.”

“Hush!” said she. “Here comes that stupid captain.”

And as Frere left her, she turned, and, with her eyes fixed on the convict barricade, dropped the handkerchief she held in her hand over the poop railing. It fell at the feet of the amorous captain, and with a quick upward glance, that worthy fellow picked it up, and brought it to her.

“Oh, thank you, Captain Blunt,” said she, and her eyes spoke more than her tongue.

“Did you take the laudanum?” whispered Blunt, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Some of it,” said she. “I will bring you back the bottle to-night.”

Blunt walked aft, humming cheerily, and saluted Frere with a slap on the back. The two men laughed, each at his own thoughts, but their laughter only made the surrounding gloom seem deeper than before.




  ― 61 ―

Sarah Purfoy, casting her eyes toward the barricade, observed a change in the position of the three men. They were together once more, and the Crow, having taken off his prison cap, held it at arm's length with one hand, while he wiped his brow with the other. Her signal had been observed.

During all this, Rufus Dawes, removed to the hospital, was lying flat on his back, staring at the deck above him, trying to think of something he wanted to say.

When the sudden faintness, which was the prelude to his sickness, had overpowered him, he remembered being torn out of his bunk by fierce hands—remembered a vision of savage faces, and the presence of some danger that menaced him. He remembered that, while lying on his blankets, struggling with the coming fever, he had overheard a conversation of vital importance to himself and to the ship, but of the purport of that conversation he had not the least idea. In vain he strove to remember—in vain his will, struggling with delirium, brought back snatches and echoes of sense; they slipped from him again as fast as caught. He was oppressed with the weight of half-recollected thought. He knew that a terrible danger menaced him; that could he but force his brain to reason connectedly for ten consecutive minutes, he could give such information as would avert that danger, and save the ship. But, lying with hot head, parched lips, and enfeebled body, he was as one possessed—he could move nor hand nor foot.

The place where he lay was but dimly lighted. The ingenuity of Pine had constructed a canvas blind over the port, to prevent the sun striking into the cabin, and this blind absorbed much of the light. He could but just see the deck above his head, and distinguish the outlines of three other berths, apparently similar to his own. The only sounds that broke the silence were the gurgling of the water below him, and the Tap tap, Tap tap, of Pine's hammers at work upon the new partition. By-and-by the noise of these hammers ceased, and then the sick man could hear gasps, and moans, and mutterings—the signs that his companions yet lived.

All at once a voice called out, “Of course his bills are worth four hundred pounds; but, my good sir, four hundred pounds to a man in my position is not worth the getting. Why, I've given four hundred pounds for a freak of my girl Sarah! Is it right, eh, Jezebel? She's a good girl, though, as girls go.


  ― 62 ―
Mrs. Lionel Crofton, of the Crofts, Sevenoaks, Kent—Sevenoaks, Kent—Seven ——”

A gleam of light broke in on the darkness which wrapped Rufus Dawes' tortured brain. The man was John Rex, his berth mate. With an effort he spoke.

“Rex!”

“Yes, yes. I'm coming; don't be in a hurry. The sentry's safe, and the howitzer is but five paces from the door. A rush upon deck, lads, and she's ours! That is, mine. Mine and my wife's, Mrs. Lionel Crofton, of Seven Crofts, no oaks—Sarah Purfoy, lady's-maid and nurse—ha! ha!—lady's-maid and nurse!”

This last sentence contained the name-clue to the labyrinth in which Rufus Dawes' bewildered intellects were wandering. “Sarah Purfoy!” He remembered now each detail of the conversation he had so strangely overheard, and how imperative it was that he should, without delay, reveal the plot that threatened the ship. How that plot was to be carried out, he did not pause to consider; he was conscious that he was hanging over the brink of delirium, and that, unless he made himself understood before his senses utterly deserted him, all was lost.

He attempted to rise, but found that his fever-thralled limbs refused to obey the impulse of his will. He made an effort to speak, but his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and his jaws stuck together. He could not raise a finger nor utter a sound. The boards over his head waved like a shaken sheet, and the cabin whirled round, while the patch of light at his feet bobbed up and down like the reflection from a wavering candle. He closed his eyes with a terrible sigh of despair, and resigned himself to his fate. At that instant the sound of hammering ceased, and the door opened. It was six o'clock, and Pine had come to have a last look at his patients before dinner. It seemed that there was somebody with him, for a kind, though somewhat pompous, voice remarked upon the scantiness of accommodation, and the “necessity—the absolute necessity”—of complying with the King's Regulations.

Honest Vickers, though agonized for the safety of his child, would not abate a jot of his duty, and had sternly come to visit the sick men, aware as he was that such a visit would necessitate his isolation from the cabin where his child lay. Mrs. Vickers—weeping and bewailing herself coquettishly at garrison


  ― 63 ―
parties—had often said that “poor dear John was such a disciplinarian, quite a slave to the service.”

“Here they are,” said Pine; “six of 'em. This fellow”—going to the side of Rex—“is the worst. If he had not a constitution like a horse, I don't think he could live out the night.”

“Three, eighteen, seven, four,” muttered Rex; “dot and carry one. Is that an occupation for a gentleman? No, sir. Good-night, my lord, good-night. Hark! The clock is striking nine; five, six, seven, eight! Well, you've had your day, and can't complain.”

“A dangerous fellow,” says Pine, with the light upraised. “A very dangerous fellow—that is, he was. This is the place, you see—a regular rat-hole; but what can one do?”

“Come, let us get on deck,” said Vickers, with a shudder of disgust.

Rufus Dawes felt the sweat break out into beads on his forehead. They suspected nothing. They were going away. He must warn them. With a violent effort, in his agony he turned over in the bunk and thrust out his hand from the blankets.

“Hullo! what's this?” cried Pine, bringing the lantern to bear upon it. “Lie down, my man. Eh!—water, is it? There, steady with it now;” and he lifted a pannikin to the blackened, froth-fringed lips. The cool draught moistened his parched gullet, and the convict made a last effort to speak.

“Sarah Purfoy—to-night—the prison—MUTINY!”

The last word, almost shrieked out, in the sufferer's desperate efforts to articulate, recalled the wandering senses of John Rex.

“Hush!” he cried. “Is that you, Jemmy? Sarah's right. Wait till she gives the word.”

“He's raving,” said Vickers.

Pine caught the convict by the shoulder. “What do you say, my man? A mutiny of the prisoners!”

With his mouth agape and his hands clenched, Rufus Dawes, incapable of further speech, made a last effort to nod assent, but his head fell upon his breast; the next moment, the flickering light, the gloomy prison, the eager face of the doctor, and the astonished face of Vickers, vanished from before his straining eyes. He saw the two men stare at each other, in mingled


  ― 64 ―
incredulity and alarm, and then he was floating down the cool brown river of his boyhood, on his way—in company with Sarah Purfoy and Lieutenant Frere—to raise the mutiny in the Hydaspes, that lay on the stocks in the old house at Hampstead.

Chapter IX.

Woman's Weapons.

THE two discoverers of this awkward secret held a council of war. Vickers was for at once calling the guard, and announcing to the prisoners that the plot—whatever it might be—had been discovered; but Pine, accustomed to convict ships, overruled this decision.

“You don't know these fellows as well as I do,” said he. “In the first place there may be no mutiny at all. The whole thing is, perhaps, some absurdity of that fellow Dawes—and should we once put the notion of attacking us into the prisoners' heads, there is no telling what they might do.”

“But the man seemed certain,” said the other. “He mentioned my wife's maid, too!”

“Suppose he did?—and, begad, I daresay he's right,—I never liked the look of the girl. To tell them that we have found them out this time won't prevent 'em trying it again. We don't know what their scheme is either. If it is a mutiny, half the ship's company may be in it. No, Captain Vickers, allow me, as surgeon-superintendent, to settle our course of action. You are aware that ——”

“——That, by the King's Regulations, you are invested with full powers,” interrupted Vickers, mindful of discipline in any extremity. “Of course, I merely suggested—and I know nothing about the girl, except that she brought a good character from her last mistress—a Mrs. Crofton I think the name was. We were glad to get anybody to make a voyage like this.”

“Well,” says Pine, “look here. Suppose we tell these scoundrels that their design, whatever it may be, is known. Very good. They will profess absolute ignorance, and try again on the next opportunity, when, perhaps, we may not know anything about it. At all events, we are completely ignorant of the


  ― 65 ―
nature of the plot and the names of the ringleaders. Let us double the sentries, and quietly get the men under arms. Let Miss Sarah do what she pleases, and when the mutiny breaks out, we will nip it in the bud; clap all the villains we get in irons, and hand them over to the authorities in Hobart Town. I am not a cruel man, sir, but we have got a cargo of wild beasts aboard, and we must be careful.”

“But surely, Mr. Pine, have you considered the probable loss of life? I—really—some more humane course. Prevention, you know ——”

Pine turned round upon him with that grim practicality which was a part of his nature. “Have you considered the safety of the ship, Captain Vickers? You know, or have heard of, the sort of things that take place in these mutinies. Have you considered what will befall those half-dozen women in the soldiers' berths? Have you thought of the fate of your own wife and child?”

Vickers shuddered.

“Have it your way, Mr. Pine; you know best perhaps. But don't risk more lives than you can help.”

“Be easy, sir,” says old Pine; “I am acting for the best; upon my soul I am. You don't know what convicts are, or rather what the law has made 'em—yet ——”

“Poor wretches!” says Vickers, who, like many martinets, was in reality tender-hearted. “Kindness might do much for them. After all, they are our fellow-creatures.”

“Yes,” returned the other, “they are. But if you use that argument to them when they have taken the vessel, it won't avail you much. Let me manage, sir; and for God's sake, say nothing to anybody. Our lives may hang upon a word.”

Vickers promised, and kept his promise so far as to chat cheerily with Blunt and Frere at dinner, only writing a brief note to his wife to tell her that, whatever she heard, she was not to stir from her cabin until he came to her; he knew that, with all his wife's folly, she would obey unhesitatingly when he couched an order in such terms.

According to the usual custom on board convict ships, the guards relieved each other every two hours, and at six p.m. the poop guard was removed to the quarter-deck, and the arms which, in the day-time, were disposed on the top of the armchest, were placed in an arm-rack constructed on the quarter-deck


  ― 66 ―
for that purpose. Trusting nothing to Frere—who, indeed, by Pine's advice, was, as we have seen, kept in ignorance of the whole matter—Vickers ordered all the men, save those who had been on guard during the day, to be under arms in the barrack, forbade communication with the upper deck, and placed as sentry at the barrack door his own servant, an old soldier, on whose fidelity he could thoroughly rely. He then doubled the guards, took the keys of the prison himself from the non-commissioned officer whose duty it was to keep them, and saw that the howitzer on the lower deck was loaded with grape. It was a quarter to seven when Pine and he took their station at the main hatchway, determined to watch until morning.

At a quarter past seven, any curious person looking through the window of Captain Blunt's cabin would have seen an unusual sight. That gallant commander was sitting on the bed-place, with a glass of rum and water in his hand, and the handsome waiting-maid of Mrs. Vickers was seated on a stool by his side. At a first glance it was perceptible that the captain was very drunk. His grey hair was matted all ways about his reddened face, and he was winking and blinking like an owl in the sunshine. He had drunk a larger quantity of wine than usual at dinner, in sheer delight at the approaching assignation, and having got out the rum bottle for a quiet “settler” just as the victim of his fascinations glided through the carefully-adjusted door, he had been persuaded to go on drinking.

“Cuc-come, Sarah,” he hiccuped. “It's all very fine, my lass, but you needn't be so—hic—proud, you know. I'm a plain sailor—plain s'lor, Srr'h. Ph'n'as Bub—blunt, commander of the Mal-Mal-Malabar. Wors' 'sh good talkin'?”

Sarah allowed a laugh to escape her, and artfully protruded an ankle at the same time. The amorous Phineas lurched over, and made shift to take her hand.

“You lovsh me, and I—hic—lovsh you, Sarah. And a preshus tight little craft you—hic—are. Giv'sh—kiss, Sarah.”

Sarah got up and went to the door.

“Wotsh this? Goin'! Sarah, don't go,” and he staggered up; and, with the grog swaying fearfully in one hand, made at her.

The ship's bell struck seven. Now or never was the time. Blunt caught her round the waist with one arm, and hiccuping with love and rum, approached to take the kiss he coveted.


  ― 67 ―
She seized the moment, surrendered herself to his embrace, drew from her pocket the laudanum bottle, and passing her hand over his shoulder, poured half its contents into the glass.

“Think I'm—hic—drunk, do yer? Nun-not I, my wench.”

“You will be if you drink much more. Come, finish that and be quiet, or I'll go away.”

But she threw a provocation into her glance as she spoke, which belied her words, and which penetrated even the sodden intellect of poor Blunt. He balanced himself on his heels for a moment, and holding by the moulding of the cabin, stared at her with a fatuous smile of drunken admiration, then looked at the glass in his hand, hiccuped with much solemnity thrice, and, as though struck with a sudden sense of duty unfulfilled, swallowed the contents at a gulp. The effect was almost instantaneous. He dropped the tumbler, lurched towards the woman at the door, and then making a half turn in accordance with the motion of the vessel, fell into his bunk, and snored like a grampus.

Sarah Purfoy watched him for a few minutes, and then having blown out the light, stepped out of the cabin, and closed the door behind her. The dusky gloom which had held the deck on the previous night enveloped all forward of the mainmast. A lantern swung in the forecastle, and swayed with the motion of the ship. The light at the prison door threw a glow through the open hatch, and in the cuddy, at her right hand, the usual row of oil-lamps burned. She looked mechanically for Vickers, who was ordinarily there at that hour, but the cuddy was empty. So much the better, she thought, as she drew her dark cloak around her, and tapped at Frere's door. As she did so, a strange pain shot through her temples, and her knees trembled. With a strong effort she dispelled the dizziness that had almost overpowered her, and held herself erect. It would never do to break down now.

The door opened, and Maurice Frere drew her into the cabin. “So you have come?” said he.

“You see I have. But, oh! if I should be seen!”

“Seen? Nonsense! Who is to see you?”

“Captain Vickers, Doctor Pine, anybody.”

“Not they. Besides, they've gone off down to Pine's cabin since dinner. They're all right.”

Gone off to Pine's cabin! The intelligence struck her with


  ― 68 ―
dismay. What was the cause of such an unusual proceeding Surely they did not suspect? “What do they want there?” she asked.

Maurice Frere was not in the humour to argue questions of probability. “Who knows? I don't. Confound 'em,” he added, “what does it matter to us? We don't want them, do we, Sarah?”

She seemed to be listening for something, and did not reply. Her nervous system was wound up to the highest pitch of excitement. The success of the plot depended on the next five minutes.

“What are you staring at? Look at me, can't you? What eyes you have! And what hair!”

At that instant the report of a musket-shot broke the silence. The mutiny had begun!

The sound awoke the soldier to a sense of his duty. He sprang to his feet, and disengaging the arms that clung about his neck, made for the door. The moment for which the convict's accomplice had waited, approached. She hung upon him with all her weight. Her long hair swept across his face, her warm breath was on his cheek, her dress exposed her round, smooth shoulder. He, intoxicated, conquered, had half turned back, when suddenly the rich crimson died away from her lips, leaving them an ashen grey colour. Her eyes closed in agony, loosing her hold of him, she staggered to her feet, pressed her hands upon her bosom, and uttered a sharp cry of pain.

The fever which had been on her for two days, and which, by a strong exercise of will, she had struggled against,—encouraged by the violent excitement of the occasion, had attacked her at this supreme moment. Deathly pale and sick, she reeled to the side of the cabin.

There was another shot, and a violent clashing of arms; and Frere, leaving the miserable woman to her fate, leapt out on to he deck.




  ― 69 ―

Chapter X.

Eight Bells.

AT seven o'clock there had been also a commotion in the prison. The news of the fever had awoke in the convicts all that love of liberty which had but slumbered during the monotony of the earlier part of the voyage. Now that death menaced them, they longed fiercely for the chance of escape which seemed permitted to freemen. “Let us go out!” they said, each man speaking to his particular friend. “We are locked up here to die like sheep.” Gloomy faces and desponding looks met the gaze of each, and sometimes across this gloom shot a fierce glance that lighted up its blackness, as a lightning-flash renders luridly luminous the indigo dulness of a thunder-cloud. By-and-bye, in some inexplicable way, it came to be understood that there was a conspiracy afloat, that they were to be released from their shambles, that some amongst them had been plotting their freedom. The 'tween decks held its foul breath in wondering anxiety, afraid to breathe its suspicions. The influence of this predominant idea showed itself by a strange shifting of atoms. The mass of villainy, ignorance, and innocence began to be animated with something like a uniform movement. Natural affinities came together, and like allied itself to like, falling noiselessly into harmony, as the pieces of glass and coloured beads in a kaleidoscope assume mathematical forms. By seven bells it was found that the prison was divided into three parties—the desperate, the timid, and the cautious. These three parties had arranged themselves in natural sequence. The mutineers, headed by Gabbett, Vetch, and the Moocher, were nearest to the door; the timid—boys, old men, innocent poor wretches condemned on circumstantial evidence, or rustics condemned to be turned into thieves for pulling a turnip—were at the farther end, huddling together in alarm; and the prudent—that is to say, all the rest, ready to fight or fly, advance or retreat, assist the authorities or their companions, as the fortune of the day might direct—occupied the middle space. The mutineers proper numbered, perhaps, some thirty men, and of these thirty only half a dozen knew what was really about to be done.




  ― 70 ―

The ship's bell strikes the half-hour, and as the cries of the three sentries passing the word to the quarter-deck die away, Gabbett, who has been leaning with his back against the door, nudges Jemmy Vetch.

“Now, Jemmy,” says he in a whisper, “Tell 'em!”

The whisper being heard by those nearest the giant, a silence ensues, which gradually spreads like a ripple over the surface of the crowd, reaching even the bunks at the further end.

“Gentlemen,” says Mr. Vetch, politely sarcastic in his own hang-dog fashion, “myself and my friends here are going to take the ship for you. Those who like to join us had better speak at once, for in about half an hour they will not have the opportunity.”

He pauses, and looks round with such an impertinently confident air, that three waverers in the party amidships slip nearer to hear him.

“You needn't be afraid,” Mr. Vetch continues, “we have arranged it all for you. There are friends waiting for us outside, and the door will be open directly. All we want, gentlemen, is your wote and interest—I mean your ——”

“Gaffing agin!” interrupts the giant, angrily. “Come to business, carn't yer? Tell 'em they may like it or lump it, but we mean to have the ship, and them as refuses to join us we mean to chuck overboard. That's about the plain English of it!”

This practical way of putting it produces a sensation, and the conservative party at the other end look in each other's faces with some alarm. A grim murmur runs round, and somebody near Mr. Gabbett laughs a laugh of mingled ferocity and amusement, not reassuring to timid people.

“What about the sogers?” asks a voice from out the ranks of the cautious.

“D—— the sogers!” cries the Moocher, moved by a sudden inspiration. “They can but shoot yer, and that's as good as dyin' of typhus any way!”

The right chord had been struck now, and with a stifled roar the prison admitted the truth of the sentiment. “Go on, old man!” cries Jemmy Vetch to the giant, rubbing his thin hands with eldritch glee. “They're all right!” And then, his quick ears catching the jingle of arms, he adds, “Stand by now for the door—one rush 'll do it.”

It was eight o'clock, and the relief guard was coming from


  ― 71 ―
the after deck. The crowd of prisoners round the door held their breath to listen. “It's all planned,” says Gabbett, in a low growl. “W'en the door hopens we rush, and we're in among the guard afore they know where they are. Drag 'em back into the prison, grab the h'arm rack, and it's all over.”

“They're very quiet about it,” says the Crow, suspiciously. “I hope it's all right.”

“Stand from the door, Miles,” says Pine's voice outside, in its usual calm accents.

The Crow was relieved. The tone was an ordinary one, and Miles was the soldier whom Sarah Purfoy had bribed not to fire. All had gone well.

The keys clashed and turned, and the bravest of the prudent party, who had been turning in his mind the notion of risking his life for a pardon, to be won by rushing forward at the right moment and alarming the guard, checked the cry that was in his throat as he saw the men round the door draw back a little for their rush, and caught a glimpse of the giant's bristling scalp and bared gums.

“NOW!” cries Jemmy Vetch, as the iron-plated oak swung back, and with the guttural snarl of a charging wild boar, Gabbett hurled himself out of the prison.

The red line of light which glowed for an instant through the doorway was blotted out by a mass of figures. All the prison surged forward, and before the eye could wink, five, ten, twenty, of the most desperate were outside. It was as though a sea, breaking against a stone wall, had found some breach through which to pour its waters. The contagion of battle spread. Caution was forgotten; and those at the back, seeing Jemmy Vetch raised up on the crest of that human billow which reared its black outline against an indistinct perspective of struggling figures, responded to his grin of encouragement by rushing furiously forward.

Suddenly a horrible roar like that of a trapped wild beast was heard. The rushing torrent choked in the doorway, and from out the lantern glow into which the giant had rushed, a flash broke, followed by a groan, as the perfidious sentry fell back shot through the breast. The mass in the doorway hung irresolute, and then by sheer weight of pressure from behind burst forwards, and as it so burst, the heavy door crashed into its jambs, and the bolts were shot into their places.




  ― 72 ―

All this took place by one of those simultaneous movements which are so rapid in execution, so tedious to describe in detail. At one instant the prison door had opened, at the next it had closed. The picture which had presented itself to the eyes of the convicts was as momentary as are those of the thaumatoscope. The period of time that had elapsed between the opening and the shutting of the door could have been marked by the musket shot.

The report of another shot, and then a noise of confused cries, mingled with the clashing of arms, informed the imprisoned men that the ship had been alarmed. How would it go with their friends on deck? Would they succeed in overcoming the guards, or would they be beaten back? They would soon know; and in the hot dusk, straining their eyes to see each other, they waited for the issue. Suddenly the noises ceased, and a strange rumbling sound fell upon the ears of the listeners.

What had taken place?

This—the men pouring out of the darkness into the sudden glare of the lanterns, rushed, bewildered, across the deck. Miles, true to his promise, did not fire, but the next instant Vickers had snatched the firelock from him, and leaping into the stream, turned about and fired down towards the prison. The attack was more sudden than he had expected, but he did not lose his presence of mind. The shot would serve a double purpose. It would warn the men in the barrack, and perhaps check the rush by stopping up the doorway with a corpse. Beaten back, struggling, and indignant, amid the storm of hideous faces, his humanity vanished, and he aimed deliberately at the head of Mr. James Vetch; the shot, however, missed its mark, and killed the unhappy Miles.

Gabbett and his companions had by this time reached the foot of the companion ladder, there to encounter the cutlasses of the doubled guard gleaming redly in the glow of the lanterns. A glance up the hatchway showed the giant that the arms he had planned to seize were defended by ten firelocks, and that, behind the open doors of the partition which ran abaft the mizenmast, the remainder of the detachment stood to their arms. Even his dull intellect comprehended that the desperate project had failed, and that he had been betrayed. With the roar of despair


  ― 73 ―
which had penetrated into the prison, he turned to fight his way back, just in time to see the crowd in the gangway recoil from the flash of the musket fired by Vickers. The next instant, Pine and two soldiers, taking advantage of the momentary cessation of the press, shot the bolts, and secured the prison.

The mutineers were caught in a trap.

The narrow space between the barracks and the barricade was choked with struggling figures. Some twenty convicts, and half as many soldiers, struck and stabbed at each other in the crowd. There was barely elbowroom, and attacked and attackers fought almost without knowing whom they struck. Gabbett tore a cutlass from a soldier, shook his huge head, and calling on the Moocher to follow, bounded up the ladder, desperately determined to brave the fire of the watch. The Moocher, close at the giant's heels, flung himself upon the nearest soldier, and grasping his wrist, struggled for the cutlass. A brawny, bull-necked fellow next him dashed his clenched fist in the soldier's face, and the man, maddened by the blow, let go the cutlass, and drawing his pistol, shot his new assailant through the head. It was this second shot that had aroused Maurice Frere.

As the young lieutenant sprang out upon the deck, he saw by the position of the guard that others had been more mindful of the safety of the ship than he. There was, however, no time for explanation, for, as he reached the hatchway, he was met by the ascending giant, who uttered a hideous oath at the sight of this unexpected adversary, and, too close to strike him, locked him in his arms. The two men went down together. The guard on the quarter-deck dared not fire at the two bodies that, twined about each other, rolled across the deck, and for a moment Mr. Frere's cherished existence hung upon the slenderest thread imaginable.

The Moocher, spattered with the blood and brains of his unfortunate comrade, had already set his foot upon the lowest step of the ladder, when the cutlass was dashed from his hand by a blow from a clubbed firelock, and he was dragged roughly backwards. As he fell upon the deck, he saw the Crow spring out of the mass of prisoners who had been, an instant before, struggling with the guard, and, gaining the cleared space at the bottom of the ladder, hold up his hands, as though to shield himself from a blow. The confusion had become suddenly


  ― 74 ―
stilled, and upon the group before the barricade had fallen that mysterious silence which had perplexed the inmates of the prison.

They were not perplexed for long. The two soldiers who, with the assistance of Pine, had forced-to the door of the prison, rapidly unbolted that trap door in the barricade, of which mention has been made in a previous chapter, and, at a signal from Vickers, three men ran the loaded howitzer from its sinister shelter near the break of the barrack berths, and training the deadly muzzle to a level with the opening in the barricade, stood ready to fire.

“Surrender!” cried Vickers, in a voice from which all “humanity” had vanished. “Surrender, and give up your ringleaders, or I'll blow you to pieces!”

There was no tremor in his voice, and though he stood, with Pine by his side, at the very mouth of the levelled cannon, the mutineers perceived, with that acuteness which imminent danger brings to the most stolid of brains, that, did they hesitate an instant, he would keep his word. There was an awful moment of silence, broken only by a skurrying noise in the prison, as though a family of rats, disturbed at a flour cask, were scampering to the ship's side for shelter.

This skurrying noise was made by the convicts rushing to their berths to escape the threatened shower of grape; to the twenty desperadoes cowering before the muzzle of the howitzer it spoke more eloquently than words. The charm was broken; their comrades would refuse to join them. The position of affairs at this crisis was a strange one. From the opened trap-door came a sort of subdued murmur, like that which sounds within the folds of a sea-shell, but, in the oblong block of darkness which it framed, nothing was visible. The trap-door might have been a window looking into a tunnel. On each side of this horrible window, almost pushed before it by the pressure of one upon the other, stood Pine, Vickers, and the guard. In front of the little group lay the corpse of the miserable boy whom Sarah Purfoy had led to ruin; and forced close upon, yet shrinking back from, the trampled and bloody mass, crouched, in mingled terror and rage, the twenty mutineers. Behind the mutineers, withdrawn from the patch of light thrown by the open hatchway, the mouth of the howitzer threatened destruction; and behind the howitzer, backed up by an array of brown musket barrels,


  ― 75 ―
sullenly glowed the tiny fire of the burning match in the hand of Vickers's trusty servant.

The entrapped men looked up the hatchway, but the guard had already closed in upon it, and some of the ship's crew—with that carelessness of danger characteristic of sailors—were peering down upon them. Escape was hopeless.

“One minute!” cried Vickers, confident that one second would be enough—“one minute to go quietly, or ——”

“Surrender, mates, for God's sake!” shrieked some unknown wretch from out of the darkness of the prison. “Do you want to be the death of us?”

Jemmy Vetch, feeling, by that curious sympathy which nervous natures possess, that his comrades wished him to act as spokesman, raised his shrill tones. “We surrender,” he said. “It's no use getting our brains blown out.” And raising his hands, he obeyed the motion of Vickers's finger, and led the way towards the barrack.

“Bring the irons forward, there!” shouted Vickers, hastening from his perilous position; and before the last man had filed past the still smoking match, the clink of hammers announced that the Crow had resumed those fetters which had been knocked off his dainty limbs a month previously in the Bay of Biscay.

In another moment the trap-door was closed, the howitzer rumbled back to its cleatings, and the prison breathed again.

In the meantime, a scene almost as exciting had taken place on the upper deck. Gabbett, with the blind fury which the consciousness of failure brings to such brute-like natures, had seized Frere by the throat, determined to put an end to at least one of his enemies. But desperate though he was, and with all the advantage of weight and strength upon his side, he found the young lieutenant a more formidable adversary than he had anticipated.

Maurice Frere was no coward. Brutal and selfish though he might be, his bitterest enemies had never accused him of lack of physical courage. Indeed, he had been—in the rollicking days of old that were gone—celebrated for the display of very opposite qualities. He was an amateur at manly sports. He rejoiced in his muscular strength, and, in many a tavern brawl and midnight riot of his own provoking, had proved the fallacy


  ― 76 ―
of the proverb which teaches that a bully is always a coward. He had the tenacity of a bulldog,—once let him get his teeth in his adversary, and he would hold on till he died. In fact he was, as far as personal vigour went, a Gabbett with the education of a prize-fighter; and, in a personal encounter between two men of equal courage, science tells more than strength. In the struggle, however, that was now taking place, science seemed to be of little value. To the inexperienced eye, it would appear that the frenzied giant, griping the throat of the man who had fallen beneath him, must rise from the struggle an easy victor. Brute force was all that was needed,—there was neither room nor time for the display of cunning offence.

But knowledge, though it cannot give strength, gives coolness. Taken by surprise as he was, Maurice Frere did not lose his presence of mind. The convict was so close upon him, that there was no time to strike; but, as he was forced backwards, he succeeded in crooking his knee round the thigh of his assailant, and thrust one hand into his collar. Over and over they rolled, the bewildered sentry not daring to fire, until the ship's side brought them up with a violent jerk, and Frere realized that Gabbett was below him. Pressing with all the might of his muscles, he strove to resist the leverage which the giant was applying to turn him over, but he might as well have pushed against a stone wall. With his eyes protruding, and every sinew strained to its uttermost, he was slowly forced round, and he felt Gabbett releasing his grasp, in order to draw back and aim at him an effectual blow. Disengaging his left hand, Frere suddenly allowed himself to sink, and then drawing up his right knee, struck Gabbett beneath the jaw, and as the huge head was forced backwards by the blow, dashed his fist into the brawny throat. The giant reeled backwards, and falling on his hands and knees, was in an instant surrounded by sailors.

Now began and ended, in less time than it takes to write it, one of those Homeric struggles of one man against twenty, which are none the less heroic because the Ajax is a convict, and the Trojans merely ordinary sailors. Shaking his assailants to the deck as easily as a wild boar shakes off the dogs which clamber upon his bristly sides, the convict sprang to his feet, and whirling the snatched-up cutlass round his head, kept the circle at bay. Four times did the soldiers round the hatchway raise their muskets, and four times did the fear of wounding


  ― 77 ―
the men who had flung themselves upon the enraged giant compel them to restrain their fire. Gabbett, his stubbly hair on end, his bloodshot eyes glaring with fury, his great hand opening and shutting in air, as though it gasped for something to seize, turned himself about from side to side—now here, now there, bellowing like a wounded bull. His coarse shirt, rent from shoulder to flank, exposed the play of his huge muscles. He was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, and the blood, trickling down his face, mingled with the foam on his lips, and dropped sluggishly on his hairy breast. Each time that an assailant came within reach of the swinging cutlass, the ruffian's form dilated with a fresh access of passion. At one moment bunched with clinging adversaries—his arms, legs, and shoulders a hanging mass of human bodies—at the next, free, desperate, alone in the midst of his foes, his hideous countenance contorted with hate and rage, the giant seemed less a man than a demon, or one of those monstrous and savage apes which haunt the solitudes of the African forests. Spurning the mob who had rushed in at him, he strode towards his risen adversary, and aimed at him one final blow that should put an end to his tyranny for ever. A notion that Sarah Purfoy had betrayed him, and that the handsome soldier was the cause of the betrayal, had taken possession of his mind, and his rage had concentrated itself upon Maurice Frere. The aspect of the villain was so appalling, that, despite his natural courage, Frere, seeing the backward sweep of the cutlass, absolutely closed his eyes with terror, and surrendered himself to his fate.

As Gabbett balanced himself for the blow, the ship, which had been rocking gently on a dull and silent sea, suddenly lurched—the convict lost his balance, swayed, and fell. Ere he could rise he was pinioned by twenty hands.

Authority was almost instantaneously triumphant on the upper and lower decks. The mutiny was over.




  ― 78 ―

Chapter XI.

Discoveries and Confessions.

THE shock was felt all through the vessel, and Pine, who had been watching the ironing of the last of the mutineers, at once divined its cause.

“Thank God!” he cried, “there's a breeze at last!” and as the overpowered Gabbett, bruised, bleeding, and bound, was dragged down the hatchway, the triumphant doctor hurried upon deck to find the Malabar plunging through the whitening water under the influence of a fifteen-knot breeze.

“Stand by to reef topsails! Away aloft men and furl the royals!” cries Best from the quarter-deck; and in the midst of the cheery confusion Maurice Frere briefly recapitulated what had taken place, taking care, however, to pass over his own dereliction of duty as rapidly as possible.

Pine knit his brows. “Do you think that she was in the plot?” he asked.

“Not she!” says Frere—eager to avert inquiry. “How should she be? Plot! She's sickening of fever, or I'm much mistaken.”

Sure enough, on opening the door of the cabin, they found Sarah Purfoy lying where she had fallen a quarter of an hour before. The clashing of cutlasses and the firing of muskets had not roused her.

“We must make a sick-bay somewhere,” says Pine, looking at the senseless figure with no kindly glance; “though I don't think she's likely to be very bad. Confound her! I believe that she's the cause of all this. I'll find out, too, before many hours are over; for I've told those fellows that unless they confess all about it before to-morrow morning, I'll get them six dozen apiece the day after we anchor in Hobart Town. I've a great mind to do it before we get there. Take her head, Frere, and we'll get her out of this before Vickers comes up. What a fool you are, to be sure! I knew what it would be with women aboard ship. I wonder Mrs. V. hasn't been out before now. There—steady past the door. Why, man, one would think you never had your arm round a girl's waist before! Pooh! don't look so scared—I won't tell. Make haste, now, before that little parson comes.


  ― 79 ―
Parsons are regular old women to chatter;” and thus muttering Pine assisted to carry Mrs. Vickers's maid into her cabin.

“By George, but she's a fine girl!” he said, viewing the inanimate body with the professional eye of a surgeon. “I don't wonder at you making a fool of yourself. Chances are, you've caught the fever, though this breeze will help to blow it out of us, please God. That old jackass, Blunt, too!—he ought to be ashamed of himself, at his age!”

“What do you mean?” asked Frere, hastily, as he heard a step approach. “What has Blunt to say about her?”

“Oh, I don't know,” returned Pine. “He was smitten too, that's all. Like a good many more, in fact.”

“A good many more!” repeated the other, with a pretence of carelessness.

“Yes!” laughed Pine. “Why, man, she was making eyes at every man in the ship! I caught her kissing a soldier once.”

Maurice Frere's cheeks grew hot. The experienced profligate had been taken in, deceived, perhaps laughed at. All the time he had flattered himself that he was fascinating the black-eyed maid, the black-eyed maid had been twisting him round her finger, and perhaps imitating his love-making for the gratification of her soldier-lover. It was not a pleasant thought; and yet, strange to say, the idea of Sarah's treachery did not make him dislike her. There is a sort of love—if love it can be called—which thrives under ill-treatment. Nevertheless, he cursed with some appearance of disgust.

Vickers met them at the door. “Pine, Blunt has the fever. Mr. Best found him in his cabin groaning. Come and look at him.”

The commander of the Malabar was lying on his bunk in the betwisted condition into which men who sleep in their clothes contrive to get themselves. The doctor shook him, bent down over him, and then loosened his collar. “He's not sick,” he said; “he's drunk! Blunt! wake up! Blunt!”

But the mass refused to move.

“Hallo!” says Pine, smelling at the broken tumbler, “what's this? Smells queer. Rum? No. Eh! Laudanum! By George, he's been hocussed!”

“Nonsense!”

“I see it,” slapping his thigh. “It's that infernal woman!


  ― 80 ―
She's drugged him, and meant to do the same for—” (Frere gave him an imploring look)—“for anybody else who would be fool enough to let her do it. Dawes was right, sir. She's in it; I'll swear she's in it.”

“What! my wife's maid? Nonsense!” said Vickers.

“Nonsense!” echoed Frere.

“It's no nonsense. That soldier who was shot—what's his name?—Miles, he—but, however, it doesn't matter. It's all over now.”

“The men will confess before morning,” says Vickers, “and we'll see.” And he went off to his wife's cabin.

His wife opened the door for him. She had been sitting by the child's bedside, listening to the firing, and waiting for her husband's return without a murmur. Flirt, fribble, and shrew as she was, Julia Vickers had displayed, in times of emergency, that glowing courage which women of her nature at times possess. Though she would yawn over any book above the level of a genteel love story; attempt to fascinate, with ludicrous assumption of girlishness, boys young enough to be her sons; shudder at a frog, and scream at a spider, she could sit throughout a quarter of an hour of such suspense as she had just undergone with as much courage as if she had been the strongest-minded woman that ever denied her sex. “Is it all over?” she asked.

“Yes, thank God!” said Vickers, pausing on the threshold. “All is safe now, though we had a narrow escape, I believe. How's Sylvia?”

The child was lying on the bed with her fair hair scattered over the pillow, and her tiny hands moving restlessly to and fro.

“A little better, I think, though she has been talking a good deal.”

The red lips parted, and the blue eyes, brighter than ever, stared vacantly around. The sound of her father's voice seemed to have roused her, for she began to speak a little prayer: “God bless papa and mamma, and God bless all on board this ship. God bless me, and make me good girl, for Jesus Christ's sake, our Lord. Amen.”

The sound of the unconscious child's simple prayer had something awesome in it, and John Vickers, who, not ten minutes before, would have sealed his own death warrant unhesitatingly


  ― 81 ―
to preserve the safety of the vessel, felt his eyes fill with unwonted tears. The contrast was curious. From out the midst of that desolate ocean—in a fever-smitten prison ship, leagues from land, surrounded by ruffians, thieves, and murderers—the baby voice of an innocent child called confidently on Heaven.

Two hours afterwards—as the Malabar, escaped from the peril which had menaced her, plunged cheerily through the rippling water—the mutineers, by their spokesman, Mr. James Vetch, confessed.

“They were very sorry, and hoped that their breach of discipline would be forgiven. It was the fear of the typhus which had driven them to it. They had no accomplices either in the prison or out of it, but they felt it but right to say that the man who had planned the mutiny was Rufus Dawes.”

The malignant cripple had guessed from whom the information which had led to the failure of the plot had been derived, and this was his characteristic revenge.

Chapter XII.

A Newspaper Paragraph.

EXTRACTED from the Hobart Town Courier of the 12th November, 1827:—

“The examination of the prisoners who were concerned in the attempt upon the Malabar was concluded on Tuesday last. The four ringleaders, Dawes, Gabbett, Vetch, and Sanders, were condemned to death; but we understand that, by the clemency of his Excellency the Governor, their sentence has been commuted to six years at the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour.”

END OF BOOK I.
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