― 185 ―

Book III.

Chapter I.

A Labourer in the Vineyard.

“SOCIETY in Hobart Town, in this year of grace 1838, is, my dear lord, composed of very curious elements.” So ran a passage in the sparkling letter which the Rev. Mr. Meekin, newly-appointed chaplain, and seven-days' resident in Van Diemen's Land, was carrying to the post-office, for the delectation of his patron in England. As the reverend gentleman tripped daintily down the summer street that lay between the blue river and the purple mountain, he cast his mild eyes hither and thither upon human nature, and the sentence he had just penned recurred to him with pleasurable appositeness. Elbowed by well-dressed officers of garrison, bowing sweetly to well-dressed ladies, shrinking from ill-dressed, ill-odoured ticket-of-leave men, or hastening across a street to avoid being run down by the hand-carts that, driven by little gangs of grey-clothed convicts, rattled and jangled at him unexpectedly from behind corners, he certainly felt that the society through which he moved was composed of curious elements. Now passed, with haughty nose in the air, a newly-imported government official, relaxing for an instant his rigidity of demeanour to smile languidly at the chaplain whom Governor Sir John Franklin delighted to honour; now swaggered, with coarse defiance of gentility and patronage, a wealthy ex-prisoner, grown fat on the profits of rum. The population that was

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abroad on that sunny December afternoon had certainly an incongruous appearance to a dapper clergyman lately arrived from London, and missing, for the first time in his sleek, easy-going life, those social screens which in London civilization decorously conceal the frailties and vices of human nature. Clad in glossy black, of the most fashionable clerical cut, with dandy boots, and gloves of lightest lavender,—a white silk overcoat hinting that its wearer was not wholly free from sensitiveness to sun and heat,—the Reverend Meekin tripped daintily to the post-office, and deposited his letter. Two ladies met him as he turned.

“Mr. Meekin!”

Mr. Meekin's elegant hat was raised from his intellectual brow and hovered in the air, like some courteous black-bird, for an instant. “Mrs. Jellicoe! Mrs. Protherick! My dear leddies, this is an unexpected pleasure! And where, pray, are you going on this lovely afternoon? To stay in the house is positively sinful. Ah! what a climate,—but the Trail of the serpent, my dear Mrs. Protherick—the Trail of the serpent—”and he sighed.

“It must be a great trial to you to come to the colony,” said Mrs. Jellicoe, sympathizing with the sigh.

Meekin smiled, as a gentlemanly martyr might have smiled. “The Lord's work, dear leddies—the Lord's work. I am but a poor labourer in the vineyard, toiling through the heat and burden of the day.” The aspect of him, with his faultless tie, his airy coat, his natty boots, and his self-satisfied Christian smile, was so unlike a poor labourer toiling through the heat and burden of the day, that good Mrs. Jellicoe, the wife of an orthodox Comptroller of Convicts' Stores, felt a horrible thrill of momentary heresy. “I would rather have remained in England,” continued Mr. Meekin, smoothing one lavender finger with the tip of another, and arching his elegant eyebrows in mild deprecation of any praise of his self-denial, “but I felt it my duty not to refuse the offer made me through the kindness of his lordship. Here is a field, leddies—a field for the Christian pastor. They appeal to me, leddies, these lambs of our Church—these lost and outcast lambs of our Church.”

Mrs. Jellicoe shook her gay bonnet ribbons at Mr. Meekin, with a hearty smile. “You don't know our convicts,” she said (from the tone of her jolly voice, it might have been “our

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cattle”). “They are horrible creatures. And as for servants—my goodness, I have a fresh one every week. When you have been here a little longer, you will know them better, Mr. Meekin.”

“They are quite unbearable at times,” said Mrs. Protherick, the widow of a Superintendent of Convicts' Barracks, with a stately indignation mantling in her sallow cheeks. “I am ordinarily the most patient creature breathing, but I do confess that the stupid, vicious wretches that one gets are enough to put a saint out of temper.”

“We have all our crosses, dear leddies—all our crosses,” said Mr. Meekin piously. “Heaven send us strength to bear them! Good-morning.”

“Why, you are going our way,” said Mrs. Jellicoe. “We can walk together.”

“Delighted! I am going to call on Major Vickers.”

“And I live within a stone's throw,” returned Mrs. Protherick. “What a charming little creature she is, isn't she?”

“Who?” asked Mr. Meekin, as they walked.

“Sylvia. You don't know her! Oh, a dear little thing.”

“I have only met Major Vickers at Government House,” said Meekin. “I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing his daughter.”

“A sad thing,” said Mrs. Jellicoe. “Quite a romance, if it was not so sad, you know. His wife, poor Mrs. Vickers.”

“Indeed! What of her?” asked Meekin, bestowing a condescending bow on a passer-by. “Is she an invalid?”

“She is dead, poor soul,” returned jolly Mrs. Jellicoe, with a fat sigh. “You don't mean to say you haven't heard the story, Mr. Meekin?”

“My dear leddies, I have only been in Hobart Town a week, and I have not heard the story.”

“It's about the mutiny, you know, the mutiny at Macquarie Harbour. The prisoners took the ship, and put Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia ashore somewhere. Captain Frere was with them, too. The poor things had a dreadful time, and nearly died. Captain Frere made a boat at last, and they were picked up by a ship. Poor Mrs. Vickers only lived a few hours, and little Sylvia—she was only twelve years old then—was quite light-headed. They thought she wouldn't recover.”

“How dreadful! And has she recovered?”

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“Oh yes, she's quite strong now, but her memory's gone.”

“Her memory?”

“Yes,” struck in Mrs. Protherick, eager to have a share in the story-telling. “She doesn't remember anything about the three or four weeks they were ashore—at least, not distinctly.”

“It's a great mercy!” interrupted Mrs. Jellicoe, determined to keep the post of honour. “Who wants her to remember these horrors? From Captain Frere's account, it was positively awful!”

“You don't say so!” said Mr. Meekin, dabbing his nose with a dainty handkerchief.

“A ‘bolter’—that's what we call an escaped prisoner, Mr. Meekin—happened to be left behind, and he found them out, and insisted on sharing the provisions—the wretch! Captain Frere was obliged to watch him constantly for fear he should murder them. Even in the boat he tried to run them out to sea and escape. He was one of the worst men in the Harbour, they say; but you should hear Captain Frere tell the story.”

“And where is he now?” asked Mr. Meekin, with interest.

“Captain Frere?”

“No, the prisoner.”

“Oh, goodness, I don't know—at Port Arthur, I think. I know that he was tried for bolting, and would have been hanged but for Captain Frere's exertions.”

“Dear, dear! a strange story, indeed,” said Mr. Meekin. “And so the young lady doesn't know anything about it?”

“Only what she has been told, of course, poor dear. She's engaged to Captain Frere.”

“Really! To the man who saved her. How charming—quite a romance!”

“Isn't it? Everybody says so. And Captain Frere's so much older than she is.”

“But her girlish love clings to her heroic protector,” said Meekin, mildly poetical. “Remarkable and beautiful. Quite the—hem!—the ivy and the oak, dear leddies. Ah, in our fallen nature, what sweet spots—I think this is the gate.”

A smart convict-servant—he had been a pickpocket of note in days gone by—left the clergyman to repose in a handsomely furnished drawing-room, whose sun-blinds revealed a wealth of bright garden flecked with shadows, while he went in search of

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Miss Vickers. The Major was out, it seemed, his duties as Superintendent of Convicts rendering such absences necessary; but Miss Vickers was in the garden, and could be called in at once. The Reverend Meekin, wiping his heated brow, and pulling down his spotless wristbands, laid himself back on the soft sofa, soothed by the elegant surroundings no less than by the coolness of the atmosphere. Having no better comparison at hand, he compared this luxurious room, with its soft couches, brilliant flowers, and opened piano, to the chamber in the house of a West India planter, where all was glare and heat and barbarism without, and all soft and cool and luxurious within. He was so charmed with this comparison—he had a knack of being easily pleased with his own thoughts—that he commenced to turn a fresh sentence for the Bishop, and to sketch out an elegant description of the oasis in his desert of a vineyard. While at this occupation, he was disturbed by the sound of voices in the garden; and it appeared to him that some one near at hand was sobbing and crying. Softly stepping on the broad verandah, he saw, on the grass-plot, two persons, an old man and a young girl. The sobbing proceeded from the old man.

“'Deed, Miss, it's the truth, on my sowl. I've but jest come back to yez this morning. O my! but it's a cruel thrick to play an ould man.”

He was a white-haired old fellow, in a grey suit of convict frieze, and stood leaning with one veiny hand upon the pedestal of a vase of roses.

“But it is your own fault, Danny; we all warned you against her,” said the young girl, softly.

“Sure ye did. But oh! how did I think it, Miss? 'Tis the second time she served me so.”

“How long was it this time, Danny?”

“Six months, miss. She said I was a drunkard, and beat her. Beat her, God help me!” stretching forth two trembling hands. “And they believed her, o' coorse. Now, when I kem back, there's me little place all thrampled by the boys, and she's away wid a ship's captain, saving your presence, miss, dhrinking in the George the Fourth. O my, but it's hard on an ould man!” and he fell to sobbing again.

The girl sighed. “I can do nothing for you, Danny. I dare say you can work about the garden as you did before. I'll speak to the Major when he comes home.”

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Danny, lifting his bleared eyes to thank her, caught sight of Mr. Meekin, and saluted abruptly. Miss Vickers turned, and Mr. Meekin, bowing his apologies, became conscious that the young lady was about seventeen years of age, that her eyes were large and soft, her hair plentiful and bright, and that the hand which held the little book she had been reading was white and small.

“Miss Vickers, I think. My name is Meekin—the Reverend Arthur Meekin.”

“How do you do, Mr. Meekin?” said Sylvia, putting out one of her small hands, and looking straight at him. “Papa will be in directly.”

“His daughter more than compensates for his absence, my dear Miss Vickers.”

“I don't like flattery, Mr. Meekin, so don't use it. At least,” she added, with a delicious frankness, that seemed born of her very brightness and beauty, “not that sort of flattery. Young girls do like flattery, of course. Don't you think so?”

This rapid attack quite disconcerted Mr. Meekin, and he could only bow and smile at the self-possessed young lady. “Go into the kitchen, Danny, and tell them to give you some tobacco. Say I sent you. Mr. Meekin, won't you come in?”

“A strange old gentleman that, Miss Vickers. A faithful retainer, I presume?”

“An old convict servant of ours,” said Sylvia. “He was with papa many years ago. He has got into trouble lately, though, poor old man.”

“Into trouble?” asked Mr. Meekin, as Sylvia took off her hat.

“On the roads, you know. That's what they call it here. He married a free woman much younger than himself, and she makes him drink, and then gives him in charge for insubordination.”

“For insubordination! Pardon me, my dear young lady, did I understand you rightly?”

“Yes, insubordination. He is her assigned servant, you know,” said Sylvia, as if such a condition of things was the most ordinary in the world; “and if he misbehaves himself, she sends him back to the road-gang.”

The Reverend Mr. Meekin opened his mild eyes very wide indeed. “What an extraordinary anomaly! I am beginning,

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my dear Miss Vickers, to find myself indeed at the antipodes.”

“Society here is different from society in England, I believe. Most new arrivals say so,” returned Sylvia, quietly.

“But for a wife to imprison her husband, my dear young lady!”

“She can have him flogged if she likes. Danny has been flogged. But then his wife is a bad woman. He was very silly to marry her; but you can't reason with an old man in love, Mr. Meekin.”

Mr. Meekin's Christian brow had grown crimson, and his decorous blood tingled to his finger-tips. To hear a young lady talk in such an open way, was terrible. Why, in reading the Decalogue from the altar, Mr. Meekin was accustomed to soften one indecent prohibition, lest its uncompromising plainness of speech might offend the delicate sensibilities of his female souls! He turned from the dangerous theme without an instant's pause, for wonder at the strange power accorded to Hobart Town “free” wives.

“You have been reading?”

“‘Paul et Virginie.’ I have read it before in English.”

“Ah, you read French, then, my dear young lady?”

“Not very well. I had a master for some months, but papa had to send him back to the gaol again. He stole a silver tankard out of the dining-room.”

“A French master! Stole ——!”

“He was a prisoner, you know. A clever man. He wrote for the ‘London Magazine.’ I have read his writings. Some of them are quite above the average.”

“And how did he come to be transported?” asked Mr. Meekin, feeling that his vineyard was getting larger than he had anticipated.

“Poisoning his niece, I think, but I forget the particulars. He was a gentlemanly man, but, oh, such a drunkard!”

Mr. Meekin, more astonished than ever at this strange country, where beautiful young ladies talked of poisoning and flogging as matters of little moment, where wives imprisoned their husbands, and murderers taught French, perfumed the air with his cambric handkerchief in silence.

“You have not been here long, Mr. Meekin,” said Sylvia, after a pause.

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“No, only a week; and I confess I am surprised. A lovely climate, but, as I said just now to Mrs. Jellicoe, the Trail of the Serpent—the Trail of the Serpent—my dear young lady.”

“If you send all the wretches in England, here, you must expect the trail of the serpent,” said Sylvia. “It isn't the fault of the colony.”

“Oh, no; certainly not,” returned Meekin, hastening to apologize. “But it is very shocking.”

“Well, you gentlemen should make it better. I don't know what the penal settlements are like, but the prisoners in the town have not much inducement to become good men.”

“They have the beautiful Liturgy of our Holy Church read to them twice every week, my dear young lady,” said Mr. Meekin, as though he should solemnly say, “if that doesn't reform them, what will?”

“Oh, yes,” returned Sylvia, “they have that, certainly; but that is only on Sundays. But don't let us talk about this, Mr. Meekin,” she added, pushing back a stray curl of golden hair. “Papa says that I am not to talk about these things, because they are all done according to the Rules of the Service, as he calls it.”

“An admirable notion of papa's,” said Meekin, much relieved as the door opened, and Vickers and Frere entered.

Vickers's hair had grown white, but Frere carried his thirty years as easily as some men carry two-and-twenty.

“My dear Sylvia,” began Vickers, “here's an extraordinary thing!” and then, becoming conscious of the presence of the agitated Meekin, he paused.

“You know Mr. Meekin, papa?” said Sylvia. “Mr. Meekin, Captain Frere.”

“I have that pleasure,” said Vickers. “Glad to see you, sir. Pray sit down.” Upon which, Mr. Meekin beheld Sylvia unaffectedly kiss both gentlemen; but became strangely aware that the kiss bestowed upon her father was warmer than that which greeted her affianced husband.

“Warm weather, Mr. Meekin,” said Frere. “Sylvia, my darling, I hope you have not been out in the heat. You have! My dear, I've begged you ——”

“It's not hot at all,” said Sylvia, pettishly. “Nonsense! I'm not made of butter—I sha'n't melt. Thank you, dear, you needn't pull the blind down.” And then, as though angry with

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herself for her anger, she added, “You are always thinking of me, Maurice,” and gave him her hand affectionately.

“It's very oppressive, Captain Frere,” said Meekin; “and to a stranger, quite enervating.”

“Have a glass of wine,” said Frere, as if the house was his own. “One wants bucking up a bit on a day like this.”

“Ay, to be sure,” repeated Vickers. “A glass of wine. Sylvia dear, some sherry. I hope she has not been attacking you with her strange theories, Mr. Meekin?”

“Oh, dear no; not at all,” returned Meekin, feeling that this charming young lady was regarded as a creature who was not to be judged by ordinary rules. “We got on famously, my dear Major—quite famously.”

“That's right,” said Vickers. “She is very plain-spoken, is my little girl, and strangers can't understand her sometimes. Can they, Poppet?”

Poppet tossed her head saucily. “I don't know,” she said. “Why shouldn't they? But you were going to say something extraordinary when you came in. What is it, dear?”

“Ah,” said Vickers with grave face. “Yes, a most extraordinary thing. They've caught those villains.”

“What, you don't mean ——? No, papa!” said Sylvia, turning round with alarmed face.

In that little family there were, for conversational purposes, but one set of villains in the world—the mutineers of the Osprey.

“They've got four of them in the bay at this moment—Rex, Barker, Shiers, and Lesly. They are on board the Lady Fane. The most extraordinary story I ever heard in my life. The fellows got to China and passed themselves off as shipwrecked sailors. The merchants in Canton got up a subscription, and sent them to London. They were recognized there by old Pine, who had been surgeon on board the ship they came out in.”

Sylvia sat down on the nearest chair, with heightened colour. “And where are the others?”

“Two were executed in England; the other six have not been taken. These fellows have been sent out for trial.”

“To what are you alluding, dear sir?” asked Meekin, eyeing the sherry with the gaze of a fasting saint.

“The piracy of a convict brig five years ago,” replied Vickers.

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“The scoundrels put my poor wife and child ashore, and left them to starve. If it hadn't been for Frere—God bless him!—they would have died. They shot the pilot and a soldier—and—but it's a long story to tell now.”

“I have heard of it already,” said Meekin, sipping the sherry, which another convict servant had brought for him; “and of your gallant conduct, Captain Frere.”

“Oh, that's nothing,” said Frere, reddening. “We were all in the same boat. Poppet, have a glass of wine?”

“No,” said Sylvia, “I don't want any.”

She was staring at the strip of sunshine between the verandah and the blind, as though the bright light might enable her to remember something. “What's the matter?” asked Frere, bending over her.

“I was trying to recollect, but I can't, Maurice. It is all confused. I only remember a great shore and a great sea, and two men, one of whom—that's you, dear—carried me in his arms.”

“Dear, dear,” said Mr. Meekin.

“She was quite a baby,” said Vickers, hastily, as though unwilling to admit that her illness had been the cause of her forgetfulness.

“Oh, no; I was twelve years old,” said Sylvia; “that's not a baby, you know. But I think the fever made me stupid.”

Frere, looking at her uneasily, shifted in his seat. “There, don't think about it now,” he said.

“Maurice,” asked she suddenly, “what became of the other man?”

“Which other man?”

“The man who was with us; the other one, you know.”

“Poor Bates?”

“No, not Bates. The prisoner. What was his name?”

“Oh, ah—the prisoner,” said Frere, as if he, too, had forgotten. “Why, you know, darling, he was sent to Port Arthur.”

“Ah!” said Sylvia, with a shudder. “And is he there still?”

“I believe so,” said Frere, with a frown.

“By-the-bye,” said Vickers, “I suppose we shall have to get that fellow up for the trial. We have to identify the villains.”

“Can't you and I do that?” asked Frere, uneasily.

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“I am afraid not. I wouldn't like to swear to a man after five years.”

“By George,” said Frere, “I'd swear to him! When once I see a man's face—that's enough for me.”

“We had better get up a few prisoners who were at the Harbour at the time,” said Vickers, as if wishing to terminate the discussion. “I wouldn't let the villains slip through my fingers for anything.”

“And are the men at Port Arthur old men?” asked Meekin.

“Old convicts,” returned Vickers. “It's our place for ‘colonial sentence’ men. The worst we have are there. It has taken the place of Macquarie Harbour. What excitement there will be among them when the schooner goes down on Monday!”

“Excitement! Indeed? How charming! Why?” asked Meekin.

“To bring up the witnesses, my dear sir. Most of the prisoners are Lifers, you see, and a trip to Hobart Town is like a holiday for them.”

“And do they never leave the place when sentenced for life?” said Meekin, nibbling a biscuit. “How distressing!”

“Never, except when they die,” answered Frere, with a laugh; “and then they are buried on an island. Oh, it's a fine place! You should come down with me and have a look at it, Mr. Meekin. Picturesque, I can assure you.”

“My dear Maurice,” says Sylvia, going to the piano, as if in protest to the turn the conversation was taking, “how can you talk like that?”

“I should much like to see it,” said Meekin, still nibbling, “for Sir John was saying something about a chaplaincy there, and I understand that the climate is quite endurable.”

The convict servant, who had entered with some official paper for the Major, stared at the dainty clergyman, and rough Maurice laughed again. “Oh, it's a stunning climate,” he said; “and nothing to do. Just the place for you. There's a regular little colony there. All the scandals in Van Diemen's Land are hatched at Port Arthur.”

This agreeable chatter about scandal and climate seemed a strange contrast to the grave-yard island and the men who were prisoners for life. Perhaps Sylvia thought so, for she struck a few chords, which, compelling the party, out of sheer

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politeness, to cease talking for the moment, caused the conversation to flag, and hinted to Mr. Meekin that it was time for him to depart.

“Good afternoon, dear Miss Vickers,” he said, rising with his sweetest smile. “Thank you for your delightful music. That piece is an old, old favourite of mine. It was quite a favourite of dear Lady Jane's, and the Bishop's. Pray excuse me, my dear Captain Frere, but this strange occurrence—of the capture of the wreckers, you know—must be my apology for touching on a delicate subject. How charming to contemplate! Yourself and your dear young lady! The preserved and preserver, dear Major. ‘None but the brave, you know, none but the brave, none but the brave, deserve the fair!’ You remember glorious John, of course. Well, good afternoon.”

“It's rather a long invitation,” said Vickers, always well disposed to anyone who praised his daughter, “but if you've nothing better to do, come and dine with us on Christmas Day, Mr. Meekin. We usually have a little gathering then.”

“Charmed,” said Meekin—“charmed, I am sure. It is so refreshing to meet with persons of one's own tastes in this delightful colony. ‘Kindred souls together knit,’ you know, dear Miss Vickers. Indeed yes. Once more—good afternoon.”

Sylvia burst into laughter as the door closed. “What a ridiculous creature!” said she. “Bless the man, with his gloves and his umbrella, and his hair and his scent! Fancy that mincing noodle showing me the way to Heaven! I'd rather have old Mr. Bowes, papa, though he is as blind as a beetle, and makes you so angry by bottling up his trumps as you call it.”

“My dear Sylvia,” said Vickers, seriously, “Mr. Meekin is a clergyman, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” said Sylvia, “but then, a clergyman can talk like a man, can't he? Why do they send such people here? I am sure they could do much better at home. Oh, by the way, papa dear, poor old Danny's come back again. I told him he might go into the kitchen. May he, dear?”

“You'll have the house full of these vagabonds, you little puss,” said Vickers, kissing her. “I suppose I must let him stay. What has he been doing now?”

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“His wife,” said Sylvia, “locked him up, you know, for being drunk. Wife! What do people want with wives, I wonder.”

“Ask Maurice!” said her father, smiling.

Sylvia moved away, and tossed her head.

“What does he know about it? Maurice, you are a great bear; and if you hadn't saved my life, you know, I shouldn't love you a bit. There, you may kiss me” (her voice grew softer). “This convict business has brought it all back; and I should be ungrateful if I didn't love you, dear.”

Maurice Frere, with suddenly crimsoned face, accepted the proffered caress, and then turned away to the window. A grey-clothed man was working in the garden, and whistling as he worked. “They're not so badly off,” said Frere, under his breath.

“What's that, sir?” asked Sylvia.

“That I am not half good enough for you,” cried Frere, with sudden vehemence. “I—I—”

“It's my happiness you've got to think of, Captain Bruin,” said the girl. “You've saved my life, haven't you, and I should be wicked if I didn't love you! No, no more kisses,” she added, putting out her hand. “Come, papa, it's cool now, let's walk in the garden, and leave Maurice to think of his own unworthiness.”

Maurice watched the retreating pair with a puzzled expression. “She always leaves me for her father,” he said to himself. “I wonder if she really loves me, or if it's only gratitude, after all?”

He had often asked himself the same question during the five years of his wooing, but he had never satisfactorily answered it.

Chapter II.

Sarah Purfoy's Request.

THE evening passed as it had passed a hundred times before; and having smoked a pipe at the barracks, Captain Frere returned home. His home was a cottage on the New Town road—a cottage which he had occupied since his appointment

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as Assistant Police Magistrate, an appointment given to him as a reward for his exertions in connection with the Osprey mutiny. Captain Maurice Frere had risen in life. Quartered in Hobart Town, he had assumed a position in society, and had held several of those excellent appointments which in the year 1834 were bestowed upon officers of garrison. He had been Superintendent of Works at Bridgewater, and when he got his captaincy, Assistant Police Magistrate at Bothwell. The affair of the Osprey made a noise; and it was tacitly resolved that the first “good thing” that fell vacant should be given to the gallant preserver of Major Vickers's child.

Major Vickers also prospered. He had always been a careful man, and having saved some money, had purchased land on favourable terms. The “assignment system” enabled him to cultivate portions of it at a small expense, and, following the usual custom, he stocked his run with cattle and sheep. He had sold his commission, and was now a comparatively wealthy man. He owned a fine estate; the house he lived in was purchased property. He was in good odour at Government House, and his office of Superintendent of Convicts caused him to take an active part in that local government which keeps a man constantly before the public. Major Vickers, a colonist against his will, had become, by force of circumstances, one of the leading men in Van Diemen's Land. His daughter was a good match for any man; and many ensigns and lieutenants, cursing their hard lot in “country quarters,” many sons of settlers living on their fathers' station among the mountains, and many dapper clerks on the civil establishment, envied Maurice Frere his good fortune. Some went so far as to say that the beautiful daughter of “Regulation Vickers” was too good for the coarse red-faced Frere, who was noted for his fondness for low society, and overbearing, almost brutal demeanour. No one denied, however, that Captain Frere was a valuable officer. It was said that, in consequence of his tastes, he knew more about the tricks of convicts than any man on the island. It was said, even, that he was wont to disguise himself, and mix with the pass-holders and convict servants, in order to learn their signs and mysteries. When in charge at Bridgewater it had been his delight to rate the chain-gangs in their own hideous jargon, and to astound a new comer by his knowledge of his previous history. The convict population hated and cringed to him, for, with his brutality

  ― 199 ―
and violence, he mingled a ferocious good humour, that resulted sometimes in tacit permission to go without the letter of the law. Yet, as the convicts themselves said, “a man was never safe with the Captain;” for, after drinking and joking with them, as the Sir Oracle of some public-house whose hostess he delighted to honour, he would disappear through a side door just as the constables burst in at the back, and show himself as remorseless, in his next morning's sentence of the captured, as if he had never entered a tap-room in all his life. His superiors called this “zeal;” his inferiors “treachery.” For himself, he laughed. “Everything is fair to those wretches,” he was accustomed to say.

As the time for his marriage approached, however, he had in a measure given up these exploits, and strove, by his demeanour, to make his acquaintances forget several remarkable scandals concerning his private life, for the promulgation of which he once cared little. When Commandant at the Maria Island, and for the first two years after his return from the unlucky expedition to Macquarie Harbour, he had not suffered any fear of society's opinion to restrain his vices, but, as the affection for the pure young girl, who looked upon him as her saviour from a dreadful death, increased in honest strength, he had resolved to shut up those dark pages in his colonial experience, and to read therein no more. He was not remorseful, he was not even disgusted. He merely came to the conclusion that, when a man married, he was to consider certain extravagances common to all bachelors as at an end. He had “had his fling, like all young men;” perhaps he had been foolish like most young men, but no reproachful ghost of past misdeeds haunted him. His nature was too prosaic to admit the existence of such phantoms. Sylvia, in her purity and excellence, was so far above him, that in raising his eyes to her, he lost sight of all the sordid creatures to whose level he had once debased himself, and had come in part to regard the sins he had committed, before his redemption by the love of this bright young creature, as evil done by him under a past condition of existence, and for the consequences of which he was not responsible. One of the consequences, however, was very close to him at this moment. His convict servant had, according to his instructions, sat up for him, and as he entered, the man handed him a letter, bearing a superscription in a female hand.

  ― 200 ―

“Who brought this?” asked Frere, hastily tearing it open to read.

“The groom, sir. He said that there was a gentleman at the ‘George the Fourth’ who wished to see you.”

Frere smiled, in admiration of the intelligence which had dictated such a message, and then frowned, in anger at the contents of the letter. “You needn't wait,” he said to the man. “I shall have to go back again, I suppose.” Changing his forage cap for a soft hat, and selecting a stick from a miscellaneous collection in a corner, he prepared to retrace his steps. “What does she want now?” he asked himself fiercely, as he strode down the moonlit road; but beneath the fierceness there was an under current of petulance, which implied that, whatever “she” did want, she had a right to expect.

The “George the Fourth” was a long, low house, situated in Elizabeth-street. Its front was painted a dull red, and the narrow panes of glass in its windows, and the ostentatious affectation of red curtains and homely comfort, gave to it a spurious appearance of old English jollity. A knot of men round the door melted into air as Captain Frere approached, for it was now past eleven o'clock, and all persons found in the streets after eight could be compelled to “show their pass” or explain their business. The convict constables were not scrupulous in the exercise of their duty, and the bluff figure of Frere, clad in the blue serge which he affected as a summer costume, looked not unlike that of a convict constable.

Pushing open the side-door with the confident manner of one well acquainted with the house, Frere entered, and made his way along a narrow passage, to a glass door at the further end. A tap upon this door brought a white-faced, pock-pitted Irish girl, who curtsied with servile recognition of the visitor, and ushered him upstairs. The room into which he was shown was a large one. It had three windows looking into the street, and was handsomely furnished. The carpet was soft, the candles were bright, and the supper tray gleamed invitingly from a table between the windows. As Frere entered, a little terrier ran barking to his feet. It was evident that he was not a constant visitor. The rustle of a silk dress behind the terrier betrayed the presence of a woman; and Frere, rounding the promontory of an ottoman, found himself face to face with Sarah Purfoy.

  ― 201 ―

“Thank you for coming,” she said. “Pray, sit down.”

This was the only greeting that passed between them, and Frere sat down, in obedience to a motion of a plump hand that twinkled with rings.

The eleven years that had passed since we last saw this woman had dealt gently with her. Her foot was as small and her hand as white as of yore. Her hair, bound close about her head, was plentiful and glossy, and her eyes had lost none of their dangerous brightness. Her figure was coarser, and the white arm that gleamed through a muslin sleeve showed an outline that a fastidious artist might wish to modify. The most noticeable change was in her face. The cheeks owned no longer that delicate purity which they once boasted, but had become thicker, while here and there showed those faint red streaks—as though the rich blood throbbed too painfully in the veins—which are the first signs of the decay of “fine” women. With middle age and the fulness of figure to which most women of her temperament are prone, had come also that indescribable vulgarity of speech and manner which habitual absence of moral restraint never fails to produce.

Maurice Frere spoke first; he was anxious to bring his visit to as speedy a termination as possible. “What do you want of me?” he asked.

Sarah Purfoy laughed; a forced laugh, that sounded so unnatural, that Frere turned to look at her. “I want you to do me a favour—a very great favour; that is if it will not put you out of the way.”

“What do you mean?” asked Frere roughly, pursing his lips with a sullen air. “Favour! What do you call this?” striking the sofa on which he sat. “Isn't this a favour? What do you call your precious house and all that's in it? Isn't that a favour? What do you mean?”

To his utter astonishment the woman replied by shedding tears. For some time he regarded her in silence, as if unwilling to be softened by such shallow device, but eventually felt constrained to say something. “Have you been drinking again?” he asked, “or what's the matter with you? Tell me what it is you want, and have done with it. I don't know what possessed me to come here at all.”

Sarah sat upright, and dashed away her tears with one passionate hand.

  ― 202 ―

“I am ill, can't you see, you fool!” said she. “The news has unnerved me. If I have been drinking, what then? It's nothing to you, is it?”

“Oh, no,” returned the other, “it's nothing to me. You are the principal party concerned. If you choose to bloat yourself with brandy, do it by all means.”

You don't pay for it, at any rate!” said she, with quickness of retaliation which showed that this was not the only occasion on which they had quarrelled.

“Come,” said Frere, impatiently brutal, “get on. I can't stop here all night.”

She suddenly rose, and crossed to where he was standing.

“Maurice, you were very fond of me once.”

“Once,” said Maurice.

“Not so very many years ago.”

“Hang it!” said he, shifting his arm from beneath her hand, “don't let us have all that stuff over again. It was before you took to drinking and swearing, and going raving mad with passion, any way.”

“Well, dear,” said she, with her great glittering eyes belying the soft tones of her voice, “I suffered for it, didn't I? Didn't you turn me out into the streets? Didn't you lash me with your whip like a dog? Didn't you put me in gaol for it, eh? It's hard to struggle against you, Maurice.”

The compliment to his obstinacy seemed to please him—perhaps the crafty woman intended that it should—and he smiled.

“Well, there; let old times be old times, Sarah. You haven't done badly, after all,” and he looked round the well-furnished room. “What do you want?”

“There was a transport came in this morning.”


You know who was on board her, Maurice!”

Maurice brought one hand into the palm of the other with a rough laugh.

“Oh, that's it, is it! 'Gad, what a flat I was not to think of it before! You want to see him, I suppose?”

She came close to him, and, in her earnestness, took his hand. “I want to save his life!”

“Oh, that be hanged, you know! Save his life! It can't be done.”

  ― 203 ―

“You can do it, Maurice.”

“I save John Rex's life?” cried Frere. “Why, you must be mad!”

“He is the only creature that loves me, Maurice—the only man who cares for me. He has done no harm. He only wanted to be free—was it not natural? You can save him if you like. I only ask for his life. What does it matter to you? A miserable prisoner—his death would be of no use. Let him live, Maurice.”

Maurice laughed. “What have I to do with it?”

“You are the principal witness against him. If you say that he behaved well—and he did behave well, you know: many men would have left you to starve—they won't hang him.”

“Oh, won't they! That won't make much difference.”

“Ah, Maurice, be merciful!”

She bent towards him, and tried to retain his hand, but he withdrew it.

“You're a nice sort of woman to ask me to help your lover—a man who left me on that cursed coast to die, for all he cared,” he said, with a galling recollection of his humiliation of five years back. “Save him! Confound him, not I!”

“Ah, Maurice, you will.” She spoke with a suppressed sob in her voice. “What is it to you? You don't care for me now. You beat me, and turned me out of doors, though I never did you wrong. This man was a husband to me—long, long before I met you. He never did you any harm; he never will. He will bless you if you save him, Maurice.”

Frere jerked his head impatiently. “Bless me!” he said. “I don't want his blessings. Let him swing. Who cares?”

Still she persisted, with tears streaming from her eyes, with white arms upraised, on her knees even, catching at his coat, and beseeching him in broken accents. In her wild, fierce beauty and passionate abandonment she might have been a deserted Ariadne—a suppliant Medea. Anything rather than what she was—a dissolute, half-maddened woman, praying for the pardon of her convict husband.

Maurice Frere flung her off with an oath. “Get up!” he cried brutally, “and stop that nonsense. I tell you the man's as good as dead for all I shall do to save him.”

At this repulse, her pent-up passion broke forth. She sprang to her feet, and, pushing back the hair that in her frenzied

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pleading had fallen about her face, poured out upon him a torrent of abuse. “You! Who are you, that you dare to speak to me like that? His little finger is worth your whole body. He is a man, a brave man, not a coward, like you. A coward! Yes, a coward! a coward! a coward! You are very brave with defenceless men and weak women. You have beaten me until I was bruised black, you cur; but who ever saw you attack a man unless he was chained or bound? Do not I know you? I have seen you taunt a man at the triangles, until I wished the screaming wretch could get loose, and murder you as you deserve! You will be murdered one of these days, Maurice Frere—take my word for it. Men are flesh and blood, and flesh and blood won't endure the torments you lay on it!”

“There, that'll do,” says Frere, growing paler. “Don't excite yourself.”

“I know you, you brutal coward. I have not been your mistress—God forgive me!—without learning you by heart. I've seen your ignorance and your conceit. I've seen the men who ate your food and drank your wine laugh at you. I've heard what your friends say; I've heard the comparisons they make. One of your dogs has more brain than you, and twice as much heart. And these are the men they send to rule us! Oh, Heaven! And such an animal as this has life and death in his hands! He may hang, may he? I'll hang with him then, and God will forgive me for murder, for I will kill you!

Frere had cowered before this frightful torrent of rage, but, at the scream which accompanied the last words, he stepped forward as though to seize her. In her desperate courage, she flung herself before him. “Strike me! You daren't! I defy you! Bring up the wretched creatures who learn the way to Hell in this cursed house, and let them see you do it. Call them! They are old friends of yours. They all know Captain Maurice Frere.”


“You remember Lucy Barnes—poor little Lucy Barnes that stole sixpennyworth of calico. She is downstairs now. Would you know her if you saw her? She isn't the bright-faced baby she was when they sent her here to ‘reform,’ and when Lieutenant Frere wanted a new housemaid from the Factory! Call for her!—call! do you hear? Ask any one of those beasts

  ― 205 ―
whom you lash and chain for Lucy Barnes. He'll tell you all about her—ay, and about many more—many more poor souls that are at the bidding of any drunken brute that has stolen a pound note to fee the Devil with! Oh, you good God in Heaven, will you not judge this man?”

Frere trembled. He had often witnessed this creature's whirlwinds of passion, but never had he seen her so violent as this. Her frenzy frightened him. “For Heaven's sake, Sarah, be quiet. What is it you want? What would you do?”

“I'll go to this girl you want to marry, and tell her all I know of you. I have seen her in the streets—have seen her look the other way when I passed her—have seen her gather up her muslin skirts when my silks touched her—I that nursed her, that heard her say her baby-prayers (O Jesus, pity me!)—and I know what she thinks of women like me. She is good—and virtuous—and cold. She would shudder at you if she knew what I know. Shudder! She would hate you! And I will tell her! Ay, I will! You will be respectable, will you? A model husband! Wait till I tell her my story,—till I send some of these poor women to tell theirs. You kill my love; I'll blight and ruin yours!”

Frere caught her by both wrists, and with all his strength forced her to her knees. “Don't speak her name,” he said in a hoarse voice, “or I'll do you a mischief. I know all you mean to do. I'm not such a fool as not to see that. Be quiet! Men have murdered women like you, and now I know how they came to do it.”

For a few minutes a silence fell upon the pair, and at last, Frere, releasing her hands, fell back from her.

“I'll do what you want, on one condition.”


“That you leave this place.”

“Where for?”

“Anywhere—the farther the better. I'll pay your passage to Sydney, and you go or stay there as you please.”

She had grown calmer, hearing him thus relenting. “But this house, Maurice?”

“You are not in debt?”


“Well, leave it. It's your own affair, not mine. If I help, you must go.”

  ― 206 ―

“May I see him?


“Ah, Maurice!”

“You can see him in the dock if you like,” says Frere, with a laugh, cut short by a flash of her eyes. “There, I didn't mean to offend you.”

“Offend me! Go on.”

“Listen here,” said he doggedly. “If you will go away, and promise never to interfere with me or mine by word or deed, I'll do what you want.”

“What will you do?” she asked, unable to suppress a smile at the victory she had won.

“I will not say all I know about this man. I will say he befriended me. I will do my best to save his life.”

“You can save it if you like.”

“Well, I will try. On my honour, I will try.”

“I must believe you, I suppose?” said she, doubtfully; and then, with a sudden pitiful pleading, in strange contrast to her former violence, “You are not deceiving me, Maurice?”

“No. Why should I? You keep your promise, and I'll keep mine. Is it a bargain?”


He eyed her steadfastly for some seconds, and then turned on his heel. As he reached the door she called him back. Knowing him as she did, she felt that he would keep his word, and her feminine nature could not resist a parting sneer.

“There is nothing in the bargain to prevent me helping him to escape!” she said with a smile.

“Escape! He won't escape again, I'll go bail. Once get him in double irons at Port Arthur, and he's safe enough.”

The smile on her face seemed infectious, for his own sullen features relaxed. “Good night, Sarah,” he said.

She put out her hand, as if nothing had happened. “Good night, Captain Frere. It's a bargain, then?”

“A bargain.”

“You have a long walk home. Will you have some brandy?”

“I don't care if I do,” he said, advancing to the table, and filling his glass. “Here's a good voyage to you!”

Sarah Purfoy, watching him, burst into a laugh. “Human beings are queer creatures,” she said. “Who would have

  ― 207 ―
thought that we had been calling each other names just now? I say, I'm a vixen when I'm roused, ain't I, Maurice?”

“Remember what you've promised,” said he, with a threat in his voice, as he moved to the door. “You must be out of this by the next ship that leaves.”

“Never fear, I'll go.”

Getting into the cool street directly, and seeing the calm stars shining, and the placid water sleeping with a peace in which he had no share, he strove to cast off the nervous fear that was on him. The interview had frightened him, for it had made him think. It was hard that, just as he had turned over a new leaf, this old blot should come through to the clean page. It was cruel that, having comfortably forgotten the past, he should be thus rudely reminded of it.

Chapter III.

The Story of Two Birds of Prey.

THE reader of the foregoing pages has doubtless asked himself, “What is the link which binds together John Rex and Sarah Purfoy?”

In the year 1825 there lived, at St. Heliers, Jersey, a watchmaker, named Urban Purfoy. He was a hard-working man, and had amassed a little money—sufficient to give his grand-daughter an education above the common in those days. At sixteen, Sarah Purfoy was an empty-headed, strong-willed, precocious girl, with big brown eyes. She had a bad opinion of her own sex, and an immense admiration for the young and handsome members of the other. The neighbours said that she was too high and mighty for her rank in life. Her grandfather said she was a “beauty,” and like her poor dear mother. She herself thought rather meanly of her personal attractions, and rather highly of her mental ones. She was brimful of vitality, with strong passions, and little religious sentiment. She had not much respect for moral courage, for she did not understand it; but she was a profound admirer of personal prowess. Her distaste for the humdrum life she was leading

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found expression in a rebellion against social usages. She courted notoriety by eccentricities of dress, and was never so happy as when she was misunderstood. She was the sort of girl of whom women say—“It is a pity she has no mother;” and men, “It is a pity she does not get a husband;” and who say to themselves, “When shall I have a lover?”

There was no lack of beings of this latter class among the officers quartered in Fort Royal and Fort Henry; but the female population of the island was free and numerous, and in the embarrassment of riches, Sarah was overlooked. Though she adored the soldiery, her first lover was a civilian. Walking one day on the cliff, she met a young man. He was tall, well-looking, and well-dressed. His name was Lemoine, he was the son of a somewhat wealthy resident of the island, and had come down from London to recruit his health and to see his friends. Sarah was struck by his appearance, and looked back at him. He had been struck by hers, and looked back also. He followed her, and spoke to her,—some remark about the wind or the weather, and she thought his voice divine. They got into conversation—about scenery, lonely walks, and the dulness of St. Heliers. “Did she often walk there?” “Sometimes.” “Would she be there to-morrow?” “She might.” Mr. Lemoine lifted his hat, and went back to dinner, rather pleased with himself.

They met the next day, and the day after that. Lemoine was not a gentleman, but he had lived among gentlemen, and had caught something of their manner. He said that, after all, virtue was a mere name, and that when people were powerful and rich, the world respected them more than if they had been honest and poor. Sarah agreed with this sentiment. Her grandfather was honest and poor, and yet nobody respected him—at least, not with such respect as she cared to acknowledge. In addition to his talent for argument, Lemoine was handsome and had money—he showed her quite a handful of bank-notes one day. He told her of London and the great ladies there, and hinting that they were not always virtuous, drew himself up with a moody air, as though he had been unhappily the cause of their fatal lapse into wickedness. Sarah did not wonder at this in the least. Had she been a great lady, she would have done the same. She began to coquet with this seductive fellow, and to hint to him that she had too much knowledge of the world to

  ― 209 ―
set a fictitious value upon virtue. He mistook her artfulness for innocence, and thought he had made a conquest. Moreover, the girl was pretty, and when dressed properly, would look well. Only one obstacle stood in the way of their loves—the dashing profligate was poor. He had been living in London above his means, and his father was not inclined to increase his allowance.

Sarah liked him better than anybody else she had seen, but there are two sides to every bargain. Sarah Purfoy must go to London. In vain her lover sighed and swore. Unless he would promise to take her away with him, Diana was not more chaste. The more virtuous she grew, the more vicious did Lemoine feel. His desire to possess her increased in proportionate ratio to her resistance, and at last he borrowed two hundred pounds from his father's confidential clerk [the Lemoines were merchants by profession], and acceded to her wishes. There was no love on either side—vanity was the mainspring of the whole transaction. Lemoine did not like to be beaten; Sarah sold herself for a passage to England and an introduction into the “great world.”

We need not describe her career at this epoch. Suffice it to say that she discovered that vice is not always conducive to happiness, and is not, even in this world, so well rewarded as its earnest practice might merit. Sated, and disappointed, she soon grew tired of her life, and longed to escape from its wearying dissipations. At this juncture she fell in love.

The object of her affections was one Mr. Lionel Crofton. Crofton was tall, well made, and with an insinuating address. His features were too strongly marked for beauty. His eyes were the best part of his face, and, like his hair, they were jet black. He had broad shoulders, sinewy limbs, and small hands and feet. His head was round, and well-shaped, but it bulged a little over the ears, which were singularly small, and lay close to his head. With this man, barely four years older than herself, Sarah, at seventeen, fell violently in love. This was the more strange, as though fond of her, he would tolerate no caprices, and possessed an ungovernable temper, which found vent in curses, and even blows. He seemed to have no profession or business, and though he owned a good address, he was even less of a gentleman than Lemoine. Yet Sarah, attracted by one of the strange sympathies which constitute the romance of such women's lives, was devoted to him. Touched

  ― 210 ―
by her affection, and rating her intelligence and unscrupulousness at their true value, he told her who he was. He was a swindler, a forger, and a thief, and his name was John Rex. When she heard this she experienced a sinister delight. He told her of his plots, his tricks, his escapes, his villanies; and seeing how for years this young man had preyed upon the world which had deceived and disowned her, her heart went out to him. “I am glad you found me,” she said. “Two heads are better than one. We will work together.”

John Rex, known among his intimate associates as Dandy Jack, was the putative son of a man who had been for many years valet to Lord Bellasis, and who retired from the service of that profligate nobleman with a sum of money and a wife. John Rex was sent to as good a school as could be procured for him, and at sixteen was given, by the interest of his mother with his father's former master, a clerkship in an old-established banking-house. Rex senior was accustomed to talk largely of “gentlemen,” and “high society.” Mrs. Rex was intensely fond of her son, and imbued him with a desire to shine in aristocratic circles. He was a clever lad, without any principle; he would lie unblushingly, and steal deliberately, if he thought he could do so with impunity. He was cautious, acquisitive, imaginative, self-conceited, and destructive. He had strong perceptive faculties, and much invention and versatility, but his “moral sense” was almost entirely wanting. He found that his fellow clerks were not of that “gentlemanly” stamp which his mother thought so admirable, and, therefore, he despised them. He thought he should like to go into the army, for he was athletic, and rejoiced in feats of muscular strength. To be tied all day to a desk was beyond endurance. But John Rex, senior, told him to “wait and see what came of it.” He did so, and in the mean time kept late hours, got into bad company, and forged the name of a customer of the bank to a cheque for twenty pounds. The fraud was a clumsy one, and was detected in twenty-four hours. Forgeries by clerks, however easily detected, are unfortunately not considered to add to the attractions of a banking-house, and the old-established firm decided not to prosecute, but dismissed Mr. John Rex from their service. The ex-valet, who never liked his legalized son, was at first for turning him out of doors, but by the entreaties of his wife, was at last induced to place the promising boy in a draper's shop, in the City Road.

  ― 211 ―

This employment was not a congenial one, and John Rex planned to leave it. He lived at home, and had his salary—about thirty shillings a week—for pocket money. Though he displayed considerable skill with the cue, and not unfrequently won considerable sums for one in his position, his expenses averaged more than his income; and having borrowed all he could, he found himself again in difficulties. His narrow escape, however, had taught him a lesson, and he resolved to confess all to his indulgent mother, and be more economical for the future. Just then one of those “lucky chances” which blight so many lives occurred. The “shop-walker” died, and Messrs. Baffaty & Co. made the gentlemanly Rex act as his substitute for a few days. Shop-walkers have opportunities not accorded to other folks, and on the evening of the third day Mr. Rex went home with a bundle of lace in his pocket. Unfortunately, he owed more than the worth of this petty theft, and was compelled to steal again. This time he was detected. One of his fellow-shopmen caught him in the very act of concealing a roll of silk, ready for future abstraction, and, to his astonishment, cried “Halves!” Rex pretended to be virtuously indignant, but soon saw that such pretence was useless; his companion was too wily to be fooled with such affectation of innocence. “I saw you take it,” said he, “and if you won't share I'll tell old Baffaty.” This argument was irresistible, and they shared. Having become good friends, the self-made partner lent Rex a helping hand in the disposal of the booty, and introduced him to a purchaser. The purchaser violated all rules of romance by being—not a Jew, but a very orthodox Christian. He kept a second-hand clothes warehouse in the City Road, and was supposed to have branch establishments all over London.

Mr. Blicks purchased the stolen goods for about a third of their value, and seemed struck by Mr. Rex's appearance. “I thort you was a swell mobsman,” said he. This, from one so experienced, was a high compliment. Encouraged by success, Rex and his companion took more articles of value. John Rex paid off his debts, and began to feel himself quite a “gentleman” again. Just as Rex had arrived at this pleasing state of mind, Baffaty discovered the robbery. Not having heard about the bank business, he did not suspect Rex—he was such a gentlemanly young man—but having had his eye for some time upon Rex's partner, who was vulgar, and squinted, he sent for

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him. Rex's partner stoutly denied the accusation, and old Baffaty, who was a man of merciful tendencies, and could well afford to lose fifty pounds, gave him until the next morning to confess, and state where the goods had gone, hinting at the persuasive powers of a constable at the end of that time. The shopman, with tears in his eyes, came in a hurry to Rex, and informed him that all was lost. He did not want to confess, because he must implicate his friend Rex, but if he did not confess, he would be given in charge. Flight was impossible, for neither had money. In this dilemma John Rex remembered Blicks's compliment, and burned to deserve it. If he must retreat, he would lay waste the enemy's country. His exodus should be like that of the Israelites—he would spoil the Egyptians. The shopwalker was allowed half an hour in the middle of the day for lunch. John Rex took advantage of this half-hour to hire a cab and drive to Blicks. That worthy man received him cordially, for he saw that he was bent upon great deeds. John Rex rapidly unfolded his plan of operations. The warehouse doors fastened with a spring. He would remain behind after they were locked, and open them at a given signal. A light cart or cab could be stationed in the lane at the back, three men could fill it with valuables in as many hours. Did Blicks know of three such men? Blicks's one eye glistened. He thought he did know. At half-past eleven they should be there. Was that all? No. Mr. John Rex was not going to “put up” such a splendid thing for nothing. The booty was worth at least £5,000 if it was worth a shilling—he must have £100 cash when the cart stopped at Blicks's door. Blicks at first refused point blank. Let there be a division, but he would not buy a pig in a poke. Rex was firm, however; it was his only chance, and at last he got a promise of £80. That night the glorious achievement known in the annals of Bow Street as “The Great Silk Robbery” took place, and two days afterwards, John Rex and his partner, dining comfortably at Birmingham, read an account of the transaction—not in the least like it—in a London paper.

John Rex, who had now fairly broken with dull respectability, bid adieu to his home, and began to realize his mother's wishes. He was, after his fashion, a “gentleman.” As long as the £80 lasted, he lived in luxury, and by the time it was spent, he had established himself in his profession. This profession was a

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lucrative one. It was that of a swindler. Gifted with a handsome person, facile manner, and ready wit, he had added to these natural advantages some skill at billiards, some knowledge of gamblers' legerdemain, and the useful consciousness that he must prey or be preyed on. John Rex was no common swindler; his natural as well as his acquired abilities saved him from vulgar errors. He saw that to successfully swindle mankind, one must not aim at comparative, but superlative, ingenuity. He who is contented with being only cleverer than the majority must infallibly be outwitted at last, and to be once outwitted is—for a swindler—to be ruined. Examining, moreover, into the history of detected crime, John Rex discovered one thing. At the bottom of all these robberies, deceptions, and swindles, was some lucky fellow who profited by the folly of his confederates. This gave him an idea. Suppose he could not only make use of his own talents to rob mankind, but utilize those of others also? Crime runs through infinite grades. He proposed to himself to be at the top; but why should he despise those good fellows beneath him. His specialty was swindling, billiard-playing, card-playing, borrowing money, obtaining goods, never risking more than two or three coups in a year. But others plundered houses, stole bracelets, watches, diamonds,—made as much in a night as he did in six months—only their occupation was more dangerous. Now came the question—why more dangerous? Because these men were mere clods, bold enough and clever enough in their own rude way, but no match for the law, with its Argus eyes and its Briarean hands. They did the rougher business well enough; they broke locks, and burst doors, and “neddied” constables, but in the finer arts of plan, attack, and escape, they were sadly deficient. Good. These men should be the hands; he would be the head. He would plan the robberies; they should execute them.

Working through many channels, and never omitting to assist a fellow-worker when in distress, John Rex, in a few years, and in a most prosaic, business way, became the head of a society of ruffians. Mixing with fast clerks and unsuspecting middleclass profligates, he found out particulars of houses ill guarded, and shops insecurely fastened, and “put up” Blicks's ready ruffians to the more dangerous work. In his various disguises, and under his many names, he found his way into those upper

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circles of “fast” society, where animals turn into birds, where a wolf becomes a rook, and a lamb a pigeon. Rich spendthrifts who affected male society asked him to their houses, and Mr. Anthony Croftonbury, Captain James Craven, and Mr. Lionel Crofton were names remembered, sometimes with pleasure, oftener with regret, by many a broken man of fortune. He had one quality which, to a man of his profession, was invaluable—he was cautious, and master of himself. Having made a success, wrung commission from Blicks, rooked a gambling ninny like Lemoine, or secured an assortment of jewellery sent down to his “wife” in Gloucestershire, he would disappear for a time. He liked comfort, and revelled in the sense of security and respectability. Thus he had lived for three years when he met Sarah Purfoy, and thus he proposed to live for many more. With this woman as a coadjutor, he thought he could defy the law. She was the net spread to catch his “pigeons;” she was the well-dressed lady who ordered goods in London for her husband at Canterbury, and paid half the price down, “which was all this letter authorized her to do,” and where a less beautiful or clever woman might have failed, she succeeded. Her husband saw fortune before him, and believed that, with common prudence, he might carry on his lucrative employment of “gentleman” until he chose to relinquish it. Alas for human weakness! He one day did a foolish thing, and the law he had so successfully defied got him in the simplest way imaginable.

Under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, John Rex and Sarah Purfoy were living in quiet lodgings in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury. Their landlady was a respectable poor woman, and had a son who was a constable. This son was given to talking, and, coming in to supper one night, he told his mother that on the following evening an attack was to be made on a gang of coiners in the Old Street Road. The mother, dreaming all sorts of horrors during the night, came the next day to Mrs. Skinner, in the parlour, and, under a pledge of profound secrecy, told her of the dreadful expedition in which her son was engaged. John Rex was out at a pigeon-match with Lord Bellasis, and when he returned, at nine o'clock, Sarah told him what she had heard.

Now, 4, Bank-place, Old Street Road, was the residence of a man named Green, who had for some time carried on the

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lucrative but dangerous trade of “counterfeiting.” This man was one of the most daring of that army of ruffians whose treasure chest and master of the mint was Blicks, and his liberty was valuable. John Rex, eating his dinner more nervously than usual, ruminated on the intelligence, and thought it would be but wise to warn Green of his danger. Not that he cared much for Green personally, but it was bad policy to miss doing a good turn to a comrade, and, moreover, Green, if captured, might wag his tongue too freely. But how to do it? If he went to Blicks, it might be too late; he would go himself. He went out—and was captured. When Sarah heard of the calamity she set to work to help him. She collected all her money and jewels, paid Mrs. Skinner's rent, went to see Rex, and arranged his defence. Blicks was hopeful, but Green—who came very near hanging—admitted that the man was an associate of his, and the Recorder, being in a severe mood, transported him for seven years.

Sarah Purfoy vowed that she would follow him. She was going as passenger, as emigrant, anything, when she saw Mrs. Vickers's advertisement for a “lady's-maid,” and answered it. It chanced that Rex was shipped in the Malabar, and Sarah, discovering this before the vessel had been a week at sea, conceived the bold project of inciting a mutiny for the rescue of her lover. We know the result of that scheme, and the story of the scoundrel's subsequent escape from Macquarie Harbour.

Chapter IV.

“The Notorious Dawes.”

THE mutineers of the Osprey had been long since given up as dead, and the story of their desperate escape had become indistinct to the general public mind. Now that they had been recaptured in a remarkable manner, popular belief invested them with all sorts of strange surroundings. They had been—according to report—kings over savage islanders, chiefs of lawless and ferocious pirates, respectable married men in Java, merchants in Singapore, and swindlers in Hong Kong. Their adventures had been dramatized at a

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London theatre, and the popular novelist of that day was engaged in a work descriptive of their wondrous fortunes.

John Rex, the ringleader, was related, it was said, to a noble family, and a special message had come out to Sir John Franklin concerning him. He had every prospect of being satisfactorily hung, however, for even the most outspoken admirers of his skill and courage could not but admit that he had committed an offence which was death by the law. The Crown would leave nothing undone to convict him, and the already crowded prison was re-crammed with half a dozen life sentence men, brought up from Port Arthur to identify the prisoners. Amongst this number was stated to be “the notorious Dawes.”

This statement gave fresh food for recollection and invention. It was remembered that “the notorious Dawes” was the absconder who had been brought away by Captain Frere, and who owed such fettered life as he possessed to the fact that he had assisted Captain Frere to make the wonderful boat in which the marooned party escaped. It was remembered, also, how sullen and morose he had been on his trial five years before, and how he had laughed when the commutation of his death sentence was announced to him. The Hobart Town Gazette published a short biography of this horrible villain—a biography setting forth how he had been engaged in a mutiny on board the convict ship, how he had twice escaped from the Macquarie Harbour, how he had been repeatedly flogged for violence and insubordination, and how he was now double-ironed at Port Arthur, after two more ineffectual attempts to regain his freedom. Indeed, the Gazette, discovering that the wretch had been originally transported for highway robbery, argued very ably it would be far better to hang such wild beasts in the first instance, than suffer them to cumber the ground, and grow confirmed in villainy. “Of what use to society,” asked the Gazette, quite pathetically, “has this scoundrel been during the last eleven years?” And everybody agreed that he had been of no use whatever.

Miss Sylvia Vickers also received an additional share of public attention. Her romantic rescue by the heroic Frere, who was shortly to reap the reward of his devotion in the good old fashion, made her almost as famous as the villain Dawes, or his confederate monster John Rex. It was reported that

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she was to give evidence on the trial, together with her affianced husband, they being the only two living witnesses who could speak to the facts of the mutiny. It was reported also that her lover was naturally most anxious that she should not give evidence, as she was—an additional point of romantic interest—affected deeply by the illness consequent on the suffering she had undergone, and in a state of pitiable mental confusion as to the whole business. These reports caused the Court, on the day of the trial, to be crowded with spectators; and as the various particulars of the marvellous history of this double escape were detailed, the excitement grew more intense. The aspect of the four heavily-ironed prisoners caused a sensation which, in that city of the ironed, was quite novel, and bets were offered and taken as to the line of defence which they would adopt. At first it was thought that they would throw themselves on the mercy of the Crown, seeking, in the very extravagance of their story, to excite public sympathy; but a little study of the demeanour of the chief prisoner, John Rex, dispelled that conjecture. Calm, placid, and defiant, he seemed prepared to accept his fate, or to meet his accusers with some plea which should be sufficient to secure his acquittal on the capital charge. Only when he heard the indictment, setting forth that he had “feloniously pirated the brig Osprey,” he smiled a little.

Mr. Meekin, sitting in the body of the Court, felt his religious prejudices sadly shocked by that smile. “A perfect wild beast, my dear Miss Vickers,” he said, returning, in a pause during the examination of the convicts who had been brought to identify the prisoner, to the little room where Sylvia and her father were waiting. “He has quite a tigerish look about him.”

“Poor man!” said Sylvia, with a shudder.

“Poor! My dear young lady, you do not pity him?”

“I do,” said Sylvia, twisting her hands together as if in pain. “I pity them all, poor creatures.”

“Charming sensibility!” says Meekin, with a glance at Vickers. “The true woman's heart, my dear Major.”

The Major tapped his fingers impatiently at this ill-timed twaddle. Sylvia was too nervous just then for sentiment. “Come here, Poppet,” he said, “and look through this door. You can see them from here, and if you do not recognize any

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of them, I can't see what is the use of putting you in the box; though, of course, if it is necessary, you must go.”

The raised dock was just opposite to the door of the room in which they were sitting, and the four manacled men, each with an armed warder behind him, were visible above the heads of the crowd. The girl had never before seen the ceremony of trying a man for his life, and the silent and antique solemnities of the business affected her, as it affects all who see it for the first time. The atmosphere was heavy and distressing. The chains of the prisoners clanked ominously. The crushing force of judge, jailers, warders, and constables assembled to punish the four men, appeared cruel. The familiar faces, that in her momentary glance, she recognized, seemed to her evilly transfigured. Even the countenance of her promised husband, bent eagerly forward towards the witness-box, showed tyrannous and bloodthirsty. Her eyes hastily followed the pointing finger of her father, and sought the men in the dock. Two of them lounged, sullen and inattentive; one nervously chewed a straw, or piece of twig, pawing the dock with restless hand; the fourth scowled across the Court at the witness-box, which she could not see. The four faces were all strange to her.

“No, papa,” she said, with a sigh of relief, “I can't recognize them at all.”

As she was turning from the door, a voice from the witness-box behind her made her suddenly pale and pause to look again. The Court itself appeared, at that moment, affected, for a murmur ran through it, and some official cried, “Silence!”

The notorious criminal, Rufus Dawes, the desperado of Port Arthur, the wild beast whom the Gazette had judged not fit to live, had just entered the witness-box. He was a man of thirty, in the prime of life, with a torso whose muscular grandeur not even the ill-fitting yellow jacket could altogether conceal, with strong, embrowned, and nervous hands, an upright carriage, and a pair of fierce, black eyes that roamed over the Court hungrily.

Not all the weight of the double irons swaying from the leathern thong around his massive loins, could mar that elegance of attitude which comes only from perfect muscular development. Not all the frowning faces bent upon him could frown an accent of respect into the contemptuous tones in

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which he answered to his name, “Rufus Dawes, prisoner of the Crown.”

“Come away, my darling,” said Vickers, alarmed at his daughter's blanched face and eager eyes.

“Wait,” she said, impatiently, listening for the voice whose owner she could not see. “Rufus Dawes! Oh, I have heard that name before!”

“You are a prisoner of the Crown at the penal settlement of Port Arthur?”


“For life?”

“For life.”

Sylvia turned to her father with breathless inquiry in her eyes. “Oh, papa! who is that speaking? I know the name! I know the voice!”

“That is the man who was with you in the boat, dear,” says Vickers, gravely. “The prisoner.”

The eager light died out of her eyes, and in its place came a look of disappointment and pain. “I thought it was a good man,” she said, holding by the edge of the doorway. “It sounded like a good voice.”

And then she pressed her hands over her eyes and shuddered. “There, there,” says Vickers, soothingly, “don't be afraid, Poppet; he can't hurt you now.”

“No, ha! ha!” says Meekin, with great display of off-hand courage, “the villain's safe enough now.”

The colloquy in the Court went on. “Do you know the prisoners in the dock?”


“Who are they?”

“John Rex, Henry Shiers, James Lesly, and, and—I'm not sure about the last man.”

“You are not sure about the last man. Will you swear to the three others?”


“You remember them well?”

“I was in the chain-gang at Macquarie Harbour with them for three years.” Sylvia, hearing this hideous reason for acquaintance, gave a low cry, and fell into her father's arms.

“Oh, papa, take me away! I feel as if I was going to remember something terrible!”

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Amid the deep silence that prevailed, the cry of the poor girl was distinctly audible in the Court, and all heads turned to the door. In the general wonder no one noticed the change that passed over Rufus Dawes. His face flushed scarlet, great drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and his black eyes glared in the direction from whence the sound came, as though they would pierce the envious wood that separated him from the woman whose voice he had heard. Maurice Frere sprang up and pushed his way through the crowd under the bench. “What's this?” he said to Vickers, almost brutally. “What did you bring her here for? She is not wanted. I told you that.”

“I considered it my duty, sir,” says Vickers, with stately rebuke.

“What has frightened her? What has she heard? What has she seen?” asked Frere, with a strangely white face. “Sylvia, Sylvia!”

She opened her eyes at the sound of his voice. “Take me home, papa; I'm ill. Oh, what thoughts!”

“What does she mean?” cried Frere, looking in alarm from one to the other.

“That ruffian Dawes frightened her,” said Meekin. “A gush of recollection, poor child. There, there, calm yourself, Miss Vickers. He is quite safe.”

“Frightened her, eh?”

“Yes,” said Sylvia, faintly, “he frightened me, Maurice. I needn't stop any longer, dear, need I?”

“No,” says Frere, the cloud passing from his face. “Major, I beg your pardon, but I was hasty. Take her home at once. This sort of thing is too much for her.” And so he went back to his place, wiping his brow, and breathing hard, as one who had just escaped from some near peril.

Rufus Dawes had remained in the same attitude until the figure of Frere, passing through the doorway, roused him. “Who is she?” he said, in a low, hoarse voice, to the constable behind him.

“Miss Vickers,” said the man, shortly, flinging the information at him as one might fling a bone to a dangerous dog.

“Miss Vickers!” repeated the convict, still staring in a sort of bewildered agony. “They told me she was dead!”

The constable sniffed contemptuously at this preposterous

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conclusion, as who should say, “If you know all about it, animal, why did you ask?” and then feeling that the fixed gaze of his interrogator demanded some reply, added, “You thort she was, I've no doubt. You did your best to make her so, I've heard.”

The convict raised both his hands with sudden action of wrathful despair, as though he would seize the other, despite the loaded muskets; but checking himself with sudden impulse, wheeled round to the Court. “Your Honour!—Gentlemen! I want to speak.”

The change in the tone of his voice, no less than the sudden loudness of the exclamation, made the faces, hitherto bent upon the door through which Mr. Frere had passed, turn round again. To many there it seemed that the “notorious Dawes” was no longer in the box, for, in place of the upright and defiant villain who stood there an instant back, was a white-faced, nervous, agitated creature, bending forward in an attitude almost of supplication, one hand grasping the rail, as though to save himself from falling, the other outstretched towards the bench. “Your Honour, there has been some dreadful mistake made. I want to explain about myself. I explained before, when first I was sent to Port Arthur, but the letters were never forwarded by the Commandant; of course that's the rule, and I can't complain. I've been sent there unjustly, your Honour. I made that boat, your Honour. I saved the Major's wife and daughter. I was the man; I did it all myself, and my liberty was sworn away by a villain who hated me. I thought, until now, that no one knew the truth, for they told me that she was dead.” His rapid utterance took the Court so much by surprise that no one interrupted him. “I was sentenced to death for bolting, sir, and they reprieved me because I helped them in the boat. Helped them! Why, I made it! She will tell you so. I nursed her! I carried her in my arms! I starved myself for her! She was fond of me, sir. She was, indeed. She called me ‘Good Mr. Dawes.’”

At this, a coarse laugh broke out, which was instantly checked. The judge bent over to ask, “Does he mean Miss Vickers?” and in this interval, Rufus Dawes, looking down into the Court, saw Maurice Frere staring up at him with terror in his eyes.

“I see you, Captain Frere, coward and liar! Put him in the

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box, gentlemen, and make him tell his story. She'll contradict him, never fear. Oh, and I thought she was dead all this while!”

The judge had got his answer from the clerk by this time. “Miss Vickers had been seriously ill, had fainted just now in the Court. Her only memories of the convict who had been with her in the boat were those of terror and disgust. The sight of him just now had most seriously affected her. The convict himself was an inveterate liar and schemer, and his story had been already disproved by Captain Frere.”

The judge, a man inclining by nature to humanity, but forced by experience to receive all statements of prisoners with caution, said all he could say, and the tragedy of five years was disposed of in the following dialogue:—

JUDGE: This is not the place for an accusation against Captain Frere, nor the place to argue upon your alleged wrongs. If you have suffered injustice, the authorities will hear your complaint, and redress it.

RUFUS DAWES: I have complained, your Honour. I wrote letter after letter to the Government, but they were never sent. Then I heard she was dead, and they sent me to the coal mines after that, and we never hear anything there.

JUDGE: I can't listen to you. Mr. Mangles, have you any more questions to ask the witness?

But Mr. Mangles not having any more, some one called “Matthew Gabbett,” and Rufus Dawes, still endeavouring to speak, was clanked away with, amid a buzz of remark and surmise.

The trial progressed without further incident. Sylvia was not called, and, to the astonishment of many of his enemies, Captain Frere went into the witness-box and generously spoke in favour of John Rex. “He might have left us to starve,” Frere said—“he might have murdered us; we were completely in his power. The stock of provisions on board the brig was not a large one, and I consider that, in dividing it with us, he showed great generosity for one in his situation.” This piece of evidence told strongly in favour of the prisoners, for Captain Frere was known to be such an uncompromising foe to all rebellious convicts, that it was understood that only the sternest

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sense of justice and truth could lead him to speak in such terms. The defence set up by Rex, moreover, was most ingenious. He was guilty of absconding, but his moderation might plead an excuse for that. His only object was his freedom, and having gained it, he had lived honestly for nearly three years, as he could prove. He was charged with piratically seizing the brig Osprey, and he urged that the brig Osprey, having been built by convicts at Macquarie Harbour, and never entered in any shipping list, could not be said to be “piratically seized,” in the strict meaning of the term. The Court admitted the force of this objection, and, influenced doubtless by Captain Frere's evidence, the fact that five years had passed since the mutiny, and that the two men most guilty (Cheshire and Barker) had been executed in England, sentenced Rex and his three companions to transportation for life to the penal settlements of the colony.

Chapter V.

Maurice Frere's Good Angel.

AT this happy conclusion to his labours, Frere went down to comfort the girl for whose sake he had suffered Rex to escape the gallows. On his way he was met by a man who touched his hat, and asked to speak with him an instant. This man was past middle age, owned a red brandy-beaten face, and had in his gait and manner that nameless something that denotes the seaman.

“Well, Blunt,” says Frere, pausing with the impatient air of a man who expects to hear bad news, “what is it now?”

“Only to tell you that it is all right, sir,” says Blunt. “She's come aboard again this morning.”

“Come aboard again!” ejaculated Frere. “Why, I didn't know that she had been ashore. Where did she go?” He spoke with an air of confident authority, and Blunt—no longer the bluff tyrant of old—seemed to quail before him. The trial of the mutineers of the Malabar had ruined Phineas Blunt. Make what excuses he might, there was no concealing the fact that Pine found him drunk in his cabin when he ought to have been

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attending to his duties on deck, and the “authorities” could not, or would not, pass over such a heinous breach of discipline. Captain Blunt—who, of course, had his own version of the story—thus deprived of the honour of bringing His Majesty's prisoners to His Majesty's colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, went on a whaling cruise to the South Seas. The influence which Sarah Purfoy had acquired over him had, however, irretrievably injured him. It was as though she had poisoned his moral nature by the influence of a clever and wicked woman over a sensual and dull-witted man. Blunt gradually sank lower and lower. He became a drunkard, and was known as a man with a “grievance against the Government.” Captain Frere, having had occasion for him in some capacity, had become in a manner his patron, and had got him the command of a schooner trading from Sydney. On getting this command—not without some wry faces on the part of the owner resident in Hobart Town—Blunt had taken the temperance pledge for the space of twelve months, and was a miserable dog in consequence. He was, however, a faithful henchman, for he hoped by Frere's means to get some “Government billet”—the grand object of all colonial sea captains of that epoch.

“Well, sir, she went ashore to see a friend,” says Blunt, looking at the sky and then at the earth.

“What friend?”

“The—the prisoner, sir.”

“And she saw him, I suppose?”

“Yes, but I thought I'd better tell you, sir,” says Blunt.

“Of course; quite right,” returned the other; “you had better start at once. It's no use waiting.”

“As you wish, sir. I can sail to-morrow morning—or this evening, if you like.”

“This evening,” says Frere, turning away; “as soon as possible.”

“There's a situation in Sydney I've been looking after,” said the other, uneasily, “if you could help me to it.”

“What is it?”

“The command of one of the Government vessels, sir.”

“Well, keep sober, then,” says Frere, “and I'll see what I can do. And keep that woman's tongue still if you can.”

The pair looked at each other, and Blunt grinned slavishly.

“I'll do my best.”

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“Take care you do,” returned his patron, leaving him without further ceremony.

Frere found Vickers in the garden, and at once begged him not to talk about the “business” to his daughter.

“You saw how bad she was to-day, Vickers. For goodness' sake don't make her ill again.”

“My dear sir,” says poor Vickers, “I won't refer to the subject. She's been very unwell ever since. Nervous and unstrung. Go in and see her.”

So Frere went in and soothed the excited girl, with real sorrow at her suffering.

“It's all right now, Poppet,” he said to her. “Don't think of it any more. Put it out of your mind, dear.”

“It was foolish of me, Maurice, I know, but I could not help it. The sound of—of—that man's voice seemed to bring back to me some great pity for something or some one. I don't explain what I mean, I know, but I felt that I was just on the verge of remembering a story of some great wrong, just about to hear some dreadful revelation that should make me turn from all the people whom I ought most to love. Do you understand?”

“I think I know what you mean,” says Frere, with averted face. “But that's all nonsense, you know.”

“Of course,” returned she, with a touch of her old childish manner of disposing of questions out of hand. “Everybody knows it's all nonsense. But then we do think such things. It seems to me that I am double, that I have lived somewhere before, and have had another life—a dream-life.”

“What a romantic girl you are,” said the other, dimly comprehending her meaning. “How could you have a dream-life?”

“Of course not, really, stupid. But in thought, you know. I dream such strange things now and then. I am always falling down precipices and into cataracts, and being pushed into great caverns in enormous rocks. Horrible dreams!”

“Indigestion,” returned Frere. “You don't take exercise enough. You shouldn't read so much. Have a good five-mile walk.”

“And in these dreams,” continued Sylvia, not heeding his interruption, “there is one strange thing. You are always there Maurice.”

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“Come, that's all right,” says Maurice.

“Ah, but not kind and good as you are, Captain Bruin, but scowling, and threatening, and angry, so that I am afraid of you.”

“But that is only a dream, darling.”

“Yes, but ——” playing with the button of his coat.

“But what?”

“But you looked just so to-day in the Court, Maurice, and I think that's what made me so silly.”

“My darling! There! Hush—don't cry!”

But she had burst into a passion of sobs and tears, that shook her slight figure in his arms.

“Oh, Maurice, I am a wicked girl! I don't know my own mind. I think sometimes I don't love you as I ought—you who have saved me and nursed me.”

“There, never mind about that,” muttered Maurice Frere, with a sort of choking in his throat.

She grew more composed presently, and said, after a while, lifting her face—“Tell me, Maurice, did you ever, in those days of which you have spoken to me—when you nursed me as a little child in your arms, and fed me, and starved for me—did you ever think we should be married?”

“I don't know,” says Maurice. “Why?”

“I think you must have thought so, because—it's not vanity, dear—you would not else have been so kind, and gentle, and devoted.”

“Nonsense, Poppet,” he said, with his eyes resolutely averted.

“No, but you have been, and I am very pettish, sometimes. Papa has spoiled me. You are always affectionate, and those worrying ways of yours, which I get angry at, all come from love for me, don't they?”

“I hope so,” said Maurice, with an unwonted moisture in his eyes.

“Well, you see, that is the reason why I am angry with myself for not loving you as I ought. I want you to like the things I like, and to love the books and the music and the pictures and the—the World I love; and I forget that you are a man, you know, and I am only a girl; and I forget how nobly you behaved, Maurice, and how unselfishly you risked your life for mine. Why, what is the matter, dear?”

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He had put her away from him suddenly, and gone to the window, gazing across the sloping garden at the bay below, sleeping in the soft evening light. The schooner which had brought the witnesses from Port Arthur lay off the shore, and the yellow flag at her mast fluttered gently in the cool evening breeze. The sight of this flag appeared to anger him, for, as his eyes fell on it, he uttered an impatient exclamation, and turned round again.

“Maurice!” she cried, “I have wounded you!”

“No, no. It is nothing,” said he, with the air of a man surprised in a moment of weakness. “I—I did not like to hear you talk in this way—about not loving me.”

“Ah, forgive me, dear; I did not mean to hurt you. It is my silly way of saying more than I mean. How could I do otherwise than love you—after all you have done?”

Some sudden desperate whim caused him to exclaim, “But suppose I had not done all you think, would you not love me still?”

Her eyes, raised to his face with anxious tenderness for the pain she had believed herself to have inflicted, fell at this speech.

“What a question! I don't know. I suppose I should; yet—but what is the use, Maurice, of supposing? I know you have done it, and that is enough. How can I say what I might have done if something else had happened? Why, you might not have loved me.”

If there had been for a moment any sentiment of remorse in his selfish heart, the hesitation of her answer went far to dispel it.

“To be sure, that's true,” and he placed his arm round her.

She lifted her face again with a bright laugh.

“We are a pair of geese—supposing! How can we help what has past? We have the Future, darling—the Future, in which I am to be your little wife, and we are to love each other all our lives, like the people in the story-books.”

Temptation to evil had often come to Maurice Frere, and his selfish nature had succumbed to it when in far less witching shape than this fair and innocent child luring him with wistful eyes to win her. What hopes had he not built upon her love; what good resolutions had he not made by reason of the purity and goodness she was to bring to him? As she said, the past

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was beyond recall; the future—in which she was to love him all her life—was before them. With the hypocrisy of selfishness which deceives even itself, he laid the little head upon his heart with a sensible glow of virtue.

“God bless you, darling! You are my good angel.”

The girl sighed. “I will be your good angel, dear, if you will let me.”

Chapter VI.

Mr. Meekin Administers Consolation.

REX told Mr. Meekin, who, the next day, did him the honour to visit him, that, “under Providence, he owed his escape from death to the kind manner in which Captain Frere had spoken of him.”

“I hope your escape will be a warning to you, my man,” said Mr. Meekin, “and that you will endeavour to make the rest of your life, thus spared by the mercy of Providence, an atonement for your early errors.”

“Indeed I will, sir,” said John Rex, who had taken Mr. Meekin's measure very accurately, “and it is very kind of you to condescend to speak so to a wretch like me.”

“Not at all,” said Meekin, with affability; “it is my duty. I am a Minister of the Gospel.”

“Ah! sir, I wish I had attended to the Gospel's teachings when I was younger. I might have been saved from all this.”

“You might, indeed, poor man; but the Divine Mercy is infinite—quite infinite, and will be extended to all of us—to you as well as to me.” (This with the air of saying, “What do you think of that!”) “Remember the penitent thief, Rex,—the penitent thief.”

“Indeed I do, sir.”

“And read your Bible, Rex, and pray for strength to bear your punishment.”

“I will, Mr. Meekin. I need it sorely, sir—physical as well as spiritual strength, sir—for the Government allowance is sadly insufficient.”

“I will speak to the authorities about a change in your

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dietary scale,” returned Meekin, patronizingly. “In the mean time, just collect together in your mind those particulars of your adventures of which you spoke, and have them ready for me when next I call. Such a remarkable history ought not to be lost.”

“Thank you kindly, sir. I will, sir. Ah! I little thought when I occupied the position of a gentleman, Mr. Meekin”—the cunning scoundrel had been piously grandiloquent concerning his past career—“that I should be reduced to this. But it is only just, sir.”

“The mysterious workings of Providence are always just, Rex,” returned Meekin, who preferred to speak of the Almighty with well-bred vagueness. “I am glad to see you so conscious of your errors. Good morning.”

“Good morning, and Heaven bless you, sir,” said Rex, with his tongue in his cheek for the benefit of his yard mates; and so Mr. Meekin tripped gracefully away, convinced that he was labouring most successfully in the Vineyard, and that the convict Rex was really a superior person.

“I will send his narrative to the Bishop,” said he to himself. “It will amuse him. There must be many strange histories here, if one could but find them out.”

As the thought passed through his brain, his eye fell upon the “notorious Dawes,” who, while waiting for the schooner to take him back to Port Arthur, had been permitted to amuse himself by breaking stones. The prison-shed which Mr. Meekin was visiting was long and low, roofed with iron, and terminating at each end in the stone wall of the gaol. At one side rose the cells, at the other the outer wall of the prison. From the outer wall projected a weatherboard under-roof, and beneath this were seated forty heavily-ironed convicts. Two constables, with loaded carbines, walked up and down the clear space in the middle, and another watched from a sort of sentry-box built against the main wall. Every half-hour a third constable went down the line and examined the irons. The admirable system of solitary confinement—which in average cases produces insanity in the space of twelve months—was as yet unknown in Hobart Town, and the forty heavily-ironed men had the pleasure of seeing each other's faces every day for six hours.

The other inmates of the prison were at work on the roads

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or otherwise bestowed in the day time, but the forty were judged too desperate to be let loose. They sat, three feet apart, in two long lines, each man with a heap of stones between his outstretched legs, and cracked the pebbles in leisurely fashion. The double row of dismal woodpeckers tapping at this terribly hollow beech-tree of penal discipline had a semi-ludicrous appearance. It seemed so painfully absurd that forty muscular men should be ironed and guarded for no better purpose than the cracking of a cart-load of quartz-pebbles. In the mean time the air was heavy with angry glances shot from one to the other, and the passage of the parson was hailed by a grumbling undertone of blasphemy. It was considered fashionable to grunt when the hammer came in contact with the stone, and under cover of this mock exclamation of fatigue, it was convenient to launch an oath. A fanciful visitor, seeing the irregularly rising hammers along the line, might have likened the shed to the interior of some vast piano, whose notes an unseen hand was erratically fingering. Rufus Dawes was seated last of the line—his back to the cells, his face to the gaol wall. This was the place nearest the watching constable, and was allotted on that account to the most ill-favoured. Some of his companions envied him that melancholy distinction.

“Well, Dawes,” says Mr. Meekin, measuring with his eye the distance between the prisoner and himself, as one might measure the chain of some ferocious dog. “How are you this morning, Dawes?”

Dawes, scowling in a parenthesis between the cracking of two stones, was understood to say that he was very well.

“I am afraid, Dawes,” said Mr. Meekin reproachfully, “that you have done yourself no good by your outburst in court on Monday. I understand that public opinion is quite incensed against you.”

Dawes, slowly arranging one large fragment of bluestone in a comfortable basin of smaller fragments, made no reply.

“I am afraid you lack patience, Dawes. You do not repent of your offences against the law, I fear.”

The only answer vouchsafed by the ironed man—if answer it could be called—was a savage blow, which split the stone into sudden fragments, and made the clergyman skip a step backward.

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“You are a hardened ruffian, sir! Do you not hear me speak to you?”

“I hear you,” said Dawes, picking up another stone.

“Then listen respectfully, sir,” said Meekin, roseate with celestial anger. “You have all day to break those stones.”

“Yes, I have all day,” returned Rufus Dawes, with a dogged look upward, “and all next day, for that matter. Ugh!” and again the hammer descended.

“I came to console you, man—to console you,” says Meekin, indignant at the contempt with which his well-meant overtures had been received. “I wanted to give you some good advice!”

The self-important annoyance of the tone seemed to appeal to whatever vestige of appreciation for the humorous, chains and degradation had suffered to linger in the convict's brain, for a faint smile crossed his features.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said. “Pray go on.”

“I was going to say, my good fellow, that you have done yourself a great deal of injury by your ill-advised accusation of Captain Frere, and the use you made of Miss Vickers's name.”

A frown, as of pain, contracted the prisoner's brows, and he seemed with difficulty to put a restraint upon his speech. “Is there to be no inquiry, Mr. Meekin?” he asked, at length. “What I stated was the truth—the truth, so help me God!”

“No blasphemy, sir,” said Meekin, solemnly. “No blasphemy, wretched man. Do not add to the sin of lying the greater sin of taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain. He will not hold him guiltless, Dawes. He will not hold him guiltless, remember. No, there is to be no inquiry.”

“Are they not going to ask her for her story?” asked Dawes, with a pitiful change of manner. “They told me that she was to be asked. Surely they will ask her.”

“I am not, perhaps, at liberty,” says Meekin, placidly unconscious of the agony of despair and rage that made the voice of the strong man before him quiver, “to state the intentions of the authorities, but I can tell you that Miss Vickers will not be asked anything about you. You are to go back to Port Arthur on the 24th, and to remain there.”

A groan burst from Rufus Dawes; a groan so full of torture, that even the comfortable Meekin was thrilled by it.

“It is the Law, you know, my good man. I can't help it,” he said. “You shouldn't break the Law, you know.”

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“Curse the Law!” cries Dawes. “It's a Bloody Law; it's —— there, I beg your pardon,” and he fell to cracking his stones again, with a laugh that was more terrible in its bitter hopelessness of winning attention or sympathy, than any outburst of passion could have been.

“Come,” says Meekin, feeling uneasily constrained to bring forth some of his London-learnt platitudes. “You can't complain. You have broken the Law, and you must suffer. Civilized Society says you sha'n't do certain things, and if you do them you must suffer the penalty Civilized Society imposes. You are not wanting in intelligence, Dawes, more's the pity—and you can't deny the justice of that.”

Rufus Dawes, as if disdaining to answer in words, cast his eyes round the yard with a glance that seemed to ask grimly if Civilized Society was progressing quite in accordance with justice, when its civilization created such places as that stone-walled, carbine-guarded prison-shed, and filled it with such creatures as those forty human beasts, doomed to spend the best years of their manhood cracking pebbles in it.

“You don't deny that?” asked the smug parson, “do you, Dawes?”

“It's not my place to argue with you, sir,” said Dawes, in a tone of indifference, born of lengthened suffering, so nicely balanced between contempt and respect, that the inexperienced Meekin could not tell whether he had made a convert, or subjected himself to an impertinence; “but I'm a prisoner for life, and don't look at it in the same way that you do.”

This view of the question did not seem to have occurred to Mr. Meekin, for his mild cheek flushed. Certainly, the fact of being a prisoner for life did make some difference. The sound of the noonday bell, however, warned him to cease argument, and to take his consolations out of the way of the mustering prisoners.

With a great clanking and clashing of irons, the forty rose and stood each by his stone-heap. The third constable came round, rapping the leg-irons of each man with easy nonchalance, and roughly pulling up the coarse trousers (made with buttoned flaps at the sides, like Mexican calzoneros, in order to give free play to the ankle fetters), so that he might assure himself that no tricks had been played since his last visit. As each man passed this ordeal he saluted, and clanked, with wide-spread

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legs, to his place in the double line. Mr. Meekin, though not a patron of field sports, found something in the scene that reminded him of a blacksmith picking up horses' feet to examine the soundness of their shoes.

“Upon my word,” he said to himself, with a momentary pang of genuine compassion, “it is a dreadful way to treat human beings. I don't wonder at that wretched creature groaning under it. But, bless me, it is near one o'clock, and I promised to lunch with Major Vickers at two. How time flies, to besure!”

Chapter VII.

Rufus Dawes's Idyll.

THAT afternoon, while Mr. Meekin was digesting his lunch, and chatting airily with Sylvia, Rufus Dawes began to brood over a desperate scheme. The intelligence that the investigation he had hoped for was not to be granted to him had rendered doubly bitter those galling fetters of self-restraint which he had laid upon himself. For five years of desolation he had waited and hoped for a chance which might bring him to Hobart Town, and enable him to denounce the treachery of Maurice Frere. He had, by an almost miraculous accident, obtained that chance of open speech, and, having obtained it, he found that he was not allowed to speak. All the hopes he had formed were dashed to earth. All the calmness with which he had forced himself to bear his fate was now turned into bitterest rage and fury. Instead of one enemy he had twenty. All—judge, jury, gaoler, and parson—were banded together to work him evil and deny him right. The whole world was his foe: there was no honesty or truth in any living creature—save one.

During the dull misery of his convict life at Port Arthur one bright memory shone upon him like a star. In the depth of his degradation, at the height of his despair, he cherished one pure and ennobling thought—the thought of the child whom he had saved, and who loved him. When, on board the whaler that had rescued him from the burning boat, he had felt that the sailors, believing in Frere's bluff lies, shrunk from the

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moody felon, he had gained strength to be silent, by thinking of the suffering child. When poor Mrs. Vickers died, making no sign, and thus the chief witness to his heroism perished before his eyes, the thought that the child was left had restrained his selfish regrets. When Frere, handing him over to the authorities as an absconder, ingeniously twisted the details of the boat-building to his own glorification, the knowledge that Sylvia would assign to these pretensions their true value had given him courage to keep silence. So strong was his belief in her gratitude, that he scorned to beg for the pardon he had taught himself to believe that she would ask for him. So utter was his contempt for the coward and boaster who, dressed in brief authority, bore insidious false witness against him, that, when he heard his sentence of life banishment, he disdained to make known the true part he had played in the matter, preferring to wait for the more exquisite revenge, the more complete justification which would follow upon the recovery of the child from her illness. But when, at Port Arthur, day after day passed over, and brought no word of pity or justification, he began, with a sickening feeling of despair, to comprehend that something strange had happened. He was told by new comers that the child of the Commandant lay still sick and near to death. Then he heard that she and her father had left the colony, and that all prospect of her righting him by her evidence was at an end. This news gave him a terrible pang; and at first he was inclined to break out into upbraidings of her selfishness. But, with that depth of love which was in him, albeit crusted over and concealed by the sullenness of speech and manner which his sufferings had produced, he found excuses for her even then. She was ill. She was in the hands of friends who loved her, and disregarded him; perhaps, even her entreaties and explanations were put aside as childish babblings. She would free him if she had the power. Then he wrote “statements,” agonized to see the Commandant, pestered the gaolers and warders with the story of his wrongs, and inundated the Government with letters, which, containing, as they did always, denunciations of Maurice Frere, were never suffered to reach their destination. The authorities, willing at the first to look kindly upon him in consideration of his strange experience, grew weary of this perpetual iteration of what they believed to be malicious falsehoods, and ordered him heavier tasks and

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more continuous labour. They mistook his gloom for treachery, his impatient outbursts of passion at his fate for ferocity, his silent endurance for dangerous cunning. As he had been at Macquarie Harbour, so did he become at Port Arthur—a marked man. Despairing of winning his coveted liberty by fair means, and horrified at the hideous prospect of a life in chains, he twice attempted to escape, but escape was even more hopeless than it had been at Hell's Gates. The Peninsula of Port Arthur was admirably guarded, signal stations drew a chain round the prison, an armed boat's crew watched each bay, and across the narrow isthmus which connected it with the mainland was a cordon of watch-dogs, in addition to the soldier guard. He was retaken, of course, flogged, and weighted with heavier irons. The second time, they sent him to the Coal Mines, where the prisoners lived underground, worked half naked, and dragged their inspecting gaolers in waggons upon iron tramways, when such great people condescended to visit them. The day on which he started for this place he heard that Sylvia was dead, and his last hope went from him.

Then began with him a new religion. He worshipped the dead. For the living, he had but hatred and evil words; for the dead, he had love and tender thoughts. Instead of the phantoms of his vanished youth which were once wont to visit him, he saw now but one vision—the vision of the child who had loved him. Instead of conjuring up for himself pictures of that home circle in which he had once moved, and those creatures who in the past years had thought him worthy of esteem and affection, he placed before himself but one idea, one embodiment of happiness, one being who was without sin and without stain, among all the monsters of that pit into which he had fallen. Around the figure of the innocent child who had lain in his breast, and laughed at him with her red young mouth, he grouped every image of happiness and love. Having banished from his thoughts all hope of resuming his name and place, he pictured to himself some quiet nook at the world's end—a deep-gardened house in a German country town, or remote cottage by the English seashore, where he and his dream-child might have lived together, happier in a purer affection than the love of man for woman. He bethought him how he could have taught her out of the strange store of learning which his roving life had won for him, how he could

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have confided to her his-real name, and perhaps purchase for her wealth and honour by reason of it. Yet,—he thought, she would not care for wealth and honour, she would prefer a quiet life,—a life of unassuming usefulness, a life devoted to good deeds, to charity and love. He could see her—in his visions—reading by a cheery fireside, wandering in summer woods, or lingering by the marge of the slumbering mid-day sea. He could feel—in his dreams—her soft arms about his neck, her innocent kisses on his lips, he could hear her light laugh, and see her sunny ringlets float, back-blown, as she ran to meet him. Conscious that she was dead, and that he did to her gentle memory no disrespect by linking her fortunes to those of a wretch who had seen so much of evil as himself, he loved to think of her as still living, and to plot out for her and for himself impossible plans of future happiness. In the noisome darkness of the mine, in the glaring light of the noonday—dragging at his loaded waggon, he could see her ever with him, her calm eyes gazing lovingly on his, as they had gazed in the boat so long ago. She never seemed to grow older, she never seemed to wish to leave him. It was only when his misery became too great for him to bear, and he cursed and blasphemed, mingling for a time in the hideous mirth of his companions, that the little figure fled away. Thus dreaming, he had shaped out for himself a sorrowful comfort, and in his dream-world found a compensation for the terrible affliction of living. Indifference to his present sufferings took possession of him; only at the bottom of this indifference lurked a fixed hatred of the man who had brought these sufferings upon him, and a determination to demand at the first opportunity a reconsideration of that man's claims to be esteemed a hero. It was in this mood that he had intended to make the revelation which he had made in court, but the intelligence that Sylvia lived unmanned him, and his prepared speech had been usurped by a passionate torrent of complaint and invective, which convinced no one, and gave Frere the very argument he needed. It was decided that the prisoner Dawes was a malicious and artful scoundrel, whose only object was to gain a brief respite of the punishment which he had so justly earned. Against this injustice he had resolved to rebel. It was monstrous, he thought, that they should refuse to hear the witness who was so ready to speak in his favour, infamous that they should send him

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back to his doom without allowing her to say a word in his defence. But he would defeat that scheme. He had planned a method of escape, and he would break from his bonds, fling himself at her feet, and pray her to speak the truth for him, and so save him. Strong in his faith in her, and with his love for her brightened by the love he had borne to her dream-image, he felt sure of her power to rescue him now, as he had rescued her before. “If she knew I was alive, she would come to me,” he said. “I am sure she would. Perhaps they told her that I was dead.”

Meditating that night in the solitude of his cell—his evil character had gained him the poor luxury of loneliness—he almost wept to think of the cruel deception that had doubtless been practised on her. “They have told her that I was dead, in order that she might learn to forget me; but she could not do that. I have thought of her so often during these weary years, that she must sometimes have thought of me. Five years! She must be a woman now. My little child a woman! Yet she is sure to be childlike, sweet, and gentle. How she will grieve when she hears of my sufferings. Oh! my darling, my darling, you are not dead!” And then, looking hastily about him in the darkness, as though fearful even there of being seen, he pulled from out his breast a little packet, and felt it lovingly with his coarse, toil-worn fingers, reverently raising it to his lips, and dreaming over it, with a smile on his face, as though it were a sacred talisman that should open to him the doors of freedom.

Chapter VIII.

An Escape.

A FEW days after this—on the 23rd of December—Maurice Frere was alarmed by a piece of startling intelligence. The notorious Dawes had escaped from gaol!

Captain Frere had inspected the prison that very afternoon, and it had seemed to him that the hammers had never fallen so briskly, nor the chains clanked so gaily, as on the occasion of his visit. “Thinking of their Christmas holiday, the dogs!”

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he had said to the patrolling warder. “Thinking of their Christmas pudding, the luxurious scoundrels!” and the convict nearest him had laughed appreciatively, as convicts and schoolboys do laugh at the jests of the man in authority. All seemed contentment. Moreover, he had—by way of a pleasant stroke of wit—tormented Rufus Dawes with his ill-fortune. “The schooner sails to-morrow, my man,” he had said; “you'll spend your Christmas at the mines.” And congratulated himself upon the fact that Rufus Dawes merely touched his cap, and went on with his stone-cracking in silence. Certainly double irons and hard labour were fine things to break a man's spirit. So that, when in the afternoon of the same day he heard the astounding news that Rufus Dawes had freed himself from his fetters, climbed the gaol wall in broad daylight, run the gauntlet of Macquarie-street, and was now supposed to be safely hidden in the mountains, he was dumbfounded.

“How the deuce did he do it, Jenkins?” he asked, as soon as he reached the yard.

“Well, I'm blessed if I rightly know, your honour,” says Jenkins. “He was over the wall before you could say ‘knife.’ Scott fired and missed him, and then I heard the sentry's musket, but he missed him, too.”

“Missed him!” cries Frere. “Pretty fellows you are, all of you! I suppose you couldn't hit a haystack at twenty yards? Why, the man wasn't three feet from the end of your carbine!”

The unlucky Scott, standing in melancholy attitude by the empty irons, muttered something about the sun having been in his eyes. “I don't know how it was, sir. I ought to have hit him, for certain. I think I did touch him, too, as he went up the wall.”

A stranger to the customs of the place might have imagined that he was listening to a conversation about a pigeon match.

“Tell me all about it,” says Frere, with an angry curse.

“I was just turning, your honour, when I hears Scott sing out ‘Hullo!’ and when I turned round, I saw Dawes's irons on the ground, and him a scrambling up the heap o' stones yonder. The two men on my right jumped up, and I thought it was a made-up thing among 'em, so I covered 'em with my carbine, according to instructions, and called out that I'd shoot the first that stepped out. Then I heard Scott's piece, and the men gave a shout like. When I looked round, he was gone.”

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“Nobody else moved?”

“No, sir. I was confused at first, and thought they were all in it, but Parton and Haines they runs in and gets between me and the wall, and then Mr. Short he come, and we examined their irons.”

“All right?”

“All right, your honour; and they all swore they knowed nothing of it. I know Dawes's irons was all right when he went to dinner.”

Frere stooped and examined the empty fetters. “All right be hanged,” he said. “If you don't know your duty better than this, the sooner you go somewhere else the better, my man. Look here!”

The two ankle fetters were severed. One had been evidently filed through, and the other broken transversely. The latter was bent, as from a violent blow.

“Don't know where he got the file from,” said Warder Short.

“Know! Of course you don't know. You men never do know anything until the mischief's done. You want me here for a month or so. I'd teach you your duty! Don't know—with things like this lying about? I wonder the whole yard isn't loose and dining with the Governor.”

This” was a fragment of delft which Frere's quick eye had detected among the broken metal.

“I'd cut the biggest iron you've got with this; and so would he and plenty more, I'll go bail. You ought to have lived with me at Sarah Island, Mr. Short. Don't know!”

“Well, Captain Frere, it's an accident,” says Short, “and can't be helped now.”

“An accident!” roared Frere. “What business have you with accidents? How, in the devil's name, you let the man get over the wall, I don't know.”

“He ran up that stone heap,” says Scott, “and seemed to me to jump at the roof of the shed. I fired at him, and he swung his legs over the top of the wall and dropped.”

Frere measured the distance from his eye, and an irrepressible feeling of admiration, arising out of his own skill in athletics, took possession of him for the instant.

“By the Lord Harry, but it's a big jump!” he said; and then the instinctive fear with which the consciousness of the hideous

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wrong he had done the now escaped convict inspired him, made him add—“A desperate villain like that wouldn't stick at a murder if you pressed him hard. Which way did he go?”

“Right up Macquarie-street, and then made for the Mountain. There were few people about, but Mr. Mays, of the Star Hotel, tried to stop him, and was knocked head over heels. He says the fellow runs like a deer.”

“We'll have the reward out if we don't get him to-night,” says Frere, turning away; “and you'd better put on an extra warder. This sort of game is catching;” and he strode away to the Barracks.

From right to left, from east to west, through the prison city flew the signal of alarm, and the patrol, clattering out along the road to New Norfolk, made hot haste to strike the trail of the fugitive. But night came and found him yet at large, and the patrol returning, weary and disheartened, protested that he must be lying hid in some gorge of the purple mountain that overshadowed the town, and would have to be starved into submission. Meanwhile the usual message ran through the island, and so admirable were the arrangements which Arthur the reformer had initiated, that, before noon of the next day, not a signal station on the coast but knew that No. 8942, etc., etc., prisoner for life, was illegally at large. This intelligence, further aided by a paragraph in the Gazette anent the “Daring Escape,” noised abroad, the world cared little that the Mary Fane, Government schooner, had sailed for Port Arthur without Rufus Dawes.

But two or three persons cared a good deal. Major Vickers, for one, was indignant that his boasted security of bolts and bars should have been so easily defied, and in proportion to his indignation was the grief of Messieurs Jenkins, Scott, and Co., suspended from office, and threatened with absolute dismissal. Mr. Meekin was terribly frightened at the fact that so dangerous a monster should be roaming at large within reach of his own saintly person. Sylvia had shown symptoms of nervous terror, none the less injurious because carefully repressed; and Captain Maurice Frere was a prey to the most cruel anxiety. He had ridden off at a hand-gallop within ten minutes after he had reached the barracks, and had spent the few hours of remaining daylight in scouring the country along the road to

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the North. At dawn the next day he was away to the Mountain, and with a black-tracker at his heels, explored as much of that wilderness of gully and chasm as nature permitted to him. He had offered to double the reward, and had examined a number of suspicious persons. It was known that he had been inspecting the prison a few hours before the escape took place, and his efforts were therefore attributed to zeal, not unmixed with chagrin. “Our dear friend feels his reputation at stake,” the future chaplain of Port Arthur said to Sylvia at the Christmas dinner. “He is so proud of his knowledge of these unhappy men that he dislikes to be outwitted by any of them.”

Notwithstanding all this, however, Dawes had disappeared. The fat landlord of the Star Hotel was the last person who saw him, and the flying yellow figure seemed to have been as completely swallowed up by the warm summer's afternoon as if it had run headlong into the blackest night that ever hung above the earth.

Chapter IX.

John Rex's Letter Home.

THE “little gathering” of which Major Vickers had spoken to Mr. Meekin, had grown into something larger than he had anticipated. Instead of a quiet dinner at which his own household, his daughter's betrothed, and the stranger clergyman only should be present, the Major found himself entangled with Mesdames Protherick and Jellicoe, Mr. McNab of the garrison, and Mr. Pounce of the civil list. His quiet Christmas dinner had grown into an evening party.

The conversation was on the usual topic.

“Heard anything about that fellow Dawes?” asked Mr. Pounce.

“Not yet,” says Frere, sulkily; “but he won't be out long. I've got a dozen men up the mountain.”

“I suppose it is not easy for a prisoner to make good his escape?” says Meekin.

“Oh, he needn't be caught,” says Frere, “if that's what you mean, but he'll starve instead. The bushranging days are over

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now, and it's a precious poor look-out for any man to live upon luck in the bush.”

“Indeed, yes,” says Mr. Pounce, lapping his soup. “This island seems specially adapted by Providence for a convict settlement; for with an admirable climate, it carries little indigenous vegetation which will support human life.”

“Wull,” said McNab to Sylvia, “I don't think Prauvidence had any thocht o' caunveect deeciplin whun He created the cauleny o' Van Deemen's Lan'.”

“Neither do I,” said Sylvia.

“I don't know,” says Mrs. Protherick. “Poor Protherick used often to say that it seemed as if some Almighty Hand had planned the Penal Settlements round the coast, the country is so delightfully barren.”

“Ay, Port Arthur couldn't have been better if it had been made on purpose,” says Frere; “and all up the coast from Tenby to St. Helen's there isn't a scrap for human being to make a meal on. The West Coast is worse. By George, sir, in the old days, I remember ——”

“By the way,” says Meekin, “I've got something to show you. Rex's confession. I brought it down on purpose.”

“Rex's confession!”

“His account of his adventures after he left Macquarie Harbour. I am going to send it to the Bishop.”

“Oh, I should like to see it,” said Sylvia, with heightened colour. “The story of these unhappy men has a personal interest for me, you know.”

“A forbidden subject, Poppet.”

“No, papa, not altogether forbidden; for it does not affect me now as it used to do. You must let me read it, Mr. Meekin.”

“A pack of lies, I expect,” said Frere, with a scowl. “That scoundrel Rex couldn't tell the truth to save his life.”

“You misjudge him, Captain Frere,” said Meekin. “All the prisoners are not hardened in iniquity like Rufus Dawes. Rex is, I believe, truly penitent, and has written a most touching letter to his father.”

“A letter!” said Vickers. “You know that, by the King's—no, the Queen's regulations, no letters are allowed to be sent to the friends of prisoners without first passing through the hands of the authorities.”

“I am aware of that, Major, and for that reason have brought

  ― 243 ―
it with me, that you may read it for yourself. It seems to me to breathe a spirit of true piety.”

“Let's have a look at it,” said Frere.

“Here it is,” returned Meekin, producing a packet: “and when the cloth is removed, I will ask permission of the ladies to read it aloud. It is most interesting.”

A glance of surprise passed between the ladies Protherick and Jellicoe. The idea of a convict's letter proving interesting! Mr. Meekin was new to the ways of the place.

Frere, turning the packet between his fingers, read the address:

John Rex, sen.,

Care of Mr. Blick,            

38, Bishopsgate Street Within,   


“Why can't he write to his father direct?” said he. “Who's Blick?”

“A worthy merchant, I am told, in whose counting-house the unfortunate Rex passed his younger days. He had a tolerable education, as you are aware.”

“Educated prisoners are always the worst,” said Vickers. “James, some more wine. We don't drink toasts here, but as this is Christmas Eve—‘Her Majesty the Queen!’”

“Hear, hear, hear!” says Maurice. “‘Her Majesty the Queen!’”

Having drunk this loyal toast with due fervour, Vickers proposed, “His Excellency Sir John Franklin,” which toast was likewise duly honoured.

“Here's a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, sir,” said Frere, with the letter still in his hand. “God bless us all.”

“Amen!” says Meekin piously. “Let us hope He will; and now, leddies, the letter. I will read you the Confession afterwards.” Opening the packet with the satisfaction of a Gospel vineyard labourer who sees his first vine sprouting, the good creature began:

“‘Hobart Town, Dec. 27th, 1838.

“MY DEAR FATHER,—Through all the chances, changes, and vicissitudes of my chequered life, I never had a task so painful to my mangled feelings

  ― 244 ―
as the present one, of addressing you from this doleful spot—my sea-girt prison, on the beach of which I stand a monument of destruction; driven by the adverse winds of fate to the confines of black despair, and into the vortex of galling misery.”

“Poetical!” said Frere.

“‘I am just like a gigantic tree of the forest which has stood many a wintry blast and stormy tempest, but now, alas! I am become a withered trunk, with all my greenest and tenderest branches lopped off. Though fast attaining middle age, I am not filling an envied and honoured post with credit and respect. No—I shall be soon wearing the garb of degradation, and the badge and brand of infamy at P.A., which is, being interpreted, Port Arthur, the “Villain's Home.” ’”

“Poor fellow!” said Sylvia.

“Touching, is it not?” assented Meekin, continuing,—

“‘I am, with heartrending sorrow and anguish of soul, ranged and mingled with the Outcasts of Society. My present circumstances and picture you will find well and truly drawn in the 102nd Psalm, commencing with the 4th verse to 12th inclusive, which, my dear father, I request you will read attentively before you proceed any further.’”

“Hullo!” said Frere, pulling out his pocket-book, “what's that? Read those numbers again.”

Mr. Meekin complied, and Frere grinned.

“Go on,” he said. “I'll show you something in that letter directly.”

“‘Oh, my dear father, avoid, I beg of you, the reading of profane books. Let your mind dwell upon holy things, and assiduously study to grow in grace. Psalm lxxiii. 2. Yet I have hope even in this my desolate condition. Psalm xxxv. 18. “For the Lord our God is merciful, and inclineth His ear unto pity.” ’”

“Blasphemous dog!” said Vickers. “You don't believe all that, Meekin, do you?”

The parson reproved him gently.

“Wait a moment, sir, until I have finished.”

“‘Party spirit runs very high, even in prison in Van Diemen's Land. I am sorry to say that a licentious press invariably evinces a very great degree of contumely, while the authorities are held in respect by all well-disposed persons, though it is often endeavoured by some to bring on them the hatred and contempt of prisoners. But I am glad to tell you that all their

  ― 245 ―
efforts are without avail; but, nevertheless, do not read in any colonial newspaper. There is so much scurrility and vituperation in their productions.’”

“That's for your benefit, Frere,” said Vickers, with a smile. “You remember what was said about your presence at the race meetings?”

“Of course,” said Frere. “Artful scoundrel! Go on, Mr. Meekin, pray.”

“‘I am aware that you will hear accounts of cruelty and tyranny, said, by the malicious and the evil-minded haters of the Government and Government officials, to have been inflicted by gaolers on convicts. To be candid, this is not the dreadful place it has been represented to be by vindictive writers. Severe flogging and heavy chaining is sometimes used, no doubt, but only in rare cases; and nominal punishments are marked out by law for slight breaches of discipline. So far as I have an opportunity of judging, the lash is never bestowed unless merited.’”

“As far as he is concerned, I don't doubt it!” said Frere, cracking a walnut.

“‘The texts of Scripture quoted by our chaplain have comforted me much, and I have much to be grateful for; for after the rash attempt I made to secure my freedom, I have reason to be thankful for the mercy shown to me. Death—dreadful death of soul and body—would have been my portion; but, by the mercy of Omnipotence, I have been spared to repentance—John iii. I have now come to bitterness. The chaplain, a pious gentleman, says it never really pays to steal. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.” Honesty is the best policy. I am convinced, and I would not for £1,000 repeat my evil courses—Psalm xxxviii. 14. When I think of the happy days I once passed with good Mr. Blick, in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard, and reflect that since that happy time I have recklessly plunged in sin, and stolen goods and watches, studs, rings, and jewellery, become, indeed, a common thief, I tremble with remorse, and fly to prayer—Psalm v. Oh what sinners we are! Let me hope that now I, by God's blessing placed beyond temptation, will live safely, and that some day I even may, by the will of the Lord Jesus, find mercy for my sins. Some kind of madness has method in it, but madness of sin holds us without escape. Such is, dear father, then, my hope and trust for my remaining life here—Psalm c. 74. I owe my bodily well-being to Captain Maurice Frere, who was good enough to speak of my conduct in reference to the Osprey, when, with Shires, Barker, and others, we captured that vessel. Pray for Captain Frere, my dear father. He is a good man, and though his public duty is painful and trying to his feelings, yet, as a public functionary, he could not allow his private feelings, whether of mercy or revenge, to step between him and his duty.’”

  ― 246 ―

“Confound the rascal!” said Frere, growing crimson.

“‘Remember me most affectionately to Sarah and little William, and all friends who yet cherish the recollection of me, and bid them take warning by my fate, and keep from evil courses. A good conscience is better than gold, and no amount can compensate for the misery incident to a return to crime. Whether I shall ever see you again, dear father, is more than uncertain; for my doom is life, unless the Government alter their plans concerning me, and allow me an opportunity to earn my freedom by hard work.

“‘The blessing of God rest with you, my dear father; and that you may be washed white in the blood of the Lamb is the prayer of your

“‘Unfortunate Son,         


“‘P.S.—Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be whiter than snow.’”

“Is that all?” said Frere.

“That is all, sir, and a very touching letter it is.”

“So it is,” said Frere. “Now let me have it a moment, Mr. Meekin.”

He took the paper, and referring to the numbers of the texts which he had written in his pocket-book, began to knit his brows over Mr. John Rex's impious and hypocritical production. “I thought so,” he said, at length. “Those texts were never written for nothing. It's an old trick, but cleverly done.”

“What do you mean?” said Meekin.

“Mean!” cries Frere, with a smile at his own acuteness. “This precious composition contains a very gratifying piece of intelligence for Mr. Blick, whoever he is. Some receiver, I've no doubt. Look here, Mr. Meekin. Take the letter and this pencil, and begin at the first text. The 102nd Psalm, from the 4th verse to the 12th inclusive, doesn't he say? Very good; that's nine verses, isn't it? Well, now, underscore nine consecutive words from the second word immediately following the next text quoted, ‘I have hope,’ etc. Have you got it?”

“Yes,” says Meekin, astonished, while all heads bent over the table.

“Well, now, his text is the eighteenth verse of the thirty-fifth Psalm, isn't it? Count eighteen words on, then underscore five consecutive ones. You've done that?”

“A moment—sixteen—seventeen—eighteen, ‘authorities.’”

“Count and score in the same way until you come to the

  ― 247 ―
word ‘Texts’ somewhere. Vickers, I'll trouble you for the claret.”

“Yes,” said Meekin after a pause. “Here it is—‘the texts of Scripture quoted by our chaplain.’ But surely Mr. Frere ——”

“Hold on a bit now,” cries Frere. “What's the next quotation?—John iii. That's every third word. Score every third word beginning with ‘I’ immediately following the text, now, until you come to a quotation. Got it? How many words in it?”

“‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,’” said Meekin, a little scandalized. “Fourteen words.”

“Count fourteen words on, then, and score the fourteenth. I'm up to this text-quoting business.”

“The word ‘£1,000,’” said Meekin. “Yes.”

“Then there's another text. Thirty—eight—isn't it?—Psalm and the fourteenth verse. Do that the same way as the other—count fourteen words, and then score eight in succession. Where does that bring you?”

“The fifth Psalm.”

“Every fifth word then. Go on, my dear sir—go on. ‘Method’ of ‘escape,’ yes. The hundredth Psalm means a full stop. What verse? Seventy-four. Count seventy-four words and score.”

There was a pause for a few minutes while Mr. Meekin counted. The letter had really turned out interesting.

“Read out your marked words now, Meekin. Let's see if I'm right.”

Mr. Meekin read with gradually crimsoning face:—

“‘I have hopes even in this my desolate condition…in prison Van Diemen's Land…the authorities are held in… hatred and contempt of prisoners…read in any colonial newspaper…accounts of cruelty and tyranny…inflicted by gaolers on convicts…severe flogging and heavy chaining …for slight breaches of discipline…I…come… the pious…it…pays…£1,000…in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard…stolen goods and watches studs rings and jewellery…are…now…placed…safely… I…will…find…some…method of…escape …then…for…revenge.”

“Well,” said Maurice, looking round with a grin, “what do you think of that?”

  ― 248 ―

“Most remarkable!” said Mr. Pounce.

“How did you find it out, Frere?”

“Oh, it's nothing,” says Frere; meaning that it was a great deal. “I've studied a good many of these things, and this one is clumsy to some I've seen. But it's pious, isn't it, Meekin?”

Mr. Meekin arose in wrath.

“It's very ungracious on your part, Captain Frere. A capital joke, I have no doubt; but permit me to say I do not like jesting on such matters. This poor fellow's letter to his aged father to be made the subject of heartless merriment, I confess I do not understand. It was confided to me in my sacred character as a Christian pastor.”

“That's just it. The fellows play upon the parsons, excuse me, don't you know, and under cover of your ‘sacred character,’ play all kinds of pranks. How the dog must have chuckled when he gave you that!”

“Captain Frere,” said Mr. Meekin, changing colour like a chameleon with indignation and rage, “your interpretation is, I am convinced, an incorrect one. How could the poor man compose such an ingenious piece of cryptography?”

“If you mean, fake up that paper,” returned Frere, unconsciously dropping into prison slang, “I'll tell you. He had a Bible, I suppose, while he was writing?”

“I certainly permitted him the use of the Sacred Volume, Captain Frere. I should have judged it inconsistent with the character of my Office to have refused it to him.”

“Of course. And that's just where you parsons are always putting your foot into it. If you'd put your ‘Office’ into your pocket and open your eyes a bit ——”

“Maurice! My dear Maurice!”

“I beg your pardon, Meekin,” says Maurice, with clumsy apology; “but I know these fellows. I've lived among 'em, I came out in a ship with 'em, I've talked with 'em, and drank with 'em, and I'm down to all their moves, don't you see. The Bible is the only book they get hold of, and texts are the only bits of learning ever taught 'm, and being chockfull of villainy and plots and conspiracies, what other book should they make use of to aid their infernal schemes but the one that the chaplain has made a text-book of for 'em?” And Maurice rose in disgust, not unmixed with self-laudation.

“Dear me, it is really very terrible,” said Meekin, who was

  ― 249 ―
not ill-meaning, but only self-complacent—“very terrible indeed.”

“But unhappily true,” said Mr. Pounce. “An olive? Thanks.”

“Upon me soul!” burst out honest McNab, “the hail see-stem seems to be maist ill-calculated tae advance the wark o' reeformation.”

“Mr. McNab, I'll trouble you for the port,” said equally honest Vickers, bound hand and foot in the chains of the rules of the service. And so, what seemed likely to become a dangerous discussion upon convict discipline, was stifled judiciously at the birth. But Sylvia, prompted, perhaps by curiosity, perhaps by a desire to modify the parson's chagrin, in passing Mr. Meekin, took up the “confession,” that lay unopened beside his wine glass, and bore it off.

“Come, Mr. Meekin,” said Vickers, when the door closed behind the ladies, “help yourself. I am sorry the letter turned out so strangely, but you may rely on Frere, I assure you. He knows more about convicts than any man on the island.”

“I see, Captain Frere, that you have made a study of the criminal classes.”

“So I have, my dear sir, and know every turn and twist among 'em. I tell you my maxim. It's some French fellow's too, I believe, but that don't matter—divide to conquer. Set all the dogs spying on each other.”

“Oh!” said Meekin.

“It's the only way. Why, my dear sir, if the prisoners were as faithful to each other as we are, we couldn't hold the island a week. It's just because no man can trust his neighbour that every mutiny falls to the ground.”

“I suppose it must be so,” said poor Meekin.

“It is so; and, by George, sir, if I had my way, I'd have it so that no prisoner should say a word to his right hand man, but his left hand man should tell me of it. I'd promote the men that peached, and make the beggars their own warders. Ha, ha!”

“But such a course, Captain Frere, though perhaps useful in a certain way, would surely produce harm. It would excite the worst passions of our fallen nature, and lead to endless lying and tyranny. I'm sure it would.”

“Wait a bit,” cries Frere. “Perhaps, one of these days, I'll get a chance, and then I'll try it. Convicts! By the Lord

  ― 250 ―
Harry, sir, there's only one way to treat 'em; give 'em tobacco when they behave 'emselves, and flog 'em when they don't.”

“Terrible!” says the clergyman with a shudder. “You speak of them as if they were wild beasts.”

“So they are,” said Maurice Frere, calmly.

Chapter X.

What Became of the Mutineers of the “Osprey.”

AT the bottom of the long luxuriant garden-ground was a rustic seat abutting upon the low wall that topped the lane. The branches of the English trees (planted long ago) hung above it, and between their rustling boughs one could see the reach of the silver river. Sitting with her face to the bay and her back to the house, Sylvia opened the manuscript she had carried off from Meekin, and began to read. It was written in a firm, large hand, and headed—



Sylvia, having read this grandiloquent sentence, paused for a moment. The story of the mutiny, which had been the chief event of her childhood, lay before her, and it seemed to her that, were it related truly, she should comprehend something strange and terrible, which had been for many years a shadow upon her memory. Longing, and yet fearing, to proceed, she held the paper, half unfolded, in her hand, as, in her childhood, she had held ajar the door of some dark room, into which she longed and yet feared to enter. Her timidity lasted but an instant.

  ― 251 ―

“When orders arrived from head-quarters to break up the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour, the Commandant (Major Vickers,—th Regiment) and most of the prisoners embarked on board a colonial vessel, and set sail for Hobart Town, leaving behind them a brig that had been built at Macquarie Harbour, to be brought round after them, and placing Captain Maurice Frere in command. Left aboard her was Mr. Bates, who had acted as pilot at the settlement, also four soldiers, and ten prisoners, as a crew to work the vessel. The Commandant's wife and child were also aboard.”

“How strangely it reads,” thought the girl.

“On the 12th of January, 1834, we set sail, and in the afternoon anchored safely outside the Gates; but a breeze setting in from the north-west, caused a swell on the Bar, and Mr. Bates ran back to Wellington Bay. We remained there all next day; and in the afternoon Captain Frere took two soldiers and a boat, and went a-fishing. There were then only Mr. Bates and the other two soldiers aboard, and it was proposed by William Cheshire to seize the vessel. I was at first unwilling, thinking that loss of life might ensue; but Cheshire and the others, knowing that I was acquainted with navigation—having in happier days lived much on the sea—threatened me if I refused to join. A song was started in the folksle, and one of the soldiers coming to listen to it, was seized, and Lyon and Riley then made prisoner of the sentry. Forced thus into a project with which I had at first but little sympathy, I felt my heart leap at the prospect of freedom, and would have sacrificed all to obtain it. Maddened by the desperate hopes that inspired me, I from that moment assumed the command of my wretched companions; and honestly think, that however culpable I may have been in the eyes of the law, I prevented them from the display of a violence to which their savage life had unhappily made them but too accustomed.”

“Poor fellow,” said Sylvia, beguiled by Master Rex's specious paragraphs, “I think he was not to blame.”

“Mr. Bates was below in the cabin, and on being summoned by Cheshire to surrender, with great courage attempted a

  ― 252 ―
defence. Barker fired at him through the skylight, but fearful of the lives of the Commandant's wife and child, I struck up his musket, and the ball passed through the mouldings of the stern windows. At the same time, the soldiers whom we had bound in the folksle forced up the hatch and came on deck. Cheshire shot the first one, and struck the other with his clubbed musket. The wounded man lost his footing, and the brig lurching with the rising tide, he fell into the sea. This was— by the blessing of God—the only life lost in the whole affair.

“Mr. Bates, seeing now that we had possession of the deck, surrendered, upon promise that the Commandant's wife and child should be put ashore in safety. I directed him to take such matters as he needed, and prepared to lower the jollyboat. As she swung off the davits, Captain Frere came alongside in the whale-boat, and gallantly endeavoured to board us, but the boat drifted past the vessel. I was now determined to be free—indeed, the minds of all on board were made up to carry through the business—and hailing the whale-boat, swore to fire into her unless she surrendered. Captain Frere refused, and was for boarding us again, but the two soldiers joined with us, and prevented his intention. Having now got the prisoners into the jolly-boat, we transferred Captain Frere into her, and being ourselves in the whale-boat, compelled Captain Frere and Mr. Bates to row ashore. We then took the jolly-boat in tow, and returned to the brig, a strict watch being kept for fear that they should rescue the vessel from us.

“At break of day every man was upon deck, and a consultation took place concerning the parting of the provisions. Cheshire was for leaving them to starve, but Lesly, Shires, and I held out for an equal division. After a long and violent controversy, Humanity gained the day, and the provisions were put into the whale-boat, and taken ashore. Upon the receipt of the provisions, Mr. Bates thus expressed himself: ‘Men, I did not for one moment expect such kind treatment from you, regarding the provisions you have now brought ashore for us, out of so little which there was on board. When I consider your present undertaking, without a competent navigator, and in a leaky vessel, your situation seems most perilous; therefore I hope God will prove kind to you, and preserve you from the manifold dangers you may have to encounter on the stormy ocean.’ Mrs. Vickers also was pleased to say that I had

  ― 253 ―
behaved kindly to her, that she wished me well, and that when she returned to Hobart Town she would speak in my favour. They then cheered us on our departure, wishing we might be prosperous on account of our humanity in sharing the provisions with them.

“Having had breakfast, we commenced throwing overboard the light cargo which was in the hold, which employed us until dinner-time. After dinner we ran out a small kedge-anchor with about one hundred fathoms of line, and having weighed anchor, and the tide being slack, we hauled on the kedge-line, and succeeded in this manner by kedging along, and we came to two islands, called the Cap and Bonnet. The whole of us then commenced heaving the brig short, sending the whale-boat to take her in tow, after we had tripped the anchor. By this means we got her safe across the bar. Scarcely was this done when a light breeze sprang up from the south-west, and firing a musket to apprize the party we had left of our safety, we made sail and put out to sea.”

Having read thus far, Sylvia paused in an agony of recollection. She remembered the firing of the musket, and that her mother had wept over her. But beyond this all was uncertainty. Memories slipped across her mind like shadows—she caught at them, and they were gone. Yet the reading of this strange story made her nerves thrill. Despite the hypocritical grandiloquence and affected piety of the narrative, it was easy to see that, save some warping of facts to make for himself a better case, and to extol the courage of the gaolers who had him at their mercy, the narrator had not attempted to better his tale by the invention of perils. The history of the desperate project that had been planned and carried out five years before, was related with grim simplicity which, (because it at once bears the stamp of truth, and forces the imagination of the reader to supply the omitted details of horror), is more effective to inspire sympathy than elaborate description. The very barrenness of the narration was hideously suggestive, and the girl felt her heart beat quicker as her poetic intellect rushed to complete the terrible picture sketched by the convict. She saw it all—the blue sea, the burning sun, the slowly moving ship, the wretched company on the shore; she heard—Was that a rustling in the bushes below her? A bird! How nervous she was growing!

  ― 254 ―

“Being thus fairly rid—as we thought—of our prison life, we cheerfully held consultation as to our future course. It was my intention to get among the islands in the South Seas, and scuttling the brig, to pass ourselves off among the natives as shipwrecked seamen, trusting to God's mercy that some homeward bound vessel might at length rescue us. With this view, I made James Lesly first mate, he being an experienced mariner, and prepared myself, with what few instruments we had, to take our departure from Birches Rock. Having hauled the whale-boat alongside, we stove her, together with the jollyboat, and cast her adrift. This done, I parted the landsmen with the seamen, and, steering east south-east, at eight p.m. we set our first watch. In little more than an hour after this, came on a heavy gale from the south-west. I, and others of the landsmen, were violently sea-sick, and Lesly had some difficulty in handling the brig, as the boisterous weather called for two men at the helm. In the morning, getting upon deck with difficulty, I found that the wind had abated, but upon sounding the well discovered much water in the hold. Lesly rigged the pumps, but the starboard one only could be made to work. From that time there were but two businesses aboard—from the pump to the helm. The gale lasted two days and a night, the brig running under close-reefed topsails, we being afraid to shorten sail, lest we might be overtaken by some pursuing vessel, so strong was the terror of our prison upon us.

“On the 16th, at noon, I again forced myself on deck, and taking a meridian observation, altered the course of the brig to east and by south, wishing to run to the southward of New Zealand, out of the usual track of shipping; and having a notion that, should our provisions hold out, we might make the South American coast, and fall into Christian hands. This done, I was compelled to retire below, and for a week lay in my berth as one at the last gasp. At times I repented of my resolution, Fair urging me to bestir myself, as the men were not satisfied with our course. On the 21st a mutiny occurred, led by Lyons, who asserted we were heading into the Pacific, and must infallibly perish. This disaffected man, though ignorant of navigation, insisted upon steering to the south, believing that we had run to the northward of the Friendly Islands, and was for running the ship ashore and beseeching the protection of the natives. Lesly in vain protested that a southward course

  ― 255 ―
would bring us into icefields. Barker, who had served on board a whaler, strove to convince the mutineers that the temperature of such latitudes was too warm for such an error to escape us. After much noise, Lyons rushed to the helm, and Russen, drawing one of the pistols taken from Mr. Bates, shot him dead, upon which the others returned to their duty. This dreadful deed was, I fear, necessary to the safety of the brig; and had it occurred on board a vessel manned by freemen, would have been applauded as a stern but needful measure.

“Forced by these tumults upon deck, I made a short speech to the crew, and convinced them that I was competent to perform what I had promised to do, though at the time my heart inwardly failed me, and I longed for some sign of land. Supported at each arm by Lesly and Barker, I took an observation, and altered our course to north by east, the brig running eleven knots an hour under single-reefed topsails, and the pumps hard at work. So we ran until the 31st of January, when a white squall took us, and nearly proved fatal to all aboard.

“Lesly now committed a great error, for, upon the brig righting, (she was thrown upon her beam ends, and her spanker boom carried away,) he commanded to furl the fore-top sail, strike top-gallant yards, furl the main course, and take a reef in the main-topsail, leaving her to scud under single-reefed main-topsail and fore-sail. This caused the vessel to leak to that degree that I despaired of reaching land in her, and prayed to the Almighty to send us speedy assistance. For nine days and nights the storm continued, the men being utterly exhausted. One of the two soldiers whom we had employed to fish the two pieces of the spanker boom, with some quartering that we had, was washed overboard and drowned. Our provision was now nearly done, but the gale abating on the ninth day, we hastened to put provisions on the launch. The sea was heavy, and we were compelled to put a purchase on the fore and main yards, with preventers to windward, to ease the launch in going over the side. We got her fairly afloat at last, the others battening down the hatches in the brig. Having dressed ourselves in the clothes of Captain Frere and the pilot, we left the brig at sun-down, lying with her channel plates nearly under water.

“The wind freshening during the night, our launch, which might, indeed, be termed a long-boat, having been fitted with mast, bowsprit, and main boom, began to be very uneasy, shipping

  ― 256 ―
two seas one after the other. The plan we could devise was to sit, four of us about, in the stern sheets, with our backs to the sea, to prevent the water pooping us. This itself was enough to exhaust the strongest men. The day, however, made us some amends for the dreadful night. Land was not more than ten miles from us; approaching as nearly as we could with safety, we hauled our wind, and ran along it, trusting to find some harbour. At half-past two we sighted a bay of very curious appearance, having two large rocks at the entrance, resembling pyramids. Shires, Russen, and Fair landed, in hopes of discovering fresh water, of which we stood much in need. Before long they returned, stating that they had found an Indian hut, inside of which were some rude earthenware vessels. Fearful of surprise, we lay off the shore all that night, and putting into the bay very early in the morning, killed a seal. This was the first fresh meat I had tasted for four years. It seemed strange to eat it under such circumstances. We cooked the flippers, heart, and liver for breakfast, giving some to a cat which we had taken with us out of the brig, for I would not, willingly, allow even that animal to perish. After break fast, we got under weigh; and we had scarcely been out half an hour when we had a fresh breeze, which carried us along at the rate of seven knots an hour, running from bay to bay to find inhabitants. Steering along the shore, as the sun went down, we suddenly heard the bellowing of a bullock, and James Barker, whom, from his violent conduct, I thought incapable of such sentiment, burst into tears.

“In about two hours we perceived great fires on the beach, and let go the anchor in nineteen fathoms of water. We lay awake all that night. In the morning, we rowed further inshore, and moored the boat to some seaweed. As soon as the inhabitants caught sight of us, they came down to the beach. I distributed needles and thread among the Indians, and on saying ‘Valdivia,’ a woman instantly pointed towards a tongue of land to the southward, holding up three fingers, and crying ‘leaghos!’ which I conjectured to be three leagues; the distance we afterwards found it to be.

“About three o'clock in the afternoon, we weathered the point pointed out by the woman, and perceived a flagstaff and a twelve-gun battery under our lee. I now divided among the men the sum of six pounds ten shillings that I had found in

  ― 257 ―
Captain Frere's cabin, and made another and more equal distribution of the clothing. There were also two watches, one of which I gave to Lesly, and kept the other for myself. It was resolved among us to say that we were part crew of the brig Fulia, bound for China and wrecked in the South Seas. Upon landing at the battery, we were received with the greatest civility by the Spaniards, and were heartily entertained, though we did not understand one word of what they said. Next morning, it was agreed that Lesly, Barker, Shires, and Russen should pay for a canoe to convey them to the town, which was nine miles up the river; and on the morning of the 6th March they took their departure. On the 9th March, a boat, commanded by a lieutenant, came down with orders that the rest of us should be conveyed to town; and we accordingly launched the boat under convoy of the soldiers, and reached the town the same evening, in some trepidation. I feared lest the Spaniards had obtained a clue as to our real character, and was not deceived—the surviving soldier having betrayed us. This fellow was thus doubly a traitor—first, in deserting his officer, and then in betraying his comrades.

“We were immediately escorted to prison, where we found our four companions. Some of them were for brazening out the story of shipwreck, but knowing how confused must necessarily be our accounts, were we examined separately, I persuaded them that open confession would be our best chance of safety. On the 14th we were taken before the Intendente or Governor, who informed us that we were free, on condition that we chose to live within the limits of the town. At this intelligence I felt my heart grow light, and only begged in the name of my companions that we might not be given up to the British Government; ‘rather than which,’ said I, ‘I would beg to be shot dead in the palace square.’ The Governor regarded us with tears in his eyes, and spoke as follows: ‘My poor men, do not think that I would take that advantage over you. Do not make an attempt to escape, and I will be your friend; and should a vessel come to-morrow to demand you, you shall find I will be as good as my word. All I have to impress upon you is, to beware of intemperance, which is very prevalent in this country, and when you find it convenient, to pay Government the money that was allowed you for subsistence while in prison.’

“The following day we all procured employment in launching

  ― 258 ―
a vessel of three hundred tons burden, and my men showed themselves so active that the owner said he would rather have us than thirty of his own countrymen; which saying pleased the Governor, who was there with almost the whole of the inhabitants and a whole band of music, this vessel having been nearly three years on the stocks. After she was launched, the seamen amongst us helped to fit her out, being paid fifteen dollars a month, with provisions on board. As for myself, I speedily obtained employment in the shipbuilder's yard, and subsisted by honest industry, almost forgetting, in the unwonted pleasures of freedom, the sad reverse of fortune which had befallen me. To think that I, who had mingled among gentlemen and scholars, should be thankful to labour in a shipwright's yard by day, and sleep on a bundle of hides by night! But this is personal matter, and need not be obtruded.

“In the same yard with me worked the soldier who had betrayed us, and I could not but regard it as a special judgment of Heaven, when he one day fell from a great height and was taken up for dead, dying in much torment in a few hours. The days thus passed on in comparative happiness until the 20th of May, 1836, when the old Governor took his departure, regretted by all the inhabitants of Valdivia, and the Achilles, a one-and-twenty-gun brig of war, arrived with the new Governor. One of the first acts of this gentleman was to sell our boat, which was moored at the back of Government-house. This proceeding looked to my mind indicative of ill-will; and, fearful lest the Governor should deliver us again into bondage, I resolved to make my escape from the place. Having communicated my plans to Barker, Lesly, Riley, Shiers, and Russen, I offered the Governor to get built for him a handsome whale-boat, making the iron work myself. The Governor consented, and in a little more than a fortnight we had completed a four-oared whale-boat, capable of weathering either sea or storm. We fitted her with sails and provisions in the Governor's name, and on the 4th of July, being a Saturday night, we took our departure from Valdivia, dropping down the river shortly after sunset. Whether the Governor, disgusted at the trick we had played him, decided not to pursue us, or whether —as I rather think—our absence was not discovered until the Monday morning, when we were beyond reach of capture, I know not, but we got out to sea without hazard, and, taking

  ― 259 ―
accurate bearings, ran for the Friendly Islands, as had been agreed upon amongst us.

“But it now seemed that the good fortune which had hitherto attended us had deserted us, for after crawling for four days in sultry weather, there fell a dead calm, and we lay like a log upon the sea for forty-eight hours. For three days we remained in the midst of the ocean, exposed to the burning rays of the sun, in a boat without water or provisions. On the fourth day, just as we had resolved to draw lots to determine who should die for the sustenance of the others, we were picked up by an opium clipper returning to Canton. The captain, an American, was most kind to us, and on our arrival at Canton, a subscription was got up for us by the British merchants of that city, and a free passage to England obtained for us. Russen, however, getting in drink, made statements which brought suspicion upon us. I had imposed upon the Consul with a fictitious story of a wreck, but had stated that my name was Wilson, forgetting that the sextant which had been preserved in the boat had Captain Bates's name engraved upon it. These circumstances together caused sufficient doubts in the Consul's mind to cause him to give directions that, on our arrival in London, we were to be brought before the Thames Police Court. There being no evidence against us, we should have escaped, had not a Dr. Pine, who had been surgeon on board the Malabar transport, being in the Court, recognized me and swore to my identity. We were remanded, and, to complete the chain of evidence, Mr. Capon, the Hobart Town gaoler, was, strangely enough, in London at the time, and identified us all. Our story was then made public, and Barker and Lesly, turning king's evidence against Russen, he was convicted of the murder of Lyons, and executed. We were then placed on board the Leviathan hulk, and remained there until shipped in the Lady Fane, which was chartered, with convicts, for Van Diemen's Land, in order to be tried in the colony, where the offence was committed, for piratically seizing the brig Osprey, and arrived here on the 15th December, 1838.”

Coming, breathless, to the conclusion of this wonderful relation, Sylvia suffered her hand to fall into her lap, and sat meditative. The history of this desperate struggle for liberty was to her full of a vague horror. She had never before realized

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among what manner of men she had lived. The sullen creatures who worked in the chain-gangs, or pulled in the boats— their faces brutalized into a uniform blankness—must be very different men from John Rex and his companions. Her imagination pictured the voyage in the leaky brig, the South American slavery, the midnight escape, the desperate rowing, the long, slow agony of starvation, and the heart-sickness that must have followed upon recapture and imprisonment. Surely the punishment of “penal servitude” must have been made very terrible for men to dare such hideous perils to escape from it. Surely John Rex, the convict, who, alone, and prostrated by sickness, quelled a mutiny and navigated a vessel through a storm-ravaged ocean, must possess qualities which could be put to better use than stone-quarrying. Was the opinion of Maurice Frere the correct one after all, and were these convict monsters gifted with unnatural powers of endurance, only to be subdued and tamed by unnatural and inhuman punishments of lash and chain? Her fancies growing amid the fast gathering gloom, she shuddered as she guessed to what extremities of evil might such men proceed did an opportunity ever come to them to retaliate upon their gaolers. Perhaps beneath each mask of servility and sullen fear that was the ordinary prison face, lay hid a courage and a despair as mighty as that which sustained those ten poor wanderers over the Pacific Sea. Maurice had told her that these people had their secret signs, their secret language. She had just seen a specimen of the skill with which this very Rex—still bent upon escape—could send a hidden message to his friends beneath the eyes of his gaolers. What if the whole island was but one smouldering volcano of revolt and murder—the whole convict population but one incarnated conspiracy, engendered and bound together by the hideous Freemasonry of crime and suffering! Terrible to think of—yet not impossible.

Oh, how strangely must the world have been civilised, that this most lovely corner of it must needs be set apart as a place of banishment for the monsters that civilization had brought forth and bred! She cast her eyes around, and all beauty seemed blotted out from the scene before her. The graceful foliage melting into indistinctness in the gathering twilight, appeared to her horrible and treacherous. The river seemed to flow sluggishly, as though thickened with blood and tears.

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The shadow of the trees seemed to hold lurking shapes of cruelty and danger. Even the whispering breeze bore with it sighs, and threats, and mutterings of revenge. Oppressed by a terror of loneliness, she hastily caught up the manuscript, and turned to seek the house, when, as if summoned from the earth by the power of her own fears, a ragged figure barred her passage.

To the excited girl this apparition seemed the embodiment of the unknown evil she had dreaded. She recognised the yellow clothing, and marked the eager hands outstretched to seize her. Instantly upon her flashed the story that three days since had set the prison-town agog. The desperado of Port Arthur, the escaped mutineer and murderer, was before her, with unchained arms, free to wreak his will of her.

“Sylvia! It is you! Oh, at last! I have escaped, and come to ask —— What? Do you not know me?”

Pressing both hands to her bosom, she stepped back a pace, speechless with terror.

“I am Rufus Dawes,” he said, looking in her face for the grateful smile of recognition that did not come—“Rufus Dawes.”

The party at the house had finished their wine, and, sitting on the broad verandah, were listening to some gentle dulness of the clergyman, when there broke upon their ears a cry.

“What's that?” said Vickers.

Frere sprang up, and looked down the garden. He saw two figures that seemed to struggle together. One glance was enough, and, with a shout, he leapt the flower-beds, and made straight at the escaped prisoner.

Rufus Dawes saw him coming, but, secure in the protection of the girl who owed to him so much, he advanced a step nearer, and, loosing his respectful clasp of her hand, caught her dress.

“Oh, help, Maurice, help!” cried Sylvia again.

Into the face of Rufus Dawes came an expression of horror-stricken bewilderment. For three days the unhappy man had contrived to keep life and freedom, in order to get speech with the one being who, he thought, cherished for him some affection. Having made an unparalleled escape from the midst of his warders, he had crept to the place where lived the idol of his dreams, braving recapture, that he might hear from her

  ― 262 ―
two words of justice and gratitude. Not only did she refuse to listen to him, and shrink from him as from one accursed, but, at the sound of his name, she summoned his deadliest foe to capture him. Such monstrous ingratitude was almost beyond belief. She, too—the child he had nursed and fed, the child for whom he had given up his hard-earned chance of freedom and fortune, the child of whom he had dreamed, the child whose image he had worshipped—she, too, against him! Then there was no justice, no heaven, no God! He loosed his hold of her dress, and regardless of the approaching foot-steps, stood speechless, shaking from head to foot. In another instant Frere and McNab flung themselves upon him, and he was borne to the ground. Though weakened by starvation, he shook them off with scarce an effort, and, despite the servants who came hurrying from the alarmed house, might even then have turned and made good his escape. But he seemed unable to fly. His chest heaved convulsively, great drops of sweat beaded his white face, and from his eyes tears seemed about to break. For an instant his features worked convulsively, as if he would fain invoke upon the girl, weeping on her father's shoulder, some hideous curse. But no words came—only thrusting his hand into his breast, with a supreme gesture of horror and aversion, he flung something from him. Then a profound sigh escaped him, and he held out his hands to be bound.

There was something so pitiable about this silent grief, that as they led him away, the little group instinctively averted their faces, lest they should seem to triumph over him.

Chapter XI.

A Relic of Macquarie Harbour.

“YOU must try and save him from further punishment,” said Sylvia next day to Frere. “I did not mean to betray the poor creature, but I had made myself nervous by reading that convict's story.”

“You shouldn't read such rubbish,” said Frere. “What's the use? I don't suppose a word of it's true.”

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“It must be true. I am sure it's true. Oh, Maurice, these are dreadful men. I thought I knew all about convicts, but I had no idea that such men as these were among them.”

“Thank God, you know very little,” said Maurice. “The servants you have here are very different sort of fellows from Rex and Company.”

“Oh, Maurice, I am so tired of this place. It's wrong, perhaps, with poor papa and all, but I do wish I was somewhere out of the sight of chains and yellow cloth. I don't know what has made me feel as I do.”

“Come to Sydney,” said Frere. “There are not so many convicts there. It was arranged that we should go to Sydney, you know.”

“For our honeymoon? Yes,” said Sylvia, simply. “I know it was. But we are not married yet.”

“That's easily done,” said Maurice.

“Oh, nonsense, sir! But I want to speak to you about this poor Dawes. I don't think he meant any harm. It seems to me now that he was rather going to ask for food or something, only I was so nervous. They won't hang him, Maurice, will they?”

“No,” said Maurice. “I spoke to your father this morning. If the fellow is tried for his life, you may have to give evidence, and so we came to the conclusion that Port Arthur again, and heavy irons, will meet the case. We gave him another life sentence this morning. That will make the third he has had.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing. I sent him down aboard the schooner at once. He ought to be out of the river by this time.”

“Maurice, I have a strange feeling about that man.”

“Eh?” said Maurice.

“I seem to fear him, as if I knew some story about him, and yet didn't know it.”

“That's not very clear,” said Maurice, forcing a laugh; “but don't let's talk about him any more. We'll soon be far from Port Arthur and everybody in it.”

“Maurice,” said she, caressingly, “I love you, dear. You'll always protect me against these men, won't you?”

Maurice kissed her. “You have not got over your fright, Sylvia,” he said. “I see I shall have to take a great deal of care of my wife.”

  ― 264 ―

“Of course,” replied Sylvia.

And then the pair began to make love, or rather, Maurice made it, and Sylvia suffered him.

Suddenly her eye caught something. “What's that—there, on the ground by the fountain?” They were near the spot where Dawes had been seized the night before. A little stream ran through the garden, and a Triton—of convict manufacture —blew his horn in the middle of a—convict built—rockery. Under the lip of the fountain lay a small packet. Frere picked it up. It was made of soiled yellow cloth, and stitched evidently by a man's fingers. “It looks like a needle-case,” said he.

“Let me see. What a strange-looking thing! Yellow cloth, too. Why, it must belong to a prisoner. Oh, Maurice, the man who was here last night!”

“Ay,” say Maurice, turning over the packet, “it might have been his, sure enough.”

“He seemed to fling something from him, I thought. Perhaps this is it?” said she, peering over his arm, in delicate curiosity. Frere, with something of a scowl on his brow, tore off the outer covering of the mysterious packet, and displayed a second envelope, of grey cloth—the “good-conduct” uniform. Beneath this was a piece, some three inches square, of stained and discoloured merino, that had once been blue.

“Hullo!” says Frere. “Why, what's this?”

“It is a piece of a dress,” says Sylvia.

It was Rufus Dawes's talisman,—a portion of the frock she had worn at Macquarie Harbour, and which the unhappy convict had cherished as a sacred relic for five weary years.

Frere flung it into the water. The running stream whirled it away. “Why did you do that?” cried the girl, with a sudden pang of remorse for which she could not account. The shred of cloth, caught by a weed, lingered for an instant on the surface of the water. Almost at the same moment, the pair, raising their eyes, saw the schooner which bore Rufus Dawes back to bondage glide past the opening of the trees and disappear. When they looked again for the strange relic of the desperado of Port Arthur, it also had vanished.

  ― 265 ―

Chapter XII.

At Port Arthur.

THE usual clanking and hammering was prevalent upon the stone jetty of Port Arthur when the schooner bearing the returned convict, Rufus Dawes, ran alongside. On the heights above the esplanade rose the grim front of the soldiers' barracks; beneath the soldiers' barracks was the long range of prison buildings, with their workshops and tan-pits; to the left lay the Commandant's house, authoritative by reason of its embrasured terrace and guardian sentry; while the jetty, that faced the purple length of the “Island of the Dead,” swarmed with parti-coloured figures, clanking about their enforced business, under the muskets of their gaolers.

Rufus Dawes had seen this prospect before, had learnt by heart each beauty of rising sun, sparkling water, and wooded hill. From the hideously clean jetty at his feet, to the signal station, that, embowered in bloom, reared its slender arms upwards into the cloudless sky, he knew it all. There was no charm for him in the exquisite blue of the sea, the soft shadows of the hills, or the soothing ripple of the waves that crept voluptuously to the white breast of the shining shore. He sat with his head bowed down, and his hands clasped about his knees, disdaining to look until they roused him.

“Hallo, Dawes!” says Warder Troke, halting his train of ironed yellow-jackets. “So you've come back again! Glad to see yer, Dawes! It seems an age since we had the pleasure of your company, Dawes!” At this pleasantry the train laughed, so that their irons clanked more than ever. They found it often inconvenient not to laugh at Mr. Troke's humour. “Step down here, Dawes, and let me introduce yer to your h'old friends. They'll be glad to see yer, won't yer, boys? Why, bless me, Dawes, we thort we'd lost yer! We thort yer'd given us the slip altogether, Dawes. They didn't take care of yer in Hobart Town, I expect, eh, boys? We'll look after yer here, Dawes, though. You won't bolt any more.”

“Take care, Mr. Troke,” said a warning voice, “you're at it again! Let the man alone!”

By virtue of an order transmitted from Hobart Town, they

  ― 266 ―
had begun to attach the dangerous prisoner to the last man of the gang, riveting the leg-irons of the pair by means of an extra link, which could be removed when necessary, but Dawes had given no sign of consciousness. At the sound of the friendly tones, however, he looked up, and saw a tall, gaunt man, dressed in a shabby pepper-and-salt raiment, and wearing a black handkerchief knotted round his throat. He was a stranger to him.

“I beg yer pardon, Mr. North,” said Troke, sinking at once the bully in the sneak. “I didn't see yer reverence.”

“A parson!” thought Dawes with disappointment, and dropped his eyes.

“I know that,” returned Mr. North, coolly. “If you had, you would have been all butter and honey. Don't trouble yourself to tell a lie; it's quite unnecessary.”

Dawes looked up again. This was a strange parson.

“What's your name, my man?” said Mr. North, suddenly, catching his eye.

Rufus Dawes had intended to scowl, but the tone, sharply authoritative, roused his automatic convict second nature, and he answered, almost despite himself, “Rufus Dawes.”

“Oh,” said Mr. North, eyeing him with a curious air of expectation that had something pitying in it. “This is the man, is it? I thought he was to go to the Coal Mines.”

“So he is,” said Troke, “but we hain't a goin' to send there for a fortnit, and in the mean time I'm to work him on the chain.”

“Oh!” said Mr. North again. “Lend me your knife, Troke.”

And then, before them all, this curious parson took a piece of tobacco out of his ragged pocket, and cut off a “chaw” with Mr. Troke's knife. Rufus Dawes felt what he had not felt for three days—an interest in something. He stared at the parson in unaffected astonishment. Mr. North perhaps mistook the meaning of his fixed stare, for he held out the remnant of tobacco to him.

The chain line vibrated at this, and bent forward to enjoy the vicarious delight of seeing another man chew tobacco. Troke grinned with a silent mirth that betokened retribution for the favoured convict. “Here,” said Mr. North, holding out the dainty morsel upon which so many eyes were fixed.

  ― 267 ―
Rufus Dawes took the tobacco; looked at it hungrily for an instant, and then—to the astonishment of everybody—flung it away with a curse.

“I don't want your tobacco,” he said; “keep it.”

From convict mouths went out a respectful roar of amazement, and Mr. Troke's eyes snapped with pride of outraged janitorship. “You ungrateful dog!” he cried, raising his stick.

Mr. North put up a hand. “That will do, Troke,” he said; “I know your respect for the cloth. Move the men on again.”

“Get on!” said Troke, rumbling oaths beneath his breath, and Dawes felt his newly-riveted chain tug. It was some time since he had been in a chain gang, and the sudden jerk nearly overbalanced him. He caught at his neighbour, and looking up, met a pair of black eyes which gleamed recognition. His neighbour was John Rex. Mr. North, watching them, was struck by the resemblance the two men bore to each other. Their height, eyes, hair, and complexion were similar. Despite the difference in name they might be related. “They might be brothers,” thought he. “Poor devils! I never knew a prisoner refuse tobacco before.” And he looked on the ground for the despised portion. But in vain. John Rex, oppressed by no foolish sentiment, had picked it up and put it in his mouth.

So Rufus Dawes was relegated to his old life again, and came back to his prison with the hatred of his kind, that his prison had bred in him, increased a hundred-fold. It seemed to him that the sudden awakening had dazed him, that the flood of light so suddenly let in upon his slumbering soul had blinded his eyes, used so long to the sweetly-cheating twilight. He was at first unable to apprehend the details of his misery. He knew only that his dream-child was alive and shuddered at him, that the only thing he loved and trusted had betrayed him, that all hope of justice and mercy had gone from him for ever, that the beauty had gone from earth, the brightness from heaven, and that he was doomed still to live. He went about his work, unheedful of the jests of Troke, ungalled by his irons, unmindful of the groans and laughter about him. His magnificent muscles saved him from the lash; for the amiable Troke tried to break him down in vain. He did not complain, he did not laugh, he did not weep. His “mate” Rex tried to converse

  ― 268 ―
with him, but did not succeed. In the midst of one of Rex's excellent tales of London dissipation, Rufus Dawes would sigh wearily. “There's something on that fellow's mind,” thought Rex, prone to watch the signs by which the soul is read. “He has some secret which weighs upon him.”

It was in vain that Rex attempted to discover what this secret might be. To all questions concerning his past life— however artfully put—Rufus Dawes was dumb. In vain Rex practised all his arts, called up all his graces of manner and speech—and these were not few—to fascinate the silent man and win his confidence. Rufus Dawes met his advances with a cynical carelessness that revealed nothing; and, when not addressed, held a gloomy silence. Galled by this indifference, John Rex had attempted to practise those ingenious arts of torment by which Gabbett, Vetch, or other leading spirits of the gang asserted their superiority over their quieter comrades. But he soon ceased. “I have been longer in this hell than you,” said Rufus Dawes, “and I know more of the devil's tricks than you can show me. You had best be quiet.” Rex neglected the warning, and Rufus Dawes took him by the throat one day, and would have strangled him, but that Troke beat off the angered man with a favourite bludgeon. Rex had a wholesome respect for personal prowess, and had the grace to admit the provocation to Troke. Even this instance of self-denial did not move the stubborn Dawes. He only laughed.

Then Rex came to a conclusion. His mate was plotting an escape. He himself cherished a notion of the kind, as did Gabbett and Vetch, but by common distrust no one ever gave utterance to thoughts of this nature. It would be too dangerous. “He would be a good comrade for a rush,” thought Rex, and resolved more firmly than ever to ally himself to this dangerous and silent companion.

One question Dawes had asked which Rex had been able to answer: “Who is that North?”

“A chaplain. He is only here for a week or so. There is a new one coming. North goes to Sydney. He is not in favour with the Bishop.”

“How do you know?”

“By deduction,” says Rex, with a smile peculiar to him. “He wears coloured clothes, and smokes, and doesn't patter Scripture. The Bishop dresses in black, detests tobacco, and

  ― 269 ―
quotes the Bible like a concordance. North is sent here for a month, as a warming-pan for that ass Meekin. Ergo, the Bishop don't care about North.”

Jemmy Vetch, who was next to Rex, let the full weight of his portion of tree-trunk rest upon Gabbett, in order to express his unrestrained admiration of Mr. Rex's sarcasm. “Ain't Dandy a one'er?” said he.

“Are you thinking of coming the pious?” asked Rex. “It's no good with North. Wait until the highly-intelligent Meekin comes. You can twist that worthy successor of the Apostles round your little finger!”

“Silence there!” cries the overseer. “Do you want me to report yer?”

Amid such diversions the days rolled on, and Rufus Dawes almost longed for the Coal Mines. To be sent from the settlement to the Coal Mines, and from the Coal Mines to the settlement, was to these unhappy men a “trip.” At Port Arthur one went to an out station, as more fortunate people go to Queenscliff or the Ocean Beach now-a-days for “change of air.”

Chapter XIII.

The Commandant's Butler.

RUFUS DAWES had been a fortnight at the settlement when a new-comer appeared on the chain-gang. This was a young man of about twenty years of age, thin, fair, and delicate. His name was Kirkland, and he belonged to what were known as the “educated” prisoners. He had been a clerk in a banking house, and was transported for embezzlement, though, by some, grave doubts as to his guilt were entertained. The commandant, Captain Burgess, had employed him as butler in his own house, and his fate was considered a “lucky” one. So, doubtless, it was, and might have been, had not an untoward accident occurred. Captain Burgess, who was a bachelor of the “old school,” confessed to an amiable weakness for blasphemy, and was given to condemning the convicts' eyes and limbs with indiscriminate violence. Kirkland belonged to a Methodist family and owned a piety utterly out of place in that region.

  ― 270 ―
The language of Burgess made him shudder, and one day, he so far forgot himself and his place as to raise his hands to his ears. “My blank!” cried Burgess. “You blank blank, is that your blank game? I'll blank soon cure you of that!” and forthwith ordered him to the chain-gang for “insubordination.”

He was received with suspicion by the gang, who did not like white-handed prisoners. Troke, by way of experiment in human nature, perhaps, placed him next to Gabbett. The day was got through in the usual way, and Kirkland felt his heart revive.

The toil was severe, and the companionship uncouth, but despite his blistered hands and aching back, he had not experienced anything so very terrible after all. When the muster bell rang, and the gang broke up, Rufus Dawes, on his silent way to his separate cell, observed a notable change of custom in the disposition of the new convict. Instead of placing him in a cell by himself, Troke was turning him into the yard with the others.

“I'm not to go in there?” says the ex-bank clerk, drawing back in dismay from the cloud of foul faces which lowered upon him.

“By the Lord, but you are, then!” says Troke. “The Governor says a night in there'll take the starch out of yer. Come, in yer go.”

“But, Mr. Troke ——”

“Stow your gaff,” says Troke, with another oath, and impatiently striking the lad with his thong—“I can't argue here all night. Get in.” So Kirkland, aged twenty-two, and the son of Methodist parents, went in.

Rufus Dawes, among whose sinister memories this yard was numbered, sighed. So fierce was the glamour of the place, however, that when locked into his cell, he felt ashamed of that sigh, and strove to erase the memory of it. “What is he more than anybody else?” said the wretched man to himself, as he hugged his misery close.

About dawn the next morning, Mr. North—who, amongst other vagaries not approved of by his bishop, had a habit of prowling about the prison at unofficial hours—was attracted by a dispute at the door of the dormitory.

“What's the matter here?” he asked.

“A prisoner refractory, your reverence,” said the watchman. “Wants to come out.”

  ― 271 ―

“Mr. North! Mr. North!” cried a voice, “for the love of God, let me out of this place!”

Kirkland, ghastly pale, bleeding, with his woollen shirt torn, and his blue eyes wide open with terror, was clinging to the bars.

“Oh, Mr. North! Mr. North! Oh, Mr. North! Oh! for God's sake, Mr. North!”

“What, Kirkland!” cried North, who was ignorant of the vengeance of the Commandant. “What do you do here?”

But Kirkland could do nothing but cry,—“Oh, Mr. North! For God's sake, Mr. North!” and beat on the bars with white and sweating hands.

“Let him out, watchman!” said North.

“Can't, sir, without an order from the Commandant.”

“I order you, sir!” North cried, indignant.

“Very sorry, your reverence; but your reverence knows that I daren't do such a thing.”

“Mr. North!” screamed Kirkland. “Would you see me perish, body and soul, in this place? Mr. North! Oh, you ministers of Christ—wolves in sheep's clothing—you shall be judged for this! Mr. North, I say!”

“Let him out!” cried North again, stamping his foot.

“It's no good,” returned the gaoler. “I can't. If he was dying, I can't.”

North rushed away to the Commandant, and the instant his back was turned, Hailes, the watchman, flung open the door, and darted into the dormitory.

“Take that!” he cried, dealing Kirkland a blow on the head with his keys, that stretched him senseless. “There's more trouble with you bloody aristocrats than enough. Lie quiet!”

The Commandant, roused from slumber, told Mr. North that Kirkland might stop where he was, and that he'd thank the chaplain not to wake him up in the middle of the night because a blank prisoner set up a blank howling.

“But, my good sir,” protested North, restraining his impulse to overstep the bounds of modesty in his language to his superior officer, “you know the character of the men in that ward. You can guess what that unhappy boy has suffered.”

“Impertinent young beggar!” said Burgess. “Do him good, curse him! Mr. North, I'm sorry you should have had the trouble to come here, but will you let me go to sleep?”

  ― 272 ―

North returned to the prison disconsolately, found the dutiful Hailes at his post, and all quiet.

“What's become of Kirkland?” he asked.

“Fretted hisself to sleep, yer reverence,” said Hailes, in accents of parental concern. “Poor young chap! It's hard for such young 'uns as he, sir.”

In the morning, Rufus Dawes, coming to his place on the chain-gang, was struck by the altered appearance of Kirkland. His face was of a greenish tint, and wore an expression of bewildered horror.

“Cheer up, man!” said Dawes, touched with momentary pity. “It's no good being in the mopes, you know.”

“What do they do if you try to bolt?” whispered Kirkland.

“Kill you,” returned Dawes, in a tone of surprise at so preposterous a question.

“Thank God!” said Kirkland.

“Now, then, Miss Nancy,” said one of the men, “what's the matter with you!

Kirkland shuddered, and his pale face grew crimson.

“Oh,” he said, “that such a wretch as I should live!”

“Silence!” cried Troke. “No. 44, if you can't hold your tongue I'll give you something to talk about. March!”

The work of the gang that afternoon was the carrying of some heavy logs to the water-side, and Rufus Dawes observed that Kirkland was exhausted long before the task was accomplished. “They'll kill you, you little beggar!” said he, not unkindly. “What have you been doing to get into this scrape?”

“Have you ever been in that—that place I was in last night?” asked Kirkland.

Rufus Dawes nodded.

“Does the Commandant know what goes on there?”

“I suppose so. What does he care?”

“Care! Man, do you believe in a God?”

“No,” said Dawes, “not here. Hold up, my lad. If you fall, we must fall over you, and then you're done for.”

He had hardly uttered the words, when the boy flung himself beneath the log. In another instant the train would have been scrambling over his crushed body, had not Gabbett stretched out an iron hand, and plucked the would-be suicide from death.

  ― 273 ―

“Hold on to me, Miss Nancy,” said the giant, “I'm big enough to carry double.”

Something in the tone or manner of the speaker affected Kirkland to disgust, for, spurning the offered hand, he uttered a cry, and then, holding up his irons with his hands, he started to run for the water.

“Halt! you young fool,” roared Troke, raising his carbine. But Kirkland kept steadily on for the river. Just as he reached it, however, the figure of Mr. North rose from behind a pile of stones. Kirkland jumped for the jetty, missed his footing, and fell into the arms of the chaplain.

“You young vermin—you shall pay for this,” cries Troke. “You'll see if you won't remember this day.”

“Oh, Mr. North,” says Kirkland. “why did you stop me? I'd better be dead than stay another night in that place.”

“You'll get it, my lad,” said Gabbett, when the runaway was brought back. “Your blessed hide'll feel for this, see if it don't.”

Kirkland only breathed harder, and looked round for Mr. North, but Mr. North had gone. The new chaplain was to arrive that afternoon, and it was incumbent on the old one to be present at the reception.

Troke reported the ex-bank clerk that night to Burgess, and Burgess, who was about to go to dinner with the new chaplain, disposed of his case out of hand. “Tried to bolt, eh! Must stop that. Fifty lashes, Troke. Tell Macklewain to be ready —or stay, I'll tell him myself—I'll break the young devil's spirit, blank him.”

“Yes, sir,” said Troke. “Good evening, sir.”

“Troke—pick out some likely man, will you? That last fellow you had ought to have been tied up himself. His flogging wouldn't have killed a flea.”

“You can't get 'em to warm one another, your honour,” says Troke. “They won't do it.”

“Oh, yes, they will, though,” says Burgess, “or I'll know the reason why. I won't have my men knocked up with flogging these rascals. If the scourger won't do his duty, tie him up, and give him five-and-twenty for himself. I'll be down in the morning myself if I can.”

“Very good, your honour,” says Troke.

Kirkland was put into a separate cell that night; and Troke,

  ― 274 ―
by way of assuring him a good night's rest, told him that he was to have “fifty” in the morning. “And Dawes 'll lay it on,” he added. “He's one of the smartest men I've got, and he won't spare yer, yer may take your oath of that.”

Chapter XIV.

Mr. North's Indisposition.

“YOU will find this a terrible place, Mr. Meekin,” said North to his supplanter, as they walked across to the Commandant's to dinner. “It has made me heartsick.”

“I thought it was a little paradise,” said Meekin. “Captain Frere says that the scenery is delightful.”

“So it is,” returned North, looking askance; “but the prisoners are not delightful.”

“Poor, abandoned wretches,” says Meekin, “I suppose not. How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon that bank! Eh!”

“Abandoned, indeed, by God and man—almost.”

“Mr. North, Providence never abandons the most unworthy of His servants. Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. In the valley of the shadow of death He is with us. His staff, you know, Mr. North. Really, the Commandant's house is charmingly situated!”

Mr. North sighed again. “You have not been long in the colony, Mr. Meekin. I doubt—forgive me for expressing myself so freely—if you quite know our convict system.”

“An admirable one! A most admirable one!” said Meekin. “There were a few matters I noticed in Hobart Town that did not quite please me—the frequent use of profane language for instance—but on the whole I was delighted with the scheme. It is so complete.”

North pursed up his lips. “Yes, it is very complete,” he said; “almost too complete. But I am always in a minority when I discuss the question, so we will drop it, if you please.”

“If you please,” said Meekin, gravely. He had heard from the Bishop that Mr. North was an ill-conditioned sort of person, who smoked clay pipes, had been detected in drinking beer out

  ― 275 ―
of a pewter pot, and had been heard to state that white neckcloths were of no consequence.

The dinner went off successfully. Burgess—desirous, perhaps, of favourably impressing the chaplain whom the Bishop delighted to honour—shut off his blasphemy for a while, and was urbane enough. “You'll find us rough, Mr. Meekin,” he said, “but you'll find us ‘all there’ when we're wanted. This is a little kingdom in itself.”

“Like Béranger's?” asked Meekin, with a smile. Captain Burgess had never heard of Béranger, but he smiled as if he had learnt his words by heart.

“Or like Sancho Panza's island,” said North. “You remember how justice was administered there?”

“Not at this moment, sir,” said Burgess, with dignity. He had been often oppressed by the notion that the Reverend Mr. North “chaffed” him. “Pray, help yourself to wine.”

“Thank you, none,” said North, filling a tumbler with water. “I have a headache.”

His manner of speech and action was so awkward that a silence fell upon the party, caused by each one wondering why Mr. North should grow confused, and drum his fingers on the table, and stare everywhere but at the decanter. Meekin— ever softly at his ease—was the first to speak. “Have you many visitors, Captain Burgess?”

“Very few. Sometimes a party comes over with a recommendation from the Governor, and I show them over the place; but, as a rule, we see no one but ourselves.”

“I asked,” said Meekin, “because some friends of mine were thinking of coming.”

“And who may they be?”

“Do you know Captain Frere?”

“Frere! I should say so!” returned Burgess, with a laugh, modelled upon Maurice Frere's own. “I was quartered with him at Sarah Island. So he's a friend of yours, eh?”

“I had the pleasure of meeting him in society. He is just married, you know.”

“Is he?” said Burgess. “The devil he is! I heard something about it, too.”

“Miss Vickers, a charming young person. They are going to Sydney, where Captain Frere has some interest, and Frere thinks of taking Port Arthur on his way down.”

  ― 276 ―

“A strange fancy for a honeymoon trip,” said North.

“Captain Frere takes a deep interest in all relating to convict discipline,” went on Meekin, unheeding the interruption, “and is anxious that Mrs. Frere should see this place.”

“Yes, one oughtn't to leave the colony without seeing it,” says Burgess; “it's worth seeing.”

“So Captain Frere thinks. A romantic story, Captain Burgess. He saved her life, you know.”

“Ah! that was a queer thing, that mutiny,” said Burgess. “We've got the fellows here, you know.”

“I saw them tried at Hobart Town,” said Meekin. “In fact, the ringleader, John Rex, gave me his confession, and I sent it to the Bishop.”

“A great rascal,” put in North. “A dangerous, scheming, cold-blooded villain.”

“Well now!” said Meekin, with asperity, “I don't agree with you. Everybody seems to be against that poor fellow— Captain Frere tried to make me think his letters contained a hidden meaning, but I don't believe they did. He seems to me to be truly penitent for his offences—a misguided, but not a hypocritical man, if my knowledge of human nature goes for anything.”

“I hope he is,” said North. “I wouldn't trust him.”

“Oh! there's no fear of him,” said Burgess, cheerily; “if he grows uproarious, we'll soon give him a touch of the cat.”

“I suppose severity in necessary,” returned Meekin; “though to my ears a flogging sounds a little distasteful. It is a brutal punishment.”

“It's a punishment for brutes,” said Burgess, and laughed, pleased with the nearest approach to an epigram he ever made in his life.

Here attention was called by the strange behaviour of Mr. North. He had risen, and, without apology, flung wide the window, as though he gasped for air. “Hullo, North! what's the matter?”

“Nothing,” said North, recovering himself with an effort. “A spasm. I have these attacks at times.”

“Have some brandy,” said Burgess.

“No, no, it will pass. No, I say. Well, if you insist.” And seizing the tumbler offered to him, he half-filled it with raw spirit, and swallowed the fiery draught at a gulp.

  ― 277 ―

The Reverend Meekin eyed his clerical brother with horror. The Reverend Meekin was not accustomed to clergymen who wore black neckties, smoked clay pipes, chewed tobacco, and drank neat brandy out of tumblers.

“Ha!” said North, looking wildly round upon them. “That's better.”

“Let us go on to the verandah,” said Burgess. “It's cooler than in the house.”

So they went on to the verandah, and looked down upon the lights of the prison, and listened to the sea lapping the shore. The Reverend Mr. North, in this cool atmosphere, seemed to recover himself, and conversation progressed with some sprightliness.

By-and-by, a short figure, smoking a cheroot, came up out of the dark, and proved to be Dr. Macklewain, who had been prevented from attending the dinner by reason of an accident to a constable at Norfolk Bay, which had claimed his professional attention.

“Well, how's Forrest?” cried Burgess. “Mr. Meekin— Dr. Macklewain.”

“Dead,” said Dr. Macklewain. “Delighted to see you, Mr. Meekin.”

“Confound it—another of my best men,” grumbled Burgess. “Macklewain, have a glass of wine.” But Macklewain was tired, and wanted to get home.

“I must also be thinking of repose,” said Meekin; “the journey—though most enjoyable—has fatigued me.”

“Come on, then,” said North. “Our roads lie together, doctor.”

“You won't have a nip of brandy before you start?” asked Burgess. “No? Then I shall send round for you in the morning, Mr. Meekin. Good night. Macklewain, I want to speak with you a moment.”

Before the two clergymen had got halfway down the steep path that led from the Commandant's house to the flat on which the cottages of the doctor and chaplain were built, Macklewain rejoined them. “Another flogging to-morrow,” said he, grumblingly. “Up at daylight, I suppose, again.”

“Whom is he going to flog now?”

“That young butler-fellow of his.”

  ― 278 ―

“What, Kirkland?” cried North. “You don't mean to say he's going to flog Kirkland?”

“Insubordination,” says Macklewain. “Fifty lashes.”

“Oh, this must be stopped,” cries North, in great alarm, “He can't stand it. I tell you he'll die, Macklewain.”

“Perhaps you'll have the goodness to allow me to be the best judge of that,” returned Macklewain, drawing up his little body to its least insignificant stature.

“My dear sir,” replied North, alive to the importance of conciliating the surgeon, “you haven't seen him lately. He tried to drown himself this morning.”

Mr. Meekin expressed some alarm; but Dr. Macklewain re-assured him. “That sort of nonsense must be stopped,” said he. “A nice example to set. I wonder Burgess didn't give him a hundred.”

“He was put into the long dormitory,” said North; “you know what sort of a place that is. I declare to Heaven his agony and shame terrified me.”

“Well, he'll be put into the hospital for a week or so to-morrow,” said Macklewain, “and that'll give him a spell.”

“If Burgess flogs him I'll report it to the Governor,” cries North, in great heat. “The condition of those dormitories is infamous.”

“If the boy has anything to complain of, why don't he complain? We can't do anything without evidence.”

“Complain! Would his life be safe if he did? Besides, he's not the sort of creature to complain. He'd rather kill himself than say anything about the matter.”

“That's all nonsense,” says Macklewain. “We can't flog a whole dormitory on suspicion. I can't help it. The boy's made his bed, and he must lie on it.”

“I'll go back and see Burgess,” said North. “Mr. Meekin, here's the gate, and your room is on the right hand. I'll be back shortly.”

“Pray don't hurry,” said Meekin politely. “You are on an errand of mercy, you know. Everything must give way to that. I shall find my portmanteau in my room, you said.”

“Yes, yes. Call the servant if you want anything. He sleeps at the back,” and North hurried off.

“An impulsive gentleman,” said Meekin to Macklewain, as

  ― 279 ―
the sound of Mr. North's footsteps died away in the distance. Macklewain shook his head seriously.

“There is something wrong about him, but I can't make out what it is. He has the strangest fits at times. Unless it's a cancer in the stomach, I don't know what it can be.”

“Cancer in the stomach! dear me, how dreadful!” says Meekin. “Ah! Doctor, we all have our crosses, have we not? How delightful the grass smells? This seems a very pleasant place, and I think I shall enjoy myself very much. Good-night.”

“Good-night, sir. I hope you will be comfortable.”

“And let us hope poor Mr. North will succeed in his labour of love,” said Meekin, shutting the little gate, “and save the unfortunate Kirkland. Good-night, once more.”

Captain Burgess was shutting his verandah-window when North hurried up. “Captain Burgess, Macklewain tells me you are going to flog young Kirkland.”

“Well, sir, what of that?” said Burgess.

“I have come to beg you not to do so, sir. The lad has been cruelly punished already. He attempted suicide to-day— unhappy creature.”

“Well, that's just what I'm flogging him for. I'll teach my prisoners to attempt suicide!”

“But he can't stand it, sir. He's too weak.”

“That's Macklewain's business.”

“Captain Burgess,” protested North, “I assure you that he does not deserve punishment. I have seen him, and his condition of mind is pitiable.”

“Look here, Mr. North, I don't interfere with what you do to the prisoners' souls, don't you interfere with what I do to their bodies.”

“Captain Burgess, you have no right to mock at my office.”

“Then don't you interfere with me, sir.”

“Do you persist in having this boy flogged?”

“I've given my orders, sir.”

“Then, Captain Burgess,” cried North, his pale face flushing, “I tell you the boy's blood will be on your head. I am a minister of God, sir, and I forbid you to commit this crime.”

“Damn your impertinence, sir!” burst out Burgess. “You're a dismissed officer of the Government, sir. You've no authority

  ― 280 ―
here in any way; and, by God, sir, if you interfere with my discipline, sir, I'll have you put in irons until you're shipped out of the island.”

This, of course, was mere bravado on the part of the Commandant. North knew well that he would never dare to attempt any such act of violence, but the insult stung him like the cut of a whip. He made a stride towards the Commandant, as though, to seize him by the throat, but, checking himself in time, stood still, with clenched hands, flashing eyes, and beard that bristled.

The two men looked at each other, and presently Burgess's eyes fell before those of the chaplain.

“Miserable blasphemer,” says North, “I tell you that you shall not flog the boy.”

Burgess, white with rage, rang the bell that summoned his convict servant.

“Show Mr. North out,” he said, “and go down to the barracks, and tell Troke that Kirkland is to have a hundred lashes to-morrow. I'll show you who's master here, my good sir.”

“I'll report this to the Government,” said North, aghast. “This is murderous.”

“The Government may go to ——, and you, too!” roared Burgess. “Get out!”

And God's vicegerent at Port Arthur slammed the door.

North returned home in great agitation. “They shall not flog that boy,” he said. “I'll shield him with my own body if necessary. I'll report this to the Government. I'll see Sir John Franklin myself. I'll have the light of day let into this den of horrors.” He reached his cottage, and lighted the lamp in the little sitting-room. All was silent, save that from the adjoining chamber came the sound of Meekin's gentlemanly snore. North took down a book from the shelf and tried to read, but the letters ran together. “I wish I hadn't taken that brandy,” he said. “Fool that I am.”

Then he began to walk up and down, to fling himself on the sofa, to read, to pray. “O God, give me strength! Aid me! Help me! I struggle, but I am weak! O Lord, look down upon me!”

To see him rolling on the sofa in agony, to see his white face, his parched lips, and his contracted brow, to hear his moans

  ― 281 ―
and muttered prayers, one would have thought him suffering from the pangs of some terrible disease. He opened the book again, and forced himself to read, but his eyes wandered to the cupboard. There lurked something that fascinated him. He got up at length, went into the kitchen, and found a packet of red pepper. He mixed a teaspoonful of this in a pannikin of water and drank it. It relieved him for a while.

“I must keep my wits for to-morrow. The life of that lad depends upon it. Meekin, too, will suspect. I will lie down.”

He went into his bedroom and flung himself on the bed, but only to toss from side to side. In vain he repeated texts of Scripture and scraps of verse; in vain counted imaginary sheep, or listened to imaginary clock-tickings. Sleep would not come to him. It was as though he had reached the crisis of a disease which had been for days gathering force. “I must have a teaspoonful,” he said, “to allay the craving.”

Twice he paused on his way to the sitting-room, and twice was he driven on by a power stronger than his will. He reached it at length, and opening the cupboard, pulled out what he sought. A bottle of brandy.

With this in his hand, all moderation vanished. He raised it to his lips and eagerly drank. Then, ashamed of what he had done, he thrust the bottle back, and made for his room. Still he could not sleep. The taste of the liquor maddened him for more. He saw in the darkness the brandy bottle,—vulgar and terrible apparition! He saw its amber fluid sparkle. He heard it gurgle as he poured it out. He smelt the nutty aroma of the spirit. He pictured it standing in the corner of the cupboard, and imagined himself seizing it and quenching the fire that burned within him. He wept, he prayed, he fought with his desire as with a madness. He told himself that another's life depended on his exertions, that to give way to his fatal passion was unworthy of an educated man and a reasoning being, that it was degrading, disgusting, and bestial. That, at all times debasing, at this particular time it was infamous; that a vice, unworthy of any man, was doubly sinful in a man of education and a minister of God. In vain. In the midst of his arguments he found himself at the cupboard, with the bottle at his lips, in an attitude that was at once ludicrous and horrible.

  ― 282 ―

He had no cancer. His disease was a more terrible one. The Reverend James North—gentleman, scholar, and Christian priest—was what the world calls “a confirmed drunkard.”

Chapter XV.

One Hundred Lashes.

THE morning sun, bright and fierce, looked down upon a curious sight. In a stone-yard was a little group of persons—Troke, Burgess, Macklewain, Kirkland, and Rufus Dawes.

Three wooden staves, seven feet high, were fastened together in the form of a triangle. The structure looked not unlike that made by gipsies to boil their kettles. To this structure Kirkland was bound. His feet were fastened with thongs to the base of the triangle; his wrists, bound above his head, at the apex. His body was then extended to its fullest length, and his white back shone in the sunlight. During his tying up he had said nothing—only when Troke roughly pulled off his shirt he shivered.

“Now, prisoner,” said Troke to Dawes, “do your duty.”

Rufus Dawes looked from the three stern faces to Kirkland's white back, and his face grew purple. In all his experience he had never been asked to flog before. He had been flogged often enough.

“You don't want me to flog him, sir?” he said to the Commandant.

“Pick up the cat, sir!” said Burgess, astonished; “what is the meaning of this?”

Rufus Dawes picked up the heavy cat, and drew its knotted lashes between his fingers.

“Go on, Dawes,” whispered Kirkland, without turning his head. “You are no more than another man.”

“What does he say?” asked Burgess.

“Telling him to cut light, sir,” said Troke, eagerly lying; “they all do it.”

“Cut light, eh! We'll see about that. Get on, my man, and

  ― 283 ―
look sharp, or I'll tie you up and give you fifty for yourself, as sure as God made little apples.”

“Go on, Dawes,” whispered Kirkland again, “I don't mind.”

Rufus Dawes lifted the cat, swung it round his head, and brought its knotted cords down upon the white back.

“Wonn!” cried Troke.

The white back was instantly striped with six crimson bars. Kirkland stifled a cry. It seemed to him that he had been cut in half.

“Now, then, you scoundrel!” roared Burgess; “separate your cats! What do you mean by flogging a man that fashion?”

Rufus Dawes drew his crooked fingers through the entangled cords, and struck again. This time the blow was more effective, and the blood beaded on the skin.

The boy did not cry; but Macklewain saw his hands clutch the staves tightly, and the muscles of his naked arms quiver.


“That's better,” said Burgess.

The third blow sounded as thought it had been struck upon a piece of raw beef, and the crimson turned purple.

“My God!” said Kirkland, faintly, and bit his lips.

The flogging proceeded in silence for ten strokes, and then Kirkland gave a screech like a wounded horse.

“Oh!…Captain Burgess!…Dawes!…Mr. Troke! …Oh, my God!…Oh! oh!…Mercy!…Oh, Doctor!…Mr. North!…Oh! Oh! Oh!”

“Ten!” cried Troke, impassibly counting to the end of the first twenty.

The lad's back, swollen into a hump, now presented the appearance of a ripe peach which a wilful child has scored with a pin. Dawes, turning away from his bloody handiwork, drew the cats through his fingers twice. They were beginning to get clogged a little.

“Go on,” said Burgess, with a nod; and Troke cried “Wonn!” again.

Roused by the morning sun streaming in upon him, Mr. North opened his bloodshot eyes, rubbed his forehead with hands that trembled, and suddenly awakening to a consciousness of his promised errand, rolled off the bed and rose to his

  ― 284 ―
feet. He saw the empty brandy-bottle on his wooden dressing-table, and remembered what had passed. With shaking hands he dashed water over his aching head, and smoothed his garments. The debauch of the previous night had left the usual effects behind it. His brain seemed on fire, his hands were hot and dry, his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He shuddered as he viewed his pale face and red eyes in the little looking-glass, and hastily tried the door. He had retained sufficient sense in his madness to lock it, and his condition had been unobserved. Stealing into the sitting-room, he saw that the clock pointed to half-past six. The flogging was to have taken place at half-past five. Unless accident had favoured him he was already too late. Fevered with remorse and anxiety, he hurried past the room where Meekin yet slumbered, and made his way to the prison. As he entered the yard, Troke called “Ten!” Kirkland had just got his fiftieth lash.

“Stop!” cried North. “Captain Burgess, I call upon you to stop.”

“You're rather late, Mr. North,” retorted Burgess. “The punishment is nearly over.”

“Wonn!” cried Troke again; and North stood by, biting his nails and grinding his teeth, during six more lashes.

Kirkland had ceased to yell now, and merely moaned. His back was like a bloody sponge, while, in the interval between the lashes, the swollen flesh twitched like that of a new-killed bullock. Suddenly, Macklewain saw his head droop on his shoulder. “Throw him off! Throw him off!” he cried, and Troke hurried to loosen the thongs.

“Fling some water over him!” said Burgess, “he's shamming.”

A bucket of water made Kirkland open his eyes. “I thought so,” said Burgess. “Tie him up again.”

“No. Not if you are Christians!” cried North.

He met with an ally where he least expected one. Rufus Dawes flung down the dripping cat. “I'll flog no more,” said he.

“What?” roared Burgess, furious at this gross insolence.

“I'll flog no more. Get some one else to do your bloody work for you. I won't.”

“Tie him up!” cried Burgess, foaming. “Tie him up. Here, constable, fetch a man here with a fresh cat. I'll give

  ― 285 ―
you that beggar's fifty, and fifty more on the top of 'em; and he shall look on while his back cools.”

Rufus Dawes, with a glance at North, pulled off his shirt without a word, and stretched himself at the triangles. His back was not white and smooth, like Kirkland's had been, but hard and seamed. He had been flogged before. Troke appeared with Gabbett—grinning. Gabbett liked flogging. It was his boast that he could flog a man to death on a place no bigger than the palm of his hand. He could use his left hand equally with his right, and if he got hold of a “favourite,” would “cross the cuts.”

Rufus Dawes planted his feet firmly on the ground, took fierce grasp of the staves, and drew in his breath.

Macklewain spread the garments of the two men upon the ground, and, placing Kirkland upon them, turned to watch this new phase in the morning's amusement. He grumbled a little below his breath, for he wanted his breakfast, and when the Commandant once began to flog, there was no telling where he would stop. Rufus Dawes took five-and-twenty lashes without a murmur, and then Gabbett “crossed the cuts.” This went on up to fifty lashes, and North felt himself stricken with admiration at the courage of the man. “If it had not been for that cursed brandy,” thought he, with bitterness of self-reproach, “I might have saved all this.” At the hundredth lash, the giant paused, expecting the order to throw off, but Burgess was determined to “break the man's spirit.”

“I'll make you speak, you dog, if I cut your heart out!” he cried. “Go on, prisoner.”

For twenty lashes more Dawes was mute, and then the agony forced from his labouring breast a hideous cry. But it was not a cry for mercy, as that of Kirkland's had been. Having found his tongue, the wretched man gave vent to his boiling passion in a torrent of curses. He shrieked imprecations upon Burgess, Troke, and North. He cursed all soldiers for tyrants, all parsons for hypocrites. He blasphemed his God and his Saviour. With a frightful outpouring of obscenity and blasphemy, he called on the earth to gape and swallow his persecutors, for heaven to open and rain fire upon them, for hell to yawn and engulf them quick. It was as though each blow of the cat forced out of him a fresh burst of beast-like rage. He seemed to have abandoned his humanity. He foamed, he

  ― 286 ―
raved, he tugged at his bonds until the strong staves shook again; he writhed himself round upon the triangles and spit impotently at Burgess, who jeered at his torments. North, with his hands to his ears, crouched against the corner of the wall, palsied with horror. It seemed to him that the passions of hell raged around him. He would fain have fled, but a horrible fascination held him back.

In the midst of this—when the cat was hissing its loudest—Burgess laughing his hardest, and the wretch on the triangles filling the air with his cries, North saw Kirkland look at him with what he thought a smile. Was it a smile? He leapt forward, and uttered a cry of dismay so loud that all turned.

“Hullo!” says Troke, running to the heap of clothes, “the young 'un's slipped his wind!”

Kirkland was dead.

“Throw him off!” says Burgess, aghast at the unfortunate accident; and Gabbett reluctantly untied the thongs that bound Rufus Dawes. Two constables were alongside him in an instant, for sometimes newly tortured men grew desperate. This one, however, was silent with the last lash, only in taking his shirt from under the body of the boy, he muttered “Dead!” and in his tone there seemed to be a touch of envy. Then flinging his shirt over his bleeding shoulders, he walked out—defiant to the last.

“Game, ain't he?” said one constable to the other, as they pushed him, not ungently, into an empty cell, there to wait for the hospital guard. The body of Kirkland was taken away in silence, and Burgess turned rather pale when he saw North's threatening face.

“It isn't my fault, Mr. North,” he said. “I didn't know that the lad was chicken-hearted.” But North turned away in disgust, and Macklewain and Burgess pursued their homeward route together.

“Strange that he should drop like that,” said the Commandant.

“Yes, unless he had any internal disease,” said the surgeon.

“Disease of the heart, for instance,” said Burgess.

“I'll post-mortem him and see.”

“Come in and have a nip, Macklewain. I feel quite qualmish,” said Burgess. And the two went into the house amid respectful salutes from either side. Mr. North, in agony of mind at what he considered the consequence of his neglect,

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slowly, and with head bowed down, as one bent on a painful errand, went to see the prisoner who had survived. He found him kneeling on the ground, prostrated.

“Rufus Dawes.”

At the low tone Rufus Dawes looked up, and seeing who it was, waved him off.

“Don't speak to me,” he said, with an imprecation that made North's flesh creep. “I've told you what I think of you—a hypocrite, who stands by while a man is cut to pieces, and then comes and whines religion to him.”

North stood in the centre of the cell, with his arms hanging down, and his head bent.

“You are right,” he said, in a low tone. “I must seem to you a hypocrite. I a servant of Christ? A besotted beast rather! I am not come to whine religion to you. I am come to—to ask your pardon. I might have saved you from punishment,—saved that poor boy from death. I wanted to save him, God knows! But I have a vice; I am a drunkard, I yielded to my temptation, and—I was too late. I come to you as one sinful man to another, to ask you to forgive me.” And North suddenly flung himself down beside the convict, and catching his blood-bespotted hands in his own, cried, “Forgive me, brother!”

Rufus Dawes, too much astonished to speak, bent his black eyes upon the man who crouched at his feet, and a ray of divine pity penetrated his gloomy soul. He seemed to catch a glimpse of misery more profound than his own, and his stubborn heart felt human sympathy with this erring brother. “Then in this hell there is yet a man,” said he; and a hand-grasp passed between these two unhappy beings. North arose, and, with averted face, passed quickly from the cell. Rufus Dawes looked at the hand which his strange visitor had taken, and something glittered there. It was a tear. He broke down at the sight of it, and when the guard came to fetch the tameless convict, they found him on his knees in a corner, sobbing like a child.

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Chapter XVI.

Kicking against the Pricks.

THE morning after this, the Rev. Mr. North departed in the schooner for Hobart Town. Between the officious chaplain and the Commandant, the events of the previous day had fixed a great gulf. Burgess knew that North meant to report the death of Kirkland, and guessed that he would not be backward in relating the story to such persons in Hobart Town as would most readily repeat it. “Blank awkward the fellow's dying,” he confessed to himself. “If he hadn't died, nobody would have bothered about him.” A sinister truth. North, on the other hand, comforted himself with the belief that the fact of the convict's death under the lash would cause indignation and subsequent inquiry. “The truth must come out if they only ask,” thought he. Self-deceiving North! Four years a Government chaplain, and not yet attained to a knowledge of a Government's method of “asking” about such matters! Kirkland's mangled flesh would have fed the worms before the ink on the last “minute” from deliberating Authority was dry.

Burgess, however, touched with selfish regrets, determined to baulk the parson at the outset. He would send down an official “return” of the unfortunate occurrence by the same vessel that carried his enemy, and thus get the ear of the Office. Meekin, walking on the evening of the flogging past the wooden shed where the body lay, saw Troke bearing buckets filled with dark coloured water, and heard a great splashing and sluicing going on inside the hut. “What is the matter?” he asked.

“Doctor's bin post morticing the prisoner what was flogged this morning, sir,” said Troke, “and we're cleanin' up.”

Meekin sickened, and walked on. He had heard that unhappy Kirkland possessed unknown disease of the heart, and had unhappily died before receiving his allotted punishment. His duty was to comfort Kirkland's soul, he had nothing to do with Kirkland's slovenly unhandsome body, and so he went for a walk on the pier, that the breeze might blow his momentary sickness away from him. On the pier he saw North talking to Father Flaherty, the Roman Catholic chaplain. Meekin had

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been taught to look upon a priest as a shepherd might look upon a wolf, and passed with a distant bow. The pair were apparently talking of the occurrence of the morning, for he heard Father Flaherty say, with a shrug of his round shoulders, “He woas not one of moi people, Mr. North, and the Govermint would not suffer me to interfere with mathers relating to Prhotestint prisoners.” “The wretched creature was a Protestant,” thought Meekin. “At least then his immortal soul was not endangered by belief in the damnable heresies of the Church of Rome.” So he passed on, giving good-humoured Denis Flaherty, the son of the butter-merchant of Kildrum, a wide berth and sea-room, lest he should pounce down upon him unawares, and with Jesuitical argument and silken softness of speech, convert him by force to his own state of error,—as was the well-known custom of those intellectual gladiators, the Priests of the Catholic Faith. North, on his side, left Flaherty with regret. He had spent many a pleasant hour with him, and knew him for a narrow-minded, conscientious, yet laughter-loving creature, whose God was neither his belly nor his breviary, but sometimes in one place and sometimes in the other, according to the hour of the day, and the fasts appointed for due mortification of the flesh. “A man who would do Christian work in a jog-trot parish, or where men lived too easily to sin harshly, but utterly unfit to cope with Satan, as the British Government had transported him,” was North's sadly satirical reflection upon Father Flaherty, as Port Arthur faded into indistinct beauty behind the swift-sailing schooner. “God help those poor villains, for neither parson nor priest can.”

He was right. North, the drunkard and self-tormented, had a power for good, of which Meekin and the other knew nothing. Not merely were the men incompetent and self-indulgent, but they understood nothing of that frightful capacity for agony which is deep in the soul of every evil-doer. They might strike the rock as they chose with sharpest-pointed machine-made pick of warranted Gospel manufacture, stamped with the approval of eminent divines of all ages, but the water of repentance and remorse would not gush for them. They possessed not the frail rod which alone was powerful to charm. They had no sympathy, no knowledge, no experience. He who would touch the hearts of men must have had his own heart seared.

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The missionaries of mankind have ever been great sinners before they earned the divine right to heal and bless. Their weakness was made their strength, and out of their own agony of repentance came the knowledge which made them masters and saviours of their kind. It was the agony of the Garden and the Cross that gave to the world's Preacher His kingdom in the hearts of men. The crown of divinity is a crown of thorns.

North, on his arrival, went straight to the house of Major Vickers. “I have a complaint to make, sir,” he said. “I wish to lodge it formally with you. A prisoner has been flogged to death at Port Arthur. I saw it done.”

Vickers bent his brow. “A serious accusation, Mr. North. I must, of course, receive it with respect, coming from you, but I trust that you have fully considered the circumstances of the case. I always understood Captain Burgess was a most humane man.”

North shook his head. He would not accuse Burgess. He would let events speak for themselves. “I only ask for an inquiry,” said he.

“Yes, my dear sir, I know. Very proper indeed on your part, if you think any injustice has been done; but have you considered the expense, the delay, the immense trouble and dissatisfaction all this will give?”

“No trouble, no expense, no dissatisfaction, should stand in the way of humanity and justice,” cried North.

“Of course not. But will justice be done? Are you sure you can prove your case? Mind, I admit nothing against Captain Burgess, whom I have always considered a most worthy and zealous officer; but, supposing your charge to be true, can you prove it?”

“Yes. If the witnesses speak the truth.”

“Who are they?”

“Myself, Dr. Macklewain, the constable, and two prisoners, one of whom was flogged himself. He will speak the truth, I believe. The other man I have not much faith in.”

“Very well; then there is only a prisoner and Dr. Macklewain; for if there has been foul play the convict-constable will not accuse the authorities. Moreover, the doctor does not agree with you.”

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“No!” cried North, amazed.

“No. You see, then, my dear sir, how necessary it is not to be hasty in matters of this kind. I really think—pardon me for my plainness—that your goodness of heart has misled you. Captain Burgess sends a report of the case. He says the man was sentenced to a hundred lashes for gross insolence and disobedience of orders, that the doctor was present during the punishment, and that the man was thrown off by his directions after he had received fifty-six lashes. That, after a short interval, he was found to be dead, and that the doctor made a post-mortem examination of the body and found disease of the heart.”

North started. “A post-mortem? I never knew there had been one held.”

“Here is the medical certificate,” said Vickers, holding it out, “accompanied by the copies of the evidence of the constable and a letter from the Commandant.”

Poor North took the papers and read them slowly. They were apparently straightforward enough. Aneurism of the ascending aorta was given as the cause of death; and the doctor frankly admitted that had he known the deceased to be suffering from that complaint he would not have permitted him to receive more than twenty-five lashes.

“I think Macklewain is an honest man,” said North, doubtfully. “He would not dare to return a false certificate. Yet the circumstances of the case—the horrible condition of the prisoners—the frightful story of that boy ——”

“I cannot enter into these questions, Mr. North. My position here is to administer the law to the best of my ability, not to question it.”

North bowed his head to the reproof. In some sort of justly unjust way, he felt that he deserved it. “I can say no more, sir. I am afraid I am helpless in this matter—as I have been in others. I see that the evidence is against me; but it is my duty to carry my efforts as far as I can, and I will do so.” Vickers bowed stiffly, and wished him good morning. Authority, however well-meaning in private life, has in its official capacity a natural dislike to those dissatisfied persons who persist in pushing inquiries to extremities.

North, going out with saddened spirits, met in the passage a beautiful young girl. It was Sylvia, coming to visit her father.

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He lifted his hat and looked after her. He guessed that she was the daughter of the man he had left—the wife of the Captain Frere concerning whom he had heard so much. North was a man whose morbidly excited brain was prone to strange fancies; and it seemed to him that beneath the clear blue eyes that flashed upon him for a moment, lay a hint of future sadness, in which, in some strange way, he himself was to bear part. He stared after her figure until it disappeared; and long after the dainty presence of the young bride—trimly-booted, tight-waisted, and neatly-gloved—had faded, with all its sunshine of gaiety and health, from out of his mental vision, he still saw those blue eyes and that cloud of golden hair.

Chapter XVII.

Captain and Mrs. Frere.

SYLVIA had become the wife of Maurice Frere. The wedding created excitement in the convict settlement, for Maurice Frere, though oppressed by the secret shame at open matrimony which affects men of his character, could not in decency—seeing how “good a thing for him” was this wealthy alliance—demand unceremonious nuptials. So, after the fashion of the town—there being no “Continent” or “Scotland” adjacent as a hiding place for bridal blushes—the alliance was entered into with due pomp of ball and supper; bride and bridegroom departing through the golden afternoon to the nearest of Major Vickers's stations. Thence it had been arranged they should return after a fortnight, and take ship for Sydney.

Major Vickers, affectionate though he was to the man whom he believed to be the saviour of his child, had no notion of allowing him to live on Sylvia's fortune. He had settled his daughter's portion—ten thousand pounds—upon herself and children, and had informed Frere that he expected him to live upon an income of his own earning. After many consultations between the pair, it had been arranged that a civil appointment in Sydney would suit the bridegroom, who was to sell out of the service. This notion was Frere's own. He never cared

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for military duty, and had, moreover, private debts to no inconsiderable amount. By selling his commission he would be enabled at once to pay these debts, and render himself eligible for any well-paid post under the Colonial Government that the interest of his father-in-law, and his own reputation as a convict disciplinarian, might procure.

Vickers would fain have kept his daughter with him, but he unselfishly acquiesced in the scheme, admitting that Frere's plea as to the comforts she would derive from the society to be found in Sydney was a valid one.

“You can come over and see us when we get settled, Papa,” said Sylvia, with all a young matron's pride of place, “and we can come and see you. Hobart Town is very pretty, but I want to see the World.”

“You should go to London, Poppet,” said Maurice, “that's the place. Isn't it, sir?”

“Oh, London!” cries Sylvia, clapping her hands. “And Westminster Abbey, and the Tower, and St. James's Palace, and Hyde Park, and Fleet-street! ‘Sir,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘let us take a walk down Fleet-street.’ Do you remember, in Mr. Croker's book, Maurice? No, you don't, I know, because you only looked at the pictures, and then read Pierce Egan's account of the Topping Fight between Bob Gaynor and Ned Neal, or some such person.”

“Little girls should be seen and not heard,” said Maurice, between a laugh and a blush. “You have no business to read my books.”

“Why not?” she asked, with a gaiety which already seemed a little strained; “husband and wife should have no secrets from each other, sir. Besides, I want you to read my books. I am going to read Shelley to you.”

“Don't, my dear,” said Maurice simply. “I can't understand him.”

This little scene took place at the dinner-table of Frere's cottage, in New Town, to which Major Vickers had been invited, in order that future plans might be discussed.

“I don't want to go to Port Arthur,” said the bride, later in the evening. “Maurice, there can be no necessity to go there.”

“Well,” said Maurice, “I want to have a look at the place. I ought to be familiar with all phases of convict discipline, you know.”

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“There is likely to be a report ordered upon the death of a prisoner,” said Vickers. “The chaplain, a fussy but well-meaning person, has been memorializing about it. You may as well do it as anybody else, Maurice.”

“Ay. And save the expenses of the trip,” said Maurice.

“But it is so melancholy,” cried Sylvia.

“The most delightful place in the island, my dear. I was there for a few days once, and I really was charmed.”

It was remarkable—so Vickers thought—how each of these newly-mated ones had caught something of the other's manner of speech. Sylvia was less choice in her mode of utterance, Frere more so. He caught himself wondering which of the two methods both would finally adopt.

“But those dogs, and sharks, and things. Oh, Maurice, haven't we had enough of convicts?”

“Enough! Why, I'm going to make my living out of 'em,” said Maurice, with his most natural manner.

Sylvia sighed.

“Play something, darling,” said her father; and so the girl, sitting down to the piano, trilled and warbled in her pure young voice, until the Port Arthur question floated itself away upon waves of melody, and was heard of no more for that time. But upon pursuing the subject, Sylvia found her husband firm. He wanted to go, and he would go. Having once assured himself that it was advantageous to him to do a certain thing, the native obstinacy of the animal urged him to do it despite all opposition from others, and Sylvia, having had her first “cry” over the question of the visit, gave up the point. This was the first difference of their short married life, and she hastened to condone it. In the sunshine of Love and Marriage—for Maurice at first really loved her; and love, curbing the worst part of him, brought to him, as it brings to all of us, that gentleness and abnegation of self which is the only token and assurance of a love aught but animal—Sylvia's fears and doubts melted away, as the mists melt in the beams of morning. A young girl, with passionate fancy, with honest and noble aspirations, but with the dark shadow of her early mental sickness brooding upon her childlike nature, Marriage made her a woman, by developing in her a woman's trust and pride in the man to whom she had voluntarily given herself. Yet by-and-by out of this very sentiment arose a new and strange source of

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anxiety. Having accepted her position as a wife, and put away from her all doubts as to her own capacity for loving the man to whom she had allied herself, she began to be haunted by a dread lest he might do something which would lessen the affection she bore him. On one or two occasions she had been forced to confess that her husband was more of an egotist than she cared to think. He demanded of her no great sacrifices—had he done so she would have found, in making them, the pleasure that women of her nature always find in such self-mortification—but he now and then intruded on her that disregard for the feelings of others which was part of his character. He was fond of her—almost too passionately fond, for her staider liking—but he was unused to thwart his own will in anything, least of all in those seeming trifles, for the consideration of which true unselfishness bethinks itself. Did she want to read when he wanted to walk, he good-humouredly put aside her book, with an assumption that a walk with him must, of necessity, be the most pleasant thing in the world. Did she want to walk when he wanted to rest, he laughingly set up his laziness as an all-sufficient plea for her remaining within doors. He was at no pains to conceal his weariness when she read her favourite books to him. If he felt sleepy when she sang or played, he slept without apology. If she talked about a subject in which he took no interest, he turned the conversation remorselessly. He would not have wittingly offended her; but it seemed to him natural to yawn when he was weary, to sleep when he was fatigued, and to talk only about those subjects which interested him. Had anybody told him that he was selfish, he would have been astonished. Thus it came about that Sylvia one day discovered that she led two lives—one in the body, and one in the spirit—and that with her spiritual existence her husband had no share. This discovery alarmed her, but then she smiled at it. “As if Maurice could be expected to take interest in all my silly fancies,” said she; and, despite a harassing thought that these same fancies were not foolish, but were the best and brightest portion of her, she succeeded in overcoming her uneasiness. “A man's thoughts are different from a woman's,” she said; “he has his business and his worldly cares, of which a woman knows nothing. I must comfort him, and not worry him with my follies.”

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As for Maurice, he grew sometimes rather troubled in his mind. He could not understand his wife. Her nature was an enigma to him; her mind was a puzzle which would not be pieced together with the rectangular correctness of ordinary life. He had known her from a child, had loved her from a child, and had committed a mean and cruel crime to obtain her; but having got her, he was no nearer to the mystery of her than before. She was all his own, he thought. Her golden hair was for his fingers, her lips were for his caress, her eyes looked love upon him alone. Yet there were times when her lips were cold to his kisses, and her eyes looked disdainfully upon his coarser passion. He would catch her musing when he spoke to her, much as she would catch him sleeping when she read to him,— but she awoke with a start and a blush at her forgetfulness, which he never did. He was not a man to brood over these things; and, after some reflective pipes and ineffectual rubbings of his head, he “gave it up.” How was it possible, indeed, for him to solve the mental enigma when the woman herself was to him a physical riddle? It was extraordinary that the child he had seen growing up by his side day by day should be a young woman with little secrets, now to be revealed to him for the first time. He found that she had a mole on her neck, and remembered that he had noticed it when she was a child. Then it was a thing of no moment, now it was a marvellous discovery. He was in daily wonderment at the treasure he had obtained. He marvelled at her feminine devices of dress and adornment. Her dainty garments seemed to him perfumed with the odour of sanctity.

The fact was, that the patron of Sarah Purfoy had not met with many virtuous women, and had but just discovered what a dainty morsel modesty was.

Chapter XVIII.

In the Hospital.

THE hospital of Port Arthur was not a cheerful place, but to the tortured and unnerved Rufus Dawes it seemed a paradise. There at least—despite the roughness and contempt with which his gaolers ministered to him—he felt that

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he was considered. There at least he was free from the enforced companionship of the men whom he loathed, and to whose level he felt, with mental agony unspeakable, that he was daily sinking. Throughout his long term of degradation he had, as yet, aided by the memory of his sacrifice and his love, preserved something of his self-respect, but he felt that he could not preserve it long. Little by little he had come to regard himself as one out of the pale of love and mercy, as one tormented of fortune, plunged into a deep into which the eye of Heaven did not penetrate. Since his capture in the garden at Hobart Town, he had given loose rein to his rage and his despair. “I am forgotten or despised; I have no name in the world; what matter if I become like one of these?” It was under the influence of this feeling that he had picked up the cat at the command of Captain Burgess. As the unhappy Kirkland had said, “As well you as another;” and truly, what was he that he should cherish sentiments of honour or humanity? But he had miscalculated his own capacity for evil. As he flogged, he blushed; and when he flung down the cat and stripped his own back for punishment, he felt a fierce joy in the thought that his baseness would be atoned for in his own blood. Even when, unnerved and faint from the hideous ordeal, he flung himself upon his knees in the cell, he regretted only the impotent ravings that the torture had forced from him. He could have bitten out his tongue for his blasphemous utterings—not because they were blasphemous, but because their utterance, by revealing his agony, gave their triumph to his tormentors. When North found him, he was in the very depth of this abasement, and he repulsed his comforter—not so much because he had seen him flogged, as because he had heard him cry. The self-reliance and force of will which had hitherto sustained him through his self-imposed trial had failed him—he felt—at the moment when he needed it most; and the man who had with unflinched front faced the gallows, the desert, and the sea, confessed his debased humanity beneath the physical torture of the lash. He had been flogged before, and had wept in secret at his degradation, but he now for the first time comprehended how terrible that degradation might be made, for he realized how the agony of the wretched body can force the soul to quit its last poor refuge of assumed indifference, and confess itself conquered.

Not many months before, one of the companions of the

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chain, suffering under Burgess's tender mercies, had killed his mate when at work with him, and, carrying the body on his back to the nearest gang, had surrendered himself—going to his death thanking God he had at last found a way of escape from his miseries, which no one would envy him—save his comrades. The heart of Dawes had been filled with horror at a deed so bloody, and he had, with others, commented on the cowardice of the man that would thus shirk the responsibility of that state of life in which it had pleased man and the devil to place him. Now he understood how and why the crime had been committed, and felt only pity. Lying awake with back that burned beneath its lotioned rags, when lights were low, in the breathful silence of the hospital, he registered in his heart a terrible oath that he would die ere he would again be made such hideous sport for his enemies. In this frame of mind, with such shreds of honour and worth as had formerly clung to him blown away in the whirlwind of his passion, he bethought him of the strange man who had deigned to clasp his hand and call him “brother.” He had wept no unmanly tears at this sudden flow of tenderness in one whom he had thought callous as the rest. He had been touched with wondrous sympathy at the confession of weakness made to him, in a moment when his own weakness had overcome him to his shame. Soothed by the brief rest that his fortnight of hospital seclusion had afforded him, he had begun, in a languid and speculative way, to turn his thoughts to religion. He had read of martyrs who had borne agonies unspeakable, upheld by their confidence in Heaven and God. In his old wild youth he had scoffed at prayers and priests; in the hate to his kind that had grown upon him with his later years he had despised a creed that told men to love one another. “God is love, my brethren,” said the chaplain on Sundays, and all the week the thongs of the overseer cracked, and the cat hissed and swung. Of what practical value was a piety that preached but did not practise? It was admirable for the “religious instructor” to tell a prisoner that he must not give way to evil passions, but must bear his punishment with meekness. It was only right that he should advise him to “put his trust in God.” But as a hardened prisoner, convicted of getting drunk in an unlicensed house of entertainment, had said, “God's terrible far from Port Arthur.”

Rufus Dawes had smiled at the spectacle of priests admonishing

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men, who knew what he knew and had seen what he had seen, for the trivialities of lying and stealing. He had believed all priests impostors or fools, all religion a mockery and a lie. But now, finding how utterly his own strength had failed him when tried by the rude test of physical pain, he began to think that this Religion which was talked of so largely was not a mere bundle of legends and formulæ, but must have in it something vital and sustaining. Broken in spirit and weakened in body, with faith in his own will shaken, he longed for something to lean upon, and turned—as all men turn when in such case—to the Unknown. Had now there been at hand some Christian priest, some Christian-spirited man even, no matter of what faith, to pour into the ears of this poor wretch words of comfort and grace; to rend away from him the garment of sullenness and despair in which he had wrapped himself; to drag from him a confession of his unworthiness, his obstinacy, and his hasty judgment, and to cheer his fainting soul with promise of immortality and justice, he might have been saved from his after fate; but there was no such man. He asked for the Chaplain. North was fighting the Convict Department, seeking vengeance for Kirkland, and (victim of “clerks with the cold spurt of the pen”) was pushed hither and thither, referred here, snubbed there, bowed out in another place. Rufus Dawes, half ashamed of himself for his request, waited a long morning, and then saw, respectfully ushered into his cell as his soul's physician—Meekin.

Chapter XIX.

The Consolations of Religion.

“WELL, my good man,” said Meekin, soothingly, “so you wanted to see me.”

“I asked for the chaplain,” said Rufus Dawes, his anger with himself growing apace.

I am the chaplain,” returned Meekin, with dignity, as who should say,—“none of your brandy-drinking, pea-jacketed Norths, but a Respectable chaplain who is the friend of a Bishop!”

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“I thought that Mr. North was—”

“Mr. North has left, sir,” said Meekin, dryly, “but I will hear what you have to say. There is no occasion to go, constable; wait outside the door.”

Rufus Dawes shifted himself on the wooden bench, and resting his scarcely-healed back against the wall, smiled bitterly. “Don't be afraid, sir; I am not going to harm you,” he said. “I only wanted to talk a little.”

“Do you read your Bible, Dawes?” asked Meekin, by way of reply. “It would be better to read your Bible than to talk, I think. You must humble yourself in prayer, Dawes.”

“I have read it,” said Dawes, still lying back and watching him.

“But is your mind softened by its teachings? Do you realize the Infinite Mercy of God, who has compassion, Dawes, upon the greatest sinners?” The convict made a move of impatience. The old sickening, barren cant of piety was to be recommenced then. He came asking for bread, and they gave him the usual stone.

“Do you believe that there is a God, Mr. Meekin?”

“Abandoned sinner! Do you insult a clergyman by such a question?”

“Because I think sometimes that if there is, He must often be dissatisfied at the way things are done here,” said Dawes, half to himself.

“I can listen to no mutinous observations, prisoner,” said Meekin. “Do not add blasphemy to your other crimes. I fear that all conversation with you, in your present frame of mind, would be worse than useless. I will mark a few passages in your Bible, that seem to me appropriate to your condition, and beg you to commit them to memory. Hailes, the door, if you please.”

So, with a bow, the “consoler” departed.

Rufus Dawes felt his heart grow sick. North had gone, then. The only man who had seemed to have a heart in his bosom had gone. The only man who had dared to clasp his horny and blood-stained hand, and call him “brother,” had gone. Turning his head, he saw through the window—wide open and unbarred, for Nature, at Port Arthur, had no need of bars—the lovely bay, smooth as glass, glittering in the afternoon sun, the long quay, spotted with groups of parti-coloured chain-gangs,

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and heard, mingling with the soft murmur of the waves, and the gentle rustling of the trees, the never-ceasing clashing of irons, and the eternal click of hammers. Was he to be for ever buried in this whitened sepulchre, shut out from the face of Heaven and mankind?

The appearance of Hailes broke his reverie. “Here's a book for you,” said he, with a grin. “Parson sent it.”

Rufus Dawes took the Bible, and, placing it on his knee, turned to the places indicated by slips of paper. There were some three or four of these slips of paper, embracing some twenty marked texts.

“Parson says he'll come and hear you to-morrer, and you're to keep the book clean.”

“Keep the book clean!” and “hear him!” Did Meekin think that he was a charity school boy? The utter incapacity of the chaplain to understand his wants was so sublime that it was nearly ridiculous enough to make him laugh. He turned his eyes downwards to the texts. Good Meekin, in the fulness of his stupidity, had selected the fiercest denunciations of bard and priest. The most notable of the Psalmist's curses upon his enemies, the most furious of Isaiah's ravings anent the forgetfulness of the national worship, the most terrible thunderings of apostle and evangelist against idolatry and unbelief, were grouped together and presented to Dawes to soothe him. All the material horrors of Meekin's faith—stripped, by force of dissociation from the context, of all poetic feeling and local colouring—were launched at the suffering sinner by Meekin's ignorant hand. The miserable man, seeking for consolation and peace, turned over the leaves of the Bible only to find himself threatened with “the pains of Hell,” “the never-dying worm,” “the unquenchable fire,” “the bubbling brimstone,” the “bottomless pit,” from out of which the “smoke of his torment” should ascend for ever and ever. Before his eyes was held no image of a tender Saviour (with hands soft to soothe, and eyes brimming with ineffable pity) dying crucified that he and other malefactors might have hope, by thinking on such marvellous humanity. The worthy Pharisee who was sent to him to teach him how mankind is to be redeemed with Love, preached only that harsh Law whose barbarous power died with the gentle Nazarene on Calvary.

Repelled by this unlooked-for ending to his hopes, he let the

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book fall to the ground. “Is there, then, nothing but torment for me in this world or the next?” he groaned, shuddering. Presently his eyes sought his right hand, resting upon it as though it were not his own, or had some secret virtue which made it different from the other. “He would not have done this? He would not have thrust upon me these savage judgments, these dreadful threats of Hell and Death. He called me ‘Brother!’” And filled with a strange wild pity for himself, and yearning love towards the man who befriended him, he fell to nursing the hand on which North's tears had fallen, moaning and rocking himself to and fro.

Meekin, coming in the morning, found his pupil more sullen than ever.

“Have you learned these texts, my man?” said he, cheerfully, willing not to be angered with his uncouth and unpromising convert.

Rufus Dawes pointed with his foot to the Bible, which still lay on the floor as he had left it the night before. “No!”

“No! Why not?”

“I would learn no such words as those. I would rather forget them.”

“Forget them! My good man, I ——”

Rufus Dawes sprang up in sudden wrath, and pointing to his cell door with a gesture that—chained and degraded as he was—had something of dignity in it, cried, “What do you know about the feelings of such as I? Take your book and yourself away. When I asked for a priest, I had no thought of you. Begone!”

Meekin, despite the halo of sanctity which he felt should surround him, found his gentility melt all of a sudden. Adventitious distinctions had disappeared for the instant. The pair had become simply man and man, and the sleek priest-master quailing before the outraged manhood of the convict-penitent, picked up his Bible and backed out.

“That man Dawes is very insolent,” said the insulted chaplain to Burgess. “He was brutal to me to-day—quite brutal.”

“Was he?” said Burgess. “Had too long a spell, I expect. I'll send him back to work to-morrow.”

“It would be well,” said Meekin, “if he had some employment.”

  ― 303 ―

Chapter XX.

“A Natural Penitentiary.”

THE “employment” at Port Arthur consisted chiefly of agriculture, ship-building, and tanning. Dawes, who was in the chain-gang, was put to chain-gang labour; that is to say, bringing down logs from the forest, or “lumbering” timber on the wharf. This work was not light. An ingenious calculator has discovered that the pressure of the log upon the shoulder was wont to average 125 lbs. Members of the chain-gang were dressed in yellow, and—by way of encouraging the others—had the word “Felon” stamped upon conspicuous parts of their raiment.

This was the sort of life Rufus Dawes led. In the summer time he rose at half-past five in the morning, and worked until six in the evening, getting three-quarters of an hour for breakfast, and one hour for dinner. Once a week he had a clean shirt, and once a fortnight clean socks. If he felt sick, he was permitted to “report his case to the medical officer.” If he wanted to write a letter he could ask permission of the Commandant, and send the letter, open, through that Almighty Officer, who could stop it if he thought necessary. If he felt himself aggrieved by any order, he was “to obey it instantly, but might complain afterwards, if he thought fit, to the Commandant.” In making any complaint against an officer or constable, it was strictly ordered that a prisoner “must be most respectful in his manner and language, when speaking of or to such officer or constable.” He was held responsible only for the safety of his chains, and for the rest was at the mercy of his gaoler. These gaolers—owning right of search, entry into cells at all hours, and other droits of seigneury—were responsible only to the Commandant, who was responsible only to the Governor, that is to say, to nobody but God and his own conscience. The jurisdiction of the Commandant included the whole of Tasman's Peninsula, with the islands and waters within three miles thereof; and save the making of certain returns to head-quarters, his power was unlimited.

A word as to the position and appearance of this place of punishment. Tasman's Peninsula is, as we have said before,

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in the form of an earring with a double drop. The lower drop is the larger, and is ornamented, so to speak, with bays. At its southern extremity, is a deep indentation called Maingon Bay, bounded east and west by the organ-pipe rocks of Cape Raoul, and the giant form of Cape Pillar. From Maingon Bay an arm of the ocean cleaves the rocky walls in a northerly direction. On the Western coast of this sea-arm was the settlement; in front of it was a little island where the dead were buried, called The Island of the Dead. Ere the in-coming convict passed the purple beauty of this convict Golgotha, his eyes were attracted by a point of grey rock covered with white buildings, and swarming with life. This was Point Puer, the place of confinement for boys from eight to twenty years of age. It was astonishing—many honest folks averred—how ungrateful were these juvenile convicts for the goods the Government had provided for them. From the extremity of Long Bay, as the extension of the sea-arm was named, a convict-made tramroad ran due north, through the nearly impenetrable thicket to Norfolk Bay. In the mouth of Norfolk Bay was Woody Island. This was used as a signal station, and an armed boat's crew was stationed there. To the north of Woody Island lay One-tree Point—the southern-most projection of the drop of the earring; and the sea that ran between narrowed to the eastward, until it struck on the sandy bar of Eaglehawk-Neck. Eaglehawk-Neck was the link that connected the two drops of the earring. It was a strip of sand four hundred and fifty yards across. On its eastern side the blue waters of Pirates Bay, that is to say, of the Southern Ocean, poured their unchecked force. The isthmus emerged from a wild and terrible coast-line, into whose bowels the ravenous sea had bored strange caverns, resonant with perpetual roar of tortured billows. At one spot in this wilderness the ocean had penetrated the wall of rock for two hundred feet, and in stormy weather the salt spray rose through a perpendicular shaft more than five hundred feet deep. This place was called the Devil's Blow-hole. The upper drop of the earring was named Forrestier's Peninsula, and was joined to the mainland by another isthmus called East Bay Neck. Forrestier's Peninsula was an almost impenetrable thicket, growing to the brink of a perpendicular cliff of basalt.

Eaglehawk-Neck was the door to the prison, and it was kept bolted. On the narrow strip of land was built a guard-house,

  ― 305 ―
where soldiers from the barrack on the mainland relieved each other night and day; and on stages, set out in the water in either side, watch-dogs were chained. The station officer was charged “to pay especial attention to the feeding and care” of these useful beasts, being ordered “to report to the Commandant whenever any one of them became useless.” It may be added that the Bay was not innocent of sharks. Westward from Eaglehawk-Neck and Woody Island, lay the dreaded Coal Mines. Sixty of the “marked men” were stationed here under a strong guard. At the Coal Mines was the northernmost of that ingenious series of semaphores which rendered escape almost impossible. The wild and mountainous character of the peninsula offered peculiar advantages to the signalmen. On the summit of the hill which overlooked the guard tower of the settlement was a gigantic gum-tree stump, upon the top of which was placed a semaphore. This semaphore communicated with the two wings of the prison—Eaglehawk-Neck and the Coal Mines—by sending a line of signals right across the peninsula. Thus, the settlement communicated with Mount Arthur, Mount Arthur with One-tree Hill, One-tree Hill with Mount Communication, and Mount Communication with the Coal Mines. On the other side, the signals would run thus—the settlement to Signal Hill, Signal Hill to Woody Island, Woody Island to Eaglehawk. Did a prisoner escape from the Coal Mines, the guard at Eaglehawk-Neck could be aroused, and the whole island informed of the “bolt” in less than twenty minutes. With these advantages of nature and art, the prison was held to be the most secure in the world. Colonel Arthur reported to the Home Government that the spot which bore his name was a “natural penitentiary.” The worthy disciplinarian probably took as a personal compliment the polite forethought of the Almighty, in thus considerately providing for the carrying out of the celebrated “Regulations for Convict Discipline.”

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Chapter XXI.

A Visit of Inspection.

ONE afternoon the ever-active semaphores transmitted a piece of intelligence which set the peninsula agog. Captain Frere, having arrived from head-quarters, with orders to hold an inquiry into the death of Kirkland, was not unlikely to make a progress through the stations, and it behoved the keepers of the Natural Penitentiary to produce their Penitents in good case. Burgess was in high spirits at finding so congenial a soul selected for the task of reporting upon him.

“It's only a nominal thing, old man,” Frere said to his former comrade, when they met. “That parson has made meddling, and they want to close his mouth.”

“I am glad to have the opportunity of showing you and Mrs. Frere the place,” returned Burgess. “I must try and make your stay as pleasant as I can, though I'm afraid that Mrs. Frere will not find much to amuse her.”

“Frankly, Captain Burgess,” said Sylvia, “I would rather have gone straight to Sydney. My husband, however, was obliged to come, and of course I accompanied him.”

“You will not have much society,” said Meekin, who was of the welcoming party. “Mrs. Datchett, the wife of one of our stipendiaries, is the only lady here, and I hope to have the pleasure of making you acquainted with her this evening at the Commandant's. Mr. McNab, whom you know, is in command at the Neck, and cannot leave, or you would have seen him.”

“I have planned a little party,” said Burgess, “but I fear that it will not be so successful as I could wish.”

“You wretched old bachelor,” said Frere, “you should get married, like me.”

“Ah!” said Burgess, with a bow, “that would be difficult.”

Sylvia was compelled to smile at the compliment, made in the presence of some twenty prisoners, who were carrying the various trunks and packages up the hill, and she remarked that the said prisoners grinned at the Commandant's clumsy courtesy.

“I don't like Captain Burgess, Maurice,” she said, in the

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interval before dinner. “I dare say he did flog that poor fellow to death. He looks as if he could do it.”

“Nonsense!” said Maurice, pettishly; “he's a good fellow enough. Besides, I've seen the doctor's certificate. It's a trumped-up story. I can't understand your absurd sympathy with prisoners.”

“Don't they sometimes deserve sympathy?”

“No, certainly not—a set of lying scoundrels. You are always whining over them, Sylvia. I don't like it, and I've told you before about it.”

Sylvia said nothing. Maurice was often guilty of these small brutalities, and she had learnt that the best way to meet them was by silence. Unfortunately, silence did not mean indifference, for the reproof was unjust, and nothing stings a woman's fine sense like an injustice.

Burgess had prepared a feast, and the “Society” of Port Arthur was present. Father Flaherty, Meekin, Doctor Macklewain, and Mr. and Mrs. Datchett had been invited, and the dining-room was resplendent with glass and flowers.

“I've a fellow who was a professional gardener,” said Burgess to Sylvia during the dinner, “and I make use of his talents.”

“We have a professional artist also,” said Macklewain, with a sort of pride. “That picture of the ‘Prisoner of Chillon’ yonder was painted by him. A very meritorious production, is it not?”

“I've got the place full of curiosities,” said Burgess; “quite a collection. I'll show them to you to-morrow. Those napkin rings were made by a prisoner.”

“Ah!” cried Frere, taking up the daintily-carved bone, “very neat!”

“That is some of Rex's handiwork,” said Meekin. “He is very clever at these trifles. He made me a paper-cutter that was really a work of art.”

“We will go down to the Neck to-morrow or next day, Mrs. Frere,” said Burgess, “and you shall see the Blow-hole. It is a curious place.”

“Is it far?” asked Sylvia.

“Oh no! We shall go in the train.”

“The train!”

“Yes—don't look so astonished. You'll see it to-morrow.

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Oh, you Hobart Town ladies don't know what we can do here.”

“What about this Kirkland business?” Frere asked. “I suppose I can have half an hour with you in the morning, and take the depositions?”

“Any time you like, my dear fellow,” said Burgess. “It's all the same to me.”

I don't want to make more fuss than I can help,” Frere said apologetically—the dinner had been good—“but I must send these people up a ‘full, true, and particular,’ don't you know.”

“Of course,” cried Burgess, with friendly nonchalance. “That's all right. I want Mrs. Frere to see Point Puer.”

“Where the boys are?” asked Sylvia.

“Exactly. Nearly three hundred of 'em. We'll go down to-morrow, and you shall be my witness, Mrs. Frere, as to the way they are treated.”

“Indeed,” said Sylvia, protesting, “I would rather not. I—I don't take the interest in these things that I ought, perhaps. They are very dreadful to me.”

“Nonsense!” said Frere, with a scowl. “We'll come, Burgess, of course.”

The next two days were devoted to sight-seeing. Sylvia was taken through the Hospital and the Workshops, shown the semaphores, and shut up by Maurice in a “dark cell.” Her husband and Burgess seemed to treat the prison like a tame animal, whom they could handle at their leisure, and whose natural ferocity was kept in check by their superior intelligence. This bringing of a young and pretty woman into immediate contact with bolts and bars had about it an incongruity which pleased them. Maurice penetrated everywhere, questioned the prisoners, jested with the jailers, even, in the munificence of his heart, bestowed tobacco on the sick.

With such graceful rattlings of dry bones, they got by-and-by to Point Puer, where a luncheon had been provided.

An unlucky accident had occurred at Point Puer that morning, however, and the place was in a suppressed ferment. A refractory little thief named Peter Brown, aged twelve years, had jumped off the high rock and drowned himself in full view of the constables. These “jumpings off” had become rather frequent lately, and Burgess was enraged at one happening on

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this particular day. If he could by any possibility have brought the corpse of poor little Peter Brown to life again, he would have soundly whipped it for its impertinence.

“It is most unfortunate,” he said to Frere, as they stood in the cell where the little body was laid, “that it should have happened to-day.”

“Oh,” says Frere, frowning down upon the young face that seemed to smile up at him. “It can't be helped. I know those young devils. They'd do it out of spite. What sort of a character had he?”

“Very bad—Johnson, the book.”

Johnson bringing it, the two saw Peter Brown's iniquities set down in the neatest of running hand, and the record of his punishments ornamented in quite an artistic way with flourishes of red ink.

“20th November, disorderly conduct, 12 lashes. 24th November, insolence to hospital attendant, diet reduced. 4th December, stealing cap from another prisoner, 12 lashes. 15th December, absenting himself at roll call, two days' cells. 23rd December, insolence and insubordination, two days' cells. 8th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes. 20th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes. 22nd February, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes and one week's solitary. 6th March, insolence and insubordination, 20 lashes.”

“That was the last?” asked Frere.

“Yes, sir,” says Johnson.

“And then he—hum—did it?”

“Just so, sir. That was the way of it.”

Just so! The magnificent system starved and tortured a child of twelve until he killed himself. That was the way of it.

After luncheon the party made a progress. Everything was most admirable. There was a long schoolroom, where such men as Meekin taught how Christ loved little children; and behind the schoolroom were the cells and the constables and the little yard where they gave their “twenty lashes.” Sylvia shuddered at the array of faces. From the stolid nineteen years old booby of the Kentish hop-fields, to the wizened, shrewd, ten years old Bohemian of the London streets, all degrees and grades of juvenile vice grinned, in untamable wickedness, or snuffled in affected piety. “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom

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of Heaven,” said, or is reported to have said, the Founder of our Established Religion. Of such it seemed that a large number of Honourable Gentlemen, together with Her Majesty's faithful Commons in Parliament assembled, had done their best to create a Kingdom of Hell.

After the farce had been played again, and the children had stood up and sat down, and sung a hymn, and told how many twice five were, and repeated their belief in “One God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth,” the party reviewed the workshops, and saw the church, and went everywhere but into the room where the body of Peter Brown, aged twelve, lay starkly on its wooden bench, staring at the gaol roof which was between it and Heaven.

Just outside this room, Sylvia met with a little adventure. Meekin had stopped behind, and Burgess, being suddenly summoned for some official duty, Frere had gone with him, leaving his wife to rest on a bench that, placed at the summit of the cliff, overlooked the sea. While resting thus, she became aware of another presence, and, turning her head, beheld a small boy, with his cap in one hand and a hammer in the other. The appearance of the little creature, clad in a uniform of grey cloth that was too large for him, and holding in his withered little hand a hammer that was too heavy for him, had something pathetic about it.

“What is it, you mite?” asked Sylvia.

“We thought you might have seen him, mum,” said the little figure, opening its blue eyes with wonder at the kindness of the tone.

“Him! Whom?”

“Cranky Brown, mum,” returned the child; “him as did it this morning. Me and Billy knowed him, mum; he was a mate of ours, and we wanted to know if he looked happy.”

“What do you mean, child?” said she, with a strange terror at her heart; and then, filled with pity at the aspect of the little being, she drew him to her, with sudden womanly instinct, and kissed him.

He looked up at her with joyful surprise.

“Oh!” he said.

Sylvia kissed him again.

“Does nobody ever kiss you, poor little man?” said she.

“Mother used to,” was the reply, “but she's at home. Oh,

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mum,” with a sudden crimsoning of the little face, “may I fetch Billy?”

And taking courage from the bright young face, he gravely marched to an angle of the rock, and brought out another little creature, with another grey uniform and another hammer.

“This is Billy, mum,” he said. “Billy never had no mother. Kiss Billy.”

The young wife felt the tears rush to her eyes. “You two poor babies!” she cried. And then, forgetting that she was a lady, dressed in silk and lace, she fell on her knees in the dust, and, folding the friendless pair in her arms, wept over them.

“What is the matter, Sylvia?” said Frere, when he came up. “You've been crying.”

“Nothing, Maurice; at least, I will tell you by-and-by.”

When they were alone that evening, she told him of the two little boys, and he laughed.

“Artful little humbugs,” he said, and supported his argument by so many illustrations of the precocious wickedness of juvenile felons, that his wife was half convinced against her will.

Unfortunately, when Sylvia went away, Tommy and Billy put into execution a plan which they had carried in their poor little heads for some weeks.

“I can do it now,” said Tommy. “I feel strong.”

“Will it hurt much, Tommy?” said Billy, who was not so courageous.

“Not so much as a whipping.”

“I'm afraid! Oh, Tom, it's so deep! Don't leave me Tom!”

The bigger boy took his little handkerchief from his neck, and with it bound his own left hand to his companion's right.

“Now I can't leave you.”

“What was it the lady that kissed us said, Tommy?”

“Lord, have pity of them two fatherless children!” repeated Tommy.

“Let's say it, Tom.”

And so the two babies knelt on the brink of the cliff, and raising the bound hands together, looked up at the sky, and ungrammatically said, “Lord, have pity on we two fatherless children!” And then they kissed each other, and “did it.”

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The intelligence, transmitted by the ever-active semaphore, reached the Commandant in the midst of dinner, and in his agitation he blurted it out.

“These are the two poor things I saw in the morning,” cried Sylvia. “Oh, Maurice, these two poor babies driven to suicide!”

“Condemning their young souls to everlasting fire,” said Meekin, piously.

“Mr. Meekin! How can you talk like that! Poor little creatures! Oh, it's horrible! Maurice, take me away.” And she burst into a passion of weeping.

I can't help it, ma'am,” says Burgess, rudely, ashamed. “It ain't my fault.”

“She's nervous,” says Frere, leading her away. “You must excuse her. Come and lie down, dearest.”

“I will not stay here longer,” said she. “Let us go to-morrow.”

“We can't,” said Frere.

“Oh, yes, we can. I insist. Maurice, if you love me, take me away.”

“Well,” said Maurice, moved by her evident grief, “I'll try.”

He spoke to Burgess. “Burgess, this matter has unsettled my wife, so that she wants to leave at once. I must visit the Neck, you know. How can we do it?”

“Well,” says Burgess, “if the wind only holds, the brig could go round to Pirates' Bay and pick you up. You'll only be a night at the barracks.”

“I think that would be best,” said Frere. “We'll start to-morrow, please, and if you'll give me a pen and ink I'll be obliged.”

“I hope you are satisfied,” said Burgess.

“Oh, quite,” said Frere. “I must recommend more careful supervision at Point Puer, though. It will never do to have these young blackguards slipping through our fingers in this way.”

So a neatly written statement of the occurrence was appended to the ledgers in which the names of William Tomkins and Thomas Grove were entered. Macklewain held an inquest, and nobody troubled about them any more. Why should they? The prisons of London were full of such Tommys and Billys.

Sylvia passed through the rest of her journey in a dream of terror. The incident of the children had shaken her nerves,

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and she longed to be away from the place and its associations. Even Eaglehawk-Neck, with its curious dog stages and its “natural pavement,” did not interest her. McNab's blandishments were wearisome. She shuddered as she gazed into the boiling abyss of the Blow-hole, and shook with fear as the Commandant's “train” rattled over the dangerous tramway that wound across the precipice to Long Bay. The “train” was composed of a number of low waggons pushed and dragged up the steep inclines by convicts, who drew themselves up in the waggons when the trucks dashed down the slope, and acted as drags. Sylvia felt degraded at being thus drawn by human beings, and trembled when the lash cracked, and the convicts answered to the sting—like cattle. Moreover, there was among the foremost of these beasts of burden a face that had dimly haunted her girlhood, and only lately vanished from her dreams. This face looked on her—she thought—with bitterest loathing and scorn, and she felt relieved when at the mid-day halt its owner was ordered to fall out from the rest, and was with four others re-chained for the homeward journey. Frere, struck with the appearance of the five, said, “By Jove, Poppet, there are our old friends Rex and Dawes, and the others. They won't let 'em come all the way, because they are such a desperate lot, they might make a rush for it.” Sylvia comprehended now: the face was the face of Dawes; and as she looked after him, she saw him suddenly raise his hands above his head with a motion that terrified her. She felt for an instant a great shock of pitiful recollection. Staring at the group, she strove to recall when and how Rufus Dawes, the wretch from whose clutches her husband had saved her, had ever merited her pity, but her clouded memory could not complete the picture, and as the waggons swept round a curve, and the group disappeared, she awoke from her reverie with a sigh.

“Maurice,” she whispered, “how is it that the sight of that man always makes me sad?”

Her husband frowned, and then caressing her, bade her forget the man and the place and her fears. “I was wrong to have insisted on your coming,” he said. They stood on the deck of the Sydney-bound vessel the next morning, and watched the “Natural Penitentiary” grow dim in the distance. “You were not strong enough.”

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“Dawes,” said John Rex, “you love that girl! Now that you've seen her another man's wife, and have been harnessed like a beast to drag him along the road, while he held her in his arms!—now that you've seen and suffered that, perhaps you'll join us.”

Rufus Dawes made a movement of agonized impatience.

“You'd better. You'll never get out of this place any other way. Come, be a man; join us!”


“It is your only chance. Why refuse it? Do you want to live here all your life?”

“I want no sympathy from you or any other. I will not join you.”

Rex shrugged his shoulders and walked away. “If you think to get any good out of that ‘inquiry,’ you are mightily mistaken,” said he, as he went. “Frere has put a stopper upon that you'll find.”

He spoke truly. Nothing more was heard of it, only that, some six months afterwards, Mr. North, when at Paramatta, received an official letter (in which the expenditure of wax and printing and paper was as large as it could be made) which informed him that the “Comptroller-General of the convict department had decided that further inquiry concerning the death of the prisoner named in the margin was unnecessary,” and that some gentleman with an utterly illegible signature “had the honour to be his most obedient servant.”

Chapter XXII.

Gathering in the Threads.

MAURICE found his favourable expectations of Sydney fully realized. His notable escape from death at Macquarie Harbour, his alliance with the daughter of so respected a colonist as Major Vickers, and his reputation as a convict disciplinarian, rendered him a man of note. He received a vacant magistracy, and became even more noted for hardness of heart and artfulness of prison knowledge than before. The convict population spoke of him as “that ——

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Frere,” and registered vows of vengeance against him, which he laughed—in his bluffness—to scorn.

One anecdote concerning the method by which he shepherded his flock will suffice to show his character and his value. It was his custom to visit the prison-yard at Hyde Park Barracks twice a week. Visitors to convicts were, of course, armed, and the two pistol-butts that peeped from Frere's waistcoat attracted many a longing eye. How easy would it be for some fellow to pluck one forth and shatter the smiling, hateful face of the noted disciplinarian! Frere, however, brave to rashness, never would bestow his weapons more safely, but lounged through the yards with his hands in the pockets of his shooting-coat, and the deadly butts ready to the hand of any one bold enough to take them.

One day a man named Kavanagh, a captured absconder, who had openly sworn in the dock the death of the magistrate, walked quickly up to him as he was passing through the yard, and snatched a pistol from his belt. The yard caught its breath, and the attendant warder, hearing the click of the lock, instinctively turned his head away, so that he might not be blinded by the flash. But Kavanagh did not fire. At the instant when his hand was on the pistol, he looked up and met the magnetic glance of Frere's imperious eyes. An effort, and the spell would have been broken. A twitch of the finger, and his enemy would have fallen dead. There was an instant when that twitch of the finger could have been given, but Kavanagh let that instant pass. The dauntless eye fascinated him. He played with the pistol nervously, while all remained stupefied. Frere stood, without withdrawing his hands from the pockets into which they were plunged.

“That's a fine pistol, Jack,” he said at last.

Kavanagh, down whose white face the sweat was pouring, burst into a hideous laugh of relieved terror, and thrust the weapon, cocked as it was, back again into the magistrate's belt.

Frere slowly drew one hand from his pocket, took the cocked pistol and levelled it at his recent assailant. “That's the best chance you'll ever get, Jack,” said he.

Kavanagh fell on his knees. “For God's sake, Captain Frere!”

Frere looked down on the trembling wretch, and then uncocked the pistol, with a laugh of ferocious contempt. “Get

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up, you dog,” he said. “It takes a better man than you to best me. Bring him up in the morning, Hawkins, and we'll give him five-and-twenty.”

As he went out—so great is the admiration for Power—the poor devils in the yard cheered him.

One of the first things that this useful officer did upon his arrival in Sydney was to inquire for Sarah Purfoy. To his astonishment, he discovered that she was the proprietor of large export warehouses in Pitt-street, owned a neat cottage on one of the points of land which jutted into the bay, and was reputed to possess a banking account of no inconsiderable magnitude. He in vain applied his brains to solve this mystery. His cast-off mistress had not been rich when she left Van Diemen's Land—at least, so she had assured him, and appearances bore out her assurance. How had she accumulated this sudden wealth? Above all, why had she thus invested it? He made inquiries at the banks, but was snubbed for his pains. Sydney banks in those days did some queer business.

“Mrs. Purfoy had come to them fully accredited,” said the manager with a smile.

“But where did she get the money?” asked the magistrate. “I am suspicious of these sudden fortunes. The woman was a notorious character in Hobart Town, and when she left hadn't a penny.”

“My dear Captain Frere,” said the acute banker—his father had been one of the builders of the “Rum Hospital”—“it is not the custom of our bank to make inquiries into the previous history of its customers. The bills were good, you may depend, or we should not have honoured them. Good morning!”

“The bills!” Frere saw but one explanation. Sarah had received the proceeds of some of Rex's rogueries. Rex's letter to his father, and the mention of the sum of money “in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard,” flashed across his memory. Perhaps Sarah had got the money from the receiver and appropriated it. But why invest it in an oil and tallow warehouse? He had always been suspicious of the woman, because he had never understood her, and his suspicions redoubled. Convinced that there was some plot hatching, he determined to use all the advantages that his position gave him to discover the secret and bring it to light. The name of the man to

  ― 317 ―
whom Rex's letter had been addressed was “Blick.” He would find out if any of the convicts under his care had heard of Blick. Prosecuting his inquiries in the proper direction, he soon obtained a reply. Blick was a London receiver of stolen goods, known to at least a dozen of the black sheep of the Sydney fold. He was reputed to be enormously wealthy, had often been tried, but never convicted. Frere was thus not much nearer enlightenment than before, and an incident occurred a few months afterwards which increased his bewilderment. He had not been long established in his magistracy, when Blunt came to claim payment for the voyage of Sarah Purfoy. “There's that schooner going begging, one may say, sir,” said Blunt, when the office door was shut.

“What schooner?”

“The Franklin.”

Now the Franklin was a vessel of three hundred and twenty tons, which plied between Norfolk and Sydney, as the Osprey had plied in the old days between Macquarie Harbour and Hobart Town. “I am afraid that is rather stiff, Blunt,” said Frere. “That's one of the best billets going, you know. I doubt if I have enough interest to get it for you. Besides,” he added, eyeing the sailor critically, “you are getting oldish for that sort of thing, ain't you?”

Phineas Blunt stretched his arms wide, and opened his mouth, full of sound white teeth. “I am good for twenty years more yet, sir,” he said. “My father was trading to the Indies at seventy five years of age. I'm hearty enough, thank God; for, barring a drop of rum now and then, I've no vices to speak of. However, I ain't in a hurry, Captain, for a month or so; only I thought I'd jog your memory a bit, d'ye see.”

“Oh, you're not in a hurry; where are you going then?”

“Well,” said Blunt, shifting on his seat, uneasy under Frere's convict disciplined eye, “I've got a job on hand.”

“Glad of it, I'm sure. What sort of a job?”

“A job of whaling,” said Blunt, more uneasy than before.

“Oh, that's it, is it? Your old line of business. And who employs you now?” There was no suspicion in the tone, and had Blunt chosen to evade the question, he might have done so without difficulty, but he replied as one who had anticipated such questioning, and had been advised how to answer it.

“Mrs. Purfoy.”

  ― 318 ―

“What!” cried Frere, scarcely able to believe his ears.

“She's got a couple of ships now, Captain, and she made me skipper of one of 'em. We look for beshdellamare,note and take a turn at harpooning sometimes.”

Frere stared at Blunt, who stared at the window. There was—so the instinct of the magistrate told him—some strange project afoot. Yet that common sense which so often misleads us, urged that it was quite natural Sarah should employ whaling vessels to increase her trade. Granted that there was nothing wrong about her obtaining the business, there was nothing strange about her owning a couple of whaling vessels. There were people in Sydney, of no better origin, who owned half-a-dozen. “Oh,” said he. “And when do you start?”

“I'm expecting to get the word every day,” returned Blunt, apparently relieved, “and I thought I'd just come and see you first, in case of anything falling in.” Frere played with a pen-knife on the table in silence for a while, allowing it to fall through his fingers with a series of sharp clicks, and then he said, “Where does she get the money from?”

“Blest if I know!” said Blunt, in unaffected simplicity. “That's beyond me. She says she saved it. But that's all my eye, you know.”

You don't know anything about it, then,” cried Frere, suddenly fierce.

“No, not I.”

“Because, if there's any game on, she'd better take care,” he cried, relapsing, in his excitement, into the convict vernacular. “She knows me. Tell her that I've got my eyes on her. Let her remember her bargain. If she runs any rigs on me, let her take care.” In his suspicious wrath he so savagely and unwarily struck downwards with the open penknife that it shut upon his fingers, and cut him to the bone.

“I'll tell her,” said Blunt, wiping his brow. “I'm sure she wouldn't go to sell you. But I'll look in when I come back, sir.” When he got outside he drew a long breath. “By the Lord Harry, but it's a ticklish game to play,” he said to himself, with a lively recollection of the dreaded Frere's vehemence; “and there's only one woman in the world I'd be fool enough to play it for.”

  ― 319 ―

Maurice Frere, oppressed with suspicions, ordered his horse that afternoon, and rode down to see the cottage which the owner of “Purfoy Stores” had purchased. He found it a low white building, situated four miles from the city, at the extreme end of a tongue of land which ran into the deep waters of the harbour. A garden, carefully cultivated, stood between the roadway and the house, and in this garden he saw a man digging.

“Does Mrs. Purfoy live here?” he asked, pushing open one of the iron gates.

The man replied in the affirmative, staring at the visitor with some suspicion.

“Is she at home?”


“You are sure?”

“If you don't believe me, ask at the house,” was the reply, given in the uncourteous tone of a free man.

Frere pushed his horse through the gate, and walked up the broad and well-kept carriage drive. A man-servant in livery, answering his ring, told him that Mrs. Purfoy had gone to town, and then shut the door in his face. Frere, more astonished than ever at these outward and visible signs of independence, paused indignant, feeling half inclined to enter despite opposition. As he looked through the break of the trees, he saw the masts of a brig lying at anchor off the extremity of the point on which the house was built, and understood that the cottage commanded communication by water as well as by land. Could there be a special motive in choosing such a situation, or was it mere chance? He was uneasy, but strove to dismiss his alarm.

Sarah had kept faith with him so far. She had entered upon a new and more reputable life, and why should he seek to imagine evil where perhaps no evil was? Blunt was evidently honest. Women like Sarah Purfoy often emerged into a condition of comparative riches and apparent domestic virtue. It was likely that, after all, some wealthy merchant was the real owner of house and garden, pleasure yacht, and tallow warehouse, and that he had no cause for fear.

The experienced convict disciplinarian did not rate the ability of John Rex high enough.

From the instant the convict had heard his sentence of life banishment, he had determined upon escaping, and had brought

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all the powers of his acute and unscrupulous intellect to the consideration of the best method of achieving his purpose. His first care was to procure money. This he thought to do by writing to Blick, but when informed by Meekin of the fate of his letter, he adopted the—to him—less pleasant alternative of procuring it through Sarah Purfoy.

It was peculiar to the man's hard and ungrateful nature that, despite the attachment of the woman who had followed him to his place of durance, and had made it the object of her life to set him free, he had cherished for her no affection. It was her beauty that had attracted him, when, as Mr. Lionel Crofton, he swaggered in the night-society of London. Her talents and her devotion were secondary considerations—useful to him as attributes of a creature he owned, but not to be thought of when his fancy wearied of its choice. During the twelve years which had passed since his rashness had delivered him into the hands of the law at the house of Green, the coiner, he had been oppressed with no regrets for her fate. He had, indeed, seen and suffered so much, that the old life had been put away from him. When, on his return, he heard that Sarah Purfoy was still in Hobart Town, he was glad, for he knew that he had an ally who would do her utmost to help him—she had shown that on board the Malabar. But he was also sorry, for he remembered that the price she would demand for her services was his affection, and that had cooled long ago. However, he would make use of her. There might be a way to discard her if she proved troublesome.

His pretended piety had accomplished the end he had assumed it for. Despite Frere's exposure of his cryptograph, he had won the confidence of Meekin; and into that worthy creature's ear he poured a strange and sad history. He was the son, he said, of a clergyman of the Church of England, whose real name, such was his reverence for the cloth, should never pass his lips. He was transported for a forgery which he did not commit. Sarah Purfoy was his wife—his erring, lost, and yet loved wife. She, an innocent and trusting girl, had determined—strong in the remembrance of that promise she had made at the altar—to follow her husband to his place of doom, and had hired herself as lady's-maid to Mrs. Vickers. Alas! fever prostrated that husband on a bed of sickness, and Maurice Frere, the profligate and the villain, had taken

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advantage of the wife's unprotected state to ruin her! Rex darkly hinted how the seducer made his power over the sick and helpless husband a weapon against the virtue of the wife and so terrified poor Meekin, that, had it not “happened so long ago,” he would have thought it necessary to look with some disfavour upon the boisterous son-in-law of Major Vickers.

“I bear him no ill-will, sir,” said Rex. “I did at first. There was a time when I could have killed him, but when I had him in my power, I—as you know—forbore to strike. No, sir, I could not commit murder!”

“Very proper,” says Meekin, “very proper indeed.”

“God will punish him in His own way, and His own time,” continued Rex. “My great sorrow is for the poor woman. She is in Sydney, I have heard, living respectably, sir; and my heart bleeds for her.” Here Rex heaved a sigh that would have made his fortune on the boards.

“My poor fellow,” said Meekin. “Do you know where she is?”

“I do, sir.”

“You might write to her.”

John Rex appeared to hesitate, to struggle with himself, and finally to take a deep resolve. “No, Mr. Meekin, I will not write.”

“Why not?”

“You know the orders, sir—the Commandant reads all the letters sent. Could I write to my poor Sarah what other eyes were to read?” and he watched the parson slyly.

“N—no, you could not,” said Meekin, at last.

“It is true, sir,” said Rex, letting his head sink on his breast.

The next day, Meekin, blushing with the consciousness that what he was about to do was wrong, said to his penitent, “If you will promise to write nothing that the Commandant might not see, Rex, I will send your letter to your wife.”

“Heaven bless you, sir,” said Rex, and took two days to compose an epistle which should tell Sarah Purfoy how to act. The letter was a model of composition in one way. It stated everything clearly and succinctly. Not a detail that could assist was omitted—not a line that could embarrass was suffered to remain. John Rex's scheme of six months' deliberation

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was set down in the clearest possible manner. He brought his letter unsealed to Meekin. Meekin looked at it with an interest that was half suspicion. “Have I your word that there is nothing in this that might not be read by the Commandant?”

John Rex was a bold man, but at the sight of the deadly thing fluttering open in the clergyman's hand, his knees knocked together. Strong in his knowledge of human nature, however, he pursued his desperate plan. “Read it, sir,” he said, turning away his face reproachfully. “You are a gentleman. I can trust you.”

“No, Rex,” said Meekin, walking loftily into the pitfall; “I do not read private letters.” It was sealed, and John Rex felt as if somebody had withdrawn a match from a powder barrel.

In a month, Mr. Meekin received a letter, beautifully written, from “Sarah Rex,” stating briefly that she had heard of his goodness, that the enclosed letter was for her husband, and that if it was against the rules to give it him, she begged it might be returned to her unread. Of course Meekin gave it to Rex, who next morning handed to Meekin a most touching and pious production, begging him to read it. Meekin did so, and any suspicions he may have had were at once disarmed. He was ignorant of the fact that the pious letter contained a private one intended for John Rex only, which letter John Rex thought so highly of, that, having read it twice through most attentively, he ate it.

The plan of escape was after all a simple one. Sarah Purfoy was to obtain from Blick the moneys he held in trust, and to embark the sum thus obtained in any business which would suffer her to keep a vessel hovering round the southern coast of Van Diemen's Land without exciting suspicion. The escape was to be made in the winter months, if possible, in June or July. The watchful vessel was to be commanded by some trustworthy person, who was to frequently land on the south-eastern side, and keep a look-out for any extraordinary appearance along the coast. Rex himself must be left to run the gauntlet of the dogs and guards unaided. “This seems a desperate scheme,” wrote Rex, “but it is not so wild as it looks. I have thought over a dozen others, and rejected them all. This is the only way. Consider it well. I have my own plan for escape, which is easy if rescue be at hand. All depends

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upon placing a trustworthy man in charge of the vessel. You ought to know a dozen such. I will wait eighteen months to give you time to make all arrangements.” The eighteen months had now nearly passed over, and the time for the desperate attempt drew near. Faithful to his cruel philosophy, John Rex had provided scape-goats who, by their vicarious agonies, should assist him to his salvation.

He had discovered that of the twenty men in his gang eight had already determined on an effort for freedom. The names of these eight were Gabbett, Vetch, Bodenham, Cornelius, Greenhill, Sanders, called the “Moocher,” Cox, and Travers. The leading spirits were Vetch and Gabbett, who, with profound reverence, requested the “Dandy” to join. John Rex, ever suspicious, and feeling repelled by the giant's strange eagerness, at first refused, but by degrees allowed himself to appear to be drawn into the scheme. He would urge these men to their fate, and take advantage of the excitement attendant on their absence to effect his own escape. “While all the island is looking for these eight boobies, I shall have a good chance to slip away unmissed.” He wished, however, to have a companion. Some strong man, who, if pressed hard, would turn and keep the pursuers at bay, would be useful without doubt; and this comrade-victim he sought in Rufus Dawes.

Beginning, as we have seen, from a purely selfish motive, to urge his fellow-prisoner to abscond with him, John Rex gradually found himself attracted into something like friendliness by the sternness with which his overtures were repelled. Always a keen student of human nature, the scoundrel saw beneath the roughness with which it had pleased the unfortunate man to shroud his agony, how faithful a friend and how ardent and undaunted a spirit was concealed. There was, moreover, a mystery about Rufus Dawes which Rex, the reader of hearts, longed to fathom.

“Have you no friends whom you would wish to see?” he asked, one evening, when Rufus Dawes had proved more than usually deaf to his arguments.

“No,” said Dawes, gloomily. “My friends are all dead to me.”

“What, all?” asked the other. “Most men have some one whom they wish to see.”

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Rufus Dawes laughed a slow, heavy laugh. “I am better here.”

“Then, are you content to live this dog's life?”

“Enough, enough,” said Dawes, “I am resolved.”

“Pooh! Pluck up a spirit,” cried Rex. “It can't fail. I've been thinking of it for eighteen months, and it can't fail.”

“Who are going?” asked the other, his eyes fixed on the ground.

John Rex enumerated the eight, and Dawes raised his head. “I won't go. I have had two trials at it; I don't want another. I would advise you not to attempt it either.”

“Why not?”

“Gabbett bolted twice before,” said Rufus Dawes, shuddering at the remembrance of the ghastly object he had seen in the sunlit glen at Hell's Gates. “Others went with him, but each time he returned alone.”

“What do you mean!” asked Rex, struck by the tone of his companion.

“What became of the others?”

“Died, I suppose,” said the Dandy, with a forced laugh.

“Yes; but how? They were all without food. How came the surviving monster to live six weeks?”

John Rex grew a shade paler, and did not reply. He recollected the sanguinary legend that pertained to Gabbett's rescue. But he did not intend to make the journey in his company, so, after all, he had no cause for fear. “Come with me then,” he said, at length. “We will try our luck together.”

“No. I have resolved. I stay here.”

“And leave your innocence unproved.”

“How can I prove it?” cried Rufus Dawes, roughly impatient. “There are crimes committed which are never brought to light, and this is one of them.”

“Well,” said Rex, rising, as if weary of the discussion, “have it your own way, then. You know best. The private detective game is hard work. I, myself, have gone on a wild-goose chase before now. There's a mystery about a certain shipbuilder's son which took me four months to unravel, and then I lost the thread.”

A shipbuilder's son! Who was he?”

John Rex paused in wonderment at the eager interest with which the question was put, and then hastened to take

  ― 325 ―
advantage of this new opening for conversation. “A queer story. A well-known character in my time—Sir Richard Devine. A miserly old curmudgeon, with a scapegrace son.”

Rufus Dawes bit his lips to avoid showing his emotion. This was the second time that the name of his dead father had been spoken in his hearing. “I think I remember something of him,” he said, with a voice that sounded strangely calm in his own ears.

“A curious story,” said Rex, plunging into past memories. “Amongst other matters, I dabbled a little in the Private Inquiry line of business, and the old man came to me. He had a son who had gone abroad—a wild young dog, by all accounts—and he wanted particulars of him.”

“Did you get them?”

“To a certain extent. I hunted him through Paris into Brussels, from Brussels to Antwerp, from Antwerp back to Paris. I lost him there. A miserable end to a long and expensive search. I got nothing but a portmanteau with a lot of letters from his mother. I sent the particulars to the ship-builder, and by all accounts the news killed him, for he died not long after.”

“And the son?”

“Came to the queerest end of all. The old man had left him his fortune—a large one, I believe—but he'd left Europe, it seems, for India, and was lost in the Hydaspes. Frere was his cousin.”


“By Gad, it annoys me when I think of it,” continued Rex, feeling, by force of memory, once more the adventurer of fashion. “With the resources I had too! Oh, a miserable failure! The days and nights I've spent walking about looking for Richard Devine, and never catching a glimpse of him. The old man gave me his son's portrait, with full particulars of his early life, and I suppose I carried that ivory gimcrack in my breast for nearly three months, pulling it out to refresh my memory every half-hour. By Gad, if the young gentleman was anything like his picture, I could have sworn to him if I'd met him in Timbuctoo.”

“Do you think you'd know him again?” asked Rufus Dawes in a low voice, turning away his head.

There may have been something in the attitude in which the

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speaker had put himself that awakened memory, or perhaps the subdued eagerness of the tone, contrasting so strangely with the comparative inconsequence of the theme, that caused John Rex's brain to perform one of those feats of automatic synthesis at which we afterwards wonder. The profligate son—the likeness to the portrait—the mystery of Dawes's life! These were the links of a galvanic chain. He closed the circuit, and a vivid flash revealed to him—THE MAN.

Warder Troke coming up, put his hand on Rex's shoulder. “Dawes,” he said, “you're wanted at the yard;” and then, seeing his mistake, added with a grin, “Curse you two; you're so much alike one can't tell t'other from which.”

Rufus Dawes walked off moodily; but John Rex's evil face turned pale, and a strange hope made his heart leap.

“Gad, Troke's right, we are alike. I'll not press him to escape any more.”

Chapter XXIII.

Running the Gauntlet.

THE Pretty Mary—as ugly and evil-smelling a tub as ever pitched under a southerly burster—had been lying on and off Cape Surville for nearly three weeks. Captain Blunt was getting wearied. He made strenuous efforts to find the Oyster-beds of which he was ostensibly in search, but no success attended his efforts. In vain did he take boat and pull into every cove and nook between the Hippolyte Reef and Schouten's Island. In vain did he run the Pretty Mary as near to the rugged cliffs as he dared to take her, and make perpetual expeditions to the shore. In vain did he—in his eagerness for the interests of Mrs. Purfoy—clamber up the rocks, and spend hours in solitary soundings in Blackman's Bay. He never found an oyster. “If I don't find something in three or four days more,” said he to his mate, “I shall go back again. It's too dangerous cruising here.”

On the same evening that Captain Blunt made this resolution, the watchman at Signal Hill saw the arms of the semaphore at the settlement make three motions, thus:

  ― 327 ―

The semaphore was furnished with three revolving arms, fixed one above the other. The upper one denoted units, and had six motions, indicating ONE to SIX. The middle one denoted tens, TEN to SIXTY. The lower one marked hundreds, from ONE HUNDRED to SIX HUNDRED.

The lower and upper arms whirled out. That meant THREE HUNDRED AND SIX.

A ball ran up to the top of the post. That meant ONE THOUSAND.

Number 1306, or, being interpreted, “PRISONERS ABSCONDED.”

“By George, Harry,” said Jones, the signalman, “there's a bolt!”

The semaphore signalled again: “Number 1411.”

“WITH ARMS!” Jones said, translating as he read. “Come here, Harry! here's a go!”

But Harry did not reply, and looking down, the watchman saw a dark figure suddenly fill the doorway. The boasted semaphore had failed this time at all events. The “bolters” had arrived as soon as the signal!

The man sprang at his carbine, but the intruder had already possessed himself of it. “It's no use making a fuss, Jones! There are eight of us. Oblige me by attending to your signals.”

Jones knew the voice. It was that of John Rex. “Reply, can't you?” said Rex, coolly. “Captain Burgess is in a hurry.” The arms of the semaphore at the settlement were, in fact, gesticulating with comical vehemence.

Jones took the strings in his hands, and, with his signal-book open before him, was about to acknowledge the message, when Rex stopped him. “Send this message,” he said. “NOT SEEN! SIGNAL SENT TO EAGLEHAWK!”

Jones paused irresolutely. He was himself a convict, and dreaded the inevitable cat, that he knew would follow this false message. “If they finds me out ——” he said. Rex cocked the carbine with so decided a meaning in his black eyes, that Jones—who could be brave enough on occasions—banished his hesitation at once, and began to signal eagerly. There came up a clinking of metal, and a murmur from below. “What's keeping yer, Dandy?”

“All right. Get those irons off, and then we'll talk, boys.

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I'm putting salt on old Burgess's tail.” The rough jest was received with a roar, and Jones, looking momentarily down from his window on the staging, saw, in the waning light, a group of men freeing themselves from their irons with a hammer taken from the guard-house; while two, already freed, were casting buckets of water on the beacon wood-pile. The sentry was lying bound at a little distance.

“Now,” said the leader of this surprise party, “signal to Woody Island.” Jones perforce obeyed. “Say, ‘AN ESCAPE AT THE MINES! WATCH ONE-TREE POINT! SEND ON TO EAGLEHAWK!’ Quick, now.”

Jones—comprehending at once the force of this manœuvre, which would have the effect of distracting attention from the Neck—executed the order with a grin. “You're a knowing one, Dandy Jack,” said he.

John Rex acknowledged the compliment by uncocking the carbine. “Hold out your hands!—Jemmy Vetch!” “Ay, ay,” replied the Crow, from beneath. “Come up and tie our friend Jones. Gabbett, have you got the axes?” “There's only one,” said Gabbett, with an oath. “Then bring that, and any tucker you can lay your hands on. Have you tied him? On we go then.” And in the space of five minutes from the time when unsuspecting Harry had been silently clutched by two forms, who rushed upon him out of the shadow of the huts, the Signal Hill Station was deserted.

At the settlement Burgess was foaming. Nine men to seize the Long Bay boat, and get half-an-hour's start of the alarm-signal, was an unprecedented achievement! What could Warder Troke have been about! Warder Troke, however, found eight hours afterwards, disarmed, gagged, and bound in the scrub, had been guilty of no negligence. How could he tell, that at a certain signal from Dandy Jack, the nine men he had taken to Stewart's Bay would “rush” him; and, before he could draw a pistol, truss him like a chicken? The worst of the gang, Rufus Dawes, had volunteered for the hated duties of pile-driving, and Troke had felt himself secure. How could he possibly guess that there was a plot, in which Rufus Dawes, of all men, had refused to join?

Constables, mounted and on foot, were despatched to scour the bush round the settlement. Burgess, confident from the reply of the Signal Hill semaphore, that the alarm had been

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given at Eaglehawk Isthmus, promised himself the re-capture of the gang before many hours; and giving orders to keep the communications going, retired to dinner. His convict-servants had barely removed the soup when the result of John Rex's ingenuity became manifest.

The semaphore at Signal Hill had stopped working.

“Perhaps the fools can't see,” said Burgess. “Fire the beacon—and saddle my horse.” The beacon was fired. All right at Mount Arthur, Mount Communication, and the Coal Mines. To the westward, the line was clear. But at Signal Hill was no answering light. Burgess stamped with rage. “Get me my boat's crew ready; and tell the Mines to signal to Woody Island.” As he stood on the jetty, a breathless messenger brought the reply. “A BOAT'S CREW GONE TO ONE-TREE POINT! FIVE MEN SENT FROM EAGLEHAWK IN OBEDIENCE TO ORDERS!” Burgess understood it at once. The fellows had decoyed the Eaglehawk guard. “Give way, men!” And the boat, shooting into the darkness, made for Long Bay. “I won't be far behind 'em,” said the Commandant, “at any rate.”

Between Eaglehawk and Signal Hill were, for the absconders, other dangers. Along the indented coast of Port Bunche were four constables' stations. These stations—mere huts within signalling distance of each other—fringed the shore, and to avoid them, it would be necessary to make a circuit into the scrub. Unwilling as he was to lose time, John Rex saw that to attempt to run the gauntlet of these four stations would be destruction. The safety of the party depended upon the reaching of the Neck while the guard was weakened by the absence of some of the men along the southern shore, and before the alarm could be given from the eastern arm of the peninsula. With this view, he ranged his men in single file; and quitting the road near Norfolk Bay, made straight for the Neck. The night had set in with a high westerly wind, and threatened rain. It was pitch dark; and the fugitives were guided only by the dull roar of the sea as it beat upon Descent Beach. Had it not been for the accident of a westerly gale, they would not have had even so much assistance.

The Crow walked first, as guide, carrying a musket taken from Harry. Then came Gabbett, with the axe; followed by

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the other six, sharing between them such provisions as they had obtained at Signal Hill. John Rex, with the carbine, and Troke's pistols, walked last. It had been agreed that if attacked they were to run each one his own way. In their desperate case, disunion was strength. At intervals, on their left, gleamed the lights of the constables' stations, and as they stumbled onward they heard plainer and more plainly the hoarse murmur of the sea, beyond which was liberty or death.

After nearly two hours of painful progress, Jemmy Vetch stopped, and whispered them to approach. They were on a sandy rise. To the left was a black object;—a constable's hut; to the right was a dim white line;—the ocean; in front was a row of lamps, and between every two lamps leapt and ran a dusky indistinct body. Jemmy Vetch pointed with his lean forefinger.

“The dogs!”

Instinctively they crouched down, lest even at that distance the two sentries, so plainly visible in the red light of the guard-house fire, should see them.

“Well bo's,” said Gabbett, “what's to be done now?”

As he spoke, a long low howl broke from one of the chained hounds, and the whole kennel burst into hideous outcry.

John Rex, who perhaps was the bravest of the party, shuddered. “They have smelt us,” he said. “We must go on.”

Gabbett spat in his palm, and took firmer hold of the axe-handle. “Right you are,” he said. “I'll leave my mark on some of them before this night's out!”

On the opposite shore lights began to move, and the fugitives could hear the hurrying tramp of feet.

“Make for the right-hand side of the jetty,” said Rex in a fierce whisper. “I think I see a boat there. It is our only chance now. We can never break through the station. Are we ready? Now! All together!”

Gabbett was fast outstripping the others by some three feet of distance. There were eleven dogs, two of whom were placed on stages set out in the water, and they were so chained that their muzzles nearly touched. The giant leapt into the line, and with a blow of his axe split the skull of the beast on his right hand. This action unluckily took him within reach of the other dog, who seized him by the thigh.

“Fire!” cried McNab from the other side of the lamps.

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The giant uttered a cry of rage and pain, and fell with the dog under him. It was, however, the dog who had pulled him down, and the musket-ball intended for him struck Travers in the jaw. The unhappy villain fell—like Virgil's Dares—“spitting blood, teeth, and curses.”

Gabbett clutched the mastiff's throat with iron hand, and forced him to loose his hold; then, bellowing with fury, seized his axe and sprang forward, mangled as he was, upon the nearest soldier. Jemmy Vetch had been beforehand with him. Uttering a low snarl of hate, he fired, and shot the sentry through the breast. The others rushed through the now broken cordon, and made headlong for the boat.

“Fools!” cried Rex behind them. “You have wasted a shot! LOOK TO YOUR LEFT!”

Burgess, hurried down the tram-road by his men, had tarried at Signal Hill only long enough to loose the surprised guard from their bonds, and taking the Woody Island boat was pulling with a fresh crew to the Neck. The reinforcement was not ten yards from the jetty.

The Crow saw the danger, and flinging himself into the water, desperately seized McNab's boat.

“In with you for your lives!” he cried.

Another volley from the guard spattered the water around the fugitives, but in the darkness the ill-aimed bullets fell harmless. Gabbett swung himself over the sheets, and seized an oar.

“Cox, Bodenham, Greenhill! Now, push her off! Jump, Tom, jump!” and as Burgess leapt to land, Cornelius was dragged over the stern, and the whale-boat floated into deep water.

McNab, seeing this, ran down to the water side to aid the Commandant.

“Lift her over the Bar, men!” he shouted. “With a will—So!” And raised in twelve strong arms, the pursuing craft slid across the isthmus.

“We've five minutes' start,” said Vetch, coolly, as he saw the Commandant take his place in the stern sheets. “Pull away, my jolly boys, and we'll best 'em yet.”

The soldiers on the Neck fired again almost at random, but the blaze of their pieces only served to show the Commandant's

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boat a hundred yards astern of that of the mutineers, which had already gained the deep water of Pirates Bay.

Then, for the first time, the six prisoners became aware that John Rex was not among them.

Chapter XXIV.

In the Night.

JOHN REX had put into execution the first part of his scheme.

At the moment when, seeing Burgess's boat near the sand-pit, he had uttered the warning cry heard by Vetch, he turned back into the darkness, and made for the water's edge at a point some distance from the Neck. His desperate hope was that, the attention of the guard being concentrated on the escaping boat, he might, favoured by the darkness and the confusion—swim to the peninsula. It was not a very marvellous feat to accomplish, and he had confidence in his own powers. Once safe on the peninsula, his plans were formed. But, owing to the strong westerly wind, which caused an incoming tide upon the isthmus, it was necessary for him to attain some point sufficiently far to the southward to enable him, on taking the water, to be assisted, not impeded, by the current. With this view, he hurried over the sandy hammocks at the entrance to the Neck, and ran backwards towards the sea. In a few strides he had gained the hard and sandy shore, and, pausing to listen, heard behind him the sound of footsteps. He was pursued. The footsteps stopped, and then a voice cried—


It was McNab, who, seeing Rex's retreat, had daringly followed him. John Rex drew from his breast Troke's pistol and waited.

“Surrender!” cried the voice again, and the footsteps advanced two paces.

At the instant that Rex raised the weapon to fire, a vivid flash of lightning showed him, on his right hand, on the ghastly and pallid ocean, two boats, the hindermost one apparently

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within a few yards of him. The men looked like corpses. In the distance rose Cape Surville, and beneath Cape Surville was the hungry sea. The scene vanished in an instant—swallowed up almost before he had realised it. But the shock it gave him made him miss his aim, and flinging away the pistol with a curse, he turned down the path and fled. McNab followed.

The path had been made by frequent passage from the Station, and Rex found it tolerably easy running. He had acquired—like most men who live much in the dark—that cat-like perception of obstacles, which is due rather to increased sensitiveness of touch than increased acuteness of vision. His feet accommodated themselves to the inequalities of the ground; his hands instinctively outstretched themselves towards the overhanging boughs; his head ducked of its own accord to any obtrusive sapling which bent to obstruct his progress. His pursuer was not so fortunate. Twice did John Rex laugh mentally, at a crash and scramble that told of a fall, and once—in a valley where trickled a little stream that he had cleared almost without an effort—he heard a splash that made him laugh outright. The track now began to go uphill, and Rex redoubled his efforts, trusting to his superior muscular energy to shake off his pursuer. He breasted the rise, and paused to listen. The crashing of branches behind him had ceased, and it seemed that he was alone.

He had gained the summit of the cliff. The lights of the Neck were invisible. Below him lay the sea. Out of the black emptiness came puffs of sharp salt wind. The tops of the rollers that broke below were blown off and whirled away into the night—white patches, swallowed up immediately in the increasing darkness. From the north side of the bay was borne the hoarse roar of the breakers as they dashed against the perpendicular cliffs which guarded Forestier's Peninsula. At his feet arose a frightful shrieking and whistling, broken at intervals by reports like claps of thunder. Where was he? Exhausted and breathless, he sank down into the rough scrub and listened. All at once, on the track over which he had passed, he heard a sound that made him bound to his feet in deadly fear—the bay of a dog!

He thrust his hand to his breast for the remaining pistol, and uttered a cry of alarm. He had dropped it. He felt round about him in the darkness for some stick or stone that might

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serve as a weapon. In vain. His fingers clutched nothing but prickly scrub and coarse grass. The sweat ran down his face. With staring eyeballs, and bristling hair, he stared into the darkness, as if he would dissipate it by the very intensity of his gaze. The noise was repeated, and, piercing through the roar of wind and water, above and below him, seemed to be close at hand. He heard a man's voice cheering the dog in accents that the gale blew away from him before he could recognize them. It was probable that some of the soldiers had been sent to the assistance of McNab. Capture, then, was certain. In his agony, the wretched man almost promised himself repentance, should he escape this peril. The dog, crashing through the underwood, gave one short, sharp howl, and then ran mute.

The darkness had increased with the gale. The wind, ravaging the hollow heaven, had spread between the lightnings and the sea an impenetrable curtain of black cloud. It seemed possible to seize upon this curtain and draw its edge yet closer, so dense was it. The white and raging waters were blotted out, and even the lightning seemed unable to penetrate that intense blackness. A large, warm drop of rain fell upon Rex's outstretched hand, and far overhead rumbled a wrathful peal of thunder. The shrieking which he had heard a few moments ago had ceased, but every now and then dull but immense shocks, as of some mighty bird flapping the cliff with monstrous wings, reverberated around him, and shook the ground where he stood. He looked towards the ocean, and a tall misty Form—white against the all-pervading blackness—beckoned and bowed to him. He saw it distinctly for an instant, and then, with an awful shriek, as of wrathful despair, it sank and vanished. Maddened with a terror he could not define, the hunted man turned to meet the material peril that was so close at hand.

With a ferocious gasp, the dog flung himself upon him. John Rex was borne backwards, but, in his desperation, he clutched the beast by the throat and belly, and exerting all his strength, flung him off. The brute uttered one howl, and seemed to lie where he had fallen; while above his carcase again hovered that white and vaporous column. It was strange that McNab and the soldier did not follow up the advantage they had gained. Courage—perhaps he should defeat them yet! He

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had been lucky to dispose of the dog so easily. With a fierce thrill of renewed hope, he ran forward; when at his feet, in his face, arose that misty Form, breathing chill warning, as though to wave him back. The terror at his heels drove him on. A few steps more, and he should gain the summit of the cliff. He could feel the sea roaring in front of him in the gloom. The column disappeared; and in a lull of wind, uprose from the place where it had been, such a hideous medley of shrieks, laughter, and exultant wrath, that John Rex paused in horror. Too late. The ground gave way—it seemed—beneath his feet. He was falling—clutching, in vain, at rocks, shrubs, and grass. The cloud-curtain lifted, and by the lightning that leaped and played about the ocean, John Rex found an explanation of his terrors, more terrible than they themselves had been. The track he had followed led to that portion of the cliff in which the sea had excavated the tunnel-spout known as the Devil's Blow-hole.

Clinging to a tree that, growing halfway down the precipice, had arrested his course, he stared into the abyss. Before him—already high above his head—was a gigantic arch of cliff. Through this arch he saw, at an immense distance below him, the raging and pallid ocean. Beneath him was an abyss splintered with black rocks, turbid and raucous with tortured water. Suddenly the bottom of this abyss seemed to advance to meet him; or, rather, the black throat of the chasm belched a volume of leaping, curling water, which mounted to drown him. Was it fancy that showed him, on the surface of the rising column, the mangled carcase of the dog?

The chasm into which John Rex had fallen was shaped like a huge funnel set up on its narrow end. The sides of this funnel were rugged rock, and in the banks of earth lodged here and there upon projections, a scrubby vegetation grew. The scanty growth paused abruptly halfway down the gulf, and the rock below was perpetually damp from the upthrown spray. Accident—had the convict been a Meekin, we might term it Providence—had lodged him on the lowest of these banks of earth. In calm weather he would have been out of danger, but the lightning-flash revealed to his terror-sharpened senses a black patch of dripping rock on the side of the chasm some ten feet above his head. It was evident that upon the next rising of the water-spout the place where he stood would be covered with water.

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The roaring column mounted with hideous swiftness. Rex felt it rush at him and swing him upward. With both arms round the tree, he clutched the sleeves of his jacket with either hand. Perhaps if he could maintain his hold, he might outlive the shock of that suffocating torrent. He felt his feet rudely seized, as though by the hand of a giant, and plucked upwards. Water gurgled in his ears. His arms seemed about to be torn from their sockets. Had the strain lasted another instant, he must have loosed his hold; but, with a wild hoarse shriek, as though it was some sea-monster baffled of its prey, the column sank, and left him gasping, bleeding, half drowned, but alive. It was impossible that he could survive another shock, and in his agony he unclasped his stiffened fingers, determined to resign himself to his fate. At that instant, however, he saw on the wall of rock that hollowed on his right hand, a red and lurid light, in the midst of which fantastically bobbed hither and thither the gigantic shadow of a man. He cast his eyes upwards and saw, slowly descending into the gulf, a blazing bush tied to a rope. McNab was taking advantage of the pause in the spouting to examine the sides of the Blow-hole.

A despairing hope seized John Rex. In another instant the light would reveal his figure, clinging like a limpet to the rock, to those above. He must be detected in any case; but if they could lower the rope sufficiently quickly, he might clutch it and be saved. His dread of the horrible death that was beneath him overcame his resolution to avoid recapture. The long-drawn agony of the retreating water as it was sucked back again into the throat of the chasm had ceased, and he knew that the next tremendous pulsation of the sea below would hurl the spuming destruction up upon him. The gigantic torch slowly descended and he had already drawn in his breath for a shout which should make itself heard above the roar of the wind and water, when a strange appearance on the face of the cliff made him pause. About six feet from him—glowing like molten gold in the gusty glow of the burning tree—a round, sleek stream of water slipped from the rock into the darkness, like a serpent from its hole. Above this stream a dark spot defied the torchlight, and John Rex felt his heart leap with one last desperate hope as he comprehended that close to him was one of those tortuous drives which the worm-like action of the sea bores in such caverns as that in which he found himself. The drive,

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opened first to the light of the day by the natural convulsion which had raised the mountain itself above ocean level, probably extended into the bowels of the cliff. The stream ceased to let itself out of the crevice; it was then likely that the rising column of water did not penetrate far into this wonderful hiding-place.

Endowed with a wisdom, which in one placed in less desperate position would have been madness, John Rex shouted to his pursuers, “The rope! the rope!” The words, projected against the sides of the enormous funnel, were pitched high above the blast, and, reduplicated by a thousand echoes, reached the ears of those above.

“He's alive!” cried McNab, peering into the abyss. “I see him. Look!”

The soldier whipped the end of the bullock-hide lariat round the tree to which he held, and began to oscillate it, so that the blazing bush might reach the ledge on which the daring convict sustained himself. The groan which preceded the fierce belching forth of the torrent was cast up to them from below.

“God be gude to the puir felly!” said the pious young Scotchman, catching his breath.

A white spume was visible at the bottom of the gulf, and the groan changed into a rapidly increasing bellow. John Rex, eyeing the blazing pendulum, that with longer and longer swing momentarily neared him, looked up to the black heaven for the last time, with a muttered prayer. The bush—the flame fanned by the motion—flung a crimson glow upon his frowning features, which as he caught the rope had a sneer of triumph on them. “Slack out! slack out!” he cried; and then, drawing the burning bush towards him, attempted to stamp out the fire with his feet.

The soldier set his body against the tree trunk, and gripped the rope hard, turning his head away from the fiery pit below him. “Hold tight, your honour,” he muttered to McNab. “She's coming!”

The bellow changed into a roar, the roar into a shriek, and with a gust of wind and spray, the seething sea leapt up out of the gulf.

John Rex, unable to extinguish the flame, twisted his arm about the rope, and the instant before the surface of the rising water made a momentary floor to the mouth of the cavern, he

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spurned the cliff desperately with his feet, and flung himself across the chasm. He had already clutched the rock, and thrust himself forward, when the tremendous volume of water struck him. McNab and the soldier felt the sudden pluck of the rope and saw the light swing across the abyss. Then the fury of the waterspout burst with a triumphant scream, the tension ceased, the light was blotted out, and when the column sank, there dangled at the end of the lariat nothing but the drenched and blackened skeleton of the she-oak bough. Amid a terrific peal of thunder, the long pent-up rain descended, and a sudden ghastly rending asunder of the clouds showed far below them the heaving ocean, high above them the jagged and glistening rocks, and at their feet the black and murderous abyss of the Blow-hole—empty.

They pulled up the useless rope in silence; and another dead tree lighted and lowered showed them nothing.

“God rest his puir soul,” said McNab, shuddering. “He's oot o' our han's.”

Chapter XXV.

The Flight.

GABBETT, guided by the Crow, had determined to beach the captured boat on the southern point of Cape Surville. It will be seen by those who have followed the description of the topography of Colonel Arthur's Penitentiary, that nothing but the desperate nature of the attempt could have justified so desperate a measure. The perpendicular cliffs seemed to render such an attempt certain destruction; but Vetch, who had been employed in building the pier at the Neck, knew that on the southern point of the promontory was a strip of beach, upon which the company might, by good fortune, land in safety. With something of the decision of his leader, Rex, the Crow determined at once that in their desperate plight this was the only measure, and setting his teeth as he seized the oar that served as a rudder, he put the boat's head straight for the huge rock that formed the northern horn of Pirates' Bay.

Save for the faint phosphorescent radiance of the foaming

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waves, the darkness was intense, and Burgess for some minutes pulled almost at random in pursuit. The same tremendous flash of lightning which had saved the life of McNab, by causing Rex to miss his aim, showed to the Commandant the whaleboat balanced on the summit of an enormous wave, and apparently about to be flung against the wall of rock which—magnified in the sudden flash—seemed frightfully near to them. The next instant Burgess himself—his boat lifted by the swiftly advancing billow—saw a wild waste of raging sea scooped into abysmal troughs, in which the bulk of a leviathan might wallow. At the bottom of one of these valleys of water lay the mutineers' boat, looking, with its outspread oars, like some six-legged insect floating in a pool of ink. The great cliff, whose every scar and crag was as distinct as though its huge bulk was but a yard distant, seemed to shoot out from its base towards the struggling insect, a broad, flat straw, that was a strip of dry land. The next instant the rushing water, carrying the six-legged atom with it, creamed up over this strip of beach; the giant crag, amid the thunder-crash which followed upon the lightning, appeared to stoop down over the ocean, and as it stooped, the billow rolled onwards, the boat glided down into the depths, and the whole phantasmagoria was swallowed up in the tumultuous darkness of the tempest.

Burgess—his hair bristling with terror—shouted to put the boat about, but he might with as much reason have shouted at an avalanche. The wind blew his voice away, and emptied it violently into the air. A snarling billow jerked the oar from his hand. Despite the desperate efforts of the soldiers, the boat was whirled up the mountain of water like a leaf on a waterspout, and a second flash of lightning showed them what seemed a group of dolls struggling in the surf, and a walnut-shell bottom upwards was driven by the recoil of the waves towards them. For an instant all thought that they must share the fate which had overtaken the unlucky convicts; but Burgess succeeded in trimming the boat, and, awed by the peril he had so narrowly escaped, gave the order to return. As the men set the boat's head to the welcome line of lights that marked the Neck, a black spot balanced upon a black line was swept under their stern and carried out to the sea. As it swooped past them, this black spot emitted a cry, and they knew that it was one of the shattered boat's crew clinging to an oar.

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“He was the only one of 'em alive,” said Burgess, bandaging his sprained wrist two hours afterwards at the Neck, “and he's food for the fishes by this time!”

He was mistaken, however. Fate had in reserve for the crew of villains a less merciful death than that of drowning. Aided by the lightning, and that wonderful “good luck” which urges villainy to its destruction, Vetch beached the boat, and the party, bruised and bleeding, reached the upper portion of the shore in safety. Of all this number only Cox was lost. He was pulling stroke-oar, and being something of a laggard, stood in the way of the Crow, who, seeing the importance of haste in preserving his own skin, plucked the man backwards by the collar, and passed over his sprawling body to the shore. Cox, grasping at anything to save himself, clutched an oar, and the next moment found himself borne out with the overturned whale-boat by the under-tow. He was drifted past his only hope of rescue—the guard-boat—with a velocity that forbade all attempts at rescue, and almost before the poor scoundrel had time to realize his condition, he was in the best possible way of escaping the hanging that his comrades had so often humorously prophesied for him. Being a strong and vigorous villain, however, he clung tenaciously to his oar, and even unbuckling his leather belt, passed it round the slip of wood that was his salvation, girding himself to it as firmly as he was able. In this condition, plus a swoon from exhaustion, he was descried by the helmsman of the Pretty Mary, a few miles from Cape Surville, at daylight next morning. Blunt, with a wild hope that this waif and stray might be the lover of Sarah Purfoy, dead, lowered a boat and picked him up. Nearly bisected by the belt, gorged with salt water, frozen with cold, and having two ribs broken, the victim of Vetch's murderous quickness retained sufficient life to survive Blunt's remedies for nearly two hours. During that time he stated that his name was Cox, that he had escaped from Port Arthur with eight others, that John Rex was the leader of the expedition, that the others were all drowned, and that he believed John Rex had been retaken. Having placed Blunt in possession of these particulars, he further said that it pricked him to breathe, cursed Jemmy Vetch, the settlement, and the sea, and so impenitently died.

Blunt smoked three pipes, and then altered the course of the

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Pretty Mary two points to the eastward, and ran for the coast. It was possible that the man for whom he was searching had not been retaken, and was now awaiting his arrival. It was clearly his duty—hearing of the planned escape having been actually attempted—not to give up the expedition while hope remained.

“I'll take one more look along,” said he to himself.

The Pretty Mary, hugging the coast as closely as she dared, crawled in the thin breeze all day, and saw nothing. It would be madness to land at Cape Surville, for the whole station would be on the alert; so Blunt, as night was falling, stood off a little across the mouth of Pirates' Bay. He was walking the deck, groaning at the folly of the expedition, when a strange appearance on the southern horn of the bay made him come to a sudden halt. There was a furnace blazing in the bowels of the mountain! Blunt rubbed his eyes and stared. He looked at the man at the helm.

“Do you see anything yonder, Jem?”

Jem—a Sydney man, who had never been round that coast before—briefly remarked, “Lighthouse.”

Blunt stumped into the cabin and got out his charts. No lighthouse was laid down there, only a mark like an anchor, and a note, “Remarkable Hole at this Point.” A remarkable hole indeed; a remarkable “lime kiln” would have been more to the purpose!

Blunt called up his mate, William Staples, a fellow whom Sarah Purfoy's gold had bought body and soul. William Staples looked at the waxing and waning glow for a while, and then said, in tones trembling with greed, “It's a fire. Lie to, and lower away the jolly-boat. Old man, that's our bird for a thousand pounds!”

The Pretty Mary shortened sail, and Blunt and Staples got into the jolly-boat.

“Goin' a hoysterin', sir?” said one of the crew, with a grin, as Blunt threw a bundle into the stern-sheets.

Staples thrust his tongue into his cheek. The object of the voyage was now pretty well understood among the carefully picked crew. Blunt had not chosen men who were likely to betray him, though, for that matter, Rex had suggested a precaution which rendered betrayal almost impossible.

“What's in the bundle, old man?” asked Will Staples, after they had got clear of the ship.

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“Clothes,” returned Blunt. “We can't bring him off, if it is him, in his canaries. He puts on these duds, d'ye see, sinks Her Majesty's livery, and comes aboard, a ‘shipwrecked mariner.’”

“That's well thought of. Whose notion's that? The Madam's, I'll be bound.”


“She's a knowing one.”

And the sinister laughter of the pair floated across the violet water.

“Go easy, man,” said Blunt, as they neared the shore. “They're all awake at Eaglehawk: and if those cursed dogs give tongue, there'll be a boat out in a twinkling. It's lucky the wind's off shore.”

Staples lay on his oar and listened. The night was moonless, and the ship had already disappeared from view. They were approaching the promontory from the south-east, and the isthmus of the guarded Neck was hidden by the outlying cliff. In the south-western angle of this cliff, about midway between the summit and the sea, was an arch, which vomited a red and flickering light, that faintly shone upon the sea in the track of the boat. The light was lambent and uncertain, now sinking almost into insignificance, and now leaping up with a fierceness that caused a deep glow to throb in the very heart of the mountain. Sometimes a black figure would pass across this gigantic furnace-mouth, stooping and rising, as though feeding the fire. One might have imagined that a door in Vulcan's Smithy had been left inadvertently open, and that the old hero was forging arms for a demigod.

Blunt turned pale. “It's no mortal,” he whispered. “Let's go back.”

“And what will Madam say?” returned dare-devil Will Staples, who would have plunged into Mount Erebus had he been paid for it. Thus appealed to in the name of his ruling passion, Blunt turned his head, and the boat sped onward.

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Chapter XXVI.

The Work of the Sea.

THE lift of the water-spout had saved John Rex's life. At the moment when it struck him he was on his hands and knees at the entrance of the cavern. The wave, gushing upwards, at the same time expanded, laterally, and this lateral force drove the convict into the mouth of the subterlapian passage. The passage trended downwards, and for some seconds he was rolled over and over, the rush of water wedging him at length into a crevice between two enormous stones, which overhung a still more formidable abyss. Fortunately for the preservation of his hard-fought-for life, this very fury of incoming water prevented him from being washed out again with the recoil of the wave. He could hear the water dashing with frightful echoes far down into the depths beyond him, but it was evident that the two stones against which he had been thrust acted as breakwaters to the torrent poured in from the outside, and repelled the main body of the stream in the fashion he had observed, from his position on the ledge. In a few seconds the cavern was empty.

Painfully extricating himself, and feeling as yet doubtful of his safety, John Rex essayed to climb the twin-blocks that barred the unknown depths below him. The first movement he made caused him to shriek aloud. His left arm—with which he clung to the rope—hung powerless. Ground against the ragged entrance, it was momentarily paralyzed. For an instant the unfortunate wretch sank despairingly on the wet and rugged floor of the cave; then a terrible gurgling beneath his feet warned him of the approaching torrent, and collecting all his energies, he scrambled up the incline. Though nigh fainting with pain and exhaustion, he pressed desperately higher and higher. He heard the hideous shriek of the whirlpool which was beneath him grow louder and louder. He saw the darkness grow darker as the rising water-spout covered the mouth of the cave. He felt the salt spray sting his face, and the wrathful tide lick the hand that hung over the shelf on which he fell. But that was all. He was out of danger at last! And as the thought blessed his senses, his eyes closed, and the

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wonderful courage and strength which had sustained the villain so long exhaled in stupor.

When he awoke the cavern was filled with the soft light of dawn. Raising his eyes, he beheld, high above his head, a roof of rock, on which the reflection of the sunbeams, playing upwards through a pool of water, cast flickering colours. On his right hand was the mouth of the cave, on his left a terrific abyss, at the bottom of which he could hear the sea faintly lapping and washing. He raised himself and stretched his stiffened limbs. Despite his injured shoulder, it was imperative that he should bestir himself. He knew not if his escape had been noticed, or if the cavern had another inlet, by which McNab returning might penetrate. Moreover, he was wet and famished. To preserve the life which he had torn from the sea, he must have fire and food. First he examined the crevice by which he had entered. It was shaped like an irregular triangle, hollowed at the base by the action of the water which in such storms as that of the preceding night was forced into it by the rising of the sea. John Rex dared not crawl too near the edge, lest he should slide out of the damp and slippery orifice, and be dashed upon the rocks at the bottom of the Blow-hole. Craning his neck, he could see, a hundred feet below him, the sullenly frothing water, gurgling, spouting, and creaming, in huge turbid eddies, occasionally leaping upwards as though it longed for another storm to send it raging up to the man who had escaped its fury. It was impossible to get down that way. He turned back into the cavern, and began to explore in that direction.

The twin-rocks against which he had been hurled were, in fact, pillars which supported the roof of the water-drive. Beyond them lay a great grey shadow which was emptiness, faintly illumined by the sea-light cast up through the bottom of the gulf. Midway across the grey shadow fell a strange beam of dusky brilliance, which cast its flickering light upon a wilderness of waving sea-weeds. Even in the desperate position in which he found himself, there survived in the vagabond's nature sufficient poetry to make him value the natural marvel upon which he had so strangely stumbled. The immense promontory, which, viewed from the outside, seemed as solid as a mountain, was in reality but a hollow cone, reft and split into a thousand fissures by the unsuspected action of the sea for

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centuries. The Blow-hole was but an insignificant cranny compared with this enormous chasm. Descending with difficulty the steep incline, he found himself on the brink of a gallery of rock, which, jutting out over the pool, bore on its moist and weed-bearded edges signs of frequent submersion. It must be low tide without the rock. Clinging to the rough and root-like algæ that fringed the ever-moist walls, John Rex crept round the projection of the gallery, and passed at once from dimness to daylight. There was a broad loop-hole in the side of the honey-combed and wave-perforated cliff. The cloudless heaven expanded above him; a fresh breeze kissed his cheek, and, sixty feet below him, the sea wrinkled all its lazy length, sparkling in myriad wavelets beneath the bright beams of morning. Not a sign of the recent tempest marred the exquisite harmony of the picture. Not a sign of human life gave evidence of the grim neighbourhood of the prison. From the recess out of which he peered nothing was visible but a sky of turquoise smiling upon a sea of sapphire.

This placidity of Nature was, however, to the hunted convict a new source of alarm. It was a reason why the Blow-hole and its neighbourhood should be thoroughly searched. He guessed that the favourable weather would be an additional inducement to McNab and Burgess to satisfy themselves as to the fate of their late prisoner. He turned from the opening, and prepared to descend still farther into the rocky pathway. The sunshine had revived and cheered him, and a sort of instinct told him that the cliff so honey-combed above, could not be without some gully or chink at its base, which at low tide would give upon the rocky shore. It grew darker as he descended, and twice he almost turned back in dread of the gulfs on either side of him. It seemed to him, also, that the gullet of weed-clad rock through which he was crawling doubled upon itself, and led only into the bowels of the mountain. Gnawed by hunger, and conscious that in a few hours at most the rising tide would fill the subterranean passage and cut off his retreat, he pushed desperately onwards. He had descended some ninety feet, and had lost, in the devious windings of his downward path, all but the reflection of the light from the gallery, when he was rewarded by a glimpse of sunshine striking upwards. He parted two enormous masses of seaweed, whose bubble-beaded fronds hung curtainwise across his path, and found himself in the very

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middle of the narrow cleft of rock through which the sea was driven to the Blow-hole.

At an immense distance above him was the arch of cliff. Beyond that arch appeared a segment of the ragged edge of the circular opening, down which he had fallen. He looked in vain for the funnel-mouth whose friendly shelter had received him. It was now indistinguishable. At his feet was a long reft in the solid rock, so narrow that he could almost have leapt across it. This reft was the channel of a swift black current which ran from the sea for fifty yards under an arch eight feet high, until it broke upon the jagged rocks that lay blistering in the sunshine at the bottom of the circular opening in the upper cliff. A shudder shook the limbs of the adventurous convict. He comprehended that at high tide the place where he stood was under water, and that the narrow cavern became a subaqueous pipe of solid rock forty feet long, through which were spouted the league-long rollers of the Southern Sea.

The narrow strip of rock at the base of the cliff was as flat as a table. Here and there were enormous hollows like pans, which the retreating tide had left full of clear, still water. The crannies of the rock were inhabited by small white crabs, and John Rex found to his delight that there was on this little shelf abundance of mussels, which, though lean and acrid, were sufficiently grateful to his famished stomach. Attached to the flat surfaces of the numerous stones, moreover, were coarse limpets. These, however, John Rex found too salt to be palatable, and was compelled to reject them. A larger variety, however, having a succulent body as thick as a man's thumb, contained in long razor-shaped shells, were in some degree free from this objection, and he soon collected the materials for a meal. Having eaten and sunned himself, he began to examine the enormous rock, to the base of which he had so strangely penetrated. Rugged and worn, it raised its huge breast against wind and wave, secure upon a broad pedestal, which probably extended as far beneath the sea as the massive column itself rose above it. Rising thus, with its shaggy drapery of sea-weed clinging about its knees, it seemed to be a motionless but sentient being—some monster of the deep, a Titan of the ocean condemned ever to front in silence the fury of that illimitable and rarely-travelled sea. Yet—silent and motionless as he was—the hoary ancient gave hint of the mysteries of his revenge.

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Standing upon the broad and sea-girt platform where surely no human foot but his had ever stood in life, the convict saw, many feet above him, pitched into a cavity of the huge sun-blistered boulders, an object which his sailor eye told him at once was part of the top hamper of some large ship. Crusted with shells, and its ruin so overrun with the ivy of the ocean, that its ropes could barely be distinguished from the weeds with which they were encumbered, this relic of human labour attested the triumph of nature over human ingenuity. Perforated below by the relentless sea, exposed above to the full fury of the tempest; set in solitary defiance to the waves, that rolling from the ice-volcano of the Southern pole, hurled their gathered might unchecked upon its iron front, the great rock drew from its lonely warfare the materials of its own silent vengeance. Clasped in iron arms, it held its prey, snatched from the jaws of the all-devouring sea. One might imagine that, when the doomed ship, with her crew of shrieking souls, had splintered and gone down, the deaf, blind giant had clutched this fragment, upheaved from the seething waters, with a thrill of savage and terrible joy.

John Rex, gazing up at this memento of a forgotten agony, felt a sensation of the most vulgar pleasure. “There's wood for my fire!” thought he; and mounting to the spot, he essayed to fling down the splinters of timber upon the platform. Long exposed to the sun, and flung high above the water-mark of recent storms, the timber had dried to the condition of touchwood, and would burn fiercely. It was precisely what he required. Strange accident that had for years stored, upon a desolate rock, this fragment of a vanished and long-forgotten vessel, that it might aid at last to warm the limbs of a villain escaping from justice!

Striking the disintegrated mass with his iron-shod heel, John Rex broke off convenient portions; and making a bag of his shirt, by tying the sleeves and neck, he was speedily staggering into the cavern with a supply of fuel. He made two trips, flinging down the wood in the floor of the gallery that overlooked the sea, and was returning for a third, when his quick ear caught the dip of oars. He had barely time to lift the seaweed curtain that veiled the entrance to the chasm, when the Eaglehawk boat rounded the promontory. Burgess was in the stern-sheets, and seemed to be making signals to some one on

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the top of the cliff. Rex, grinning behind his veil, divined the manœuvre. McNab and his party were to search above, while the Commandant examined the gulf below. The boat headed direct for the passage, and, for an instant, John Rex's undaunted soul shivered at the thought that, perhaps after all, his pursuers might be aware of the existence of the cavern. Yet that was unlikely. He kept his ground, and the boat passed within a foot of him, gliding silently into the gulf. He observed that Burgess's usually florid face was pale, and that his left sleeve was cut open, showing a bandage on the arm. There had been some fighting, then, and it was not unlikely that his fellow-desperadoes had been captured! He chuckled at his own ingenuity and good sense. The boat, emerging from the archway, entered the pool of the Blow-hole, and, held with the full strength of the party, remained stationary. John Rex watched Burgess scan the rocks and eddies, saw him signal to McNab, and then, with much relief, beheld the boat's head brought round to the sea-board.

He was so intent upon watching this dangerous and difficult operation, that he was oblivious of an extraordinary change which had taken place in the interior of the cavern. The water, which, an hour ago, had left exposed a long reef of black hummock-rocks, was now spread in one foam-flecked sheet over the ragged bottom of the rude staircase by which he had descended. The tide had turned, and the sea, apparently sucked in through some deeper tunnel in the portion of the cliff which was below water, was being forced into the vault with a rapidity which bid fair to shortly submerge the mouth of the cave. The convict's feet were already wetted by the incoming waves, and as he turned for one last look at the boat, he saw a green billow heave up against the entrance to the chasm, and, almost blotting out the daylight, roll majestically through the arch. It was high time for Burgess to take his departure if he did not wish his whale-boat to be cracked like a nut against the roof of the tunnel. Alive to his danger, the Commandant abandoned the search after his late prisoner's corpse, and hastened to gain the open sea. The boat, carried backwards and upwards on the bosom of a monstrous wave, narrowly escaped destruction, and John Rex, climbing to the gallery, saw with much satisfaction the broad back of his outwitted gaoler disappear round the sheltering promontory. The last efforts of his pursuers had

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failed, and in another hour the only accessible entrance to the convict's retreat was hidden under three feet of furious sea-water.

His gaolers were convinced of his death, and would search for him no more. So far, so good. Now for the last desperate venture—the escape from the wonderful cavern which was at once his shelter and his prison. Piling his wood together, and succeeding after many efforts, by aid of a flint and the ring which yet clung to his ankle, in lighting a fire, and warming his chilled limbs in its cheering blaze, he set himself to meditate upon his course of action. He was safe for the present, and the supply of food that the rock afforded was amply sufficient to sustain life in him for many days, but it was impossible that he could remain for many days concealed. He had no fresh water, and though, by reason of the soaking he had received, he had hitherto felt little inconvenience from this cause, the salt and acrid mussels speedily induced a raging thirst, which he could not alleviate. It was imperative that within forty-eight hours at farthest he should be on his way to the peninsula. He remembered the little stream into which—in his flight of the previous night—he had so nearly fallen, and hoped to be able, under cover of the darkness, to steal round the reef and reach it unobserved. His desperate scheme was then to commence. He had to run the gauntlet of the dogs and guards, gain the peninsula, and await the rescuing vessel. He confessed to himself that the chances were terribly against him. If Gabbett and the others had been recaptured—as he devoutly trusted—the coast would be comparatively clear; but if they had escaped, he knew Burgess too well to think that he would give up the chase while hope of re-taking the absconders remained to him. If indeed all fell out as he had wished, he had still to sustain life until Blunt found him—if haply Blunt had not returned, wearied with useless and dangerous waiting.

As night came on, and the firelight showed strange shadows waving from the corners of the enormous vault, while the dismal abysses beneath him murmured and muttered with uncouth and ghastly utterances, there fell upon the lonely man the terror of Solitude. Was this marvellous hiding place that he had discovered to be his sepulchre? Was he—a monster amongst his fellow-men—to die some monstrous death, entombed in this mysterious and terrible cavern of the sea? He

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tried to drive away these gloomy thoughts by sketching out for himself a plan of action—but in vain. In vain he strove to picture in its completeness that—as yet vague—design by which he promised himself to wrest from the vanished son of the wealthy shipbuilder his name and heritage. His mind, filled with forebodings of shadowy horror, could not give to the subject the calm consideration which it needed. In the midst of his schemes for the baffling of the jealous love of the woman who was to save him, and the getting to England, in shipwrecked and foreign guise, as the long-lost heir to the fortune of Sir Richard Devine, there arose ghastly and awesome shapes of death and horror, with whose terrible unsubstantiality he must grapple in the lonely recesses of that dismal cavern. He heaped fresh wood upon his fire, that the bright light might drive out the gruesome things that lurked above, below, and around him. He became afraid to look behind him, lest some shapeless mass of mid-sea birth—some voracious polype, with far-reaching arms and jellied mouth ever open to devour—might slide up over the edge of the dripping caves below, and fasten upon him in the darkness. His imagination—always sufficiently vivid, and spurred to unnatural effect by the exciting scenes of the previous night—painted each patch of shadow, clinging bat-like to the humid wall, as some globular sea-spider ready to drop upon him with its viscid and clay-cold body, and drain out his chilled blood, enfolding him in rough and hairy arms. Each splash in the water beneath him, each sigh of the multitudinous and melancholy sea, seemed to prelude the laborious advent of some mis-shapen and ungainly abortion of the ooze. All the sensations induced by lapping water and regurgitating waves took material shape and surrounded him. All creatures that could be engendered by slime and salt crept forth into the firelight to stare at him. Red dabs and splashes that were living beings, having a strange phosphoric light of their own, glowed upon the floor. The livid encrustations of a hundred years of humidity slipped from off the walls and painfully heaved their mushroom surfaces to the blaze. The red glow of the unwonted fire, crimsoning the wet sides of the cavern, seemed to attract countless blisterous and transparent shapelessnesses, which elongated themselves towards him. Bloodless and bladdery things ran hither and thither noiselessly. Strange carapaces crawled from out of the

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rocks. All the horrible unseen life of the ocean seemed to be rising up and surrounding him. He retreated to the brink of the gulf, and the glare of the upheld brand fell upon a rounded hummock, whose coronal of silky weed out-floating in the water looked like the head of a drowned man. He rushed to the entrance of the gallery, and his shadow, thrown into the opening, took the shape of an avenging phantom, with arms upraised to warn him back.

The naturalist, the explorer, or the shipwrecked seaman would have found nothing frightful in this exhibition of the harmless life of the Australian ocean. But the convict's guilty conscience, long suppressed and derided, asserted itself in this hour when it was alone with Nature and Night. The bitter intellectual power which had so long supported him succumbed beneath imagination—the unconscious religion of the soul. If ever he was nigh repentance it was then. Phantoms of his past crimes gibbered at him, and covering his eyes with his hands, he fell shuddering upon his knees. The brand, loosening from his grasp, dropped into the gulf, and was extinguished with a hissing noise. As if the sound had called up some spirit that lurked below, a whisper ran through the cavern.

“John Rex!”

The hair of the convict's flesh stood up, and he cowered to the earth.

“John Rex!”

It was a human voice! Whether of friend or enemy he did not pause to think. His terror over-mastered all other considerations.

“Here! here!” he cried, and sprang to the opening of the vault.

Arrived at the foot of the cliff, Blunt and Staples found themselves in almost complete darkness, for the light of the mysterious fire, which had hitherto guided them, had necessarily disappeared. Calm as was the night, and still as was the ocean, the sea yet ran with silent but dangerous strength through the channel which led to the Blow-hole; and Blunt, instinctively feeling the boat drawn towards some unknown peril, held off the shelf of rocks out of reach of the current. A sudden flash of fire, as from a flourished brand, burst out above them, and floating downwards through the darkness, in erratic

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circles, came an atom of burning wood. Surely no one but a hunted man would lurk in such a savage retreat.

Blunt, in desperate anxiety, determined to risk all upon one venture. “John Rex!” he shouted up through his rounded hands. The light flashed again at the eye-hole of the mountain, and on the point above them appeared a wild figure, holding in its hands a burning log, whose fierce glow illumined a face so contorted by deadly fear and agony of expectation, that it was scarce human.

“Here! here!”

“The poor devil seems half-crazy,” said Will Staples, under his breath; and then aloud, “We're FRIENDS!”

A few moments sufficed to explain matters. The terrors which had oppressed John Rex disappeared in human presence, and the villain's coolness returned. Kneeling on the rock platform, he held parley.

“It is impossible for me to come down now,” he said. “The tide covers the only way out of the cavern.”

“Can't you dive through it?” said Will Staples.

“No, nor you neither,” said Rex, shuddering at the thought of trusting himself to that horrible whirlpool.

“What's to be done? You can't come down that wall.”

“Wait until morning,” returned Rex, coolly. “It will be dead low tide at seven o'clock. You must send a boat at six, or thereabouts. It will be low enough for me to get out, I dare say, by that time.”

“But the Guard?”

“—— Won't come here, my man. They've got their work to do in watching the Neck and exploring after my mates. They won't come here. Besides, I'm dead.”


“Thought to be so, which is as well—better for me, perhaps. If they don't see your ship, or your boat, you're safe enough.”

“I don't like to risk it,” said Blunt, “It's Life if we're caught, remember.”

“It's Death if I'm caught!” returned the other, with a sinister laugh. “But there's no danger if you are cautious. No one looks for rats in a terrier's kennel, and there's not a station along the beach from here to Cape Pillar. Take your vessel out of eye-shot of the Neck, bring the boat up Descent Beach, and the thing's done.”

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“Well,” says Blunt, “I'll try it.”

“You wouldn't like to stop here till morning? It is rather lonely,” suggested Rex, absolutely making a jest of his late terrors.

Will Staples laughed. “You're a bold boy!” said he. “We'll come at daybreak.”

“Have you got the clothes as I directed?”


“Then good-night. I'll put my fire out, in case somebody else might see it, who wouldn't be as kind as you are.”


“Not a word for the Madam,” said Staples, when they reached the vessel.

“Not a word, the ungrateful dog,” assented Blunt; adding, with some heat, “That's the way with women. They'll go through fire and water for a man that doesn't care a snap of his fingers for 'em; but for any poor fellow who risks his neck to pleasure 'em they've nothing but sneers! I wish I'd never meddled in the business.”

“There are no fools like old fools,” thought Will Staples, looking back through the darkness at the place where the fire had been, but he did not utter his thoughts aloud.

At eight o'clock the next morning the Pretty Mary stood out to sea with every stitch of canvas set, alow and aloft. The skipper's fishing had come to an end. He had caught a shipwrecked seaman, who had been brought on board at daylight, and was then at breakfast in the cabin. The crew winked at each other when the haggard mariner, attired in garments that seemed remarkably well preserved, mounted the side. But they, none of them, were in a position to controvert the skipper's statement.

“Where are we bound for?” asked John Rex, smoking Staples' pipe in lingering puffs of delight. “I'm entirely in your hands, my worthy Blunt.”

“My orders are to cruise about the whaling grounds until I meet my consort,” returned Blunt, sullenly, “and put you aboard her. She'll take you back to Sydney. I'm victualled for a twelve-month's trip.”

“Right!” cried Rex, clapping his preserver on the back. “I'm bound to get to Sydney somehow; but, as the Philistines

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are abroad, I may as well tarry in Jericho till my beard be grown. Don't stare at my scriptural quotation, Mr. Staples,” he added, inspirited by creature comforts, and secure amid his purchased friends. “I assure you that I've had the very best religious instruction. Indeed, it is chiefly owing to my worthy spiritual pastor and master that I am enabled to smoke this very villainous tobacco of yours at the present moment!”

Chapter XXVII.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

IT was not until they had scrambled up the beach to safety that the absconders became fully aware of the loss of another of their companions. As they stood on the break of the beach, wringing the water from their clothes, Gabbett's small eye, counting their number, missed the stroke oar.

“Where's Cox?”

“The fool fell overboard,” said Jemmy Vetch, shortly. “He never had as much sense in that skull of his as would keep it sound on his shoulders.”

Gabbett scowled. “That's three of us gone,” he said, in the tones of a man suffering some personal injury.

They summed up their means of defence against attack. Sanders and Greenhill had knives. Gabbett still retained the axe in his belt. Vetch had dropped his musket at the Neck; and Bodenham and Cornelius were unarmed.

“Let's have a look at the tucker,” said Vetch.

There was but one bag of provisions. It contained a piece of salt pork, two loaves, and some uncooked potatoes. Signal Hill station was not rich in edibles.

“That ain't much,” said the Crow, with rueful face. “Is it, Gabbett?”

“It must do, any way,” returned the giant carelessly.

The inspection over, the six proceeded up the shore, and encamped under the lee of a rock. Bodenham was for lighting a fire, but Vetch, who by tacit consent had been chosen leader of the expedition, forbade it, saying that the light might betray them. “They'll think we're drowned, and won't pursue us,”

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he said. So all that night the miserable wretches crouched fireless together.

Morning breaks clear and bright, and—free for the first time in ten years—they comprehend that their terrible journey has begun. “Where are we to go?—How are we to live?” asks Bodenham, scanning the barren bush that stretches to the barren sea. “Gabbett, you've been out before—how's it done?”

“We'll make the shepherds' huts, and live on their tucker till we get a change o' clothes,” said Gabbett, evading the main question. “We can follow the coast line.”

“Steady, lads,” said prudent Vetch; “we must sneak round yon sandhills, and so creep into the scrub. If they've a good glass at the Neck, they can see us.”

“It does seem close,” said Bodenham; “I could pitch a stone on to the guard-house. Good-bye, you Bloody Spot!” he adds, with sudden rage, shaking his fist vindictively at the Penitentiary; “I don't want to see you no more till the Day o' Judgment.”

Vetch divides the provisions, and they travel all that day until dark night. The scrub is prickly and dense. Their clothes are torn, their hands and feet bleeding. Already they feel out-wearied. No one pursuing, they light a fire, and sleep. The second day they come to a sandy spit that runs out into the sea, and find that they have got too far to the eastward, and must follow the shore line to East Bay Neck. Back through the scrub they drag their heavy feet. That night they eat the last crumb of the loaf. The third day at high noon—after some toilsome walking they reach a big hill, now called Collins' Mount, and see the upper link of the earring, the isthmus of East Bay Neck at their feet. A few rocks are on their right hand, and blue in the lovely distance lies hated Maria Island. “We must keep well to the eastward,” said Greenhill, “or we shall fall in with the settlers and get taken.” So, passing the isthmus, they strike into the bush along the shore, and tightening their belts over their gnawing bellies, camp under some low-lying hills.

The fourth day is notable for the indisposition of Bodenham, who is a bad walker, and falling behind, delays the party by frequent cooeys. Gabbett threatens him with a worse fate than

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sore feet if he lingers. Luckily, that evening Greenhill espies a hut, but not trusting to the friendship of the occupant, they wait until he quits it in the morning, and then send Vetch to forage. Vetch, secretly congratulating himself on having by his counsel prevented violence, returns bending under half a bag of flour. “You'd better carry the flour,” said he to Gabbett, “and give me the axe.” Gabbett eyes him for a while, as if struck by his puny form, but finally gives the axe to his mate Sanders. That day they creep along cautiously between the sea and the hills, camping at a creek. Vetch, after much search, finds a handful of berries, and adds them to the main stock. Half of this handful is eaten at once, the other half reserved for “to-morrow.” The next day they come to an arm of the sea, and as they struggle northward, Maria Island disappears, and with it all danger from telescopes. That evening they reach the camping ground by twos and threes; and each wonders—between the paroxysms of hunger—if his face is as haggard, and his eyes as bloodshot, as those of his neighbour.

On the seventh day, Bodenham says his feet are so bad he can't walk, and Greenhill, with a greedy look at the berries, bids him stay behind. Being in a very weak condition he takes his companion at his word, and drops off about noon the next day. Gabbett, discovering this defection, however, goes back, and in an hour or so appears, driving the wretched creature before him with blows, as a sheep is driven to the shambles. Greenhill remonstrates at another mouth being thus forced upon the party, but the giant silences him with a hideous glance. Jemmy Vetch remembers that Greenhill accompanied Gabbett once before, and feels uncomfortable. He gives hint of his suspicions to Sanders, but Sanders only laughs. It is horribly evident that there is an understanding among the three.

The ninth sun of their freedom, rising upon sandy and barren hillocks, bristling thick with cruel scrub, sees the six famine-stricken wretches cursing their God, and yet afraid to die. All around is the fruitless, shadeless, shelterless bush. Above, the pitiless heaven. In the distance, the remorseless sea. Something terrible must happen. That grey wilderness, arched by grey heaven stooping to grey sea, is a fitting keeper of hideous secrets. Vetch suggests that Oyster Bay cannot be far to the eastward—the line of ocean is deceitfully close—and though such a proceeding will take them out of their course, they

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resolve to make for it. After hobbling five miles, they seem no nearer than before, and, nigh dead with fatigue and starvation, sink despairingly upon the ground. Vetch thinks Gabbett's eyes have a wolfish glare in them, and instinctively draws off from him. Said Greenhill, in the course of a dismal conversation, “I am so weak that I could eat a piece of a man.”

On the tenth day Bodenham refuses to stir, and the others, being scarce able to drag along their limbs, sit on the ground about him. Greenhill, eyeing the prostrate man, said, slowly, “I have seen the same done before, boys, and it tasted like pork.”

Vetch, hearing his savage comrade give utterance to a thought all had secretly cherished, speaks out, crying, “It would be murder to do it, and then, perhaps we couldn't eat it.”

“Oh,” said Gabbett, with a grin, “I'll warrant you that, but you must all have a hand in it.”

Gabbett, Sanders, and Greenhill then go aside, and presently Sanders, coming to the Crow, said, “He consented to act as flogger. He deserves it.”

“So did Gabbett, for that matter,” shudders Vetch.

“Ay, but Bodenham's feet are sore,” said Sanders, “and 'tis a pity to leave him.”

Having no fire, they made a little breakwind; and Vetch, half-dozing behind this at about three in the morning, hears some one cry out “Christ!” and awakes, sweating ice.

No one but Gabbett and Greenhill would eat that night. That savage pair, however, make a fire, fling ghastly fragments on the embers, and eat the broil before it is right warm. In the morning the frightful carcase is divided.

That day's march takes place in silence, and at the mid-day halt Cornelius volunteers to carry the billy, affecting great restoration from the food. Vetch gives it to him, and in half an hour afterwards Cornelius is missing. Gabbett and Greenhill pursue him in vain, and return with curses. “He'll die like a dog,” said Greenhill, “alone in the bush.” Jemmy Vetch, with his intellect acute as ever, thinks that Cornelius prefers such a death to the one in store for him, but says nothing.

The twelfth morning dawns wet and misty, but Vetch, seeing the provision running short, strives to be cheerful, telling stories of men who have escaped greater peril. Vetch feels with

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dismay that he is the weakest of the party, but has some sort of ludicro-horrible consolation in remembering that he is also the leanest. They come to a creek that afternoon, and look, until nightfall, in vain for a crossing-place. The next day Gabbett and Vetch swim across, and Vetch directs Gabbett to cut a long sapling, which, being stretched across the water, is seized by Greenhill and the Moocher, who are dragged over.

“What would you do without me?” said the Crow with a ghastly grin.

They cannot kindle a fire, for Greenhill, who carries the tinder, has allowed it to get wet. The giant swings his axe in savage anger at enforced cold, and Vetch takes an opportunity to remark privately to him, what a big man Greenhill is.

On the fourteenth day they can scarcely crawl, and their limbs pain them. Greenhill, who is the weakest, sees Gabbett and the Moocher go aside to consult, and crawling to the Crow, whimpers: “For God's sake, Jemmy, don't let 'em murder me!”

“I can't help you,” says Vetch, looking about in terror. “Think of poor Tom Bodenham.”

“But he was no murderer. If they kill me, I shall go to hell with Tom's blood on my soul.”

He writhes on the ground in sickening terror, and Gabbett arriving, bids Vetch bring wood for the fire. Vetch, going, sees Greenhill clinging to wolfish Gabbett's knees, and Sanders calls after him, “You will hear it presently, Jem.”

The nervous Crow puts his hands to his ears, but is conscious, nevertheless, of a dull crash and a groan. When he comes back, Gabbett is putting on the dead man's shoes, which are better than his own.

“We'll stop here a day or so and rest,” said he, “now we've got provisions.”

Two more days pass, and the three, eyeing each other suspiciously, resume their march. The third day—the sixteenth of their awful journey—such portions of the carcase as they have with them prove unfit to eat. They look into each other's famine-sharpened faces, and wonder “who next?”

“We must all die together,” said Sanders quickly, “before anything else must happen.”

Vetch marks the terror concealed in the words, and when

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the dreaded giant is out of earshot, says, “For God's sake, let's go on alone, Alick. You see what sort of a cove that Gabbett is—he'd kill his father before he'd fast one day.”

They made for the bush, but the giant turned and strode towards them. Vetch skipped nimbly on one side, but Gabbett struck the Moocher on the forehead with the axe. “Help! Jem, help!” cried the victim, cut, but not fatally, and in the strength of his desperation tore the axe from the monster who bore it, and flung it to Vetch. “Keep it, Jemmy,” he cried, “let's have no more murder done!”

They fare again through the horrible bush until nightfall, when Vetch, in a strange voice, called the giant to him.

“He must die.”

“Either you or he,” laughs Gabbett. “Give me the axe.”

“No, no,” said the Crow, his thin, malignant face distorted by a horrible resolution. “I'll keep the axe. Stand back! You shall hold him, and I'll do the job.”

Sanders, seeing them approach, knew his end was come, and submitted, crying, “Give me half an hour to pray for myself.” They consent, and the bewildered wretch knelt down and folded his hands like a child. His big, stupid face worked with emotion. His great cracked lips moved in desperate agony. He wagged his head from side to side, in pitiful confusion of his brutalized senses. “I can't think o' the words, Jem!”

“Pah,” snarled the cripple, swinging the axe, “we can't starve here all night.”

Four days had passed, and the two survivors of this awful journey sat watching each other. The gaunt giant, his eyes gleaming with hate and hunger, sat sentinel over the dwarf. The dwarf, chuckling at his superior sagacity, clutched the fatal axe. For two days they had not spoken to each other. For two days each had promised himself that on the next his companion must sleep—and die. Vetch comprehended the devilish scheme of the monster who had entrapped five of his fellow-beings to aid him by their deaths to his own safety, and held aloof. Gabbett watched to snatch the weapon from his companion, and make the odds even for once and for ever. In the day-time they travelled on, seeking each a pretext to creep behind the other. In the night-time when they feigned slumber, each stealthily raising a head caught the wakeful

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glance of his companion. Vetch felt his strength deserting him, and his brain overpowered by fatigue. Surely the giant, muttering, gesticulating, and slavering at the mouth, was on the road to madness. Would the monster find opportunity to rush at him, and, braving the blood-stained axe, kill him by main force? or would he sleep, and be himself a victim? Unhappy Vetch! It is the terrible privilege of insanity to be sleepless.

On the fifth day, Vetch, creeping behind a tree, takes off his belt, and makes a noose. He will hang himself. He gets one end of the belt over a bough, and then his cowardice bids him pause. Gabbett approaches: he tries to evade him, and steal away into the bush. In vain. The insatiable giant, ravenous with famine, and sustained by madness, is not to be shaken off. Vetch tries to run, but his legs bend under him. The axe that has tried to drink so much blood feels heavy as lead. He will fling it away. No—he dares not. Night falls again. He must rest, or go mad. His limbs are powerless. His eyelids are glued together. He sleeps as he stands. This horrible thing must be a dream. He is at Port Arthur, or will wake on his pallet in the penny lodging-house he slept at when a boy. Is that the Deputy come to wake him to the torment of living? It is not time—surely not time yet. He sleeps—and the giant, grinning with ferocious joy, approaches on clumsy tiptoe and seizes the coveted axe.

On the north-east coast of Van Diemen's Land is a place called St. Helen's Point, and a certain skipper, being in want of fresh water, landing there with a boat's crew, found on the banks of the creek a gaunt and blood-stained man, clad in tattered yellow, who carried on his back an axe and a bundle. When the sailors came within sight of him, he made signs to them to approach, and opening his bundle with much ceremony offered them some of its contents. Filled with horror at what the maniac displayed, they seized and bound him. At Hobart Town he was recognized as the only survivor of the nine desperadoes who had escaped from Colonel Arthur's “Natural Penitentiary.”