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CHAPTER I.

CRAB'S CONTRADICTIONS—FRENCH FASHIONS PENETRATE INTO THE INTERIOR OF VAN DIEMEN'S LAND—A PARSON WANTED—SMOKING A SHIP—A PLOT DISCOVERED—A DISGUISE, AND A NEW ADVENTURE.

IT was on a fine winter morning, in the month of July, that I put the saddle on my horse for a ride to Hobart Town to enquire for the bushranger's daughter. Some snow had fallen in the night, and it lay on the ground about an inch thick, presenting an appearance of striking contrast with the evergreen foliage of the native trees and shrubs. The air was sharp, but bracing and pleasant, and of that exhilarating pureness


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and freshness which I have sometimes fancied peculiar to this island. Crab stood by with his hand on the holster: he was thoughtful that morning. His new dignity as a landed proprietor sat uneasily upon him, and it was plain that an inward struggle was going on between the temptation to make use of his land, and the embarrassment of his habitual vituperation of the colony.

“I suppose,” said he, “I must build some sort of a hut on the land, to shew that it's mine—not that it matters whether it's mine or anybody else's for the short time that I shall stay here. But I must get some money to pay for the things, if there's a dollar to be had in the colony, which I don't believe. Do you carry your pistols loaded?” lifting up the cover of one of the holsters, and exposing to view the brass but-end of one of the large horse-pistols which formed my usual companions in my journeys to town.

“Best to be prepared, Crab,” said I; “I carry them for use, not for show; and what's the use of an empty barrel in a hurry?”

“Very true. It's dreadful to think of the horrid condition of this place, where a man can't


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step outside his own door without pistols and blunderbusses! But I must try to get to the other side of the country, and sell a matter of a couple o' hundred sheep or so, that I may have money to make things tidy a bit at the bottom yonder. It's too late to put in any cuttings, but I think we may make a good garden there, and in two or three years I may gather an apple from my own tree, on my own land—that is, somebody else may, because, of course, I shall not be here: and we may have some real cherries, not those outlandish things, like a hawthorn berry squashed, with the stone growing outside! I'm determined to see if hops won't grow there, and grow they shall, or I'll know the reason why! And only to think of making my own beer with hops grown on my own land! It would be a charity to teach the folks here how to do it!”

I admired the contradictory emotions which I saw perplexed my old friend, and I took care not to check his aspirations after a farm of his own. I encouraged him, therefore, to go over to his sheep-runs and dispose of some stock to meet his necessary outlays. I shall have to describe in another place the amusing occurrences of


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Crab's journey to Launceston, so I shall say no more of them at present.

I was gathering up the reins to start, when I was stopped by my wife, who put into my hands a list of various articles wanted by the family. As I glanced my eye over the items, I read—“bonnet for Betsey,” “bonnet for Mary,” “bonnet for Lucy.” Three bonnets! Stuff for summer dresses, gloves, kid shoes! “Why, my dear,” said I, “we shall be ruined this way; why can't the girls wear kangaroo-skin bonnets, as they used to do when we first came here? This is a new state of things entirely.”

“To be sure it is, my dear. When we first came here there was nobody in the wild bush but ourselves, but now we have settlers all round us, and I don't like the girls to go about such figures! Besides, I want a bonnet myself, and I see by the Hobart Town Gazette, that a consignment has come from Madame Somebody, at Paris; so you had better buy all we want while you are in town.”

“The deuce take the newspapers,” said I, “for putting things into people's heads that otherwise they wouldn't think about. The idea of French


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fashions up the country in Van Diemen's Land! I suppose the girls will be wanting parasols next to preserve their complexions!”

“I am glad you have mentioned it, my dear; I knew there was something that I had forgotten, and it's the parasols. You can get four, and then we shall have one apiece.”

“Upon my word,” said I, “I can't stand this. Parasols in the bush! Why, the kangaroos would laugh at us.”

“The kangaroos may laugh as much as they please, my dear, but I don't like to see the girls get so freckled. You forget that Betsey is a young woman now, and it's right that she should take a proper pride in herself.”

“I see,” said I, “how it is. That affair of the bull is at the bottom of all the mischief. Well—time moves on. Nothing else wanted, I hope?”

“We want another chest of tea; the last one is nearly out; but this time I wish you would buy a little green to mix with the black; and you see I have put down a couple of bags of sugar and a bag of rice.

“I see,” said I, “and now I'm off, or I shall be late in town.”


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“Wait a moment,” cried young Beresford, out of breath; “I have a little commission for you. I wish you would do me a favour.”

“With pleasure,” said I, “what is it?”

“I don't suppose it would give you much trouble, or I would not ask you.”

“Never mind the trouble. What is it? I'll do it if I can.”

“Why—you see I can't go to town myself just at this moment, and writing will not do ——”

“But what is it, that writing will not do?”

“I don't want you to do anything—exactly; but it's just to make some enquiries.”

“Enquiries about what?”

“Oh, it's not about anybody; but you see —— don't you think, Mr. Thornley, it's a great inconvenience not to have a resident clergyman at the Clyde?”

“What are you going to turn parson?”

“Me! Nonsense! that's not it; you don't understand what I mean.”

“How can I, if you don't tell me? what is it that has kindled this sudden religious zeal in you, pray?”

“It's not religious zeal, as you call it.—Upon


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my word, it's very provoking that you can't understand me.—You remember when poor Moss was carried off by the bushrangers!—In short, Miss Moss....”

“Oh!” said I.

“Well, now you understand my meaning perfectly.”

“But you have not told it.”

“Haven't I? why I have been telling you all the time. But we can't be married without the parson; we can manage all the rest ourselves. Now, just do me the favour to find out what we must do. We must go to town, I suppose, because Miss Moss wishes to be married in the church. So if you can contrive to see the Reverend, I want you to say that we propose being in town on the twenty-fourth of this month—the twenty-fourth, mind—don't forget the day—and that's all.”

“And enough too,” said I. “Are you aware, unhappy man (I just looked round and saw that my wife was out of hearing), of the rash step you are about to take? It's only the other day that the parson had to attend a very respectable gentleman on his last appearance for killing one of


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his wives—although he had tried three before; you see how difficult it is to find one to suit ! —— and now it seems it is your turn to require his professional assistance, though not precisely in the same way. Well, if it must be so, I suppose I must consent to be an accessory before the fact, although why I should help you to marry I'm sure I don't know, for you never did me any harm. And now I'm off.”

I rode leisurely on to town, stopping for about two hours at the Green Ponds. As soon as I had seen my horse properly taken care of, I set about the principal object of my journey, and walked to the part of the town where the person who had charge of the bushranger's orphan resided. I tapped at the door, and was surprised not to receive any answer. I tried the latch, and found that the door opened easily; there was no particular appearance about the house, so far as I could observe, but it was empty; and I thought it odd that it should be left unsecured.

As I stood before the door musing on what I should do, and expecting every moment that some one would appear to give me information of the inmates, I cast my eyes towards the Derwent—for


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as the house before which I was standing was at the upper part of the town on the eminence to the north, I had a fine view of the river and the harbour. I thought I observed an unusual bustle on the jetty, and I descried a corporal's party of soldiers stepping into a boat, whose destination seemed to be a vessel about a quarter of a mile from the end of the jetty, with her sails unfurled ready to start outward bound.

As no one came, I conjectured that the occupants of the house, which stood at some little distance apart from any other dwelling, had gone out for some purpose, so I closed the door, and, prompted by that curiosity which is apt to seize on us when we have nothing particular to do, I walked down to the jetty, where I observed a number of persons congregated, and apparently excited by some object of interest. The boat with the soldiers had already pushed away from the shore, and was on its way to the ship.

I quickly reached the spot, and found myself in the midst of a crowd of the miscellaneous character usual on such occasions in Van Diemen's Land. The principal part was composed of prisoners, those in Government employ being distinguished


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by their yellow jackets, and the others bearing that peculiar physiognomy which characterises those in the bondage of punishment—a sort of cast-down expression of countenances, averting themselves shrinkingly from the eye of any observer that is cast enquiringly upon them. The remarks which I heard around me soon made me acquainted with what was going on.

“Have they found him?” said one.

“No: found him! don't you see the soldiers are going after him now?”

“They'll never find him,” said another.

The constables rummaged every hole in the ship that a rat could get into, and they could find nothing.

“They say they're going to smoke the ship.”

“That will puzzle him; there's nothing like smoking a ship to unkennel a runaway.”

“Who has run away?” enquired another. “Some chap tired of his lag?”

“It's Black Jack,” said a rogueish-looking fellow in a yellow jacket; “they say he's got stowed away in a cask, and that some of the crew have helped him.”

“Jack had plenty of money,” said the first


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speaker, “but where he got it from always puzzled me.”

“It puzzled more than you,” said the yellow jacket; “Jack seemed to be always a-scheming after something, but we never could make out what.”

“Was he a Government man?” enquired a farming-looking person in a velveteen coat and a straw in his mouth.

“Yes; a lifer; but he got a ticket of leave nobody knows how; it wasn't for his beauty, at any rate. But money can do anything. They say he was an attorney's clerk before he came here—the one that did the swearing part of the office business, serving the notices and making any davys that were wanted—I do believe that fellow could swear through a two-inch board! But it's all up with him now if they find him.”

“What will they do with him, if they catch him?” asked the farmer.

“Scrag him,” replied the yellow jacket; “don't you know it's a job for the sheriff if a prisoner tries to escape?”

“They wouldn't hang him,” observed a decent-looking man who had listened to this colloquy;


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“they would only send him to Macquarie Harbour.”

“Only!” exclaimed the yellow jacket. “Do you call Macquarie Harbour nothing? I'd rather give a jump and a kick from the parson's hustings any day than go to that cursed place; they kill 'em there by inches. There go up the soldiers! see they are ranging themselves in line across the deck! we shall have some fun, I suppose, presently.”

I got interested about this attempted escape, though I knew nothing about the man whom I had heard called "Black Jack," and I made my way through the crowd to the edge of the jetty, where I saw one or two persons with whom I was acquainted. We watched the vessel for about a quarter of an hour, when we observed some smoke to issue from the fore part of her, and presently afterwards a signal was hoisted on board, which was answered from the shore. Some little bustle now took place on deck, and a small party of soldiers which had been marched down to the jetty, advanced to the edge of the water to keep clear a space for the expected landing. In a minute or two some person huddled up was lowered


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into a boat alongside, which was rapidly rowed towards the shore.

“There's Black Jack!” exclaimed a voice, which I immediately recognized as that of the yellow jacket; “they've smoked him out of his hole, and now they've got him, and he's booked, and no mistake!”

With that, he edged himself closer to the spot to which the boat was approaching, as if impelled by a sort of restless curiosity.

“Keep back!” said the sergeant who commanded the party of soldiers at the landing; “what are you pushing in here for? there's plenty of room on the jetty without crowding on us.”

“I ain't a-crowding,” said the yellow jacket; “only I want to see how a fellow looks after he's been smoked. He looks preciously down in the mouth; he's black Jack now, if he never was before.”

Two constables now took charge of the poor wretch, holding him up by his arms; he seemed to be in the last stage of exhaustion, and so helpless was his appearance that they forbore to handcuff him. As he tottered on he passed the


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spot where the man in the yellow jacket was standing; I fancied he gave him a look, and immediately afterwards he staggered and fell from the arms of the constables. The yellow jacket officiously stepped forward, and caught hold of his hand to assist him in rising, and I again observed Black Jack give to this man a peculiar look. I was struck with this circumstance, and it immediately occurred to me that the captured man was acting a part, and that the other was a confederate in some plot understood between them.

My curiosity was roused, and I kept my eyes on the yellow jacket, who I observed took no further notice of the prisoner, but seemed solicitous to make his way out of the throng as quickly as possible. I don't know what feeling prompted me other than a vague idea that there was some confederacy between them—and anything like a plot among the convicts was sufficient to excite suspicion—but I felt a strange inclination to watch the man. He contrived to make his way quietly and rapidly through the crowd, but I followed him closely. Without turning his head, and affecting a careless manner, he hastened


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towards the upper part of the town. He stopped when he had turned the corner of the street, and looked at something in his hand, which he read attentively. He was about to move forward again hastily, when he caught sight of me, and seemed surprised and confused to see me near him. He hesitated for a moment, and then, as if he had made up his mind to abandon his present intention, he retraced his steps, and taking off his hat as he passed me, he went away in another direction.

I mused for a minute or two on this occurrence, and regretted that I had not questioned the man. I looked after him, but he was out of sight.

The afternoon was now drawing to a close, and I thought that before I went to my inn, I would make another visit to the house in which I was led to believe the bushranger's little girl resided. I walked up the hill accordingly, and knocked at the door of the house with my stick: there was no answer. I opened the door and found the house still untenanted, and apparently no one had visited it since I was there before. I thought this odd; and being tired with my ride


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to town and walking about, I sat down by the window.

As I looked down the road in the opposite direction to that from which I had reached the house, I saw at a little distance the man in the yellow jacket, who seemed to be making his way to the same spot. This unexpected re-appearance of the man roused me, and vague surmises crossed my mind, that he was in some way connected with the persons whom I had come to seek. There was no one in the street but himself, and I observed that, after giving a careless look around him as if to be sure that he was not watched, he came straight to the house. He laid his hand on the latch, but checked himself; and I heard him slowly walking round the building.

It instantly struck me that his object was to ascertain whether there was any one behind it or near it, and I determined to counteract his project.

There was a window at the back with the shutter closed, the house consisting only of one room and a kitchen at the side. It was getting dusk, and I thought that if I could open the door so as not to be heard, I could go round one side of the


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house while he was going round the other, and so avoid being seen by him. I opened the door cautiously; it made no noise, and I moved silently to the left, and looked round the corner. There was no one to be seen, and I immediately stepped to the left side of the house; in a few seconds I heard the man lift up the latch, and enter the house.

Without losing a moment, I stationed myself at the back of the house by the window, and waited for what might happen. I remained in this position for nearly half an hour, and was getting tired of waiting, being at a loss what to do next, when I heard in the direction of the bush—for this house was the last one on the outside of the town—the pleasing note of the native magpie, which seemed to me, however, to be an imitation, though a very good one. I guessed that it was some signal. As I was between the house and the bush, I moved away to the side, and it was just in time, perhaps, to avoid being discovered, for I had scarcely done so, when a light was shown at the window at the back of the house, upon which the signal was immediately repeated.

It was now nearly dark, and I remained stuck


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up against the wall, my curiosity being now excited more than ever, for I felt convinced that the present proceedings had some reference to the absence of the child whom I had come to town to see. In a minute or two I heard the footsteps of some one cautiously approaching, and I was terribly frightened lest I should be discovered in my hiding-place.

Luckily for my project, the party who approached, from an excess of precaution, crept in by the back window or opening, for there was no glass to it, only a shutter. Anxious to catch the conversation of these worthies, I crept on my hands and knees round the corner as softly as I could, and ensconced myself under the window through which the man had crept. I could see no light, so I supposed the candle had been put out. The first words that I caught were these: —

“So Black Jack is caught; it was a clever trick though, to get hooped up in a cask with two false heads, and with water top and bottom.”

“Yes,” said yellow jacket; “but the smoke found him out; he lost his senses in the dark, and began to kick before his time, and so they nabbed him. It's all up with him now.”


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“Is it a scrag, d'ye think?”

“It's all one; he's of no more use to us. We must think now of the job; what's to be done next?”

“I'll be hanged if I know. What's the use of keeping the girl stowed away now that Jack's done up?”

“Oh, it' s not Jack's work,” said yellow jacket; “he's only second fiddle; there's a swell at the bottom of it, and he don't spare money, as you know.”

“But what's the game?” said the other; “one don't like to go blindfold to work in this way. Do they want to put the girl out of the way—that's the long and the short of it?”

“I guess it's something like it,” said yellow jacket. “You see she's very much in the way at present, at least so Jack said. There's something about estates in England that she has a right to, but Jack couldn't well make out the whole secret. We were all to be well paid for it, and that's enough for us to know; we have only to do the trick.”

“Then that's not the trick for me,” rejoined the other; “I know I'm book'd for Macquarie


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Harbour, if I'm caught, let alone this job; but the Gypsey was a good friend to the prisoners, and he died game; and I'll have no hand in harming his child. As to keeping her close for a while, that's nothing; but I want to know what they're at? And why was it that Black Jack tried to escape just at this time when he's wanted?”

“That's more than I can tell,” said yellow jacket; “but I've got a scrap of paper from him.”

“Hah! how was that? What does he say?”

“Here's the paper; but it doesn't tell much.”

“Get a light, and let us look at it.”

I now redoubled my attention, and I became aware by the light that gleamed through the cracks of the shutter that the letter was being perused.

“Well,” said yellow jacket, “what do you think of it?”

“It doesn't say much: —

“‘If I am taken, carry this letter to the red-house in Emu-street, and the bearer will receive a handsome reward.’”


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“I suppose,” said yellow jacket, “that you will not attempt to take it?”

“No, not I; the town is too hot for me; you must do it; and as to the reward, I suppose I must trust to you for my share of it.”

“Never fear, that will be all right: but I must be going now; I must show myself by seven o'clock.”

“Then I'll be off, too; when shall we meet again?”

“Be here to-morrow, at the same time, and make the same signal.”

“I will.”

The window-shutter was now opened, and I slipped round the corner, and lay hid at the side of the house. The stranger, without waiting to look behind him, and indeed it was too dark for him to see much, hastily retreated in the direction of the bush. As soon as he was at some distance, I resumed my position under the shutter, and I observed by the light that it was not quite closed. Prompted by a powerful curiosity, I cautiously raised myself up, and peeped through the opening between the shutter and the wall. I saw the man in the yellow jacket lifting up a stone in


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the floor, under which he deposited a letter, which I guessed was the same to which allusion was made in their conversation. Having done this, and trodden down the stone so as to efface any appearance of its having been disturbed, he quitted the house to the right, and returned into the town.

After waiting a short time to guard against being surprised by his sudden return, I entered the house. It was dark, but I had noted the spot, and I easily found the stone, and raised it with my fingers. I seized the letter with no small satisfaction, and taking the left hand road, I deliberated with myself on my way into the town what step I should take next. I resolved to lose no time in communicating the circumstance to the proper authorities; but first I thought I would try the effect of the letter on the mysterious inhabitant of the red-house, before he could be put on his guard. I examined the letter; it had no address, and it was closed with a wafer, and also sealed with wax, with the initials rudely engraved of I. S.

I deliberated with myself as I walked along, whether I should open the letter, and get at the


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information it contained; but I considered that it was probably so worded as to be intelligible only to the party to whom it was addressed, and that the breaking of the seal might awaken alarm, and prevent me from arriving at the knowledge of facts which might be communicated to me as a supposed party in the confederacy. With that view I thought it best to deliver the letter unopened, and act according to circumstances, for if it came to the worst, I thought that I could seize on the letter before I left the house, and so get at its contents.

I repaired, therefore, to a friend's house, and told him that I was engaged in an affair which required disguise. My friend could not avoid exhibiting considerable surprise at this request, but he was too polite to give expression to his thoughts further than to hum in a subdued tone, the well-known air of "Mr. Lobski." I let him have his joke, for I was too intent on my project to mind his chaffing, and he soon furnished me with a sailor's dress, which with a very small and very round hat, having an abominable fishy smell, changed my appearance from a respectable, middle-


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aged settler, to that of a sort of fresh water sailor.

My friend strongly recommended me to wash my hands in a tar bucket, to give a better resemblance to the character, and hinted that a slight application of the same substance to my face and whiskers would assist in the personation of my new character. I declined these kind suggestions, but I thought it advisable to acquiesce in a huge quid, which he thrust into my mouth, in order, as he said, "to inspire me with some seafaring lingo," and I was not aware of the malice of this latter suggestion until I found myself getting sick with the nastiness of the "knock-me-down" tobacco.

Fortified by this disguise, I hastened to the red-house, which I found to be of tolerable dimensions, and furnished with the aristocratic appendages of a bell and knocker. Not wishing to appear presuming, I left the knocker alone, and applied myself to the bell, at which I gave a vigorous and sailor-like pull, and waited with no small anxiety for an answer to my summons.

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