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CHAPTER III.

NECESSITY THE MOTHER OF INVENTION—ADVANTAGE OF A GOOD MEMORY—AN ANATOMICAL EXPERIMENT—COURAGE AND PERSEVERANCE OVERCOME ALL DIFFICULTIES—AN UNEXPECTED MEETING—THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER GIVES A CLUE TO A HIDING-PLACE—SEARCH OF THE RED HOUSE.

I REMAINED stupified for some time at my helpless condition, and I suffered from pain in my head very much; but as it was too probable that no help would come from without in time to save me, I felt that I must find the resource from within myself. I roused up my faculties, and by dint of thinking and revolving over and over again all possible means of escape, I hit upon something at last. If, I reasoned, the ruffians who had me in their power, have bricked up so recently the opening through which they had thrust me, the mortar must be still unset and soft, and the bricks might, with a little labour on


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my part, be displaced. With that thought I felt in my pocket for my bush-knife, and in feeling for the knife I found the letter which had led to my present disaster.

I felt quite glad at this, even in my dismal dungeon, for at any rate I had got the letter safe, though it was of no use to me in the dark, and whether I should ever live to take advantage of it was very doubtful. I put it as carefully by, though, as if it was a matter of personal importance to myself, for I had got interested about the girl that occasioned me such a mishap, and I believe there was something in the pertinacity of my disposition that supported my courage, for all through life I never began a thing without being determined to go through with it.

I did not like to be baulked or defeated in any thing that I undertook, and having gone through great perils before, and having escaped from danger, and from death so imminent and seemingly so certain that I had given myself up for lost, I thought that I might escape again, sore as was the strait in which I was then cast.

Fortunately my big knife was safe in my pocket, and, to my still greater surprise, one of


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my pistols with a small flask of powder, and some balls. This latter discovery convinced me that my enemies had some potent and pressing reason for concealing me without delay, supposing me dead, perhaps, and that, as their object was not plunder, but merely to secure me out of the way, they had not taken the trouble, or had not had time to search me; and that the bricking up of the vault was done in order to prevent my being discovered. However that might be, the finding of my knife, and especially the pistol, acted as a powerful encouragement to me, as in the case of any attack being made on me in my cavern, or on my getting out, I felt that I had the means of defending myself, for my knife was an effective weapon of itself. Having first ascertained that my pistol was loaded and that the charge was home, and having felt the priming with my finger, and found it right and dry, I set about the task of delivering myself from my prison.

I could not sit upright, so I was obliged to work on my knees in a very inconvenient position. I easily scraped away the mortar from between some of the bricks, but I found them so tightly wedged together, that I could not stir them, and


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to cut an opening with my knife seemed an endless job, for the bricks were as hard as flints.

I laid myself down to consider what I should do, and to rest myself, for the position was so fatiguing that I could not work for more than a minute or two together. My head was very painful, and I felt a suffocating sensation about the temples that almost determined me to make myself bleed somewhere to relieve the pressure of blood on the brain.

I was sorely perplexed what to do, and tried again with my knife on the bricks, but I could make nothing of it; all of a sudden it struck me that as the weight pressed downwards, and as the strength of the arch was in that direction, if I could apply a force upwards, it might raise up the weight of bricks which had not had time to become firmly cemented together by the setting of the mortar. But how to do it was the question? I could not stand upright to give the bricks a push, and I had no strength in my arms while bending on my knees.

As I was thinking with all my might how to manage it, I remembered to have read a story of some mutineers having confined the captain and


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officers below the deck on board ship, and that by exerting the force of the muscles of their backs all at the same time, with a simultaneous effort, they burst up the hatchway. Whether there was any truth in that story I do not know, but I resolved to try the same experiment. I put myself under the centre of the recent brickwork, and then, straightening my back, I made a powerful effort, and the superstructure gave way. A loosening once made, I soon cleared away sufficient bricks to admit of my exit.

It was quite dark, and I had no idea where I was, but I judged I could not be far from the spot where I had been struck down. I scrambled out of the vault, and stood upright. Feeling about me, I met a wall of brick, roughly plastered, apparently, which was higher than I could reach. I knew I was in some sort of room or storehouse, as, had it been in the open air, I could have seen the sky.

Groping my way cautiously along, and fearing to fall into some pit, I came to the end of the wall, and continuing my way at right angles, I came to a massive door, which was fastened. I soon found the lock, and ascertained that it was


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a huge lock of coarse manufacture, put on inside, to secure the door from without. It was too strong for my knife to force, and in the attempt I should only have broken the blade, which I wanted as a weapon, for I did not know what resistance sistance I might meet with; so I felt all over the floor, in the middle of which was the vault from which I had escaped, for some means of forcing the lock.

I found in the furthermost corner a whole heap of all sorts of things; bits of iron, pieces of wood, and odds and ends of nails, and staves of casks, and old iron hoops, which showed that this strange apartment had been used as a place to cast lumber in. I selected from the heap of materials what I thought suited to the purpose, and applying myself to the lock, I soon forced off the hasp, and opened the door. “Now,” thought I, “is the moment of danger, and I must be prepared.” Holding part of an iron crow-bar in my right hand, and having my pistol handy for use, I peered cautiously through the open door. It opened into the air. I extended my left hand, and advancing a step or two, I came upon a wall, which I conjectured to be the wall of the red-


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house. It was pitch dark, but the snow had fallen abundantly, and I could trace by its white mark the line of the opposite building.

The fresh air revived me wonderfully. All was still, and I could discover nothing by the eye or the ear to give me any information. I felt along the side of the house, and found a door opposite the one which I had forced open. I listened, but I could hear nothing. Being desirous of avoiding the house, I felt all round about, but could discover no other means of exit but that door.

I did not like the venture, so I went back into my old lumber-room, and sat down on the arch of the vault to consider what I had best do. I had no great fear of being surprised, or of being easily overcome where I was, being armed, and having the advantage of position to resist any attack.

Besides, I calculated that if I fired off my pistol it would most likely give an alarm, and bring assistance to me, though I did not depend much on that, for I might be murdered by numbers before help could reach me, and the detection and hanging of the rascals after my death,


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although it would be a great satisfaction to justice, would be no satisfaction to me. Under these circumstances I thought it would be best to remain quiet and leave well alone, and wait for daylight, for let the night be ever so long, the morning must come at last.

It seemed longer in coming that night than ever it was before, and I never suffered so much from cold and anxiety as on that wretched night; but the cold was the worst, for as there was not space enough to allow me to walk about to keep myself warm, I was obliged to sit still and bear it. I had a mind once or twice to creep into my vault again for warmth's sake, but the idea of it revolted me; I was too glad to be out to get in again voluntarily.

In this way I passed the night, longing for the morning; I looked out of my door now and then to listen. The night was bright, and the frost crisped the snow, which lay thickish and sparkling on the narrow ledge of ground between my fortress and the red-house. I looked up at the stars and tried to make out how long it would be till morning, but I was not astronomer enough to tell the time of the night from the small space


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that I could see from my confined yard; had I been able to see more of the heavens I could have told pretty well.

At last I fell into a sort of dose in my lumber-house, and waking up in a flight at catching myself asleep, and exposed to be surprised at a disadvantage, I observed to my great joy that I could distinguish the objects about me, and that the long-desired daylight was come. I can scarcely describe the pain that I suffered from the cold at this time of daybreak; it was so intense and so excessively painful as to amount almost to agony: it was the cold I dare say that waked me up.

It was not the first time that I had felt the biting sharpness of the cold of the early morning in Van Diemen's Land, but I never felt it before in a degree so painful. I banged myself about and stamped with my feet, but it was as much as I could do to recover myself sufficiently to be ready for action.

When I felt myself a little restored, I looked about me to see how things stood. I found that the vault into which I had been thrust was, as I thought in the dark, situated in the middle of the


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storehouse or lumber-room, to which there was no window or other outlet except the large door. What the vault was originally intended for I could not guess, and did not trouble myself with resolving, as I had a more pressing matter to think about. The wall of this building ran flush with the wall of the house, and was bounded on each end by a short wall about twelve feet high. There was no window at the back of the house; nothing but the door which I had felt in the dark, and which, on a cautious examination, I found secured on the inside.

I did not like to attempt the forcing of that door, for I feared being overpowered by numbers, before assistance could reach me, so I cast about to get out of the yard by some means or other. The wall was too high to scale, but I fancied if I could steady the door of my lumber-room, which opened outside, I could get on the top of the building and drop down into the street on the other side.

The light increased apace, and there was soon sufficient to enable me to distinguish the heap of odds and ends in the corner. I took some of the staves of old casks, and pieces of wood lying


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there, and silently jamming them between the two buildings and the door, I contrived to steady it between them.

It was no easy matter for me to get on the top of the door, particularly as I was fearful of making a noise, for it was more than six feet high, and I was weak with my night's watching, and from the blow on my head, and my limbs were benumbed with the cold; but by the aid of the great lock, which formed a convenient resting-place for the foot, I got on the edge of the door, and mounted on the roof of the storeroom, which was formed of strong planks, with an inclination inwards. It was very slippery, from the snow which lay on it nearly three inches thick.

I stood on the wall and prepared to drop down from it into the open space, beyond which was the bush, the ground being all covered with snow. As I had need of both hands to assist me in holding on by the wall, I laid my bit of crow-bar on the roof; but the weight of the iron caused it to roll over the smooth boards through the snow, and to fall heavily on my apparatus for steadying the door, on which it descended with


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a crash sufficient to be heard by the inmates within the house.

This accident made me hasten my movements, but as my hands were cold, and the boards were slippery, I could not immediately get into a position preparatory to my drop, and I was on my hands and knees when the door of the red-house opened, and the man in the yellow jacket, whom I had observed on the jetty, and whose conversation I had overheard the evening before, appeared at the entrance. He made a movement as if to come after me, but I pulled out my pistol, and presented it at him. He seemed scared at the sight of the pistol or of me, I don't know which, for he hastily disappeared, and shut the door.

In a few seconds after I dropped from the wall, and although I had a tumble, I got up unhurt, and instantly ran off into the heart of the town. I made my way straight to the inn, meeting no one on the road, and rang the bell lustily. The waiter was soon roused up, for I kept up a peal without stopping, and glad enough was I when I found myself safe inside.


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“What's o'clock?” was my first inquiry.

“Just five, Sir; we wondered you didn't come home last night. The magistrate from the Clyde has been asking for you. He came in about ten last night, and was very anxious to see you. He sat up for you a long time, and couldn't make out why it was you did not sleep here last night.”

“Show me to his room directly,” said I, “and don't talk of my having been out; make a fire as quick as you can, and get me a cup of hot tea, and something to eat. I have business that will take me out again directly.”

In another minute I was in my friend's room.

“Why, what on earth,” said he, “has been the matter? You look perished; what have you been doing all night?”

I told him in a few words what had happened to me.

“And where,” said he, “is this mysterious letter?”

“Here it is; I have not yet read it; do you read it for me; I can hardly see out of my eyes.”

He took the letter, and read the following:—


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“It's all done. The gal is hid in Jim Burke's hut at Seven-mile Beach. The schooner may easily take her off near there, but there's no time to be lost, for there's no trusting one another in this country.Mike can show you to the place. Yours, J. S.”

“It doesn't say much, but it says enough for our present purpose. Who is this Mike?”

“I don't know; perhaps it's the Yellow Jacket.”

“Or his companion who went off into the bush the other evening?”

“Perhaps so; he was to meet the Yellow Jacket again this evening about seven o'clock.”

“We'll provide for both of them; but first we must secure the inhabitants of the red-house. But we had better do things quietly. Are you strong enough to take a note to the police-station? if so, meet me with the constable who will accompany you, at the corner by the Post-office, and I will get ready in the meantime.”

Taking a drink of tea, and munching away at a hunch of bread, I immediately proceeded to the police-office, where, at the magistrate's requisition,


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I was aided at once by four constables without questions, and, accompanied by one of them, I went to the place of meeting, the other three straggling singly to avoid remark, but keeping me in sight. It was still early morning, and there were very few people about. Mount Wellington had a fine white mantle spread over him, and the morning was brilliant and frosty. I found the magistrate at the spot agreed on, and we immediately proceeded to the red-house.

“Go round to the back,” said the magistrate to two of the constables, “and secure any one who tries to escape; if they resist, fire without hesitation.”

One of the constables then knocked at the door.

“Do you think we have force enough?” said I.

“Oh! plenty for the daytime; besides we are in reach of assistance if we want it, and these constables are used to the trade.They don't answer; knock again.”

“Try if the door is fast.”

“The door seems fast enough, but we will soon prize it open, if your honour will give the word.”

“Knock and ring once more.—No answer!


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Lose no time, my men; we'll stand no nonsense; get open the door the shortest way.”

“Stay,” said one of the constables to the other, who was about to apply a sort of crow-bar to wrench open the door; “perhaps they have bolted themselves, and only locked the door; let me try with my quiet persuader.”

With this he produced a bunch of large skeleton keys, and selecting one with a sort of instinct, he applied it to the lock, which yielded readily, and the door stood open.

“I thought it was so,” said he, “they've bolted.”

“Now search the house carefully,” said the magistrate, “and lose no time about it.”

“We'll search,” said the constable, “but we shall find nobody, you may depend on it.”

The house was searched accordingly from top to bottom, and every cranny examined, and the flooring taken up, but no one was found. All this took up some time, and it was now past eight o'clock. There was a writing-desk in the parlour in which I had had the interview with the person who called himself John Wolsey, which was open and deranged, as if some papers had


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been hastily abstracted from it. The magistrate looked rapidly through it, and then sealed it up, and gave it into the charge of one of the constables. Various parts of dress were scattered about in the principal room, which seemed to have been left in a hurry, and among them the pair of drab trowsers and the black gaiters which I had observed the evening before. I pointed them out, and the constable, who had opened the door with his skeleton key, examined them closely.

“These are country-made,” said he, “I'll swear, by the stitches. Perhaps the maker has put his mark on them, as they do sometimes in the country at home.”

Turning-up the waistband, he showed us a bit of canvas, on which were the words “Thomas Sparks, York.”

“It's very thoughtless,” said the constable, proud of his cleverness, “for a gentleman that is engaged in this sort of fun to go about with breeches with a brand-mark on 'em. We have got a clue to where these clothes were made, at any rate.”

“York!” said the magistrate; “that corresponds


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with the information contained in the Gypsey's papers. Take care of all these clothes, and especially of these trowsers; make them into a bundle, and I will put my seal on them.”

“And now,” said I, “what's to be done next?”

“The rogues have got the start of us,” said the magistrate; “I should not wonder if they have gone to the place of rendezvous at Seven-mile Beach; we must go after them; but first I must provide for the Yellow Jacket and his friend at their meeting this evening, in case we should not be back in time. Go, said he to one of the constables, “and get the ferry-boat ready to cross over to Pitt-Water—the horse ferry-boat—we may want to ride. Two of you will go with me on a secret expedition.”

We then repairedto our inn, and having made a hasty breakfast, went down to the jetty, and accompanied by two of the constables, we leaped our horses into the ferry-boat, and pushed off from the shore.

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