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  ― 58 ―

6. CHAPTER VI.

EXCITEMENT AMONG THE CONVICTS.

note

‘A penny for your thoughts, Isabel,’ said Miss Terry, looking up from her book.

‘They are not worth it, and yet I believe they are to myself. I have done a foolish thing, Miss Terry. Did you observe how cool Mr. Herbert was to-day? I assure you I thought of it in church!’

‘His manner is generally rather distant at first greeting, but I did not notice anything particular to-day.’

‘It was so, though, and papa was worse. Stupid girl! it was all my own fault. That day at Vine Lodge I was in a wilful mood altogether. I can't resist it sometimes, I feel so contradictory; particularly if people look grave, like Mr. Herbert. He said he wanted to talk to me, and I began joking and left him. Now I find he wanted to talk about Lynch. O, you can't understand how vexed I am! I could have told him so much about it, and of all things I would have entreated him not to interfere with papa. Now, he has talked to papa about it, urged the marriage, and, just like him, entirely defeated his own purpose. Papa is very angry and annoyed at Mr. Herbert's interference, as usual, and ten times more determined than ever to oppose Lynch. Isn't it provoking?’

‘You think you could have prevented it?’

‘To be sure! Mr. Herbert is just the last person in the world to whom papa would listen about his men, and Mr. Herbert's is the very worst manner for advocating their cause; I don't know how it is. However, I will leave no stone unturned to get Ellen into the house. She shall come,


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and I hope she will give up Lynch in time. She shall do so!’

Miss Terry smiled.

‘Ah, you smile. Well, I have had my tell, and I am in better humour now. But why did you smile; because I said shall? Do you know when I do really set my mind on a thing I generally have it. I believe every one may, only half the world are too indolent to try, and then they call that being amiable; I call it inanity, folly, indolence, anything—I despise it! There is a pleasure in having a good fight for one's own way, even if one is conquered! Nothing irritates me so much as Do as you like, my dear—it is all the same to me—I don't care how it is!’

Miss Terry laughed at Isabel's comic manner and affected tone of voice.

‘Well, Isabel, I know now then that to please you I must always strive for my own way; so, here I am going out this bright lovely evening in spite of your having begged me to stay at home.’

Miss Terry went into the verandah, and presently Isabel followed.

‘Which way did they go, I wonder?’

‘To the Diamond Creek, I believe; the boys promised me some fringed violets, and Kate said they were sure to be found thereabouts.’

‘This way; come and see the sun set, Miss Terry,’ said Isabel, turning to some rising ground at the side of the house.

‘How plainly we hear the boys' voices.’

‘Yes, and the hum from the farm—hark! what a noise—what can it be?’

They both turned to listen and to look, while peals of laughter were succeeded by loud hissing, and a sharp clapping of hands which echoed again and again, and caused two or three dogs to run from their mats in the verandah, and listen with ears and tails erect.

‘A curious noise for Sunday evening,’ said Isabel; ‘and look—look at the men, running and throwing, yes, throwing stones at some one! I hope it is no riot, but I live in dread of those men, and I know that Venn sets them up! Hark again!’ She ran down the ascent, while the noise increased, and there was mingled with the clapping and hissing, a low angry sound like groans.

The man servant stood in the verandah, grinning wide.

‘What is it, Patrick?’ inquired Isabel.

‘Only the men hissing Dan, miss;’ and he grinned again as he pointed. ‘Look, he is skulking off like a fox. Ha ! that was a hit, however. Now, miss, he's jumped the rails, the villain! And for what does he dare to show his brutal face here among the lads?’

‘Who is he?’ said Isabel, at the same time watching the tall man


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running as fast as his legs could carry him, while occasional stones or sticks hit him or just missed doing so, and the men continued clapping and setting on the dogs.

‘Who is he, miss? why Dan, just. But look—see, he'll have a throw yet—see the crater!’

Isabel and Miss Terry looked as Patrick pointed. The man had reached a tree; he turned and faced his enemies, and from his gestures seemed to be threatening vengeance; then, as one of the dogs came up to him, he seized a large stone, and hurled it at the animal, who set up a loud and piercing howl. The furious clapping and hissing was renewed, but Dan was now among trees, and making the best of his way out of the farm.

‘You see that's the flogger, miss. He is under a mistake to come here entirely. There's many would kill him dead just could they get their fingers on him. They'd settle him—that's Dan Cats Tail,note as they call him, and sure he's an ugly cratur, enough to frighten the very birds of the air. How did he come here, miss? Why sent on a message, I'm thinking, by the Captain Smith. But here's the master.’

Patrick hurried away, and Miss Terry and Isabel went to meet the party, who were returning from their usual Sunday's walk. Kate was leaning on her father's arm; Mrs. Lang was a little behind with the children. As Isabel came up, he pushed Kate away; ‘There, Katie, you lean as heavy as your mother; you haven't a light tread. Ha! Issy, my darling, where hast been—a deserter, a deserter—and the little woman there; moping, I see. Burn the books, say I, and come out for air and exercise.’ He put his arm on Isabel's shoulder as he spoke, and so, talking and laughing, they all turned into the garden, where they strolled about it in a leisurely way; now plucking a grape or a bud—now stopping to watch the regiment of ants, which in spite of gunpowder and tobacco and all the various war waged against them, persisted in destroying the gravel paths. Bees clustered round the oleanders—rose-breasted sparrows twittered like their browner sisters of the antipodes, while a few stray mosquitos, roused by the fresh evening breeze, made it very desirable to have a head-covering. Groups of young bush trees which, defying the woodman's tomahawk had again sprung into life, encroached on the palisade fence which bounded the garden, while a hedge of quince and lemon inside the fence, gave the whole place a green and unformal appearance. The ground sloped from the house towards the bed of a creek which once or twice a year had water in it, and at the lowest part grew a magnificent willow, its pensile branches bowing in the slight rising breeze which had not power to stir its


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neighbour, a massy dark Norfolk Island pine. Above, that deep sky, awful in its grand, unclouded space,—below, all beautiful things, from the stately tree to the graceful vine wreath, casting a lengthened shadow.—The hum and murmur of life mingling with the low sighing in the leaves. The father leaning on his favourite daughter while half turning round to have a quiet joke with his wife, or playfully holding up Kate's rich dress with his walking-stick as she let it trail on the path,—the boys' chatter, the children's clear laugh,—for a time, all care and trouble seemed lost under the influences of that lovely sabbath evening.

Separated from this family group by one or two paddocks, stood the farm buildings, the mill, the forge, and a number of slab huts, and the overseer's cottage, with its glazed windows now flashing in the golden light. The uproar among the men which had startled Isabel had ceased, though a few voices sounded husky, and some faces were still flushed with excitement or anger, as they laughed and joked about it.

‘That was well hit, Barney,’ said one; ‘your blood was up, my boy!’

‘Aye, Barney's blood is hot,’ said another, as he seated himself by his dog on a bank. ‘One would think 'twas for O'Connellnote he was hallooing.’

Barney, a tall, overgrown Irishman with a slit and disfigured nose, answered by shaking his fists in the air. ‘That's where ye are again, is it? By all the saints he's the true friend of the poor, and I shall always maintain that same, though it was for the love of himself I got sent to this same country at all, ill luck to ye!’ and panting and hot from his chase after the hated flogger, Barney threw himself at full length on the ground.

‘Dan had a warmish reception,’ said one of the men, grinning and crossing his arms, while he looked round at the others. ‘Wouldn't I have liked to tie him up to that tree!’ muttered another, with clenched teeth.

This was hailed by a loud burst of laughter.

‘What are ye sore yet, Philip? And, I say, look yonder at Lynch, hey?’ said a slight man, who now advanced from behind. He was dressed carefully, a sprig of geranium stuck in his small flat hat, and he had silver rings in his ears and on his fingers, which were fine and taper. There was something stealthy in his tread, and unpleasant in his look, his head seemed to hide itself as it were, in his shoulders; his eyes were bent on the ground as he spoke, but he seemed to see everything notwithstanding. ‘Ask Lynch why he didn't join in Dan's welcome, hey?’ he said to a dark, large man, who had just lit his pipe, and whose countenance still glowed with anger.

‘I saw you grinning behind the door, Gentleman Bill, and I thought


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it bad manners of ye! Ha! your turn may come yet, and then ye'll laugh at the other side of your mouth. By Jove, I'd just like to see you at the triangle,note and see if it would cure your horrid grin.’

‘Wait till you catch me, Andrew; but did it come to pass, mayhap I'd stand game as well as any of ye!’

‘To see the fellow here!’ . . . Andrew took up a stone as he spoke, and threw it with desperate force into the pond which lay at a few yards distance, uttering terrible oaths as he did so, while strong excited anger flashed from his eyes.

There was a flutter and hurry among the geese and the ducks as the stone plashed in, while Barney started up to see where it came from.

‘That would have done something for Dan, had ye thrown it the right minute,’ said Gentleman Bill, with a low, chuckling laugh. ‘But I say, do but look at Lynch—Bob, look at him!’ and he pulled the sleeve of a handsome young fellow, who was playing with a cockatoo.

‘Bob’ said something in reply, and then spoke to the bird. ‘Forty down!’ repeated the cockatoo; ‘Forty down!’

A loud hoarse laugh burst from all at this speech, and all eyes were directed towards Lynch, who stood leaning against a dead tree.

‘D'ye hear, Lynch, d'ye hear that?’ said one. ‘Cocky speaks!’

‘I hear!’ without turning his eye.

‘And how did you receive Dan?’ asked another.

‘With true love like a Christian to be sure!’ sneered Bill. ‘Lynch is setting up in life; he's in search of a ticket and a wife, you know!’

‘Cease your venom, you crawling serpent,’ growled Andrew, as he removed his pipe from his mouth, and looking as if he longed to crush the little man with one blow of his huge fist. ‘Can't you let a man alone when his feelings is overpowering him?’

‘Forty down, borne like a stone!’ again screamed the cockatoo, which was followed by another loud peal of laughter.

‘I'll wring thy vile neck if ye say them words again,’ said Andrew, reaching towards the bird.

‘Hands off, if you please,’ said Bob, to whom Cocky belonged, while the bird erected his yellow plume, and stretched out its neck in warlike attitude.

‘Talking of tickets,’ added Bob, who perhaps thought it was time to change the conversation; ‘how did you contrive, Bill, to get a ticket in such quick time?’

A sly, sidelong glance, and a silent prolonged chuckle, was the answer.

‘Picked it out of some one's pocket,’ said a dogged-looking man, the


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most shabbily dressed and uncared for, in appearance, of the whole set.

Bill shrugged his shoulders, as he said, ‘No, no, it was got through good manners. Dear old lady, she'd believe and swallow everything I said, and would blub away when I touched upon home and friends, and innocence and misfortune. Bless her old soul! she believed it a rare piece of injustice that a civil, respectful fellow like William Smith, ever got shipped off for this place, ha! ha! Think of her fright;’ he laughed so much here as to prevent his speaking for a moment, ‘to think of her horrid alarm if she had known the best pickpocket in London was standing beside her! However, green as she was, she conducted herself like a gentlewoman to me, and so I behaved like a gentleman to her, and she recommended me as one deserving of every encouragement. So I got my ticket you see, and when the old girl departed this life, I left; for young madam wouldn't do for me, and besides I had a fancy for change of air and scene.’

‘By my soul, Bill, and you've nothing at all of a gentleman in ye, to be after speaking agin the lady, and she not above ground!’ said Barney. ‘And wasn't it yourself just that cheated her under her very eyes, barnacles and all, and she looking at ye all the time and never seeing it, the cratur!’

‘Oh, there wasn't much skill required for that,’ answered Bill, with an air of mock humility. ‘But I say, Lynch,’ he added, seeing that man had moved forwards a little; ‘I say, Lynch, come now, tell us why you kept your arms folded, and didn't give Dan a hit to help him on his way back to Merrima?’note

A dark bitter smile passed over Lynch's face. ‘If!——’ and his voice was hollow and tremulous; ‘if I had touched a stone, it would have struck true!’

‘Well said, Lynch! I see you've some proper spirit in you yet, my lad.’

A buzz of approbation passed round. Lynch heard it. Another smile just touched his stern, rigid features—like a gleam from the lightning's flash over a stormy sea; and he walked away with the applause of his companions sounding in his ears—the applause of his world!

Lynch went towards the Bush, followed by his terrier, stopping to look absently at an opossum over head, or breaking down the young saplings that stood in his way. He was not long alone. Ellen joined him.

‘Why, Jack, I thought the gloaming was going to pass away without my seeing you. Are you ill?’ said she, suddenly.

‘Pshaw! who ever heard of a convict being ill? They are not flesh and blood like others, girl.’

She drew a long sigh as she gazed at him with sorrowful surprise.


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Presently, she said—

‘What was the row about a while ago? Any one might know the overseer was out of the way. Why, the hissing and clapping could be heard at our place, and the woman was for going to see what it was all about, but father wouldn't let her, and while they were quarrelling I slipped away.’

‘The stone lay at my feet—it would have crushed his big head to atoms,’ Lynch muttered, apparently forgetful of Ellen's presence.

‘Whose head, Jack?—what are you talking about? What ails you, Lynch?’ and she laid her hand on his arm.

‘The matter, Nell!’ said he, suddenly checking himself in an angry gesture. ‘The matter! Nothing—only Dan of Merrima has been here.’

‘And they pelted him, Jack?’

‘Aye, Nell.’

‘Poor fellow! And yet what can Dan help of it? It is his trade, you see; 'tis not on him it should be visited, any way.’

‘I'd like to see the man that would not if he could, take his life blood after tearing the flesh off your back for ye. I tell you, Nell, there's not one has been under his cat but would kill him if they knew they were to be hanged for it the next minute. 'Tis nature!—nature is strong in us, Nell!’

The girl did not answer, but looked down at her own arms, which bore evidence of the marks of a stick. They walked on a little way in silence. At last she said—

‘I have been thinking of mother, Jack. I wonder if she knows what treatment I get—I wonder if she is ever about anywhere! Somehow I don't think she can lie aisey and have her Nell used like a slave. Sometimes I could fancy I hear her when the wind goes moaning like in the trees. Do you ever cast a thought on your mother, Jack?’ she added, abruptly.

‘No; first when I got into trouble it came into my mind, but I wouldn't think of her. Some thoughts wont do, Nell. But once I did dream of her—God help her! 'Twas after forty lashes, and though I took them like a stone, I fainted, and they gave me a something which made me stupid like, and, as I lay a dozing in horrid suffering, I thought in my dream I was looking at some pictures out of her old Bible, and, Nell, I saw one of a man being scourged, and my mother seemed to say, as she pointed to it—See how the Lord bore for you. I can't say,’ added he, and his voice trembled, ‘but it was like enough to have happened years ago—she did try to teach me once—but——’

‘Keep that thought, Jack—keep it in your heart,’ said Ellen, looking


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earnestly at him, as he turned and leant against an iron bark tree.

He smiled—still bitterly—and then he stooped and gathered one of the delicate harebells, all folded up as it was for night.

‘Take that blossom, Nell, and put it on the fire, and see what comes of it.’

‘Why, it will whither, of course—and shrivel up to nothing, Jack. It couldn't live there.’

‘And there is a fire here, Nell!’ said he, fiercely, smiting his breast as he spoke with clenched hands. ‘Aye, a fire will kill and burn that kind of thought! But go home, girl—go home,’ he added, in a harsh voice. ‘Don't be bringing punishment on yourself again, or idle talk. Mind, I never asked this meeting—go home, Nell.’

Tears rolled down her face. She moved on slowly.

‘Go home, my pretty Nelly,’ he again said, in a softened tone, and throwing his arm round her, ‘'Taint fit for you to be here now. I shall be at the clearing to-morrow, maybe you'll look out about there, and now I must be off, for I hear the overseer's voice.’

He was soon gone, striding along over the brushwood, unconscious that she still watched him. When he was no longer visible from the thick scrub falling back on his path, she cut across to the fence, and hidden herself by a friendly native cherry tree, she could see him as he crossed the open ground leading to the huts. She watched him gather up a few sticks and enter his hut. Soon there was a glimmer of light and a stream of smoke, and she knew that he had kindled his fire. Ellen had forgotten much that her own mother had taught her, she had long ceased to pray, except in a very desultory way,—for herself—but those words ‘Our Father,’ &c., she did remember, and, leaning on the fence, with streaming eyes, she repeated them now for him.

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