― 254 ―


‘Free Again!’


It was quite late before Jack Lynch left Langville, after Gentleman Bill's side thrusts, on that night of the storm. Often had this alternative presented itself, but as often had it been forcibly repressed. For what would become of Nelly then? Lynch's secretly cherished hope was to make of that poor, helpless, but very lovely girl a respectable wife. For her, he desired all that his own mother had been. For her, he wished to wipe out the stain of his crime; to begin afresh, with a ticket, and a hope of perfect freedom in the end. But when once that hope was undermined and destroyed, he was reckless. For himself, it was far pleasanter to brave Lang, and perhaps revenge his wrongs, than to live on in hopes of quiet respectability, but enduring provocation and severity meanwhile. ‘Bill’ knew what he was about. Each word, each insinuation, every pause, told, as he intended it should tell, on Lynch's sore and goaded spirit. He, Bill, awoke with the early dawn, and stealthily stole out of his resting-place. He passed by Lynch's hut, and noted the closed door,—closed by a stone from without. He laughed—his low inward chuckle, looking quickly but keenly around. His work was accomplished, and giving a shove to the small bundle he carried over his shoulder, he went away briskly. His abrupt disappearance as well as his sudden visit there at all, was lost sight of, as he expected, in the greater stir which Lynch's desertion caused. Meanwhile, hardly heeding the rough night, Jack Lynch pressed onwards with as much speed as he could command. The trees bent to and fro under the heavy gusts, and branches were

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continually falling. Dark clouds drifted across the sky, making it anything but a desirable night for those who chanced to be out. Lynch with his hat drawn a good deal over his eyes, avoided the roads or even the most beaten tracks, and kept in the scrub. Sometimes he paused for a moment and rested against a tree; then again hurried along; and wonderful to say, scarcely ever appeared to hesitate as to his course, dark and wild as the scene was. After several hours' walk, he came to a fence, which he climbed over, and then keeping by it for a few yards, he reached a creek. ‘All right!’ he exclaimed; ‘I've not forgotten the way, then, though 'tis two or three years since I drove the bullocks off this ground; and now, is it safe to go to Charlie, or what? In troth, the walk has made me tired and hungry. I'll trust him for to-night.’

He swiftly crossed an open paddock which stood high, and overlooked the surrounding country. A few head of cattle and horses were lying down, and some of them were aroused by the man's steps. It was just light enough for him to see a hut which stood almost in the centre of this paddock; but when he approached within a few yards of the place, the deep growling and angry barking of several dogs made him stand, and call out, ‘Hallo!’ in a loud voice. ‘Charlie Brand! Hallo, there! keep in your dogs.’

A man now appeared at the door of the hut, cracking a stock-whip.

‘What's all this? and who are you, I'd like to know, that wants Charlie Brand, this time of night? Growler will not suffer any liberties, so you'd better not try.’

‘I want a night's lodging, Charlie; don't go to say you don't know me, dark as the night is. You aint the man of sharp sight I took you for, if you can't tell your chum from your foe.’

‘Is that you, Lynch?’ returned the other, advancing a step.

‘Ay, Jack Lynch, as large as life.’

‘Well! what's in the wind now? Come, I said to Growler a while ago, says I, 'tisn't a night for man nor beast to get his rest. Don't mind the dogs; come on, will ye. Down, Growler; lie down, sir, will ye.’

The two men now entered the hut together. Lynch took the only seat, and Charlie applied himself to rekindling the dying embers. When the wood caught fire, and the flame lighted up the hut, he turned round, and with a sarcastic, dry smile, surveyed his companion. ‘So you've had a long walk,—ha! ha! ha!—and what's going to be the end? Have you got your ticket? and are you come with any orders?’

‘I have neither ticket nor orders,’ answered Lynch, throwing off his hat and passing his hand through his bushy hair.

‘Well, so I guessed! What you couldn't keep quiet, after all, I suppose.

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And what's your course now? Why, it aint many months before you get your ticket. Martin said the other day you couldn't be refused again, for you'd been uncommon steady.’

‘And much use it is to be steady, to be sure!’ returned Lynch, bitterly. ‘He abused me before everybody; called me all the names in the world; threatened me with forty lashes again—and all for nothing! and I so near my ticket! But I've escaped him; I'm a free man; and what's more, I'll be revenged!’

‘Take my advice, and eat a bit of supper and go to bed, and you'll think better of it before morning. 'Tis no joke in these times to take to that most gentlemanly profession of the Bush. The police are sharper than they used to be. You have no other than Norfolk Island to look to. But, perhaps, you've heard of the gay doings there under the new governor, the theatre,note and all that—ha! ha! Perhaps, Lynch, you look for promotion in that little select corner of the world? Tush, man, you'll give yourself up, and if . . . .’

‘And be flogged! I'll tell you what, Charlie Brand,’ added he, rising and looking fearfully agitated, ‘I've sworn to be revenged; I don't care what comes of me afterwards; but I'll be revenged! He has used me worse than a dog, worse than a born slave! What was I sent out here for? Wasn't it for taking revenge when I was insulted? Ay, ay, 'twas brought in manslaughter. I didn't mean to kill the chap, then; I was sorry—yes—I would most have died myself to bring back his breath. But my nature is high—Lang knew it; he knows I'm a good servant; he knows I'm a prisoner. He has never tried the kind word; and my mind has been growing harder and harder, and now I'm resolved.’

‘And what does little Nelly say to this,’ said Charlie, drily.

‘Don't name her! Any way, that's over! I'll tell ye what, Charlie Brand, I'd have made her a good husband, though I am a government man; and when I had my ticket, I could have offered her a respectable home; but that's over, as I said before; and that cold-hearted tyrant that has done it and trampled on me, shall feel my hand on him. And I say, Charlie, there's no time to waste. Have ye got a drop of brandy here? If you have, give it me quick. I must be off!’

Charlie rose and locked the door of the hut, putting the key in his pocket.

‘Come on! sober now!’ said he, as if speaking to a refractory colt. ‘This is no night for the Bush, and I've no brandy, not I. But I'll give you some as good tea as ever crossed your lips. Why, the old hut can hardly stand this blustering wind! Hark now! there goes a tree! Come, Lynch, don't look so black and sulky, and don't take to stewing your grievances,

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man! To be sure, Lang is hasty and peppery, and not over-considerate of his assigned men, as I can show. But there, 'tis only to bear it; and we can't help ourselves, you see!’

‘Yes we can, and I will! There's many a good fellow driven to the Bush, and his sin lies at the door of them who gave him such treatment. 'Tis a fine life when you're used to it; plenty of fun and good cheer,’ said Lynch.

‘Your and my taste differ, that's all; I like a roof over my head, and prefers riding quiet to being hunted like a native dog,’ said Charlie, putting in a large allowance of tea into a quart pot, and setting it on the fire.

‘I don't see much differ,’ returns the other, gloomily, again sitting down and drawing nearer the fire, which gave a sense of comfort and insensibly soothed his excited mind. ‘ 'Tis a choice of evils anyway, as they say; it all depends on what sort of master you get, and I'm sure no slaves can be worse used than Lang's men are.’

‘Why, I suppose, when you were shipped off, and had ‘Convict’ written on your back, or ‘Hyde Park Barracks’note as large as life on your slop, you didn't go to delude yourself with thinking you were to lead the life of a man of pleasure? 'Tain't no good to stiffen oneself up, Lynch. We're under punishment, as Herbert used to say, and so we must bear it; and, for my part, I've got to make myself tol de rol easy under the yoke.’

‘Ah! you've got your ticket! and so should I, and I should have had Ellen, but for that cursed hard man. Now don't stop me, Charlie! for revenge I must have, so give me a sup of tea and let me out!’

‘A sup of tea and welcome. But I'm not so unhospitable I hope, as to turn you out of doors to-night; and pray what kind of revenge is it you're hatching? I'll tell you what, Lynch,’ and he fixed his eyes steadily and determinedly on him; ‘if you mean anything like blood, you're come to the wrong man. You don't suppose I'd let you go off, after what you've said. No! I'd just take you to the lock-up, my friend, if I had a moment's thought of your passion not passing away. I wont say I love my master, for that I don't; but there's one in that family I'd lay down my life for, pretty like it—the second girl! Ay, my life! She's like my own child; like what ‘she’ is now, I'll be bound, if I could see her!’ (and he wiped his face as he spoke). ‘I've helped her on her pony scores of times; I've shot birds for her and climbed the trees like a native for young parrots. Many's the time her voice seemed to come into me like, when she'd come running out of the school-room with ‘Now, Charlie, I may play!’ I say, I'd lay down my worthless life for her. So don't think I'll let you

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go on any evil errand to any belonging to her. You know me, Lynch!’ said he, again looking sternly at him.

‘Know you! Yes, I know you; but I don't fear you. But, Charlie, wouldn't you take revenge if you'd been insulted and unjustly accused—and what harm? Aint I a marked man already? 'Tis better than twenty-four hours I've been out now, and . . . .’

‘Well, then, Lynch, I'll make free to tell you that you have another world as well as this present to look for. God says, ‘Do no murder;’ and if you aint afraid of me, you are of Him, I suppose.’

‘ 'Tisn't much I've heard of Him since I went to the Sunday-school, many a long year back. And did ever you find any to talk to you about that here, Charlie?’

‘I have—thanks be; I have, Jack. Mr. Herbert has. And now, thanks be, there's a church and minister close by, and there I go. But here's some tea, and though I can't say much for the meat, seeing 'tis a little tainted, owing to the flies getting into the cask,—the damper is right good; and now eat and drink, and make yourself comfortable.’

Lynch, who had eaten nothing since the morning, did full justice to Charlie's hospitality, and meanwhile his companion asked questions.

‘And how goes it up yonder? Any signs of the times? Ah! that's bad! No sale, you say? That pinches Lang like a tight shoe, I'll warrant. And the horses? I was looking for a few here soon. The feed keeps up here uncommon fine. And how do the new chumsnote get on—the new minister and the others?’

‘What should I know of them?’ said Lynch, after a long pull at his quart pot. ‘They're seemingly a gay enough set. Makes the place alive! They do say as how the parson is a rare good master, an easy man every way. He'll get plucked among them all if he don't look out.’

‘Ay, ay, Jack. 'Tain't a country where a man can afford to shut his eyes for a moment.’

‘Your favourite, Miss Issy, as they calls her, is to be married to the parson, as they say. You might see and get your ticket made out for that district, and get a place there.’

‘I'm not given to roving. If they leave me tol de rol quiet I haven't no inclination to change. But how's this? I always made it sure as gospel that Miss Issy would have Mr. Herbert! I'll always stand up for him. Many a good word has he given to me, and if all the masters were like him, assigned servants would have justice, leastways. Well, well! I used to think to myself that he was sweet upon her, and if once she was grown up, that would be a match. But I mind 'twasn't always peace among them. The master had his bone of a time to pick with Herbert, and this

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one could stand up for his rights and respect too.’

When Lynch had finished his meal, he seemed to be quieted down, for, as Charlie shrewdly observed, ‘Fasting don't sweeten the temper.’ The bed (a sheet of bark and an opossum rug) was given up with true hospitality, which might have graced grander places, to the guest, while Charlie wrapped himself in a rough coat, and made himself comfortable by the fire, with some sacks rolled up for a pillow. Very soon both men slept soundly. But Lynch awoke and jumped up at the first gleam of morning light, saying ‘They would track him thus far, and he must be off now and double the scent.’

‘So then you determine to go on? You wont go and give yourself up, and settle down again?’

‘No, be hanged if I do! If now there was a chance—if they'd be easy and pass it over like, and let it be any ways just—I would, just for Nelly's sake, try once more. But they've been at her with their base tricks. I'll lay a wager now, Charlie, she'd be after sorrowing for me, if anything happened. The only creature who would any way. But no! I'm not a going to be fooled by such ways. They think they have me tight with her name. She should have kept steady to me. Now there's but one way for a fellow of pluck. Good morning. You saw me turn towards Sydney road, eh? Thanks for the lodging! Good-bye!’

Charlie watched him in the dim early light, not without a certain sarcastic grin, while he shook his head too, and said—'There goes another fine fellow, straight on for Norfolk Isle, or the gallows!—there's no saying! He has had dog's fare, and worse. Never nothing but abuse and stripes! Man's spirit can't stand it. Providence keep him from meeting the master, or I wouldn't answer for the end, not I!’