― 126 ―

In the Granary.


THERE is no doubt that the place was originally devoted to the purpose implied by its name. But history everywhere is prolific of instances in which an institution or thing has been perverted from an originally admirable purpose to a base use.

Captain Piper designed it—Captain Piper, the genial officer of the New South Wales Corps who was so beloved of John Macarthur; afterwards the Naval Officer whose accounts resolutely refused to balance because he had been so obliging as to allow duties payable by his friends to “stand over” indefinitely; and, later still, the free-handed squire of a Bathurst estate. He was Commandant of Norfolk Island in the years immediately preceding the removal of the Island settlers to their new and poorer homes in Van Demonia. It was his invention.

Eight by six by ten in dimensions; four hundred

  ― 127 ―
and eighty cubic feet in capacity. How many bushels of wheat and maize would that contain?

We do not know; all that we can assert is that twenty-two years after Captain Piper had departed from the Island, this eight by six by ten excavated chamber, with the stone floor, and stone walls, and stone ceiling—this windowless room with but one solitary aperture, and that in the roof—was occupied by—what? Stores of maize? Stores of wheat? Bags of ration sugar?

No; nothing so precious. By two convicts.


Piper had designed the chamber to store surplus grain. Again and again had Government barns and store-buildings been broken open by prisoners who insubordinately declined to starve while the stores held stocks of food-stuff, and who preferred a short shrift and a long rope to an empty stomach. And, therefore, Captain Piper resolved to defeat the mutinous and starving rascals. He had this chamber dug out—built in with stone—closed with an iron door in the roof, which door turned upon a pivot and was fastened by padlocked clamps. When he had

  ― 128 ―
filled the granary with grain, he favoured it with additional protection by sentries. And, upon the whole, the Captain's plan was successful. Not more than one prisoner died from actual starvation during the period the granary was full of a reserve stock in case the store-ship with supplies from the Old Town failed to make the Island in due course. And he, it is believed, died because he was forgotten. They locked him up in the old gaol cell and quietly overlooked him for ten days. And when they remembered him he had gone to report himself to the authorities of a Higher System.

But that incident is by the way.

Wright was Commandant. And when he took charge he found, in the course of an examination one day, an iron door level with the earth and rusted in its socket of stone. He wondered what it could be for just so long as it took to send a soldier for the blacksmith, and for the time the blacksmith was engaged in forcing the clamps. When the iron plate was made to revolve upon its pin, Captain Wright —a Ghoorka, in after years, let the life out of his body in a vain attempt to find the ex-Commandant's heart—looked down into the cavity, smelt its exhumed mustiness, and, gleefully, smote his thigh with his gloved hand.

  ― 129 ―

“The very thing!” he exclaimed, “the very thing!”

“Sir?” questioned Overseer Cook, who was in respectful attendance.

“This will do for Freeman and Hansen, Cook. No chance of their getting out of here!”

Not being an officer and gentleman, and not, therefore, wholly intoxicated with the absolutism of power, Overseer Cook shuddered. He was an instance of the square peg in the round hole. Transported for some aimless ranting in a London street over the Peterloo massacre, he was tried under one of the Six Acts, and awarded, in recognition of his patriotism, seven years' residence across the seas. On securing his certificate of freedom, he became a clerk attached to Sydney Police Office, and on the re-settlement of Norfolk Island as a penal establishment, was appointed an overseer. He was at once an exception to one rule and an illustration of another. An ex-convict who became an overseer generally so acted that, between himself and an average “officer and gentleman” acting as commandant, there was little to choose in respect of brutality. Cook was an exception to this rule. But the rule that a man transported for seditious utterances—for permitting scorching words to pour forth from the

  ― 130 ―
volcano of a heart which burnt with a fiery pity for the poor, and a fiery contempt for the social conditions which held the poor in bondage—proved a genial taskmaster to prisoners when clothed with authority, this he illustrated daily. Cook, with every temptation to be otherwise, remained kind-hearted.

He shuddered, and ventured to hint a remonstrance.

“You don't mean, sir, do you, to put those pris'ners here?”

“I do, Cook. What's the use of gaoling them or flogging' em? No use at all! The scourgers sooner take a flogging themselves than give 'em the lash hearty, and till I build the new gaol, to put 'em into gaol is only to contaminate every man Jack there. I thought of marooning 'em, but I didn't want to lose six or eight lives in getting 'em to the Phillip or Nepean. If any lives were lost in the surf, 'twouldn't be Freeman's or Hansen's. They're both bound to be scragged!”

“But, sir, this vault was never intended for a gaol. According to the talk of the old hands, it must have been a grain-store.”

“Grain-store or not, I'll use it for those ruffians. A brace of staples apiece driven in, and twenty-pound

  ― 131 ―
trumpeters,note will hold 'em in, or else my name isn't Wright.”

“But, sir——” Cook, maudlinly inclined to take a humane view of things, stumbled in his speech.

“Well, sir?” demanded the Commandant, sharply. “What objection have you to the course I suggest? We don't want the place for maize, for we have none, and we do want another punishment chamber.”

“Well, Commandant, I was only thinking ——”

“Go on, damn it, go on! Don't be all day blurting out your old womanish ideas—I know 'tis something of that sort you have to say. I've heard of you, Cook, before! What the devil Gov'ment meant by sending me bread-and-butter misses who turn sick at a flogging and faint at the use of the tube-gag on the biggest scoundrels unhung, I don't know.”

“Well, sir!” responded Cook, with a new firmness in his voice that told how he resented the insult, “I was thinking that since that new paper had been started in Sydney 'tis scarcely safe—I say it with all respect—to venture upon unusual punishments.”

Wright's language here became unreportably

  ― 132 ―
florid. Who on the Island dared to let the Grub-street hacks know of any of his doings, would do so at his peril! And within the limits of his letter of appointment he could punish how and in what way he chose short of mutilation of limb or deprivation of life! And if he had only the press writers there he'd teach 'em to set just authority at defiance and to slander honourable officers—yes, he'd teach 'em, the scurrilous crew of penniless scribblers, who only existed because Gov'ment would not deign to notice their existence!

So, with much garnish of adjectives, spoke the Commandant. And he ended by daring Overseer Cook to communicate a single word of Island intelligence to the journals of the Old Town, and by ordering him to instantly prepare the granary for the reception of those mutinous and conscienceless rascals, Freeman and Hansen.


The Overseer, having no choice, obeyed. When the door or valve of the chamber had been opened some hours, he lowered into it a lighted candle. The flame flickered feebly as the candle touched the floor, but did not go out. The fact eased Cook's

  ― 133 ―
conscience somewhat. After all, men could not be suffocated there.

Then carefully, rope-held, he dropped through the aperture and examined the vault. Obviously it had been used as a grain-store. The floor was strewn with maize and wheat-grains. And with equal certainty it had never been appropriated to the purposes of a prison. Cook, as he gasped painfully in the heavy humidity of the atmosphere, reflected that the fact was surprising, for he thought the System was ingeniously eager to introduce into Norfolk Island the most approved methods of the Bastille. And here surely was a chamber that would not have been unfit lodging for the most dangerous State criminal ever honoured by a lettre de cachet. The wonder was not that it was now to be used for a prison, but that it had not been so appropriated before.

Eight feet long, six in width, ten feet from the middle of the floor to the edges of the opening in the roof, and nine feet high walls curving slightly to their centre. And when the valve was closed, though outside the magnificent sun shone from the dome of a cloudless sky, darkness palpable and terrifying. Cook cried out to the men above to open the valve; it was but a second before the plate

  ― 134 ―
revolved on the pivot; but in that instant the Overseer felt himself blanching. It was a tomb.

He could not hold in his emotion. Withdrawn by the rope, he threw himself upon the ground in an attitude of prayer. “Christ!” he prayed, “Christ! let no men be imprisoned there!”

And he sent the smith, who had come up with ring-bolts and chisels, back to his forge. “Not to-day, George—not, at least, till I have seen the Commandant again.”

The smith returned to his workshop to relate “Cook's prayer” as a good joke, and the two prisoner-police, who formed the Overseer's personal staff, told of the matter in their enlightened circle, and at dinner at Government House, Captain Wright delighted the surgeon, and the subaltern, and the commissary with his version of the incident.

“And what have you done with the canting cove, Captain?” questioned the Deputy-Assistant-Commissary-General.

“Done! Well, he's packing up by this time, I don't doubt. He's resigned, and returns to the city by the brig next week.”

“Phew!” exclaimed the D.A.C.G. “That's hot, Wright! Is he going to make a fuss about it?”

“Gad! I don't know nor care. Why should I

  ― 135 ―
care what a psalm-singing lag of a constable should say about me? My word will be taken by the authorities, I should hope, before his!” His Honour the Commandant displayed a dignified aspect, and spoke in a confident tone, as though he could safely anticipate in advance an honourable acquittal from any charge that might be preferred against him.

“Yes, but,” delicately hinted the D.A.C.G., “'tis not the Chiefs. 'Tis that wretched Australian and Monitor. There would be the rub if the fellow took particulars to them.”

“Sir,” replied the Commandant, superbly conscious of his power, “if Wardell or Hayes or Hall dare impugn my conduct, I'll challenge the first and indict the others for criminal libel.”note

“But,” persisted the Commissariat, who was, for sundry reasons connected with contracts, not at all desirous that the light of publicity should beat upon the Gehenna of the waters, “suppose—er—what—er—they say is true!”

“True, sir!” The Captain was nearly forgetting his courtesy as a host, so heated did he become. “I'd have you know that every action of mine I'm prepared to justify in any court of the Empire. But,

  ― 136 ―
pass the wine—we've had more than enough talk about two common pris'ners! Let's forget 'em!”


It would have been well for those infamous prisoners, Freeman and Hansen, if they had passed utterly from the great man's mind. Unfortunately for them, however, the statement Captain Wright made in evidence before the Supreme Court at a later day, “that he could not charge his conscience with having overlooked any man on the Island,” was quite true—a thing not to be said of other portions of his testimony. He perfectly remembered them the next morning.

“Reports, sir!” deferentially remarked (with a salute) the gaoler.

“Yes, Thorpe. I'm ready to take them.”

Mr. Thorpe opened his report-book.

“Freeman, sir—foul language and threatening to assault constable who took him his food.”

“Pass Freeman for the present. I propose to deal with him in a new way!”

“Yes, sir. Greene, sir. Found in possession of improper article, sir. Tobacco!”

“I thought he was celled?”

  ― 137 ―

“So he is, sir. No 5!”

“And ironed?”

“Trumpeters—fifteens—and wall-cuffs.”note

“Then how the devil”—the insulted feelings of the offended System breathed in the Commandant's tones—“did Greene get the tobacco? Some of your men to blame there, Thorpe!”

“No, sir, 'm quite sure o' that. The sentries passed it——” Thorpe paused. He had forgotten that here, with the civil and military command vested in the one person, it was scarcely a wise thing to play the game so familiar to other settlements, of blaming the military for the lâches of the “establishment.”

“Now, Thorpe, be careful. I'll have none of this accusation of the garrison to excuse neglect on your own part or corruption on your men's. Where's the tobacco? Is it produced?”

“No, sir. Th' pris'ner swallowed it, sir! I was goin' rounds after breakfast, and No. 5 stands up and gulps something down, and I knew 'twas tobacco by the smell of his breath.”

“Did you charge him?”

“Of course, sir; but, of course, he denies. He said

  ― 138 ―
it was a bit of crust left from breakfast that he was chewing.”

“Oh, a likely story that! You're sure of the smell?”

“Quite, your Honour!” affirmed Thorpe, a tall, fresh-faced ex-soldier, who was not half a bad fellow under Major Anderson, but under Wright was a miniature of that tyrant—he took his cue always from his superiors.

“He is handcuffed to the wall, is he?”

“Yes, sir!”

“One hand only?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Then double my gentleman's irons, and darby the other hand. Next!”

“But, beg parding, sir—what about the bad languidge, sir?”

“Yes, I was forgetting that. Was it very bad?”

“Awful, sir! Made my blood run cold!”

“Four hours' tube-gag! Next!”


The next was a mere non-entity—a “refusing-to-work” man—the most fervent believer in the Carlylean doctrine of the soul-saving qualities of work would have doubted his creed had he been

  ― 139 ―
compelled to work in fifteen-pound trumpeters. He was ordered thirty lashes—not on the back. Wright believed punishment on the back was a concession to a morbidity of sentiment.

And the next accused was a nobody too. Said he was ill. Gaoler affirmed he wasn't. Prisoner asked to see doctor. Gaoler said he shouldn't. Prisoner took the Bible, which was the principal—almost the only—furniture of a gaol-cell, and kissed it, swearing he was ill. Gaoler, shocked at the blasphemy, formally charged the man with prevaricating to evade work—threatened to report him—now did so—received Commandant's instructions to reduce the ration of twelve ounces bread and one half-pint of water made by the generous System even to the turbulent spirits in gaol. Gaoler, touching his forehead, pencilled with stubby finger a cabalistic mark against the Nobody's name, and passed to the next offender. Three days hence, he will put the pencil through the name. The Nobody has, by that time, done the very best thing he ever did for himself—has taken up permanent quarters in the little cemetery by the sea. The manchineel drops its tears on the nameless mounds of a hundred of such nobodies.

The next accused was Hansen.

  ― 140 ―

“Insubordinate conduct, sir—very insubordinate, sir, I may say.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing: 'twas not what he said: 'twas what he did!”

“Well, what did he do?”

“Nothing, sir—simply refused to speak!”

“That is his offence?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Pass him for the present. Next!”

But with the next and his successors at that day's court we have nothing here to do. They are to us, as their names appear on the partly-inked, partly-pencilled record before us, mere shadows. “Dismissed” to one; “twenty-five” to three; “one hundred” to a fifth; and a “spread-eagle” to a sixth: these are the entries against the names of these phantasms. They are only phantasms—let us thank Heaven for that! For surely, could we realize, even at this distance of time, that these names were those of men—shares with ourselves in the glorious possession of life—our hearts would throb and our eyes fill with sympathetic tears at the thought that all of them, save one, passed unheard and untried to punishment.

And Freeman and Hansen—what of them? Up

  ― 141 ―
to this date only the prisoners in the gaol had been supplied with “magpie”—yellow (or brown) and black—clothing, the stock of that parti-coloured finery being too low to admit of its being issued to other than the aristocrats of crime. And therefore when Freeman and Hansen were ordered by the Commandant to be transferred to the granary, they were, as a preliminary to removal, stripped. In lieu of their comparatively warm costume—some idiot of a manufacturer had actually dared to make a batch of magpie stuff of strong half-woollen material instead of cottony shoddy—they were re-dressed, Freeman in the dyed ragsnote of some ex-Hessian soldier, Hansen in Parramatta dungaree. The former's case was not so bad, but the previous tenant of Hansen's suit had been a worker in the wet quarry, whence were obtained the drip-stones so much in demand in Sydney households, and the garments were still soaking when Hansen was compelled to don them. The result was that before they had been twenty-four hours in the granary, Hansen was coughing violently. Disciplinarians like Wright could take little account of consumptive

  ― 142 ―
tendencies, and it was reserved for a latter-day Commandant to invent wet-quarry clothing out of condemned blankets, and thus give the quarrymen a working change.


The gaol-allowance of food was bread equal to twelve ounces flour, and a half-pint of water daily. The same ration was issued to the tenants of the granary—lucky dogs that they were! The same unstinted allowances and double the space of floor and breathing room as they enjoyed in the goal! Yet—they refused to be happy. That is to say, Freeman. As for Hansen, he did not care after the second day. He was really getting beyond caring for anything.

“Harry,” said Freeman—it was the third night— “I can't stand this!” Hansen was racked with his cough. His solitary thin blanket was no protection against the cold.

“I'm sorry, Bob—but I can't help it, pal. I 'udn't make such a row if t'other hand was free. I'd 'old it in!” He had but one hand free; the other was linked, with a steel clasp, to the wall. The granary was, one should have thought, safe enough for even Freeman and Hansen, without the

  ― 143 ―
ingenious accessory of wall-cuffs. But Captain Wright thought otherwise. And to fifteen-pound irons on the men he had added the single-handed steel attachment.

“Stow that stuff, Harry! Cough, if you want to. What I meant was that I can't stand this place for you. Horspital's th' place for you, old chap—an' that ——Com'dant 'll ha' to put you there or there'll be trouble.”

“Lor, Bob, don't yer take on now, an' get ——” The cough interrupted the remonstrance.

“And get what?”

“Into your tantrums on my 'count.”

“Not a bit of it, old chap. 'Tain't on your account at all—leastwise, not altogether. I'm going to break this —— tomb business, once and for all! I don't mind, Harry—I'm as cosy here as in a cell, or spread-eagled round a lamp-post on a cold night! But it's such chaps as you, old codger—with any amount o' heart, but not a stiver's worth of bodily strength to feed th' blood with. It's for you, and such as you, I'm going to break up this —— granary punishment!”

The fellow flung out his words in ascending tones that unmistakably expressed the tense fierceness of passion which was gnawing him. He was liable to

  ― 144 ―
be swayed by great gusts of passion, though for weeks together he would be as quiescent as the grave. But the account-keeping gave him no credit for his placid intervals, measuring his nature by its cyclonic periods. And one of those was now upon him—epileptic almost in its violence.

Hansen, who knew his co-prisoner well—they had bolted together, been wound up togethernote on the Wellington when on the voyage from Sydney, been flogged, 'cuffed, “spread-eagled,” celled together— cowered in his own corner, and with his one hand sought to check his coughing, so as not to agitate Freeman the more.

The twilight outside was fading into darkness in the interior, but the sick prisoner saw every movement, every feature of his comrade. Freeman— who was short and sturdy of figure, and who had grievously offended the System, time after time, because, in spite of continued short commons, he would preserve strength, as though his will replenished his sap—knelt down. He knelt sideways to the wall, as the short 'cuff-chain would not permit of

  ― 145 ―
his facing it. A suspicious System foresaw that a 'cuffed prisoner might, by thrusting his feet against the wall, secure leverage for the withdrawal of the staple.

Not in prayer did Freeman kneel, but to gain the greater purchase on the steel links which held his right wrist firmly to the wall. And thus kneeling, his broad flanks were drawn in—his upper teeth scored his lower lip to their full depth—his left hand was thrust forward and grasped the 'cuff-chain —the blood shot into his eyes, and left his cheeks so livid that their ghastliness shimmered in the gathering gloom. He hauled once, twice—and then, with a deep groan, an involuntary tribute to overstressed nature, he fell back, his head striking dully the stone floor. For some minutes he lay in the happy enfranchisement of a swoon.

When he recovered, he was comparatively free. Free, that is, to the extent of his 'cuff-shackle. He had pulled out the wall-staple, and the manacle dangled from his wrist.

The effort had been terrible: that last moment of strain, before the stone had yielded up the staple, had clutched his wrist in a constriction as suffocating as the experience of the Laocoon in the coils of the serpent. He could not believe, at first, that it was

  ― 146 ―
the staple which had given way: he thought the ring which had grasped his flesh had cut his hand from the arm.

But when he saw what he had achieved, when for the first time for months he realized that he could walk the length of his cell—he had been wall-'cuffed, remember, in gaol also—he sank nervelessly into the corner next Hansen, and, dropping his head on his knees, gasped his relief in tearless sobs. And, so squatting, he passed into slumber. Hansen need not have striven so strenuously to repress his coughing. Freeman's exhaustion conferred upon him the rare boon of a dreamless sleep.

Once only during the night did he seem on the verge of waking. That was when Hansen, who had stinted himself to half his ration of water during the day in order that he might retain some for the thirst of the parching night-hours, dipped into his pannikin the rag which served him as a handkerchief; and then, stretching himself noiselessly towards his sleeping comrade, placed the moistened bit of cotton upon the fevered forehead. Freeman stirred, but did not wake; and perhaps he slept the sounder for the other convict's poor, priceless sacrifice.

  ― 147 ―


The dawn-light stole into the vault through the aperture in the roof. With a fine generosity Wright had consented to the iron door remaining unclosed, as he concluded the wall-'cuffs held these two dreadful ruffians firmly; so, before Freeman awoke, the sweet, glorious day had sent a shaft of radiance into the darkness. It fell upon Hansen's face and roused him, and he, in turn, gently shook the slumberer.

“Bob!” he said, “rashins 'll be 'ere presently. There's the yard-bell now!”

Freeman turned, and sat up, and recollection coming back as drowsiness vanished, replied, “Right, Harry, old chap. How's the cough?”

“Not a bit easier, Bob—but hadn't yer better get back to your corner? Rashins 'll be 'ere in a jiffy!”

Freeman rose and walked across, and laughed as he crossed the bar of light and held up the dangling steel-clips to glisten in the beam. “Wouldn't it spoil the Com'dant's breakfast, Harry, to know as I stand here?”

“Is your wrist sore, Bob?”

“Sore ain't a name for it, Harry; but the sea air 'll cure it!”

  ― 148 ―

Hansen started in his corner. “What d'ye mean, Bob? Yer ain't a-thinkin' o' boltin', are yer?”

Freeman laughed. “No—no such luck. But I am going for a sea-trip to the Old Town; an' you're going too.”

“What's—what's—the use—of jokin', Harry?” The question was punctuated with coughs, and vibrated with a poignant despair.

Freeman turned and placed his hand in Hansen's: “Don't give up, Harry, pal! Don't funk on it! I've sworn to have yer out o' this, an' I will!”

“'Ow, Bob, 'ow?”

“I won't tell you, Harry. Ye'll have to trust me. If you don't know, they can't bring you in access'ry!”

And though Hansen tried, he obtained no more satisfaction than that indefinite answer.

Their rations came. “Catch!” said the “outer”-billet prisoner who had been detailed by the under-gaoler to deliver the food and drink so magnanimously allowed them. And as he spoke, he bent down and threw the hunks of bread into the corners. And the water he lowered in a pot, with a looped cord—a pint between them. Freeman repeated his previous day's performance, and dragged

  ― 149 ―
the can with his feet till he could reach it with his left hand, and divide its contents between the pannikins.

“All right?” questioned the messenger. “Com'dant 'opes as yer've 'ad a good night!” he continued, with a genial satire in his laugh.

“Hansen oughter see th' croaker,” said Freeman.

“Wot's th' use o' that lay, Bob Freeman? Yer know as Wright's not a bird as 'll be caught by that 'ere sort o' chaff. 'Udn't I look a fool now ter report 'Arry 'Ansen sick, an' then by an' by th' doc. comes 'long an' ses he's a-shammin' Abram?” And confident in his own wisdom and the deceit of the two prisoners, he went his way.

“In the last resort the System is often administered by convict understrappers,” wrote Dr. Wardell pseudonymously to his own paper, the Australian. “The great men who rule frequently work through illiterate brutes.”


Through the long day that terrible rascal, Freeman, sought to amuse his fellow-confinée. With jest and low chant—a loudly-sung song might have procured the tribute of the tube-gag—he sought to

  ― 150 ―
help Hansen's spirits to laughter-point. And by one other thing also.

He “blanketed” his irons. He tore the shoddy stuff into strips, to Hansen's wonderment, and wrapped the pieces round the “trumpeter” irons, so they should not clank. Then—for Hansen's amusement, so he said—he practised jumping upwards so as to touch the roof with his palms. Not with his finger-tips merely, but with his palms.

Now, his irons were fifteen-pounders. They were light for “trumpeters.” Still they waxed weightier and weightier as he persisted in his exercise. And if you wish to know the true character of the task which he set himself, try the experiment of jumping with seven-pound dumb-bells fastened to your feet.

Three or four times in quick succession would he leap upwards. Then he would rest and regain breath. And then he would spring up again, until at last he had achieved his end. Thrice running he had touched with both palms open at once the roof within a few inches of the margin of the door-opening. And Hansen, interested, forgot to cough. Like manna to starving people, desert-lost, was his comrade's athletic endeavours to the monotony-damned invalid.

“The night's come soon, Bob,” he said, as the

  ― 151 ―
early darkness fell. “That's 'cos we've had some-think to think about.”

“'Tis just that, Harry, pal. An' ye'll see to-morrer 'll pass quicker,” Freeman gasped, for he was quite exhausted.

“Wot, agoin' to try it to-morrer again?”

“Rather!” replied Freeman, with a chuckle. And the prospect of further pleasure on the morrow kept him warm in lieu of his blanket.

The yard-bell had swung its ding-dong at the breakfast-hour, and the sound stole over the quarter-mile of vacant ground to the granary. And Hansen urged Freeman, who had been walking up and down the cell, to regain his corner. “Dick 'll be here soon,” he said. To his surprise and alarm, however, Freeman simply smiled, and continued his walk to and fro.

“Bob, are yer crazy? Rashins 'll be 'ere, I say.”

“I ain't crazy, Harry, an' I know they'll be here.”

“But he'll cotch yer, Bob!”

“I think the boot 'll be on t'other leg, Harry!” answered Freeman.

And it was.

As the steps of the messenger, Dick, were heard approaching, Freeman halted just without the disc

  ― 152 ―
of light cast by the aperture upon the stone floor, and so that the bearer of the rations could not see him without peering down.

“Below there, boys!” called Dick. And he repeated the words growlingly as they met with no response.

Then Dick stooped down to peer into the corners.

“Yer lazy wretches——”

He did not live to complete the sentence of reproach. He had spoken thus far when Freeman, under the impulse of the ferocious passion which he had been nursing since the break of the day, sprang mightily upwards. His hands met on the doomed felon's throat, and though Dick was not so maddened by his death agony that he did not strive to force himself backwards, Freeman's grasp did not relax. As the latter was drawn down by his irons, he pulled the semi-conscious Dick after him. A minute later all was over for Messenger Dick.

The felicity of the System was that at every nook and corner of the Regulations and every stage of routine, it provided an opportunity for some one to get hanged. Even the life-saving institution of the granary, you see, had proved the ante-chamber to the gallows.

  ― 153 ―


For, of course, the System meritoriously hanged Convict Freeman after trial in Sydney; but do what Convict Hansen could by way of impressive appeal to C. J. Sir Francis Forbes to treat him, Hansen, not as a witness but as an accessory before the fact, it declined to hang him.

“Harry Hansen's a-committin' perjury, y' Honour,” said the accused, “when he says as he suggested the doin' o' Dick. He speaks truth, though, when he says as he was witness. I wanted him to be witness.”

“Why?” shuddered the C.J.

“Because, y'r Honour, I wanted people in the Old Town here to know as a sick lag like Harry there can't get the croaker's 'tendance at Norfolk. I put it to y'r Honour, ain't he sick? an' the Com'dant says he was shammin' Abra'm.”

And the Court looked at the consumptive ruffian, and in its judicial mind gave him a week longer to live than Freeman. And Freeman would “suffer” on Monday week, and this was Wednesday.

But the Court was wrong.

On the Friday before his Monday, Freeman, staring out of one of the dozen fully occupied

  ― 154 ―
condemned cells, saw two of the prisoner-wardsmen attached to the gaol-hospital bearing a grey-sheeted form into the corridor. They stopped before his cell. “Are yer Norfo'k Freeman?” questioned the front bearer.

“Yes! That Harry?”

“This is Hansen. Gov'nor ses as 'ow 'e thort yer'd like ter see th' larst of 'im.” And he turned down the sheet, so that the pinched, peaked features were visible.

“So, Harry,” said the condemned, “you've got home first, have you? Well, 'tis kind of the 'thorities to let me see you. The fun of it is, though, that they're always so dev'lish kind when 'tis too late.”

As we have no fancy for attempting the impossible, we shall not try and demonstrate that Condemned Convict Freeman was in error in that last remark.