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II.

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


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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.




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“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


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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


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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


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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.

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