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VI.

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


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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


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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


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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


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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.

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