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  ― 147 ―

VII.

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.”

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