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VIII.

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


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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


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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


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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.

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