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I.

IF ever there was a woman who had a splendid chance of settling herself in life, it was Anstey's Bess—otherwise Elizabeth Sandy, No. 24-175, per Arab (1). Not to say anything at all of the proposals of lesser men—not even dwelling particularly on the honour done her by Jorgen Jorgenson, former Governor of Iceland and present magistrate's clerk at the neighbouring township of Oatlands, who would have wedded her without (so he informed her) “a paper thruppenny”note of dower—when Mr. Thomas Anstey's free overseer, Franky Manning, laid his honest heart and his hundred-acre grant, with all appurtenances thereon, at her feet, she was tendered an exceptionally fine opportunity of making a match. Nevertheless she refused.




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“I am quite comfortable here, thank'ee, Mr. Manning,” she said, “an' the master and mistress are kind, an' I'm desperate fond of the childer. An' I'm as happy as I want.”

“But you can be as happy as all this and be your own mistress too, Bess,” pleaded the stalwart Manning. “Won't ye think better of it? I'll treat ye kind!”

“I don't doubt that, Mr. Manning, an' I don't say as it's not a fine chance, but—it's no use. I've made up my mind to stay here till I die, or ——” She paused, as though she had already said too much.

“Or what, Bess?”

“Never mind!”

“Till ye get your freedom!”

“Yes, yes—my freedom!” But the exclamation was hurried and confused. As well it might be, for the explanation was not true.

“But the master says as ye'll not apply for your ticket, Bess, and ye won't get a ticket, much less a pardon, without asking for it. Are ye too happy here to ask for freedom?”

“That's it, that's it.”

“No, Bess, there's something else, I'm sure. You're not so happy but that freedom won't make


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ye happier, specially if ye get with freedom a home of your own.”

“No, no! It's no use, Mr. Manning. Besides, why, you ought to marry a free woman, not me—a lag.”

“D—— the lag—saving your presence, Bess! And even supposing Mr. Anstey couldn't get your pardon just for the asking for it, my love—the love of a square man, though p'r'aps I say it as shouldn't, Bess—will clear your record as though ye'd never been sent out.”

“Ah, that's good of you to say it, Mr. Frank; but you wouldn't like your—your childer to be pointed out for a lag mother's childer.”

Her wooer brought his great hand to his thigh with a resounding clap.

“Who'd dare to raise a word against my wife? I'm a free man—I'm rich now as men go—I'll be richer by and by. No, none dare say that against your children if they were mine too, Bess! Don't be afraid of that, my dear! Come, Bess, say ye'll have me, and I'll beg Mr. Anstey to ask for your pardon at once. He'll get it, sure. I've been a good servant to him, and so have you, Bess. Now, say yes!—there's a good girl!”

The woman, still comely and fresh-featured for all


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her thirty-six years, with thick coils of reddish-brown hair, deep-arching eyebrows and milk-white teeth, showing the self-respect so seldom retained by the “assigned female,” bent her face into her hands. The appeal stirred her, and her whole being quivered with the struggle between the craving to say “yes” and the knowledge she ought to say “no.” The ration print-dress of the convict-woman did not always cover the sensibilities of the drab, though Governor Arthur thought so.

Manning waited. He would not further harass her by so much as a glance, so while she pondered he gave a glance to the field adjacent to that in which they were standing. Something there attracted his attention. The ploughing-“teams” were stationary, and instead of the creaking and jingling of the gear, he heard angry voices in excited threats. One voice sounded above the rest, and as he distinguished it, he turned sharply to her.

“Bess, I can't wait any longer, now—though there's still time to say ‘yes,’ dear. The men are rowing again—wherever that young scoundrel Davies is there's bound to be trouble if I am not by. I'll come again to-night, Bess—unless”—he paused to grasp the hands which were now clasped on her bosom—“unless it's ‘yes’ now, Bess?”




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It might have been into ears of stone that he poured his words. Her hearing was intent for another voice than his—that much he understood, for there was straining in her eyes and in her attitude, and the colour came and went in quick rushes to and from her cheeks.

“Bess, Bess, what is the matter? What is it? Are you ill?”

“No—yes! Oh, go away, Mr. Manning—an' don't talk to me of love while that—while that's there!” She threw out her hands as though to push him away.

“What d'ye mean? While what's there?”

“Go, oh, go! Don't you see he—they are fighting! Go, do go—or mischief'll be done, Mr. Manning!”

It was quite time for him to go. From the adjoining paddock came cries of his name, mingled with bitter imprecations, and the group of convicts reeled stormily. He rushed towards the fence which separated the paddocks, and, as he clambered over, looked back.

The woman was prostrate on the sward. He could see the convulsive movements of her hands as they clutched at the grass-tufts.

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