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III.

The teams—one man short in each—resumed their ploughing. Tragedies might be enacted, hearts might break in the process, but Anstey's grants had to be prepared for the spring sowing and the autumn harvest. Up and down, one working to the east side of the paddock, the other to the west, scoring with the same furrows the chocolate earth and their


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own hearts. No task so tore the natures of convicts as that of hauling the plough. Much of their work seared, but the flesh closed over the cicatrices; but the ploughshare cut a wound that rankled for ever, because the work was beasts' work. Yet Anstey's plough-“teams” should have been happy in knowing that, though their work was that of the lower animals, their food was still that of the man. Anstey was unlike C——, who sleeps in Melbourne cemetery in sure and certain dread of a terrible resurrection, and under twelve hundred pounds' worth of lying marble. C——, moved by a sense of the appropriate, fed his plough-cattle on oatmeal and water. “The fodder of beasts for beasts' work” was his maxim—and his grand-daughter will be presented at Court this year.

For two days the “teams” worked each a man short. Then the proper allowance of draught was renewed. The number of eight was restored: Davies and New came back. They had been into Oatlands. Davies was reticent with his fellow-cattle. But New was discursive enough for both.

“'E was impident to the beak, an' jawed the hoverseer, an' 'e ses that 'e 'ud risk Jack Ketch to 'av 'is go for Mannin'. An' Mannin', he only larfs, an' begs the beak to let 'im orf easy for a-strikin'


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me, an' 'e never ses no word at all about cheekin' 'im, so the beak lets 'im orf with ten. Vy”—he grew indignant at the prospect of the probable increase in crime which would follow upon such an unusual instance of magisterial leniency—“that ain't no pun'shment at all! If 'e killed me, 'e'd 'av got orf altogether!”

Nevertheless, those ten strokes, lightly laid on the back though they were, had stamped themselves indelibly on Davies' features. And an old hand, who for a generation had been enjoying the protection (tempered with discipline) of Government, and who knew the convict nature well, prophesied ill because the lad never laughed now. There was something taking about the boy—something impressive, too, to a creature like this Michael Ferris, who was servile always, from inclination as much as from policy, in his haughty opposition to authority.

And the old convict dreaded what might be.

This man was sent with a message to the homestead by Manning a week after Davies' return to the “team.” And while waiting for the can of tea which he was to carry to the field, the old fellow took an opportunity of saying a word to Bess. Anstey's was ruled by Bess in all things, edible and potable.




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“Mrs. Sandy, a word wi' yer, mum, please, an' 'scuse the liberty as I'm taking, mem, but the men do say as wot yer—yer take an int'rest like in young Eddie Davies——”

“Oh!” cried Bess, taken off her guard by the suddenness of the remark, “what is the matter now—is he in more trouble?”

“Not yet, missus, but I'm afraid he will be—he's so sullen like, and broodin'. He never larfs. An' w'en fellers, espeshally younkers, go like that, arter kissin' of Madame Cat-o'-nine-tail—w'y, mem, theys go to the bad, slick!”

“Oh, tell him not to brood—no, stay!” Then, fearful she had revealed a feeling for the lad's welfare that needed either instant contradiction or a further unfolding, she paused and looked anxiously at the old transport. He read her glance, and put his finger on his lips.

“I'm mum, mem—I do anything for the younker, as he gives me 'baccy w'en he has it, an' I know as the stuff must come from you!”

“Then—then tell him to keep awake to-night.”

The old man delivered the message; and he was loyal to his promise. He mentioned the circumstance to no one. But he would have been more than human if, when the “teams” were stabled for


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the night in the huts by the home-paddock, he too had not resolved to keep awake.

Six men to a hut—the Ansteys characteristically so construed the official regulation which required that in any apartment of smaller dimensions than 12 feet by 12 feet, there should not be lodged more than twelve assigned servants. (The System would have died prematurely had the Ansteys' methods been the rule. As they were not, it was only the convicts who died in advance of their time.) The old transport was in the same hut as Davies. Even Mr. Thomas Anstey gave no second thought to an arrangement that shut up for ten hours gentry who would have rightly adorned Tyburn tree with babes in vice. It was so usual: it did not shock even him.

As midnight drew near, old Ferris woke from a snatch of sleep. Stirring in his ear curiously, was a bird's tapping which mingled with the sigh-laden breathing of the sleepers and the creaking of the pine-planks as the men turned restlessly in the bunks. He raised himself upon his elbow noiselessly and peered into the darkness. A movement in the bed-place opposite his own—Davies'—directed his gaze; and to his surprise he saw a breadth of moonlight


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flash into the room as a plank in the wall was apparently withdrawn. A body stopped the aperture for an instant, and then the sudden reappearance of the light, and the sound of a thud outside, told him that Davies—it could be no other than the lad—had temporarily escaped from the hut. Ferris stole quietly to the bed-place, which had just been vacated, and listened. The speakers had placed themselves against the wall so that the shadow of the building covered them, and thus Ferris heard every word.

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