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  ― 203 ―

The Amour of Constable Crake.

I.

THERE is a great Australian family which boasts a recently invented shield and crest. The bearings are described in “Burke” with a rich luxuriance of heraldic jargon. Truthfully, they should be a woman, pendant, vert,note on a gallows sinister, sable. This is a story of the bravest deed ever done by a member of that family; which deed being what it was, is not borne from generation to generation on the perfumed breath of tradition. The younger members are taught to look with a reverence almost religious upon the inch of ribbon and the fragment of parchment which symbolize some ridiculous Imperial “honour,” conferred for Heaven alone knows what upon one of its later chieftains, but the deed which removes their “colonial founders” from the


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ruck of humanity they are never taught. The people who should teach them are ashamed of it. Which is human history. The great deeds of the world are the unhonoured ones.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, in the Early Twenties. The buildings stood then much as they are to-day, where they form Chancery Square. There is, however, a slight difference in their tenants. Then, they consisted of persons who had fallen beneath the lash of the law. Now, they are the persons who wield that lash. The difference between the respective classes of tenants extend to their manners. Between the coarseness of speech and gesture of the convicts and the polished blackguardism of the present-day followers of the Law there lies the chasm created by two generations of culture. In morals, however, there is no divergence of character.

A wall, 10 feet 6 inches high, separated at the time of our story the barrack enclosure, on the south and west, from the open, unfenced space called indiscriminately the Racecourse, the Parade-ground, and Hyde Park; on the north from the General Hospital enclosure and the pleasure-grounds of the Governor. The entrance was from the west, the gates being guarded by two lodges 12 feet square—the one on the right being appropriated to the clerks, the other to


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those indispensable accessories of the System, the “freed” constables. Other offices and minor buildings formed then, as they form now, a lining to the walls, clasping as it were in their embrace the principal building. This was the main barrack. It deserves a niche of distinction in architectural history, for it was the first building, not in Australia alone, but in the British Empire, arranged specifically for the classification of prisoners according to the degrees of their criminality. Governor Macquarie, if for no other reason, deserves to be honoured in that he attempted to solve a problem which English-speaking legislatures everywhere grow daily eloquent about while leaving unsolved. If delay in the work of social reform be playing the game of the devil, what a capable partner he has in the English-speaking legislator!

The barrack was of three storeys. On each floor there were four rooms. A passage 12 feet wide ran the length of the building. Two rooms—those facing west—were 65 feet long; the other two were 35 feet long. The breadth of each room was 19 feet.

In each of the six long rooms seventy men slept. In each of the six small ones, thirty-five. As a rule, that is. But one January night, in the Early Twenties, No. 5 room, the small one on the east end of


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the upper floor, contained thirty-three men—and one girl. She was the founder of the great Australian family aforesaid.

II.

The grass-cutting gang had, with their coxswains, duly reported themselves about 5.30 in the afternoon. They were rather later than usual, but the wind had been blowing strongly against the boats as they bore down heavily laden with grass for the Government live stock from the Parramatta River, and such of their crews as were not privileged to lodge in the town—that is to say, some twenty-one or two out of the forty who constituted the gang—were accordingly half-an-hour “beyond time” in reporting at “night muster.” But the System, surprising to say, had not endeavoured to control the tides and winds—had, indeed, made no provision for such an emergency as had now risen, and did not, therefore, punish the gang by stopping their rations. All it did was to give them their food cold when the mustering overseer had ended.

“Cox'n Nicholson—crew right?”

“Yes, sir! Arnold—Russell—Green—Dixon—Hawkins—King!”




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As he called his crew, the overseer ticked the names off and ordered them to pass to mess.

“Cox'n Wilmot—yours?”

“Yes, sir!” And the like routine was observed.

“Cox'n Tribe—yours?”

“Yes, sir! Hume—Evans—Grant, father—Grant, son—Dillon—Lee!”

“Right! Pass on!”

“Beg parding, sir—but I don't think as Grant, father, isn't well, sir!” The crew, shuffling off, paused to wait response to this reference to a fact they had all been made aware of that day.

“Ain't you well, Grant?” the overseer asked. The old man, who as yet was not so old, was of medium height, which appeared the less because of the stoop that spoke of his use of the sickle as a grass-cutting tool. His features were those of a weakling, the cheeks had tumbled in and the chin fell away to a point, in the fashion which, though the man were dumb, would convey an accent of servility. The fellow was a typical servant, without a mind or a tongue or a backbone of his own. When, in his free days, “Master” paid him his wages, “Master” owned him body and soul. And now the System owned him, and he was abjectly servile to it. When interrogated, he did not know whether he would please or


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offend the overseer by telling the truth, although it was patent he was ill. He was trembling; “Grant, son,” held him up, otherwise he would have fallen.

“Are you ill, Grant? Can't you answer?”

“Grant, father,” looked at his son. That was his way always. It was “Grant, son,” who ever answered for the old man—did some of his work for him—cared for him.

“Yes, he's very bad, Mr. Grove. I'm afraid he's had a stroke, sir.”

Grove, the Mustering Overseer, turned to the coxswain.

“Are you sure he ain't a-shammin', Tribe?”

“No, sir,—I mean, sir, as I am sure he isn't shamming. I thought as 'twas a kin' o' stroke, myself, sir!”

“Too ill to wait for mornin' doctor?”

“Yess'r, I'm afraid, sir!”

“What do you say, Grant, son?”

“I can't make him out at all, sir—I never saw him like this afore! I'll work double to-morrow, sir, if you'll let him go to the horspital to-night.”

“Was he much short to-day?”

The daily task of each man in a cutting-gang was forty bundles, say a hundredweight of grass per day.


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Barney Williams, Governor's coxswain, checked the quantity nightly.

Coxswain Tribe looked around at his men. Should he tell? Grove seemed in a pretty good temper tonight, but there was never any telling how long a subordinate officer's amiability would last. Perhaps if he told the truth it would be all right—perhaps all wrong. However, he risked it.

“He didn't do nothing at all to-day, sir. The coves all helped him, besides doin' their own whack.”

“Were any of them short?”

“No, sir; Mr. Williams passed the lot.”

“All right, then. But no more codgering o' that sort is to be allowed. If the man's sick, let him report sick afore he goes. An' if he goes, he's got to do his task. An' if there's time for the others to do his job besides their own, there's time to do more for Government. We'll see if the grass-cutters can't make up sixty bundles a day, instead of forty. An' you're sure Grant, father, isn't shammin' Abram, Tribe?”

“Yes, sir—quite.”

“Fall out Grant, father, for hospital—an' pass to mess the rest. March!”

The gangers saluted and passed to their messroom. This was a long room on the southern side of


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the enclosure, the kitchen separating it from a similar room where the “town gangs” messed. And “Grant, father” stood, or rather staggered, solitary, save for the overseer, in the mustering space by the gateway. He looked dazedly after the gangers, for with them went “Grant, son.” The younger man would have stayed had he dared, but there was never any certainty about the System's methods of interpretation. A reluctance to obey, which might have been prompted by a pure filial regard, might have been construed as insubordination. Had not a fellow been haled from that very yard to the neighbouring triangle—a statue of “Albert the Good” now ennobles the ensanguined spot!—for marching to the dormitory with his right foot first, when the order had been given by the ex-soldier overseer to lead off with the left? So “Grant, son”—not “Grant, second,” that would have meant a man of the same name, but no kinsman; nor “Grant, the younger,” for that would have signified a younger brother, whose elder was on the same muster-roll—“Grant, son,” moved to his food. But it choked him. For, almost for the first time since they had been hustled from the hulk at Plymouth to the convict-ship, father and son were separated. With the ship's indent had come a memorandum-order signed by a


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Very Great Personage indeed, requesting Governor Macquarie to, as far as possible, keep father and son together. And Mr. Secretary Campbell, who since 1810 had personally supervised every “muster on arrival,” had ordered that the two Grants should be placed in the same gang. And Mr. Campbell was, to the official intellect, a much greater man than the Personage, for he was present, and the Personage was twenty thousand miles away. Did Mr. Campbell know the precise relation to “Grant, father,” of the other Grant? We do not think he did; but the Personage did: of that we are convinced.

How, an impatient reader may here ask, could Mr. Campbell, who, as said above, personally mustered the convicts, upon landing, remain ignorant of the relationship if the Grants were respectively specified as father and son? Wait.

There were two parties made up for the hospital daily—one at 8 a.m., and one on night muster. If a man took seriously ill between 5.30 p.m. and 8 a.m., it was a highly irregular proceeding on his part, and one distinctly to be discountenanced. Therefore, the System would not provide for his removal between these hours. Old Grant, however, being wise, had made his illness manifest in time to be sent with the “night lot.” And accordingly, a freed constable


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dragged him, not unkindly, to the Rum Hospital next door. There we shall leave him. He concerns us no more—directly.

III.

At ten o'clock, the night-constable on duty at the entrance-gate—he had two watchmen selected from the prisoners to help him—passed up into No. 5 dormitory. The door leading into the courtyard was not locked, nor were the doors of the several rooms. This was one of the eccentricities of the period for which there is no accounting. As a rule, there was a superfluity of locks and bolts, but Hyde Park Barracks, from 1819 to 1826, were never locked at night. In '26, a plot to make a sortie on the sleeping town was discovered, and then the System invested £13 10s. 9d. in padlocks of new and impregnable design—which were all picked within a week. But this is by the way.

The night-constable, Thomas Crake, transport per the Three Bees on that fatal trip when the mortality was so great as to shock even the indurated sensibilities of a British statesman, passed from the courtyard into No. 5. Up two flights of stairs went he, ghoul-like in the crawling pat-pat of his list-slippered feet. And at the door of No. 5 he stopped and


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touched the dozing watchman of the room on the shoulder. “Grant's son—wake up Grant's son. The old man's a-slippin' 'is wind! 'E's got to go ter horspital, quick!”

The watchman rubbed his eyes and saluted. It was only a constable who stood by, but his fine reverence for authority, coupled with a profound distaste for lashes, suggested the salute. And so he made it before he moved between the hammocks to rouse “Grant, son.”

From floor to roof ran stanchions of timber—a row against the walls, another row seven feet distant towards the middle of the room. Across the stanchions were nailed rails or battens, and from these were suspended the hammocks. Twenty inches of width space was allowed to each hammock. For some that narrow bed held a fiercer hell than even the System maintained outside, for their consciences stirred malevolently even in their dreams. For others, again, the hammock was Paradise. These latter drifted back in their visions to the scenes of innocence; to the spots untainted by travail of spirit or by sense of injustice or wrong-doing. For a brief space they forgot.

There were others still—some who were awake; who never seemed to sleep; who were perpetually


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crying in these night hours after their lost youth—the youth perhaps they had never known. Surely there is a heaven to give some people the youth they never knew here!

Among these last was young Grant. Amid the animals who snored off their fatigue, amid the more delicate souls which sighed remorse or laughed in their sleep, young Grant was awake. He could not sleep—prescient, perhaps, of impending trouble, slumber refused to touch his eyelids.

Before the watchman had reached his hammock he had started up. In this ward—No. 5 was good conduct dormitory—it was unusual for the watchman to patrol after silence-bell; and as he heard the muffled steps between the sleepers, he knew instinctively he was wanted. In the same instant that the watchman muttered his name, he spoke.

“Grant, son?” The full name slipped off the tongue, mechanically alert by frequent repetition.

“Me; yes, I'm awake, Butchy. Is it the—old man?”

“Yes, sonny—Grant, father, be bad. So Const'ble Crake, he ses.”

The young fellow leapt out of the hammock instantly.




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“Yer'll get into it, a-sleepin' in yer ducks an' shirt, some time, my lad, if you don't take care.”

But the words passed unheeded. “Grant, son,” was at the door.

“Oh, Mr. Crake——”

“W'y don't yer s'lute?” growled the officer, tetchy even in that hour, and though he stood on the verge of an infamy, as to a fancied slight.

The lad saluted. And then, quivering with an alarm he did not try to disguise, he pressed his inquiry.

“Mr. Crake, is father—is he worse?”

“Come 'long, and I'll tell yer!”

IV.

Down the stairs they passed, into the court-yard. As they paused at the last step Constable Crake clutched the waist of young Grant and said—

“I know all 'bout yer, m' lady! I've bin waitin' for this chance for a long time!”

“O God!—but, Mr. Crake, my father—is he worse, is he dyin'?”

“—— your father! Think I care anythin' 'bout the ol' lag?”

Young Grant tried to wrest the clasped arm free.




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“No yer don't! Yer've to lis'en to wot I've got ter say.”

“Is—he—worse?”

“I dunno, an' don't care! 'E can die as quick as lightning for all I care. It's on'y yer as I care for, m' beauty!” He flung his free arm round the neck of the other and kissed young Grant's cheeks.

“Leave go! leave go! or I'll cry out!”

“No yer won't, m' beauty! If there's any public row 'bout this the 'Thorities 'll 'ave ter take it up, an' then, m' beauty, yer'll all be in for it—th' brother yer tried ter save by comin' out in his place, an' yer father fer lyin' 'bout yer, an' yerself fer a-deceivin' of Guv' munt!”

“O God!”

“'E can't 'elp yer! There ain't no God out 'ere—we all left God be'ind us in th' Channel.”

“What—d' ye—want?” Young Grant was gasping.

“Ah, oh, so an' pretty's a-comin' to reason, is she? That's right! I'll be a friend to 'er then. An' that's all I want, ter be a friend to yer. Yer understand, don't yer, m' beauty?”

The lamp by the gateway was flashing a quavering beam into the court-yard. By it Mr. Crake saw her


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lips quiver, but he could not hear words. They were an assent though—at least, he reasoned so.

“That's right, m' pretty. Now, yer just got ter come to me three times a week, while yer ol' man's in horspital. An' 'e ain't a-goin' ter come out in an 'urry either. I heard the report ter-night—he may live five years, but 'll never do work agen—'e's goin' looney ——”

“Oh! ——” The cry of smitten love rang through the stillness. But there was no echo, the distantly receding footsteps of the patrol marched down by the watch-house, and answered the challenge of the sentry there by “All's well!”

Crake stopped her mouth with his hand. “Shout agen, yer —— 'ussy, and I'll blow th' gaff ter-morrer on yer all—an' th' Gov'nor can't but 'elp then but get that b'utiful brother of yourn 'rested arter all. An' yer dad won't be too looney to flog—nobody's too looney to flog. An' as for yer, wot yer refuse me, wot I ax perlite like, yer'll 'ave ter give ter everybody that axes—beaks an' sodgers an' constables. They ain't goin' ter let a purty piece o' goods like yer slip through their 'ands. An' 'tis better for yer ter 'av one friend 'n not fifty. An' I don't say as I'll marry yer, but I don't mind a-tryin' ter get yer 'signed ter me. An' then yer'll be in clover, m' missy!” He


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stopped to take breath, and to emit an anticipatory chuckle at the sensation which would be caused at the transformation of “Grant, son,” into “Tom Crake's 'signed 'ooman!” But some laughter is premature.

V.

Before his cackle ended, the girl had recovered something of that presence of mind and that readiness of resource which had enabled her, in the first instance, to deceive the hulk-keeper at Plymouth as she substituted herself for the twin-brother, who was wanted at home to keep the mother and the younger children from starving—and then, for the succeeding fifteen months, to have evaded discovery by shipmates, by constables, and by fellow-convicts. And with that restoration to self-command she revealed a sudden coyness.

“Yes, Mr. Crake! I see what you mean! An', o' course, it 'ud be better to have only—one friend—than to be—but you'll keep th' secret, Mr. Crake?”

“O' course, m' pretty! I don't allow no other chaps to sit down in my nest!”

“Then, Mr. Crake, you can—do as you like—to-morrow night!”




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“No you don't!” He swore a great oath. “To-night or—I'll peach ter-morrer.”

“I'll swear to you, Mr. Crake—I'll swear to you I'll give myself to you to-morrow night. In the mess-room—my week for night messing begins to-morrow, an' I take the key an' give it to Mr. Grove. An' I'll not lock the—door, y' see—only pretend to.”

And Crake, whose conduct this night was the fruit of an impulse suddenly originated by the news communicated in the gossip of the guard-room of old Grant's illness, was reluctantly compelled to admit there was a wisdom in “Young Grant's” suggestion. But he swore, with fearful oaths, that he would not only disclose her secret but would drag her to the gutters if she failed in her appointment.

She tendered him a kiss in proof of her sincerity, and was mounting the stairs again when a thought struck her, and quickly she ran back.

“Mr. Crake, Mr. Crake!” she half-whispered, half-cried. He, nearing the lodge, heard her and returned.

“Yes?—so yer thought better o' it?”

She took no heed, but went on with her question.

“Mr. Crake, I'll—give you another kiss now—two, or as many as you want—if—if—ye'll only tell me how—you found me out?”

“Found yer out, m' dear? W'y, I suspected—I'm


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an ol' searcher at the Factory,note m' beauty, an' yer ain't th' first 'ooman by 'arf-a-dozen who's come out for 'er man or 'er father or 'er brother—an' w'en I suspected yer, wot d'ye think I did?”

The girl was silent; but he laughed long, though subduedly.

“W'y, I gave yer ol' man a bit o' baccy now an' then, an' 'e peached on yer at last!” Again he laughed.

“My father—I'll never believe it!”

“Oh, but he did, m' beauty! An' now for them kisses. …”

When, the next morning but one, the cooks entered the mess-room, they solved a trifling difficulty which had harassed the convict watchmen at the gate. What had become of Constable Crake? He had left the lodge about midnight, and had not returned.

The cooks discovered why he had not returned. He lay on one of the mess-tables with his throat cut.

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