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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!”




  ― 219 ―

“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


  ― 220 ―
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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