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IV.

There had come a new man to the gang. Occasionally, though rarely, it happened that a ganger would remain deaf to the wiles of the System, and would refuse to extend his seven years to fourteen, or his fourteen to “life.” The men of Old Sydney held out countless inducements to Government men to extend their term of “Gov'ment labour” indefinitely, or till it reached the foot of the gallows, but now and then it would occur that a transport resisted the temptation in the shape of scourgings and starvings to remain on the muster-rolls, and became free.

Such an event had just happened. One Saturday evening when the gang went into the town for Sunday Chapel and muster, one of the gangers dropped out an expiree, and Mr. Overseer Franke was consequently able to present no more than eighteen at the muster.

“Overseer Franke, how is it your gang is only eighteen?” demanded the Barrack-master; “your strength's twenty.”




  ― 235 ―

“Yes, sir, but your Honour has forgotten that one man got his certificate yesternight ——”

“That's nineteen!”

“And one is waitin' trial, your Honour, for assaultin' me.”

“Ah, that's the score, but you're still one short, then! There, go to No. 2 yard and pick out a likely fellow.”

“Yes, sir!”

And in a second, he had passed into the inner quadrangle of the Muster-yard—some of the stone wall is still standing—where one hundred and forty newly-landed transports were huddled, pending inspection.

Up and down the ranks of sickly wretches—they had been seven months on the voyage, and short of water and lime-juice for the last month—he passed, closely scrutinizing the cargo. It was a regulation that the Governor, or, if that was not convenient, the Colonial Secretary, should allot each new-comer to the work for which he was best suited. The regulation had been obeyed in the case of the Coromandel cargo. On the previous morning (Saturday) his Excellency had inspected the “indent,” and had selected every man who said he was, or seemed to be, a mechanic. Then he had ordered


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the rest to “gang-labour,” and thus left them to the tender mercies of the Overseer. There are more ways than one of carrying out a regulation.

“A crawling, scurvy lot!” commented Overseer Franke to the yard constable. “I want a strong, wiry 'un, an' there don't seem to be one in the batch.”

“Try this cove wots over here,” suggested the constable, and pointed as he spoke to where a man, under the medium height, but otherwise well-proportioned, stood, the centre of a ragged group. “This chap ain't much muscle to look at, but he's blooded—he's got sperrit, I should say, an' 'udn't prove a shiser. You try him, Mr. Franke, sir. Here, you feller, stand out!”

The “fellow” stood. The grime of confinement did not blur altogether the fine lines of his face, and the delicate nostrils of the long nose, the sweep of the eyelashes, and the chiselling of the mouth, indicated blood and gentle nurture, while the straightforward, lucid eyes spoke equally clearly of a disposition of integrity. It was a mystery how such a man came to be included in the ring of degraded scum, possibly only to be explained by a sudden lapse into a criminal deed, or, as an alternative (of which there are many instances in convict


  ― 237 ―
archives), that he was bearing the brunt of some rich or great man's crime.

“Your name, feller?”

“Edgar Allison Mann,” was the reply, respectful in tone.

“Edgar Man!” exclaimed the Overseer, aghast at the fancied affront to his dignity. “Man! Do you know as you're talking to a Hoverseer?”

“Mann, sir, I said—M-a-n-n! Edgar Allison are my Christian names.”

“Ah, that's it, is it! Now, jest look here, young feller, we ain't a-goin' to put up with your inserlence.”

“I meant no insolence! You misunderstood me, sir!”

“Misunderstood yer, did I! Now, wot's that but inserlence, I'd like to know? Ain't it inserlence, constable?”

“It must be, Mr. Franke, sir, if you say so; you have 'ad more experience than me, sir.”

“By my lights, my flash cove, I'll have to take your flashness out of yer. A-tellin' me that I misunderstood yer! Wot'll yer say next, I wonder!”

“That—you—are—a—blackguard—who—has—been—invested—with—a—little—brief—authority—over—your—betters!”




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The yard-constable held his breath; Overseer Franke let his tongue loll out in amazement; did he hear aright, or had his senses deceived him? Did the audacious transport really mean to call him all that? The only sound to be heard in that yard for some seconds was the half-suppressed chuckle from a transport who was out on his second voyage: “Lord, ain't the swell a-crackin' a whid in prime twig!”note

“Wot's that yer say?” Franke, when he had got over the shock, said. “Wot's that?”

Word for word, pausing between each as he had done before, the transport repeated his former speech.

The whole yard looked for a burst of anger, and an immediate presentment of the offender before the Barrack-master with a request for condign punishment. A genius like Franke, however, was above doing what common constables and newly-landed transports expected from him. He knew a trick worth two of immediate punishment.

“Yer'll do, my man! I likes a feller with pluck for my gang, for it gives me som'at to do to break him in! March to the outer yard there—yer are a-going to jine No. 3 Outer, d'ye hear that?”




  ― 239 ―

When Mr. Franke marched back on Monday morning to the heights beyond Windmill Ridge, there went with him Edgar Allison Mann, No. 14-736, as the twentieth man of his gang.

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