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I.

OVERSEER FRANKE, of the Outer Domain Gang, working on the heights of Woolloomooloo, and engaged in clearing (by means of convicts' agony) the wooded ranges of hills and network of gullies, so as to make room for the perfume-breathing plants of civilization, had been rudely interrupted in his slumbers. One of the gang, Convict Cummings, being half-starved, sun-smitten, and overworked, had become delirious in the mid-hours of the night, and another transport—Mann—had set the Regulations at defiance by imploring the sentry's aid for the sick wretch, his tent-mate. Thereupon, Mr. Overseer Franke had awoke from his beauty-sleep and had ordered the sentry to still Mann's rebellious tongue with a bullet. The sentry fired in Mann's direction, but the bullet had found its destined billet in Convict Cummings' body—and Convict Cummings


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had ceased from troubling. Unfortunately, the wicked Mann, having evaded the shot, did not rest. He upbraided Overseer Franke for having murdered Cummings. He became positively insulting—and was flogged.

At two o'clock in the morning, at a spot somewhere, we take it, about where Liverpool Street of Modern Sydney dips into Womerah Avenue, Darlinghurst, Convict Edgar Allison Mann received thirty-nine lashes.

And Mann was “gently born”; and when the back of a gently-born transport had once been stained with the infamous stigma of the lash-point, only two things, if he were not to become utterly bestial, remained for him to do: to kill his tyrant, and—to die.

And Convict Mann, being at heart a really fine fellow—being, moreover, a firm believer in Shandy's doctrine that a man's name influenced his character; being, in a word, manly, lost not a minute in coming to the resolve to do both things.

“Peel!” had ordered Overseer Franke.

Mann had obeyed, making a remark as he did so:

“Flog me, and by God who looks from the heaven above, you're a dead man, Mr. Franke!” And then correcting himself, as though before he were subjected


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to the degrading ordeal he would assert his manhood, he repeated the words, but dropped the title. “You're a dead man, Franke!

“Scourger—thirty-nine!” laughed Franke. He might have made the penalty forty lashes—beyond forty an overseer could not go—but he read his Bible, did Franke—also the Regulations. “Thirty-nine” was Scriptural. And it was one on the safe side of the Regulation allowance.

All through the next day when the only living occupants of the camp were the sentry (the one who had shot Cummings) and himself—Cummings was, of course, also there, but though he was a present horror and outrage, he was in the past tense—Convict Mann nourished himself upon the lees of his cup of shame. And the draught turned to the acid of revenge in his mouth. By the time the gang returned to work after the nooning repast, he had forgotten, however, for a brief space, his physical pangs in the pleasure of anticipation.

He had formed a scheme by which to obtain the freedom of the gang and his revenge upon Overseer Franke.

The one recreation permitted to the gangers was a rare plunge into the waters of the inlet since


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known as Rushcutter's Bay, which was granted to them whenever they visited the Bay for the purpose of renewing the stock of rushes which composed their beds. The sedge at that time not only covered densely the low-lying areas between the arms of the Bay, but ran out in the inlet itself, and to gain a clear plunge the convicts were obliged to advance some hundreds of yards from the proper beach-line. More than one poor devil, having got so far, thought he would go farther, and had sought to dive and swim beyond the military guards' range. If the soldiers missed, however, there were other and still more vigilant guards (the sharks), and these never, so the Authorities believed, missed their man.

On the last occasion, six weeks before, on which Overseer Franke had thought it desirable to refresh his “labour” with a bath and with new bedding, Mann, with another ganger, going out a little further than the others, found that a derelict ship's boat had been tide-borne into the Bay, and had nosed a short way into the spiky sea-growths. Their hearts had laboured mightily at the discovery, for the fates would be cruel indeed if, with such a tool to their hands, they could not win freedom somehow. They had kept the knowledge of the boat to themselves. They had driven the craft with all their might


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farther into the sedge, and then had diverted the attention of their fellow-gangers from the vicinity by raising the cry of “A shark! a shark!” and by retreating hurriedly from the spot. And all the time that had intervened, the knowledge of the boat hidden in the rushes had soothed the ache of the hearts and hands of the two men. The boat was oarless, that was one disadvantage, but they did not always think of the deficiency. They dwelt upon what they had, not upon that which they had not.

This day—a Tuesday—which Convict Mann spent in camp, brooding over his shame and his revenge, he thought less, perhaps, of the boat than he had on other days—till the afternoon. Then, the recollection flashed upon him, and, all gashed and pain-stricken as he was, he strove to act upon it. He called the sentry.

“Sentry! Can I speak to you?”

The soldier paused in his wearisome walk by the tent-mouth.

“Yes, Mann.”

“Will you do me a favour?”

“Ef it ben't agen Reg'lashuns.”

There was a moment's silence. Then—

“It's against the letter of the Regulations, but not against their spirit.”




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“I don't know wot yer mean.”

“Well, the Regulation is that flogged prisoners should be turned out to work as soon as possible after the flogging, isn't it?”

“Yes.”

“Then I wish to get better soon—to get about the quicker. And a dip in the bay'll heal—the—back—quickly. The salt is good for it!”

“No-a! I'll not let yez go. Yez 'ud drounded yesself!”

“Sentry, what do they call me in the gang?”

“Gen'elman Ned.”

“Yes, Gentleman Ned! And though I'm lying here flogged”—then, for a second, the restraint to which he was subjecting himself gave way, and he shivered and sobbed—the wrung agony of a strong man's sob!—in the impotency of his wrath. “Though I'm here under punishment, I hope—I hope—I'm still a gentleman in that I won't lie. I'll come back, sentry, if you'll allow me to go!”

“Yez u'd not get there ef I let yez go. Yez too sick.”

“By Heaven, I would, sentry. My will will carry me, and back, if I had no other power.”

The soldier—a pock-marked, skimpy-eyebrowed-and-haired fellow, with the irresoluteness expressed


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in his features of the creature who has always been subject to rule—grew dubious.

“Ef it be th' salt as yez wants, th' Overseer 'ud 'a issued some 'a yez spoken for it. I might give yez some now.”

“The Overseer would place you under arrest for stealing the salt, if you did. No; I would not ask you to do that, but the salt of the sea-bath would cure me quickly. On the word of a man who never lied, sentry, I'll come back.”

The sentry hesitated. If Mann did not keep his word, or became too ill to return before the Overseer and the gangers came back to camp at six o'clock, then he would be ruined. Mann read his thought.

“On my word of honour, sentry, I will be back before five o'clock. It is now about two. Weak as I am, I can do the distance in the time.”

“Strike your breast, an' swear be God that yez 'ud not ruin me.”

The crude, childish oath was taken. Mann struggled to his feet, swinging involuntarily round on his heel from weakness as he did so, and then invoking what strength he could, set out. Under some scrubby gums, offending the day with the rigidity of its contorted nakedness, lay the murdered thing. Feeble as he was and blood-exhausted, Mann spent


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a little of his poor force in breaking off the feathery crest of a young wattle; and threw it on the corpse. There had been no opportunity to bury Cummings before the gang went to labour in the morning, and the interment would have to be performed by the men in their own time at night.

The sound of the breaking sapling directed the sentinel's notice to Mann. He ran up. “Yez mustn't do that, Mann; Overseer left no orders,” he said, as he pulled the branch off the dead man.

At no era in its history did the System inculcate respect for the convict dead. The convict alive was carrion; dead, was carrion still.

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