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V.

Mann, having struck Franke to the earth, threw the pick down and strode towards the startled but pleased transports. One or two of the more adventurous of them, in that rebound towards mental independence, abandoned all caution, and cheered him. “Well done, Gen'elman!” “Well done, Mr. Mann!”

“I don't think I've killed him, coves,” said Mann, hardened into a vulgar familiarity of speech by the very deed which had strengthened the others' respect for him, “he'll come to, presently. But I'll kill him then.”

A soldier—one of the two that had formed the gang-guard—at this, thought to withdraw himself quietly from the group. Instantly the action was noticed, and a ganger stopped him. “No,” said the fellow, “you don't get to the town. We've got a chance to bolt now, and we'd be —— fools not to use it. What d'ye say, pals?”

Then Mann knew his task was easy—even without the boat. Unless he could tell them of the boat, he had not thought to win the assent of every


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member of the gang to an attempt to escape. Now, he understood that they had responded to his rebellious act as tinder to the spark.

“Yes,” he exclaimed, “hold the lobsters.”

“You won't murder me, Mann?” entreated the soldier.

“No—but we will bind you till we have made our run.”

“'Ear, 'ear,” was gasped by some of the transports.

“We'll tie 'em up!” And, in a second, two tents were on the ground, and the lines were being cut for the pinion-cords for the military guard, who, once assured of their lives, made but slight resistance.

The whole camp of transports was now seized with semi-madness. They were a long way from being out of the wood, for, as yet, none (not even Mann himself) had the least idea of how they were to effect their escape. Inland, or over sea? None knew. All they cared to understand for the moment was that their oppressor, who was to them the only Visible Authority, lay senseless—destitute of life apparently as he was of power. In their wild burst of licence some rushed on the store-tent, others sat down to “oval” their own or their comrades' irons. Nearly all whistled or sang. The soldiers—two tied


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to tree-trunks, the third supine on the grass—were amazed at the antics; Overseer Franke did not remonstrate; and was it fancy altogether that suggested there was a grin on Cummings' face?

Mann, as befitted the leadership which he had assumed without dispute, was the first to recover himself. His back was torturing him. The pain reminded him of his vow.

“Coves—mates!” he cried. “Silence! we have business to do!”

Instantly they stopped their clamour. Two or three, however, went on “ovalling,” and the ring of the hammer as they forced the anklet-bands out of their true shape so that the feet could be withdrawn, disturbed, with a singular sharpness, the suddenly-created silence. Disturbed also Mr. Overseer Franke. He came to himself.

The gang heard the rustle as he turned on the gum-leaves where he had fallen; they heard him moan and his cry for a drink; they heard—and for answer looked at Mann.

And Mann made due reply.

He walked up to the prostrate official and asked him did he know him—him, Mann. He put the question courteously—oh, so courteously—“May I


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have the pleasure of this valse?” was the style of it. And Franke nodded a “yes,” and prayed for a drink.

“Cummings craved for a drink—and you gave him a bullet!” said Mann.

Did Franke respond to that retort? Not that Mann knew, for with that insight with which the gang, inspired by sudden liberty, had been endowed, the transports who had handled the sentries' muskets seized the weapons once more and rushed simultaneously to tender to Overseer Franke the cooling draught he had proffered Convict Cummings.

“Don't kill him, boys!” said Mann; “only wound him!” Then—

“Stay!” he continued. And motioning for help he erected the still half-dazed Overseer against a tree, and called for more cord. They bound him to the bole, but at Mann's order left the wretch's right hand free.

Free—for a second it was. Then Mann himself took it (as limp and nerveless as Cummings' own) and stretched it outwards by a piece of line, the other end of which was fastened to another tree. The cord was tautened, and thus the hand of the Overseer was between two trees.

Mann went to the camp fire-place and, lifting a


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charred bit of fuel, returned with it and inscribed a circle, and, within the circle, “a bull's-eye,” on the palm of the suspended hand.

“There!” he exclaimed, as he threw away the charcoal. “There's a target. Fire away!”

The second shot riddled the hand, and the third smashed the wrist.

Then the leader stopped the musketry practice.

“That's enough for the present,” he said. “We may want these bullets for living men. And this one is as good as dead!”

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