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VI.

Thereupon Mr. Franke—whose portrait may be seen in Government House, Sydney—realized vividly his fate; and banishing all weakness—even a tyrant may be strong when pleading for his life—cried out for mercy.

“Yes!” replied Mann, “the mercy you showed Cummings and myself and all of us!”

“Wot d'yer fight fer Cummin's fer?” moaned the Overseer. “He peached on yer!”

“Yes?” Mann could not restrain the note of curiosity in his voice.

“Yes, 'e did. 'E tol' me 'bout yer findin' the


  ― 270 ―
boat. An' I gave 'im two figs of chaw-stuff fur a-tellin' me!”

Mann turned, as though he would have spit upon the dead body. But his better self was not yet dead. He thought that, after all, the System had made Cummings a traitor—and to a meanly-endowed creature such as he was, two figs of tobacco in the hand were worth a dozen boats in the sedge.

“Where is the boat?” he demanded.

Between the groans and the tears his wounds were wringing from him, Overseer Franke tried to effect a bargain.

“Will yer give me my life if I tells yer, 'an 'ow yer can get orf?”

The gang waited breathlessly for the reply of their leader. When it came, after a moment's deliberation, it was “Yes!”

“On yer word as a gen'elman?” bartered the infamy.

A lump rose in Mann's throat. Still, he confirmed his previous answer.

“Yes!”

And the gang breathed freely. And so did Overseer Franke.




  ― 271 ―

Then the Overseer told Mann and the others how he and Cummings and a soldier had gone to the Bay, upon Cummings' betrayal of the boat, after dark one night, and had removed the boat to another part of the inlet. And Cummings had kept that new secret, because he was to have a fig weekly till the boat was sold. For, needless to say, being a representative Government official, though the boat was properly Government's, Mr. Franke intended selling it for his own profit.

“And how will we get off?” questioned Mann.

“Ter-day's Tuesday. Ter-morrer the coaly-town (Newcastle) schooner's due, an' the night arter she comes in, skipper an' crew go 'shore. There ain't a soul on board. Thursday night—yer can go—an' I'll not report yer till Friday.”

“'Ear, 'ear!” applauded the gang. But Mann remained silent.

“Yer won't break yer promise, Mister Mann?” pleaded the prisoner.

How the gang enjoyed the “Mister!” But Mann's face clouded the deeper.

“What promise?” he exclaimed, at last.

“Yer promise to give me my life.”

“I made you no such promise!”

The gang shrank into stupid silence.




  ― 272 ―

“Oh, yer a gen'elman—an' break yer word!” The misery of that expostulation from the Overseer!

“Blast you—yes! You cut the gentleman out of me with the cat. You die!”

And in the late-fallen dusk there mingled, curiously, the rapturous applause of the transports, and the alternate prayers and imprecations of the doomed officer.

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