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XXXI The Last Week: Friday

I FELT as if I had scarcely closed my eyes when I was awakened with a rude kick, and yet I must have slept for many hours, for I found myself much restored, and hungry as a hunter. I thought it wise, however, to affect the greatest lassitude and weakness. Pagney freed my right hand, and removed the gag. Jones stood beside me, a short iron club in his hand—probably the very weapon


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with which Edward Shaw had been slaughtered. They had brought me water, bread, and butter. I pretended that I could not use my hand, and let it fall limply to my side, imploring Pagney to feed me. He angrily refused, a circumstance which induced Jones to push him roughly out of the way, and assume the office of sick waiter. I ate every crumb he gave me, and swallowed the water greedily, then I fell back and moaned and moaned. My right hand was in reality paining frightfully, and it was still half useless; but I need not have moaned. The brutes cursed me; but they showed some pity. I pretended to be ill, vowed that I endured the most terrible abdominal pains, and besought them, if they had a spark of human feeling in their bodies, to brain me as I lay. Pagney at last went off in search of some whiskey, and he took with him the lamp. This was the chance for which I had waited and planned. Moaning and groaning so that I filled the cabin with the horrid sounds, I managed somehow to drag the pistol from my hip pocket and hide it underneath the mattress. My hand was still so weak that it would have been impossible for me to use the weapon; but I hid it in this fashion because I feared a visit from my uncle or some of the councillors, and feared to be searched, in which case the revolver must infallibly have been discovered, and my last hope torn from me. Oh, how I cursed my weakness! When I thought of it my groans were real enough. I drank the whiskey, and then pretended to swoon, hoping that on that account they might allow me to remain unbound. But, to my chagrin, although they left my mouth free, they triced up my arms with the utmost care, and thereafter I was not left alone. One or other of them remained always in the cabin, bludgeon in hand. Through the morning I worked my hardest to seduce them both. By turns I told them brilliant lies of hidden riches, and made them the most specious offers to share secret gold I pretended I possessed. I tried to work upon their fears, their cupidity, their common love, their mutual hate. I promised them wild impossibilities. I beseeched, I implored, I threatened. But all to no purpose. I was not mad enough to try and suborn them to help me escape. All I wished


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them to do was to slip ashore and send a telegram to Miss Denton, warning her not to visit my cottage on Saturday night. Their orders must have been very strict, for they were quite ignorant of my uncle's designs on Miss Denton's life, and my golden stories and promises moved them deeply—I saw it in the cupidinous glitter of their eyes; but, in spite of all my efforts, they refused to do my bidding, and at last, sick of the matter, Pagney condemned me to the gag again. The day passed with awful speed, to me at least. I jealously resented the encroachment of each moment, for I thought of the woman I loved, of what she was doing, must be doing; of her preparations for departure, for return to Sydney. I followed her to the station, to the platform, to the train. I saw her take her seat, the door close, the train move, slowly at first but soon fast and ever faster, flying on its way to Sydney, bearing her to her doom,—unless, unless, I could recover my strength while yet there was time, induce my gaolers to free my hands—and then!——

The brutes grew tired of being kind. When luncheon hour came they commenced to bait me. They brought my meagre fare, set it on the mattress beside my head, and took off my gag. Then they forced me to eat it, browsing in the manner of a horse, and if I dared to murmur, kicked my helpless body or cruelly pinched my skin. They obliged me to lick up every crumb, and because I could not drink the water in the same manner they allowed me to go athirst. Few people in the world know what it means to hate, because—and thank heaven for it!—few people in the world are ever called upon to endure at the hands of human brutes such hideous indignities. They found so much amusement in tormenting me that they almost forgot that they loathed each other. I hated them unspeakably.

They pursued the same brutal jest at dinner, save that, as a variation, they smeared my bread thickly over with mustard in order to watch my choked contortions as I chewed and swallowed it, or listen to my involuntary groans when the horrid mess cut my raw and smarting tongue. When I cried to them for water they responded


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by emptying the jug into my mattress. “Lap it up!” they said.

“My uncle shall hear of this!” I cried.

“Oh, don't tell! Please, dear Lucas, don't tell on us!” they pleaded, and burst into shouts of laughter.

With that they gagged me, and my sufferings were intensified by an ever-increasing thirst. But this was later on relieved by Pagney, who brought a jug of water during his hour of watch, and offered to give it me, provided that I took a horrible oath not to betray the fact that I had given him the hundred pounds.

I took the oath; I would have sold my soul for the water. Ah, those poor devils down in Hell, if such exist, who are supposed to languish in eternal fires, yet whose thirst is their greatest torture! I had learned to pity them profoundly in the course of a single day. I have never thought of them without compassion, since.

My uncle, attended by his councillors, visited me during the night. They searched me thoroughly, and seemed cast into the greatest rage when they failed to find more than a few pounds in my possession. Well was it then for me that I had already removed and hidden my revolver.

I was ungagged, and subjected to a rigorous cross-examination as to what I had done with the hundred pounds which I had received for the furniture. I refused to answer, in accordance with my promise to Samuel Pagney. They beat me with a rawhide whip; but I kept my faith, and at last they desisted in despair. Pagney, however, did not look happy until I was bound and gagged again. The wretch! I wonder what sort of faith he would have kept under like circumstances.

My uncle said to me, “Enjoy your last hours of life as best you can, you —— hound! You'd be dead before this, only the girl's still loose; but as soon as we've got her the both of you go under! Think of it, you ——! Dream of it, —— you!”

He thereupon sternly commanded my gaolers to give me no more freedom, but to keep me constantly bound, and never leave me for an instant! Pagney, shaking with laughter, described to the king the manner in which I had


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been compelled to take my meals during the day. It was then that I perfectly understood the keenness of the ill-will which now animated my uncle in my regard. He stood for a moment gazing at me steadily, as if lost in thought, nor did he join in the mirth of his subjects aroused by Pagney's story.

“He looks quite comfortable!” he observed at last, and his voice contained a mixture of displeasure and cruel suggestion.

The larrikins were not so stupid that they did not thoroughly understand him.

“Cracked corn or gravel next his skin to lie on!” hinted Robin.

My uncle shook his head disdainfully.

“Wet the cords so that they'll shrink and cut him as they dry!” suggested Gardner.

“No.”

“Cut off his ears. He can't bleed to death!” said Daly.

“No.”

“Slit his nose!” contributed Murphy.

“No.”

The fifth councillor also made a bid for fame; but it was reserved for the man Pagney, in whose behalf I had just endured a beating, to please my uncle, and to awaken the whole-hearted enthusiasm of the entire gang.

“Pull off a couple of his finger nails!” he suggested. “I had one torn off in a machine a bit ago. The pain doesn't let up for hours!” My uncle's rather brutal face was transfigured with an expression of such perfect appreciation that he appeared for a moment almost beautiful.

“Sam Pagney,” said he, “you're the cleverest of the lot. Fetch a pair of pincers!”

My uncle watched his subjects perform the operation, his lips twisted in a grin of gratified malignity. My spasmodic writhings won from him several short gruff laughs. For the time I believe he was happy; my sufferings ministered such sweet balm to his raw and itching malice. I cannot describe the business, so I shall not try. One thing, the pain was so sharp that it restored to me my strength. I struggled like a maniac, and although without


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success, nevertheless the cords were so strained by my frantic efforts that afterwards my bound limbs were able to repose in comfort and my blood to course freely through my veins.

They took leave of me with derisive ceremony, bowing in mock humility, and grimacing. Each found something insulting to say. My uncle's farewell is worthy of record. “Good-bye, my dear boy. God bless you!” he said earnestly, and stooping, kissed me on the forehead. The others shrieked with laughter. No doubt they considered his blasphemous wit excruciatingly funny.

Pagney was evidently a queer mixture of a man. About midnight he came to me carrying a tube of lanoline.

“I've been thinkin' of the time I had when my nail was torn off,” he observed. “Are they painin' you still, Lucas?”

I nodded.

He kneeled beside me and anointed my two bleeding fingers thickly with the balsam. The blessed stuff gave me such infinite relief that I gratefully forgave him for having inflicted the torture; if I had been free I would have kissed his hands. This may seem strange to those who have not been similarly injured. I have read of the sufferings of martyrs and brave gentlemen of noble birth, and the heroic pride which enabled them to withstand their sufferings and laugh in the face of their torturers. I do not credit these stories any more. Believe me, physical pain, if it be acute enough, is the most masterful tyrant in the world; the most stubborn pride faints impotent before it. I entertain now the greatest contempt for certain historians, and all the chroniclers of the saints—they are liars, liars.

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