Part 3 out of 11
At a little distance from the mainland is a rock, over the rude side of which
the waves dash in rough weather. On the evening of the 3rd December, 1833,
as the sun was sinking behind the tree-tops on the left side of the harbour,
the figure of a man appeared on the top of this rock. He was clad
in the coarse garb of a convict, and wore round his ankles two iron rings,
connected by a short and heavy chain. To the middle of this chain
a leathern strap was attached, which, splitting in the form of a T,
buckled round his waist, and pulled the chain high enough to prevent him
from stumbling over it as he walked. His head was bare, and his coarse,
blue-striped shirt, open at the throat, displayed an embrowned
and muscular neck. Emerging from out a sort of cell, or den,
contrived by nature or art in the side of the cliff, he threw on a scanty fire,
which burned between two hollowed rocks, a small log of pine wood,
and then returning to his cave, and bringing from it an iron pot,
which contained water, he scooped with his toil-hardened hands
a resting-place for it in the ashes, and placed it on the embers.
It was evident that the cave was at once his storehouse and larder,
and that the two hollowed rocks formed his kitchen.
Having thus made preparations for supper, he ascended a pathway
which led to the highest point of the rock. His fetters compelled him
to take short steps, and, as he walked, he winced as though the iron bit him.
A handkerchief or strip of cloth was twisted round his left ankle;
on which the circlet had chafed a sore. Painfully and slowly,
he gained his destination, and flinging himself on the ground,
gazed around him. The afternoon had been stormy, and the rays
of the setting sun shone redly on the turbid and rushing waters of the bay.
On the right lay Sarah Island; on the left the bleak shore of the opposite
and the tall peak of the Frenchman's Cap; while the storm hung sullenly
over the barren hills to the eastward. Below him appeared
the only sign of life. A brig was being towed up the harbour
by two convict-manned boats.
The sight of this brig seemed to rouse in the mind of the solitary of the rock
a strain of reflection, for, sinking his chin upon his hand,
he fixed his eyes on the incoming vessel, and immersed himself
in moody thought. More than an hour had passed, yet he did not move.
The ship anchored, the boats detached themselves from her sides,
the sun sank, and the bay was plunged in gloom. Lights began to twinkle
along the shore of the settlement. The little fire died, and the water
in the iron pot grew cold; yet the watcher on the rock did not stir.
With his eyes staring into the gloom, and fixed steadily on the vessel,
he lay along the barren cliff of his lonely prison as motionless as the rock
on which he had stretched himself.
This solitary man was Rufus Dawes.
A SOCIAL EVENING.
In the house of Major Vickers, Commandant of Macquarie Harbour,
there was, on this evening of December 3rd, unusual gaiety.
Lieutenant Maurice Frere, late in command at Maria Island, had unexpectedly
come down with news from head-quarters. The Ladybird, Government schooner,
visited the settlement on ordinary occasions twice a year, and such visits
were looked forward to with no little eagerness by the settlers.
To the convicts the arrival of the Ladybird meant arrival of new faces,
intelligence of old comrades, news of how the world, from which
they were exiled, was progressing. When the Ladybird arrived,
the chained and toil-worn felons felt that they were yet human,
that the universe was not bounded by the gloomy forests which surrounded
their prison, but that there was a world beyond, where men, like themselves,
smoked, and drank, and laughed, and rested, and were Free.
When the Ladybird arrived, they heard such news as interested them--that is
to say, not mere foolish accounts of wars or ship arrivals, or city gossip,
but matters appertaining to their own world--how Tom was with the road gangs,
Dick on a ticket-of-leave, Harry taken to the bush, and Jack
hung at the Hobart Town Gaol. Such items of intelligence were the only news
they cared to hear, and the new-comers were well posted up in such matters.
To the convicts the Ladybird was town talk, theatre, stock quotations,
and latest telegrams. She was their newspaper and post-office,
the one excitement of their dreary existence, the one link between
their own misery and the happiness of their fellow-creatures.
To the Commandant and the "free men" this messenger from the outer life
was scarcely less welcome. There was not a man on the island
who did not feel his heart grow heavier when her white sails disappeared
behind the shoulder of the hill.
On the present occasion business of more than ordinary importance
had procured for Major Vickers this pleasurable excitement.
It had been resolved by Governor Arthur that the convict establishment
should be broken up. A succession of murders and attempted escapes
had called public attention to the place, and its distance from Hobart Town
rendered it inconvenient and expensive. Arthur had fixed upon
Tasman's Peninsula--the earring of which we have spoken--as a future
convict depôt, and naming it Port Arthur, in honour of himself,
had sent down Lieutenant Maurice Frere with instructions for Vickers
to convey the prisoners of Macquarie Harbour thither.
In order to understand the magnitude and meaning of such an order
as that with which Lieutenant Frere was entrusted, we must glance
at the social condition of the penal colony at this period of its history.
Nine years before, Colonel Arthur, late Governor of Honduras,
had arrived at a most critical moment. The former Governor,
Colonel Sorrell, was a man of genial temperament, but little strength
of character. He was, moreover, profligate in his private life;
and, encouraged by his example, his officers violated all rules
of social decency. It was common for an officer to openly keep
a female convict as his mistress. Not only would compliance purchase comforts,
but strange stories were afloat concerning the persecution of women
who dared to choose their own lovers. To put down this profligacy
was the first care of Arthur; and in enforcing a severe attention to etiquette
and outward respectability, he perhaps erred on the side of virtue.
Honest, brave, and high-minded, he was also penurious and cold,
and the ostentatious good humour of the colonists dashed itself
in vain against his polite indifference. In opposition to this
official society created by Governor Arthur was that of the free settlers
and the ticket-of-leave men. The latter were more numerous
than one would be apt to suppose. On the 2nd November, 1829,
thirty-eight free pardons and fifty-six conditional pardons
appeared on the books; and the number of persons holding tickets-of-leave,
on the 26th of September the same year, was seven hundred and forty-five.
Of the social condition of these people at this time it is impossible to speak
without astonishment. According to the recorded testimony
of many respectable persons-Government officials, military officers,
and free settlers-the profligacy of the settlers was notorious.
Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen
in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed
standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours
of public worship, in order to continue their carousing.
As for the condition of the prisoner population, that, indeed,
is indescribable. Notwithstanding the severe punishment for sly grog-selling,
it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found
intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be
cheaply bought at the price of twenty lashes. In the factory--a prison
for females--the vilest abuses were committed, while the infamies current,
as matters of course, in chain gangs and penal settlements,
were of too horrible a nature to be more than hinted at here.
All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent
and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised
without restraint and without shame.
Seven classes of criminals were established in 1826, when the new barracks
for prisoners at Hobart Town were finished. The first class were allowed
to sleep out of barracks, and to work for themselves on Saturday;
the second had only the last-named indulgence; the third were only allowed
Saturday afternoon; the fourth and fifth were "refractory and disorderly
characters--to work in irons;" the sixth were "men of the most degraded
and incorrigible character--to be worked in irons, and kept entirely separate
from the other prisoners;" while the seventh were the refuse
of this refuse--the murderers, bandits, and villains, whom neither chain
nor lash could tame. They were regarded as socially dead,
and shipped to Hell's Gates, or Maria Island. Hells Gates was
the most dreaded of all these houses of bondage. The discipline at the place
was so severe, and the life so terrible, that prisoners would risk all
to escape from it. In one year, of eighty-five deaths there,
only thirty were from natural causes; of the remaining dead,
twenty-seven were drowned, eight killed accidentally, three shot
by the soldiers, and twelve murdered by their comrades. In 1822,
one hundred and sixty-nine men out of one hundred and eighty-two
were punished to the extent of two thousand lashes. During the ten years
of its existence, one hundred and twelve men escaped, out of whom
sixty-two only were found-dead. The prisoners killed themselves
to avoid living any longer, and if so fortunate as to penetrate the desert
of scrub, heath, and swamp, which lay between their prison
and the settled districts, preferred death to recapture.
Successfully to transport the remnant of this desperate band
of doubly-convicted felons to Arthur's new prison, was the mission
of Maurice Frere.
He was sitting by the empty fire-place, with one leg carelessly thrown
over the other, entertaining the company with his usual indifferent air.
The six years that had passed since his departure from England
had given him a sturdier frame and a fuller face. His hair was coarser,
his face redder, and his eye more hard, but in demeanour he was little changed.
Sobered he might be, and his voice had acquired that decisive,
insured tone which a voice exercised only in accents of command
invariably acquires, but his bad qualities were as prominent as ever.
His five years' residence at Maria Island had increased that brutality
of thought, and overbearing confidence in his own importance,
for which he had been always remarkable, but it had also given him
an assured air of authority, which covered the more unpleasant features
of his character. He was detested by the prisoners--as he said,
"it was a word and a blow with him"--but, among his superiors,
he passed for an officer, honest and painstaking, though somewhat bluff
"Well, Mrs. Vickers," he said, as he took a cup of tea from the hands
of that lady, "I suppose you won't be sorry to get away from this place, eh?
Trouble you for the toast, Vickers!"
"No indeed," says poor Mrs. Vickers, with the old girlishness
shadowed by six years; "I shall be only too glad. A dreadful place!
John's duties, however, are imperative. But the wind! My dear Mr. Frere,
you've no idea of it; I wanted to send Sylvia to Hobart Town,
but John would not let her go."
"By the way, how is Miss Sylvia?" asked Frere, with the patronising air
which men of his stamp adopt when they speak of children.
"Not very well, I'm sorry to say," returned Vickers. "You see,
it's lonely for her here. There are no children of her own age,
with the exception of the pilot's little girl, and she cannot associate
with her. But I did not like to leave her behind, and endeavoured
to teach her myself."
"Hum! There was a-ha-governess, or something, was there not?"
said Frere, staring into his tea-cup. "That maid, you know--what was her name?"
"Miss Purfoy," said Mrs. Vickers, a little gravely. "Yes, poor thing!
A sad story, Mr. Frere."
Frere's eye twinkled.
"Indeed! I left, you know, shortly after the trial of the mutineers,
and never heard the full particulars." He spoke carelessly,
but he awaited the reply with keen curiosity.
"A sad story!" repeated Mrs. Vickers. "She was the wife of that wretched man,
Rex, and came out as my maid in order to be near him. She would never tell me
her history, poor thing, though all through the dreadful accusations
made by that horrid doctor--I always disliked that man--I begged her
almost on my knees. You know how she nursed Sylvia and poor John.
Really a most superior creature. I think she must have been a governess."
Mr. Frere raised his eyebrows abruptly, as though he would say,
Governess! Of course. Happy suggestion. Wonder it never occurred
to me before. "However, her conduct was most exemplary--really
most exemplary--and during the six months we were in Hobart Town
she taught little Sylvia a great deal. Of course she could not help
her wretched husband, you know. Could she?"
"Certainly not!" said Frere heartily. "I heard something about him too.
Got into some scrape, did he not? Half a cup, please."
"Miss Purfoy, or Mrs. Rex, as she really was, though I don't suppose
Rex is her real name either--sugar and milk, I think you said--came into
a little legacy from an old aunt in England." Mr. Frere gave
a little bluff nod, meaning thereby, Old aunt! Exactly. Just what might have
been expected. "And left my service. She took a little cottage
on the New Town road, and Rex was assigned to her as her servant."
"I see. The old dodge!" says Frere, flushing a little. "Well?"
"Well, the wretched man tried to escape, and she helped him.
He was to get to Launceston, and so on board a vessel to Sydney;
but they took the unhappy creature, and he was sent down here.
She was only fined, but it ruined her."
"Well, you see, only a few people knew of her relationship to Rex,
and she was rather respected. Of course, when it became known,
what with that dreadful trial and the horrible assertions of Dr. Pine
--you will not believe me, I know, there was something about that man
I never liked--she was quite left alone. She wanted me to bring her down here
to teach Sylvia; but John thought that it was only to be near her husband,
and wouldn't allow it."
"Of course it was," said Vickers, rising. "Frere, if you'd like to smoke,
we'll go on the verandah.--She will never be satisfied until she gets
that scoundrel free."
"He's a bad lot, then?" says Frere, opening the glass window, and leading
the way to the sandy garden. "You will excuse my roughness, Mrs. Vickers,
but I have become quite a slave to my pipe. Ha, ha, it's wife and child
"Oh, a very bad lot," returned Vickers; "quiet and silent,
but ready for any villainy. I count him one of the worst men we have.
With the exception of one or two more, I think he is the worst."
"Why don't you flog 'em?" says Frere, lighting his pipe in the gloom.
"By George, sir, I cut the hides off my fellows if they show any nonsense!"
"Well," says Vickers, "I don't care about too much cat myself.
Barton, who was here before me, flogged tremendously, but I don't think
it did any good. They tried to kill him several times.
You remember those twelve fellows who were hung? No! Ah, of course,
you were away."
"What do you do with 'em?"
"Oh, flog the worst, you know; but I don't flog more than a man a week,
as a rule, and never more than fifty lashes. They're getting quieter now.
Then we iron, and dumb-cells, and maroon them."
"Give them solitary confinement on Grummet Island. When a man gets very bad,
we clap him into a boat with a week's provisions and pull him over to Grummet.
There are cells cut in the rock, you see, and the fellow pulls up
his commissariat after him, and lives there by himself for a month or so.
It tames them wonderfully."
"Does it?" said Frere. "By Jove! it's a capital notion. I wish I had a place
of that sort at Maria."
"I've a fellow there now," says Vickers; "Dawes. You remember him,
of course--the ringleader of the mutiny in the Malabar.
A dreadful ruffian. He was most violent the first year I was here.
Barton used to flog a good deal, and Dawes had a childish dread of the cat.
When I came in--when was it?--in '29, he'd made a sort of petition
to be sent back to the settlement. Said that he was innocent of the mutiny,
and that the accusation against him was false."
"The old dodge," said Frere again. "A match? Thanks."
"Of course, I couldn't let him go; but I took him out of the chain-gang,
and put him on the Osprey. You saw her in the dock as you came in.
He worked for some time very well, and then tried to bolt again."
"The old trick. Ha! ha! don't I know it?" says Mr. Frere,
emitting a streak of smoke in the air, expressive of preternatural wisdom.
"Well, we caught him, and gave him fifty. Then he was sent to the chain-gang,
cutting timber. Then we put him into the boats, but he quarrelled
with the coxswain, and then we took him back to the timber-rafts.
About six weeks ago he made another attempt--together with Gabbett,
the man who nearly killed you--but his leg was chafed with the irons,
and we took him. Gabbett and three more, however, got away."
"Haven't you found 'em?" asked Frere, puffing at his pipe.
"No. But they'll come to the same fate as the rest," said Vickers,
with a sort of dismal pride. "No man ever escaped from Macquarie Harbour."
Frere laughed. "By the Lord!" said he, "it will be rather hard for 'em
if they don't come back before the end of the month, eh?"
"Oh," said Vickers, "they're sure to come--if they can come at all;
but once lost in the scrub, a man hasn't much chance for his life."
"When do you think you will be ready to move?" asked Frere.
"As soon as you wish. I don't want to stop a moment longer than I can help.
It is a terrible life, this."
"Do you think so?" asked his companion, in unaffected surprise.
"I like it. It's dull, certainly. When I first went to Maria
I was dreadfully bored, but one soon gets used to it. There is a sort
of satisfaction to me, by George, in keeping the scoundrels in order.
I like to see the fellows' eyes glint at you as you walk past 'em.
Gad, they'd tear me to pieces, if they dared, some of 'em!"
and he laughed grimly, as though the hate he inspired was a thing
to be proud of.
"How shall we go?" asked Vickers. "Have you got any instructions?"
"No," says Frere; "it's all left to you. Get 'em up the best way you can,
Arthur said, and pack 'em off to the new peninsula. He thinks you
too far off here, by George! He wants to have you within hail."
"It's dangerous taking so many at once," suggested Vickers.
"Not a bit. Batten 'em down and keep the sentries awake,
and they won't do any harm."
"But Mrs. Vickers and the child?"
"I've thought of that. You take the Ladybird with the prisoners,
and leave me to bring up Mrs. Vickers in the Osprey."
"We might do that. Indeed, it's the best way, I think. I don't like
the notion of having Sylvia among those wretches, and yet
I don't like to leave her."
"Well," says Frere, confident of his own ability to accomplish anything
he might undertake, "I'll take the Ladybird, and you the Osprey.
Bring up Mrs. Vickers yourself."
"No, no," said Vickers, with a touch of his old pomposity,
"that won't do. By the King's Regulations--"
"All right," interjected Frere, "you needn't quote 'em.
'The officer commanding is obliged to place himself in charge'--all right,
my dear sir. I've no objection in life."
"It was Sylvia that I was thinking of," said Vickers.
"Well, then," cries the other, as the door of the room inside opened,
and a little white figure came through into the broad verandah.
"Here she is! Ask her yourself. Well, Miss Sylvia, will you come
and shake hands with an old friend?"
The bright-haired baby of the Malabar had become a bright-haired child
of some eleven years old, and as she stood in her simple white dress
in the glow of the lamplight, even the unaesthetic mind of Mr. Frere
was struck by her extreme beauty. Her bright blue eyes were as bright
and as blue as ever. Her little figure was as upright and as supple
as a willow rod; and her innocent, delicate face was framed in a nimbus
of that fine golden hair--dry and electrical, each separate thread
shining with a lustre of its own--with which the dreaming painters
of the middle ages endowed and glorified their angels.
"Come and give me a kiss, Miss Sylvia!" cries Frere.
"You haven't forgotten me, have you?"
But the child, resting one hand on her father's knee, surveyed Mr. Frere
from head to foot with the charming impertinence of childhood, and then,
shaking her head, inquired: "Who is he, papa?"
"Mr. Frere, darling. Don't you remember Mr. Frere, who used to play ball
with you on board the ship, and who was so kind to you
when you were getting well? For shame, Sylvia!"
There was in the chiding accents such an undertone of tenderness,
that the reproof fell harmless.
"I remember you," said Sylvia, tossing her head; "but you were nicer then
than you are now. I don't like you at all."
"You don't remember me," said Frere, a little disconcerted,
and affecting to be intensely at his ease. "I am sure you don't.
What is my name?"
"Lieutenant Frere. You knocked down a prisoner who picked up my ball.
I don't like you."
"You're a forward young lady, upon my word!" said Frere, with a great laugh.
"Ha! ha! so I did, begad, I recollect now. What a memory you've got!"
"He's here now, isn't he, papa?" went on Sylvia, regardless of interruption.
"Rufus Dawes is his name, and he's always in trouble. Poor fellow,
I'm sorry for him. Danny says he's queer in his mind."
"And who's Danny?" asked Frere, with another laugh.
"The cook," replied Vickers. "An old man I took out of hospital.
Sylvia, you talk too much with the prisoners. I have forbidden you
once or twice before."
"But Danny is not a prisoner, papa--he's a cook," says Sylvia,
nothing abashed, "and he's a clever man. He told me all about London,
where the Lord Mayor rides in a glass coach, and all the work is done
by free men. He says you never hear chains there. I should like
to see London, papa!"
"So would Mr. Danny, I have no doubt," said Frere.
"No--he didn't say that. But he wants to see his old mother,
he says. Fancy Danny's mother! What an ugly old woman she must be!
He says he'll see her in Heaven. Will he, papa?"
"I hope so, my dear."
"Will Danny wear his yellow jacket in Heaven, or go as a free man?"
Frere burst into a roar at this.
"You're an impertinent fellow, sir!" cried Sylvia, her bright eyes flashing.
"How dare you laugh at me? If I was papa, I'd give you half an hour
at the triangles. Oh, you impertinent man!" and, crimson with rage,
the spoilt little beauty ran out of the room. Vickers looked grave,
but Frere was constrained to get up to laugh at his ease.
"Good! 'Pon honour, that's good! The little vixen!--Half an hour
at the triangles! Ha-ha! ha, ha, ha!"
"She is a strange child," said Vickers, "and talks strangely for her age;
but you mustn't mind her. She is neither girl nor woman, you see;
and her education has been neglected. Moreover, this gloomy place
and its associations--what can you expect from a child
bred in a convict settlement?"
"My dear sir," says the other, "she's delightful! Her innocence of the world
"She must have three or four years at a good finishing school at Sydney.
Please God, I will give them to her when we go back--or send her to England
if I can. She is a good-hearted girl, but she wants polishing sadly,
Just then someone came up the garden path and saluted.
"What is it, Troke?"
"Prisoner given himself up, sir."
"Which of them?"
"Gabbett. He came back to-night."
"Alone?" "Yes, sir. The rest have died--he says."
"What's that?" asked Frere, suddenly interested.
"The bolter I was telling you about--Gabbett, your old friend. He's returned."
"How long has he been out?"
"Nigh six weeks, sir," said the constable, touching his cap.
"Gad, he's had a narrow squeak for it, I'll be bound.
I should like to see him."
"He's down at the sheds," said the ready Troke--a "good conduct" burglar.
You can see him at once, gentlemen, if you like."
"What do you say, Vickers?"
"Oh, by all means."
It was not far to the sheds, and after a few minutes' walk
through the wooden palisades they reached a long stone building,
two storeys high, from which issued a horrible growling,
pierced with shrilly screamed songs. At the sound of the musket butts
clashing on the pine-wood flagging, the noises ceased, and a silence
more sinister than sound fell on the place.
Passing between two rows of warders, the two officers reached
a sort of ante-room to the gaol, containing a pine-log stretcher,
on which a mass of something was lying. On a roughly-made stool,
by the side of this stretcher, sat a man, in the grey dress
(worn as a contrast to the yellow livery) of "good conduct" prisoners.
This man held between his knees a basin containing gruel,
and was apparently endeavouring to feed the mass on the pine logs.
"Won't he eat, Steve?" asked Vickers.
And at the sound of the Commandant's voice, Steve arose.
"Dunno what's wrong wi' 'un, sir," he said, jerking up a finger
to his forehead. "He seems jest muggy-pated. I can't do nothin' wi' 'un."
The intelligent Troke, considerately alive to the wishes
of his superior officers, dragged the mass into a sitting posture.
Gabbett--for it was he--passed one great hand over his face,
and leaning exactly in the position in which Troke placed him,
scowled, bewildered, at his visitors.
"Well, Gabbett," says Vickers, "you've come back again, you see.
When will you learn sense, eh? Where are your mates?"
The giant did not reply.
"Do you hear me? Where are your mates?"
"Where are your mates?" repeated Troke.
"Dead," says Gabbett.
"All three of them?"
"And how did you get back?"
Gabbett, in eloquent silence, held out a bleeding foot.
"We found him on the point, sir," said Troke, jauntily explaining,
"and brought him across in the boat. He had a basin of gruel,
but he didn't seem hungry."
"Are you hungry?"
"Why don't you eat your gruel?"
Gabbett curled his great lips.
"I have eaten it. Ain't yer got nuffin' better nor that to flog a man on?
Ugh! yer a mean lot! Wot's it to be this time, Major? Fifty?"
And laughing, he rolled down again on the logs.
"A nice specimen!" said Vickers, with a hopeless smile.
"What can one do with such a fellow?"
"I'd flog his soul out of his body," said Frere,
"if he spoke to me like that!"
Troke and the others, hearing the statement, conceived an instant respect
for the new-comer. He looked as if he would keep his word.
The giant raised his great head and looked at the speaker,
but did not recognize him. He saw only a strange face--a visitor perhaps.
"You may flog, and welcome, master," said he, "if you'll give me
a fig o' tibbacky." Frere laughed. The brutal indifference of the rejoinder
suited his humour, and, with a glance at Vickers, he took a small piece
of cavendish from the pocket of his pea-jacket, and gave it
to the recaptured convict. Gabbett snatched it as a cur snatches at a bone,
and thrust it whole into his mouth.
"How many mates had he?" asked Maurice, watching the champing jaws
as one looks at a strange animal, and asking the question as though
a "mate" was something a convict was born with--like a mole, for instance.
"Three, eh? Well, give him thirty lashes, Vickers."
"And if I ha' had three more," growled Gabbett, mumbling at his tobacco,
"you wouldn't ha' had the chance."
"What does he say?"
But Troke had not heard, and the "good-conduct" man, shrinking as it seemed,
slightly from the prisoner, said he had not heard either.
The wretch himself, munching hard at his tobacco, relapsed
into his restless silence, and was as though he had never spoken.
As he sat there gloomily chewing, he was a spectacle to shudder at.
Not so much on account of his natural hideousness, increased a thousand-fold
by the tattered and filthy rags which barely covered him.
Not so much on account of his unshaven jaws, his hare-lip,
his torn and bleeding feet, his haggard cheeks, and his huge, wasted frame.
Not only because, looking at the animal, as he crouched,
with one foot curled round the other, and one hairy arm pendant
between his knees, he was so horribly unhuman, that one shuddered
to think that tender women and fair children must, of necessity,
confess to fellowship of kind with such a monster. But also because,
in his slavering mouth, his slowly grinding jaws, his restless fingers,
and his bloodshot, wandering eyes, there lurked a hint of some terror
more awful than the terror of starvation--a memory of a tragedy played out
in the gloomy depths of that forest which had vomited him forth again;
and the shadow of this unknown horror, clinging to him, repelled and disgusted,
as though he bore about with him the reek of the shambles.
"Come," said Vickers, "Let us go back. I shall have to flog him again,
I suppose. Oh, this place! No wonder they call it 'Hell's Gates'."
"You are too soft-hearted, my dear sir," said Frere, half-way up
the palisaded path. "We must treat brutes like brutes."
Major Vickers, inured as he was to such sentiments, sighed. "It is not for me
to find fault with the system," he said, hesitating, in his reverence
for "discipline", to utter all the thought; "but I have sometimes wondered
if kindness would not succeed better than the chain and the cat."
"Your old ideas!" laughed his companion. "Remember, they nearly cost us
our lives on the Malabar. No, no. I've seen something of convicts--though,
to be sure, my fellows were not so bad as yours--and there's only one way.
Keep 'em down, sir. Make 'em feel what they are. They're there to work, sir.
If they won't work, flog 'em until they will. If they work well--why a taste
of the cat now and then keeps 'em in mind of what they may expect
if they get lazy." They had reached the verandah now.
The rising moon shone softly on the bay beneath them, and touched
with her white light the summit of the Grummet Rock.
"That is the general opinion, I know," returned Vickers.
"But consider the life they lead. Good God!" he added, with sudden vehemence,
as Frere paused to look at the bay. "I'm not a cruel man, and never,
I believe, inflicted an unmerited punishment, but since I have been here
ten prisoners have drowned themselves from yonder rock, rather than live
on in their misery. Only three weeks ago, two men, with a wood-cutting party
in the hills, having had some words with the overseer, shook hands
with the gang, and then, hand in hand, flung themselves over the cliff.
It's horrible to think of!"
"They shouldn't get sent here," said practical Frere. "They knew what
they had to expect. Serve 'em right."
"But imagine an innocent man condemned to this place!"
"I can't," said Frere, with a laugh. "Innocent man be hanged!
They're all innocent, if you'd believe their own stories.
Hallo! what's that red light there?"
"Dawes's fire, on Grummet Rock," says Vickers, going in; "the man
I told you about. Come in and have some brandy-and-water,
and we'll shut the door in place."
"Well," said Frere, as they went in, "you'll be out of it soon.
You can get all ready to start by the end of the month, and I'll bring on
Mrs. Vickers afterwards."
"What is that you say about me?" asked the sprightly Mrs. Vickers from within.
"You wicked men, leaving me alone all this time!"
"Mr. Frere has kindly offered to bring you and Sylvia after us in the Osprey.
I shall, of course, have to take the Ladybird."
"You are most kind, Mr. Frere, really you are," says Mrs. Vickers,
a recollection of her flirtation with a certain young lieutenant,
six years before, tinging her cheeks. "It is really most considerate of you.
Won't it be nice, Sylvia, to go with Mr. Frere and mamma to Hobart Town?"
"Mr. Frere," says Sylvia, coming from out a corner of the room,
"I am very sorry for what I said just now. Will you forgive me?"
She asked the question in such a prim, old-fashioned way, standing
in front of him, with her golden locks streaming over her shoulders,
and her hands clasped on her black silk apron (Julia Vickers
had her own notions about dressing her daughter), that Frere was again
inclined to laugh.
"Of course I'll forgive you, my dear," he said. "You didn't mean it, I know."
"Oh, but I did mean it, and that's why I'm sorry. I am a very naughty girl
sometimes, though you wouldn't think so" (this with a charming consciousness
of her own beauty), "especially with Roman history. I don't think the Romans
were half as brave as the Carthaginians; do you, Mr. Frere?"
Maurice, somewhat staggered by this question, could only ask, "Why not?"
"Well, I don't like them half so well myself," says Sylvia,
with feminine disdain of reasons. "They always had so many soldiers,
though the others were so cruel when they conquered."
"Were they?" says Frere.
"Were they! Goodness gracious, yes! Didn't they cut poor Regulus's eyelids
off, and roll him down hill in a barrel full of nails? What do you call that,
I should like to know?" and Mr. Frere, shaking his red head
with vast assumption of classical learning, could not but concede
that that was not kind on the part of the Carthaginians.
"You are a great scholar, Miss Sylvia," he remarked, with a consciousness
that this self-possessed girl was rapidly taking him out of his depth.
"Are you fond of reading?"
"And what books do you read?"
"Oh, lots! 'Paul and Virginia", and 'Paradise Lost', and
'Shakespeare's Plays', and 'Robinson Crusoe', and 'Blair's Sermons',
and 'The Tasmanian Almanack', and 'The Book of Beauty', and 'Tom Jones'."
"A somewhat miscellaneous collection, I fear," said Mrs. Vickers,
with a sickly smile--she, like Gallio, cared for none of these things--
"but our little library is necessarily limited, and I am not a great reader.
John, my dear, Mr. Frere would like another glass of brandy-and-water.
Oh, don't apologize; I am a soldier's wife, you know. Sylvia, my love,
say good-night to Mr. Frere, and retire."
"Good-night, Miss Sylvia. Will you give me a kiss?"
"Sylvia, don't be rude!"
"I'm not rude," cries Sylvia, indignant at the way in which
her literary confidence had been received. "He's rude! I won't kiss you.
Kiss you indeed! My goodness gracious!"
"Won't you, you little beauty?" cried Frere, suddenly leaning forward,
and putting his arm round the child. "Then I must kiss you!"
To his astonishment, Sylvia, finding herself thus seized and kissed
despite herself, flushed scarlet, and, lifting up her tiny fist,
struck him on the cheek with all her force.
The blow was so sudden, and the momentary pain so sharp, that Maurice
nearly slipped into his native coarseness, and rapped out an oath.
"My dear Sylvia!" cried Vickers, in tones of grave reproof.
But Frere laughed, caught both the child's hands in one of his own,
and kissed her again and again, despite her struggles. "There!" he said,
with a sort of triumph in his tone. "You got nothing by that, you see."
Vickers rose, with annoyance visible on his face, to draw the child away;
and as he did so, she, gasping for breath, and sobbing with rage,
wrenched her wrist free, and in a storm of childish passion
struck her tormentor again and again. "Man!" she cried, with flaming eyes,
"Let me go! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"
"I am very sorry for this, Frere," said Vickers, when the door
was closed again. "I hope she did not hurt you."
"Not she! I like her spirit. Ha, ha! That's the way with women
all the world over. Nothing like showing them that they've got a master."
Vickers hastened to turn the conversation, and, amid recollections of old days,
and speculations as to future prospects, the little incident was forgotten.
But when, an hour later, Mr. Frere traversed the passage
that led to his bedroom, he found himself confronted by a little figure
wrapped in a shawl. It was his childish enemy
"I've waited for you, Mr. Frere," said she, "to beg pardon.
I ought not to have struck you; I am a wicked girl. Don't say no,
because I am; and if I don't grow better I shall never go to Heaven."
Thus addressing him, the child produced a piece of paper, folded like a letter,
from beneath the shawl, and handed it to him.
"What's this?" he asked. "Go back to bed, my dear; you'll catch cold."
"It's a written apology; and I sha'n't catch cold, because I've got
my stockings on. If you don't accept it," she added, with an arching
of the brows, "it is not my fault. I have struck you, but I apologize.
Being a woman, I can't offer you satisfaction in the usual way."
Mr. Frere stifled the impulse to laugh, and made his courteous adversary
a low bow.
"I accept your apology, Miss Sylvia," said he.
"Then," returned Miss Sylvia, in a lofty manner, "there is nothing more
to be said, and I have the honour to bid you good-night, sir."
The little maiden drew her shawl close around her with immense dignity,
and marched down the passage as calmly as though she had been
Amadis of Gaul himself.
Frere, gaining his room choking with laughter, opened the folded paper
by the light of the tallow candle, and read, in a quaint, childish hand:--
SIR,--I have struck you. I apologize in writing. Your humble servant
to command, SYLVIA VICKERS.
"I wonder what book she took that out of?" he said. "'Pon my word
she must be a little cracked. 'Gad, it's a queer life for a child
in this place, and no mistake."
A LEAP IN THE DARK.
Two or three mornings after the arrival of the Ladybird, the solitary prisoner
of the Grummet Rock noticed mysterious movements along the shore
of the island settlement. The prison boats, which had put off every morning
at sunrise to the foot of the timbered ranges on the other side of the harbour,
had not appeared for some days. The building of a pier, or breakwater,
running from the western point of the settlement, was discontinued;
and all hands appeared to be occupied with the newly-built Osprey,
which was lying on the slips. Parties of soldiers also daily left
the Ladybird, and assisted at the mysterious work in progress. Rufus Dawes,
walking his little round each day, in vain wondered what this unusual commotion
portended. Unfortunately, no one came to enlighten his ignorance.
A fortnight after this, about the 15th of December, he observed
another curious fact. All the boats on the island put off one morning
to the opposite side of the harbour, and in the course of the day
a great smoke arose along the side of the hills. The next day the same
was repeated; and on the fourth day the boats returned, towing behind them
a huge raft. This raft, made fast to the side of the Ladybird,
proved to be composed of planks, beams, and joists, all of which
were duly hoisted up, and stowed in the hold of the brig.
This set Rufus Dawes thinking. Could it possibly be that the timber-cutting
was to be abandoned, and that the Government had hit upon some other method
of utilizing its convict labour? He had hewn timber and built boats,
and tanned hides and made shoes. Was it possible that some new trade
was to be initiated? Before he had settled this point to his satisfaction,
he was startled by another boat expedition. Three boats' crews went down
the bay, and returned, after a day's absence, with an addition to their number
in the shape of four strangers and a quantity of stores and farming implements.
Rufus Dawes, catching sight of these last, came to the conclusion
that the boats had been to Philip's Island, where the "garden" was established,
and had taken off the gardeners and garden produce. Rufus Dawes decided
that the Ladybird had brought a new commandant--his sight,
trained by his half-savage life, had already distinguished Mr. Maurice Frere--
and that these mysteries were "improvements" under the new rule.
When he arrived at this point of reasoning, another conjecture,
assuming his first to have been correct, followed as a natural consequence.
Lieutenant Frere would be a more severe commandant than Major Vickers.
Now, severity had already reached its height, so far as he was concerned;
so the unhappy man took a final resolution--he would kill himself.
Before we exclaim against the sin of such a determination, let us endeavour
to set before us what the sinner had suffered during the past six years.
We have already a notion of what life on a convict ship means;
and we have seen through what a furnace Rufus Dawes had passed
before he set foot on the barren shore of Hell's Gates. But to appreciate
in its intensity the agony he suffered since that time, we must multiply
the infamy of the 'tween decks of the Malabar a hundred fold.
In that prison was at least some ray of light. All were not abominable;
all were not utterly lost to shame and manhood. Stifling though the prison,
infamous the companionship, terrible the memory of past happiness--
there was yet ignorance of the future, there was yet hope.
But at Macquarie Harbour was poured out the very dregs of this cup
of desolation. The worst had come, and the worst must for ever remain.
The pit of torment was so deep that one could not even see Heaven.
There was no hope there so long as life remained. Death alone kept the keys
of that island prison.
Is it possible to imagine, even for a moment, what an innocent man,
gifted with ambition, endowed with power to love and to respect,
must have suffered during one week of such punishment? We ordinary men,
leading ordinary lives--walking, riding, laughing, marrying and
giving in marriage--can form no notion of such misery as this.
Some dim ideas we may have about the sweetness of liberty and the loathing
that evil company inspires; but that is all. We know that were we chained
and degraded, fed like dogs, employed as beasts of burden, driven
to our daily toil with threats and blows, and herded with wretches among whom
all that savours of decency and manliness is held in an open scorn,
we should die, perhaps, or go mad. But we do not know, and can never know,
how unutterably loathsome life must become when shared with such beings
as those who dragged the tree-trunks to the banks of the Gordon, and toiled,
blaspheming, in their irons, on the dismal sandpit of Sarah Island.
No human creature could describe to what depth of personal abasement
and self-loathing one week of such a life would plunge him.
Even if he had the power to write, he dared not. As one whom in a desert,
seeking for a face, should come to a pool of blood, and
seeing his own reflection, fly--so would such a one hasten from
the contemplation of his own degrading agony. Imagine such torment
endured for six years!
Ignorant that the sights and sounds about him were symptoms of
the final abandonment of the settlement, and that the Ladybird was sent down
to bring away the prisoners, Rufus Dawes decided upon getting rid of
that burden of life which pressed upon him so heavily. For six years
he had hewn wood and drawn water; for six years he had hoped against hope;
for six years he had lived in the valley of the shadow of Death.
He dared not recapitulate to himself what he had suffered. Indeed,
his senses were deadened and dulled by torture. He cared to remember
only one thing--that he was a Prisoner for Life. In vain had been
his first dream of freedom. He had done his best, by good conduct,
to win release; but the villainy of Vetch and Rex had deprived him
of the fruit of his labour. Instead of gaining credit by his exposure
of the plot on board the Malabar, he was himself deemed guilty,
and condemned, despite his asseverations of innocence. The knowledge
of his "treachery"--for so it was deemed among his associates--
while it gained for him no credit with the authorities, procured for him
the detestation and ill-will of the monsters among whom he found himself.
On his arrival at Hell's Gates he was a marked man--a Pariah
among those beings who were Pariahs to all the world beside.
Thrice his life was attempted; but he was not then quite tired of living,
and he defended it. This defence was construed by an overseer into a brawl,
and the irons from which he had been relieved were replaced.
His strength--brute attribute that alone could avail him--made him respected
after this, and he was left at peace. At first this treatment
was congenial to his temperament; but by and by it became annoying,
then painful, then almost unendurable. Tugging at his oar,
digging up to his waist in slime, or bending beneath his burden of pine wood,
he looked greedily for some excuse to be addressed. He would take
double weight when forming part of the human caterpillar along whose back
lay a pine tree, for a word of fellowship. He would work double tides
to gain a kindly sentence from a comrade. In his utter desolation
he agonized for the friendship of robbers and murderers.
Then the reaction came, and he hated the very sound of their voices.
He never spoke, and refused to answer when spoken to. He would even take
his scanty supper alone, did his chain so permit him. He gained the reputation
of a sullen, dangerous, half-crazy ruffian. Captain Barton,
the superintendent, took pity on him, and made him his gardener.
He accepted the pity for a week or so, and then Barton,
coming down one morning, found the few shrubs pulled up by the roots,
the flower-beds trampled into barrenness, and his gardener sitting
on the ground among the fragments of his gardening tools. For this act
of wanton mischief he was flogged. At the triangles his behaviour
was considered curious. He wept and prayed to be released,
fell on his knees to Barton, and implored pardon. Barton would not listen,
and at the first blow the prisoner was silent. From that time he became
more sullen than ever, only at times he was observed, when alone,
to fling himself on the ground and cry like a child. It was generally thought
that his brain was affected.
When Vickers came, Dawes sought an interview, and begged to be sent back
to Hobart Town. This was refused, of course, but he was put to work
on the Osprey. After working there for some time, and being released
from his irons, he concealed himself on the slip, and in the evening
swam across the harbour. He was pursued, retaken, and flogged.
Then he ran the dismal round of punishment. He burnt lime, dragged timber,
and tugged at the oar. The heaviest and most degrading tasks were always his.
Shunned and hated by his companions, feared by the convict overseers,
and regarded with unfriendly eyes by the authorities, Rufus Dawes was at
the very bottom of that abyss of woe into which he had
voluntarily cast himself. Goaded to desperation by his own thoughts,
he had joined with Gabbett and the unlucky three in their desperate attempt
to escape; but, as Vickers stated, he had been captured almost instantly.
He was lamed by the heavy irons he wore, and though Gabbett--
with a strange eagerness for which after events accounted--insisted
that he could make good his flight, the unhappy man fell
in the first hundred yards of the terrible race, and was seized
by two volunteers before he could rise again. His capture helped to secure
the brief freedom of his comrades; for Mr. Troke, content with one prisoner,
checked a pursuit which the nature of the ground rendered dangerous,
and triumphantly brought Dawes back to the settlement as his peace-offering
for the negligence which had resulted in the loss of the other four.
For this madness the refractory convict had been condemned
to the solitude of the Grummet Rock.
In that dismal hermitage, his mind, preying on itself, had become disordered.
He saw visions and dreamt dreams. He would lie for hours motionless,
staring at the sun or the sea. He held converse with imaginary beings.
He enacted the scene with his mother over again. He harangued the rocks,
and called upon the stones about him to witness his innocence
and his sacrifice. He was visited by the phantoms of his early friends,
and sometimes thought his present life a dream. Whenever he awoke,
however, he was commanded by a voice within himself to leap
into the surges which washed the walls of his prison, and to dream
these sad dreams no more.
In the midst of this lethargy of body and brain, the unusual occurrences
along the shore of the settlement roused in him a still fiercer hatred of life.
He saw in them something incomprehensible and terrible, and read in them
threats of an increase of misery. Had he known that the Ladybird
was preparing for sea, and that it had been already decided to fetch him
from the Rock and iron him with the rest for safe passage to Hobart Town,
he might have paused; but he knew nothing, save that the burden of life
was insupportable, and that the time had come for him to be rid of it.
In the meantime, the settlement was in a fever of excitement.
In less than three weeks from the announcement made by Vickers,
all had been got ready. The Commandant had finally arranged with Frere
as to his course of action. He would himself accompany the Ladybird
with the main body. His wife and daughter were to remain until the sailing
of the Osprey, which Mr. Frere--charged with the task of final destruction--
was to bring up as soon as possible. "I will leave you a corporal's guard,
and ten prisoners as a crew," Vickers said. "You can work her easily
with that number." To which Frere, smiling at Mrs. Vickers
in a self-satisfied way, had replied that he could do with five prisoners
if necessary, for he knew how to get double work out of the lazy dogs.
Among the incidents which took place during the breaking up was one
which it is necessary to chronicle. Near Philip's Island, on the north side
of the harbour, is situated Coal Head, where a party had been lately at work.
This party, hastily withdrawn by Vickers to assist in the business
of devastation, had left behind it some tools and timber,
and at the eleventh hour a boat's crew was sent to bring away the débris.
The tools were duly collected, and the pine logs--worth twenty-five shillings
apiece in Hobart Town--duly rafted and chained. The timber was secured,
and the convicts, towing it after them, pulled for the ship
just as the sun sank. In the general relaxation of discipline and haste,
the raft had not been made with as much care as usual, and the strong current
against which the boat was labouring assisted the negligence of the convicts.
The logs began to loosen, and although the onward motion of the boat
kept the chain taut, when the rowers slackened their exertions
the mass parted, and Mr. Troke, hooking himself on to the side of the Ladybird,
saw a huge log slip out from its fellows and disappear into the darkness.
Gazing after it with an indignant and disgusted stare, as though it had been
a refractory prisoner who merited two days' "solitary",
he thought he heard a cry from the direction in which it had been borne.
He would have paused to listen, but all his attention was needed
to save the timber, and to prevent the boat from being swamped
by the struggling mass at her stern.
The cry had proceeded from Rufus Dawes. From his solitary rock
he had watched the boat pass him and make for the Ladybird in the channel,
and he had decided--with that curious childishness into which the mind relapses
on such supreme occasions--that the moment when the gathering gloom
swallowed her up, should be the moment when he would plunge into the surge
below him. The heavily-labouring boat grew dimmer and dimmer,
as each tug of the oars took her farther from him. Presently, only the figure
of Mr. Troke in the stern sheets was visible; then that also disappeared,
and as the nose of the timber raft rose on the swell of the next wave,
Rufus Dawes flung himself into the sea.
He was heavily ironed, and he sank like a stone. He had resolved
not to attempt to swim, and for the first moment kept his arms raised
above his head, in order to sink the quicker. But, as the short, sharp agony
of suffocation caught him, and the shock of the icy water dispelled
the mental intoxication under which he was labouring,
he desperately struck out, and, despite the weight of his irons,
gained the surface for an instant. As he did so, all bewildered,
and with the one savage instinct of self-preservation predominant over all
other thoughts, be became conscious of a huge black mass surging upon him
out of the darkness. An instant's buffet with the current,
an ineffectual attempt to dive beneath it, a horrible sense that the weight
at his feet was dragging him down,--and the huge log, loosened from the raft,
was upon him, crushing him beneath its rough and ragged sides.
All thoughts of self-murder vanished with the presence of actual peril,
and uttering that despairing cry which had been faintly heard by Troke,
he flung up his arms to clutch the monster that was pushing him down to death.
The log passed completely over him, thrusting him beneath the water,
but his hand, scraping along the splintered side, came in contact
with the loop of hide rope that yet hung round the mass, and clutched it
with the tenacity of a death grip. In another instant he got his head
above water, and making good his hold, twisted himself, by a violent effort,
across the log.
For a moment he saw the lights from the stern windows of the anchored vessels
low in the distance, Grummet Rock disappeared on his left, then, exhausted,
breathless, and bruised, he closed his eyes, and the drifting log
bore him swiftly and silently away into the darkness.
* * * * * *
At daylight the next morning, Mr. Troke, landing on the prison rock
found it deserted. The prisoner's cap was lying on the edge
of the little cliff, but the prisoner himself had disappeared.
Pulling back to the Ladybird, the intelligent Troke pondered
on the circumstance, and in delivering his report to Vickers
mentioned the strange cry he had heard the night before.
"It's my belief, sir, that he was trying to swim the bay," he said.
"He must ha' gone to the bottom anyhow, for he couldn't swim five yards
with them irons."
Vickers, busily engaged in getting under weigh, accepted this
very natural supposition without question. The prisoner had met his death
either by his own act, or by accident. It was either a suicide
or an attempt to escape, and the former conduct of Rufus Dawes
rendered the latter explanation a more probable one. In any case, he was dead.
As Mr. Troke rightly surmised, no man could swim the bay in irons;
and when the Ladybird, an hour later, passed the Grummet Rock,
all on board her believed that the corpse of its late occupant
was lying beneath the waves that seethed at its base.
THE LAST OF MACQUARIE HARBOUR.
Rufus Dawes was believed to be dead by the party on board the Ladybird,
and his strange escape was unknown to those still at Sarah Island.
Maurice Frere, if he bestowed a thought upon the refractory prisoner
of the Rock, believed him to be safely stowed in the hold of the schooner,
and already half-way to Hobart Town; while not one of the eighteen persons
on board the Osprey suspected that the boat which had put off
for the marooned man had returned without him. Indeed the party
had little leisure for thought; Mr. Frere, eager to prove his ability
and energy, was making strenuous exertions to get away,
and kept his unlucky ten so hard at work that within a week from the departure
of the Ladybird the Osprey was ready for sea. Mrs. Vickers and the child,
having watched with some excusable regret the process of demolishing
their old home, had settled down in their small cabin in the brig,
and on the evening of the 11th of January, Mr. Bates, the pilot,
who acted as master, informed the crew that Lieutenant Frere had given orders
to weigh anchor at daybreak.
At daybreak accordingly the brig set sail, with a light breeze
from the south-west, and by three o'clock in the afternoon
anchored safely outside the Gates. Unfortunately the wind shifted
to the north-west, which caused a heavy swell on the bar,
and prudent Mr. Bates, having consideration for Mrs. Vickers and the child,
ran back ten miles into Wellington Bay, and anchored there again
at seven o'clock in the morning. The tide was running strongly,
and the brig rolled a good deal. Mrs. Vickers kept to her cabin,
and sent Sylvia to entertain Lieutenant Frere. Sylvia went,
but was not entertaining. She had conceived for Frere one of those
violent antipathies which children sometimes own without reason,
and since the memorable night of the apology had been barely civil to him.
In vain did he pet her and compliment her, she was not to be flattered
into liking him. "I do not like you, sir," she said in her stilted fashion,
"but that need make no difference to you. You occupy yourself
with your prisoners; I can amuse myself without you, thank you."
"Oh, all right," said Frere, "I don't want to interfere"; but he felt
a little nettled nevertheless. On this particular evening
the young lady relaxed her severity of demeanour. Her father away,
and her mother sick, the little maiden felt lonely, and as a last resource
accepted her mother's commands and went to Frere. He was walking
up and down the deck, smoking.
"Mr. Frere, I am sent to talk to you."
"Are you? All right--go on."
"Oh dear, no. It is the gentleman's place to entertain. Be amusing!"
"Come and sit down then," said Frere, who was in good humour
at the success of his arrangements. "What shall we talk about?"
"You stupid man! As if I knew! It is your place to talk.
Tell me a fairy story."
"'Jack and the Beanstalk'?" suggested Frere.
"Jack and the grandmother! Nonsense. Make one up out of your head, you know."
"I can't," he said. "I never did such a thing in my life."
"Then why not begin? I shall go away if you don't begin."
Frere rubbed his brows. "Well, have you read--have you read
'Robinson Crusoe?'"--as if the idea was a brilliant one.
"Of course I have," returned Sylvia, pouting. "Read it?--yes.
Everybody's read 'Robinson Crusoe!'"
"Oh, have they? Well, I didn't know; let me see now."
And pulling hard at his pipe, he plunged into literary reflection.
Sylvia, sitting beside him, eagerly watching for the happy thought
that never came, pouted and said, "What a stupid, stupid man you are!
I shall be so glad to get back to papa again. He knows all sorts of stories,
nearly as many as old Danny."
"Danny knows some, then?"
"Danny!"--with as much surprise as if she said "Walter Scott!"
"Of course he does. I suppose now," putting her head on one side,
with an amusing expression of superiority, "you never heard the story
of the 'Banshee'?"
"No, I never did."
"Nor the 'White Horse of the Peppers'?"
"No, I suppose not. Nor the 'Changeling'? nor the 'Leprechaun'?" "No."
Sylvia got off the skylight on which she had been sitting,
and surveyed the smoking animal beside her with profound contempt.
"Mr. Frere, you are really a most ignorant person. Excuse me
if I hurt your feelings; I have no wish to do that; but really you are
a most ignorant person--for your age, of course."
Maurice Frere grew a little angry. "You are very impertinent,
Sylvia," said he.
"Miss Vickers is my name, Lieutenant Frere, and I shall go and talk
to Mr. Bates."
Which threat she carried out on the spot; and Mr. Bates, who had filled
the dangerous office of pilot, told her about divers and coral reefs,
and some adventures of his--a little apocryphal--in the China Seas.
Frere resumed his smoking, half angry with himself, and half angry
with the provoking little fairy. This elfin creature had a fascination for him
which he could not account for.
However, he saw no more of her that evening, and at breakfast the next morning
she received him with quaint haughtiness.
"When shall we be ready to sail? Mr. Frere, I'll take some marmalade.
"I don't know, missy," said Bates. "It's very rough on the Bar;
me and Mr. Frere was a soundin' of it this marnin', and it ain't safe yet."
"Well," said Sylvia, "I do hope and trust we sha'n't be shipwrecked,
and have to swim miles and miles for our lives."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Frere; "don't be afraid. I'll take care of you."
"Can you swim, Mr. Bates?" asked Sylvia.
"Yes, miss, I can."
"Well, then, you shall take me; I like you. Mr. Frere can take mamma.
We'll go and live on a desert island, Mr. Bates, won't we,
and grow cocoa-nuts and bread-fruit, and--what nasty hard biscuits!--
I'll be Robinson Crusoe, and you shall be Man Friday. I'd like to live
on a desert island, if I was sure there were no savages,
and plenty to eat and drink."
"That would be right enough, my dear, but you don't find
them sort of islands every day."
"Then," said Sylvia, with a decided nod, "we won't be ship-wrecked, will we?"
"I hope not, my dear."
"Put a biscuit in your pocket, Sylvia, in case of accidents,"
suggested Frere, with a grin.
"Oh! you know my opinion of you, sir. Don't speak;
I don't want any argument".
"Don't you?--that's right."
"Mr. Frere," said Sylvia, gravely pausing at her mother's cabin door,
"if I were Richard the Third, do you know what I should do with you?"
"No," says Frere, eating complacently; "what would you do?"
"Why, I'd make you stand at the door of St. Paul's Cathedral in a white sheet,
with a lighted candle in your hand, until you gave up your wicked
aggravating ways--you Man!"
The picture of Mr. Frere in a white sheet, with a lighted candle in his hand,
at the door of St. Paul's Cathedral, was too much for Mr. Bates's gravity,
and he roared with laughter. "She's a queer child, ain't she, sir?
A born natural, and a good-natured little soul."
"When shall we be able to get away, Mr. Bates?" asked Frere,
whose dignity was wounded by the mirth of the pilot.
Bates felt the change of tone, and hastened to accommodate himself
to his officer's humour. "I hopes by evening, sir," said he;
"if the tide slackens then I'll risk it; but it's no use trying it now."
"The men were wanting to go ashore to wash their clothes," said Frere.
"If we are to stop here till evening, you had better let them go after dinner."
"All right, sir," said Bates.
The afternoon passed off auspiciously. The ten prisoners went ashore
and washed their clothes. Their names were James Barker, James Lesly,
John Lyon, Benjamin Riley, William Cheshire, Henry Shiers, William Russen,
James Porter, John Fair, and John Rex.
This last scoundrel had come on board latest of all. He had behaved himself
a little better recently, and during the work attendant upon the departure
of the Ladybird, had been conspicuously useful. His intelligence
and influence among his fellow-prisoners combined to make him
a somewhat important personage, and Vickers had allowed him privileges
from which he had been hitherto debarred. Mr. Frere, however,
who superintended the shipment of some stores, seemed to be resolved
to take advantage of Rex's evident willingness to work. He never ceased
to hurry and find fault with him. He vowed that he was lazy, sulky,
or impertinent. It was "Rex, come here! Do this! Do that!"
As the prisoners declared among themselves, it was evident that Mr. Frere
had a "down" on the "Dandy". The day before the Ladybird sailed,
Rex--rejoicing in the hope of speedy departure--had suffered himself
to reply to some more than usually galling remark and Mr. Frere
had complained to Vickers. "The fellow's too ready to get away," said he.
"Let him stop for the Osprey, it will be a lesson to him."
Vickers assented, and John Rex was informed that he was not to sail
with the first party. His comrades vowed that this order was an act
of tyranny; but he himself said nothing. He only redoubled his activity,
and--despite all his wish to the contrary--Frere was unable to find fault.
He even took credit to himself for "taming" the convict's spirit,
and pointed out Rex--silent and obedient--as a proof of the excellence
of severe measures. To the convicts, however, who knew John Rex better,
this silent activity was ominous. He returned with the rest, however,
on the evening of the 13th, in apparently cheerful mood. Indeed Mr. Frere,
who, wearied by the delay, had decided to take the whale-boat
in which the prisoners had returned, and catch a few fish before dinner,
observed him laughing with some of the others, and again congratulated himself.
The time wore on. Darkness was closing in, and Mr. Bates, walking the deck,
kept a look-out for the boat, with the intention of weighing anchor
and making for the Bar. All was secure. Mrs. Vickers and the child
were safely below. The two remaining soldiers (two had gone with Frere)
were upon deck, and the prisoners in the forecastle were singing.
The wind was fair, and the sea had gone down. In less than an hour
the Osprey would be safely outside the harbour.
THE POWER OF THE WILDERNESS.
The drifting log that had so strangely served as a means of saving Rufus Dawes
swam with the current that was running out of the bay. For some time
the burden that it bore was an insensible one. Exhausted with his
desperate struggle for life, the convict lay along the rough back
of this Heaven-sent raft without motion, almost without breath.
At length a violent shock awoke him to consciousness, and he perceived
that the log had become stranded on a sandy point, the extremity of which
was lost in darkness. Painfully raising himself from
his uncomfortable posture, he staggered to his feet, and crawling a few paces
up the beach, flung himself upon the ground and slept.
When morning dawned, he recognized his position. The log had,
in passing under the lee of Philip's Island, been cast upon the southern point
of Coal Head; some three hundred yards from him were the mutilated sheds
of the coal gang. For some time he lay still, basking in the warm rays
of the rising sun, and scarcely caring to move his bruised and shattered limbs.
The sensation of rest was so exquisite, that it overpowered
all other considerations, and he did not even trouble himself to conjecture
the reason for the apparent desertion of the huts close by him.
If there was no one there--well and good. If the coal party had not gone,
he would be discovered in a few moments, and brought back to his island prison.
In his exhaustion and misery, he accepted the alternative and slept again.
As he laid down his aching head, Mr. Troke was reporting his death to Vickers,
and while he still slept, the Ladybird, on her way out, passed him so closely
that any one on board her might, with a good glass, have espied
his slumbering figure as it lay upon the sand.
When he woke it was past midday, and the sun poured its full rays upon him.
His clothes were dry in all places, save the side on which he had been lying,
and he rose to his feet refreshed by his long sleep. He scarcely comprehended,
as yet, his true position. He had escaped, it was true, but not for long.
He was versed in the history of escapes, and knew that a man alone
on that barren coast was face to face with starvation or recapture.
Glancing up at the sun, he wondered indeed, how it was that he had been free
so long. Then the coal sheds caught his eye, and he understood
that they were untenanted. This astonished him, and he began to tremble
with vague apprehension. Entering, he looked around, expecting every moment
to see some lurking constable, or armed soldier. Suddenly his glance
fell upon the food rations which lay in the corner where the departing convicts
had flung them the night before. At such a moment, this discovery
seemed like a direct revelation from Heaven. He would not have been surprised
had they disappeared. Had he lived in another age, he would have looked round
for the angel who had brought them.
By and by, having eaten of this miraculous provender, the poor creature began
--reckoning by his convict experience--to understand what had taken place.
The coal workings were abandoned; the new Commandant had probably other work
for his beasts of burden to execute, and an absconder would be safe here
for a few hours at least. But he must not stay. For him there was no rest.
If he thought to escape, it behoved him to commence his journey at once.
As he contemplated the meat and bread, something like a ray of hope
entered his gloomy soul. Here was provision for his needs.
The food before him represented the rations of six men. Was it not possible
to cross the desert that lay between him and freedom on such fare?
The very supposition made his heart beat faster. It surely was possible.
He must husband his resources; walk much and eat little; spread out the food
for one day into the food for three. Here was six men's food for one day,
or one man's food for six days. He would live on a third of this,
and he would have rations for eighteen days. Eighteen days!
What could he not do in eighteen days? He could walk thirty miles a day--
forty miles a day--that would be six hundred miles and more.
Yet stay; he must not be too sanguine; the road was difficult;
the scrub was in places impenetrable. He would have to make détours,
and turn upon his tracks, to waste precious time. He would be moderate,
and say twenty miles a day. Twenty miles a day was very easy walking.
Taking a piece of stick from the ground, he made the calculation in the sand.
Eighteen days, and twenty miles a day--three hundred and sixty miles.
More than enough to take him to freedom. It could be done! With prudence,
it could be done! He must be careful and abstemious! Abstemious!
He had already eaten too much, and he hastily pulled a barely-tasted piece
of meat from his mouth, and replaced it with the rest. The action
which at any other time would have seemed disgusting, was, in the case
of this poor creature, merely pitiable.
Having come to this resolution, the next thing was to disencumber himself
of his irons. This was more easily done than he expected. He found
in the shed an iron gad, and with that and a stone he drove out the rivets.
The rings were too strong to be "ovalled",* or he would have been free
long ago. He packed the meat and bread together, and then pushing the gad
into his belt--it might be needed as a weapon of defence--he set out
on his journey.
[Footnote]* Ovalled--"To oval" is a term in use among convicts,
and means so to bend the round ring of the ankle fetter that the heel
can be drawn up through it.
His intention was to get round the settlement to the coast,
reach the settled districts, and, by some tale of shipwreck or of wandering,
procure assistance. As to what was particularly to be done when he
found himself among free men, he did not pause to consider.
At that point his difficulties seemed to him to end. Let him but traverse
the desert that was before him, and he would trust to his own ingenuity,
or the chance of fortune, to avert suspicion. The peril of immediate detection
was so imminent that, beside it, all other fears were dwarfed
Before dawn next morning he had travelled ten miles, and by husbanding
his food, he succeeded by the night of the fourth day in accomplishing
forty more. Footsore and weary, he lay in a thicket of the thorny melaleuca,
and felt at last that he was beyond pursuit. The next day he advanced
more slowly. The bush was unpropitious. Dense scrub and savage jungle
impeded his path; barren and stony mountain ranges arose before him.
He was lost in gullies, entangled in thickets, bewildered in morasses.
The sea that had hitherto gleamed, salt, glittering, and hungry
upon his right hand, now shifted to his left. He had mistaken his course,
and he must turn again. For two days did this bewilderment last,
and on the third he came to a mighty cliff that pierced with its blunt pinnacle
the clustering bush. He must go over or round this obstacle,
and he decided to go round it. A natural pathway wound about its foot.
Here and there branches were broken, and it seemed to the poor wretch,
fainting under the weight of his lessening burden, that his were not
the first footsteps which had trodden there. The path terminated in a glade,
and at the bottom of this glade was something that fluttered.
Rufus Dawes pressed forward, and stumbled over a corpse!
In the terrible stillness of that solitary place he felt suddenly as though
a voice had called to him. All the hideous fantastic tales of murder
which he had read or heard seemed to take visible shape in the person
of the loathly carcase before him, clad in the yellow dress of a convict,
and lying flung together on the ground as though struck down.
Stooping over it, impelled by an irresistible impulse to know the worst,
he found the body was mangled. One arm was missing, and the skull
had been beaten in by some heavy instrument! The first thought--that this heap
of rags and bones was a mute witness to the folly of his own undertaking,
the corpse of some starved absconder--gave place to a second
more horrible suspicion. He recognized the number imprinted
on the coarse cloth as that which had designated the younger of the two men
who had escaped with Gabbett. He was standing on the place where a murder
had been committed! A murder!--and what else? Thank God the food he carried
was not yet exhausted! He turned and fled, looking back fearfully as he went.
He could not breathe in the shadow of that awful mountain.
Crashing through scrub and brake, torn, bleeding, and wild with terror,
he reached a spur on the range, and looked around him. Above him rose
the iron hills, below him lay the panorama of the bush. The white cone
of the Frenchman's Cap was on his right hand, on his left a succession
of ranges seemed to bar further progress. A gleam, as of a lake,
streaked the eastward. Gigantic pine trees reared their graceful heads
against the opal of the evening sky, and at their feet the dense scrub
through which he had so painfully toiled, spread without break
and without flaw. It seemed as though he could leap from where he stood
upon a solid mass of tree-tops. He raised his eyes, and right against him,
like a long dull sword, lay the narrow steel-blue reach of the harbour
from which he had escaped. One darker speck moved on the dark water.
It was the Osprey making for the Gates. It seemed that he could throw
a stone upon her deck. A faint cry of rage escaped him.
During the last three days in the bush he must have retraced his steps,
and returned upon his own track to the settlement! More than half
his allotted time had passed, and he was not yet thirty miles from his prison.
Death had waited to overtake him in this barbarous wilderness.
As a cat allows a mouse to escape her for a while, so had he been permitted
to trifle with his fate, and lull himself into a false security.
Escape was hopeless now. He never could escape; and as the unhappy man
raised his despairing eyes, he saw that the sun, redly sinking
behind a lofty pine which topped the opposite hill, shot a ray of crimson light
into the glade below him. It was as though a bloody finger pointed
at the corpse which lay there, and Rufus Dawes, shuddering at the dismal omen,
averting his face, plunged again into the forest.
For four days he wandered aimlessly through the bush. He had given up
all hopes of making the overland journey, and yet, as long as
his scanty supply of food held out, he strove to keep away from the settlement.
Unable to resist the pangs of hunger, he had increased his daily ration;
and though the salted meat, exposed to rain and heat, had begun to turn putrid,
he never looked at it but he was seized with a desire to eat his fill.
The coarse lumps of carrion and the hard rye-loaves were to him
delicious morsels fit for the table of an emperor. Once or twice
he was constrained to pluck and eat the tops of tea-trees
and peppermint shrubs. These had an aromatic taste, and sufficed to stay
the cravings of hunger for a while, but they induced a raging thirst,
which he slaked at the icy mountain springs. Had it not been
for the frequency of these streams, he must have died in a few days.
At last, on the twelfth day from his departure from the Coal Head,
he found himself at the foot of Mount Direction, at the head of the peninsula
which makes the western side of the harbour. His terrible wandering
had but led him to make a complete circuit of the settlement,
and the next night brought him round the shores of Birches Inlet
to the landing-place opposite to Sarah Island. His stock of provisions
had been exhausted for two days, and he was savage with hunger.
He no longer thought of suicide. His dominant idea was now to get food.
He would do as many others had done before him--give himself up
to be flogged and fed. When he reached the landing-place, however,
the guard-house was empty. He looked across at the island prison,
and saw no sign of life. The settlement was deserted! The shock
of this discovery almost deprived him of reason. For days,
that had seemed centuries, he had kept life in his jaded and lacerated body
solely by the strength of his fierce determination to reach the settlement;
and now that he had reached it, after a journey of unparalleled horror,
he found it deserted. He struck himself to see if he was not dreaming.
He refused to believe his eyesight. He shouted, screamed, and waved
his tattered garments in the air. Exhausted by these paroxysms,
he said to himself, quite calmly, that the sun beating on his unprotected head
had dazed his brain, and that in a few minutes he should see
well-remembered boats pulling towards him. Then, when no boat came,
he argued that he was mistaken in the place; the island yonder
was not Sarah Island, but some other island like it, and that in a second or so
he would be able to detect the difference. But the inexorable mountains,
so hideously familiar for six weary years, made mute reply, and the sea,
crawling at his feet, seemed to grin at him with a thin-lipped, hungry mouth.
Yet the fact of the desertion seemed so inexplicable that he could not
realize it. He felt as might have felt that wanderer in
the enchanted mountains, who, returning in the morning to look
for his companions, found them turned to stone.
At last the dreadful truth forced itself upon him; he retired a few paces,
and then, with a horrible cry of furious despair, stumbled forward
towards the edge of the little reef that fringed the shore.
Just as he was about to fling himself for the second time into the dark water,
his eyes, sweeping in a last long look around the bay, caught sight
of a strange appearance on the left horn of the sea beach.
A thin, blue streak, uprising from behind the western arm of the little inlet,
hung in the still air. It was the smoke of a fire!
The dying wretch felt inspired with new hope. God had sent him a direct sign
from Heaven. The tiny column of bluish vapour seemed to him as glorious
as the Pillar of Fire that led the Israelites. There were yet human beings
near him!--and turning his face from the hungry sea, he tottered
with the last effort of his failing strength towards the blessed token
of their presence.
THE SEIZURE OF THE "OSPREY"
Frere's fishing expedition had been unsuccessful, and in consequence prolonged.
The obstinacy of his character appeared in the most trifling circumstances,
and though the fast deepening shades of an Australian evening urged him
to return, yet he lingered, unwilling to come back empty-handed.
At last a peremptory signal warned him. It was the sound of a musket
fired on board the brig: Mr. Bates was getting impatient; and with a scowl,
Frere drew up his lines, and ordered the two soldiers to pull for the vessel.
The Osprey yet sat motionless on the water, and her bare masts gave no sign
of making sail. To the soldiers, pulling with their backs to her,
the musket shot seemed the most ordinary occurrence in the world.
Eager to quit the dismal prison-bay, they had viewed Mr Frere's persistent
fishing with disgust, and had for the previous half hour longed to hear
the signal of recall which had just startled them. Suddenly, however,
they noticed a change of expression in the sullen face of their commander.
Frere, sitting in the stern sheets, with his face to the Osprey,
had observed a peculiar appearance on her decks. The bulwarks were
every now and then topped by strange figures, who disappeared as suddenly
as they came, and a faint murmur of voices floated across the intervening sea.
Presently the report of another musket shot echoed among the hills,
and something dark fell from the side of the vessel into the water.
Frere, with an imprecation of mingled alarm and indignation,
sprang to his feet, and shading his eyes with his hand,
looked towards the brig. The soldiers, resting on their oars,
imitated his gesture, and the whale-boat, thus thrown out of trim,
rocked from side to side dangerously. A moment's anxious pause,
and then another musket shot, followed by a woman's shrill scream,
explained all. The prisoners had seized the brig. "Give way!" cried Frere,
pale with rage and apprehension, and the soldiers, realizing at once
the full terror of their position, forced the heavy whale-boat
through the water as fast as the one miserable pair of oars could take her.
* * * * * *
Mr. Bates, affected by the insidious influence of the hour,
and lulled into a sense of false security, had gone below to tell
his little playmate that she would soon be on her way to the Hobart Town
of which she had heard so much; and, taking advantage of his absence,
the soldier not on guard went to the forecastle to hear the prisoners singing.
He found the ten together, in high good humour, listening to a "shanty"
sung by three of their number. The voices were melodious enough,
and the words of the ditty--chanted by many stout fellows in many a forecastle
before and since--of that character which pleases the soldier nature.
Private Grimes forgot all about the unprotected state of the deck,
and sat down to listen.
While he listened, absorbed in tender recollections, James Lesly,
William Cheshire, William Russen, John Fair, and James Barker
slipped to the hatchway and got upon the deck. Barker reached the aft hatchway
as the soldier who was on guard turned to complete his walk,
and passing his arm round his neck, pulled him down before he could
utter a cry. In the confusion of the moment the man loosed his grip
of the musket to grapple with his unseen antagonist, and Fair,
snatching up the weapon, swore to blow out his brains if he raised a finger.
Seeing the sentry thus secured, Cheshire, as if in pursuance of
a preconcerted plan, leapt down the after hatchway, and passed up the muskets
from the arm-racks to Lesly and Russen. There were three muskets
in addition to the one taken from the sentry, and Barker, leaving his prisoner
in charge of Fair, seized one of them, and ran to the companion ladder.
Russen, left unarmed by this manoeuvre, appeared to know his own duty.
He came back to the forecastle, and passing behind the listening soldier,
touched the singer on the shoulder. This was the appointed signal,
and John Rex, suddenly terminating his song with a laugh, presented his fist
in the face of the gaping Grimes. "No noise!" he cried. "The brig's ours";
and ere Grimes could reply, he was seized by Lyon and Riley,
and bound securely.
"Come on, lads!" says Rex, "and pass the prisoner down here.
We've got her this time, I'll go bail!" In obedience to this order,
the now gagged sentry was flung down the fore hatchway, and the hatch secured.
"Stand on the hatchway, Porter," cries Rex again; "and if those fellows
come up, knock 'em down with a handspoke. Lesly and Russen,
forward to the companion ladder! Lyon, keep a look-out for the boat,
and if she comes too near, fire!"
As he spoke the report of the first musket rang out. Barker had apparently
fired up the companion hatchway.
* * * * * *
When Mr. Bates had gone below, he found Sylvia curled upon the cushions
of the state-room, reading. "Well, missy!" he said, "we'll soon be
on our way to papa."
Sylvia answered by asking a question altogether foreign to the subject.
"Mr. Bates," said she, pushing the hair out of her blue eyes,
"what's a coracle?"
"A which?" asked Mr. Bates.
"A coracle. C-o-r-a-c-l-e," said she, spelling it slowly. "I want to know."
The bewildered Bates shook his head. "Never heard of one, missy," said he,
bending over the book. "What does it say?"
"'The Ancient Britons,'" said Sylvia, reading gravely, "'were little better
than Barbarians. They painted their bodies with Woad'--that's blue stuff,
you know, Mr. Bates--'and, seated in their light coracles of skin
stretched upon slender wooden frames, must have presented a wild
and savage appearance.'"
"Hah," said Mr. Bates, when this remarkable passage was read to him,
"that's very mysterious, that is. A corricle, a cory "--a bright light
burst upon him. "A curricle you mean, missy! It's a carriage!
I've seen 'em in Hy' Park, with young bloods a-drivin' of 'em."
"What are young bloods?" asked Sylvia, rushing at this "new opening".
"Oh, nobs! Swell coves, don't you know," returned poor Bates,
thus again attacked. "Young men o' fortune that is, that's given
to doing it grand."
"I see," said Sylvia, waving her little hand graciously. "Noblemen and Princes
and that sort of people. Quite so. But what about coracle?"
"Well," said the humbled Bates, "I think it's a carriage, missy.
A sort of Pheayton, as they call it."
Sylvia, hardly satisfied, returned to the book. It was a little
mean-looking volume--a "Child's History of England"--and after perusing it
awhile with knitted brows, she burst into a childish laugh.
"Why, my dear Mr. Bates!" she cried, waving the History above her head
in triumph, "what a pair of geese we are! A carriage! Oh you silly man!
It's a boat!"
"Is it?" said Mr. Bates, in admiration of the intelligence of his companion.
"Who'd ha' thought that now? Why couldn't they call it a boat at once,
then, and ha' done with it?" and he was about to laugh also,
when, raising his eyes, he saw in the open doorway the figure of James Barker,
with a musket in his hand.
"Hallo! What's this? What do you do here, sir?"
"Sorry to disturb yer," says the convict, with a grin, "but you must
come along o' me, Mr. Bates."
Bates, at once comprehending that some terrible misfortune had occurred,
did not lose his presence of mind. One of the cushions of the couch
was under his right hand, and snatching it up he flung it across
the little cabin full in the face of the escaped prisoner.
The soft mass struck the man with force sufficient to blind him for an instant.
The musket exploded harmlessly in the air, and ere the astonished Barker
could recover his footing, Bates had hurled him out of the cabin,
and crying "Mutiny!" locked the cabin door on the inside.
The noise brought out Mrs. Vickers from her berth, and the poor little student
of English history ran into her arms.
"Good Heavens, Mr. Bates, what is it?"
Bates, furious with rage, so far forgot himself as to swear.
"It's a mutiny, ma'am," said he. "Go back to your cabin and lock the door.
Those bloody villains have risen on us!" Julia Vickers felt
her heart grow sick. Was she never to escape out of this dreadful life?
"Go into your cabin, ma'am," says Bates again, "and don't move a finger till
I tell ye. Maybe it ain't so bad as it looks; I've got my pistols with me,
thank God, and Mr. Frere'll hear the shot anyway. Mutiny? On deck there!"
he cried at the full pitch of his voice, and his brow grew damp with dismay
when a mocking laugh from above was the only response.
Thrusting the woman and child into the state berth, the bewildered pilot
cocked a pistol, and snatching a cutlass from the arm stand fixed to the butt
of the mast which penetrated the cabin, he burst open the door with his foot,
and rushed to the companion ladder. Barker had retreated to the deck,
and for an instant he thought the way was clear, but Lesly and Russen
thrust him back with the muzzles of the loaded muskets. He struck
at Russen with the cutlass, missed him, and, seeing the hopelessness
of the attack, was fain to retreat.
In the meanwhile, Grimes and the other soldier had loosed themselves
from their bonds, and, encouraged by the firing, which seemed to them
a sign that all was not yet lost, made shift to force up the forehatch.
Porter, whose courage was none of the fiercest, and who had been for years
given over to that terror of discipline which servitude induces,
made but a feeble attempt at resistance, and forcing the handspike from him,
the sentry, Jones, rushed aft to help the pilot. As Jones reached the waist,
Cheshire, a cold-blooded blue-eyed man, shot him dead.
Grimes fell over the corpse, and Cheshire, clubbing the musket--
had he another barrel he would have fired--coolly battered his head as he lay,
and then, seizing the body of the unfortunate Jones in his arms,
tossed it into the sea. "Porter, you lubber!" he cried,
exhausted with the effort to lift the body, "come and bear a hand
with this other one!" Porter advanced aghast, but just then another occurrence
claimed the villain's attention, and poor Grimes's life was spared
for that time.
Rex, inwardly raging at this unexpected resistance on the part of the pilot,
flung himself on the skylight, and tore it up bodily. As he did so, Barker,
who had reloaded his musket, fired down into the cabin.
The ball passed through the state-room door, and splintering the wood,
buried itself close to the golden curls of poor little Sylvia.
It was this hair's-breadth escape which drew from the agonized mother
that shriek which, pealing through the open stern window,
had roused the soldiers in the boat.
Rex, who, by the virtue of his dandyism, yet possessed some abhorrence
of useless crime, imagined that the cry was one of pain, and that
Barker's bullet had taken deadly effect. "You've killed the child,
you villain!" he cried.
"What's the odds?" asked Barker sulkily. "She must die any way,
sooner or later."
Rex put his head down the skylight, and called on Bates to surrender,
but Bates only drew his other pistol. "Would you commit murder?"
he asked, looking round with desperation in his glance.
"No, no," cried some of the men, willing to blink the death of poor Jones.
"It's no use making things worse than they are. Bid him come up,
and we'll do him no harm." "Come up, Mr. Bates," says Rex,
"and I give you my word you sha'n't be injured."
"Will you set the major's lady and child ashore, then?" asked Bates,
sturdily facing the scowling brows above him.
"Without injury?" continued the other, bargaining, as it were,
at the very muzzles of the muskets.
"Ay, ay! It's all right!" returned Russen. "It's our liberty we want,
Bates, hoping against hope for the return of the boat,
endeavoured to gain time. "Shut down the skylight, then," said he,
with the ghost of an authority in his voice, "until I ask the lady."
This, however, John Rex refused to do. "You can ask well enough
where you are," he said.
But there was no need for Mr. Bates to put a question.
The door of the state-room opened, and Mrs. Vickers appeared,
trembling, with Sylvia by her side. "Accept, Mr. Bates," she said,
"since it must be so. We should gain nothing by refusing.
We are at their mercy--God help us!"
"Amen to that," says Bates under his breath, and then aloud, "We agree !"
"Put your pistols on the table, and come up, then," says Rex,
covering the table with his musket as he spoke. "And nobody shall hurt you."
JOHN REX'S REVENGE.
Mrs Vickers, pale and sick with terror, yet sustained by that strange courage
of which we have before spoken, passed rapidly under the open skylight,
and prepared to ascend. Sylvia--her romance crushed by too dreadful reality--
clung to her mother with one hand, and with the other pressed close
to her little bosom the "English History". In her all-absorbing fear
she had forgotten to lay it down.
"Get a shawl, ma'am, or something," says Bates, "and a hat for missy."
Mrs. Vickers looked back across the space beneath the open skylight,
and shuddering, shook her head. The men above swore impatiently
at the delay, and the three hastened on deck.
"Who's to command the brig now?" asked undaunted Bates, as they came up.
"I am," says John Rex, "and, with these brave fellows,
I'll take her round the world."
The touch of bombast was not out of place. It jumped so far with the humour
of the convicts that they set up a feeble cheer, at which Sylvia frowned.
Frightened as she was, the prison-bred child was as much astonished
at hearing convicts cheer as a fashionable lady would be to hear
her footman quote poetry. Bates, however--practical and calm--
took quite another view of the case. The bold project, so boldly avowed,
seemed to him a sheer absurdity. The "Dandy" and a crew of nine convicts
navigate a brig round the world! Preposterous; why, not a man aboard
could work a reckoning! His nautical fancy pictured the Osprey
helplessly rolling on the swell of the Southern Ocean, or hopelessly locked
in the ice of the Antarctic Seas, and he dimly guessed at the fate
of the deluded ten. Even if they got safe to port, the chances of final escape
were all against them, for what account could they give of themselves?
Overpowered by these reflections, the honest fellow made one last effort
to charm his captors back to their pristine bondage.
"Fools!" he cried, "do you know what you are about to do?
You will never escape. Give up the brig, and I will declare, before my God,
upon the Bible, that I will say nothing, but give all good characters."
Lesly and another burst into a laugh at this wild proposition, but Rex,
who had weighed his chances well beforehand, felt the force
of the pilot's speech, and answered seriously.
"It's no use talking," he said, shaking his still handsome head.
"We have got the brig, and we mean to keep her. I can navigate her,
though I am no seaman, so you needn't talk further about it, Mr. Bates.
It's liberty we require."
"What are you going to do with us?" asked Bates.
"Leave you behind."
Bates's face blanched. "What, here?"
"Yes. It don't look a picturesque spot, does it? And yet I've lived here
for some years"; and he grinned.
Bates was silent. The logic of that grin was unanswerable.
"Come!" cried the Dandy, shaking off his momentary melancholy,
"look alive there! Lower away the jolly-boat. Mrs. Vickers, go down
to your cabin and get anything you want. I am compelled to put you ashore,
but I have no wish to leave you without clothes." Bates listened,
in a sort of dismal admiration, at this courtly convict.
He could not have spoken like that had life depended on it.
"Now, my little lady," continued Rex, "run down with your mamma,
and don't be frightened."
Sylvia flashed burning red at this indignity. "Frightened!
If there had been anybody else here but women, you never would have
taken the brig. Frightened! Let me pass, prisoner!"
The whole deck burst into a great laugh at this, and poor Mrs. Vickers paused,
trembling for the consequences of the child's temerity. To thus taunt
the desperate convict who held their lives in his hands seemed sheer madness.
In the boldness of the speech however, lay its safeguard.
Rex--whose politeness was mere bravado--was stung to the quick
by the reflection upon his courage, and the bitter accent with which the child
had pronounced the word prisoner (the generic name of convicts)
made him bite his lips with rage. Had he had his will, he would have struck
the little creature to the deck, but the hoarse laugh of his companions
warned him to forbear. There is "public opinion" even among convicts,
and Rex dared not vent his passion on so helpless an object.
As men do in such cases, he veiled his anger beneath an affectation
of amusement. In order to show that he was not moved by the taunt,
he smiled upon the taunter more graciously than ever.
"Your daughter has her father's spirit, madam," said he to Mrs. Vickers,
with a bow.
Bates opened his mouth to listen. His ears were not large enough
to take in the words of this complimentary convict. He began to think
that he was the victim of a nightmare. He absolutely felt that John Rex
was a greater man at that moment than John Bates.
As Mrs. Vickers descended the hatchway, the boat with Frere and the soldiers
came within musket range, and Lesly, according to orders,
fired his musket over their heads, shouting to them to lay to But Frere,
boiling with rage at the manner in which the tables had been turned on him,
had determined not to resign his lost authority without a struggle.
Disregarding the summons, he came straight on, with his eyes fixed
on the vessel. It was now nearly dark, and the figures on the deck
were indistinguishable. The indignant lieutenant could but guess
at the condition of affairs. Suddenly, from out of the darkness
a voice hailed him--
"Hold water! back water!" it cried, and was then seemingly choked
in its owner's throat.
The voice was the property of Mr. Bates. Standing near the side,
he had observed Rex and Fair bring up a great pig of iron, erst used
as part of the ballast of the brig, and poise it on the rail.
Their intention was but too evident; and honest Bates,
like a faithful watch-dog, barked to warn his master. Bloodthirsty Cheshire
caught him by the throat, and Frere, unheeding, ran the boat alongside,
under the very nose of the revengeful Rex.
The mass of iron fell half in-board upon the now stayed boat,
and gave her sternway, with a splintered plank.
"Villains!" cried Frere, "would you swamp us?"
"Aye," laughed Rex, "and a dozen such as ye! The brig's ours, can't ye see,
and we're your masters now!"
Frere, stifling an exclamation of rage, cried to the bow to hook on,
but the bow had driven the boat backward, and she was already
beyond arm's length of the brig. Looking up, he saw Cheshire's savage face,
and heard the click of the lock as he cocked his piece. The two soldiers,
exhausted by their long pull, made no effort to stay the progress of the boat,
and almost before the swell caused by the plunge of the mass of iron
had ceased to agitate the water, the deck of the Osprey had become invisible
in the darkness.
Frere struck his fist upon the thwart in sheer impotence of rage.
"The scoundrels!" he said, between his teeth, "they've mastered us.
What do they mean to do next?"
The answer came pat to the question. From the dark hull of the brig
broke a flash and a report, and a musket ball cut the water beside them
with a chirping noise. Between the black indistinct mass which represented
the brig, and the glimmering water, was visible a white speck,
which gradually neared them.
"Come alongside with ye!" hailed a voice, "or it will be the worse for ye!"
"They want to murder us," says Frere. "Give way, men!"
But the two soldiers, exchanging glances one with the other,
pulled the boat's head round, and made for the vessel. "It's no use,
Mr. Frere," said the man nearest him; "we can do no good now,
and they won't hurt us, I dare say."
"You dogs, you are in league with them," bursts out Frere,
purple with indignation. "Do you mutiny?"
"Come, come, sir," returned the soldier, sulkily, "this ain't the time to
bully; and, as for mutiny, why, one man's about as good as another just now."
This speech from the lips of a man who, but a few minutes before,
would have risked his life to obey orders of his officer,
did more than an hour's reasoning to convince Maurice Frere of the hopelessness
of resistance. His authority--born of circumstance, and supported