Part 3 out of 4
calling in the landlord, tendered me in his presence the expressive
The corps into which I had listed was the----, then lying in the Tower,
London, there being only the sergeant and two or three men of the
regiment in Glasgow recruiting. The matter of listing settled, the
sergeant bespoke me a bed for the night in the tavern in which we were,
that being his own quarters.
On the following day I was informed, much to my surprise, although by no
means to my regret, that a detachment of recruits for the---- were to be
sent off that evening at nine o'clock by the track boat for Edinburgh,
and from thence by sea to the headquarters of the regiment at London,
and that I was to be of the number. At nine o'clock of the evening,
accordingly, we were shipped at Port-Dundas.
Before leaving Glasgow, however, I made one last call at the police
office to inquire whether any discoveries had been made regarding my
pocket-book, but found that nothing whatever had been heard of it.
On the following day we reached Edinburgh; on the next we were embarked
on board a Leith smack for London, where we arrived in safety on the
fourth day thereafter, and were marched to the Tower, which was at the
time the headquarters of the regiment. Amongst the young men who were of
the party who came up with me from Scotland, there was one with whom I
became particularly intimate, and who was subsequently my comrade. His
name was John Lindsay, a native of Glasgow. He was about my own age, or
perhaps a year older--a lively, active, warm-hearted lad, but of a
restless, roving disposition.
It was, I think, about a fortnight after our arrival in London, that
Lindsay one day, while rummaging a small trunk in the barrack-room,
which had formed the entire of his travelling equipage from Scotland,
stumbled on a letter, with whose delivery he had been entrusted by some
one in Glasgow, but which he had entirely forgotten. It was addressed in
a scrawling hand--"To Susan Blaikie, servant with Henry Wallscourt,
Esq., 19, Grosvenor Square, London."
"Here's a job, Davy," said Lindsay, holding up the letter. "I promised
faithfully to deliver this within an hour after my arrival in London,
and here it is still. But better late than never. Will you go with me
and see the fair maiden to whom this is addressed? It contains, I
believe, a kind of introduction to her, and may perhaps lead to some
I readily closed with Lindsay's proposal, and in ten minutes after we
set out for Grosvenor Square, which we had no difficulty in finding.
Neither were we long in discovering No. 19, the residence of Henry
Wallscourt, Esq. It was a magnificent house, everything about it
bespeaking a wealthy occupant.
Leaving me on the flagstones, Lindsay now descended into the area; but
in two or three minutes returned, and motioned me with his finger to
come to him.
I did so, when he told me that he had seen Susan Blaikie, and that she
had invited us to come in. Into the house we accordingly went, and were
conducted by Susan, a lively, pretty girl, who welcomed us with great
cordiality, into what appeared to be a housekeeper's room.
My comrade, Lindsay, having given Susan all the Scotch, particularly
Glasgow, news in his budget, the latter left the room for a few minutes,
when she returned with a tray of cold provisions--ham, fowl, and roast
Placing these before us, and adding a bottle of excellent porter, she
invited us to fall-to. We did so, and executed summary justice on the
good things placed before us.
After this we sat for about half an hour, when we rose to depart. This,
however, she would not permit till we had promised that we would come,
on the following night, and take tea with her and one or two of her
fellow-servants. This promise we readily gave, and as willingly kept.
One of the party, on the night of the tea-drinking, was the footman of
the establishment, Richard Digby--a rakish, dissipated-looking fellow,
with an affected air, and an excessively refined and genteel manner,
that is, as he himself thought it. To others, at least to me, he
appeared an egregious puppy; the obvious spuriousness of his assumed
gentility inspiring a disgust which I found it difficult to suppress.
Neither could I suppress it so effectually as to prevent the fellow
discovering it. He did so; and the consequence was the rise of a hearty
and mutual dislike, which, however, neither of us evinced by any overt
Having found the society of our fair countrywoman and her friends very
agreeable, we--that is, Lindsay and myself--became frequent visitors;
drinking tea with her and her fellow-servants at least two or three
times a week. While this was going on, a detachment of the new recruits,
of whom Lindsay was one, was suddenly ordered to Chatham. I missed my
comrade much after his departure; but as I had by this time established
an intimacy with Susan and her fellow-servants on my own account, I
still continued visiting there, and drinking tea occasionally as
It was on one of these occasions, and about ten days after Lindsay had
left London, that as I was leaving Mr. Wallscourt's house at a pretty
late hour--I think about eleven at night--I was suddenly collared by two
men, just as I had ascended the area stair, and was about to step out on
"What's this for?" said I, turning first to the one and then to the
other of my captors.
"We'll tell you that presently," replied one of the men, who had by this
time begun to grope about my person, as if searching for something. In a
moment after--"Ah! let's see what's this," he said, plunging his hand
into one of my coat-pockets, and pulling out a silver table-spoon. "All
right," he added. "Come away, my lad;" and the two forthwith began
dragging me along.
The whole affair was such a mystery to me, and of such sudden
occurrence, that it was some seconds before I could collect myself
sufficiently to put any such calm and rational queries to my captors as
might elicit an explanation of it. All that I could say was merely to
repeat my inquiry as to the meaning of the treatment I was
undergoing--resisting instinctively, the while, the efforts of the men
to urge me forward. This last, however, was vain; for they were two
powerful fellows, and seemed scarcely to feel the resistance I made. To
my reiterated demand of explanation they merely replied that I should
have it presently, but that they rather thought I did not stand greatly
in need of it.
Obliged to rest satisfied, in the meantime, with such evasive answers,
and finding resistance useless, indeed uncalled for, as I was
unconscious of any crime, I now went peaceably along with the men.
Whither they were conducting me the reader will readily guess; it was to
On being brought into the office, the men conducted me up to a person
who, seated at a desk, was busily employed making entries in a large
book. One of my captors having whispered something into this person's
ear, he turned sharply round and demanded my name. I gave it him.
"The others?" he said.
"What others?" I replied. "I have only one name, and I have given it."
"Pho, pho!" exclaimed he. "Gentlemen of your profession have always a
dozen. However, we'll take what you have given in the meantime." And he
proceeded to make some entries in his book. They related to me, but I
was not permitted to see what they were. The table-spoon which had been
found in my pocket, and which had been placed on the desk before the
official already spoken of, was now labelled and put past, and I was
ordered to be removed.
During all this time I had been loudly protesting my innocence of any
crime; but no attention whatever was paid to me. So little effect,
indeed, had my protestations, that one would have thought, judging by
the unmoved countenances around me, that they did not hear me at all,
for they went on speaking to each other, quite in the same way as if I
had not been present. The only indication I could perceive of a
consciousness of my being there, and of their hearing what I said, was
an occasional faint smile of incredulity. At one time, provoked by my
importunity and my obstinate iteration of my innocence, the official who
was seated at the desk turned fiercely round, exclaiming--
"The spoon, the spoon, friend; what do you say to that--found in your
I solemnly protested that I knew not how it came there; that I had never
put it there, nor had the least idea of its being in my possession till
it was produced by those that searched me.
"A very likely story," said the official, turning quietly round to his
book; "but we'll see all about that by-and-by. Remove him, men."
And I was hurried away, and locked up in a cell for the night.
I cannot say that, when left to myself, I felt much uneasiness regarding
the result of the extraordinary matter that had occurred. I felt
perfectly satisfied that, however awkward and unpleasant my situation
was in the meantime, the following day would clear all up, and set me at
liberty with an unblemished character. From all that had taken place, I
collected that I was apprehended on a charge of robbery; that is, of
abstracting property from Mr. Wallscourt's house, of which the silver
spoon found in my possession was considered a proof. There was much,
however, in the matter of painful and inexplicable mystery. How came
the constables to be so opportunely in the way when I left the house?
and, more extraordinary still, how came the silver spoon into my
possession? Regarding neither of these circumstances could I form the
slightest plausible conjecture; but had no doubt that, whether they
should ever be explained or not, my entire innocence of all such guilt
as the latter of them pointed at, would clearly appear. But, as the
saying has it, "I reckoned without my host." On the following morning I
was brought before the sitting magistrate, and, to my inexpressible
surprise, on turning round a little, saw Richard Digby in the
witness-box. Thinking at first that he was there to give some such
evidence as would relieve me from the imputation under which I lay, I
nodded to him; but he took no further notice of the recognition than by
looking more stern than before.
Presently my case was entered on. Digby was called on to state what he
had to say to the matter. Judge of my consternation, gentle reader, when
I heard him commence the following statement:--
Having premised that he was servant with Mr. Wallscourt, of No. 19,
Grosvenor Square, he proceeded to say that during the space of the three
previous weeks he had from time to time missed several valuable pieces
of plate belonging to his master; that this had happened repeatedly
before he could form the slightest conjecture as to who the thief could
possibly be. At last it occurred to him that the abstraction of the
plate corresponded, in point of time, with the prisoner's (my)
introduction to the house--in other words, that it was from that date
the robberies commenced, nothing of the kind having ever happened
before; that this circumstance led him to suspect me; that in
consequence he had on the previous night placed a silver table-spoon in
such a situation in the servants' hall as should render it likely to be
seen by the prisoner when he came to tea, Susan Blaikie having
previously informed him that he was coming; that, shortly after the
prisoner's arrival, he contrived, by getting Susan and some of the other
servants out of the room, on various pretexts, to have the prisoner left
alone for several minutes; that, on his return, finding the spoon gone,
he had no longer any doubt of the prisoner's guilt; that, on feeling
satisfied of this, he immediately proceeded to the nearest
station-house, and procuring two constables, or policemen, stationed
them at the area gate, with instructions to seize the prisoner the
moment he came out; and that if the spoon was found on him--of which he
had no doubt--to carry him away to Bow Street.
Such, then, was Mr. Digby's statement of the affair; and a very
plausible and connected one, it must be allowed, it was. It carried
conviction to all present, and elicited from the presiding magistrate a
high encomium on that person's fidelity, ability, and promptitude.
The silver spoon, labelled as I had seen it, was now produced, when Mr.
Wallscourt, who was also present, was called on to identify it. This he
at once did, after glancing at the crest and initials which were
engraven on the handle. The charge against me thus laid and
substantiated, I was asked if I had anything to say in my own defence.
Defence! what defence could I make against an accusation so strongly
put, and so amply supported by circumstances? None. I could meet it only
by denial, and by assertions of innocence. This, however, I did, and
with such energy and earnestness--for horror and despair inspired me
with both courage and eloquence--that a favourable impression was
perceptible in the court. The circumstantial statement of Digby,
however, with all its strong probabilities, was not to be overturned by
my bare assertions; and the result was, that I was remanded to prison to
stand trial at the ensuing assizes, Mr. Wallscourt being bound over to
Wretched, however, as my situation was, I had not been many hours in
prison when I regained my composure; soothed by the reflection that,
however disgraceful or unhappy my position might be, it was one in which
I had not deserved being placed. I was further supported by the
conviction, which even the result of my late examination before the
magistrate had not in the least weakened, that my innocence would yet
appear, and that in sufficient time to save me from further legal
prosecution. Buoyed up by these reflections, I became, if not cheerful,
at least comparatively easy in my mind. I thought several times during
my imprisonment of writing to my father,--to whom, by the way, as I
should have mentioned before, I wrote from Edinburgh, when on my way to
London, in order to relieve the minds of my mother and himself from any
apprehensions of anything more serious having happened me, telling them
of my loss, and the way it had occurred, but without telling them that I
had listed, or where I was going,--I say I thought several times during
my confinement of writing to my father, and informing him of the unhappy
circumstances in which I was placed; but, on reflection, it occurred to
me that such a proceeding would only give him and the rest of the family
needless pain, seeing that he could be of no service to me whatever. I
therefore dropped the idea, thinking it better that they should know
nothing about the matter--nothing, at least, until my trial was over,
and my innocence established; concomitant events, as I had no doubt they
would prove. In the meantime the day of trial approached. It came, and
I stood naked and defenceless; for I had no money to employ counsel, no
friends to assist me with advice. I stood at the bar of the Old Bailey
shielded only by my innocence; a poor protection against evidence so
strong and circumstantial as that which pointed to my guilt.
My trial came on. It was of short duration. Its result, what every one
who knew anything of the matter foresaw but myself. I was found guilty,
and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation.
As on a former occasion, I will leave it to the reader himself to form a
conception of what my feelings were when this dreadful sentence rung in
my ears--so horrible, so unexpected. A sudden deafness struck me that,
commingling all sounds, rendered them unintelligible; a film came over
my eyes; my heart fluttered strangely, and my limbs trembled so that I
thought I should have sunk on the floor; but, making a violent effort, I
supported myself; and in a few seconds these agitating sensations so far
subsided as to allow of my retiring from the bar with tolerable
steadiness and composure.
It was several days, however, before I regained entire possession of
myself, and before I could contemplate my position in all its bearings
with anything like fortitude or resignation. On attaining this state, a
thousand wild schemes for obtaining such a reconsideration of my case as
might lead to the discovery of my innocence presented themselves to my
mind. I thought of addressing a letter to the judge who had tried me; to
the foreman of the jury who had found me guilty; to the prosecutor, Mr.
Wallscourt; to the Secretary of State; to the King. A little subsequent
reflection, however, showed me the utter hopelessness of any such
proceeding, as I had still only my simple, unsupported assertions to
oppose to the strong array of positive and circumstantial evidence
against me; that, therefore, no such applications as I contemplated
could be listened to for a moment. Eventually satisfied of this, I came
to the resolution of submitting quietly to my fate in the meantime,
trusting that some circumstance or other would, sooner or later, occur
that would lead to a discovery of the injustice that had been done me.
Writing to my father I considered now out of the question. The same
reasons that induced me to abstain from writing him before my trial,
presented themselves in additional force to prevent me writing him
after. I resolved that he should never know of the misfortune, however
undeserved, that had befallen me. I had all along--that is, since my
confinement--looked for some letter or other communication from Lindsay.
Sometimes I even hoped for a visit from him. But I was disappointed. I
neither saw nor heard anything of him; and from this circumstance
concluded that he, too, thought me guilty, and that this was the cause
of his desertion of me. Friendless and despised, I at once abandoned
myself to fate.
Of poor Susan Blaikie, however, I did hear something; and that was, that
she was discharged from her situation. This intelligence distressed me
much, although I had foreseen that it must necessarily happen.
In the apartment or cell into which I was placed after having received
sentence, there were five or six young men in similar circumstances with
myself--not as regarded innocence of crime, but punishment. They were
all under sentence of banishment for various terms.
From these persons I kept as much aloof as possible. My soul sickened at
the contamination to which I was exposed by the society of such
ruffians, for they were all of the very worst description of London
characters, and I did all I could to maintain the distinction between
myself and them, which my innocence of all crime gave me a right to
Under this feeling, it was my habit to sit in a remote part of the cell,
and to take no share whatever either in the conversation or in the
coarse practical jokes with which they were in the habit of beguiling
the tedium of their confinement.
There was one occasion, however, on which I felt myself suddenly caught
by an interest in their proceedings.
Seeing them one day all huddled together, listening with great delight
to one of their number who was reading a letter aloud, I gradually
approached nearer, curious to know what could be in this letter to
afford them so much amusement.
Conceive my astonishment and surprise when, after listening for a few
minutes, I discovered that the subject which tickled my fellow-prisoners
so highly was a description of my own robbery; that is, of the robbery
in Glasgow of which I had been the victim.
It was written with considerable humour, and contained such a minute and
faithful account of the affair, that I had no doubt it had been written
by Lancaster. Indeed it could have been written by no one else.
The letter in question, then, was evidently one from that person to a
companion in crime who was amongst those with whom I was associated--no
doubt he who was reading it. The writer, however, seemed also well known
to all the other parties.
In the letter itself, as well as in the remarks of the audience on it,
there was a great deal of slang, and a great many cant phrases which I
could not make out. But, on the whole, I obtained a pretty correct
knowledge of the import of both.
The writer's description of me and of my worldly wisdom was not very
flattering. He spoke of me as a regular flat, and the fleecing me as one
of the easiest and pleasantest operations he had ever performed. He
concluded by saying that as he found there was nothing worth while to be
done in Scotland, he intended returning to London in a few days.
"More fool he," said one of the party, on this passage being read. "That
affair at Blackwall, in which Bob was concerned, has not yet blown over,
and he'll be lagged, as sure as he lives, before he's a week in London."
"Well, so much the better," said another. "In that case we'll have him
across the water with us, and be all the merrier for his company."
It was, I think, somewhat less than a month after this--for we were
detained in prison altogether about two-months after sentence till a
sufficient number had accumulated for transportation--that we, meaning
myself and those in the ward in which I was confined, were favoured with
a new companion.
Throwing open the door of our ward one afternoon, the turnkey ushered in
amongst us a person dressed out in the first style of fashion, and
immediately again secured the door. At first I could not believe that so
fine a gentleman could possibly be a convict; I thought rather that he
must be a friend of some one of my fellow-prisoners. But I was quickly
undeceived in this particular, and found that he was indeed one of _us_.
On the entrance of this convict dandy, the whole of my fellow-prisoners
rushed towards him, and gave him a cordial greeting.
"Glad to see you, Nick," said the fellow who had foretold the speedy
apprehension of the letter-writer, as already related. "Cursed fool to
come to London so soon. Knew you would be nabbed. What have you got?"
"Fourteen," replied the new-comer, with a shrug of his shoulders.
During all this time I had kept my eyes fixed on the stranger, whom I
thought I should know. For a while, however, I was greatly puzzled to
fix on any individual as identical with him; but at length it struck me
that he bore a wonderful resemblance to my Glasgow friend Lancaster.
His appearance was now, indeed, greatly changed. He was, for one thing,
splendidly attired, as I have already said, while at the time I had the
pleasure of knowing him first he was very indifferently dressed. His
face, too, had undergone some alterations. He had removed a bushy pair
of whiskers which he sported in Glasgow, and had added to his
adventitious characteristics a pair of green spectacles. It was these
last that perplexed me most, in endeavouring to make out his identity.
But he soon laid them aside, as being now of no further use--an
operation which he accompanied by sundry jokes on their utility, and the
service they had done him in the way of preventing inconvenient
recognitions. Notwithstanding all these changes, however, in the
new-comer's appearance, I soon became quite convinced that he was no
other than Lancaster; and, under this impression, I took an opportunity
of edging towards him, and putting the question plumply to him, although
under breath, for I did not care that the rest should hear it.
"Your name, sir, is Lancaster, I think?" said I.
He stared in my face for a second or two without making any reply, or
seeming to recognise me. At length--
"No, youngster, it isn't," he said with the most perfect assurance.
"But you have taken that name on an occasion?" said I.
"Oh, perhaps I may," he replied coolly. "I have taken a great many names
in my day. I'll give you a hundred of them at a penny a dozen. But,
Lancaster, let me see," and he kept looking hard at me as he spoke.
"Why, it can't be," he added, with a sudden start. "Impossible! eh?" and
he looked still more earnestly at me. "Are you from Glasgow, young un?"
I said I was.
"Did you ever see me there?"
I shook my head, and said, to my cost I had.
How my friend Mr. Lancaster received this intimation of our former
acquaintance I must reserve for another number, as I must also do the
sequel of my adventures; for I have yet brought the reader but half
through the history of my chequered life.
BEING THE SEQUEL TO "DAVID LORIMER."
The reader will recollect that when he and I parted, at the conclusion
of the last number, I had just intimated to Mr. Lancaster my conviction
of our having had a previous acquaintance. Does the reader imagine that
that gentleman was in any way discomposed at this recognition on my
part, or at the way in which it was signified? that he felt ashamed or
abashed? The sequel will show whether he did or not.
On my replying to his inquiry whether I had ever seen him in Glasgow, by
shaking my head, and saying that I had to my cost, he burst into a loud
laugh, and, striking his thigh with as much exultation as if he had just
made one of the most amusing discoveries imaginable, exclaimed--
"All right. Here, my pals," turning to the other prisoners. "Here's a
queer concern. Isn't this the very flat, Dick," addressing one of their
number, "that I did so clean in Glasgow, and about whom I wrote you! The
fellow whom I met in the show."
"No! Possible!" exclaimed several voices, whose owners now crowded about
me with a delighted curiosity, and began bantering me in those slang
terms in which they could best express their witticisms.
I made no reply to either their insolences or their jokes; but,
maintaining an obstinate silence, took an early opportunity of
withdrawing to a remote part of the apartment. Nor did I--seeing how
idle it would be to say a word more on the subject of the robbery which
had been committed on me in Glasgow, as it would only subject me to
ridicule and abuse--ever afterwards open my lips to Lancaster on the
matter: neither did he to me, and there the affair ended; for, in a few
days after, he was removed, for what reason I know not, to another cell,
and I never saw him again.
Let me here retrograde for a moment. In alluding, in the preceding
number, to the various wild ideas that occurred to me after my
condemnation, on the subject of obtaining a reconsideration of my case,
I forgot to mention that of applying to the colonel of my regiment; but,
on reflection, this seemed as absurd as the others, seeing that I had
been little more than three weeks in the corps, and could therefore lay
claim to no character at the hands of any one belonging to it. I was
still a stranger amongst them. Besides, I found, from no interference
whatever having been made in my behalf, that I had been left entirely in
the hands of the civil law. Inquiries had no doubt been made into my
case by the commanding officer of my regiment, but with myself no direct
communication had taken place. My connection with the corps, therefore,
I took it for granted, was understood to be completely severed, and that
I was left to undergo the punishment the sentence of the civil law had
To resume. In about a week after the occurrence of the incident with
Lancaster above described, I was removed to the hulks, where I remained
for somewhat more than a month, when I was put on board a convict ship,
about to sail for New South Wales, along with a number of other
convicts, male and female; none of them, I hope, so undeserving their
fate as I was.
All this time I had submitted patiently to my destiny, seeing it was
now inevitable, and said nothing to any one of my innocence; for, in the
first place, I found that every one of my companions in misfortune were,
according to their own accounts, equally innocent, and, in the next,
that nobody believed them.
It was in the evening we were embarked on board the convict ship; with
the next tide we dropped down the river; and, ere the sun of the
following day had many hours risen, found ourselves fairly at sea.
For upwards of three weeks we pursued our course prosperously, nothing
in that time occurring of the smallest consequence; and as the wind had
been all along favourable, our progress was so great, that many of us
began thinking of the termination of our voyage. These, however, were
rather premature reflections, as we had yet as many months to be at sea
as we had been weeks.
It was about the end of the period just alluded to, that as I was one
night restlessly tossing on my hard straw mattress, unable to sleep,
from having fallen into one of those painful and exciting trains of
thought that so frequently visit and so greatly add to the miseries of
the unfortunate, my ear suddenly caught the sounds of whispering.
Diverted from my reflections by the circumstance, I drew towards the
edge of my sleeping berth, and thrusting my head a little way out--the
place being quite dark--endeavoured, by listening attentively, to make
out who the speakers were, and what was the subject of their
conversation. The former, after a little time, I discovered to be three
of my fellow-convicts--one of them a desperate fellow, of the name of
Norcot, a native of Middlesex, who had been transported for a highway
robbery, and who had been eminently distinguished for superior dexterity
and daring in his infamous profession. The latter, however--namely, the
subject of their conversation--I could not make out; not so much from a
difficulty of overhearing what they said, as from the number of slang
words they employed. Their language was to me all but wholly
unintelligible; for although my undesired association with them had
enabled me to pick up a few of their words, I could make nothing of
their jargon when spoken colloquially.
Unable, therefore--although suspecting something wrong--to arrive at any
conclusion regarding the purpose or object of this midnight
conversation, I took no notice of it to any one, but determined on
watching narrowly the future proceedings of Norcot and his council.
On the following night the whispering was again repeated. I again
listened, but with nearly as little success as before. From what I did
make out, however, I was led to imagine that some attempt on the ship
was contemplated; and in this idea I was confirmed, when Norcot, on the
following day, taking advantage of a time when none of the seamen or
soldiers, who formed our guard, were near, slapped me on the shoulder
"Well, my pal, how goes it?"
Surprised at this sudden familiarity on the part of a man from whom I
had always most especially kept aloof, and who, I was aware, had marked
my shyness, as he had never before sought to exchange words with me, it
was some seconds before I could make him any answer. At length--
"If you mean as to my health," said I, "I am very well."
"Ay, ay; but I don't mean that," replied Norcot. "How do you like your
quarters, my man? How do you like this sort of life, eh?"
"Considering all circumstances, it's well enough; as well as ought
reasonably to be expected," said I, in a tone meant to discourage
farther conversation on the subject. But he was not to be so put off.
"Ay, in the meantime," said he; "but wait you till we get to New South
Wales; you'll see a difference then, my man, I'm thinking. You'll be
kept working, from sunrise till sunset, up to the middle in mud and
water, with a chain about your neck. You'll be locked up in a dungeon at
night, fed upon mouldy biscuit, and, on the slightest fault, or without
any fault at all, be flogged within an inch of your life with a
cat-o'-nine-tails. How will ye like that, eh?"
"_That_ I certainly should not like," I replied. "But I hope you're
exaggerating a little." I knew he was.
"Not a bit of it," said Norcot. "Come here, Knuckler;" and he motioned
to a fellow-convict to come towards him. "I've been telling this young
cove here what he may expect when we reach our journey's end, but he
won't believe me." Having repeated the description of convict life which
he had just given me--
"Now, Knuckler, isn't that the truth?" he said.
"True as gospel," exclaimed Knuckler, with a hideous oath; adding--"Ay,
and in some places they are still worse used."
"You hear that?" said Norcot. "I wasn't going to bamboozle you with any
nonsense, my lad. We're all in the same lag, you know, and must stick by
My soul revolted at this horrible association, but I took care to
conceal my feelings.
Norcot went on:--"Now, seeing what we have to expect when we get to
t'other side of the water, wouldn't he be a fool who wouldn't try to
escape it if he could, eh? Ay, although at the risk of his life?"
At this moment we were interrupted by a summons to the deck, it being
my turn, with that of several others, to enjoy the luxury of inhaling
the fresh sea breeze above. Norcot had thus only time to add, as I left
"I'll speak to you another time, my cove."
Having now no doubt that some mischief was hatching amongst the
convicts, and that the conversation that had just passed was intended at
once to sound my disposition and to incline me towards their projects, I
felt greatly at a loss what to do. That I should not join in their
enterprise, of whatsoever nature it might be, I at once determined. But
I felt that this was not enough, and that I was bound to give notice of
what I had seen and heard to those in command of the vessel, and that
without loss of time, as there was no saying how wild or atrocious might
be the scheme of these desperadoes, or how soon they might put it in
Becoming every moment more impressed with the conviction that this was
my duty, I separated myself as far as I could from my companions, and,
watching an opportunity, said, in a low tone, to the mate of the vessel,
whom a chance movement brought close to where I stood--
"Mischief going on. Could I have a moment's private speech of the
The man stared at me for an instant with a look of non-comprehension, as
I thought; and, without saying a word, he then resumed the little piece
of duty he had been engaged in when I interrupted him, and immediately
after went away, still without speaking, and indeed without taking any
further notice of me.
I now thought he had either not understood me, or was not disposed to
pay any attention to what I said. I was mistaken in my conjectures, and
in one of them did injustice to his intelligence.
A moment after he left me I saw the captain come out of the cabin, and
look hard at me for a second or two. I observed him then despatch the
steward towards me. On that person's approach--
"I say, my lad," he exclaimed, so as to be heard by the rest of the
convicts on deck, "can you wipe glasses and clean knives, eh? or brush
shoes, or anything of that kind?"
Not knowing his real purpose in thus addressing me, I said I had no
experience in that sort of employment, but would do the best I could.
"Oh, if you be willing," he said, "we'll soon make you able. I want a
hand just now; so come aft with me, and I'll find you work, and show you
how to do it too."
I followed him to the cabin; but I had not been there a minute when the
captain came down, and, taking me into a state room, said--
"Well, my lad, what's all this? You wanted a private word of me, and
hinted to the mate that you knew of some mischief going on amongst the
convicts. What is it?"
I told him of the secret whisperings at night I had overheard, and of
the discourse Norcot had held with me; mentioning, besides, several
expressions which I thought pointed to a secret conspiracy of some kind
The captain was of the same opinion, and after thanking me for my
information, and telling me that he would take care that the part I had
acted should operate to my advantage on our arrival in the colony, he
desired me to take no notice of what had passed, but to mingle with my
associates as formerly, and to leave the whole matter to him.
To cover appearances, I was subsequently detained in the steward's room
for about a couple of hours, when I was sent back to my former quarters;
not, however, without having been well entertained by the steward, by
the captain's orders.
What intermediate steps the captain took I do not know, but on that
night Norcot and other ten of the most desperate of the convicts were
thrown into irons.
Subsequent inquiry discovered a deep-laid plot to surprise the guard,
seize their arms, murder the captain and crew and all who resisted, and
take possession of the ship.
Whether such a desperate attempt would have been successful or not, is
doubtful; but there is no question that a frightful scene of bloodshed
would have taken place; nor that, if the ruffians had managed well, and
judiciously timed their attack, they had some chance, and probably not a
small one, of prevailing.
As it was, however, the matter was knocked on the head; for not only
were the leaders of the conspiracy heavily ironed, but they were placed
in different parts of the ship, wholly apart, and thus could neither act
nor hold the slightest communication with each other.
Although the part I had acted in this affair did not operate in my
favour with the greater part of my fellow-convicts,--for,
notwithstanding all our caution, a strong suspicion prevailed amongst
them that I was the informer,--it secured me the marked favour of all
others on board the ship, and procured me many little indulgences which
would not otherwise have been permitted, and, generally, much milder
treatment than was extended to the others; and I confess I was not
without an idea that I deserved it.
On our arrival at Sydney, whither I now hurry the reader, nothing
subsequent to the incident just recorded having occurred in the
interval with which I need detain him, I was immediately assigned, with
several others, to a farmer, a recently arrived emigrant, who occupied a
grant of land of about a thousand acres in the neighbourhood of the town
Before leaving the ship, the captain added to his other kindnesses an
assurance that he would not fail to represent my case--meaning with
reference to the service I had done him in giving information of the
conspiracy amongst the convicts--to the governor, and that he had no
doubt of its having a favourable effect on my future fortunes, provided
I seconded it by my own good conduct.
The person to whom we had been assigned, an Englishman, being on the
spot waiting us, we were forthwith clapped into a covered waggon, and
driven off to our destination, our new master following us on horseback.
The work to which we were put on the farm was very laborious,
consisting, for several weeks, in clearing the land of trees; felling,
burning, and grubbing up the roots. But we were well fed, and, on the
whole, kindly treated in other respects; so that, although our toil was
severe, we had not much to complain of.
In this situation I remained for a year and a half, and had the
gratification of enjoying, during the greater part of that time, the
fullest confidence of my employer, whose good opinion I early won by my
orderly conduct, and--an unusual thing amongst convicts--by my attention
to his interests.
On leaving him, he gave me, unasked, a testimonial of character, written
in the strongest terms.
I was now again returned on the hands of Government, to await the demand
of some other settler for my services.
In the meantime I had heard nothing of the result of the captain's
representation in my behalf to the governor, but had no doubt I would
reap the benefit of it on the first occasion that I should have a favour
to ask. The first thing in this way that I had to look for was what is
called a ticket of leave; that is, a document conferring exemption for a
certain period from Government labour, and allowing the party possessing
it to employ himself in any lawful way he pleases, and for his own
advantage, during the time specified by the ticket. My sentence,
however, having been for fourteen years, I could not, in the ordinary
case, look for this indulgence till the expiration of six years, such
being the colonial regulations.
But imagining the good service I had done in the convict ship would
count for something, and probably induce the governor to shorten my term
of probation, I began now to think of applying for the indulgence. This
idea I shortly after acted upon, and drew up a memorial to the personage
just alluded to; saying nothing, however, of my innocence of the crime
for which I had been transported, knowing that, as such an assertion
would not be believed, it would do much more harm than good. In this
memorial, however, I enclosed the letter of recommendation given me by
my last master.
It was eight or ten days before I heard anything of my application. At
the end of that time, however, I received a very gracious answer. It
said that my "praiseworthy conduct" on board the ship in which I came to
the colony had been duly reported by the captain, and that it would be
remembered to my advantage; that, at the, expiry of my second year in
the colony, of which there were six months yet to run, a ticket of leave
would be granted me--thus abridging the period by four years; and that,
if I continued to behave as well as I had done, I might expect the
utmost indulgence that Government could extend to one in my situation.
With this communication, although it did not immediately grant the
prayer of my petition, I was much gratified, and prepared to submit
cheerfully to the six months' compulsory labour which were yet before
Shortly after this I was assigned to another settler, in the
neighbourhood of Paramatta. This was a different sort of person from the
last I had served, and, I am sorry to say, a countryman. His name I need
not give; for although the doing so could no longer affect him, he being
long dead, it might give pain to his relatives, several of whom are
alive both here and in New South Wales. This man was a tyrant, if ever
there was one, and possessed of all the passion and caprice of the worst
description of those who delight in lording it over their
fellow-creatures. There was not a week that he had not some of my
unhappy fellow-servants before a magistrate, often for the most trivial
faults--a word, a look--and had them flogged by sentence of the court,
by the scourger of the district, till the blood streamed from their
backs. Knowing how little consideration there is for the unhappy convict
in all cases of difference with his taskmaster, and that however unjust
or unreasonable the latter's complaints may be, they are always readily
entertained by the subordinate authorities, and carefully recorded
against the former to his prejudice, I took care to give him no offence.
To say nothing of his positive orders, I obeyed his every slightest wish
with a promptitude and alacrity that left him no shadow of ground to
complain of me. It was a difficult task; but it being for my interest
that no complaint of me, just or unjust, should be put on record
against me, I bore all with what I must call exemplary patience and
I have already said that my new master was a man of the most tyrannical
disposition--cruel, passionate, and vindictive. He was all this; and his
miserable fate--a fate which overtook him while I was in his
employment--was, in a great measure, the result of his ungovernable and
Some of the wretched natives of the country--perhaps the most miserable
beings on the face of the earth, as they are certainly the lowest in the
scale of intellect of all the savage tribes that wander on its
surface--used to come occasionally about our farm, in quest of a morsel
of food. Amongst these were frequently women with infants on their
backs. If my master was out of the way when any of these poor creatures
came about the house, his wife, who was a good sort of woman, used to
relieve them; and so did we, also, when we had anything in our power.
Their treatment, however, was very different when our master happened to
be at home. The moment he saw any of these poor blacks approaching, he
used to run into the house for his rifle, and on several occasions fired
at and wounded the unoffending wretches. At other times he hounded his
dogs after them, himself pursuing and hallooing with as much excitement
as if he had been engaged in the chase of some wild beasts instead of
human beings--beings as distinctly impressed as himself with the image
of his God.
It is true that these poor creatures were mischievous sometimes, and
that they would readily steal any article to which they took a fancy.
But in beings so utterly ignorant, and so destitute of all moral
perceptions, such offences could hardly be considered as criminal; not
one, at any rate, deserving of wounds and death at the caprice of a
fellow-creature acting on his own impulses, unchecked by any legal or
judicial control. Besides, it were easy to prevent the depredations of
these poor creatures--easy to drive them off without having recourse to
The humanity and forbearance, however, which such a mode of proceeding
with the aborigines would require was not to be found in my master.
Fierce repulsion and retaliation were the only means he would have
recourse to in his mode of treating them; and the consequence was, his
inspiring the natives with a hatred of him, and a desire of vengeance
for his manifold cruelties towards them, which was sure, sooner or
later, to end in his destruction. It did so. One deed of surpassing
cruelty which he perpetrated accomplished his fate.
One day, seeing two or three natives, amongst whom was a woman with a
young infant on her back, passing within a short distance of the house,
not approaching it--for he was now so much dreaded by these poor
creatures that few came to the door--my master, as usual, ran in for his
rifle, and calling his dogs around him, gave chase to the party.
The men being unencumbered, fled on seeing him, and being remarkably
swift of foot, were soon out of his reach. Not so the poor woman with
the child on her back: she could not escape; and at her the savage
ruffian fired, killing both her and the infant with the same murderous
This double murder was of so unprovoked, so cold-blooded, and atrocious
a nature, that it is probable, little as the life of a native was
accounted in those days, that my master would have been called upon to
answer for his crime before the tribunals of the colony; but retribution
overtook him by another and a speedier course.
On the following day my master came out of the house, about ten o'clock
in the forenoon, with an axe in one hand, and the fatal rifle, his
constant companion, with which he had perpetrated the atrocious deed on
the preceding day, in the other, and coming up to me, told me that he
was going to a certain spot in an adjoining wood to cut some timber for
paling, and that he desired I should come to him two hours after with
one of the cars or sledges in use on the farm, to carry home the cut
wood. Having said this, he went off, little dreaming of the fate that
At the time appointed I went with a horse and sledge to the wood, but
was much surprised to find that my master was not at the spot where he
said he would be;--a surprise which was not a little increased by
perceiving, from two or three felled sticks that lay around, that he had
been there, but had done little--so little, that he could not have been
occupied, as I calculated, for more than a quarter of an hour. Thinking,
however, that wherever he had gone he would speedily return, I sat down
to await him; but he came not. An entire hour elapsed, and still he did
not make his appearance. Beginning now to suspect that some accident had
happened him, I hurried home to inquire if they had seen or heard
anything of him there. They had not. His family became much alarmed for
his safety--a feeling in which my conscience forbids me to say that I
Two of my fellow-servants now accompanied me back to the wood, which it
was proposed we should search. This, so soon as we had reached the spot
where my master had appointed to meet me, and where, as already
mentioned, he had evidently been, we began to do, whooping and hallooing
at the same time to attract his attention should he be anywhere within
For a long while our searching and shouting were vain. At length one of
my companions, who had entered a tangled patch of underwood which we had
not before thought of looking, suddenly uttered a cry of horror. We ran
up to him, and found him gazing on the dead body of our master, who lay
on his face, transfixed by a native spear, which still stood upright in
his back. It was one of those spears which the aborigines of New South
Wales use, on occasion, as missiles, and which they throw with an
astonishing force and precision.
Such, then, was the end of this cruel man; and that it exceeded his
deserts can hardly be maintained.
Luckily for me, my period of service with my late master was at this
time about out. A few days more, and I became entitled to my ticket of
leave. For this indulgence I applied when the time came, and it was
immediately granted me for one year. On obtaining my ticket I proceeded
to Sydney, as the most likely place to fall in with some employment. On
this subject, however, I felt much at a loss; for not having been bred
to any mechanical trade, I could do nothing in that way. Farming was the
only business of which I knew anything; and in this, my father having
been an excellent farmer, I was pretty well skilled. My hope, therefore,
was, that I would find some situation as a farm overseer, and thought
Sydney, although a town, the likeliest place to fall in with or hear of
an employer. On arriving in Sydney, I proceeded to the house of a
countryman of the name of Lawson, who kept a tavern, and to whom I
brought a letter of introduction from a relative of his own who had been
banished for sedition, and who was one of my fellow-labourers in the
last place where I had served. On reading the letter, Lawson, who was a
kind-hearted man, exclaimed--
"Puir Jamie, puir fallow; and hoo is he standin't oot?"
I assured him that he was bearing his fate manfully, but that he had
been in the service of a remorseless master.
"Ay, I ken him," said Lawson. "A man that's no gude to his ain canna be
gude to ithers."
"You must speak of him now, however, in the past tense," said I.
"Mr.----- is dead."
"Dead!" exclaimed Lawson, with much surprise. "When did he die?"
I told him, and also of the manner of his death.
"Weel, that is shockin'," he remarked; "but, upon my word, better
couldna hae happened him, for he was a cruel-hearted man." Then,
reverting to his relative, "Puir Jamie," he said; "but I think we'll
manage to get Jamie oot o' his scrape by-and-by. I hae gude interest wi'
the governor, through a certain acquaintance, and houpe to be able to
get him a free pardon in a whily. But he maun just submit a wee in the
"But anent yoursel, my man," continued Lawson, "what can I do for ye?
Jamie, here, speaks in the highest terms o' ye, and begs me to do what I
can for ye; and that I'll willingly do on his account. What war' ye bred
I told him that I had been bred to the farming business, and that I
should like to get employment as a farm overseer or upper servant, to
engage for a year.
"Ay, just noo, just noo," said honest Lawson. "Weel, I'll tell you what
it is, and it's sae far lucky: there was a decent, respectable-looking
man here the day, a countryman o' our ain--and I believe he'll sleep
here the nicht--wha was inquirin' if I kent o' ony decent, steady lad
who had been brocht up in the farmin' line. I kenna hoo they ca' the
man, but he has been in my house, noo, twa or three times. He's only twa
or three months arrived in the colony, and is settled somewhere in the
neighbourhood o' Liverpool--our Liverpool, ye ken, no the English
Liverpool. He seems to be in respectable circumstances. Noo, if he comes
to sleep here the nicht, as I hae nae doot he will, seein' there's nae
coach for Liverpool till the morn's mornin'--I'll mention you till him,
and maybe ye may mak a bargain."
I thanked Lawson for his kindness, and was about leaving the house, with
a promise to call back in the evening, when he stopped me, and insisted
on my taking some refreshment. This, which consisted of some cold roast
fowl and a glass of brandy and water, I readily accepted. When I had
partaken of his hospitality I left the house, repeating my promise to
call again in the evening. The interval, knowing nobody in Sydney, I
spent in sauntering about the town.
On the approach of evening, I again returned to Lawson's. He was
standing in the doorway when I came forward.
"Come awa, lad," he said, with a glad face, on seeing me. "Your frien's
here, and I hae been speakin' to him aboot ye, and he seems inclined to
treat wi' you. But he's takin' a bit chack o' dinner 'enoo, sae we'll
let him alane for twa or three minutes. Stap ye awa in there to the bar,
in the meanwhile, and I'll let him ken in a wee that ye're here."
I did so. In about ten minutes after, Lawson came to me, and said the
gentleman up stairs would be glad to see me. I rose and followed him.
We entered the room, the worthy landlord leading the way. The stranger,
with his elbow resting on the table, was leaning his head thoughtfully
on his hand when we entered. He gazed at me for an instant wildly; he
sprang from his chair; he clasped me in his arms. I returned the
embrace. Reader, it was my own father!
"Davie, my son," he exclaimed, so soon as his surprise and emotion would
permit him to speak, "how, in the name of all that's wonderful, has this
come about? Where are you from? how came you here? and where on earth
have you been all this weary time, since you left us?"
It was several minutes before I could make any reply. At length--
"I have much to tell you, father," I said, glancing at the same time
towards Lawson, who stood with open mouth and staring eyes, lost in
wonder at the extraordinary scene, which he yet could not fully
Understanding, however, the hint conveyed in that look, the worthy man
instantly quitted the apartment, leaving us to ourselves. On his doing
so, I sat down at table with my father, and related to him the whole
history of my misfortunes, without reserve or extenuation.
The narrative grieved and distressed him beyond measure; for, until I
told him, he had no idea I stood before him a convicted felon; his first
impression naturally being that I had come to the colony of my own free
Unlike all others, however, he, my poor father, believed implicitly my
assertions of entire innocence of the crime for which I had been
transported. But he felt bitterly for the degrading situation in which I
stood, and from which neither my own conscious innocence nor his
convictions, he was but too sensible, could rescue me in so far as
regarded the opinion of the world.
Having told my father my story, he told me his. It was simply this--the
story of hundreds, thousands. Tempted by the favourable accounts he had
heard and read of Australia, he had come to the resolution of
emigrating; had, with this view, sold off at home; and here he was. He
added that he had obtained a grant of land, of about 500 acres, in the
neighbourhood of Liverpool, on very favourable terms; that although he
had not found everything quite so suitable or so well-ordered as he had
expected, he had no doubt of being able to do very well when once he
should have got matters put in proper train. He said he had already got
a very good house erected on the farm, and that although their situation
for the first two or three months was bad enough, they were now pretty
comfortable; and he hoped that, with my assistance--seeing, as he
interpolated with a faint smile, I had just cast up in the nick of
time--they would soon make things still better.
"Your poor mother, Davie," continued my father, recurring to a subject
which we had already discussed--for my first inquiries had been after
that dear parent, who, I was delighted to learn, was in perfect good
health, although sunk in spirits in consequence of long mental suffering
on my account,--"Your poor mother, Davie," he said, "will go distracted
with joy at the sight of you. Her thoughts by day, her dreams by night,
have been of you, Davie. But," he added, seeing the tears streaming down
my cheeks, "I will not distress you by dwelling on the misery you have
occasioned her. It's all over now, I trust, and you will compensate for
the past. Neither will I say a word as to the folly of your conduct in
flying your father's house as you did. You have paid dearly for that
false step; and God forbid, my son, that I, your father, should add to
the punishment. You are, I perceive, too sensible of the folly to render
it necessary. So, of that no more."
Of that folly I was indeed sensible--bitterly sensible; and could not
listen to the calm, rational, and kind language of my father, without
looking back with amazement at the stupidity of my conduct. It now
seemed to me to have been the result of utter insanity--madness. I could
neither recall nor comprehend the motives and impulses under which I had
acted; and could only see the act itself standing forth in naked,
inexplicable absurdity. Recurring again to the circumstances which had
led to my present unhappy position, and which were always floating
uppermost in my father's mind--
"That scoundrel, Digby," he said, "must have been at the bottom of the
mischief, Davie. It must have been he who put the spoon into your
pocket. What a fiendish contrivance!"
"I have always thought so, father," I replied; "and on my trial ventured
to hint it, as I also did to the turnkeys and jailers; but although none
said so directly, I saw very clearly that all considered it as a
ridiculous invention--a clumsy way of accounting for a very plain fact."
My father now proposed that I should start with him on the following
morning, per coach, for Liverpool, from which his farm was distant an
easy walk of some six or seven miles. On the following morning,
accordingly, after having duly acknowledged our worthy host's kindness,
we took our seats on the outside of the coach, and were soon whirling it
away merrily toward our destination.
During our journey, it gave both my father and I much painful thought
how we should break the matter of my unhappy position to my mother. It
would be death to her to learn it. At first we thought of concealing the
circumstances altogether; but the chances of her hearing it from others,
or making the discovery herself when she was unprepared for it, through
a hundred different means, finally determined us on communicating the
unpleasant intelligence ourselves; that is, my father undertook the
disagreeable task, meaning, however, to choose time and circumstance,
and to allow a day or two to elapse before he alluded to it.
Having arrived at Liverpool, we started on foot for my father's farm.
Should I attempt it, I would not find it easy to describe what were my
feelings at this moment, arising from the prospect of so soon beholding
that dear parent, whose image had ever been present to my mind, whose
kind tones were ever sounding in my ears like some heart-stirring and
well-remembered melody. They were overpowering. But when my father,
after we had walked for about an hour, raised his stick, and, pointing
to a neat farm-steading on the slope of a hill, and on the skirt of a
dense mountain forest that rose high behind it, said, "There's the
house, Davie," I thought I should have sunk on the ground. I had never
felt so agitated, excepting in that unhappy hour when I stood at the bar
of the Old Bailey, and heard sentence of transportation awarded against
me. But I compare the feelings on these two occasions only as regards
their intensity: in nature they were very different indeed. On the
former, they were those of excruciating agony; on the latter, those of
excessive joy. As we approached the house, I descried one at the door.
It was a female figure. It was my mother. I gasped for breath. I flew
over the ground. I felt it not beneath my feet. I would not be
restrained by my father, who kept calling to me. My mother fixed her
gaze on me, wondering at my excited manner--wondering who I could be;
all unconscious, as I could perceive by her vacant though earnest look,
that I was her son--- the darling of her heart. But a mother's eye is
quick. Another moment, and a shriek of wild joy and surprise announced
that I was recognised; in the next, we were in each other's arms, wrapt
in a speechless agony of bliss!
My father, whom I had left a long way behind, came up to us while we
were locked together in this silent embrace, and stood by us for a few
seconds without speaking a word, then passed quietly into the house,
leaving us to ourselves.
"My son, my son!" exclaimed my mother, so soon as the fulness of her
feelings would allow of utterance, "you have been cruel, cruel to your
mother. But I will not upbraid you. In seeing you again--in clasping you
once more to my bosom--I am repaid a thousandfold for all you have made
With what further passed between us, I need not detain the reader.
The tender expressions of a mother and son meeting under such
circumstances as we met, being the language of nature, the embodiment of
feelings which all ran conceive, there is no occasion for dilating on
them in my particular case. I pass on to other things of more general,
or at least more uncommon interest.
The first day of my arrival at my father's farm was passed entirely
within doors in social communion, and in bringing up that arrear of
interchange in thought and feeling which our separation for so long a
period had created.
On the following day I commenced work with my father; and although I
had done my duty faithfully by both the masters I had served since I
came to New South Wales, I soon found the difference between compulsory
and voluntary labour.
In the former case I certainly wrought diligently, but as certainly not
cheerfully. There was an absence of spirit that quickly gave rise to
listlessness and fatigue, and that left the physical energies weak and
languid, in the latter case, it was far otherwise. Toil as I might, I
felt no diminution of strength. I went from task to task, some of them
far harder than any I had yet encountered, with unabated vigour, and
accomplished with ease double the work I ever could get through with
when in bondage.
The joint labours of my father and myself, assisted occasionally by
hired service--for he could not endure the idea of having convicts about
him--soon put a new and promising face on the farm.
We cleared, we drained, we enclosed, and we sowed and planted, until we
left ourselves comparatively little to do--I mean in the way of hard
labour--but to await the returns of our industry.
It was some time after we had got things into this state--that is, I
think about three months after I had joined my father--that the latter
received intelligence of a band of bushmen or bushrangers having been
seen in the neighbourhood. He was assured that they were skulking in the
adjoining forest, and that we might every night expect our house to be
attacked, robbed, and ourselves, in all probability, murdered.
This information threw us into a most dreadful state of alarm; these
bushrangers, as the reader probably knows, being runaway convicts, men
of the most desperate characters, who take to the woods, and subsist by
plundering the settlers--a crime to which they do not hesitate to add
murder--many instances of fearful atrocities of this kind having
For some time we were quite at a loss what to do; for although we had
firearms and ammunition in the house, there were only four men of us--my
father, myself, and two servant lads--while the bushrangers, as we had
been told, were at least ten or twelve in number. To have thought then
of repelling them by force, was out of the question; it could only have
ended in the murder of us all.
Under these circumstances, my father determined on applying to the
authorities for constabulary or military protection; and with this view
went to Liverpool, where the district magistrate resided.
On stating the case to the latter, he at once gave my father a note to
the commanding officer of the garrison, enjoining him to send a small
party of military along with him,--these to remain with us for our
protection as long as circumstances should render it necessary, and, in
the meanwhile, to employ themselves in scouring the adjoining woods,
with a view to the apprehension of the bushrangers, and to fire on them
without hesitation in all cases where they could not be captured.
The result was, that a party of twelve men, commanded by a sergeant,
were immediately turned out, and marched off with my father.
I was sitting on an eminence close by the house, and which commanded a
view of the road leading to and from Liverpool, looking out for my
father's return, when the party came in sight.
As they neared, I recognised the men, from certain particulars in their
uniform, a party of the--th, the regiment into which I had enlisted.
The circumstance excited some curious feelings, and awakened a train of
not very pleasing reflections.
I had never dreamt of meeting any of the corps in so distant a part of
the world; yet there was nothing more likely or more natural, a large
military force being always kept in New South Wales, and frequently
I felt, however, no uneasiness on the subject, thinking that it was not
at all probable, seeing the very short time I had been in the regiment,
and the constant accession of new men it was receiving, I should be
recognised by any of the party.
In the meantime, the party were rapidly approaching me, and were now so
near, that I could perceive the sergeant to be a tall and handsome young
man of about two or three and twenty. Little did I yet dream who this
sergeant was. I descended to meet them. We came up to each other. The
sergeant started on seeing me, and looked at me with a grave surprise
and fixed gaze. I did precisely the same by him. We advanced towards
each other with smiling faces and extended arms. "Lorimer!" exclaimed
the sergeant. "Lindsay!" I replied. It was indeed Lindsay, my old
comrade, promoted to a sergeantcy.
Our mutual astonishment and satisfaction at this extraordinary and
unexpected meeting was, I need not say, very great, although I certainly
thought I perceived a certain dryness and want of cordiality in
Lindsay's manner towards me. But for this I made every allowance,
believing it to proceed from a doubt of my innocence, if not a
conviction of my guilt, in the matter for which I had been transported.
He in short, it seemed to me, could not forget that, in speaking to me,
although an old comrade, he was speaking to a convicted felon. However,
notwithstanding this feeling on his part, we talked freely of old
stories; and as we were apart from the men, I did not hesitate, amongst
other things, to allude to my misfortune, nor to charge the blame of it
"Well," said the sergeant, in reply to my remarks on this subject,
"since you have mentioned the matter yourself, Lorimer, I am glad to
hear you say so--that is, to hear you say that you are innocent of that
rascally business; for, putting your assertions, so solemnly made, to
what my wife says--for she has some queer stories of that fellow
Digby--I have no doubt now of your innocence."
"Your wife!" exclaimed I in some amazement. "In the first place, then,
you are married; in the next, how on earth, if I may ask, should she
know anything of Digby?"
"Why, man, Susan Blaikie is my wife," replied the sergeant, laughing;
"and she's not, I take it, half a dozen miles from us at this moment. I
left her safe and sound in my quarters in Liverpool not two hours ago;
and right glad will she be to see you, when you can make it convenient
to give us a call. But of that we will speak more hereafter."
Like two or three other things recorded in this little history, this
information gave me much surprise, but, like few of them, much
gratification also; as I had feared the worst for poor Susan, seeing
that she had been discharged from her situation, as I had no doubt
without a character, probably under a suspicion of being concerned with
me in the alleged robbery.
By the time I had expressed the surprise and satisfaction which Sergeant
Lindsay's communication had given me, we had reached the house, when all
conversation between us of a private nature ceased for the time.
The first business now was to set some refreshment before the men. This
was quickly done; the sergeant, my father, and I taking care of
ourselves in a similar way in another apartment. The next was to take
the immediate matter in hand into consideration. Accordingly, we three
formed ourselves into a council of war, and, after some deliberation,
came to the following resolutions:--That we should, soldiers and all,
keep closely within doors during the remainder of the afternoon; and
that as it was more than probable the bushmen would make their attack
that very night, and as it was likely they would know nothing of the
military being in the house, seeing that they always kept at a distance
during the day, or lay concealed in hidden places, we should take them
by surprise; that, for this purpose, we should remain up all night, and
place ourselves, with loaded arms, by the windows, and in such other
situations as would enable us to see them approaching, without being
seen by them.
Having determined on this plan of operations, we resumed our
conversation on indifferent matters, and thus spent the time till it was
pretty far on in the night, when Lindsay suggested that it was full time
the men were distributed in the positions we intended them to occupy.
Two were accordingly placed at each window of both the back and front of
the house, the sergeant and I occupying one,--he with one of our
muskets, and I with a rifle. It was a bright moonlight night; so that,
as the vicinity of the house was completely cleared around, to the
distance of at least 200 yards on every side, no one could approach it
without being seen; although they could remain long enough invisible,
and in safety, in the dense wood beyond, and by which the house was
surrounded on all sides but one.
The sergeant and I had thus sat for, I think, about an hour and a half,
looking intently towards the dark forest beyond the cleared ground,
when we thought we saw several small, dark objects flitting about the
skirts of the wood; but whether they were kangaroos or men, we could not
Keeping our eyes fixed steadily on them, however, we by-and-by saw them
unite, and could distinctly make out that they were approaching the
house in a body. Soon they came sufficiently near to enable us to
discern that it was a party of men, to the number of about eight or ten.
There might be more, but certainly no fewer. We could now also see that
they were armed--at least a part of them--with muskets.
Satisfied that they were the much dreaded bushrangers, of whose vicinity
we had been apprised, the sergeant hastily left the window at which he
and I had been seated, and, stealing with soft and cautious steps
through the house, visited each of his posts to see that the men were on
the alert. To each he whispered instructions to put their pieces on
cock, to go down on their knees at the window, and to rest the muzzles
of their muskets on the sill, but not project them out more than two or
three inches. He concluded by telling them not to fire a shot until they
heard the report of his musket; that then they were to pepper away as
hard as they could pelt, taking, however, a sure and steady aim at every
In the meantime the bushmen, whose advance had been, and still was, very
slow and cautious, as if they dreaded an ambuscade, had approached to
within seventy yards of the house. Thinking them yet too distant to make
sure of them, we allowed them to come nearer. They did so; but they had
now assumed a stealthy step, walking lightly, as if they feared that
their footfalls should be heard. They were led on by one of their
number; at least there was one man considerably in advance of his
fellows. He was armed with a sword, as we saw it flashing in the
The party, handling their guns in readiness to fire, on the slightest
alarm, at any living object that might present itself, were now within
thirty or forty yards of the house, and had halted to reconnoitre; when
the sergeant, who had been on his knees for several minutes before, with
his piece at his eye, said softly, "Now," and fired. Whether he had
aimed at the foremost man of the gang, I do not know; but if so, he had
missed him, for he still stood firm. At this person, however, I now
levelled, fired, and down he came. In the next instant the shots were
rapping thick and fast from the different windows of the house.
The bushrangers, taken by surprise, paused for an instant, returned two
or three straggling shots, and then fled in the utmost consternation and
disorder. We kept pelting after them for a few minutes, and then,
quitting the house, gave them chase, with a whooping and hallooing that
must have added in no small degree to their terror. In this chase we
overtook two that had been severely wounded, and came upon a third near
the skirt of the wood, who, after running so far, had dropped down dead.
The others, who had fled, some of whom, we had no doubt, were also
wounded, escaped by getting into the forest, where it was no use looking
for them. The two wounded men we made prisoners, and carried back to the
house. As we were returning, we came upon the man whom I had brought
down. Being extended motionless on the ground at full length, we thought
him dead, and were about to pass on, intending to leave him where he lay
till the morning, when I thought I heard him breathing. I knelt down
beside him, looked narrowly into his face, and found that he was still
living. On discovering this, we had the unfortunate man carried to the
house; and having placed him on a mattress, staunched the bleeding of
his wound, which was on the right breast, and administered a little
brandy and water, which almost immediately revived him. He opened his
eyes, began to breathe more freely, and in a short time was so far
recovered as to be able to speak, although with difficulty.
The excitement of the fray over, if the late affair could be so called,
my heart bled within me for the unhappy wretch who had been reduced by
my hand to the deplorable condition in which he now lay before me. My
conscience rose up against me, and would not be laid by any suggestions
of the necessity that prompted the deed. In my anxiety to make what
reparation I could for what now seemed to me my cruelty, I sat by the
miserable sufferer, ready and eager to supply any want he might express,
and to administer what comfort I could do him in his dying moments; for
that he was dying, notwithstanding the temporary revival alluded to, was
but too evident from his ghastly look and rapidly glazing eye.
It was while I thus sat by the unhappy man, and while silently
contemplating his pallid countenance, by the faint light of a lamp that
hung against the wall of the apartment, that I suddenly thought I
perceived in that countenance some traces of features that I had seen
before. Whose they were, or where I had seen them, I did not at first
recollect. But the idea having once presented itself, I kept hunting it
through all the recesses of my memory. At length Digby occurred to me.
But no, Digby it could not be. Impossible.
I looked on the countenance of the sufferer again. It was slightly
distorted with pain, and all trace of the resemblance I had fancied was
gone. An interval of ease succeeded. The real or imagined resemblance
returned. Again I lost sight of it, and again I caught it; for it was
only in some points of view I could detect it at all. At length, after
marking for some time longer, with intense interest, the features of the
sufferer, my conviction becoming every moment stronger and stronger, and
my agitation in consequence extreme, I bent my head close to the dying
man, and, taking his cold and clammy hand in mine, asked him, in a
whisper, if his name was not Digby. His eyes were closed at the moment,
but I saw he was not sleeping. On my putting the question, he opened
them wide, and stared wildly upon me, but without saying a word. He
seemed to be endeavouring to recognise me, but apparently in vain. I
repeated the question. This time he answered. Still gazing earnestly at
me, he said, and it was all he did say, "It is."
"Don't you know me?" I inquired.
He shook his head.
"My name is Lorimer," said I.
"Thank God," he exclaimed solemnly. "For one, at least, of my crimes it
is permitted me to make some reparation. Haste, haste, get witnesses and
hear my dying declaration. There's no time to lose, for I feel I am fast
Without a moment's delay--- for I felt the importance of obtaining the
declaration, which I had no doubt would establish my innocence--I ran
for my father and Sergeant Lindsay, and, to make assurance doubly sure,
brought two of the privates also along with me. It was a striking scene
of retributive justice,
On our entering the apartment where Digby lay, the wretched man raised
himself upon his elbow. I ran and placed two pillows beneath him to
support him. He thanked me. Then raising his hand impressively, and
directing it towards me--
"That young man there," he said, "David Lorimer, is, as I declare on
the word of a dying man, innocent of the crime for which he was banished
to this country. I, and no other, am the guilty person. It was I who
robbed my master, Mr. Wallscourt, of the silver plate for which this
young man was blamed; and it was I who put the silver spoon in his
pocket, in order to substantiate the charge I subsequently brought
against him, and in which I was but too successful."
He then added, that in case his declaration should not be deemed
sufficient to clear me of the guilt imputed to me, we should endeavour
to find out a person of the name of Nareby--Thomas Nareby--who, he said,
was in the colony under sentence of transportation for life for
housebreaking; and that this person, who had been, at the time of the
robbery for which I suffered, a receiver of stolen goods, and with whom
he, Digby, had deposited Mr. Wallscourt's plate, would acknowledge--at
least he hoped so--this transaction, and thus add to the weight of his
dying testimony to my innocence.
Digby having concluded, I immediately committed what he had just said to
writing, and having read it over to him, obtained his approval of it. He
then, of his own accord, offered to subscribe the declaration, and with
some difficulty accomplished the task. The signature was hardly legible,
but it was quite sufficient when attested, as it was, by the signatures
of all present excepting myself. Exhausted with the effort he had made,
Digby now sank back on his pillow, and in less than three minutes after
We now learned from the unhappy man's two wounded companions, who, the
reader will recollect, were our prisoners, that, soon after my trial and
condemnation, he, Digby, had left Mr. Wallscourt's service, not under
any suspicion of the robbery of the plate, but with no very good
general character; that he had the betaken himself entirely to live with
the abandoned characters whose acquaintance he had formed, and to
subsist by swindling and robbery; that he had proceeded from crime to
crime, until he at length fell into the hands of justice; and his
banishment to the colony where he had arrived about six months before,
was the result; that he had not been more than a month in the country
when he and several other convicts ran away from the master to whom they
had been assigned, and took to the bush. Such was the brief but dismal
history of this wretched man.
On the following day we buried his remains in a lonely spot in the
forest, at the distance of about half a mile from the house, and
thereafter proceeded with our prisoners to Liverpool. On arriving there,
I accompanied my father to the magistrate on whom he had waited on a
former occasion, and having stated to this gentleman the extraordinary
circumstance which had taken place--meaning Digby's declaration--he
advised an immediate application to the governor, setting forth the
circumstances of the case. This I lost no time in doing, enclosing
within my memorial Digby's attested declaration, and pointing out Nareby
as a person likely to confirm its tenor. The singularity and apparent
hardship of the case, combined with the favourable knowledge of me
previously existing, attracted the attention of the governor in a
special manner, and excited in him so lively an interest, that he
instantly had Nareby subjected to a judicial examination, the result of
which was a full admission on the part of that person of the transaction
to which Digby alluded.
Satisfied now of my innocence, and of the injustice which had been
unwittingly done me, the governor not only immediately transmitted me a
full and free pardon but offered me, by way of compensation, a
lucrative government appointment. This appointment I accepted, and held
for thirty years, I trust with credit to myself, and satisfaction to my
superiors. At the end of this period, feeling my health giving way, my
father and mother having both, in the meantime, died, and having all
that time scraped together a competency, I returned to my native land,
and have written these little memoirs in one of the pleasantest little
retirements on the banks of the Tweed.
I have only now to add, that I had frequent opportunities of seeing both
Lindsay and his wife after the establishment of my innocence, and that
no persons would more sincerely rejoice in that event than they did. My
poor mother, whom my father had made aware of my situation soon after my
arrival, and who had borne the intelligence much better than we
expected, it put nearly distracted with joy.
"My puir laddie," she exclaimed, "I aye kent to be innocent. But noo the
world 'll ken it too, and I can die happy."
THE AMATEUR ROBBERY.
If there is anything more than another of which civilisation has reason
to be proud, it is the amelioration that has been effected in punishment
for crimes. Nor is it yet very long since we began to get quit of the
shame of our folly and inhumanity, if we have not traces of these yet,
coming out like sympathetic ink dried by the choler of self-perfection
and a false philosophy, as in such writings as the latter-day pamphlets.
How a man who loves his species, and has a heart, will hang his head
abashed as he turns his vision back no further than the sixteenth
century, and sees the writhing creatures--often aged unhappy
women--under the pilniewinkies, caschielaws, turkases, thumbikens, and
other instruments of torture, frantically bursting out with the demanded
confession that was to fit them for the stake or the rope! And even
after these things in the curiosity shop of Nemesis were got rid of, the
abettors of the law rushed with full swing into the operation of
hanging, scarcely allowing a crime to escape, from cold-blooded murder
down to the act of the famished wretch who snatched a roll from a
baker's basket. However insensible these strange lawgivers may have been
to so much cruelty, however blind to the perversity, prejudices, and
weaknesses incident to human testimony, however ignorant of the total
inefficacy of their remedy to deter from crime, one might have imagined
that they could not but have known, if they ever looked inwardly into
their own hearts, how obscure are human motives, and especially those
that instigate to breaches of the law; and yet their consistent rule
was, to make the _corpus delicti_ prove the intention. These
considerations have been suggested to me by the recollection of a wild
adventure of some young men in Edinburgh, the circumstances of which,
not belonging to fiction, will show better than a learned dissertation
how easy it was for these Dracos to catch the fact and miss the motive.
The skeleton names--now, alas! the only representatives of skeleton
bodies--Andrew W----pe, Henry S----k, and Charles S----th, may recall to
the memory of some people in Edinburgh still, three young men, who, with
good education, fair talents, and graces from nature, might have played
a respectable _role_ in the drama of life, had it not been for a
tendency to "fastness," a disease which seems to increase with
civilisation. In their instance the old adage of Aristotle, _simile
gaudet simili_, was exemplified to the letter; and the union confirmed
in each a mind which, originally impatient of authority, fretted itself
against the frame of society, simply because that frame was the result
of order. They were never happy except when they went up to the
palisades, struck upon them with their lath-blades, and when some
orderly indweller looked over atop, ran away laughing. No doubt they had
strong passions to gratify too; but, as is usual with this peculiar race
of beings, the gratification was the keener the more it owed to a
rebellion against decorum. If they ever differed, it was only in their
rivalry of success; or when they did not go a spree-hunting together,
they recounted their exploits at their nightly meetings, and then the
result was an increase of moral inflammation.
Sometimes, for a change, they would take strolls into the country, where
they could extract as tribute the admiration or wrath of clodhoppers
without being troubled with any fears of the police; not that on any of
these occasions they perpetrated any great infringements on the law,
for, like the rest of their kind, if they could make themselves objects
of observation, they were regardless whether their bizarreries were paid
with admiration or only anger or fear, though, if they could produce by
any means a causeless panic, the very height of their ambition was
attained. In regard to this last effect of their escapades, they were,
in the instance I am about to record, more than satisfied. They had
gone, on a fine, clear, winter day, along the coast of the Firth of
Forth towards Cramond; and, to diversify their amusements, they took
with them a gun, which was carried by S----th, with the intention of
having a shot at any wild bird or barn-door fowl that might come
conveniently within his range. Of this kind of game they had fewer
chances, and the stroll would doubtless have appeared a very monotonous
affair to a person fond of rational conversation. Nor was there much
even to themselves of diversification till they got into a small
change-house at Davidson's Mains, where, with a rampant authority, they
contrived to get served up to them a kind of dinner, intending to make
up for the want of better edibles by potations of whisky toddy.
If facts, as Quinctilian says, are the bones of conversation, opinions
are certainly its sinews; and we might add, that whisky toddy is its
nervous fluid. These youths, though unwilling to acquire solid
information, could wrangle even to quarrelling; but such were their
affinities, that they adhered again in a short time, and were as firm
friends as ever. They had raised a subject--no other than the question
whether highwaymen are necessarily or generally possessed of true
courage. Very absurd, no doubt, but as good for a wrangle as any other
that can be divided into affirmative and negative by the refracting
medium of feeling or prejudice. S----th declared them all to be cowards.
"What say you to Cartouche?" said S----k; "was he a coward?"
"Not sure but he was," said S----th; "he kept a band of blackguards and
received their pay, but he was seldom seen in the wild _melee_ himself.
He was fond of the name of terror he bore; but then, as he listened to
the wonderful things the Parisian _blanchisseuses_ and _chiffonniers_
and _gamins_ said of him, he knew he was not recognisable, for the very
reason that he kept out of sight."
"Oh yes," said W----pe, who joined S----k; "and so he was like Wallace,
who kept out of the sight of the English, and yet delighted in Dundee to
hear himself spoken of by the crowds who collected in these troublesome
times to discuss public affairs. S----th, you know Wallace was a coward,
"A thorough poltroon," cried S----th, laughing; "ay, and all the people
in Scotland are wrong about him. Didn't he run off, after stabbing the
governor's son? and he was always skulking about the Cartland Crags.
Then, didn't he flee at the battle of Falkirk; and was he not a robber
when Scotland belonged to Longshanks? No doubt the fellow had a big
body, strong bones, and good thews; but that he had the real pluck that
nerved the little bodies of such men as Nelson, or Suwarrow, ay, or of
Napoleon, I deny." Then he began a ludicrous singing, see-saw recitation
of the English doggrel--
"The noble wight,
The Wallace dight,
Who slew the knight
On Beltane night,
And ran for fright
Of English might,
And English fight,
And English right;"
and so on in drunken ribaldry.
"All very well for you who are a Shamite, Shmite, Shmith, Smith," said
W----pe. "We happen to be Japhetites. Then what say you to Rob Roy?"
"That, in the first place," replied S----th, "he was a Shemite; for
Gathelus, the first Scottish monarch, was a grandson of Nimrod, and,
what is worse, he married Scota, the daughter of an Egyptian queen, so
there was a spice of Ham in Rob; and as all the Hamites were robbers,
Rob was a robber too;--as to whose cowardice there is no doubt whatever;
for a man who steals another man's cattle in the dark must be a coward.
Did you ever hear one single example of Rob attacking when in good
daylight, and fighting for them in the sun?"
"Ingenious, S----th, at any rate," roared S----k; "but I don't agree
with you. A robber on the highway, must, in the general case, have
courage. He braves public opinion, he laughs at the gallows, and he
throws himself right against a man in bold competition, without knowing
often whether he is a giant or a dwarf."
"All the elements of a batter pudding," cried S----th, "without the
battering principle. Ay, you forget the head-battering bludgeon, the
instantaneous pistol, or the cunning knife; none of all which would a
man with a spark of courage in him use against an unarmed, defenceless
traveller. Another thing you forget, the robber acts upon surprises. He
produces confusion by his very presentation, fear by his demand of life
or money; and when the poor devil's head is running round, he runs away
with his watch or his purse, perhaps both. 'Tis all selfishness, pure
unadulterated selfishness; and will you tell me that a man without a
particle of honesty or generosity can have courage?"
"Not moral courage, perhaps; but he may have physical."
"All the same, no difference," continued the doughty S----th. "Who ever
heard of a bodily feeling except as something coming through the body?
There are only two physical feelings: pain in being wounded or starved,
and pleasure in being relieved from pain, or fed when hungry or thirsty.
I know none other; all the others are moral feelings."
"You may be bold through drink acting on the stomach and head."
"Ay, but the boldness, though the effect of a physical cause, is itself
a moral entity."
"Whoever thought that S----th was such a metaphysician!" said W----pe, a
little agoggled in his drunken eyes.
"But the same may be said of every feeling," rejoined S----k, somewhat
roused to ambition by W----pe's remark.
"And so it may, my little Aristotle," continued the clever asserter of
his original proposition. "Why, man, look ye, what takes you into Miss
F----'s shop in Princes Street for snuff, when you never produce a
physical titillation in your nose by a single pinch? Why, it's something
you call love, a terribly moral thing, though personified by a little
fellow with pinions. Yes, wondrously moral; and sometimes, as in your
case, immoral. Well, what is it produced by? The face of the said Miss
F---- painted as a sun picture in the camera at the back of your eye,
where there is a membrane without a particle of nitrate of silver in its
composition, and which yet receives the image. Well, what is love but
just the titillation produced by this image imprinted on your flesh,
just as the pleasure of a pinch is the effect of a titillation of the
nerves in the nose? Yet we don't say that snuff pleasure is a moral
thing, but merely nasal or bodily. What makes the difference?"
"How S----th is coming it!" said W----pe, still more amazed. "Where the
devil has he got all this?"
"Why, the difference lies here. You know, by manipulation and blowing
it, that you have a nose; but you don't wipe the retina at the back of
your eye when you are weeping for love--only the outside, where the
puling tears are. In short, you know you have a nose, but you don't know
you have a retina. D'ye catch me, my small Stagyrite, my petit
Peripatetic, my comical Academician, eh? Take your toddy, and let's have
a touch of moral drunkenness."
"You ray-ther have me on the hip, S----th."
"Ay, just so; and if I should kick you there, you would not say the pain
was a moral thing. All through the same. It's just where and when we
don't know the medium we say things are moral and spiritual, and
poetical and rational, and all the rest of the humbug."
"But though you say all highwaymen are cowards, you won't try that trick
with your foot," said S----k, boiling up a little under the fire of the
"Don't intend; though, if you were to produce moral courage in me by
pinching my nose, I think I could, after making up my mind and putting
you upon your guard with a stick in your hand if you chose. Eh! my
Peripatetic." And S----th was clearly getting drunk too.
"D----n the fellow, his metaphysics are making him [Transcriber's Note:
missing part of this word] dent," cried W----pe.
"Why, you don't see where they hit," said S----th drawlingly.
"Somewhere about the pineal; and therefore we say impudence is moral,
sometimes immoral, as just now when you damned me. No more of your old
junk, I say, sitting here in my cathedra, which by the way is
spring-bottomed, which may account for my moral elasticity that a
highwayman is a coward."
"Well," cried S----k, starting up. "I'll deposit a pound with W----pe,
on a bet that you'll not take sixpence from the first bumpkin we meet on
the road, by the old watchword, 'Stand and deliver;' and you'll have the
gun to boot."
"Ay, that's a physical bribe," cried W----pe; and, after pausing a
little, "The fellow flinches."
"And surely the reverse must hold," added S----k, "that, being a coward,
he must be a highwayman."
"Why, you see, gents," said S----th coolly, "I don't mind a very great
deal, you know, though I do take said sixpence from said bumpkin; but I
won't do it, you know, on compulsion."
"If there's no compulsion, there's no robbery," said S----k.
"Oh, I mean _your_ compulsion. As for mine, exercised on said bumpkin,
let me alone for that part of the small affair; but none of your
compulsion, if you love me. I can do anything, but not upon compulsion,
"Why, ye-e-s," drawled S----th, "done; I may say, gents, done; but I say
with Sir John, don't misunderstand me, not upon compulsion, you know."
"Your own free will," shouted both the others, now pretty well to do in
the world of dithyrambics. "Here's your instrument for extorting the
sixpence by force or fear."
And this young man, half inebriated--with, we may here say
parenthetically, a mother living in a garret in James' Square, with one
son and an only daughter of a respectable though poor man, and who
trusted to her son for being the means of her support--qualified, as we
have seen, by high parts to extort from society respect, and we may add,
though that has not appeared, to conciliate love and admiration--took
willingly into his hand the old rusty "Innes," to perpetrate upon the
highway a robbery. And would he do it? You had only to look upon his
face for an instant to be certain that he would; for he had all the
lineaments of a young man of indomitable courage and resolution--the
steady eye, the firm lip, all under the high brows of intellect, nor
unmixed with the beauty that belongs to these moral expressions which in
the playfulness of the social hour he had been reducing to materialism,
well knowing all the while that he was arguing for effect and applause
from those who only gave him the return of stultified petulance. What if
that mother and sister, who loved him, and wept day and night over the
wild follies that consumed his energies and demoralized his heart, had
seen him now!
The bill was paid by S----k, who happened to have money, and who gave it
on the implied condition of a similar one for all on another occasion.
They went, or, as the phrase is often, sallied forth. The night had now
come down with her black shadows. There was no moon. She was dispensing
her favours among savages in another hemisphere, who, savages though
they were, might have their devotions to their strange gods, resident
with her up yonder, where no robbery is, save that of light from the
pure fountain of heat and life. Yes, the darkness was auspicious to
folly, as it often is to vice; and there was quietness too--no winds
abroad to speak voices through rustling leaves, to terrify the criminal
from his wild rebellion against the peace of nature. No night could have
suited them better. Yes, all was favourable but God; and Him these wild
youths had offended, as disobedient sons of poor parents, who had
educated them well--as rebellious citizens among a society which would
have hailed them as ornaments--as despisers of God's temple, where grace
was held out to them and spurned.
They were now upon the low road leading parallel to the beach, and
towards the end of Inverleith Row. Nor had the devil left them with the
deserted toddy-bowl. There was still pride for S----th, and for the
others the rankling sense of inferiority in talent and of injury from
scorching irony. Nor had they proceeded two miles, till the fatal
opportunity loomed in the dark, in the form of a figure coming up from
Leith or Edinburgh.
Now, the cowardly Cartouche;
Now, the poltroon Rob Roy;
Now, the braggart Wallace!
But S----th did not need the taunts, nor, though many a patriotic cause
wanted such a youth, was he left for other work, that night of
devil-worship. The figure approached. Alas! the work so easy. S----th
was right; how easy and cowardly, where the stranger was, in the
confidence of his own heart, unprepared, unweaponed! Yet those who urged
him on leapt a dyke.
"Stand and deliver!" said S----th, with a handkerchief over his face.
"God help me!" cried the man, in a fit of newborn fear. "I'm a father,
have wife and bairns; but I canna spare my life to a highwayman. Here,
And fumbling nervously in his pocket, and shaking all over, not at all
like the old object of similitude, but rather like a branch of a tree
driven by the wind, he thrust something into S----th's hand, and rushing
past him, was off on the road homewards. Nor was it a quick walk under
fear, but a run, as if he thought he was or would be pursued for his
life, or brought down by the long range of the gun he had seen in the
hands of the robber.
Yes, it was easily done, and it was done; but how to be undone at a time
when the craving maw of the noose dangled from the post, in obedience to
the Procrustes of the time!
And S----th felt it was done. His hand still held what the man had
pushed into it, but by-and-by it was as fire. His brain reeled; he
staggered, and would have fallen, but for S----k, who, leaping the dyke,
came behind him.
"This," said S----th,--"the price of my life," throwing on the ground
the paper roll.
"Pound-notes," cried S----k, taking them up. "One, two, three, four,
five; more than sixpence."
"Where is the man?" cried S----th, as, seizing the notes from the hands
of S----k, he turned round. Then, throwing down the gun, he set off
after his victim; but the latter was now ahead, though his pursuer heard
the clatter of his heavy shoes on the metal road.
"Ho, there! stop! 'twas a joke--a bet."
No answer, and couldn't be. The man naturally thought the halloo was for
further compulsion, under the idea that he had more to give, and on he
sped with increased celerity and terror; nor is it supposed that he
stopt till he got to his own house, a mile beyond Davidson's Mains.
Smith gave up the pursuit, and with the notes in his hand, ready to be
cast away at every exacerbation of his fear, returned to his cowardly
companions with hanging head and, if they had seen, with eyes rolling,
as if he did not know where to look or what to do.
"What is to be done?" he cried; and his fears shook the others.
"Yes, what is to be done? You urged me on. Try to help me out. Let us go
back and seek out this man. To-morrow it may be too late, when the
police have had this robbery in their hands as a thing intended."
"We could not find the man though we went back," said S----k. And his
But W----pe, who had some acquaintanceship with the police Captain
Stewart, proposed that they should proceed homewards, go to him, give
him the money, and tell the story out.
"That, I fear, would be putting one's hand in the mouth of the hyaena at
the moment he is laughing with hunger, as they say he does."
An opinion which S----th feared was too well founded. Nearly at their
wits' end, they stood all three for a little quite silent, till the
sound of a horse's clattering feet sounded as if coming from Davidson's
Mains. All under the conviction of crime, they became alarmed; and as
the rider approached, they concealed themselves behind the dyke, which
ran by the side of the road. At that moment a man came as if from
Edinburgh, and they could hear the rider, who did not, from his voice,
appear to be the man who had been robbed, inquiring if he had met a
young man with a gun in his hand. The man answered no, and off set the
rider towards town at the rate of a hard trot. The few hopeful moments
when anything could have been done effectually as a palinode and
expiation were past; and S----th, releaping the dyke, was again upon
the road in the depth of despair, and his companions scarcely less so.
All his and their escapades had hitherto been at least within the bounds
of the law; and though his heart had often misgiven him, when called
upon for the nourishment of his wild humours, as he thought of his
widowed mother at home, without the comfort of the son she loved in
spite of his errors, he had not ever yet felt the pangs of deep regret
as they came preluding amendment. A terrible influx of feelings, which
had been accumulating almost unknown to him during months and
months--for his father had been dead only for a year and a half--pushed
up against all the strainings of a wild natural temperament, and seemed
ready to choke him, depriving him of utterance, and making him appear
the very coward he had been depicting so sharply an hour before. A deep
gloom fell over him; nor was this rendered less inspissated by the
recollection that came quick as lightning, that he was the only one
known to the mistress of the inn. And now, worse and worse--for the same
power that sent him that conviction threw a suspicion over his mind
which made him strike his forehead with an energy alarming to his
companions--no other--"O, merciful God!" he muttered--than that the man
he had robbed was his maternal uncle; the only man among the friends of
either his father or his mother who had shown any sympathy to the
bereaved family, who had fed them and kept them from starvation, and by
whom he had been himself nourished. He had no power to speak this: it
was one of those thoughts that scathe the nerves that serve the tongue,
and which flit and burn, and will not ameliorate their fierceness by the
common means given to man in mercy. It now appeared to him as something
miraculous why he did not recognise him; but the occasion was one of
hurry and confusion, and so completely oblivious had he been in the
agony which came on him in an instant, that he even thought that at the
very moment he knew him, looking darkly, as he did, through the
handkerchief over his eyes. In his despair, he meditated hurrying to
Leith, and with the five pounds getting a passage over the sea
somewhere, it signified nothing where, if away from the scene of his
crime and ingratitude; and this resolution was confirmed by the
additional thought that Mr. Henderson, however good and generous, was a
stern man--so stern, that he had ten years before given up a beloved son
into the hands of justice for stealing; yea, stern _ex corde_ as Cato,
if generous _ex crumena_ as Codrus.
This resolution for a time brought back his love of freedom and
adventure. He would go to Hudson's Bay, and shoot bears or set traps for
wild silver-foxes, that would bring him gold; or to Buenos Ayres, and
catch the wild horse with the lasso; or to Lima, and become a soldier of
fortune, and slay men with the sword. The gleam of wild hope was
shortlived--his triumph over his present ill a temporary hallucination.
The laurel is the only tree which burns and crackles when green. The
intention fled, as once more the thought of his mother came, with that
vigour which was only of half an hour's birth, and begotten by young
conscience on old neglect. They had been trailing their legs along till
they came to Inverleith Row, where he behoved to have left his
companions, if his resolution lasted; for the road there goes straight
on to Leith Harbour. He hesitated, and made an effort; but S----k, who
knew him, and fancied from the wild look of his eye that he meditated
throwing himself into the deep harbour of Leith, took him by an arm,
motioning to W----pe to take the other, and thus by a very small
effort--for really his resolution had departed, and his mind, so far as
his intention went, was gone--they half forced him up the long row. When
they arrived at Canonmills, here is the rider again, hurrying on: he had
executed his commission, whatever it was, and was galloping home. But
the moment he came forward, he pulled up. He had, by a glance under the
light of a lamp, caught a sight of the gun in the hands of S----k, who
had carried it when he took S----th's arm. The man shouted to a
"Seize that robber!"
"Which of them?"
"Him with the gun."
And in an instant the cowardly dog who had done the whole business was
laid hold of.
"The gun is mine," cried S----th. "It is I who am answerable for
whatever was done by him who carried that weapon. Take me, and let the
innocent off. I say this young man is innocent."
"Very gallant and noble," said the man; "but when we go to the hills, we
like the deer that bears the horns."
"We are up to them tricks," said the policeman. And S----k is borne
along, with courage, if he ever had any, gone, and his eye looking
S----th wanted to go along with him; but W----pe seized him by the arm
again and dragged him up by the east side of Huntly Street, whereby they
could get easily to James' Square.
In a few minutes more S----th was at his mother's door with the burning
five pounds in his pocket. He had meditated throwing it away, but the
hurrying concourse of thoughts had prevented the insufficient remedy
from being carried into effect. When he opened the door he found his
mother alone. The sister had not yet come from the warehouse where she
earned five shillings a week, almost the only source of her and the
mother's living; for the money which S----th earned as a mere copying
clerk in a writer's office, went mostly in some other direction. The
mother soon observed, as she cast her eye over him, that there was
something more than ordinary out of even his irregular way. He was pale,
woe-worn, haggard; nor did he seem able to stand, but hurried to a chair
and flung himself down, uttering confusedly, "Something to drink,
"I hae nane, Charlie, lad," said she. "Never hae I passed a day like
this since your father died. I have na e'en got the bit meat that a' get
that are under God's protection. But what ails ye, dear Charlie?"
"Never mind me," replied the youth in choking accents. "I am better.
Starving, starving! O God! and my doing. Yes, I am better--a bitter
cure--starving," he again muttered; and searching his pockets, and
throwing the five pounds on the table--"There, there, there," he added.
The mother took up the notes, and counted them slowly; for she had been
inured to grief, and was always calm, even when her heart beat fast with