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At a little distance from the mainland is a rock, over the rude side of which the waves dash in rough weather. On the evening of the 3rd December, 1833, as the sun was sinking behind the tree-tops on the left side of the harbour, the figure of a man appeared on the top of this rock. He was clad in the coarse garb of a convict, and wore round his ankles two iron rings, connected by a short and heavy chain. To the middle of this chain a leathern strap was attached, which, splitting in the form of a T, buckled round his waist, and pulled the chain high enough to prevent him from stumbling over it as he walked. His head was bare, and his coarse, blue-striped shirt, open at the throat, displayed an embrowned and muscular neck. Emerging from out a sort of cell, or den, contrived by nature or art in the side of the cliff, he threw on a scanty fire, which burned between two hollowed rocks, a small log of pine wood, and then returning to his cave, and bringing from it an iron pot, which contained water, he scooped with his toil-hardened hands a resting-place for it in the ashes, and placed it on the embers. It was evident that the cave was at once his storehouse and larder, and that the two hollowed rocks formed his kitchen.

Having thus made preparations for supper, he ascended a pathway which led to the highest point of the rock. His fetters compelled him to take short steps, and, as he walked, he winced as though the iron bit him. A handkerchief or strip of cloth was twisted round his left ankle; on which the circlet had chafed a sore. Painfully and slowly, he gained his destination, and flinging himself on the ground, gazed around him. The afternoon had been stormy, and the rays of the setting sun shone redly on the turbid and rushing waters of the bay. On the right lay Sarah Island; on the left the bleak shore of the opposite and the tall peak of the Frenchman’s Cap; while the storm hung sullenly over the barren hills to the eastward. Below him appeared the only sign of life. A brig was being towed up the harbour by two convict-manned boats.

The sight of this brig seemed to rouse in the mind of the solitary of the rock a strain of reflection, for, sinking his chin upon his hand, he fixed his eyes on the incoming vessel, and immersed himself in moody thought. More than an hour had passed, yet he did not move. The ship anchored, the boats detached themselves from her sides, the sun sank, and the bay was plunged in gloom. Lights began to twinkle along the shore of the settlement. The little fire died, and the water in the iron pot grew cold; yet the watcher on the rock did not stir. With his eyes staring into the gloom, and fixed steadily on the vessel, he lay along the barren cliff of his lonely prison as motionless as the rock on which he had stretched himself.

This solitary man was Rufus Dawes.

CHAPTER III.

A SOCIAL EVENING.

In the house of Major Vickers, Commandant of Macquarie Harbour, there was, on this evening of December 3rd, unusual gaiety.

Lieutenant Maurice Frere, late in command at Maria Island, had unexpectedly come down with news from head-quarters. The Ladybird, Government schooner, visited the settlement on ordinary occasions twice a year, and such visits were looked forward to with no little eagerness by the settlers. To the convicts the arrival of the Ladybird meant arrival of new faces, intelligence of old comrades, news of how the world, from which they were exiled, was progressing. When the Ladybird arrived, the chained and toil-worn felons felt that they were yet human, that the universe was not bounded by the gloomy forests which surrounded their prison, but that there was a world beyond, where men, like themselves, smoked, and drank, and laughed, and rested, and were Free. When the Ladybird arrived, they heard such news as interested them–that is to say, not mere foolish accounts of wars or ship arrivals, or city gossip, but matters appertaining to their own world–how Tom was with the road gangs, Dick on a ticket-of-leave, Harry taken to the bush, and Jack hung at the Hobart Town Gaol. Such items of intelligence were the only news they cared to hear, and the new-comers were well posted up in such matters. To the convicts the Ladybird was town talk, theatre, stock quotations, and latest telegrams. She was their newspaper and post-office, the one excitement of their dreary existence, the one link between their own misery and the happiness of their fellow-creatures. To the Commandant and the “free men” this messenger from the outer life was scarcely less welcome. There was not a man on the island who did not feel his heart grow heavier when her white sails disappeared behind the shoulder of the hill.

On the present occasion business of more than ordinary importance had procured for Major Vickers this pleasurable excitement. It had been resolved by Governor Arthur that the convict establishment should be broken up. A succession of murders and attempted escapes had called public attention to the place, and its distance from Hobart Town rendered it inconvenient and expensive. Arthur had fixed upon Tasman’s Peninsula–the earring of which we have spoken–as a future convict depôt, and naming it Port Arthur, in honour of himself, had sent down Lieutenant Maurice Frere with instructions for Vickers to convey the prisoners of Macquarie Harbour thither.

In order to understand the magnitude and meaning of such an order as that with which Lieutenant Frere was entrusted, we must glance at the social condition of the penal colony at this period of its history.

Nine years before, Colonel Arthur, late Governor of Honduras, had arrived at a most critical moment. The former Governor, Colonel Sorrell, was a man of genial temperament, but little strength of character. He was, moreover, profligate in his private life; and, encouraged by his example, his officers violated all rules of social decency. It was common for an officer to openly keep a female convict as his mistress. Not only would compliance purchase comforts, but strange stories were afloat concerning the persecution of women who dared to choose their own lovers. To put down this profligacy was the first care of Arthur; and in enforcing a severe attention to etiquette and outward respectability, he perhaps erred on the side of virtue. Honest, brave, and high-minded, he was also penurious and cold, and the ostentatious good humour of the colonists dashed itself in vain against his polite indifference. In opposition to this official society created by Governor Arthur was that of the free settlers and the ticket-of-leave men. The latter were more numerous than one would be apt to suppose. On the 2nd November, 1829, thirty-eight free pardons and fifty-six conditional pardons appeared on the books; and the number of persons holding tickets-of-leave, on the 26th of September the same year, was seven hundred and forty-five.

Of the social condition of these people at this time it is impossible to speak without astonishment. According to the recorded testimony of many respectable persons-Government officials, military officers, and free settlers-the profligacy of the settlers was notorious. Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours of public worship, in order to continue their carousing. As for the condition of the prisoner population, that, indeed, is indescribable. Notwithstanding the severe punishment for sly grog-selling, it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be cheaply bought at the price of twenty lashes. In the factory–a prison for females–the vilest abuses were committed, while the infamies current, as matters of course, in chain gangs and penal settlements, were of too horrible a nature to be more than hinted at here. All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised without restraint and without shame.

Seven classes of criminals were established in 1826, when the new barracks for prisoners at Hobart Town were finished. The first class were allowed to sleep out of barracks, and to work for themselves on Saturday; the second had only the last-named indulgence; the third were only allowed Saturday afternoon; the fourth and fifth were “refractory and disorderly characters–to work in irons;” the sixth were “men of the most degraded and incorrigible character–to be worked in irons, and kept entirely separate from the other prisoners;” while the seventh were the refuse of this refuse–the murderers, bandits, and villains, whom neither chain nor lash could tame. They were regarded as socially dead, and shipped to Hell’s Gates, or Maria Island. Hells Gates was the most dreaded of all these houses of bondage. The discipline at the place was so severe, and the life so terrible, that prisoners would risk all to escape from it. In one year, of eighty-five deaths there, only thirty were from natural causes; of the remaining dead, twenty-seven were drowned, eight killed accidentally, three shot by the soldiers, and twelve murdered by their comrades. In 1822, one hundred and sixty-nine men out of one hundred and eighty-two were punished to the extent of two thousand lashes. During the ten years of its existence, one hundred and twelve men escaped, out of whom sixty-two only were found-dead. The prisoners killed themselves to avoid living any longer, and if so fortunate as to penetrate the desert of scrub, heath, and swamp, which lay between their prison and the settled districts, preferred death to recapture. Successfully to transport the remnant of this desperate band of doubly-convicted felons to Arthur’s new prison, was the mission of Maurice Frere.

He was sitting by the empty fire-place, with one leg carelessly thrown over the other, entertaining the company with his usual indifferent air. The six years that had passed since his departure from England had given him a sturdier frame and a fuller face. His hair was coarser, his face redder, and his eye more hard, but in demeanour he was little changed. Sobered he might be, and his voice had acquired that decisive, insured tone which a voice exercised only in accents of command invariably acquires, but his bad qualities were as prominent as ever. His five years’ residence at Maria Island had increased that brutality of thought, and overbearing confidence in his own importance, for which he had been always remarkable, but it had also given him an assured air of authority, which covered the more unpleasant features of his character. He was detested by the prisoners–as he said, “it was a word and a blow with him”–but, among his superiors, he passed for an officer, honest and painstaking, though somewhat bluff and severe.

“Well, Mrs. Vickers,” he said, as he took a cup of tea from the hands of that lady, “I suppose you won’t be sorry to get away from this place, eh? Trouble you for the toast, Vickers!”

“No indeed,” says poor Mrs. Vickers, with the old girlishness shadowed by six years; “I shall be only too glad. A dreadful place! John’s duties, however, are imperative. But the wind! My dear Mr. Frere, you’ve no idea of it; I wanted to send Sylvia to Hobart Town, but John would not let her go.”

“By the way, how is Miss Sylvia?” asked Frere, with the patronising air which men of his stamp adopt when they speak of children.

“Not very well, I’m sorry to say,” returned Vickers. “You see, it’s lonely for her here. There are no children of her own age, with the exception of the pilot’s little girl, and she cannot associate with her. But I did not like to leave her behind, and endeavoured to teach her myself.”

“Hum! There was a-ha-governess, or something, was there not?” said Frere, staring into his tea-cup. “That maid, you know–what was her name?”

“Miss Purfoy,” said Mrs. Vickers, a little gravely. “Yes, poor thing! A sad story, Mr. Frere.”

Frere’s eye twinkled.

“Indeed! I left, you know, shortly after the trial of the mutineers, and never heard the full particulars.” He spoke carelessly, but he awaited the reply with keen curiosity.

“A sad story!” repeated Mrs. Vickers. “She was the wife of that wretched man, Rex, and came out as my maid in order to be near him. She would never tell me her history, poor thing, though all through the dreadful accusations made by that horrid doctor–I always disliked that man–I begged her almost on my knees. You know how she nursed Sylvia and poor John. Really a most superior creature. I think she must have been a governess.”

Mr. Frere raised his eyebrows abruptly, as though he would say, Governess! Of course. Happy suggestion. Wonder it never occurred to me before. “However, her conduct was most exemplary–really most exemplary–and during the six months we were in Hobart Town she taught little Sylvia a great deal. Of course she could not help her wretched husband, you know. Could she?”

“Certainly not!” said Frere heartily. “I heard something about him too. Got into some scrape, did he not? Half a cup, please.”

“Miss Purfoy, or Mrs. Rex, as she really was, though I don’t suppose Rex is her real name either–sugar and milk, I think you said–came into a little legacy from an old aunt in England.” Mr. Frere gave a little bluff nod, meaning thereby, Old aunt! Exactly. Just what might have been expected. “And left my service. She took a little cottage on the New Town road, and Rex was assigned to her as her servant.”

“I see. The old dodge!” says Frere, flushing a little. “Well?”

“Well, the wretched man tried to escape, and she helped him. He was to get to Launceston, and so on board a vessel to Sydney; but they took the unhappy creature, and he was sent down here. She was only fined, but it ruined her.”

“Ruined her?”

“Well, you see, only a few people knew of her relationship to Rex, and she was rather respected. Of course, when it became known, what with that dreadful trial and the horrible assertions of Dr. Pine –you will not believe me, I know, there was something about that man I never liked–she was quite left alone. She wanted me to bring her down here to teach Sylvia; but John thought that it was only to be near her husband, and wouldn’t allow it.”

“Of course it was,” said Vickers, rising. “Frere, if you’d like to smoke, we’ll go on the verandah.–She will never be satisfied until she gets that scoundrel free.”

“He’s a bad lot, then?” says Frere, opening the glass window, and leading the way to the sandy garden. “You will excuse my roughness, Mrs. Vickers, but I have become quite a slave to my pipe. Ha, ha, it’s wife and child to me!”

“Oh, a very bad lot,” returned Vickers; “quiet and silent, but ready for any villainy. I count him one of the worst men we have. With the exception of one or two more, I think he is the worst.”

“Why don’t you flog ’em?” says Frere, lighting his pipe in the gloom. “By George, sir, I cut the hides off my fellows if they show any nonsense!”

“Well,” says Vickers, “I don’t care about too much cat myself. Barton, who was here before me, flogged tremendously, but I don’t think it did any good. They tried to kill him several times. You remember those twelve fellows who were hung? No! Ah, of course, you were away.”

“What do you do with ’em?”

“Oh, flog the worst, you know; but I don’t flog more than a man a week, as a rule, and never more than fifty lashes. They’re getting quieter now. Then we iron, and dumb-cells, and maroon them.”

“Do what?”

“Give them solitary confinement on Grummet Island. When a man gets very bad, we clap him into a boat with a week’s provisions and pull him over to Grummet. There are cells cut in the rock, you see, and the fellow pulls up his commissariat after him, and lives there by himself for a month or so. It tames them wonderfully.”

“Does it?” said Frere. “By Jove! it’s a capital notion. I wish I had a place of that sort at Maria.”

“I’ve a fellow there now,” says Vickers; “Dawes. You remember him, of course–the ringleader of the mutiny in the Malabar. A dreadful ruffian. He was most violent the first year I was here. Barton used to flog a good deal, and Dawes had a childish dread of the cat. When I came in–when was it?–in ’29, he’d made a sort of petition to be sent back to the settlement. Said that he was innocent of the mutiny, and that the accusation against him was false.”

“The old dodge,” said Frere again. “A match? Thanks.”

“Of course, I couldn’t let him go; but I took him out of the chain-gang, and put him on the Osprey. You saw her in the dock as you came in. He worked for some time very well, and then tried to bolt again.”

“The old trick. Ha! ha! don’t I know it?” says Mr. Frere, emitting a streak of smoke in the air, expressive of preternatural wisdom.

“Well, we caught him, and gave him fifty. Then he was sent to the chain-gang, cutting timber. Then we put him into the boats, but he quarrelled with the coxswain, and then we took him back to the timber-rafts. About six weeks ago he made another attempt–together with Gabbett, the man who nearly killed you–but his leg was chafed with the irons, and we took him. Gabbett and three more, however, got away.”

“Haven’t you found ’em?” asked Frere, puffing at his pipe.

“No. But they’ll come to the same fate as the rest,” said Vickers, with a sort of dismal pride. “No man ever escaped from Macquarie Harbour.”

Frere laughed. “By the Lord!” said he, “it will be rather hard for ’em if they don’t come back before the end of the month, eh?”

“Oh,” said Vickers, “they’re sure to come–if they can come at all; but once lost in the scrub, a man hasn’t much chance for his life.”

“When do you think you will be ready to move?” asked Frere.

“As soon as you wish. I don’t want to stop a moment longer than I can help. It is a terrible life, this.”

“Do you think so?” asked his companion, in unaffected surprise. “I like it. It’s dull, certainly. When I first went to Maria I was dreadfully bored, but one soon gets used to it. There is a sort of satisfaction to me, by George, in keeping the scoundrels in order. I like to see the fellows’ eyes glint at you as you walk past ’em. Gad, they’d tear me to pieces, if they dared, some of ’em!” and he laughed grimly, as though the hate he inspired was a thing to be proud of.

“How shall we go?” asked Vickers. “Have you got any instructions?”

“No,” says Frere; “it’s all left to you. Get ’em up the best way you can, Arthur said, and pack ’em off to the new peninsula. He thinks you too far off here, by George! He wants to have you within hail.”

“It’s dangerous taking so many at once,” suggested Vickers.

“Not a bit. Batten ’em down and keep the sentries awake, and they won’t do any harm.”

“But Mrs. Vickers and the child?”

“I’ve thought of that. You take the Ladybird with the prisoners, and leave me to bring up Mrs. Vickers in the Osprey.”

“We might do that. Indeed, it’s the best way, I think. I don’t like the notion of having Sylvia among those wretches, and yet I don’t like to leave her.”

“Well,” says Frere, confident of his own ability to accomplish anything he might undertake, “I’ll take the Ladybird, and you the Osprey. Bring up Mrs. Vickers yourself.”

“No, no,” said Vickers, with a touch of his old pomposity, “that won’t do. By the King’s Regulations–“

“All right,” interjected Frere, “you needn’t quote ’em. ‘The officer commanding is obliged to place himself in charge’–all right, my dear sir. I’ve no objection in life.”

“It was Sylvia that I was thinking of,” said Vickers.

“Well, then,” cries the other, as the door of the room inside opened, and a little white figure came through into the broad verandah. “Here she is! Ask her yourself. Well, Miss Sylvia, will you come and shake hands with an old friend?”

The bright-haired baby of the Malabar had become a bright-haired child of some eleven years old, and as she stood in her simple white dress in the glow of the lamplight, even the unaesthetic mind of Mr. Frere was struck by her extreme beauty. Her bright blue eyes were as bright and as blue as ever. Her little figure was as upright and as supple as a willow rod; and her innocent, delicate face was framed in a nimbus of that fine golden hair–dry and electrical, each separate thread shining with a lustre of its own–with which the dreaming painters of the middle ages endowed and glorified their angels.

“Come and give me a kiss, Miss Sylvia!” cries Frere. “You haven’t forgotten me, have you?”

But the child, resting one hand on her father’s knee, surveyed Mr. Frere from head to foot with the charming impertinence of childhood, and then, shaking her head, inquired: “Who is he, papa?”

“Mr. Frere, darling. Don’t you remember Mr. Frere, who used to play ball with you on board the ship, and who was so kind to you when you were getting well? For shame, Sylvia!”

There was in the chiding accents such an undertone of tenderness, that the reproof fell harmless.

“I remember you,” said Sylvia, tossing her head; “but you were nicer then than you are now. I don’t like you at all.”

“You don’t remember me,” said Frere, a little disconcerted, and affecting to be intensely at his ease. “I am sure you don’t. What is my name?”

“Lieutenant Frere. You knocked down a prisoner who picked up my ball. I don’t like you.”

“You’re a forward young lady, upon my word!” said Frere, with a great laugh. “Ha! ha! so I did, begad, I recollect now. What a memory you’ve got!”

“He’s here now, isn’t he, papa?” went on Sylvia, regardless of interruption. “Rufus Dawes is his name, and he’s always in trouble. Poor fellow, I’m sorry for him. Danny says he’s queer in his mind.”

“And who’s Danny?” asked Frere, with another laugh.

“The cook,” replied Vickers. “An old man I took out of hospital. Sylvia, you talk too much with the prisoners. I have forbidden you once or twice before.”

“But Danny is not a prisoner, papa–he’s a cook,” says Sylvia, nothing abashed, “and he’s a clever man. He told me all about London, where the Lord Mayor rides in a glass coach, and all the work is done by free men. He says you never hear chains there. I should like to see London, papa!”

“So would Mr. Danny, I have no doubt,” said Frere.

“No–he didn’t say that. But he wants to see his old mother, he says. Fancy Danny’s mother! What an ugly old woman she must be! He says he’ll see her in Heaven. Will he, papa?”

“I hope so, my dear.”

“Papa!”

“Yes.”

“Will Danny wear his yellow jacket in Heaven, or go as a free man?”

Frere burst into a roar at this.

“You’re an impertinent fellow, sir!” cried Sylvia, her bright eyes flashing. “How dare you laugh at me? If I was papa, I’d give you half an hour at the triangles. Oh, you impertinent man!” and, crimson with rage, the spoilt little beauty ran out of the room. Vickers looked grave, but Frere was constrained to get up to laugh at his ease.

“Good! ‘Pon honour, that’s good! The little vixen!–Half an hour at the triangles! Ha-ha! ha, ha, ha!”

“She is a strange child,” said Vickers, “and talks strangely for her age; but you mustn’t mind her. She is neither girl nor woman, you see; and her education has been neglected. Moreover, this gloomy place and its associations–what can you expect from a child bred in a convict settlement?”

“My dear sir,” says the other, “she’s delightful! Her innocence of the world is amazing!”

“She must have three or four years at a good finishing school at Sydney. Please God, I will give them to her when we go back–or send her to England if I can. She is a good-hearted girl, but she wants polishing sadly, I’m afraid.”

Just then someone came up the garden path and saluted.

“What is it, Troke?”

“Prisoner given himself up, sir.”

“Which of them?”

“Gabbett. He came back to-night.”

“Alone?” “Yes, sir. The rest have died–he says.”

“What’s that?” asked Frere, suddenly interested.

“The bolter I was telling you about–Gabbett, your old friend. He’s returned.”

“How long has he been out?”

“Nigh six weeks, sir,” said the constable, touching his cap.

“Gad, he’s had a narrow squeak for it, I’ll be bound. I should like to see him.”

“He’s down at the sheds,” said the ready Troke–a “good conduct” burglar. You can see him at once, gentlemen, if you like.”

“What do you say, Vickers?”

“Oh, by all means.”

CHAPTER IV.

THE BOLTER.

It was not far to the sheds, and after a few minutes’ walk through the wooden palisades they reached a long stone building, two storeys high, from which issued a horrible growling, pierced with shrilly screamed songs. At the sound of the musket butts clashing on the pine-wood flagging, the noises ceased, and a silence more sinister than sound fell on the place.

Passing between two rows of warders, the two officers reached a sort of ante-room to the gaol, containing a pine-log stretcher, on which a mass of something was lying. On a roughly-made stool, by the side of this stretcher, sat a man, in the grey dress (worn as a contrast to the yellow livery) of “good conduct” prisoners. This man held between his knees a basin containing gruel, and was apparently endeavouring to feed the mass on the pine logs.

“Won’t he eat, Steve?” asked Vickers.

And at the sound of the Commandant’s voice, Steve arose.

“Dunno what’s wrong wi’ ‘un, sir,” he said, jerking up a finger to his forehead. “He seems jest muggy-pated. I can’t do nothin’ wi’ ‘un.”

“Gabbett!”

The intelligent Troke, considerately alive to the wishes of his superior officers, dragged the mass into a sitting posture.

Gabbett–for it was he–passed one great hand over his face, and leaning exactly in the position in which Troke placed him, scowled, bewildered, at his visitors.

“Well, Gabbett,” says Vickers, “you’ve come back again, you see. When will you learn sense, eh? Where are your mates?”

The giant did not reply.

“Do you hear me? Where are your mates?”

“Where are your mates?” repeated Troke.

“Dead,” says Gabbett.

“All three of them?”

“Ay.”

“And how did you get back?”

Gabbett, in eloquent silence, held out a bleeding foot.

“We found him on the point, sir,” said Troke, jauntily explaining, “and brought him across in the boat. He had a basin of gruel, but he didn’t seem hungry.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you eat your gruel?”

Gabbett curled his great lips.

“I have eaten it. Ain’t yer got nuffin’ better nor that to flog a man on? Ugh! yer a mean lot! Wot’s it to be this time, Major? Fifty?”

And laughing, he rolled down again on the logs.

“A nice specimen!” said Vickers, with a hopeless smile. “What can one do with such a fellow?”

“I’d flog his soul out of his body,” said Frere, “if he spoke to me like that!”

Troke and the others, hearing the statement, conceived an instant respect for the new-comer. He looked as if he would keep his word.

The giant raised his great head and looked at the speaker, but did not recognize him. He saw only a strange face–a visitor perhaps. “You may flog, and welcome, master,” said he, “if you’ll give me a fig o’ tibbacky.” Frere laughed. The brutal indifference of the rejoinder suited his humour, and, with a glance at Vickers, he took a small piece of cavendish from the pocket of his pea-jacket, and gave it to the recaptured convict. Gabbett snatched it as a cur snatches at a bone, and thrust it whole into his mouth.

“How many mates had he?” asked Maurice, watching the champing jaws as one looks at a strange animal, and asking the question as though a “mate” was something a convict was born with–like a mole, for instance.

“Three, sir.”

“Three, eh? Well, give him thirty lashes, Vickers.”

“And if I ha’ had three more,” growled Gabbett, mumbling at his tobacco, “you wouldn’t ha’ had the chance.”

“What does he say?”

But Troke had not heard, and the “good-conduct” man, shrinking as it seemed, slightly from the prisoner, said he had not heard either. The wretch himself, munching hard at his tobacco, relapsed into his restless silence, and was as though he had never spoken.

As he sat there gloomily chewing, he was a spectacle to shudder at. Not so much on account of his natural hideousness, increased a thousand-fold by the tattered and filthy rags which barely covered him. Not so much on account of his unshaven jaws, his hare-lip, his torn and bleeding feet, his haggard cheeks, and his huge, wasted frame. Not only because, looking at the animal, as he crouched, with one foot curled round the other, and one hairy arm pendant between his knees, he was so horribly unhuman, that one shuddered to think that tender women and fair children must, of necessity, confess to fellowship of kind with such a monster. But also because, in his slavering mouth, his slowly grinding jaws, his restless fingers, and his bloodshot, wandering eyes, there lurked a hint of some terror more awful than the terror of starvation–a memory of a tragedy played out in the gloomy depths of that forest which had vomited him forth again; and the shadow of this unknown horror, clinging to him, repelled and disgusted, as though he bore about with him the reek of the shambles.

“Come,” said Vickers, “Let us go back. I shall have to flog him again, I suppose. Oh, this place! No wonder they call it ‘Hell’s Gates’.”

“You are too soft-hearted, my dear sir,” said Frere, half-way up the palisaded path. “We must treat brutes like brutes.”

Major Vickers, inured as he was to such sentiments, sighed. “It is not for me to find fault with the system,” he said, hesitating, in his reverence for “discipline”, to utter all the thought; “but I have sometimes wondered if kindness would not succeed better than the chain and the cat.”

“Your old ideas!” laughed his companion. “Remember, they nearly cost us our lives on the Malabar. No, no. I’ve seen something of convicts–though, to be sure, my fellows were not so bad as yours–and there’s only one way. Keep ’em down, sir. Make ’em feel what they are. They’re there to work, sir. If they won’t work, flog ’em until they will. If they work well–why a taste of the cat now and then keeps ’em in mind of what they may expect if they get lazy.” They had reached the verandah now. The rising moon shone softly on the bay beneath them, and touched with her white light the summit of the Grummet Rock.

“That is the general opinion, I know,” returned Vickers. “But consider the life they lead. Good God!” he added, with sudden vehemence, as Frere paused to look at the bay. “I’m not a cruel man, and never, I believe, inflicted an unmerited punishment, but since I have been here ten prisoners have drowned themselves from yonder rock, rather than live on in their misery. Only three weeks ago, two men, with a wood-cutting party in the hills, having had some words with the overseer, shook hands with the gang, and then, hand in hand, flung themselves over the cliff. It’s horrible to think of!”

“They shouldn’t get sent here,” said practical Frere. “They knew what they had to expect. Serve ’em right.”

“But imagine an innocent man condemned to this place!”

“I can’t,” said Frere, with a laugh. “Innocent man be hanged! They’re all innocent, if you’d believe their own stories. Hallo! what’s that red light there?”

“Dawes’s fire, on Grummet Rock,” says Vickers, going in; “the man I told you about. Come in and have some brandy-and-water, and we’ll shut the door in place.”

CHAPTER V.

SYLVIA.

“Well,” said Frere, as they went in, “you’ll be out of it soon. You can get all ready to start by the end of the month, and I’ll bring on Mrs. Vickers afterwards.”

“What is that you say about me?” asked the sprightly Mrs. Vickers from within. “You wicked men, leaving me alone all this time!”

“Mr. Frere has kindly offered to bring you and Sylvia after us in the Osprey. I shall, of course, have to take the Ladybird.”

“You are most kind, Mr. Frere, really you are,” says Mrs. Vickers, a recollection of her flirtation with a certain young lieutenant, six years before, tinging her cheeks. “It is really most considerate of you. Won’t it be nice, Sylvia, to go with Mr. Frere and mamma to Hobart Town?”

“Mr. Frere,” says Sylvia, coming from out a corner of the room, “I am very sorry for what I said just now. Will you forgive me?”

She asked the question in such a prim, old-fashioned way, standing in front of him, with her golden locks streaming over her shoulders, and her hands clasped on her black silk apron (Julia Vickers had her own notions about dressing her daughter), that Frere was again inclined to laugh.

“Of course I’ll forgive you, my dear,” he said. “You didn’t mean it, I know.”

“Oh, but I did mean it, and that’s why I’m sorry. I am a very naughty girl sometimes, though you wouldn’t think so” (this with a charming consciousness of her own beauty), “especially with Roman history. I don’t think the Romans were half as brave as the Carthaginians; do you, Mr. Frere?”

Maurice, somewhat staggered by this question, could only ask, “Why not?”

“Well, I don’t like them half so well myself,” says Sylvia, with feminine disdain of reasons. “They always had so many soldiers, though the others were so cruel when they conquered.”

“Were they?” says Frere.

“Were they! Goodness gracious, yes! Didn’t they cut poor Regulus’s eyelids off, and roll him down hill in a barrel full of nails? What do you call that, I should like to know?” and Mr. Frere, shaking his red head with vast assumption of classical learning, could not but concede that that was not kind on the part of the Carthaginians.

“You are a great scholar, Miss Sylvia,” he remarked, with a consciousness that this self-possessed girl was rapidly taking him out of his depth.

“Are you fond of reading?”

“Very.”

“And what books do you read?”

“Oh, lots! ‘Paul and Virginia”, and ‘Paradise Lost’, and ‘Shakespeare’s Plays’, and ‘Robinson Crusoe’, and ‘Blair’s Sermons’, and ‘The Tasmanian Almanack’, and ‘The Book of Beauty’, and ‘Tom Jones’.”

“A somewhat miscellaneous collection, I fear,” said Mrs. Vickers, with a sickly smile–she, like Gallio, cared for none of these things– “but our little library is necessarily limited, and I am not a great reader. John, my dear, Mr. Frere would like another glass of brandy-and-water. Oh, don’t apologize; I am a soldier’s wife, you know. Sylvia, my love, say good-night to Mr. Frere, and retire.”

“Good-night, Miss Sylvia. Will you give me a kiss?”

“No!”

“Sylvia, don’t be rude!”

“I’m not rude,” cries Sylvia, indignant at the way in which her literary confidence had been received. “He’s rude! I won’t kiss you. Kiss you indeed! My goodness gracious!”

“Won’t you, you little beauty?” cried Frere, suddenly leaning forward, and putting his arm round the child. “Then I must kiss you!”

To his astonishment, Sylvia, finding herself thus seized and kissed despite herself, flushed scarlet, and, lifting up her tiny fist, struck him on the cheek with all her force.

The blow was so sudden, and the momentary pain so sharp, that Maurice nearly slipped into his native coarseness, and rapped out an oath.

“My dear Sylvia!” cried Vickers, in tones of grave reproof.

But Frere laughed, caught both the child’s hands in one of his own, and kissed her again and again, despite her struggles. “There!” he said, with a sort of triumph in his tone. “You got nothing by that, you see.”

Vickers rose, with annoyance visible on his face, to draw the child away; and as he did so, she, gasping for breath, and sobbing with rage, wrenched her wrist free, and in a storm of childish passion struck her tormentor again and again. “Man!” she cried, with flaming eyes, “Let me go! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”

“I am very sorry for this, Frere,” said Vickers, when the door was closed again. “I hope she did not hurt you.”

“Not she! I like her spirit. Ha, ha! That’s the way with women all the world over. Nothing like showing them that they’ve got a master.”

Vickers hastened to turn the conversation, and, amid recollections of old days, and speculations as to future prospects, the little incident was forgotten. But when, an hour later, Mr. Frere traversed the passage that led to his bedroom, he found himself confronted by a little figure wrapped in a shawl. It was his childish enemy

“I’ve waited for you, Mr. Frere,” said she, “to beg pardon. I ought not to have struck you; I am a wicked girl. Don’t say no, because I am; and if I don’t grow better I shall never go to Heaven.”

Thus addressing him, the child produced a piece of paper, folded like a letter, from beneath the shawl, and handed it to him.

“What’s this?” he asked. “Go back to bed, my dear; you’ll catch cold.”

“It’s a written apology; and I sha’n’t catch cold, because I’ve got my stockings on. If you don’t accept it,” she added, with an arching of the brows, “it is not my fault. I have struck you, but I apologize. Being a woman, I can’t offer you satisfaction in the usual way.”

Mr. Frere stifled the impulse to laugh, and made his courteous adversary a low bow.

“I accept your apology, Miss Sylvia,” said he.

“Then,” returned Miss Sylvia, in a lofty manner, “there is nothing more to be said, and I have the honour to bid you good-night, sir.”

The little maiden drew her shawl close around her with immense dignity, and marched down the passage as calmly as though she had been Amadis of Gaul himself.

Frere, gaining his room choking with laughter, opened the folded paper by the light of the tallow candle, and read, in a quaint, childish hand:–

SIR,–I have struck you. I apologize in writing. Your humble servant to command, SYLVIA VICKERS.

“I wonder what book she took that out of?” he said. “‘Pon my word she must be a little cracked. ‘Gad, it’s a queer life for a child in this place, and no mistake.”

CHAPTER VI.

A LEAP IN THE DARK.

Two or three mornings after the arrival of the Ladybird, the solitary prisoner of the Grummet Rock noticed mysterious movements along the shore of the island settlement. The prison boats, which had put off every morning at sunrise to the foot of the timbered ranges on the other side of the harbour, had not appeared for some days. The building of a pier, or breakwater, running from the western point of the settlement, was discontinued; and all hands appeared to be occupied with the newly-built Osprey, which was lying on the slips. Parties of soldiers also daily left the Ladybird, and assisted at the mysterious work in progress. Rufus Dawes, walking his little round each day, in vain wondered what this unusual commotion portended. Unfortunately, no one came to enlighten his ignorance.

A fortnight after this, about the 15th of December, he observed another curious fact. All the boats on the island put off one morning to the opposite side of the harbour, and in the course of the day a great smoke arose along the side of the hills. The next day the same was repeated; and on the fourth day the boats returned, towing behind them a huge raft. This raft, made fast to the side of the Ladybird, proved to be composed of planks, beams, and joists, all of which were duly hoisted up, and stowed in the hold of the brig.

This set Rufus Dawes thinking. Could it possibly be that the timber-cutting was to be abandoned, and that the Government had hit upon some other method of utilizing its convict labour? He had hewn timber and built boats, and tanned hides and made shoes. Was it possible that some new trade was to be initiated? Before he had settled this point to his satisfaction, he was startled by another boat expedition. Three boats’ crews went down the bay, and returned, after a day’s absence, with an addition to their number in the shape of four strangers and a quantity of stores and farming implements. Rufus Dawes, catching sight of these last, came to the conclusion that the boats had been to Philip’s Island, where the “garden” was established, and had taken off the gardeners and garden produce. Rufus Dawes decided that the Ladybird had brought a new commandant–his sight, trained by his half-savage life, had already distinguished Mr. Maurice Frere– and that these mysteries were “improvements” under the new rule. When he arrived at this point of reasoning, another conjecture, assuming his first to have been correct, followed as a natural consequence. Lieutenant Frere would be a more severe commandant than Major Vickers. Now, severity had already reached its height, so far as he was concerned; so the unhappy man took a final resolution–he would kill himself. Before we exclaim against the sin of such a determination, let us endeavour to set before us what the sinner had suffered during the past six years.

We have already a notion of what life on a convict ship means; and we have seen through what a furnace Rufus Dawes had passed before he set foot on the barren shore of Hell’s Gates. But to appreciate in its intensity the agony he suffered since that time, we must multiply the infamy of the ‘tween decks of the Malabar a hundred fold. In that prison was at least some ray of light. All were not abominable; all were not utterly lost to shame and manhood. Stifling though the prison, infamous the companionship, terrible the memory of past happiness– there was yet ignorance of the future, there was yet hope. But at Macquarie Harbour was poured out the very dregs of this cup of desolation. The worst had come, and the worst must for ever remain. The pit of torment was so deep that one could not even see Heaven. There was no hope there so long as life remained. Death alone kept the keys of that island prison.

Is it possible to imagine, even for a moment, what an innocent man, gifted with ambition, endowed with power to love and to respect, must have suffered during one week of such punishment? We ordinary men, leading ordinary lives–walking, riding, laughing, marrying and giving in marriage–can form no notion of such misery as this. Some dim ideas we may have about the sweetness of liberty and the loathing that evil company inspires; but that is all. We know that were we chained and degraded, fed like dogs, employed as beasts of burden, driven to our daily toil with threats and blows, and herded with wretches among whom all that savours of decency and manliness is held in an open scorn, we should die, perhaps, or go mad. But we do not know, and can never know, how unutterably loathsome life must become when shared with such beings as those who dragged the tree-trunks to the banks of the Gordon, and toiled, blaspheming, in their irons, on the dismal sandpit of Sarah Island. No human creature could describe to what depth of personal abasement and self-loathing one week of such a life would plunge him. Even if he had the power to write, he dared not. As one whom in a desert, seeking for a face, should come to a pool of blood, and seeing his own reflection, fly–so would such a one hasten from the contemplation of his own degrading agony. Imagine such torment endured for six years!

Ignorant that the sights and sounds about him were symptoms of the final abandonment of the settlement, and that the Ladybird was sent down to bring away the prisoners, Rufus Dawes decided upon getting rid of that burden of life which pressed upon him so heavily. For six years he had hewn wood and drawn water; for six years he had hoped against hope; for six years he had lived in the valley of the shadow of Death. He dared not recapitulate to himself what he had suffered. Indeed, his senses were deadened and dulled by torture. He cared to remember only one thing–that he was a Prisoner for Life. In vain had been his first dream of freedom. He had done his best, by good conduct, to win release; but the villainy of Vetch and Rex had deprived him of the fruit of his labour. Instead of gaining credit by his exposure of the plot on board the Malabar, he was himself deemed guilty, and condemned, despite his asseverations of innocence. The knowledge of his “treachery”–for so it was deemed among his associates– while it gained for him no credit with the authorities, procured for him the detestation and ill-will of the monsters among whom he found himself. On his arrival at Hell’s Gates he was a marked man–a Pariah among those beings who were Pariahs to all the world beside. Thrice his life was attempted; but he was not then quite tired of living, and he defended it. This defence was construed by an overseer into a brawl, and the irons from which he had been relieved were replaced. His strength–brute attribute that alone could avail him–made him respected after this, and he was left at peace. At first this treatment was congenial to his temperament; but by and by it became annoying, then painful, then almost unendurable. Tugging at his oar, digging up to his waist in slime, or bending beneath his burden of pine wood, he looked greedily for some excuse to be addressed. He would take double weight when forming part of the human caterpillar along whose back lay a pine tree, for a word of fellowship. He would work double tides to gain a kindly sentence from a comrade. In his utter desolation he agonized for the friendship of robbers and murderers. Then the reaction came, and he hated the very sound of their voices. He never spoke, and refused to answer when spoken to. He would even take his scanty supper alone, did his chain so permit him. He gained the reputation of a sullen, dangerous, half-crazy ruffian. Captain Barton, the superintendent, took pity on him, and made him his gardener. He accepted the pity for a week or so, and then Barton, coming down one morning, found the few shrubs pulled up by the roots, the flower-beds trampled into barrenness, and his gardener sitting on the ground among the fragments of his gardening tools. For this act of wanton mischief he was flogged. At the triangles his behaviour was considered curious. He wept and prayed to be released, fell on his knees to Barton, and implored pardon. Barton would not listen, and at the first blow the prisoner was silent. From that time he became more sullen than ever, only at times he was observed, when alone, to fling himself on the ground and cry like a child. It was generally thought that his brain was affected.

When Vickers came, Dawes sought an interview, and begged to be sent back to Hobart Town. This was refused, of course, but he was put to work on the Osprey. After working there for some time, and being released from his irons, he concealed himself on the slip, and in the evening swam across the harbour. He was pursued, retaken, and flogged. Then he ran the dismal round of punishment. He burnt lime, dragged timber, and tugged at the oar. The heaviest and most degrading tasks were always his. Shunned and hated by his companions, feared by the convict overseers, and regarded with unfriendly eyes by the authorities, Rufus Dawes was at the very bottom of that abyss of woe into which he had voluntarily cast himself. Goaded to desperation by his own thoughts, he had joined with Gabbett and the unlucky three in their desperate attempt to escape; but, as Vickers stated, he had been captured almost instantly. He was lamed by the heavy irons he wore, and though Gabbett– with a strange eagerness for which after events accounted–insisted that he could make good his flight, the unhappy man fell in the first hundred yards of the terrible race, and was seized by two volunteers before he could rise again. His capture helped to secure the brief freedom of his comrades; for Mr. Troke, content with one prisoner, checked a pursuit which the nature of the ground rendered dangerous, and triumphantly brought Dawes back to the settlement as his peace-offering for the negligence which had resulted in the loss of the other four. For this madness the refractory convict had been condemned to the solitude of the Grummet Rock.

In that dismal hermitage, his mind, preying on itself, had become disordered. He saw visions and dreamt dreams. He would lie for hours motionless, staring at the sun or the sea. He held converse with imaginary beings. He enacted the scene with his mother over again. He harangued the rocks, and called upon the stones about him to witness his innocence and his sacrifice. He was visited by the phantoms of his early friends, and sometimes thought his present life a dream. Whenever he awoke, however, he was commanded by a voice within himself to leap into the surges which washed the walls of his prison, and to dream these sad dreams no more.

In the midst of this lethargy of body and brain, the unusual occurrences along the shore of the settlement roused in him a still fiercer hatred of life. He saw in them something incomprehensible and terrible, and read in them threats of an increase of misery. Had he known that the Ladybird was preparing for sea, and that it had been already decided to fetch him from the Rock and iron him with the rest for safe passage to Hobart Town, he might have paused; but he knew nothing, save that the burden of life was insupportable, and that the time had come for him to be rid of it.

In the meantime, the settlement was in a fever of excitement. In less than three weeks from the announcement made by Vickers, all had been got ready. The Commandant had finally arranged with Frere as to his course of action. He would himself accompany the Ladybird with the main body. His wife and daughter were to remain until the sailing of the Osprey, which Mr. Frere–charged with the task of final destruction– was to bring up as soon as possible. “I will leave you a corporal’s guard, and ten prisoners as a crew,” Vickers said. “You can work her easily with that number.” To which Frere, smiling at Mrs. Vickers in a self-satisfied way, had replied that he could do with five prisoners if necessary, for he knew how to get double work out of the lazy dogs.

Among the incidents which took place during the breaking up was one which it is necessary to chronicle. Near Philip’s Island, on the north side of the harbour, is situated Coal Head, where a party had been lately at work. This party, hastily withdrawn by Vickers to assist in the business of devastation, had left behind it some tools and timber, and at the eleventh hour a boat’s crew was sent to bring away the débris. The tools were duly collected, and the pine logs–worth twenty-five shillings apiece in Hobart Town–duly rafted and chained. The timber was secured, and the convicts, towing it after them, pulled for the ship just as the sun sank. In the general relaxation of discipline and haste, the raft had not been made with as much care as usual, and the strong current against which the boat was labouring assisted the negligence of the convicts. The logs began to loosen, and although the onward motion of the boat kept the chain taut, when the rowers slackened their exertions the mass parted, and Mr. Troke, hooking himself on to the side of the Ladybird, saw a huge log slip out from its fellows and disappear into the darkness. Gazing after it with an indignant and disgusted stare, as though it had been a refractory prisoner who merited two days’ “solitary”, he thought he heard a cry from the direction in which it had been borne. He would have paused to listen, but all his attention was needed to save the timber, and to prevent the boat from being swamped by the struggling mass at her stern.

The cry had proceeded from Rufus Dawes. From his solitary rock he had watched the boat pass him and make for the Ladybird in the channel, and he had decided–with that curious childishness into which the mind relapses on such supreme occasions–that the moment when the gathering gloom swallowed her up, should be the moment when he would plunge into the surge below him. The heavily-labouring boat grew dimmer and dimmer, as each tug of the oars took her farther from him. Presently, only the figure of Mr. Troke in the stern sheets was visible; then that also disappeared, and as the nose of the timber raft rose on the swell of the next wave, Rufus Dawes flung himself into the sea.

He was heavily ironed, and he sank like a stone. He had resolved not to attempt to swim, and for the first moment kept his arms raised above his head, in order to sink the quicker. But, as the short, sharp agony of suffocation caught him, and the shock of the icy water dispelled the mental intoxication under which he was labouring, he desperately struck out, and, despite the weight of his irons, gained the surface for an instant. As he did so, all bewildered, and with the one savage instinct of self-preservation predominant over all other thoughts, be became conscious of a huge black mass surging upon him out of the darkness. An instant’s buffet with the current, an ineffectual attempt to dive beneath it, a horrible sense that the weight at his feet was dragging him down,–and the huge log, loosened from the raft, was upon him, crushing him beneath its rough and ragged sides. All thoughts of self-murder vanished with the presence of actual peril, and uttering that despairing cry which had been faintly heard by Troke, he flung up his arms to clutch the monster that was pushing him down to death. The log passed completely over him, thrusting him beneath the water, but his hand, scraping along the splintered side, came in contact with the loop of hide rope that yet hung round the mass, and clutched it with the tenacity of a death grip. In another instant he got his head above water, and making good his hold, twisted himself, by a violent effort, across the log.

For a moment he saw the lights from the stern windows of the anchored vessels low in the distance, Grummet Rock disappeared on his left, then, exhausted, breathless, and bruised, he closed his eyes, and the drifting log bore him swiftly and silently away into the darkness.

* * * * * *

At daylight the next morning, Mr. Troke, landing on the prison rock found it deserted. The prisoner’s cap was lying on the edge of the little cliff, but the prisoner himself had disappeared. Pulling back to the Ladybird, the intelligent Troke pondered on the circumstance, and in delivering his report to Vickers mentioned the strange cry he had heard the night before. “It’s my belief, sir, that he was trying to swim the bay,” he said. “He must ha’ gone to the bottom anyhow, for he couldn’t swim five yards with them irons.”

Vickers, busily engaged in getting under weigh, accepted this very natural supposition without question. The prisoner had met his death either by his own act, or by accident. It was either a suicide or an attempt to escape, and the former conduct of Rufus Dawes rendered the latter explanation a more probable one. In any case, he was dead. As Mr. Troke rightly surmised, no man could swim the bay in irons; and when the Ladybird, an hour later, passed the Grummet Rock, all on board her believed that the corpse of its late occupant was lying beneath the waves that seethed at its base.

CHAPTER VII.

THE LAST OF MACQUARIE HARBOUR.

Rufus Dawes was believed to be dead by the party on board the Ladybird, and his strange escape was unknown to those still at Sarah Island. Maurice Frere, if he bestowed a thought upon the refractory prisoner of the Rock, believed him to be safely stowed in the hold of the schooner, and already half-way to Hobart Town; while not one of the eighteen persons on board the Osprey suspected that the boat which had put off for the marooned man had returned without him. Indeed the party had little leisure for thought; Mr. Frere, eager to prove his ability and energy, was making strenuous exertions to get away, and kept his unlucky ten so hard at work that within a week from the departure of the Ladybird the Osprey was ready for sea. Mrs. Vickers and the child, having watched with some excusable regret the process of demolishing their old home, had settled down in their small cabin in the brig, and on the evening of the 11th of January, Mr. Bates, the pilot, who acted as master, informed the crew that Lieutenant Frere had given orders to weigh anchor at daybreak.

At daybreak accordingly the brig set sail, with a light breeze from the south-west, and by three o’clock in the afternoon anchored safely outside the Gates. Unfortunately the wind shifted to the north-west, which caused a heavy swell on the bar, and prudent Mr. Bates, having consideration for Mrs. Vickers and the child, ran back ten miles into Wellington Bay, and anchored there again at seven o’clock in the morning. The tide was running strongly, and the brig rolled a good deal. Mrs. Vickers kept to her cabin, and sent Sylvia to entertain Lieutenant Frere. Sylvia went, but was not entertaining. She had conceived for Frere one of those violent antipathies which children sometimes own without reason, and since the memorable night of the apology had been barely civil to him. In vain did he pet her and compliment her, she was not to be flattered into liking him. “I do not like you, sir,” she said in her stilted fashion, “but that need make no difference to you. You occupy yourself with your prisoners; I can amuse myself without you, thank you.” “Oh, all right,” said Frere, “I don’t want to interfere”; but he felt a little nettled nevertheless. On this particular evening the young lady relaxed her severity of demeanour. Her father away, and her mother sick, the little maiden felt lonely, and as a last resource accepted her mother’s commands and went to Frere. He was walking up and down the deck, smoking.

“Mr. Frere, I am sent to talk to you.”

“Are you? All right–go on.”

“Oh dear, no. It is the gentleman’s place to entertain. Be amusing!”

“Come and sit down then,” said Frere, who was in good humour at the success of his arrangements. “What shall we talk about?”

“You stupid man! As if I knew! It is your place to talk. Tell me a fairy story.”

“‘Jack and the Beanstalk’?” suggested Frere.

“Jack and the grandmother! Nonsense. Make one up out of your head, you know.”

Frere laughed.

“I can’t,” he said. “I never did such a thing in my life.”

“Then why not begin? I shall go away if you don’t begin.”

Frere rubbed his brows. “Well, have you read–have you read ‘Robinson Crusoe?'”–as if the idea was a brilliant one.

“Of course I have,” returned Sylvia, pouting. “Read it?–yes. Everybody’s read ‘Robinson Crusoe!'”

“Oh, have they? Well, I didn’t know; let me see now.” And pulling hard at his pipe, he plunged into literary reflection.

Sylvia, sitting beside him, eagerly watching for the happy thought that never came, pouted and said, “What a stupid, stupid man you are! I shall be so glad to get back to papa again. He knows all sorts of stories, nearly as many as old Danny.”

“Danny knows some, then?”

“Danny!”–with as much surprise as if she said “Walter Scott!” “Of course he does. I suppose now,” putting her head on one side, with an amusing expression of superiority, “you never heard the story of the ‘Banshee’?”

“No, I never did.”

“Nor the ‘White Horse of the Peppers’?”

“No.”

“No, I suppose not. Nor the ‘Changeling’? nor the ‘Leprechaun’?” “No.”

Sylvia got off the skylight on which she had been sitting, and surveyed the smoking animal beside her with profound contempt.

“Mr. Frere, you are really a most ignorant person. Excuse me if I hurt your feelings; I have no wish to do that; but really you are a most ignorant person–for your age, of course.”

Maurice Frere grew a little angry. “You are very impertinent, Sylvia,” said he.

“Miss Vickers is my name, Lieutenant Frere, and I shall go and talk to Mr. Bates.”

Which threat she carried out on the spot; and Mr. Bates, who had filled the dangerous office of pilot, told her about divers and coral reefs, and some adventures of his–a little apocryphal–in the China Seas. Frere resumed his smoking, half angry with himself, and half angry with the provoking little fairy. This elfin creature had a fascination for him which he could not account for.

However, he saw no more of her that evening, and at breakfast the next morning she received him with quaint haughtiness.

“When shall we be ready to sail? Mr. Frere, I’ll take some marmalade. Thank you.”

“I don’t know, missy,” said Bates. “It’s very rough on the Bar; me and Mr. Frere was a soundin’ of it this marnin’, and it ain’t safe yet.”

“Well,” said Sylvia, “I do hope and trust we sha’n’t be shipwrecked, and have to swim miles and miles for our lives.”

“Ho, ho!” laughed Frere; “don’t be afraid. I’ll take care of you.”

“Can you swim, Mr. Bates?” asked Sylvia.

“Yes, miss, I can.”

“Well, then, you shall take me; I like you. Mr. Frere can take mamma. We’ll go and live on a desert island, Mr. Bates, won’t we, and grow cocoa-nuts and bread-fruit, and–what nasty hard biscuits!– I’ll be Robinson Crusoe, and you shall be Man Friday. I’d like to live on a desert island, if I was sure there were no savages, and plenty to eat and drink.”

“That would be right enough, my dear, but you don’t find them sort of islands every day.”

“Then,” said Sylvia, with a decided nod, “we won’t be ship-wrecked, will we?”

“I hope not, my dear.”

“Put a biscuit in your pocket, Sylvia, in case of accidents,” suggested Frere, with a grin.

“Oh! you know my opinion of you, sir. Don’t speak; I don’t want any argument”.

“Don’t you?–that’s right.”

“Mr. Frere,” said Sylvia, gravely pausing at her mother’s cabin door, “if I were Richard the Third, do you know what I should do with you?”

“No,” says Frere, eating complacently; “what would you do?”

“Why, I’d make you stand at the door of St. Paul’s Cathedral in a white sheet, with a lighted candle in your hand, until you gave up your wicked aggravating ways–you Man!”

The picture of Mr. Frere in a white sheet, with a lighted candle in his hand, at the door of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was too much for Mr. Bates’s gravity, and he roared with laughter. “She’s a queer child, ain’t she, sir? A born natural, and a good-natured little soul.”

“When shall we be able to get away, Mr. Bates?” asked Frere, whose dignity was wounded by the mirth of the pilot.

Bates felt the change of tone, and hastened to accommodate himself to his officer’s humour. “I hopes by evening, sir,” said he; “if the tide slackens then I’ll risk it; but it’s no use trying it now.”

“The men were wanting to go ashore to wash their clothes,” said Frere.

“If we are to stop here till evening, you had better let them go after dinner.”

“All right, sir,” said Bates.

The afternoon passed off auspiciously. The ten prisoners went ashore and washed their clothes. Their names were James Barker, James Lesly, John Lyon, Benjamin Riley, William Cheshire, Henry Shiers, William Russen, James Porter, John Fair, and John Rex.

This last scoundrel had come on board latest of all. He had behaved himself a little better recently, and during the work attendant upon the departure of the Ladybird, had been conspicuously useful. His intelligence and influence among his fellow-prisoners combined to make him a somewhat important personage, and Vickers had allowed him privileges from which he had been hitherto debarred. Mr. Frere, however, who superintended the shipment of some stores, seemed to be resolved to take advantage of Rex’s evident willingness to work. He never ceased to hurry and find fault with him. He vowed that he was lazy, sulky, or impertinent. It was “Rex, come here! Do this! Do that!” As the prisoners declared among themselves, it was evident that Mr. Frere had a “down” on the “Dandy”. The day before the Ladybird sailed, Rex–rejoicing in the hope of speedy departure–had suffered himself to reply to some more than usually galling remark and Mr. Frere had complained to Vickers. “The fellow’s too ready to get away,” said he. “Let him stop for the Osprey, it will be a lesson to him.” Vickers assented, and John Rex was informed that he was not to sail with the first party. His comrades vowed that this order was an act of tyranny; but he himself said nothing. He only redoubled his activity, and–despite all his wish to the contrary–Frere was unable to find fault. He even took credit to himself for “taming” the convict’s spirit, and pointed out Rex–silent and obedient–as a proof of the excellence of severe measures. To the convicts, however, who knew John Rex better, this silent activity was ominous. He returned with the rest, however, on the evening of the 13th, in apparently cheerful mood. Indeed Mr. Frere, who, wearied by the delay, had decided to take the whale-boat in which the prisoners had returned, and catch a few fish before dinner, observed him laughing with some of the others, and again congratulated himself.

The time wore on. Darkness was closing in, and Mr. Bates, walking the deck, kept a look-out for the boat, with the intention of weighing anchor and making for the Bar. All was secure. Mrs. Vickers and the child were safely below. The two remaining soldiers (two had gone with Frere) were upon deck, and the prisoners in the forecastle were singing. The wind was fair, and the sea had gone down. In less than an hour the Osprey would be safely outside the harbour.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE POWER OF THE WILDERNESS.

The drifting log that had so strangely served as a means of saving Rufus Dawes swam with the current that was running out of the bay. For some time the burden that it bore was an insensible one. Exhausted with his desperate struggle for life, the convict lay along the rough back of this Heaven-sent raft without motion, almost without breath. At length a violent shock awoke him to consciousness, and he perceived that the log had become stranded on a sandy point, the extremity of which was lost in darkness. Painfully raising himself from his uncomfortable posture, he staggered to his feet, and crawling a few paces up the beach, flung himself upon the ground and slept.

When morning dawned, he recognized his position. The log had, in passing under the lee of Philip’s Island, been cast upon the southern point of Coal Head; some three hundred yards from him were the mutilated sheds of the coal gang. For some time he lay still, basking in the warm rays of the rising sun, and scarcely caring to move his bruised and shattered limbs. The sensation of rest was so exquisite, that it overpowered all other considerations, and he did not even trouble himself to conjecture the reason for the apparent desertion of the huts close by him. If there was no one there–well and good. If the coal party had not gone, he would be discovered in a few moments, and brought back to his island prison. In his exhaustion and misery, he accepted the alternative and slept again.

As he laid down his aching head, Mr. Troke was reporting his death to Vickers, and while he still slept, the Ladybird, on her way out, passed him so closely that any one on board her might, with a good glass, have espied his slumbering figure as it lay upon the sand.

When he woke it was past midday, and the sun poured its full rays upon him. His clothes were dry in all places, save the side on which he had been lying, and he rose to his feet refreshed by his long sleep. He scarcely comprehended, as yet, his true position. He had escaped, it was true, but not for long. He was versed in the history of escapes, and knew that a man alone on that barren coast was face to face with starvation or recapture. Glancing up at the sun, he wondered indeed, how it was that he had been free so long. Then the coal sheds caught his eye, and he understood that they were untenanted. This astonished him, and he began to tremble with vague apprehension. Entering, he looked around, expecting every moment to see some lurking constable, or armed soldier. Suddenly his glance fell upon the food rations which lay in the corner where the departing convicts had flung them the night before. At such a moment, this discovery seemed like a direct revelation from Heaven. He would not have been surprised had they disappeared. Had he lived in another age, he would have looked round for the angel who had brought them.

By and by, having eaten of this miraculous provender, the poor creature began –reckoning by his convict experience–to understand what had taken place. The coal workings were abandoned; the new Commandant had probably other work for his beasts of burden to execute, and an absconder would be safe here for a few hours at least. But he must not stay. For him there was no rest. If he thought to escape, it behoved him to commence his journey at once. As he contemplated the meat and bread, something like a ray of hope entered his gloomy soul. Here was provision for his needs. The food before him represented the rations of six men. Was it not possible to cross the desert that lay between him and freedom on such fare? The very supposition made his heart beat faster. It surely was possible. He must husband his resources; walk much and eat little; spread out the food for one day into the food for three. Here was six men’s food for one day, or one man’s food for six days. He would live on a third of this, and he would have rations for eighteen days. Eighteen days! What could he not do in eighteen days? He could walk thirty miles a day– forty miles a day–that would be six hundred miles and more. Yet stay; he must not be too sanguine; the road was difficult; the scrub was in places impenetrable. He would have to make détours, and turn upon his tracks, to waste precious time. He would be moderate, and say twenty miles a day. Twenty miles a day was very easy walking. Taking a piece of stick from the ground, he made the calculation in the sand. Eighteen days, and twenty miles a day–three hundred and sixty miles. More than enough to take him to freedom. It could be done! With prudence, it could be done! He must be careful and abstemious! Abstemious! He had already eaten too much, and he hastily pulled a barely-tasted piece of meat from his mouth, and replaced it with the rest. The action which at any other time would have seemed disgusting, was, in the case of this poor creature, merely pitiable.

Having come to this resolution, the next thing was to disencumber himself of his irons. This was more easily done than he expected. He found in the shed an iron gad, and with that and a stone he drove out the rivets. The rings were too strong to be “ovalled”,* or he would have been free long ago. He packed the meat and bread together, and then pushing the gad into his belt–it might be needed as a weapon of defence–he set out on his journey.

[Footnote]* Ovalled–“To oval” is a term in use among convicts, and means so to bend the round ring of the ankle fetter that the heel can be drawn up through it.

His intention was to get round the settlement to the coast, reach the settled districts, and, by some tale of shipwreck or of wandering, procure assistance. As to what was particularly to be done when he found himself among free men, he did not pause to consider. At that point his difficulties seemed to him to end. Let him but traverse the desert that was before him, and he would trust to his own ingenuity, or the chance of fortune, to avert suspicion. The peril of immediate detection was so imminent that, beside it, all other fears were dwarfed into insignificance.

Before dawn next morning he had travelled ten miles, and by husbanding his food, he succeeded by the night of the fourth day in accomplishing forty more. Footsore and weary, he lay in a thicket of the thorny melaleuca, and felt at last that he was beyond pursuit. The next day he advanced more slowly. The bush was unpropitious. Dense scrub and savage jungle impeded his path; barren and stony mountain ranges arose before him. He was lost in gullies, entangled in thickets, bewildered in morasses. The sea that had hitherto gleamed, salt, glittering, and hungry upon his right hand, now shifted to his left. He had mistaken his course, and he must turn again. For two days did this bewilderment last, and on the third he came to a mighty cliff that pierced with its blunt pinnacle the clustering bush. He must go over or round this obstacle, and he decided to go round it. A natural pathway wound about its foot. Here and there branches were broken, and it seemed to the poor wretch, fainting under the weight of his lessening burden, that his were not the first footsteps which had trodden there. The path terminated in a glade, and at the bottom of this glade was something that fluttered. Rufus Dawes pressed forward, and stumbled over a corpse!

In the terrible stillness of that solitary place he felt suddenly as though a voice had called to him. All the hideous fantastic tales of murder which he had read or heard seemed to take visible shape in the person of the loathly carcase before him, clad in the yellow dress of a convict, and lying flung together on the ground as though struck down. Stooping over it, impelled by an irresistible impulse to know the worst, he found the body was mangled. One arm was missing, and the skull had been beaten in by some heavy instrument! The first thought–that this heap of rags and bones was a mute witness to the folly of his own undertaking, the corpse of some starved absconder–gave place to a second more horrible suspicion. He recognized the number imprinted on the coarse cloth as that which had designated the younger of the two men who had escaped with Gabbett. He was standing on the place where a murder had been committed! A murder!–and what else? Thank God the food he carried was not yet exhausted! He turned and fled, looking back fearfully as he went. He could not breathe in the shadow of that awful mountain.

Crashing through scrub and brake, torn, bleeding, and wild with terror, he reached a spur on the range, and looked around him. Above him rose the iron hills, below him lay the panorama of the bush. The white cone of the Frenchman’s Cap was on his right hand, on his left a succession of ranges seemed to bar further progress. A gleam, as of a lake, streaked the eastward. Gigantic pine trees reared their graceful heads against the opal of the evening sky, and at their feet the dense scrub through which he had so painfully toiled, spread without break and without flaw. It seemed as though he could leap from where he stood upon a solid mass of tree-tops. He raised his eyes, and right against him, like a long dull sword, lay the narrow steel-blue reach of the harbour from which he had escaped. One darker speck moved on the dark water. It was the Osprey making for the Gates. It seemed that he could throw a stone upon her deck. A faint cry of rage escaped him. During the last three days in the bush he must have retraced his steps, and returned upon his own track to the settlement! More than half his allotted time had passed, and he was not yet thirty miles from his prison. Death had waited to overtake him in this barbarous wilderness. As a cat allows a mouse to escape her for a while, so had he been permitted to trifle with his fate, and lull himself into a false security. Escape was hopeless now. He never could escape; and as the unhappy man raised his despairing eyes, he saw that the sun, redly sinking behind a lofty pine which topped the opposite hill, shot a ray of crimson light into the glade below him. It was as though a bloody finger pointed at the corpse which lay there, and Rufus Dawes, shuddering at the dismal omen, averting his face, plunged again into the forest.

For four days he wandered aimlessly through the bush. He had given up all hopes of making the overland journey, and yet, as long as his scanty supply of food held out, he strove to keep away from the settlement. Unable to resist the pangs of hunger, he had increased his daily ration; and though the salted meat, exposed to rain and heat, had begun to turn putrid, he never looked at it but he was seized with a desire to eat his fill. The coarse lumps of carrion and the hard rye-loaves were to him delicious morsels fit for the table of an emperor. Once or twice he was constrained to pluck and eat the tops of tea-trees and peppermint shrubs. These had an aromatic taste, and sufficed to stay the cravings of hunger for a while, but they induced a raging thirst, which he slaked at the icy mountain springs. Had it not been for the frequency of these streams, he must have died in a few days. At last, on the twelfth day from his departure from the Coal Head, he found himself at the foot of Mount Direction, at the head of the peninsula which makes the western side of the harbour. His terrible wandering had but led him to make a complete circuit of the settlement, and the next night brought him round the shores of Birches Inlet to the landing-place opposite to Sarah Island. His stock of provisions had been exhausted for two days, and he was savage with hunger. He no longer thought of suicide. His dominant idea was now to get food. He would do as many others had done before him–give himself up to be flogged and fed. When he reached the landing-place, however, the guard-house was empty. He looked across at the island prison, and saw no sign of life. The settlement was deserted! The shock of this discovery almost deprived him of reason. For days, that had seemed centuries, he had kept life in his jaded and lacerated body solely by the strength of his fierce determination to reach the settlement; and now that he had reached it, after a journey of unparalleled horror, he found it deserted. He struck himself to see if he was not dreaming. He refused to believe his eyesight. He shouted, screamed, and waved his tattered garments in the air. Exhausted by these paroxysms, he said to himself, quite calmly, that the sun beating on his unprotected head had dazed his brain, and that in a few minutes he should see well-remembered boats pulling towards him. Then, when no boat came, he argued that he was mistaken in the place; the island yonder was not Sarah Island, but some other island like it, and that in a second or so he would be able to detect the difference. But the inexorable mountains, so hideously familiar for six weary years, made mute reply, and the sea, crawling at his feet, seemed to grin at him with a thin-lipped, hungry mouth. Yet the fact of the desertion seemed so inexplicable that he could not realize it. He felt as might have felt that wanderer in the enchanted mountains, who, returning in the morning to look for his companions, found them turned to stone.

At last the dreadful truth forced itself upon him; he retired a few paces, and then, with a horrible cry of furious despair, stumbled forward towards the edge of the little reef that fringed the shore. Just as he was about to fling himself for the second time into the dark water, his eyes, sweeping in a last long look around the bay, caught sight of a strange appearance on the left horn of the sea beach. A thin, blue streak, uprising from behind the western arm of the little inlet, hung in the still air. It was the smoke of a fire!

The dying wretch felt inspired with new hope. God had sent him a direct sign from Heaven. The tiny column of bluish vapour seemed to him as glorious as the Pillar of Fire that led the Israelites. There were yet human beings near him!–and turning his face from the hungry sea, he tottered with the last effort of his failing strength towards the blessed token of their presence.

CHAPTER IX.

THE SEIZURE OF THE “OSPREY”

Frere’s fishing expedition had been unsuccessful, and in consequence prolonged. The obstinacy of his character appeared in the most trifling circumstances, and though the fast deepening shades of an Australian evening urged him to return, yet he lingered, unwilling to come back empty-handed. At last a peremptory signal warned him. It was the sound of a musket fired on board the brig: Mr. Bates was getting impatient; and with a scowl, Frere drew up his lines, and ordered the two soldiers to pull for the vessel.

The Osprey yet sat motionless on the water, and her bare masts gave no sign of making sail. To the soldiers, pulling with their backs to her, the musket shot seemed the most ordinary occurrence in the world. Eager to quit the dismal prison-bay, they had viewed Mr Frere’s persistent fishing with disgust, and had for the previous half hour longed to hear the signal of recall which had just startled them. Suddenly, however, they noticed a change of expression in the sullen face of their commander. Frere, sitting in the stern sheets, with his face to the Osprey, had observed a peculiar appearance on her decks. The bulwarks were every now and then topped by strange figures, who disappeared as suddenly as they came, and a faint murmur of voices floated across the intervening sea. Presently the report of another musket shot echoed among the hills, and something dark fell from the side of the vessel into the water. Frere, with an imprecation of mingled alarm and indignation, sprang to his feet, and shading his eyes with his hand, looked towards the brig. The soldiers, resting on their oars, imitated his gesture, and the whale-boat, thus thrown out of trim, rocked from side to side dangerously. A moment’s anxious pause, and then another musket shot, followed by a woman’s shrill scream, explained all. The prisoners had seized the brig. “Give way!” cried Frere, pale with rage and apprehension, and the soldiers, realizing at once the full terror of their position, forced the heavy whale-boat through the water as fast as the one miserable pair of oars could take her.

* * * * * *

Mr. Bates, affected by the insidious influence of the hour, and lulled into a sense of false security, had gone below to tell his little playmate that she would soon be on her way to the Hobart Town of which she had heard so much; and, taking advantage of his absence, the soldier not on guard went to the forecastle to hear the prisoners singing. He found the ten together, in high good humour, listening to a “shanty” sung by three of their number. The voices were melodious enough, and the words of the ditty–chanted by many stout fellows in many a forecastle before and since–of that character which pleases the soldier nature. Private Grimes forgot all about the unprotected state of the deck, and sat down to listen.

While he listened, absorbed in tender recollections, James Lesly, William Cheshire, William Russen, John Fair, and James Barker slipped to the hatchway and got upon the deck. Barker reached the aft hatchway as the soldier who was on guard turned to complete his walk, and passing his arm round his neck, pulled him down before he could utter a cry. In the confusion of the moment the man loosed his grip of the musket to grapple with his unseen antagonist, and Fair, snatching up the weapon, swore to blow out his brains if he raised a finger. Seeing the sentry thus secured, Cheshire, as if in pursuance of a preconcerted plan, leapt down the after hatchway, and passed up the muskets from the arm-racks to Lesly and Russen. There were three muskets in addition to the one taken from the sentry, and Barker, leaving his prisoner in charge of Fair, seized one of them, and ran to the companion ladder. Russen, left unarmed by this manoeuvre, appeared to know his own duty. He came back to the forecastle, and passing behind the listening soldier, touched the singer on the shoulder. This was the appointed signal, and John Rex, suddenly terminating his song with a laugh, presented his fist in the face of the gaping Grimes. “No noise!” he cried. “The brig’s ours”; and ere Grimes could reply, he was seized by Lyon and Riley, and bound securely.

“Come on, lads!” says Rex, “and pass the prisoner down here. We’ve got her this time, I’ll go bail!” In obedience to this order, the now gagged sentry was flung down the fore hatchway, and the hatch secured. “Stand on the hatchway, Porter,” cries Rex again; “and if those fellows come up, knock ’em down with a handspoke. Lesly and Russen, forward to the companion ladder! Lyon, keep a look-out for the boat, and if she comes too near, fire!”

As he spoke the report of the first musket rang out. Barker had apparently fired up the companion hatchway.

* * * * * *

When Mr. Bates had gone below, he found Sylvia curled upon the cushions of the state-room, reading. “Well, missy!” he said, “we’ll soon be on our way to papa.”

Sylvia answered by asking a question altogether foreign to the subject. “Mr. Bates,” said she, pushing the hair out of her blue eyes, “what’s a coracle?”

“A which?” asked Mr. Bates.

“A coracle. C-o-r-a-c-l-e,” said she, spelling it slowly. “I want to know.”

The bewildered Bates shook his head. “Never heard of one, missy,” said he, bending over the book. “What does it say?”

“‘The Ancient Britons,'” said Sylvia, reading gravely, “‘were little better than Barbarians. They painted their bodies with Woad’–that’s blue stuff, you know, Mr. Bates–‘and, seated in their light coracles of skin stretched upon slender wooden frames, must have presented a wild and savage appearance.'”

“Hah,” said Mr. Bates, when this remarkable passage was read to him, “that’s very mysterious, that is. A corricle, a cory “–a bright light burst upon him. “A curricle you mean, missy! It’s a carriage! I’ve seen ’em in Hy’ Park, with young bloods a-drivin’ of ’em.”

“What are young bloods?” asked Sylvia, rushing at this “new opening”.

“Oh, nobs! Swell coves, don’t you know,” returned poor Bates, thus again attacked. “Young men o’ fortune that is, that’s given to doing it grand.”

“I see,” said Sylvia, waving her little hand graciously. “Noblemen and Princes and that sort of people. Quite so. But what about coracle?”

“Well,” said the humbled Bates, “I think it’s a carriage, missy. A sort of Pheayton, as they call it.”

Sylvia, hardly satisfied, returned to the book. It was a little mean-looking volume–a “Child’s History of England”–and after perusing it awhile with knitted brows, she burst into a childish laugh.

“Why, my dear Mr. Bates!” she cried, waving the History above her head in triumph, “what a pair of geese we are! A carriage! Oh you silly man! It’s a boat!”

“Is it?” said Mr. Bates, in admiration of the intelligence of his companion. “Who’d ha’ thought that now? Why couldn’t they call it a boat at once, then, and ha’ done with it?” and he was about to laugh also, when, raising his eyes, he saw in the open doorway the figure of James Barker, with a musket in his hand.

“Hallo! What’s this? What do you do here, sir?”

“Sorry to disturb yer,” says the convict, with a grin, “but you must come along o’ me, Mr. Bates.”

Bates, at once comprehending that some terrible misfortune had occurred, did not lose his presence of mind. One of the cushions of the couch was under his right hand, and snatching it up he flung it across the little cabin full in the face of the escaped prisoner. The soft mass struck the man with force sufficient to blind him for an instant. The musket exploded harmlessly in the air, and ere the astonished Barker could recover his footing, Bates had hurled him out of the cabin, and crying “Mutiny!” locked the cabin door on the inside.

The noise brought out Mrs. Vickers from her berth, and the poor little student of English history ran into her arms.

“Good Heavens, Mr. Bates, what is it?”

Bates, furious with rage, so far forgot himself as to swear. “It’s a mutiny, ma’am,” said he. “Go back to your cabin and lock the door. Those bloody villains have risen on us!” Julia Vickers felt her heart grow sick. Was she never to escape out of this dreadful life? “Go into your cabin, ma’am,” says Bates again, “and don’t move a finger till I tell ye. Maybe it ain’t so bad as it looks; I’ve got my pistols with me, thank God, and Mr. Frere’ll hear the shot anyway. Mutiny? On deck there!” he cried at the full pitch of his voice, and his brow grew damp with dismay when a mocking laugh from above was the only response.

Thrusting the woman and child into the state berth, the bewildered pilot cocked a pistol, and snatching a cutlass from the arm stand fixed to the butt of the mast which penetrated the cabin, he burst open the door with his foot, and rushed to the companion ladder. Barker had retreated to the deck, and for an instant he thought the way was clear, but Lesly and Russen thrust him back with the muzzles of the loaded muskets. He struck at Russen with the cutlass, missed him, and, seeing the hopelessness of the attack, was fain to retreat.

In the meanwhile, Grimes and the other soldier had loosed themselves from their bonds, and, encouraged by the firing, which seemed to them a sign that all was not yet lost, made shift to force up the forehatch. Porter, whose courage was none of the fiercest, and who had been for years given over to that terror of discipline which servitude induces, made but a feeble attempt at resistance, and forcing the handspike from him, the sentry, Jones, rushed aft to help the pilot. As Jones reached the waist, Cheshire, a cold-blooded blue-eyed man, shot him dead. Grimes fell over the corpse, and Cheshire, clubbing the musket– had he another barrel he would have fired–coolly battered his head as he lay, and then, seizing the body of the unfortunate Jones in his arms, tossed it into the sea. “Porter, you lubber!” he cried, exhausted with the effort to lift the body, “come and bear a hand with this other one!” Porter advanced aghast, but just then another occurrence claimed the villain’s attention, and poor Grimes’s life was spared for that time.

Rex, inwardly raging at this unexpected resistance on the part of the pilot, flung himself on the skylight, and tore it up bodily. As he did so, Barker, who had reloaded his musket, fired down into the cabin. The ball passed through the state-room door, and splintering the wood, buried itself close to the golden curls of poor little Sylvia. It was this hair’s-breadth escape which drew from the agonized mother that shriek which, pealing through the open stern window, had roused the soldiers in the boat.

Rex, who, by the virtue of his dandyism, yet possessed some abhorrence of useless crime, imagined that the cry was one of pain, and that Barker’s bullet had taken deadly effect. “You’ve killed the child, you villain!” he cried.

“What’s the odds?” asked Barker sulkily. “She must die any way, sooner or later.”

Rex put his head down the skylight, and called on Bates to surrender, but Bates only drew his other pistol. “Would you commit murder?” he asked, looking round with desperation in his glance.

“No, no,” cried some of the men, willing to blink the death of poor Jones. “It’s no use making things worse than they are. Bid him come up, and we’ll do him no harm.” “Come up, Mr. Bates,” says Rex, “and I give you my word you sha’n’t be injured.”

“Will you set the major’s lady and child ashore, then?” asked Bates, sturdily facing the scowling brows above him.

“Yes.”

“Without injury?” continued the other, bargaining, as it were, at the very muzzles of the muskets.

“Ay, ay! It’s all right!” returned Russen. “It’s our liberty we want, that’s all.”

Bates, hoping against hope for the return of the boat, endeavoured to gain time. “Shut down the skylight, then,” said he, with the ghost of an authority in his voice, “until I ask the lady.”

This, however, John Rex refused to do. “You can ask well enough where you are,” he said.

But there was no need for Mr. Bates to put a question. The door of the state-room opened, and Mrs. Vickers appeared, trembling, with Sylvia by her side. “Accept, Mr. Bates,” she said, “since it must be so. We should gain nothing by refusing. We are at their mercy–God help us!”

“Amen to that,” says Bates under his breath, and then aloud, “We agree !”

“Put your pistols on the table, and come up, then,” says Rex, covering the table with his musket as he spoke. “And nobody shall hurt you.”

CHAPTER X.

JOHN REX’S REVENGE.

Mrs Vickers, pale and sick with terror, yet sustained by that strange courage of which we have before spoken, passed rapidly under the open skylight, and prepared to ascend. Sylvia–her romance crushed by too dreadful reality– clung to her mother with one hand, and with the other pressed close to her little bosom the “English History”. In her all-absorbing fear she had forgotten to lay it down.

“Get a shawl, ma’am, or something,” says Bates, “and a hat for missy.”

Mrs. Vickers looked back across the space beneath the open skylight, and shuddering, shook her head. The men above swore impatiently at the delay, and the three hastened on deck.

“Who’s to command the brig now?” asked undaunted Bates, as they came up.

“I am,” says John Rex, “and, with these brave fellows, I’ll take her round the world.”

The touch of bombast was not out of place. It jumped so far with the humour of the convicts that they set up a feeble cheer, at which Sylvia frowned. Frightened as she was, the prison-bred child was as much astonished at hearing convicts cheer as a fashionable lady would be to hear her footman quote poetry. Bates, however–practical and calm– took quite another view of the case. The bold project, so boldly avowed, seemed to him a sheer absurdity. The “Dandy” and a crew of nine convicts navigate a brig round the world! Preposterous; why, not a man aboard could work a reckoning! His nautical fancy pictured the Osprey helplessly rolling on the swell of the Southern Ocean, or hopelessly locked in the ice of the Antarctic Seas, and he dimly guessed at the fate of the deluded ten. Even if they got safe to port, the chances of final escape were all against them, for what account could they give of themselves? Overpowered by these reflections, the honest fellow made one last effort to charm his captors back to their pristine bondage.

“Fools!” he cried, “do you know what you are about to do? You will never escape. Give up the brig, and I will declare, before my God, upon the Bible, that I will say nothing, but give all good characters.”

Lesly and another burst into a laugh at this wild proposition, but Rex, who had weighed his chances well beforehand, felt the force of the pilot’s speech, and answered seriously.

“It’s no use talking,” he said, shaking his still handsome head. “We have got the brig, and we mean to keep her. I can navigate her, though I am no seaman, so you needn’t talk further about it, Mr. Bates. It’s liberty we require.”

“What are you going to do with us?” asked Bates.

“Leave you behind.”

Bates’s face blanched. “What, here?”

“Yes. It don’t look a picturesque spot, does it? And yet I’ve lived here for some years”; and he grinned.

Bates was silent. The logic of that grin was unanswerable.

“Come!” cried the Dandy, shaking off his momentary melancholy, “look alive there! Lower away the jolly-boat. Mrs. Vickers, go down to your cabin and get anything you want. I am compelled to put you ashore, but I have no wish to leave you without clothes.” Bates listened, in a sort of dismal admiration, at this courtly convict. He could not have spoken like that had life depended on it. “Now, my little lady,” continued Rex, “run down with your mamma, and don’t be frightened.”

Sylvia flashed burning red at this indignity. “Frightened! If there had been anybody else here but women, you never would have taken the brig. Frightened! Let me pass, prisoner!”

The whole deck burst into a great laugh at this, and poor Mrs. Vickers paused, trembling for the consequences of the child’s temerity. To thus taunt the desperate convict who held their lives in his hands seemed sheer madness. In the boldness of the speech however, lay its safeguard. Rex–whose politeness was mere bravado–was stung to the quick by the reflection upon his courage, and the bitter accent with which the child had pronounced the word prisoner (the generic name of convicts) made him bite his lips with rage. Had he had his will, he would have struck the little creature to the deck, but the hoarse laugh of his companions warned him to forbear. There is “public opinion” even among convicts, and Rex dared not vent his passion on so helpless an object. As men do in such cases, he veiled his anger beneath an affectation of amusement. In order to show that he was not moved by the taunt, he smiled upon the taunter more graciously than ever.

“Your daughter has her father’s spirit, madam,” said he to Mrs. Vickers, with a bow.

Bates opened his mouth to listen. His ears were not large enough to take in the words of this complimentary convict. He began to think that he was the victim of a nightmare. He absolutely felt that John Rex was a greater man at that moment than John Bates.

As Mrs. Vickers descended the hatchway, the boat with Frere and the soldiers came within musket range, and Lesly, according to orders, fired his musket over their heads, shouting to them to lay to But Frere, boiling with rage at the manner in which the tables had been turned on him, had determined not to resign his lost authority without a struggle. Disregarding the summons, he came straight on, with his eyes fixed on the vessel. It was now nearly dark, and the figures on the deck were indistinguishable. The indignant lieutenant could but guess at the condition of affairs. Suddenly, from out of the darkness a voice hailed him–

“Hold water! back water!” it cried, and was then seemingly choked in its owner’s throat.

The voice was the property of Mr. Bates. Standing near the side, he had observed Rex and Fair bring up a great pig of iron, erst used as part of the ballast of the brig, and poise it on the rail. Their intention was but too evident; and honest Bates, like a faithful watch-dog, barked to warn his master. Bloodthirsty Cheshire caught him by the throat, and Frere, unheeding, ran the boat alongside, under the very nose of the revengeful Rex.

The mass of iron fell half in-board upon the now stayed boat, and gave her sternway, with a splintered plank.

“Villains!” cried Frere, “would you swamp us?”

“Aye,” laughed Rex, “and a dozen such as ye! The brig’s ours, can’t ye see, and we’re your masters now!”

Frere, stifling an exclamation of rage, cried to the bow to hook on, but the bow had driven the boat backward, and she was already beyond arm’s length of the brig. Looking up, he saw Cheshire’s savage face, and heard the click of the lock as he cocked his piece. The two soldiers, exhausted by their long pull, made no effort to stay the progress of the boat, and almost before the swell caused by the plunge of the mass of iron had ceased to agitate the water, the deck of the Osprey had become invisible in the darkness.

Frere struck his fist upon the thwart in sheer impotence of rage. “The scoundrels!” he said, between his teeth, “they’ve mastered us. What do they mean to do next?”

The answer came pat to the question. From the dark hull of the brig broke a flash and a report, and a musket ball cut the water beside them with a chirping noise. Between the black indistinct mass which represented the brig, and the glimmering water, was visible a white speck, which gradually neared them.

“Come alongside with ye!” hailed a voice, “or it will be the worse for ye!”

“They want to murder us,” says Frere. “Give way, men!”

But the two soldiers, exchanging glances one with the other, pulled the boat’s head round, and made for the vessel. “It’s no use, Mr. Frere,” said the man nearest him; “we can do no good now, and they won’t hurt us, I dare say.”

“You dogs, you are in league with them,” bursts out Frere, purple with indignation. “Do you mutiny?”

“Come, come, sir,” returned the soldier, sulkily, “this ain’t the time to bully; and, as for mutiny, why, one man’s about as good as another just now.”

This speech from the lips of a man who, but a few minutes before, would have risked his life to obey orders of his officer, did more than an hour’s reasoning to convince Maurice Frere of the hopelessness of resistance. His authority–born of circumstance, and supported