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Title: Ralph Rashleigh Author: James Tucker * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0301291h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2018 Most recent update: October 2018 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Transcriber’s Note: Tucker wrote his autobiographical “Ralph Rashleigh; or, The Life of an Exile” in 1844. It was published in a heavily edited form in 1929, and his original manuscript was published in 1952. Below is a copy of the letter that caused him to be convicted of blackmail:
Sir, — You perhaps did not expect to hear from me so suddenly; but when you turned me away from Laytonstone for a mere trifle, (that too at a time when by the late failures many scores of clerks were out of employ,) you forgot that I had you in my power through your transactions with me five nights following, (I have the dates and circumstances on paper written at the time,) and that from your conduct to me before I went to live with you, you could expect no mercy from me.
Did you not, however, let it pass? In a few words, I have taken advice upon the subject, and know that if you are obstinate, it is in my power to bring down ruin on your head, and infamy on your name. However, I will be merciful. Allow me to return to L. in the same manner as before, I will never mention it again, as if I did I should lose every thing, and gain nothing; but it is impossible for me to get any situation in town at present. It is not true that Mrs. T. advertised, as you said; she is in great distress, and she is my mother, therefore I would wish to afford her a little relief, if possible; so send me five pounds to my address; which, with the other you lent me, I will I. O. U. for, and pay when I get a place. If I do not hear from you by Saturday morning, you will hear of it (enclosing five pounds). Now consider ruin and beggary on one side, and wealth and comfort on the other; remember, that, if you are obstinate, it will cost you all; do as I say, it will cost you nothing. I wait your answer before I proceed. As yet I have given Mr. Norris no names. On Saturday night, (if you are silent,) I will go too far to retract.
(Signed) JAMES TUCKER, Junior.
The tale contained in the following pages was compiled by the Editor as it fell from the lips of the person who was at once the author and in some sort the hero of the adventures therein narrated, chiefly with a view to dissipate the ennui and vary the monotony — at times inseparable, in the circumstances of a life in the bush of Australia.
As, however, the truth of many of the leading incidents is known to the Editor personally, and that of others has been vouched for by persons of undoubted veracity, it is now offered to the public, who, it is hoped, will receive it with the indulgence due to the rude unadorned production of
31st Decr 1845
Why Then The World’s Mine Oyster
Respecting the parents of Ralph Rashleigh, little needs here he add save that they were of a decent rank as London shopkeepers, and that they were thus enabled to afford their son the advantage of a good plain English education, upon the completion of which he was articled to a conveyancer in extensive practice, who resided near Chancery Lane, a romantic neighbourhood to which Ralph was compelled to restrict his rambles for the first two years of his servitude; but on the expiration of that period, in compliance with a stipulation contained in his indentures, a small allowance being made to him, he ceased to reside under his master’s roof and occupied a lodging by himself.
He was now fairly launched upon the great ocean of Life, for although his office hours were sufficiently long, yet abundance of time still remained, during which Rashleigh was completely his own master; and amid the varied amusements offered to his choice in the modern Babylon, he soon found nothing deficient for enjoyment, except money, with which he was but sparingly supplied. This hiatus, of course, giving him much pain, he naturally set himself to work to remove it, if possible, but for a long period without any success.
Among the number of his boon companions was a young man, who though only receiving from his employer an equal salary to himself, yet always appeared to be possessed of means for the gratification of his pleasures; and as he ever seemed to distinguish Ralph with his friendship, the latter, one evening when both were tolerably warm from the effect of numerous potations in which they had indulged, begged his friend to explain how he managed so well with his limited income, as always to have cash for any expense he chose to incur.
His companion, whose name was Hartop, after many injunctions of secrecy, informed him that as his employer usually sent him to make payments and receive money upon account of the business, he had for a long period been in the habit of occasionally passing bad sovereigns, using however great precaution. and never carrying more than one at a time upon his person. Then he picked his customers — mostly people from the country or residing at a distant part of London — to whom he would tender a queer piece and if it were objected to, would immediately replace it by a good one, wondering how he came by it, etc. At other times, when he thought he could do so safely in telling over money he was about to receive, he would dexterously exchange one of the good ones for another he had previously concealed in his hand, which of course was bad. The result of this manoeuvre would be, that when he objected to the one he had himself put down, the person about to pay him, probably knowing all the pieces he had tendered to be genuine, would exchange the one questioned without hesitation. Nay, so good were the imitations he made use of, that often, in paying considerable sums of money in gold into banks — where the specie was weighed in the lump — a bad sovereign would pass current enough among many others, and not excite any suspicion.
This communication over, Hartop offered our hero his services, to procure him a few of the inimitable imitations of the current coin of the realm, adding that he could pay for them when he was lucky. To this offer Ralph, nothing loath, assented. A few days after, he received from his friend twenty spurious sovereigns, that being deemed enough for his first essay.
Thus did Ralph Rashleigh commence his career of dishonesty, and for a long period escaped with impunity, owing to the able manner in which he adopted and followed the cautious counsels of his sage tutor. At length, finding that he could obtain all the luxuries of life, not to mention necessaries only, without any very arduous exertion, he became so very idle, careless, and inattentive to his employer’s business, that after many fruitless remonstrances and unavailing lectures from his worthy principal, he received lib dismissal, his articles being cancelled.
This event, indeed, did not much concern him, as he believed he should always be able to supply his wants by means of passing bad money. as heretofore. In order, however, to lull suspicion, which might have been awakened had he remained without any employment or apparent means of earning a livelihood whatever, Ralph, who now wrote a remarkably fine and quick legal hand, obtained out-of-door copying from a law scrivener, intending to do only just as much work as might be supposed to afford him subsistence.
After this resolution, his custom was to work two or three hours per day at his lodging, and to employ the rest of his time perambulating London, varying his rambles every day, and at times shifting the scene of his exertions to a fair or race in the country, where he generally met with tolerable success.
But the period of his profitable trading in this line was rapidly drawing to a close, and one unlucky day, having extended his operations to Maidstone at the time of a fair, he was apprehended. As, contrary to his usual custom, he had then two bad sovereigns in his pocket, he was committed to take his trial upon a charge of uttering counterfeit coin. At the ensuing assizes in spite of a most ingenious defence, he was found guilty and sentenced to pass twelve months in imprisonment at hard labour in the house of correction.
This being prior to the invention of treadmills or the improvement of prison discipline, there was no restraint to free communication with his fellow unfortunates. And the species of employment, which consisted only of picking oakum and beating hemp, afforded ample opportunities for the relation by his companions of the many marvellous exploits, cunning schemes, hair-breadth scapes, and successful stratagem for which the lives of each had been remarkable.
It may very easily he imagined, that such society produced its full effect upon the mind of our adventurer, who had, in fact, never been notorious for any great nicety in distinguishing the difference between meum et tuum, and he now emerged from his confinement a most finished adept in all those arts by winch the unprincipled portion of mankind contrived, five and twenty years ago, to victimise their unwary fellow-countrymen.
Ardently longing to reduce the praiseworthy theoretical knowledge he had thus acquired to practical purposes, Rashleigh returned from the gaol to London, in which he still possessed some good clothing and a few trinkets. The latter he now turned into cash for his present subsistence, and then proceeded to the town of Winchester, where he had been informed by an old cracksman (housebreaker)— whom he had left in durance at Maidstone — there was a jeweller’s shop from which a large booty might easily he acquired. In fact, before he was released, Ralph had concerted a plan of operations with his informant, to be put in practice for this purpose when the latter should have served his full sentence and again acquired his liberty.
But our hero had no intention of waiting for an associate, as he wisely deemed the spoil would suffer much by participation with another. Therefore, the very day after that on which he had returned to the metropolis, he set off for Winchester per coach, provided with THe necessary implements of every kind for his nefarious purpose, carefully put up, with a change of clothing, in a carpet bag.
Having duly arrived at the proposed scene of action, he adjourned from the coach office to a small public-house on the outside of the town, where he dined. He then proceeded to view the shop in question. Everything here was apparently as he had been informed, and having spent a few minutes inside the shop, ostensibly for the purpose of purchasing a trifling article, he returned to his inn, there to digest his plans at leisure. These were soon arranged, and Rashleigh, having taken his supper, discharged his reckoning and went to bed, requesting that he might be called at two o’clock, there being a coach to start for Portsmouth at that hour.
The morning proved as dark as Erebus, for it was in the month of November. A chill sleet had completely driven the ancient guardians of the night to their retreats, and not a single sound disturbed the tranquillity of the town. Ralph therefore met with no difficulty or obstacle in his route to the shop. Once there, to remove a panel of the shutter with his centre-bit and chisel was an easy task. The glass next presented itself. This was also cut through with a diamond and prevented from falling by means of a piece of putty held against it. There was a small brass wire grating next the window; but it was movable, and the robber had nothing to prevent him from filling his pockets with the various articles which he could feel lay in the cases before him; when lo, the lusty shout of a watchman at a distance, crying the hour, warned him to be cautious. Accordingly he clapped a piece of dark-coloured paper against the opening of the panel and hastily betook himself to the kind concealment afforded by the shadows of an antique porch hard by.
The vigilant conservator of public property quickly passed, apparently in great haste to return to his box or the comforts of the watch-house fire, and the coast being thus once more clear, Ralph repaired to his unhallowed occupation. To fill his bag, pockets and hat with valuables and all kind of trinkets was but the work of a few minutes. Then, replacing the paper before named, to prevent too early an outcry, he made the best of his way by unfrequented paths to the outskirts of Winchester, where he had during the afternoon noticed a wood, in which he now carefully concealed all his ill-gotten booty, near the foot of an old and remarkable tree. He then cut across the fields until he reached a by-road leading to the town of Basingstoke. He walked upon this road until morning dawned, having for the last few hours had the benefit of the moon’s friendly beams, which so much assisted his progress that at daylight he found himself four and twenty miles from Winchester, and near a small public-house by the wayside. Here he stopped to refresh, and in a short time, a coach coming by, he embraced the opportunity of obtaining a ride to Farnham, where he intended to stay a day or two.
In the evening, weary of the solitude of his own apartment in the public house where he put up, Ralph descended to the large room, which served the inn “for parlour, for kitchen and hall”, in which he found the assembled rustics gaping around a man who had just arrived from Winchester, and who was giving them the details of a most owdacious robbery which had there been done the night before, property to the value of £1,500 having been abstracted from a jeweller’s shop. The whole town and neighbourhood were in a complete ferment at this very palpable proof of the presence of some dexterous thieves, of whom it was supposed a whole gang must have been employed to effect this atrocious act. And all whom the sapient magistrates of Winchester thought fit to consider loose or idle characters among the lower classes of the townsfolk had them apprehended and examined. Such a turmoil of arresting, searching, questioning, and cross-questioning had never been known in Hampshire since the death of William Rufus. Moreover, as a finale, to prove they did something as well as talk so much. after all this uproar, two poor sailors who were begging their way to Portsmouth in the hope of getting a ship were apprehended and each sent six months to hard labour in gaol, because they could give no better account of themselves than their true history.
It may easily he credited that Rashleigh was no indifferent auditor of this tale. He was, in sooth, much overjoyed to find that the police of Winchester were so far astray in their suspicions, and he consequently resolved to pay a visit to some relatives he possessed at Southampton for a few days, after which he proposed to return for his spoil, to the place of its concealment.
Accordingly, the next day he put this determination into practice. His friends at that pretty little sea-port received him most cordially, the rather, no doubt, that they had not the slightest idea of the manner in which he had lately spent his time, but believed him to be still employed as a lawyer’s clerk in London, and that he had now come down to keep a holiday. A few days were therefore passed most agreeably among them; but as the weather was too inclement to permit much out-of-door exercise, the sameness of the scene began to pall upon the mind of our adventurer, who soon longed for a return to the more varied pleasures of the great Babel. While here, however, a singular and rather romantic adventure happened to Rashleigh, which will be found narrated in the next chapter.
Thro’ the haze of the night, a bright flash now appearing;
“Oh ho!” cries bold Will, “The Philistines bear down;
“Never mind, my tight lads, never think about sheering;
“One broadside we’ll give, should we swim, boys, or drown.”
Ralph Rashleigh had embraced the opportunity of a somewhat dry day, to walk out as far as the ruins of Netley Abbey, a venerable monastic pile in the New Forest, and spent so long a period in musing over the traces of fallen grandeur which it so abundantly presents, that evening was rapidly closing before he became aware of it. When he intended to retrace his steps to the town, he missed his way and became quite bewildered among the ruins and in the forest. At length, however, having hit upon a well-beaten path which seemed to lead in the wished-for direction, he hastily turned into it, and having proceeded for some distance, at length discovered to his dismay that it only led to the banks of Southampton Water, among an incongruous mass of ruins and rocks, which covered the beach in picturesque but not — by him at least — much admired profusion. It was now quite dark, and our wanderer had the not very pleasing prospect before him of passing the night in a solitary ramble along the winding recesses of this famed harbour, when at a short distance he saw a light, towards which, of course, he quickly bent his steps. He had scarcely set out when he recollected that these ruins were said to be the resort of deer stealers, smugglers and other outlaws, to intrude upon whose privacy might be dangerous. This induced him to proceed more cautiously and to reconnoitre the vicinity carefully. But now the light had disappeared and Ralph was puzzling himself to account for this, when it suddenly became again visible. Once more all was dark and again the deceitful gleam was shown.
“Could it be a will o’ the wisp, or other ignis fatuus?” thought our adventurer, half resolved to abandon the chase, when a voice, apparently near, but below him — as it sounded as if emanating from some man at the bottom of a well — hailed loudly.
“Bob! Bob! Is all right?”
Immediately, to Ralph’s great dismay, the light he had pursued so long in vain was now shown close to him in the hands of a rough-looking sailor, whose truculent features bespoke intimate acquaintance with the display of fire-arms he ostentatiously bore in his belt. Half frightened to death at his very look, Rashleigh suddenly sank down among the long grass and rubbish, scarcely daring to breathe for fear of discovery.
The voice from beneath now asked, “Is Curtis in sight?” as it seemed, while the person to whom it belonged was ascending.
The man with the light replied, gruffly enough, “No, he an’t.”
Soon after, both men appeared, to join each other at a very short distance from Ralph, who lay perdu.
One now remarked that “it was d —— d strange”.
The other, assenting, said “it could not be for fear of the hawks, for they were all off the Wight, on the look-out for Jack Simmons, who had sent a note to an old pal of his at Cowes, purposely that it might fall into the hands of the preventive men, in which he stated that he should try it on that night at Blackgang or the Undercliff. Consequently, the cutter from Southampton, another from Portsmouth, and all the spare officers had been sent over to the island.”
It seemed by their further conversation that all this was known to the smugglers through one of the revenue men in their pay, and that the whole affair had been prearranged, so as to leave the coast clear for their operations at the spot where they then were.
A few minutes more elapsed in silence, when one of the men suddenly exclaimed, “By G——! There she is! Now for the signal!”
A long loud whistle was given, and almost instantly the trampling of many horses, accompanied by the clatter of harness, was heard all round Ralph’s hiding-place. Presently the splash of oars indicated the approach of a boat, and a scene of great bustle ensued. This boat and two others were rapidly unladen, their contents being transferred to the backs of the horses and to two or three light waggons. which had also been brought down to the shore.
Suddenly another whistle was heard at some distance. It was repeated, while just around the spot occupied by our hero many exclamations, such as “Look out for the hawks!” “Blast them, they’re coming!” were spoken in low and hurried voices, warning him that the revenue officers were at hand and coming to attack the smugglers, one of whom seemed to act as leader. and now directed that the loaded waggons and horses should he driven off as quickly as possible, while himself and a few others tried to keep back the officers for a while, until the cargo should be in safety. The horses and waggons accordingly went off at a gallop, the persons who drove them seeming so well acquainted with the route that in spite of the many obstacles and the extreme darkness of the night, they were quickly out of hearing.
The remainder of the smugglers, in obedience to the order of their Chief, had either lain down or sheltered themselves behind masses of rock, when a strong party of the coast-guard appeared advancing round a projecting point, many of them bearing links (or torches) by the light of which the whole bay was partially illuminated, and the lugger might he seen crowding all her canvas to escape. But the officers, being unprovided with boats, and supposing besides that the cargo had been already landed, confined their attempts to the capture of the latter, leaving the lugger to get off unmolested, except by a few useless shots fired at her from the shore, more, it would seem, out of bravado than with any idea of damaging her crew. Soon the foremost of the officers came into contact with the concealed smugglers, and instantly the blaze of twenty muskets streamed amid the gloom.
Two of the officers fell. The remainder hastily retreated, and a consultation having taken place among their leaders, they appeared to resolve upon trying to pass the flank of their opponents, and they therefore turned inland; but very soon after again exposed themselves to a most galling fire from the smugglers, who lay in safety, secured by their position from the shot of the coast-guard party, while the latter, through bearing torches and still endeavouring to advance, suffered considerably.
Another pause ensued, when the leader of the King’s men cheering on his people, they fairly rushed in among the smugglers, who, after discharging their guns at random, leaped up, and endeavoured with the butt ends of their pieces to parry the cutlasses which were aimed at them. All this rime poor Ralph lay in a state of mortal fear, which was not much diminished when the fray became most violent immediately around him, the leader of the smugglers and the commander of the coast-guard having singled out each other, and the bravest of their followers rushing to their assistance. At last fresh and lively cheers from the wood, and loud cries of “Down with the blasted hawks!” indicated that more help had arrived to the party of smugglers, upon which some of the King’s men forcibly carried their officer away from the scene of conflict; when they all retreated in good order along the beach, still keeping their faces to the foe, and occasionally firing at any whom they fancied they could distinguish plainly enough for that purpose.
The smugglers, on their part, did not molest them or attempt any pursuit, but busied themselves in searching for their dead or wounded companions. A number of lanterns now speedily made their appearance, and the bearer of one of them approached Rashleigh, who lay breathless and counterfeiting death as well as he could.
Seeing by his dress that he did not belong to either of the conflicting parties, the man exclaimed, “Why, what have we got here? I zay, jack, here’s a gemman. Let’s zee whether he’s got anything in his pockets!”
Jack, a fierce-looking fellow with enormous whiskers, now came up, and holding his lantern close to Ralph’s face, said, “By the hokey, he an’t dead. He’s only shamming — or else in a swound.”
The voice of their leader was now heard demanding “why they didn’t come on, what they were doing there, and whether they wanted to bring all the sojers in Southampton down upon them.”
To this one of Ralph’s captors replied “that they had found a man who pretended to be dead, and that they thought he must be a spy, from his dress.”
“A spy, hey?” replied the smuggler. “Bring him along. We’ll put him from pretending death any more; he shall swing from the Beaulieu Oak before the night’s an hour older.”
Here Ralph quite lost what scanty remains of self-possession he had left, and begged his captors. in the most moving terms for mercy, but in vain. They hurried him along half running, between them, striking his legs against every projecting root or stone in the way.
At length, after having proceeded two or three miles in this manner, following the sound of their companions’ footsteps, and guided sometimes by a whistle from the front, they reached an open forest glade, in the centre of which was an enormous and aged oak. At the foot of this tree stood three men, among them the leader of the smugglers, whose voice Ralph had so often heard in the roar of that night’s conflict. He now asked the prisoner who he was, to which Rashleigh could only reply, while his teeth chattered with terror, that he was a stranger, who had come on a visit to Southampton and had lost his way near Netley the previous day.
“A d —— d fine tale,” replied the smuggler. “You are a blasted spy, and shall die a dog’s death. Here’s a good strong rope. You, Bill! Count a hundred. And Harry and Jack, be ready when he has done to strap this fine shaver up.”
Poor Ralph now went upon his knees to beg for pity, while he alternately prayed and invoked the most direful imprecations upon his head if he were a spy, or if he had not spoken the truth; to which the only reply vouchsafed was that he might as well spare the little breath he had left, for he would find there was no mistake about them.
In the mean time Bill had counted 64 and Ralph offered all he possessed if they would let him go; 65 — 66 — 67 were calmly repeated, but no reply came from the smuggler; 68-69 sounded in his cars, and driven to utter despair, while the leader was preparing a noose on the fatal cord, Ralph shook himself suddenly free from the grip of the two men who held him, and snatching a gun which stood against the tree, dealt such a vigorous blow with the stock of it on the chief’s head that he at once laid him sprawling on the earth and broke his weapon short off by the breech, leaving only the barrel in his hand.
He then sprang off and ran with the speed of a hunted deer, closely followed by one of the smugglers, who seemed to be armed only with a stick. When they had run a considerable distance, Rashleigh, finding his pursuer gained upon him, rapidly dodged short round, hoping to strike him unawares. But his foot slipped, and he fell to the ground. The smuggler seized the gun barrel, and after dealing the prostrate runaway a blow or two, which he intended for his head, but which were saved by his arm, he began dragging the unlucky Ralph back to the tree, in spite of all his struggles or his loud outcries for assistance, which served only to procure him fresh blows. At length another of the men came to the assistance of his fellow, and between them they soon hauled their victim back to the spot they destined to end all his earthly struggles.
The smuggler chief was now seated under the tree, and one of the men was binding up his wounded head, which seemed to have been bleeding profusely. He welcomed the party with a grim laugh, saying, “So ho, my shaver. You thought to have settled me, but long Frank has got a harder head than you reckoned for. Now, my boys, what are you gaping at? Chuck the end of the rope over that bough. And put the noose round that bloody dog’s neck. We’ll give him five minutes’ good choking.”
In an instant the rope was adjusted, and the end having been disposed as directed, three of the smugglers laid hold of the part that hung over the bough to haul the sufferer off the ground.
Already the rope was drawn tight, when a loud voice close at hand roared out, “oh ho, you blasted thieves! We’ve got you at last, have we?” And suiting the action to the word, the three fellows who held the rope were seized by a number of armed men so great that all resistance was out of the question. The smuggler chief and the other man, who till that moment had continued his grasp upon Ralph, had both disappeared. As for Rashleigh, he fell to the ground and was soon surrounded by a number of persons, who from their dress and appearance seemed to be gamekeepers and their assistants.
This proved to be the case. While they had been in search of some deer stealers, they had been attracted to this spot by the outcries of our adventurer, whose life they had thus opportunely saved. They listened to Ralph’s tale with much astonishment and many execrations upon their three prisoners, whom, as the daylight was now at hand, they proposed to escort to Southampton Gaol.
On their way thither, they were met by two decent-looking men who took the head gamekeeper aside. After some conversation, Ralph was called to join them, when he was asked whether he had any objection to forgiving the smugglers if a sum of money were paid to him in atonement for their offence. The gamekeeper, who probably looked upon smuggling as a very venial crime, or at any rate as being of much less enormity than that of deer stealing, raised not the smallest difficulty at letting the prisoners go; while Ralph, who hated all law and detested the idea of appearing before a magistrate, considered besides — since the chief smuggler had escaped, with his principal coadjutor — that neither of the three men who were taken had been active in persecuting him. So our adventurer agreed, if the sum Of £20 were paid to him as a douceur, and the rest of the party satisfied, why, he was content to let the matter drop.
By this time they had reached a small ale-house in the purlieus of the forest, the inmates of which being with some difficulty aroused, the whole party went in at the invitation of the ambassadors; and as some refreshment was much needed by all — but by none more than Rashleigh — a smoking breakfast, though somewhat of the earliest, was welcomed with great satisfaction. After breakfast one of the strangers took our adventurer aside and paid him £10 in part of the sum agreed on, the landlord of the house binding himself to produce the other ten the same evening. Ralph now bade his adieux to the company, who were fast getting all drunk together, left the inn, and returned to Southampton.
His absence had created a great sensation, and innumerable were the questions to which the disordered state of his dress gave rise on his arrival at his relatives’ house. But he parried them all by saying that he had lost his way and torn his clothes in a thicket, mentioning a different part of the forest to that in which he had actually been, so as to evade any apparent knowledge of the past night’s affray. After taking some repose, he went in the evening and received the promised balance of the money agreed to be paid. In a few days thereafter, taking farewell of his friends, he went over to Portsmouth, where he sojourned a week.
Hath not a Jew — eyes?
As three weeks had now elapsed since the robbery at Winchester, and all talk of it had ceased, Ralph determined on springing his plant, or, in plain terms, securing his booty. For this purpose he provided himself at Portsmouth with a new travelling trunk, which he conveyed per coach to his destination. On his arrival at the latter place, his first care was to fix his abode at an inn near his precious deposit, his next to see that all was right in the coppice where it lay. Having satisfied himself in this particular, he waited until evening, when, by means of two different visits to the spot, he removed the whole of the articles, without exciting any suspicion, to his present headquarters, which he left next morning for London, where he arrived in due course without accident.
His next care was to dispose of the various articles produced by his enterprise. For this purpose he selected an accommodating Israelite, whose fame had been very often spoken of in the gaol he had left as a safe fence, and a perfect pattern for all cross coves. A dingy marine store shop in a court leading to the Minories was the domicile of this descendant of a chosen people, and thither one evening Ralph bent his way. Our adventurer expected to see in Mr Jacobs a withered and filthy old being, similar in external appearance to those of his race who then perambulated the metropolis as dealers in cast-off clothing. His surprise, therefore, was great when, upon enquiring from a little Jewess in the shop for the master of it, a man in the prime of life, and of most respectable exterior, was shown to him. Having been provided with a password, as a shibboleth of introduction, known only to the initiated, he was not long before he spoke his errand, and it was agreed that they should meet at Rashleigh’s lodgings the next forenoon in order to make their bargain.
At the time appointed Mr J. made his entree. Ralph was prepared with a list and specimens of what he had to sell, as he did not deem it altogether prudent to acquaint his new associate with too much at once, nor did he wish to let him know that all the property was then in that house. After overlooking both list and articles with a very businesslike air, Mr Jacobs said to Ralph. “Vell, how mosh do you vant for de lot?”
“At a word, one thousand pounds.”
“Mine Gott! Are you mad? Vere you tink all dat money shall come from?”
“Oh, Mr Jacobs! You know you could easily find twenty times as much money as that, and I am sure they are a very great bargain!”
“I vill tell you vat it ish. Py mine vord, I never did know de monish so shcarce in all de days of my life; and is pesides, if I was to porrow so mosh, to puy all dis lot of trinkets, ven de devil you tink I get all my monish pack again? Eh? Can you tell me dat?”
“Well, well, Mr Jacobs, if money is really so scarce, you can buy half of what’s on the list, and I will look out for another mark to take the rest. What will you give for the fair half? You know, we can divide them into two heaps, and toss up for first choice!”
“Mine Gott! Vat a hurry to be in! Vell, let me see, let me see . . . All dese bracelets . . . very poor, very poor . . . all French . . . all French and Jarman . . . Bad gold, bad gold . . . Sell petter in England dan over de vater. Put if I puy dem dey mosht go to Hambro’ . . . Vell, I vill tell you at vun vord how mosh I vill give you. I vill give . . . Yes, I vill give you . . . free hundred pounds for de fair half . . . de monish in your hand. So take it or leave it.”
As he said this he pulled out an immense roll of bank notes from some cunningly contrived pocket beneath his arm, and rose at the same time as if to go away if the other did not take his offer.
Ralph only replied, “’Tis too little. Say £350.”
‘Not I, py mine Gott! Shall I go?”
“Yes. If you won’t give any more than that we can’t deal.”
The Jew seized the knob of the door, partly opened it, then returned close to Rashleigh, and said in a mysterious whisper, “I vill give £640 for de whole.”
Ralph shook his head, and Mr Jacobs ran out of the room and downstairs.
Our adventurer had arisen from his seat and gone to the window in order to watch the Israelite, intending, if he actually left the house, to follow him, when Mr Jacobs again returned, closed the door after him, and said. “Now I vill give you £650 for dem all, and upon my shoul, I don’t expect to get a finif (£5 note) py de pargain. But I vant to send some jewels to Hambro’, and dese vill do as vell as any.”
At last Ralph agreed to take £660, which was forthwith paid down by the buyer in Bank of England notes, after which he departed with the portmanteau and jewellery.
For some rime after this Rashleigh led an idle dissipated life, frequently appearing at the theatres, gaming-houses, etc., until the slippery goddess took it into her head to desert him, and he found himself nearly penniless. It now became necessary for him to bestir himself.
Fortune happened to throw in his way an acquaintance, in the person of a female who had formerly been a servant to his employer, with whom he had had a liaison, which he now renewed. She at present lived in the service of an elderly gentleman of great wealth in Welbeck Street. Our adventurer procured by her means admittance into this her master’s house and thus enjoyed ample opportunities of observing the locality of the butler’s pantry, where he learned the plate was kept.
In order to succeed in the plan he had formed for plundering the place, however, it was necessary for him to procure an associate in his enterprise; and he thought himself lucky that about this time he accidentally met in the street one of his quondam companions at Maidstone Gaol. This man was now very seedy in appearance. Having only just been liberated, and being without a shilling, he was ripe for anything that could tend to put money in his pocket. With him, therefore, Ralph made his arrangements, and all being duly prepared, a hackney coachman, who had frequently served Ralph’s associate before in similar transactions, was engaged to be in waiting at a public-house near the scene of their intended operations, so that he might be at hand to receive the booty.
The same night, about twelve o’clock, Ralph and his pal went to the spot, fully prepared for action with all the usual implements of housebreaking. There was as usual a circular iron plate let into the pavement, to admit of coals being shot into the cellar beneath. This was lifted up, and Ralph, who was then but very slender, got down without difficulty. The covering was then replaced by his associate, who retired to some distance, while Ralph, who was well provided with skeleton keys, speedily got out of the cellar and through several doors into the butler’s pantry, where he found the plate, apparently packed up, as if for a journey! He soon carried it all into the cellar. Nothing had as yet occurred to alarm him; but just at this moment a small dog, who was asleep in the area, awoke and came running towards him. Upon smelling his legs, the dog only fawned upon him, because he had been sprinkled with a liquor which never fails to neutralise the opposition of the most ferocious dog.
Ralph now locked himself into the cellar, where he awaited most impatiently the approach of his associate, who was to have returned in half an hour with the coach; but more than two hours elapsed before they came, during which our adventurer was a prey to the fiercest pangs of uncertainty and apprehension. At length the appointed signal was given and the coach stopped. The plate was quickly transferred to it, and in a few minutes they were driving rapidly towards Paddington, where a furnished room had been taken by Ralph the day before. On arrival, they soon secured their booty, paid the jarvey, and lay down to rest. The next day, being resolved to lose no time, Ralph went to the house of a well known fence in Saint Mary Axe, where everything was so very well regulated and the system adopted so cunning, that it seemed to have reached the very pitch of perfection, insomuch that the buyer never saw the seller nor the seller the buyer, thus effectually preventing any after chance of unpleasant recognition. There was a box turning in a wall, so contrived that upon placing any article you wished to dispose of within it and ringing a bell, the box revolved. After the lapse of a few minutes it again turned, and in lieu of the article left, a sum of money, being the price the proprietor was willing to pay for it, made its appearance. If the seller refused to take this he again rang the bell, when his article was returned; but no second offer was ever made. It may easily be conceived that this establishment must have met with great support. In fact, it was the means of immense gain to its proprietor, who thus fixed his own price for all that he bought. But still, the thieves of London much approved of the principle, as they were never seen by anyone while disposing of their ill-gotten booty — thus removing at least one great cause for fear of detection. It was therefore continually well supported; and so cunningly did the owner contrive, that although his premises were repeatedly searched upon the best-founded suspicions that there was stolen property concealed therein, yet nothing was ever found to warrant a conviction.
Once a police officer chased a thief who had stolen a silver teapot from a gentleman’s breakfast table and kept him in full view until he arrived at the door of the house in question. In ran the thief. In two minutes the officer was after him; but there being two doors to the shop, nobody was there. The house was searched from top to bottom, and nothing was found like a silver teapot.
The fact was that next door to this place the owner’s brother had a concealed crucible, which was constantly kept in operation, and which communicated also with the house in question. In this every article bought that would melt was instantly thrown, so that no matter how costly the workmanship, in a few minutes any sized piece of plate was converted into what the fence used jocularly to call his “vite soop”.
To this famed spot Rashleigh now repaired and soon ascertained the price he could get for the plate. It was but 2s. 6d. per ounce; yet this was pretty fair upon the cross, and the confederates divided £200 between them as the proceeds of their night’s spoil.
“Steal!” Pho! A fico for the phrase —“convey” the wise it call.
Soon after this occurrence Ralph was walking in the city, when chancing to go into Lombard Street, he observed that the common sewer was open for the purpose of repairs being effected. Now, not far away from this opening there was an opulent banking-house, and Ralph had often heard that in the vaults beneath these city banks considerable sums of gold and Bank of England notes were deposited, and he thought of a plan by which he might perchance break into one of the vaults. To gain as much information as he could with regard to the position of the house he went into the bank, pretending to enquire whether a certain country establishment had failed or not. There were several people within, and Rashleigh had thus a chance of strictly scrutinising the place. It seemed, from the narrowness of the frontage, that there could be no spare room on this floor, and he naturally conceived that the hoard of valuables must be deposited below, as he had before heard.
This was on Thursday, and by Saturday night he had fixed on his plan, in pursuance of which he told the peeple of the house where he lodged that he was going a little way into the country that evening, and should not probably return before Monday. He then provided the usual implements: plenty of false keys, a strong crow-bar, technically called a jemmy, an instrument used for cleaning bricks, some spirits and a slight provision of bread and meat. All these he stowed away in his carpet bag, which he carried under a large boat cloak, and about eight o’clock steered towards the city. Here he waited in a coffee room until it was past eleven, and then started for the scene of his proposed exploit. As he had a long distance to walk, it was after midnight when he reached Lombard Street, which, not being inhabited by any of the working classes, was now quite deserted save by the watchman.
Just at this moment propitious fortune seemed to favour his design, for it began to rain heavily, and Ralph met no person whatever near the opening of the sewer. After hastily reconnoitring to make sure, he got into the cavity and with some difficulty reached the bottom. Keeping close to the side of the sewer, he proceeded along it, groping his way and taking note, as he went, of the branch drains, by which he relied on finding the house he sought, as there was usually one of these openings to each dwelling, leading into the main sewer. He had carefully counted the houses, gratings, etc. from the bank to that part of the street where the chasm was formed.
At length he pitched upon an orifice which he felt sure would lead him to the scene of his proposed exploit, and having first procured a light by means of phosphorus and a wax taper — of which he had brought an ample supply — he crept along the branch drain, sounding its sides at short intervals until he was aware, through the hollow jar produced by the wall, that he must be opposite one of the apartments in the basement of the bank.
He now stripped himself and went seriously to work, prizing out first one brick and then another. Soon, from the closeness of the drain, he was in a state of profuse perspiration; but he kept steadily on, varying his position as well as he could, for he felt almost cramped to death by the confined spot and constrained posture in which he was working. Thus he had wrought for a long period, while all around him was as still as if he had been a thousand fathoms deep in the bowels of the earth, when at once a confused crash astounded him with its noise and almost smothered him with dust and broken mortar. After the lapse of a few seconds, this having partially cleared away, he found that several yards of the brick crown and sides of the drain had fallen in, so that his egress was completely blocked up. This, however, gave him but little uneasiness, as he felt sure that if he were only fortunate enough, once to get in to the haven of his hopes, he would easily find some way to get out. But shortly after this discovery he cast his eyes above him, and found to his utter dismay that a large part of the wall he was then undermining had become loose and was apparently about to give way, threatening to overwhelm and crush him to atoms. He recoiled from the sight in consternation, and retreated beneath a sound part of the drain, which he had hardly gained, before down came the portion of wall, carrying away a large piece of the drain in its fall, some flying fragment of which struck our adventurer on the head and stretched him senseless in the bottom of the sewer.
How long he lay there, of course, he could not tell; but on recovering, he fancied it must have been some time, for a considerable quantity of water had accumulated in the drain, which was before dry. This must have greatly assisted Ralph’s recovery by its coolness, for he was lying in it; and if the injury he sustained had been more serious, it is very probable he might have been suffocated.
As it was, having raised himself with some difficulty, he groped about until he found the phosphorus bottle and his tapers, which he had fortunately put on one side, out of the way of his operations. Having procured a light. his next care was to look for his bag of tools and refreshments, which had also escaped injury. A hearty pull at the spirit flask revived him, and he soon after mustered up courage to approach the scene of his late discomfiture, when he found to his great joy that a considerable breach had been formed in the wall of the house, through which he could discern an apartment or cellar of some sort. He speedily enlarged the opening and got in, taking care to remove all his implements at the same time.
Upon searching this room, however, he quickly discovered that it contained not the object of his ambition, and he therefore examined the door, intending to try one of his skeleton keys. But alas, there was a key in the lock, and from its peculiar make, it seemed to bid defiance to his efforts at forcing it. At last he dislodged the door from its position, tearing out frame and all from the brickwork, when he found that the opening led into a dark passage, in which were three other doors, either open or having keys left in them; but nothing could be found to induce Rashleigh to suppose this any portion of the bank premises, as the rooms contained nothing but empty packing-cases, old hampers, broken bottles and straw. The powerful odour of drugs that pervaded all these dens convinced Ralph that he had commenced operations on the wrong side of the drain, having in fact broken into the house above the bank, next to which he now recollected there was a wholesale druggist’s warehouse; and it was clear he had entered the latter.
Almost reduced to despair by this discovery, which rendered all his previous toil and danger abortive, our adventurer was on the point of abandoning his enterprise, as he perceived, on looking at his watch, it yet wanted two hours of day and he thought he could leave the sewer unobserved. But at last he determined to persevere, chiefly induced by reflecting that this being Sunday, there was little fear of any interruption, at any rate for some hours further.
He then returned to the drain from whence he had come, and after having again sounded the opposite side of it, fixed upon a place for recommencing his labour. Rendered much wiser by experience than at first, he now commenced by taking out a double row of bricks above the scene of his intended operations. Therein he inserted into the wall a strong piece of wood, after the manner of a lintel, to support the brickwork above, while he made his opening below. Again he toiled incessantly, until his hands were galled and blistered to a most painful degree. Stimulated, however, by hope of a golden reward, he suffered not his energy to relax until he had pierced through this partition, when he found a more serious obstacle presented itself. This wall, for the sake of either security or dryness, had been lined with oak planking, which stood perpendicularly against it, well secured to horizontal pieces of timber built into the wall. After having in vain attempted to dislodge a plank, no resource remained but the centre-bit and keyhole saw, with which, after about an hour more of arduous toil, Ralph succeeded in making a square opening large enough to admit his whole person.
His joy was now boundless to find that he was at length in the wished-for treasure cell, of which he had no doubt at the first glance. There were several cases of copper and silver money lying open before him, and some smaller cases, which still more attracted the attention and excited the cupidity of the plunderer. To force some of these was his first care. But the greater part of them contained only blanks, to fill up as bank notes for different sums. There was also one case of bill stamps. Ralph began to think his toil would be but ill repaid after all, when a chest which stood by itself in a corner attracted his attention. Antique in its appearance, and secured by many a clasp and many a massy band, besides three huge padlocks, it bade defiance to all his efforts, until he remembered having heard in experienced thief in Maidstone Gaol say that after trying every other means in vain to rob a strong chest, he often found it might be easily broken open at the bottom, if it could only be turned over, the reason being that if there be any damp near it is sure to be drawn under an article of this kind, which causes the wood with which it comes into contact to decay much sooner than any other part.
Acting on this idea, Ralph capsized the box in question with some difficulty and discovered that the bottom was in fact quite rotten and presented no serious obstacle to the tools, with which he effected his purpose. He then saw that the chest in question contained many bags, which on examination he found with joy were full of coined gold. There was also a small open case, in which were many Bank of England notes. Here then at last was the fruit of his labours, his suffering and his danger; and after having puzzled himself for a little while which was the best booty, he determined on taking as many sovereigns as he could well carry, and all the Bank of England paper he saw. He then emptied his carpet bag of its contents, replacing them by sovereigns and notes, until he judged that he must have nearly ten thousand pounds’ worth. Next, carefully removing all the implements he had brought with him, he withdrew through the drain into the adjoining house, where he resolved to conceal himself during the day, as it was now nearly eight o’clock. Choosing the most out-of-the-way nook on the whole floor, he made himself up a comfortable bed of straw from the empty hampers, which he then disposed around him in such a manner that it would not be very easy to discover him, even in case of a search. He then made a hearty meal, drank some spirits, and resigned himself to sleep.
When he awoke it was just getting dark and he began now to consider the means of egress, as he did not like the idea of removing the bricks and rubbish from the drain, which he knew must be done before he could return by that path. He shortly found out a grating in the corner of one of the druggist’s cellar rooms, which he doubted not communicated with the main common sewer that he had come up, and upon his removing it, this proved to be the case. He now collected every tool he had used and threw them into a cesspit, reserving only the phosphorus box and a taper, for fear of an accident.
All being now ready for his departure, he waited with anxiety the hour of twelve, which he had fixed upon because before that time there were many stragglers always in the streets; but after that, especially on Sunday nights, the city was comparatively quiet. At length the wished-for number of strokes tolled from a neighbouring church clock, and Rashleigh cautiously commenced his return. When within a few yards of the opening from the sewer into the street, he put out the taper he had hitherto carried, and threw it, together with the phosphorus box, into the deepest hole near him. He now listened attentively, and hearing no sound of footsteps or aught else, he clambered, without loss of time, into the street, heartily rejoicing in his success so far.
The night was very dark. It was still raining and from the sloppy state of the streets, appeared to have been doing so without any intermission since the night before. Ralph had made his way to the foot pavement when a watchman suddenly stepped frorn under a door and stood before him. Though he was somewhat startled, Ralph preserved his equanimity as well as he could, merely saying in his blandest tone of voice, “Good-night, watchman.”
“Good-night, sir,” said the other. “Do you know, I thought you came up out of the middle of that big hole just now.” And he laughed heartily at the idea.
Ralph smiled in return, saying as he went on, “I crossed the street just by that opening, which perhaps deceived your sight.”
It being now too late to obtain a hackney coach in that neighbourhood, Rashleigh made the best of his way to the riverside, where he knew there was a house kept open all night for the accommodation of persons arriving by late packet boats, into which he gained admittance. Not being much inclined to sleep, he spent the remainder of the morning in reading a book he found by chance in his bedroom. Soon after daylight he went to a neighbouring stairs, where he hired a boat for Lambeth. Here he breakfasted, and took a hackney coach for his lodgings, at which it was his first care to hide every portion of his spoil in various secret places he had before contrived for this purpose. He then put on a new sporting suit of clothes that he had provided for his country excursions, which, consisting of a Jolliffe white hat with an enormous brim, a bottle green Newmarket-cut coat, white cord breeches and top boots, effected a most surprising change in his personal appearance. In the next place, being very desirous to ascertain the earliest intelligence respecting the steps likely to be taken for his own discovery and apprehension as the perpetrator of the late robbery, he now repaired to the White Horse Cellar Inn, Piccadilly, carrying with him a valise and umbrella. Here he ascended a coach just arrived from Bristol, which was going into the city to the Swan With Two Necks, Lad Lane, intending to remain there for a day or two, fishing for information which might tend to guide him not only in the disposal of his booty, but as to what part of the world he had better go to. Having arrived at the inn, he gave his name out to be Mr Robert Rowland, from Bristol, and shortly afterwards stepped out, taking an opportunity of passing by the scene of his depredation, and went into a coffee-room hard by, but did not hear a breath respecting the matter.
At last he returned to the Swan, where, as he was dining in the travellers’ room, it was not long before he overheard a conversation between two persons occupying the box next to himself, relative to the robbery. One o these two seemed to have been near the bank when the discovery was made, which did not take place until after ten o’clock that morning. It also appeared that the civic police were quite at fault; the means by which the house had been robbed by being broken into were plain enough, for the instant that the cashier went into the strong vault he saw all was in confusion, and a very slight search led to the discovery of the opening into the sewer; but they knew not how to, account for all the rubbish in the branch drain, nor could they at all conceive how the robbers had escaped after executing their purpose. It was agreed, however, by all, that several thieves must have been concerned, as it appeared to them the labour performed was far greater than the truth.
The only persons upon whom suspicion had as yet fallen were the workmen employed in repairing the sewer, all of whom had been directly taken into custody; but it seemed two of their number, who had been at work with them on the Saturday previous, had not returned that morning to their task; nor could they be traced by any enquiry which had been made. Therefore very heavy suspicion attached itself to them, and a high reward had been offered for their apprehension. In the mean time placards had been largely circulated, giving intimation of the robbery, publishing the numbers of the notes stolen, and promising £500 for the detection of the guilty parties.
Rashleigh devoured all this story with great avidity and felt very easy in his mind, it being quite apparent that all the police authorities were perfectly astray as yet. The next morning he attended at the Guildhall to pick up what further news or information he could upon the examination of the workmen; but he failed, as this, being only a preliminary investigation, was held in private. He elicited, however, from a very communicative civic functionary of some sort, with whom he picked a conversation on the subject, that a watchman who was stationed in Lombard Street had that day come forward to state that a little after twelve on the morning of Monday he had seen a very gentlemanly-looking person in the street, whom he had spoken to, as he had at first thought he must have come out of the sewer; but that the stranger had denied doing so and the watchman could not swear that he actually saw him emerge from the opening. Nor could he give any other description of the party in question, save that he spoke very much like a gentleman and had on a large cloak, which covered him from head to foot, so Ralph’s informant thought. “Their Worships” could make nothing out of that.
As usual, the newspapers teemed with various and conflicting statements; but the chief information they contained consisted of the fact that several of the most active and intelligent officers of Bow Street had been sent to the different seaports to examine all suspicious persons about to leave the kingdom; but above all things, the strictest search was everywhere to be made for the missing workmen.
Rashleigh having thus learned all that he could for the present, determined on going out of London for a short rime, and selected Farnham, in Surrey, as his retreat, having been much taken with the beauty of the town when he had spent a day or two there after his exploit at Winchester. Here, then, he located himself, passing as usual for a clerk upon a holiday.
About a fortnight after he arrived there, he was horrified by reading in the newspaper an account of a great fire which had taken place in Essex Street, Strand, where he had lodged, and which had already consumed nearly the whole of the houses on one side of that street. This news quite unmanned him because he had left nearly the whole of his large stock of ill-acquired cash in the places of concealment before mentioned at his lodgings. The only hope that remained to him was that the side consumed might not be that on which he had lived, as the paper did not specify the spot exactly. Suspense, however, was intolerable, and feigning that he had received a letter claiming his instant return to London, he took coach the same night, and having arrived at the Golden Cross, flew on the wings of anxiety to Essex Street. Here his very worst anticipations were fully realised. His late lodgings were not distinguishable amid the mass of smoking ruins, and the firemen. who were all busied in pulling down those walls which still stood but threatened to fall, would not allow Rashleigh to approach near the spot on which the house he lived in had stood. Indeed, if they had, it would have proved useless, for that dwelling appeared to have suffered even more, if possible, than any of the rest, having been completely gutted, the roof and floors fallen in; and the workmen, at that moment, were levelling the front walls.
Forewarned by legends of my youth,
I trust not an associate’s truth.
Overpowered by dismay, Ralph Rashleigh turned from the scene, and felt as if he wished himself whelmed beneath the ruins of the house which had thus destroyed all his hopes — so fondly cherished — of future independence. Except about £100 which he had taken with him into the country, not only all the booty for which he had risked his life, but all his clothing, books and other effects were thus lost to him for ever. Scarcely knowing what he did, he went into a neighbouring public-house and endeavoured by repeated libations to drown the memory of his loss.
The effect of this debauch, combined with his mental anxiety, threw him into a fever, from which he did not recover for several weeks. In the mean time he was exposed to the mercenary extortions of a stranger, who appeared to proportion his charges to his knowledge of the contents of his guest’s purse, which this pattern for landlords had taken away on the occasion of Ralph’s becoming intoxicated the first night of his arrival at the house. As soon, therefore, as Rashleigh became sufficiently sensible to arrange his own business, he enquired for his cash, when a bill was presented to him, amounting to upwards of £56 for lodging and attendance, exclusive of the surgeon’s charge for visits and medicine, which last, when he received it, was £32 more. After these were paid Rashleigh found himself master of only £7 10s. 8d. and the suit of clothes he wore, to begin the world anew with.
One effect of his last sickness had been, however, to disgust him sincerely with his past life, and he determined upon living honestly for the future, to do which he resolved upon procuring employment again as a legal copyist. But some time must necessarily elapse before he could hope to be sufficiently restored to health for this purpose. In the mean time his scanty stock of cash would soon be exhausted. He therefore left the public-house and took a small furnished room in a court near the Temple, where after a week or two he found himself so much better that one day he set out to wait upon an old employer for the purpose of asking some work. He was well received and promised employment on the morrow.
On his return from making this call, his evil fortune threw him in the way of that associate who had assisted him in the robbery of the house in Welbeck Street, and who was now in custody of an officer for some other offence. This fellow hailed Rashleigh, and the officer, who was on the lookout for another pal of his prisoner, suspected from his manner that there was something in common between them. As he looked with the usual eyes of a thief catcher upon all the associates of thieves, so he now determined on taking our hero into custody likewise. And this he shortly after effected; for meeting a brother officer, he described the person of Ralph Rashleigh to him, and in a few minutes more that unlucky wight was arrested as he turned into the court where he lodged.
Resistance and enquiry were alike vain, and Ralph was lodged in the watchhouse without even knowing the charge on which he had been taken up. After a night of mental anxiety, which may be much more easily conceived than described, he was brought before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street next day. Here the officer first charged Thomas Jenkins — alias Thomas Jones, ALIAS Thomas Smith, with about twenty other aliases by which, it seemed, Rashleigh’s former associate had been known at some period of his eventful career — with having been concerned in the commission of a daring robbery at a gentleman’s house in the Adelphi; and certainly, as far as the evidence of the policeman went, a very clear case indeed was made out against him, for it appeared he was seen lurking near the house in question the evening the robbery had been perpetrated, in company with an associate, who, by the by, was sworn much to resemble the unfortunate Ralph. Besides this, on searching his person, the duplicate of one of the stolen articles had been found in his pocket. Again, his character, which was notorious as that of a thief, bore hard against him, and he was fully committed for trial at the Old Bailey.
It now became necessary to examine our adventurer; and the only evidence against him being of a negative character, he was requested to state his occupation, which he averred to be that of a legal copyist. And as he most indignantly denied all knowledge of Jenkins or his acts, he was remanded to prison for a week, in order that rime might be afforded the police to make enquiry into the truth of his assertion.
Behold Rashleigh once more in gaol, surrounded with the outcasts of England’s vast metropolis, destitute of money, of friends, and of necessaries, a prey to the bitterest feelings of remorse, and vainly vowing a complete reformation if ever he again obtained his liberty. But this was not to be his lot, for his quondam companion thought by telling the truth with reference to the former robbery that his sentence might be rendered lighter, or perhaps, as the gentleman robbed on that occasion was of high respectability and influence, that he might even escape altogether with impunity. Having therefore freely made a full confession, implicating Rashleigh in the strongest manner, also the hackney coachman who had assisted in the removal of the plate, together with the Israelite who had bought it, the two last were arrested, and on the day appointed for hearing Ralph upon the former charge, he was placed at the bar with the hackney man, whom he hardly knew, and to his utter confusion saw his former associate enter the witness-box to give evidence against him.
The testimony of Jenkins was corroborated by many circumstances which, though trivial of themselves, formed a very strong aggregate, and by the unsatisfactory defence offered by Ralph, coupled with the statement made by the policeman who had been deputed to enquire how our adventurer lived, to the effect that although he had enquired for employment at the place he stated on the day he was taken into custody, and although he had been so employed by the same person about eighteen months before, yet nothing appeared as to how he had been obtaining a living in the interim. And as, for reasons well known to the reader, he could by no means clear up this point or bring evidence as to his honesty, the investigation closed by his being fully committed to Newgate, to take his trial at the ensuing sessions for the County of Middlesex upon a charge of burglary, which at the time was a capital offence, and one for which mercy was rarely granted to such as were found guilty.
The van which conveyed the daily gleaning of crime collected by the ever vigilant officers of Bow Street, and whose inmates were strongly secured by leg-chains and handcuffs, contained, besides Ralph Rashleigh, two prostitutes, committed on charges of pocket picking, a girl apparently new from the country, who had been sent to prison for having stolen a few articles of female finery from her mistress, an apprentice boy, who was committed for robbing his master’s till, a hoary old beggar, to be tried on a charge of assaulting a street keeper, and a ferocious-looking Irishman, who had beaten his wife so severely that her life was despaired of. The tears of the poor servant girl, who wailed most pitifully, the obscenity of the two strumpets, the bitter lamentations of the ‘prentice boy, and the awful objurgations of the Irishman formed a truly disgusting mélange, and Ralph was almost glad when the van stopped before the gloomy portals of the prison, now rendered doubly repulsive by the darkness of the night and the fitful glare of the torches held by the officers in attendance, to light the prisoners into that abode of doom, which some of them felt they should never more quit with life.
The surrounding mob, collected outside in vacant curiosity to gaze upon the newly arrived criminals, hailed their appearance with many obscene jests and very much brutal laughter; but upon their entry into the porch or gate-house the outer doors were closed, and Rashleigh felt his heart sink within him as the grating noise of the sullen hinges and the clank of massy bolts seemed to cut him off from the external world for ever.
Here a strict search was made upon the person of each; but their money and other trifling articles were immediately returned to them. The women were then taken in one direction, and the men, among whom of course was Rashleigh, were ordered to follow a turnkey in another, through a long and gloomy passage, which displayed at intervals festoons of fetters of all shapes and sizes, handcuffs, fire-arms of every kind and capacity, from the bell-mouthed musketoon with bore as wide as a teacup to the pocket pistol, carrying a bullet not much bigger than a pea. There was no lack of naked cutlasses or swords, and many hideous, grim-looking engines were suspended against these dreary walls, the names and uses of which were equally unknown to Ralph; but his heated imagination appropriated to each some foul or horrible purpose. Frequent gates, composed solely of iron bars, crossed this gallery, at each of which was stationed an attendant turnkey. The numerous direful ideas conjured up by the mind of our captive in his transit caused this avenue to appear interminable; but at length the whole party stopped in a small room apparently used as an office, where a clerk in attendance entered the personal description, together with a statement of the dress worn by each of the new confines. They were then directed to proceed onward, which they did through a small yard surrounded by the gaol apartments, until they again halted at a grated door. Having been admitted, they went up three flights of stone stairs and were shown into a large ill-lighted apartment, the unglazed windows of which, strongly secured by iron bars, left no doubt of its purpose. Around this room, which contained no other furniture than a rough table and two or three forms, were lying many prisoners. Here they were received by a man who had charge of the ward, as the apartment was called, and who gave to each a portion of very dark-coloured bread, a mat similar in material and appearance to those placed at the outer doors of houses, and a coarse horse rug. The latter articles formed the bed and bedding allowed by the civic authorities to such prisoners as had none of their own.
The turnkey who had ushered them in now withdrew, and a scene immediately ensued of which Rashleigh could give but a very faint account, for one of the rugs having at this moment been thrown over him from behind, he was immediately pulled to the ground and in a few minutes stripped of every article of clothing: an operation which he quickly discovered had been simultaneously performed upon all those who had arrived with him. Remonstrance being of no avail, nothing remained but patience, and of this inestimable quality Ralph had lately acquired a sufficient portion to enable him to submit in silence. When the uproar had somewhat subsided he secured his rug and mat, spread them upon the ground, and lay down to sleep. The numberless myriads of vermin, however, together with the continual noise of conversation, and other nameless annoyance prevented his doing so for many hours; and when at last he did rest, the intense cold, from which his scanty covering but ill defended him, caused him soon to awake, after which he lay tossing and tumbling until his bones were sore, revolving many bitter thoughts of the past am anticipations for the future.
At length the wished-for morning dawned, and our adventurer had an opportunity of observing the nature of his place of confinement more a leisure; but he could find nothing very cheering in the view. The room was of great size, furnished, as before stated, only with a rough table and benches, together with the rugs and mats which formed the bedding of the prisoners, who seemed to be in number from thirty to forty. When it became quite light Ralph saw a quantity of clothing lying in the middle of the floor, which he examined and found that his own was among them. He then quickly dressed and went to sit by the fire. In a short time many others joined him, and numberless questions were asked by the former inmates of the newcomers, as to what they were “in for”, etc. in making replies to these queries the time sped away until eight o’clock, when several buckets full of gruel were brought in, which served those who, like Ralph had no means of purchasing any other food for breakfast. With some of the bread he had received the night before our adventurer made a hearty meal, to which the abstinence of the previous four and twenty hours no doubt contributed in a very great degree.
After breakfast Ralph went down to the yard, the doors of all the sleeping-wards being by this time thrown open. The prisoners attended prayers in the chapel, after which Rashleigh joined a number of others who were performing their ablutions at a pump. This necessary operation concluded, the new-comer began to look around him, to see if among his fellow-confines he could recognise any one he knew. This investigation had no effect for some time, until he perceived a bustle among the assembled crowd, whose attention seemed to be concentrated upon the outer entrance of the yard, where a turnkey ever and anon called out the name of a prisoner, who then answered, “Over”, as loud as he could bawl and ran to the door to receive a message or parcel, or be shown into the visiting room, accordingly as a message or a visitor awaited his attention.
The name of William Tyrrell, having been vociferated in this way, was replied to by a person whose face appeared familiar to Rashleigh, who asked another man close by for information as to who Tyrrell was.’ The former replied that he was a first-rate swindler, then confined for twelve months, having, been bowled out in some of his malpractices. This account did not altogether satisfy our hero, who was confident he had known Tyrrell in some other circumstances than such as had been detailed to him, though he could not at the time remember how or where they had met, and he now awaited with some impatience for his reappearance. In the mean time the inmates of this vast prison commenced their daily amusements or occupations. The greater part of them, breaking up into knots, retired either into the wards or out-of-sight comers of the yard, to form what they called schools, for the pursuit of their favourite pastime, gambling; but cards being prohibited, a number of ingenious devices were resorted to, among which the most popular appeared to be the tossing up of one, two, or three halfpence at once, technically termed gaffing. A scene now ensued to which the uproar of Babel or the din of Pandemonium must have been perfect peace, the gamblers staking often their clothing on the chances, until at length some of them were shortly covered only by scanty and wretched rags begged from the more fortunate, who in their turn were stripped by other successful competitors. The various vicissitudes of the game were marked by the most horrid imprecations, of a power and energy only to be appreciated by those who have ever haunted the classic solitudes of Billingsgate, or the secluded shades of Chequer Alley and Winfield Street. In several instances the opponents resorted to blows, when rings were formed, seconds selected, and all the minutiae of prize-fighting rigidly adhered to, the bystanders encouraging their respective favourites, and freely betting their money, articles of apparel, and even their food on the issue of the contest.
Amid this uproar some were moodily fixed in anxious expectation, awaiting the arrival of a friend or relative with news from without, or a promised supply of cash or clothing. Another few were pacing the yard alone, “in silent meditation fancy free”. Some who, like Rashleigh, expected no visitors, and to whom the scene at any rate offered the attraction of novelty, were listlessly gazing, first at one part of this strange mélange, and then at another. But nowhere could he observe any traces of that sorrow or despair which might have been supposed the fit accompaniment of such a place, where many of those whom he saw knew full well that “they were sure to be twisted (hanged) at the next sessions”, as they daily expressed themselves to that effect. On the contrary, the only object of most appeared to be the enjoyment of the passing hour, varied in a few cases and at intervals by deep-laid schemes to defeat their two great enemies, the public justice and their private prosecutors, as well as by cunningly devised projects of plunder to be put into execution when they should again recover their liberty.
After a short time the door of the yard opened, and the person who had answered to the name of Tyrrell reappeared. He now passed quite close to Rashleigh, who remembered him as a person whom upon one of his country excursions he had rescued from the clutches of a constable in whose custody he was proceeding to Hertford Gaol on a charge of robbery; which service Ralph had performed by effecting the intoxication of this vigilant guardian of the public peace, when he stole the key of the room in which Tyrrell had been confined and let him out, providing him with a supply of money to assist his flight. Rashleigh now addressed this man, enquiring how he had got into his present confinement. The latter, upon recognising one who had rendered him such an essential obligation, after a few preliminary remarks, informed our adventurer that being sentenced a year’s imprisonment in the Start (Newgate) he had, as was customary at that time, obtained the situation of a wardsman (person appointed to keep order in each of the sleeping apartments) and that, by a dexterous application of some of the renowned oil of palms to one of the gaol officers, he had been placed in what was considered the best room of the prison, where he had ample opportunities for enjoying himself and also, strange to say, of getting a good deal of money. He then enquired into Rashleigh’s case and present circumstances, when, finding that the latter could scarcely be worse, he ended by inviting his newly arrived friend to share his mess until the sessions, promising also to get him removed into the same ward with himself. Ralph joyfully acceded to this arrangement. Never before had he found so apposite an illustration of the old proverb, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Shortly after this, the principal turnkey on that side of the gaol coming to the gate to preside over the distribution of the meat and soup allowed for the dinner of the confines, Tyrrell preferred his request to that awful functionary, and duly supported it by a recurrence to the usual all-powerful Argentine arguments commonly applied in such cases, and which, in this, proved effectual; for Rashleigh obtained permission to change his lodging to that occupied by his friend, whom he immediately accompanied to the famed apartment then known as the “Smugglers’ Ward”.
The first view of this room impressed our hero with a much more cheerful opinion of the comforts attainable even in a felons’ gaol than any place he had yet seen within the walls of Newgate. Here were many very clean-looking beds. Coarse curtains screened portions of the room and, in fact, subdivided it into small apartments, which were rented by those among the confines who were opulent enough to afford the payment of what Trapbois would have called “a fair con-sid-e-ra-tion” for it in the shape of a weekly rent to the wardsman for such an indulgence. A few decent tables and chairs, with many other miscellaneous articles of comfort and even luxury also were to be seen. In the whole, this portion of Newgate presented an infinitely preferable appearance to many houses outside its walls, independent of the parish of Saint Giles.
Tyrrell now introduced Ralph to his own berth, which was formed like the rest by curtains, and in addition to two decent beds, etc., contained several shelves, with drawers and a table. In fact, it presented the appearance of a small huckster’s shop, to which purpose it was actually appropriated; for in a few minutes a number of persons applied for tea, sugar, coffee, milk, eggs, bacon, butter and many other comestibles, the supplying of which occupied both Tyrrell and our hero, who was quickly installed into office as his assistant, during more than an hour. Tyrrell then ordered breakfast to be brought, acquainting his new messmate that the inmates of the Smugglers’ Ward, justly considering themselves as the aristocracy of the entire community within the walls of Newgate, were by far too independent to adhere to the same hours for taking their meals as were observed by the common order of criminals. Accordingly, though they were obliged to go to chapel every morning at nine o’clock, which occupied half an hour, they very carefully resumed their beds as soon as they returned, nor did they rise again until noon, by which time the ward had been thoroughly cleaned out, their boots or shoes and clothes brushed, and their breakfasts prepared by their servants; of whom each person of high ton, who had plenty of tin, kept one to himself; in other cases two or three of inferior means clubbed their messes together and supported one slavey among them.
These slaveys, or servants, were a sort of pariahs among the prisoners, chiefly Johnny Raws, or country chaps, apprentices, or others, who had no acquaintances to assist them while in gaol, and who were not possessed of sufficient dexterity in gambling to supply their wants by any of the various cheating tricks resorted to among the knowing ones. They were consequently glad to earn a trifle of cash and some food, by administering to the necessities and submitting to the various practical jokes or tyrannical tricks of their imperious masters; for Ralph had ample opportunities of observing that many of the so-called highflyers of Newgate were not a whit behind those whom they copied — the gay and gilded butterflies of fashion who fluttered in the external world — in scorning those whom fate or fortune had for the time placed in subordinate situations to themselves.
Poor Tom was once a kiddy upon town,
A thorough varmint, and a real swell.
Tyrrell’s attendant having produced their breakfast, which consisted of coffee, eggs, honey and toast, our confines did ample justice to the vivers, after which, Rashleigh having questioned his companion respecting his past history, Tyrrell observed that in order to understand it, it would be necessary to begin at an early period of his life; but, as there was nothing else to do, it would form as good a pastime as any other, and he began as follows:
“My father was a noted fence, and it may easily be imagined, in consequence, that what I saw in my paternal mansion during my early childhood did not greatly predispose me to a life of honesty. In fact, I was taken notice of by the thieves who resorted to our house for the purpose of selling whatever they had stolen. These gentry were lost in admiration of my dexterity, for at nine years of age I could pick the pocket of the sharpest man among them.
“Talents like mine were not to be hidden in obscurity; so one day, after I had lost all my browns gaffing with a chummy, and my old dad had refused to give me any more, I watched my opportunity and stole from him a watch and a small lot of silver spoons, which I took to an acquaintance of his in the same line, whom I amused by a false tale of my dexterity in stealing them. He willingly bought the whole, without asking any troublesome questions, and told me with an air of patronage I shall never forget, ‘that he always thought I should turn out a most splendid thief!!!’ Egad, I believe he considered this to be the highest praise he could bestow; and for my part, I thought more of it, by an immeasurable degree, than I should, had he predicted I should live to be a Bishop!
“With the money thus acquired, I forsook the East end for the West, and soon fell in with a highly distinguished member of the swell mob, now, alas, luxuriating at Botany Bay. This worthy had often praised my consummate skill in the art of conveyancing, and by such a distinguished artist was I now taken into protection. Under his auspices it was that I acquired that savoir vivre which I have often been complimented upon in after life, and to which, no doubt, may be ascribed the singular success that has generally attended my operations.
“We carried on the war against the pockets of all and sundry for two years with prolific industry, until at last, in a moment of rashness, my companion essayed his skill upon the person of no less redoubtable a victim than Sir R. B. the celebrated police magistrate, whom he eased of his pocket book, containing a considerable sum, just at the door of his own office! From that instant our fortunes declined. The officers of his establishment, after the affront offered to their chief, appeared to be each endowed with more eyes than Argus himself. We were had up before the beak three times in one fortnight on suspicion of various offences, and though acquitted of any actual criminality, yet my companion was sent three months to gaol as a suspected thief, while I was ordered to be received into the refuge. This destination I obtained from my obstinacy in refusing to disclose my real name or the residence of my parents, which I was loath to do because I feared my father might be ungentlemanly enough to remember the little faux pas I had committed when I left him.
“In this benevolent institution for reclaiming the destitute youth of London I remained four years, much against my will, in which period I learned to read and write, for my education had hitherto been very much neglected. Besides, I obtained an insight into the calling of a snob, to which gentle occupation I was apprenticed at the expiration of my servitude, a master being chosen for me by the institution, who in consideration of my services for three more years, engaged to provide me with food and clothing and to perfect me in the knowledge of that necessary craft, which is said to have been patronised by Saint Crispin.
“This benevolent gentleman added to the other obligations he wished to confer upon me, an intimate acquaintance with short commons — and a long stirrup-leather. But after my close confinement in the Refuge, I can assure you I had other notions of the sweets of liberty than to waste my fife among the awls and ends of a cobbler’s shop; so I very soon absconded from my master, and taking the road to Bristol, with a scanty stock of clothing and a still more slender supply of cash, I began the world anew. I had travelled many miles before the night fell, and I found myself near a small village, to the inn of which I hastened for shelter.
“In the night an alarm of fire roused all the inmates at once. I had slept in an apartment on the ground floor, and was soon in safety; but the case was far different with some others, because the flames had attained great power before they were discovered. It appeared they had broken out in a fireplace that adjoined the only staircase which the house contained. Consequently, the retreat of those who occupied the upper rooms was quickly cut off.
“A scene of dire confusion now took place. The people of the inn, with the help of bystanders, endeavoured to save their property; and they were so busy that they did not remember an elderly gentleman and his daughter, who slept in two of the upper apartments situated at the back of the house, and who now appeared at a window, beseeching for help. By this time the flames had burst from the openings beneath them and threatened imminent danger to any who should even approach to set up a ladder for their escape. The landlord having offered a £10 note to anybody that could rescue them, I determined on trying to earn so considerable a reward.
“Having first stripped myself to my shirt, I wetted a blanket, which I fastened round me, and then boldly placed a ladder against the window. The old gentleman, in the mean time, had fainted, and his daughter refused to abandon him. I therefore ran up the ladder, and at the urgent entreaty of the girl, that I would save her father, I managed with some difficulty to get him out of the window upon my back, and though I was fairly enveloped in flame, I reached the ground with my burden in safety.
“The scene now was awful, for the whole of the lower part of the inn on that side presented nothing but one sheet of fire, which, bursting forth at every lower opening, licked the walls and clambered the side of the house in volumes of flame. But the beauty of the lovely girl, who now could only be seen at intervals, wringing her hands in a paroxysm of despair at the upper window, was too deeply impressed upon my mind to suffer her to perish so dreadfully without an effort.
“Taking another wet blanket with me, I rushed up the ladder once more, and throwing it around the young lady, caught her on my shoulder, and began my descent just in time; for I had not made two steps downwards, when the floor on which she had stood fell in with a tremendous crash, shaking the whole building and emitting a shower of burning flakes of timber. I felt almost paralyzed for an instant. The girl fainted on my shoulder, and I had great difficulty to keep my feet. The suffocating heat nearly deprived me of breath; but just at this moment the ladder slipped, which recalled me, and with convulsive energy I grasped its sides between my knees, and thus slid in half a second to the ground.
“Brief as my passage had been, my hair and even my eyebrows were burned, my right shoulder painfully scorched, and to crown all, the force with which I alighted on Terra firma had severely sprained my ankle, so that I had scarcely handed my lovely burden to her father, when I fell down insensible.
“After a long illness, during which the greatest attention was paid to me, when I recovered strength enough to take cognisance of those around me, I was informed that I now lay in a farm-house near the village where the fire had happened, that the old gentleman whose daughter I had saved had caused me to be brought there, having liberally paid the inmates for their attention to me, and that he had left orders that when I could bear the journey I was to proceed to his residence, situated at a place called King’s Weston, in Somersetshire, for which purpose he had left me a sum of money.
“The landlord of the inn frequently came to see me, and indeed, among all the neighbours, I was considered quite a hero. My convalescence was pleasant enough, and I set forth to pay my respects to Mr Waterton, which I found was the name of the gentleman in question. I had previously sent a letter to him, returning my thanks for his kindness, and stating the day on which I intended to start, so that on my arrival per coach at Bristol, I found a servant with a horse and chaise, waiting to convey me forward to my destination.
“I was most cordially received by Mr W., his son and daughter, and when my health was re-established, the old gentleman enquired my situation and prospects. I told him that I was an orphan, bred up by an uncle who had taught me the trade of a shoemaker, but that my protector being dead, I was travelling in search of work when I fell in with him. Mr Waterton asked me if I would accept a situation to attend his son, who was about to travel, promising that upon our return he would do something more for me. I embraced this proposal very joyfully, being most desirous to see the world. Accordingly, I visited nearly every capital in Europe with this young gentleman, who always treated me rather as a friend than a servant. I wanted for nothing money could supply and consequently had no temptation to resume my old game.
“At length, the vessel in which we had sailed from Naples for Constantinople was wrecked upon one of the Greek islands. The whole of the crew and passengers, in order to save themselves, got into boats; but as she struck the rock in the night-time, myself and my master were separated in the confusion. The boat in which I was — with several others — stood for the land, which appeared at no great distance; but the violence of the sea was so great that in a short time the oars were swept from the hands of the seamen, and immediately afterwards the skiff upset.
“I remember nothing more, until it appeared to me I awoke. I then found myself lying nearly naked on a bare sea-beach so far from the water that I could hardly conceive how I had got there; but it seems that in these parts the fury of the waves will sometimes lift a large boat several hundred feet on the dry land. I looked about and saw that the whole shore for some distance was strewed with fragments of wreck. Among the rest were several chests, one of which I recognised as having belonged to a young gentleman passenger named Alleyn, who had been in the same boat with myself.
“This was no time to be scrupulous, for I was nearly perishing with cold; so, after some little difficulty, I broke open Mr Alleyn’s chest and to my great comfort found the contents were most of them dry, as the box was very strong and lined with tin. Among many other things I found a supply of warm clothing, which I much wanted, and therefore helped myself to a complete change. I found also a small bag containing a considerable number of pieces of foreign gold coin and a large bag of Spanish dollars, which I also secured. I now thought of looking after inhabitants, if there were any, and accordingly ascended a range of cliffs which overlooked the shore that was the scene of our disaster, and turned my eyes inland.
“The prospect was anything but cheering, for as far as my sight extended I could see nothing but a wild sort of heath, with a few stunted bushes here and there. At a considerable distance the view was shut in by a range of hills, beyond which a slight smoke appeared. The nearest way to these bills lay along the sea-beach, to which I accordingly returned.
“On repassing the fragments of wreck, I thought I might as well drag the most portable chests as far as I could out of the reach of the waves. I set busily to work to do so, and in my researches I stumbled upon the bodies of several of my unfortunate boat companions, which had before been hidden from my view by the rocks among which they lay. I examined them very anxiously, hoping to find one at least alive; for never did I feel so utterly abandoned and destitute. But the rough and jagged rocks among which they had been cast had completely crushed them to atoms. it was with great difficulty that I could recognise any of them; but among those I knew I discovered poor Mr Alleyn, whose clothes I had made free with. While I was endeavouring to draw the senseless corpses of my late shipmates up a little higher on the shore, I saw a man coming towards me, whose appearance was savage and uncouth enough to alarm a person better provided with means of resistance than myself; for, in fact, I possessed none but nature’s weapons.
“The person who now approached me bore a fowling-piece of singular appearance, marvellously long in the barrel. He was clad from head to foot in a sort of pelisse, or cloak, apparently made of sheepskin, with the wool outside. He wore a silken or velvet skull-cap, much embroidered with gold and silver thread. Boots of untanned leather completed his costume. Rude, however, as he seemed, I soon found by his gestures that his meaning was friendly; for although I could not understand a word he said, yet the tone of his voice, and the compassionate glances he cast at my dead companions assured me that I might hope for hospitality and assistance from him. He laid aside his gun, helped me to carry the relics of my shipmates, which we covered as decently as we could with some sails washed up by the storm, and then motioned me to accompany him.
“In the mean time I attempted to converse with him by trying all the scraps of languages I had picked up on my travels, but without any success. At last I desisted, and we pursued our path in silence. After walking about a mile along the shore, a sudden turn round a projecting cliff brought us a view of a small village, consisting of about three-score houses, most romantically situated at the head of a small bay. We soon reached one of the best in appearance, and my guide proceeded to issue several orders, apparently to his family. In a short time a small quantity of black bread, stewed meat, and a bottle of wine were placed before me. I needed but little pressing to satisfy my hunger.
“While I was thus engaged, a venerable-looking old man, whose white beard swept his girdle, came in. He made an obeisance to me and then began to speak in a sort of broken Italian, asking me whether I did not belong to the large ship that had been wrecked last night. I told him I was a passenger, and enquired whether anyone else had reached the shore, to which he replied that he knew not, for I was the first who had been seen.
“I now requested that he would endeavour to obtain assistance for the burial of my late companions and the security of the effects which lay on the beach, to which he replied that a party of the villagers had already gone to fetch the dead, in order to see to their interment in the churchyard. I proposed going to meet them, as I had no doubt that plunder was the object they had in view; but we had scarcely set out when we met these honest people returning with four of the corpses. They were carefully laid out upon boards in a little half-ruined chapel, where, by the direction of the old man, whom I now found to be a priest, several of the matrons commenced preparations for the burial. In short, the whole of them were brought in by noon, and having been prepared for interment, each being sewn up in a sort of sheet, the priest read the funeral service, and they were committed to the earth.
“In the mean time the villagers had brought most of the chests and portable articles that had drifted on shore to their dwellings. All of these they gave up to me; but I feared to claim any except the chests, etc. of Mr Alleyn, who I knew was dead, and I placed all the rest at the disposal of the padre, who told me that the place being a dependency upon the Ionian islands, he would write to Corfu by the first vessel, so that the authorities there might decide what should be done.
“In the mean time men had been dispatched to all parts of the islet, in order to look out for other traces of the wreck and to search for the survivors, if there might be any such, from the ill-fated vessel.
“I remained in the same cottage three days before any opportunity occurred for my removal, when a small galley, which came for fish from Naples, touched at the village. In this I took my departure, having in vain endeavoured to make the poor islanders accept of any remuneration for the trouble they had been at. The priest, who was the only person with whom I could maintain a broken sort of conversation, assured me, when I spoke of payment for the services rendered me, that the authorities at Corfu always satisfied both himself and flock for all the assistance they could afford a British subject.
“Finding that they would not receive any recompense for either my food or lodging, I bade them adieu. And ever since that time, when I have heard people railing at mankind, and vowing that there was neither honour, honesty, or hospitality left upon earth, I have thought of that lonely Greek islet, where the inhabitants, though as poor as poor can be, had yet extended protection and friendship to a solitary helpless being at his utmost need, without hope of reward.
“I soon reached the gay city of Naples again, and used every exertion, during my stay of near two months in that luxurious haunt of pleasure, to discover whether my master had escaped the wreck with life. But I was unsuccessful in all my endeavours, and I determined on returning to England, in the faint hope that young Mr Waterton might have arrived there, as there were many homeward bound vessels then sailing on those seas. I ardently trusted this might prove the case, for I really respected, I may say, loved, my master with great sincerity.
“I ought to have informed you that one of Mr Alleyn’s chests, of which I had taken possession, bore his name painted upon it in full. This being sent to the hotel at which I proposed to stop the day before I went thither myself, the people of the house dubbed me upon arrival, ‘Il Signor Alleyn’. As they had thus converted me into a gentleman, I had very little relish for again descending needlessly to the station of a servant. Besides, I fancied my honours sat quite as becomingly upon me as gentility did upon several of my countrymen, for, to speak Heaven’s truth, never were there such a collection of unlicked cubs as some of the Signori Inglese who abode in those days at the good town of Naples. Again, I found upon examination that with cash and trinkets, I was possessed of something above £1,100, which would at any rate, I thought, enable me to support my assumed character until I reached my fatherland, when I resolved upon dropping it and returning to my patron. But you know the old saying, ‘Man pro_poses but Heaven dis_poses.’ It so happened that among the passengers in the same ship with myself from Naples to England there was a young Irish gentleman named Power O’Donahoe, who had stayed at the Casa Inglese during all the time I had been there. Because I had never joined any of the other geniuses in laughing at his brogue or in ridiculing his blunders, this young man, with all the proverbial warmth of his country, formed quite a friendship for me, and when we arrived in London, nothing would suit him but I must go to the same hotel as he did.
“In an evil hour I consented, and we drank, danced, diced and wenched together for three months with great éclat. I was introduced into fashionable society by Mr O’Donahoe, who always told his friends that I was a young West Indian proprietor of great fortune, which indeed, through various hints I had purposely dropped, he really believed me to be.
“The roystering sort of life I now led rapidly attenuated my finances, and I began to obtain articles upon credit. Thus I quickly discovered the great truth that there is not upon earth a more credulous animal than a London tradesman; and by Heaven, they almost obliged but quite enticed me to swindle them. For eighteen months I thus lived upon the fat of the land, clad in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day at the expense of others, and partaking most plentifully of all the pleasures the metropolis can afford, until at last duns became so troublesome that I was obliged to absent myself from the scene for a while. It was after an unsuccessful attempt at robbery that you first met me. I then returned to my old haunts, where I shortly afterwards took a furnished house and made free with nearly all its contents, together with a pair of job horses and a curricle. But that was my last feat, for I was in a few days after sold by one of my pals, who betrayed me into the hands of the traps, and — in short here I am.”
Didst thou not share — hadst thou not fifteen pence?
Rashleigh, having heard Tyrrell’s story to an end, complimented him much upon his talents and good fortune in escaping so easily, shortly after which they were all locked up for the night. Parties of the ward inmates being formed, some sang songs, some gambled, some related their exploits to others, and all drank most plentifully, there being in those days no lack of either spirits, wine or porter to be found within the precincts of His Majesty’s Gaol, Newgate. Porter, indeed, was allowed by the regulations. and those who had money found no difficulty in obtaining all the rest.
The manner in which the prison days were spent being so much alike, it is needless to do more than say that every day they went to prayers, ate, drank, sang, gambled, and drank again. In fact, it would appear that all the knowing ones were quite as comfortable in gaol as anywhere else; and those who were not fully initiated into all the arts of thieving and villainy when first they went into prison were sure, at least, of being quite proficient by the time they came out of it. There was not the slightest attempt at classification, save that arising from the sale of superior accommodations to those who could pay for them. In all other respects the hoary thief, who had passed a long life in successful violation of the law, was here placed in the same apartment with the raw shop-boy, confined for robbing his master’s till. And the freedom from restraint and self-congratulation of manner with which these old practitioners in knavery boasted of their exploits, and the glowing pictures they frequently drew of the enjoyments derivable from a life of plunder, seldom failed in making confirmed and hardened villains of all those who listened to them.
In this manner the time sped until the week before the sessions arrived, that period which some wished for, others dreaded, and all prepared to meet. This was indeed a busy season with the inmates of the Smugglers’ Ward. They had counsel to fee, attorneys to instruct, witnesses to bribe and defences to draw up. Rashleigh, having once been in some sort a member of the legal profession, now found his services much in request, to write letters, prepare statements and adapt questions for the cross-examination of inflexible evidences. For all this he obtained a considerable sum of money, so that he was not only enabled to fee counsel for himself, but also to procure some decent apparel for his approaching trial. He, however, entertained very slight hopes of an acquittal, the evidence of his quondam associate being quite strong and conclusive. Besides, there was every prospect of strenuous endeavours being made on the part of the Crown to secure his conviction; as unless he were found guilty, the Israelite indicted for receiving the plate he had stolen was sure of an acquittal likewise. And it will be remembered that the thief catchers of the metropolis had long been endeavouring to suppress so noted a fence as the person in question was well known to be. Indeed, for several years they had been upon the alert, ardently longing for the opportunity, which now seemed to offer itself to them by chance. Under these circumstances Ralph saw no prospect save that of conviction before him; yet he was resolved not to omit anything that might tend to his escape from justice. With this view he prepared his defence with all the skill of which he was master, and thus occupied, the day fixed for the commencement of the sessions came upon him: those sessions which were fraught with the destinies of upwards of four hundred human beings of both sexes, all ages and conditions.
The inmates of Newgate were informed by the Calendar of the order in which the trials were to occur, and the arched gateway through which the prisoners returned from the Sessions House being close by the ward in which our adventurer now lived, he had ample opportunities for observing the features and deportment of the confines, both before and after they received their sentences. But in few cases indeed could he perceive either regret or compunction. Those who were condemned to any periods less than seven years’ transportation triumphed almost as much as if they had been acquitted. The boys particularly, who were very numerous, jested with the greatest sang froid at the idea of a flogging, which most of them had been sentenced to receive, and which they scoffingly termed a “teasing”. Those who had been doomed to seven years’ transportation called it a “small fine of eighty-four months”. Even those who had been sentenced for fourteen years or life to the same punishment had some joke to pass on the subject to their fellows in the yard as they went through to their several destinations. As for those sentenced to die, they endeavoured to eclipse all the others in the daring obscenity and gross brutality of their jests.
By some accident a number of housebreakers were ordered for trial on the same day, and Ralph’s blood ran cold on being informed by one that had just returned from the Court, that all had been found guilty, and all had been doomed to death, or as his informant expressed it, “that they were celling them like b —— y bullocks”, meaning, sending them to the condemned cells. The crime of burglary had been peculiarly prevalent in the metropolis during the previous winter, and it seemed as if the jurors were determined not to allow any of the accused to escape. It was therefore with a depressed mind that our adventurer obeyed the summons which placed him before his judge at the criminal bar. As usual in this well-known Court, there was an ample assemblage of spectators, most of them being of the lowest class. Some of these were gossiping, some cracking nuts, others jokes on various subjects. Upon the appearance of the prisoner, the lawyers began to handle their papers with a business-like air, and the solemn farce called a trial began.
Ralph Rashleigh was indicted by that name for having on a certain day and date, set forth in the arraignment, with force and arms feloniously broken into and entered the dwelling-house of Westley Shortland Esquire in the night-time, and for having therein stolen taken and carried away a large quantity of silver plate his property contrary to the statute and against the peace of Our Soverign Lord the King his crown and dignity, the indictment being interlarded with a vast number of other legal phrases. To this, of course, he pleaded “Not guilty”, and put himself upon his trial.
A jury was now empanelled, and the advocate for the prisoner having declined to challenge any of their number, the case proceeded. The learned counsel for the Crown, after an eloquent exordium, in which he dwelt at great length upon the many daring depredations recently committed under covert of the night upon the properties of the peaceful and well-disposed inhabitants of the town, proceeded to give a sketch of the case in question as he had been informed it would be proved in evidence; and he wound up by reverting to the skilful and adroit manner in which the robbery had been perpetrated, at the same time charitably requesting the jurymen to dismiss all prejudices from their minds and to try the case solely by the statement of the witnesses. Nevertheless, he kindly averred his private opinion to be that the prisoner at the bar was a scoundrel of the deepest dye, steeped in crime to the very lips.
The evidence of Mr Shortland’s butler was now taken. He swore that having obtained his master’s permission to pay a visit to a sick friend for a day or two, he had collected the whole of the plate under his care and safely locked the articles in the pantry on the night in question. A female servant next deposed to finding the pantry locked up but all its valuable contents missing on the following morning. The approver then completed the whole case by giving a clear and distinct detail of the manner in which the prisoner and himself had actually committed the crime in question. His evidence was sustained by that of the hackney coachman, who had also been admitted to give testimony on the part of the Crown. And though Rashleigh’s counsel most cunningly cross-questioned both these latter personages, and elicited from Jenkins in particular the admission that he had been a thief from his earliest youth and of his having been actively engaged in the commission of every species of crime during a period of twenty-five years, yet the damning fact of the want of any regular or honest mode of livelihood on the part of Rashleigh rendered all efforts abortive. After a brief pause, the jury, without retiring, found Ralph Rashleigh guilty of the crime of burglary.
A moment of thrilling suspense followed. The recorder, amid an awful silence, then addressed the convict, pointing out the enormity of his offence, dwelt at some length upon the villainous career of crime which it was evident he had passed through, and which he was now about to consummate by an ignominious end, and finally passed upon him the sentence of execution in the customary formula. Ralph scarcely saw his judge or heard a syllable of what he said, for notwithstanding this event had been in a great measure fully anticipated by him, yet at last the reality of the blow fell upon him with a force that was absolutely paralyzing. After having cast a hurried and furtive glance around the Court upon the spectators who thronged it, he stepped mechanically out of the dock. No eye appeared to pity or regard him. Most of the auditory were already occupied in speculations upon the probable fate of the next prisoner, who now excited their attention as he approached in his turn to take his trial.
The prisoner and his guide traversed the long and gloomy vaulted passage that separated the gaol from the Sessions Hall in silence, and at last reached the yard Ralph had so lately quitted for trial. Tyrrell stood there. He asked, “What luck?”
Ralph had not time to answer before the turnkey shouted out, “Cells!” to another officer who there awaited to receive the prisoners.
With a significant gesture Tyrrell shook Rashleigh by the hand, saying, “Keep up your heart, my boy. Never drop down,” and he slipped a small packet to his friend at the same time.
Rashleigh returned the pressure with a sickly smile as he was hurried off. They now passed through several yards and many passages, until at last they reached the condemned side and were ushered into a large room, the counterpart of that comfortless domicile in which our confine had spent his first night within these dreary walls.
Here, though it was as yet only the third day of the sessions, there were no less than forty-six men, most of them very young and all sentenced to die by the hangman’s hated noose. Yet with all this, there was not a single instance of gravity, far less of that gloom which might have reasonably been expected as a Concomitant to these circumstances. They hailed Ralph’s entrée with loud cries of “Fish-oh!”
Many of them crowded around him to ask his crime, to which briefly replying, “a crack,” (housebreaking) he was told that twenty-eight of those present were condemned for similar offences, and one fellow remarked that “the scragsman (hangman) would get a rare benefit that touch”. All present joined in a hearty peal of laughter at this sally, as if it had been some brilliant jest that called forth their admiration.
Ralph being now invited to dinner by a quondam companion from the Smugglers’ Ward, they sat down together, speculating during their meal upon the probable number that would actually suffer that sessions. It was pretty well known that not one-fourth of the men sentenced to die ever were hung at that time; but yet, as none could tell upon whom the lot would fall, every man, even the most criminal, enjoyed the illusions of hope. Indeed, whatever were the motives for extending mercy to any, they were sufficiently obscure to set the most astute calculators among even the officers of the prison at defiance, sometimes hardened old offenders, convicts of atrocious crimes, escaping, while the comparatively young thief suffered death as the penalty of his earliest essay.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent by the inmates of this den in various pastimes, some gambling, some telling stories of their old career, a few singing, and still fewer gloomily pacing the common room. At length the hour arrived when they were to separate for the night, and in divisions of three each they were marshalled to their dormitories; these were cells, about twelve feet by eight in size, provided with three rude bedsteads on each of which was a mattress of straw and two rugs. The evening was rapidly closing, and as they were unprovided with light, they lay down at once, one of them remarking that it might be called going to bed, but for his part he could see no bed to go to.
Now, for the first time since his sentence, Ralph had leisure to consider his position; and the ideas that rapidly careered through his brain almost drove him mad. At first he looked upon his fate as certain; and a thousand thoughts of self-destruction urged themselves upon him, each to be in turn dismissed or replaced by another. At length it suggested itself to him that he was no more sure to die than any of the rest, and should he be actually left for execution, it would be time enough then to anticipate the hangman. Anon the hope of breaking out of gaol crossed his mind, and many schemes for doing so presented themselves to him. Hour after hour pealed from a neighbouring clock, the iron tone jarring upon his nerves with the impression that another of the perhaps few subdivisions of time he had to live was now absorbed in the gulf of eternity.
At length, towards morning, he sank into a sort of sleep, broken by horrid dreams. Again the scene of the Court was enacted before him; again the full, deep and bitter tones of the recorder dealt forth the death doom upon the trembling convict. At once that semblance passed away. He was again at play among the companions of his youth.
Again the scene changed: the solemn pealing of a funeral bell smote upon his very inmost soul. He knew it was the signal for his own execution. The sad procession moved forth; the awful service for the dead, in all its dread solemnity, reverberated in his ears; he turned to gaze at the attendant clergyman. Horror of horrors, the face he saw was that of a fiend. Suffering the most excruciating torment, the criminal shuddered convulsively. But now he had reached the scaffold. They ascended that fatal platform. A sea of upturned human heads was visible; but they all appeared to mock at and gibe the tortured sufferer with unearthly demoniacal features. Another instant . . . The drop fell, and a dreadfully agonizing feeling of strangulation supervened, so intensely painful that Ralph awoke. Cold claws overspread his whole body, and a strange numbness paralyzed his every limb. He lay for a considerable time in a state of semi-somnolence, unable quite to rouse himself, and yet dreading to relapse again into such painful slumbers, though he could not still recall his senses sufficiently to be certain that he had only dreamed.
At length a bustle in the stone-floored passage thoroughly awakened him, and he jumped from his wretched pallet. In a few minutes they were all reassembled in the day-room, and the company of his fellows reassured the drooping spirits of our unhappy prisoner.
The days of the session passed over. The total number of those condemned to death amounted to sixty-five, all of whom met in the same large room by day and were separated into threes at night. A few days of dreary monotony passed over; but the nights were at first most painful to Rashleigh, as more dreadful dreams harrowed his soul. But at length he ceased to dream at all or even to think about his future fate, all his ideas being engrossed by contemplating schemes of escape.
Having ascertained that the sleeping-cell in which he spent his nights was next to the outer wall of Newgate, he determined to try to break through it, trusting to chance for what the exterior might present. He now broached his scheme to his companions, one of whom embraced it with avidity; but the other seemed to be sunk in apathy. As the latter, however, engaged not to betray their purpose, they determined on commencing operations that very night. All the tools they possessed were two files given to our adventurer on the day of his condemnation by Tyrrell, and a piece of iron about two feet long, which had once formed part of the handle of a frying-pan, and which was rather sharp at one end something like a chisel.
With these implements they raked the mortar out of the joints of the stonework, choosing a place beneath one of the beds as most secluded from observation, carefully removing the lime dust, which they carried out concealed on their persons every morning and afterwards threw among the ashes in the fireplace. In three nights’ time they had succeeded in loosening enough of the stonework to enable them, by displacing the ashlar of which the wall was built, to form an opening through the massy exterior enclosure of the gaol; but they found a timber framing on the outer side of the wall, which utterly bade defiance to all their efforts. They had no remedy but to replace the stones as well as they could, and wait for another night, by which time they doubted not to be able to provide some substitute for a saw and a chisel, with which to renew their attempt. Accordingly, next day they procured two table-knives, which they notched on their edges. They then sharpened the piece of iron on the hearthstone by stealth. These implements, together with a phosphorus box — which they had bribed a turnkey to bring them — and a piece of candle, they very carefully stowed away about them, and returned to their cell, resuming their labour as soon as all was still.
Having first removed the stonework, they procured a light and examined the wooden partition. This seemed to be only a kind of weatherboarding, such as is sometimes used to finish the gable-ends of a roof in lieu of carrying up a brick wall. Their first business was to make holes in the wood with their chisel and knives in four different places, forming the angles of a square about two feet across. The boards being only of deal, it was not long before they had got their holes made. They then set to work to cut out the pieces, in which they finally succeeded, taking great care that nothing fell into the Terra incognita outside the wall. When they had sped thus far, they looked through the opening and found this space consisted of the apex of a roof, above the attics of the adjoining houses. They now easily got through the aperture on to the joists of these garrets, and had only next to remove the tiles, when they should once more he enjoying the pure free air of heaven.
Just as they began to work at the tiles with renewed vigour Ralph’s companion, happening unluckily to slip, stepped suddenly off the piece of timber he was standing on and came with his whole weight upon the laths of the plastered ceiling, which, being old and decayed, gave way. The luckless wight was then precipitated into the apartment beneath, where he chanced to alight upon the bed of an ancient dame, who was servant to the reverend chaplain of Newgate, under whose roof, it seems, our adventurers had unwittingly penetrated. Dire were now the outcries of “Rape!” “Fire!” “Murder!” and “Robbery!” that emanated from the old woman, who refused to be pacified by the earnest entreaties of the intruder; and in a very few seconds the hurried tramp of many feet, with the noise of clamorous tongues, announced that the household was alarmed. A moment after a promiscuous mass of half-clad beings hurried into the attic, where, amid the débris of fallen plaster, laths, etc., the horror-stricken dame was venting her objurgations upon the author of this mishap. He for his part, the moment he saw the door open, bolted out of it and had got half-way downstairs, pursued by hurried cries of “Stop him!” “Knock him down!” etc., which burst from the petrified group in the attic, when he encountered a posse of the officers of Newgate, who had been aroused by the uproar which truly seemed enough to awaken the seven sleepers — and who had left the enjoyments of the porters’ lodge to ascertain the cause of this confusion.
Unluckily, the foremost of these worthies well knew the escaped one, and felled him on the staircase instanter. They then separated, part of them returning to the lodge with their captive, and part going upstairs into the room whence they now learned he had run. Here, of course, the first thing they saw was the hole in the ceiling, and a ladder being procured, some of them ascended it to search the roof.
In the mean time Ralph Rashleigh, nerved by desperation, had torn away the battens and tiles and blundered out through the orifice; but in doing this he missed his hold and fell. He rolled over and over on the tiled roof, utterly unable to stop himself and full of despair at the horrible death which awaited him. At last, with a bound, he was jerked from the roof and restored to sense by finding himself immersed in water. He struck out to swim, and presently received a violent blow on the head, but quickly recovering himself, groped with his hands, it being so dark that he could not set a yard before him, and catching hold of the parapet wall, scrambled out, congratulating himself that his life was spared as yet. Of course, he was perfectly ignorant where he was, and knew not how far from the ground his present position might be. The darkness also prevented his attempting to escape, lest he might again fall from this unknown height. The only resource he had was to sit still, astride the wall on which he was now seated, until day should dawn. Wet through, the frosty air chilling him to the quick, thus did Rashleigh spend the seemingly interminable hours, until the light faintly glimmered from the east; and then he found he was not in any very enviable position.
The wall on which he sat surrounded a small reservoir of water that abutted from the back of the house, about half-way between the top and bottom. There was no window or other opening near him by many feet; and it was at least fifteen yards from his position to the ground, which seemed to be a paved courtyard surrounded by lofty buildings. Added to this, it was evident the daylight must betray him on his “bad eminence”, as there was no means of concealing himself save by jumping into the reservoir, which was not quite full; and even then, he might be seen from the roof. Thus he was quite as effectually confined as if he had been in the strongest cell within the walls of Newgate. and he tantalised himself by thinking of his recapture after having so narrowly escaped a fearful death, that even a few inches of difference in his fall must have resulted in his being dashed to atoms.
He was not very long in suspense. The day became rapidly fighter, and in a few minutes a gruff voice from the roof hailed him. “Ha, my fine fellow! You’re there, are you? You’re safe enough, anyhow, and we’ve got your pal, too.”
Rashleigh looked up and soon discovered one of the turnkeys sitting at the foot of a stack of chimneys on the roof above him, who appeared to be taking aim at him with a carbine. “Hold on!” cried our échappé. “Don’t shoot me.”
“Oh, I don’t mean it,” said the other, “if you sit still; but if you offer to stir, I’ll let fly and riddle you with bullets.”
This was anything but a cheering prospect, and Ralph hardly dared move hand or foot, until, a ladder being brought, he was fain to descend it and was soon reconducted to prison.
Here he was placed in a dark cell by himself and kept on bread and water for a week, at the end of which time the Governor of Newgate ordered him to be very heavily ironed, and permitted him to rejoin his companions. Here he found the partner of his late attempt, and they had many a laugh together at their ill-starred enterprise.
Day after day sped on over their heads. It was now the fourth week after the sessions, and they expected every evening that the report of the recorder, and the King’s decision thereon, would be made known to them. One afternoon in the fifth week they had all been locked in their separate cells above an hour, when the noise of several feet in the stone-floored passage attracted the attention of the inmates of these dreary domiciles. Cell after cell was heard to be unlocked, and finally, when the visitors drew nigh, Rashleigh distinctly recognised the solemn voice of the prison chaplain recommending some unfortunate to make the most of the few brief hours yet allotted to him in this world by supplicating for mercy from his God; and our convict was now aware his fate would soon be made known to him. With agonising dread the few minutes passed away, during which intervening cells were visited. At length the sullen doors slowly revolved. The sheriffs in their official dresses, the chaplain in his robes, and some others entered the cell.
Rashleigh scarce heard the exordium which, as customary, was addressed to them, but blessed heaven when one of the sheriffs, with much solemnity. addressed another of the confines as follows: “William Roberts, your case has received His Majesty’s most gracious consideration; but your frequent previous convictions, and the circumstances of peculiar atrocity with which your last crime was accompanied utterly preclude the possibility of mercy being extended to so hardened a criminal. You must therefore prepare to expiate your offences on the scaffold: you are ordered for execution in fourteen days from the present.”
The chaplain now addressed the condemned in anything but a charitable or kindly tone, and impressed the necessity of prayer and repentance upon his mind. The wretched man rolled his eyes, which seemed dim and glassy, from one to the other of the bystanders and attempted to speak, but ineffectually; his tongue denied him utterance, and he was led away.
The same sheriff now addressed Ralph and his remaining companion, saying that in the exercise of his royal prerogative of mercy, His Majesty had graciously been pleased to spare their lives; but to vindicate the insulted laws of their country they must be transported for the residue of their existence to a distant land, never more to revisit the isle of their birth.
The chaplain now told our criminals that they ought to fall instantly upon their knees and return thanks to God for sparing their unworthy lives. Rashleigh’s companion here interrupted the reverend orator by saying, “If ever I pray to God, it will only be that I may live to set you hanged, you prayer-mumbling old beast!”
The chaplain flung out of the cell in a rage, and the sheriffs having followed him with suppressed smiles at this rude rebuff, the convicts were once more left alone.
Hark to the whistle and the shout!
Like bloodhounds now they seek me out.
I’ll couch me here till evening gray,
Then, darkling, try my dangerous way.
A few nights after the reception of the report by the unhappy confines of Newgate, the cry of “Lags away” warned those who were transported that the time had now arrived for their removal to the hulk; and shortly afterwards those who like Rashleigh had been respited from death, in number upwards of fifty, were placed in two large vans, strongly ironed, handcuffed and chained together, as well as to the van, which drove off at a rapid rate. None knew which of the hulks they were destined for; but when the morning came Ralph recognised some objects, by which he knew they were on the road for Portsmouth; and accordingly, late on the afternoon of the same day, they reached the dockyard of that town, and shortly afterwards were permitted to alight on a wooden wharf, outside of which lay the gloomy bulk of the old Leviathan.
This vessel, an ancient 74, after having for many years borne the victorious banner of Britain in every sea from pole to pole, was at last condemned to the vile purpose of a convict hulk. Stripped of all her imposing tackle save two sticks, now degraded to the office of clothes props, with a singular sort of shed upon her deck, the unfortunate craft looked like a sort of living memento of the vicissitudes of all mundane matters and the perishable nature of all earthly grandeur.
In a few minutes the newly arrived criminals were paraded upon the quarterdeck of this old hooker, mustered, and received by the captain of the hulk, after which the irons they had brought with them were taken off and given back to the gaol authorities, who now departed. The convicts in the mean time were all marched to the forecastle and ushered into a washing-room, where each man was obliged to strip, get into a large tub of water, and cleanse himself thoroughly. Each then received a suit of coarse grey clothing consisting of jacket, waistcoat and breeches. A very rough twilled cotton shirt, striped with blue and white, a round-crowned broad-brimmed felt hat, and a pair of heavily-nailed shoes completed this unique costume; and when they had been divested of their whiskers and got their hair closely cropped, the metamorphosis was so complete that Rashleigh no longer knew any of those who had arrived with him. Here, too, each man was double-ironed with a pair of heavy fetters, and after this they again emerged on deck, where a hammock and two blankets, with a straw bed, were supplied every new prisoner, and they were now ordered to go below.
They followed one of the guards down what seemed to them an endless succession of step-ladders. When they reached the bottom, a perfect chaos of sounds saluted their ears. The first glimpse of the lower deck of this convict hulk showed a long passage bordered by iron palisading, with lamps hung at regular intervals. Within these rows of palisades were wooden partitions, which subdivided the deck into upwards of a score of apartments. In each of these about fifteen or twenty convicts slept and ate. As Ralph and his associates in punishment marched past these dens, they were saluted by obstreperous shouts of “New chums! New chums!” from both sides; and at length Rashleigh and another were placed in one of the cells, as they were called.
The first night our adventurer slept but little, the men who were there before him playing all sorts of tricks upon the newly arrived. At daybreak next morning he was awakened from a short doze by a most villainous smell, that seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere. Putting his head over the side of his hammock, he saw his companions all busily discussing the contents of a wooden tub, or kid, with their spoons, and from this tub the smell that had so much shocked his sensitive olfactory organs appeared to exhale. He was now hailed by his future messmates, who demanded to know whether he did not intend to get up and have his breakfast.
In truth, Ralph was hungry, so up he got and hurried on his clothes. One of the men lent him a tin pot, which he filled at the kid, and, spoon in hand, prepared to attack this unsavoury mess.
Words must fail to describe the loathsome taste, even worse than the villainous smell, of this abominable compound, which Rashleigh declared he never could liken to anything earthly, and which he never from first to last could taste. He afterwards found out this food was composed of a very coarse kind of barley, similar to that called Scotch or pearl barley, boiled up with the soup made from the meat which was allowed to the convicts upon every alternate day, this latter being designated bull — and if the flesh of bulls be most indescribably tough, then did it well deserve the sobriquet.
The dietary of the hulk, exclusive of meat and barley soup, was, three days in each week, a portion of a mysterious semi-petrifaction, very much akin to chalk both in taste and durability. Nay, it was even much harder; but by the courtesy of the contractors dubbed for the nonce cheese, it was indeed. as Bloomfield described Suffolk bang, “too big to swallow and too hard to bite”. It possessed most singular qualities, its obduracy being proof against any mollifying influence arising from cookery of any sort. As it was perfectly uninflammable, it might have made most excellent fire-bricks. Nay, it could not be in any degree softened by boiling, so that by far the greater portion of it was thrown overboard every day, as the captain’s pigs were too haughty to touch any portion of this excellent relish.
For breakfast and supper, when meat was not allowed, each man received a pint of the barley before named, plain boiled in water; and lucky was the wight who could muster a small quantity of salt to season it. Besides the above articles, a pound of very black unpalatable bread formed the daily allowance of each man, with a pint of very had vinegar, here dignified with the name of table beer.
The whole of the convicts, save those employed on board in cleaning the hulk, cooking, and attending on the officers, were sent every morning to labour in the dockyard, where they were employed in large parties, most appropriately designated gangs, at various works. Ralph was placed in a timber gang, and was quickly yoked to a large truck with twenty others, each man having a broad hempen band or collar put over one shoulder and beneath the other arm, so that in pulling, his weight pressed against it across his breast. Each gang was under the orders of a veteran sailor of the Royal Navy, some of whom were glad to repay upon the wretched convicts the tyranny with which they had been treated by their officers in former times, while others were more occupied in screwing out money from those under their charge, to enable them to pay frequent visits to the tap, where they solaced themselves with repeated libations of heavy wet.
Rashleigh’s ganger, or overseer, was of the first class. He assumed a the self-important airs which he perhaps thought became the quarter-deck of a man-of-war, and many a poor wretch was crippled under him; for being utterly ignorant of any proper mode of working among timber, he would frequently compel his gang to proceed so awkwardly that immense pieces of timber would fall from skids or other elevations and smash a leg or two, when the sufferers were carried off to the hospital ship, where they either lived or died as best pleased the naval surgeon who swayed the destinies of that receptacle, and who frequently was heard to say “that he must set to and dock (amputate) a dozen or two of those fellows, for he was getting most awfully out of practice”. Truly the latter was very strange, for scarcely a week passed without some poor devil being minus a leg or an arm through his case of instruments.
Rashleigh, who had never before worked at any species of manual labour, was quickly termed a skulker, and was obliged to endure a double share of the oppression of his overseer on this account. The misery of his abode, he being thus overwrought and rather more than half starved all day, and being devoured by myriads of vermin all night, made Ralph long for the arrival of the vessel which was to remove him to New South Wales; but that period was yet distant, as but a few days before his arrival, a draft had sailed from Portsmouth, and another was not to be dispatched for three months thereafter.
In the mean time he was taken sick; and though the doctor was of opinion he was only shamming, he was placed on board the hospital ship. By means of powerful purgatives, bleeding and blistering. that skilful medico quickly brought his patient to death’s door; but after a few weeks’ illness, nature reasserted her sovereignty, and as Ralph carefully avoided taking any of the medicine lately provided for him, which he cunningly contrived instead to throw into the urinal, he rapidly recovered, in spite of medical art, when he was removed to the convalescent wards.
One day three of the patients died, and as deceased convicts were then usually buried in a graveyard near a number of ruined buildings on the Gosport side which were among the prisoners called “Rats’ Castle”, some of the convalescent patients, of whom Rashleigh was one, were selected to go there and dig the graves. Accordingly, over the water they went, under the care of one of the old sailors before referred to, in a boat manned by convicts.
The soil was very light, and their task an easy one. When it was done the guard made a signal by waving a handkerchief upon a stick. While they were awaiting the return of their boat — which had on their arrival been dispatched for the coffins — Rashleigh and Ins companions lay or sat, as best suited them, among the nameless, shapeless grassy mounds which filled the convicts’ graveyard, each marking the narrow resting-place of one who had died degraded, forgotten and unknown, his last moments uncheered by the voice of affection or the soothing sympathies of kindred, and whose remains were scarcely cold ere he was hurried into the rude shell, hustled off in the boat, amid jokes or oaths, as the prevailing mood of the boatmen might be, and finally thrust into the ground, without a prayer, scarcely six inches below the surface of the earth,
These and many other melancholy thoughts passed rapidly through the mind of our adventurer, and after a time he looked up to see whether the boat was returning; but it had not yet left the side of the hospital ship. He gazed round on his companions, most of whom slept; the guard was at some distance, with his back turned. A thought of freedom darted into his brain; it was adopted with the speed of light. Not ten yards from him were the ruins; if he could reach them he would be screened from observation — and close to the ruins was the water. His irons had been struck from one of his legs while he was sick, so that all his chains were attached to the other side only. and he doubted not but he could easily swim or dive unimpeded by them. The weather was warm, and if he could gain about a mile higher up, there was a wood of osiers, in which he might conceal himself until he could take off his cumbrous appendages.
Before he had done thinking about it, he was at the edge of the water, among the ruins, had thrown off all his clothing except his nether garments, and now slipped down into the stream, swimming very softly. When he had attained depth enough, he trod water until he got round a projecting point which formed the boundary of the graveyard. Beyond this point there were many bulrushes, which served to shelter him; nor did he hear any alarm given. Having by dint of swimming, wading, and treading water, at, last reached the osiers unobserved, he found a small creek, up which he swam, and coming in a thickly wooded spot, he scrambled through the mud, until he gained a piece of land hard enough to bear his weight. Here he began to think what should be his next step.
It was imperatively necessary he should get rid of his chain, and forturiately finding he was much wasted through his sickness, he persevered in his struggles until at last he slipped it down over his ankle. He now threw both it and his remaining garment into deep water. The evening was very chilly, and he was fain to betake himself again to the stream, as he found that much warmer than the land. He next crossed the river again, and upon landing made towards a pile of buildings he saw standing at a short distance from the shore. These proved to be cattle sheds; but there were no human dwellings near and Ralph hardly knew what to do. At last he decided upon remaining where he was until the cattle tender should come, who might be induced by some pitiful tale to help him to a few rags, as decency forbade his going much about in his present utter nakedness.
Accordingly, our shivering adventurer prowled among some stalls on one side of the square formed by these buildings, and was at last lucky enough to find some litter, which had apparently been used only sufficiently to make it warm. Having successfully disputed possession of this treasure with an old cow, he crept in among it, heaping it over and around him, and finding himself very warm and comfortable, quickly went to sleep.
When he awoke, it was hardly daylight; but a boy was turning out the cattle. Ralph called most lustily to him for some time before the youngster heard. This youth gaped with astonishment at the tale Rashleigh told, that he was a poor sailor who, having got drunk, had lain down by the water-side, where some wretches had stripped him naked. He begged the lad, for God’s sake, to procure him any sort of old things that might cover him until he could get into Portsmouth.
The boy seemed a good deal moved by the recital, and promised he would go up to his master’s house, to try whether he could get anything for him to wear. In less than ar hour he returned, bringing a blue smock frock, checked shirt, waggoner’s hat, pair of cord breeches, and high-low shoes, all very old, but still whole and tolerably clean, saying, at the same time, if Ralph would go up to the house, he might get “zummat t’ yeat, if he wor an ‘ongry”.
Rashleigh took the clothes most thankfully and asked the way to the house, telling the lad he would first go and wash himself in the river and then follow him. Having received directions, he once more thanked the boy, who departed with a speed that indicated he was “an ‘ongry”, if Ralph was not.
Our adventurer, after having cleansed his person in the river from the impurities of his last night’s lodgings, now clad himself in this unwonted guise. He then debated within himself whether it might not he dangerous to accept the hospitable invitation of the cow-boy, and finally resolved not to linger in such a perilous neighbourhood; so he set forth at a brisk pace along the stream, keeping his back to Portsmouth.
After walking upwards of a mile, he heard a female voice hailing loudly, “Whoi, Tummas! Tummas, I zay!”
As his name was not “Tummas”, and he was not thinking of anything except making the best of his way, he did not stop, until the voice, now close behind him, roared out, “Dam thee! Stop, I zay!”
He suddenly turned round and confronted the speaker, who was a pretty-looking country girl, about seventeen or eighteen years of age, and who had plainly lost what little breath the run had left her with astonishment at finding out she had overtaken a stranger.
The damsel opened both her mouth and eyes to the utmost of their capacity and stammered out, “Whoi, it bean’t Tummas, arter all.”
“No, I’m not Thomas, my pretty dear,” said Rashleigh; “but I would be just as willing to do anything to oblige you as ever he could be.”
“Drat it,” continued the maiden. “That be’s so loike our Tummas’s slop! Whoi, I could a’most ha’ sworn to it, b’ the patch on the back.”
“And very likely,” quoth Rashleigh, “it was your Thomas’s slop; for it was given to me not far away when I’d been robbed of all my own clothes.”
“What, robbed of your Clothes, all on ’em?” responded the girl in amazement. “And did ’em leave you quite naked?”
“They did so,” replied Ralph, “and I have got a very long way to go, without a penny to help myself.’’
“Poor fellow!” said the kind-hearted girl. If thee’ll come back again a bit, M mother’ll give thee zummat t’ yeat, I do know, at any rate, and thee’ll be my the better of that!’
Rashleigh willingly accompanied his guide to her lowly home, where a hearty laugh ensued between the girl and her mother at the mistake made by the former; and his misfortune being related, the old dame bestowed her warm sympathy, and a substantial breakfast of bread, bacon and small beer to the traveller, who shortly after took his leave, much refreshed and very thankful for the kind hospitality he had so very unexpectedly received.
He then travelled in the direction of Winchester. Upon Portsdown Heath he overtook a pedlar, who, in addition to his pack, had a very heavy bundle to carry. This man entered into conversation with our adventurer, who feigned a country dialect in his speech as much as possible, and learning that they were likely to travel some short distance together, the dealer offered Ralph a shilling if he would carry the bundle for him during the rest of the day. Rashleigh willingly complied with this offer, and they journeyed on till evening was drawing near, when they reached a village inn, at which the pedlar declared his intention of stopping for the night. Having given to our adventurer the sum agreed on, the latter also went in for the purpose of obtaining some bread and cheese, with a draught of beer, for supper.
The room he entered was full of various sorts of people, who took small notice of him. Having discussed his food, he was sitting in a corner, when in marched a party of soldiers, who stopped both the doors, while the sergeant who led them began to look most narrowly into the faces of every person present.
Rashleigh had taken off his hat, and the man of scarlet favoured him with a gaze of more attentive scrutiny than he seemed to bestow upon the rest. At last the sergeant asked our hero’s name.
“Thomas Harper,” was the reply.
“What are you?” was the next query.
“A labouring man.”
“Where do you come from now?” demanded the “non-cornmissioned”.
“Oh, do your” said the son of Mars. “When were you there last?”
“A week ago,” replied Rashleigh.
“Humph! A week ago . . . And where have you been to since?” demanded the martialist.
“Why, at Portsmouth, if you must know,” responded Rashleigh, beginning to lose his temper at the pertinacity of the querist, who now drew his sword saying, “Yes. At Portsmouth. I knew that; and you ‘listed there.”
“Me ‘listed?” said Ralph. “Not I, indeed, my good fellow.” Rashleigh, in the excitement of the moment, had thrown off his country accent and spoke with his natural idiom.
“Aha!” cried the sergeant. “Does anybody think this chap comes from Havant now, with such a tongue as that?
“No, no, my fine starter,” resumed the man of war, “you never come from Havant; and now I’ve got you, I’ll take care you don’t go there neither in a hurry.”
So saying, he gave a sign to two of his comrades, who advanced upon Ralph and quickly secured him with a pair of handcuffs, after which the sergeant ordered the whole party outside. Presently they were ordered to take possession of a loft above a stable, where the military shortly afterwards had their suppers brought to them. This over, an additional pair of handcuffs being provided, they were placed one on each of Rashleigh’s wrists. He being in this way secured between two soldiers that were fettered to him by one hand apiece, they lay down in this manner to rest. it was evident that he had been taken up, not as a runaway convict, but as a deserter; and he conceived he would soon be liberated, as it must quickly be discovered to be a mistake. He therefore felt little anxiety for the result, and resigned himself to sleep as well as he could under such very uncomfortable circumstances.
At a very early hour of the next morning the party were aroused by their commander, and having partaken of a humble breakfast, began their march to Portsmouth. After journeying some time in silence, the sergeant came to the side of Ralph and with a jeering manner asked him whether he didn’t think he was a fool for trying to impose upon an old soldier like the sergeant — as if he were a raw recruit — by striving to pass himself off for a countryman. Ralph only replied that they would soon find out their mistake, to which the other rejoined with a laugh, “Why, then, I suppose you are some King’s son in disguise; but no matter. The next time you desart from the army, I’d advise you to buy yourself a wig, for anybody could tell you had been a soldier by the way your hair is cut.”
Ralph now found out that the sergeant had been induced to believe him a deserter and to question him by this very circumstance, so that if he had only kept his hat on, it is probable he might have escaped the arrest of this vigilant commander. Being doubly vexed on this account by the annoyance of the sergeant’s sarcasms, he retorted that he was no deserter, that he had never enlisted in his life, because he always thought the life of a dog far better than that of a soldier, and for his own part, had rather turn a nightman than enlist. The son of Mars flew into a rage at this highly insulting speech, and threatened to knock his teeth down his throat if he did not hold his tongue; and for the remainder of the journey the sergeant and escort put every species of annoyance in practice towards their prisoner.
At length the weary march was ended, and they reached the “lines” of Portsmouth, inside of which was a guard-room, where they deposited their prisoner. Here he passed the night, and the next day was removed to Gosport Barracks, where it was quickly found out he was not the person whom the party had been dispatched in quest of; and Ralph had the great satisfaction of hearing the sergeant soundly rated for his stupidity in making such a mistake.
He was now set at liberty; but just as he was about to leave the barrack yard, he saw this same petty officer who had taken him in custody, and could not resist the opportunity of repaying him in abuse for the oppression he had endured in the journey under his command. The sergeant roared out for the guard and gave our adventurer in charge for abusing him while on duty, and in a little while the luckless Rashleigh was again handcuffed and marched off to the watch-house, from whence he was taken in the evening before the Mayor of Portsmouth.
Upon being interrogated as to his name, place of abode, etc., Ralph said it was Jenkins and that he was a clerk out of employment who had come to Portsmouth a few days before; but having been robbed of his clothing on his return to London, he had been obliged to beg the articles he then wore. The clerk to the bench eyed him during this narrative with much distrust, and leaning over, whispered to the Mayor, who nodded with profound gravity. The sergeant was called on to state his complaint, which he did with a volubility of tongue that did not confine itself to the truth, but wound up by stating that the prisoner had threatened to take his life.
“Upon my word!” said the magisterial Solon. “A werry pretty feller, to abuse the honourable profession of a soldier, who spends his life fighting for his King and country, while such rapscallions as himself are skulking about, looking out for chances to rob their neighbours’ hen-roosts! What have you to say for yourself, you blackguard?”
To this highly temperate and very becoming speech, Rashleigh only replied that the sergeant had much exaggerated the truth, for that he (the prisoner) had not threatened the other at all, but only reproached him for his harsh treatment to himself while a prisoner under his charge.
Two or three non-commissioned officers now stepped forth, each anxious to be heard first, and all offering to swear to the truth of the sergeant’s statement; which of course they could very well do, as having been in Court all the time, not a word of what he had said had escaped them. The Mayor, however, declined to give them so much trouble, and after a short conference with his clerk, he again addressed the prisoner.
“Now, my fine feller, you might think to impose upon this ’ere Court with that there fine story of yourn; but I can tell you as how you shan’t; for I’m resolved, if I can’t do anything else, to send you to gaol for a month as a rogue and a wagabond what can’t give no proper account of himself, not by no manner of means. But then I thinks as how you are a suspicious feller besides, and I makes no manners of doubt but we shall have a hue and cry arter you in a werry little while for some willainous despredation or other; so I’ll remand you for a week, that our wigilant perleece may have time to make enquiries about you. Take him away.” And away Rashleigh was taken accordingly.
He had not been removed from the office, before he saw one of the guards of the hulk Leviathan, who, it seemed, had come there to report the escape of another convict from the dockyard that day. This person was possessed of the lynx-eyed sagacity proper for his calling, and he no sooner saw our hero than he went close up to him, and removing the waggoner’s hat worn by the luckless runaway, cried out, “Aha, my gentleman! You’re nabbed, are you?”
The constable who had Rashleigh in charge eagerly enquired if the guard knew his prisoner, and he being answered in the affirmative, the unfortunate Ralph was again placed before “His Worship”, to whom the tale was soon related of his being an escaped convict.
“Aha!” said that functionary in great exultation. “I knew he was a dangerous willain. I am worry seldom deceived in my opinions about sitch ruffians. But as you say he’s already transported for life, I don’t see as how we can add anything to his sentence. I suppose the best thing we can do is to send him back to the hulk at once, and let the captain punish him for running away.”
In a few moments Ralph was hurried to the boat which had brought the officer on shore. Strongly chained and handcuffed, with the muzzle of a pistol held close to his head, he was rapidly reconveyed to his former gloomy place of abode.
Having been brought on board, he was ushered down to the “black hole”, as it was called — a dungeon in the ship’s eyes below the water-level, and there left to his solitary reflections, which, however, could scarcely he termed so, inasmuch as many myriads of rats inhabited this den, which leaped, ran and gambolled about, over and around their human companion.
The tedious hours of night wore away. The day had begun some time, as the noise of the men trampling to and fro on the different decks indicated. These sounds ceased: all the convicts had gone to work. For some hours more Ralph still remained unvisited; but at length he heard a footstep approaching. His prison was opened and he was ordered to follow the guard, who preceded him to the quarter-deck. Here stood the captain, his mates, the surgeon and other officers of the hulk, in their full naval uniforms. The prisoner was placed on a certain spot indicated by a sign from the commander, and the tale of his escape, having been succinctly related by the guard in whose charge he had been sent to dig the graves, was followed by a recital of his recapture from the officer who had brought him from the shore. He was asked what he had to say, and having only the natural love of liberty inherent in the breast of all men to urge, he was sentenced to receive ten dozen lashes in presence of all the convicts that same day.
He was now again conducted to the black hole, and a little before sunset he was once more led to the quarter-deck, having now to pass through the lines of his fellow-prisoners, ranged there to witness his degrading punishment. His offence and sentence having been related aloud, he was commanded to strip and was quickly secured to the gratings, which had been lashed to the bulwarks. A brawny boatswain’s mate now commenced the infliction of the agonising torture.
Rashleigh had long before been assured by persons who had suffered it, that shrieking out only added to the pain, which became less the quieter and more immovable the sufferer kept himself. When he was being tied up he had crammed his shirt into his mouth in such a way that it was jammed between his face and the grating; so that he could not get it out until he was released. Thus, during the whole time, he could breathe only through his nostrils, and though the pain was most harrowingly intense — for he long afterwards declared it could only be likened to the sensation of having furrows torn in your flesh with jagged wire, and ore they closed filled up with burning molten lead running in streams of fire down your back — yet he could not at first cry out. By the time be had received four of the dozens, at each of which a fresh instrument and a fresh operator were applied, the whole of his body had been entirely numbed, and he only felt as if his lacerated flesh were receiving heavy blows from some huge club.
The punishment lasted more than an hour, at the end of which time he was released from the grating and fell insensible on the deck, whence he was carried to the hospital ship, where he was quickly resuscitated, with a vengeance, by the application of a dressing which was applied to his back, and which, he was subsequently assured, was composed chiefly of pepper and salt!!! — in compliance with the usual mild and merciful system pursued by the naval and military surgeons of that day; and the excruciating torment occasioned by this remedy completely mocked the horrors of the actual suffering of the lash. So often as this dressing was removed and replaced by a new one — which was done every day for nearly a month — the sufferings of the wretched patient made him roar aloud with their intensity; which could only have been equalled by the torture inflicted on the unfortunate cacique Atabalipa, when stretched upon his bed of fire by the monster Hernan Cortes.
Under even this discipline, however, Rashleigh slowly recovered, and became convalescent just in time to go in a draft that was ordered to proceed to New South Wales by the good ship Magnet of London, Captain, James Boltrope.
Onward she goes, over ripple and spray,
Over the waters — away — and away.
It was in the evening when, according to the custom of the hulk, the names of all those who were destined to depart were called aloud on each deck by the boatswain, and they were directed to prepare for the “Bay ship” on the morrow. Our hero was doubly rejoiced at hearing his own name among the rest, for since the torturing disgraceful punishment he had received, the Leviathan had become perfectly hateful to him, and he spent the whole of the night in rumination as to his probable fortune in Australia.
The next day the convicts were duly washed, shaved, cropped, and supplied with two suits each of new slop clothing. They were all ironed too afresh, having each a new pair of double irons put on, and were then paraded before the surgeon superintendent of the vessel in which they were to sail. This officer rejected a few of those who appeared sickly, and others were called in their room. Shortly afterwards the whole body was transferred to a large lighter, which conveyed them out to Spithead, where the good ship fraught with their destinies lay like a mighty sea-bird asleep on the bosom of the open roadstead. On being placed on board, the prisoners were mustered down below, between the decks, into their proper sleeping-places, where each found a numbered bed and blanket. They were then left to pass the night as they listed.
The ship Magnet, which was to convey our adventurer and his companions to the Antipodes, was of about 500 tons burden. The chief part of the maindeck was appropriated to the use of the convicts, of whom there were 150 originally embarked. The deck had been subdivided by a strong bulkhead into two apartments, the smaller by far of which was destined to the reception of the boy convicts, of whom there were about thirty. The hatchways were secured with upright elm stanchions in a stout framing, the whole rendered impervious to any attempt at cutting them by having innumerable broadheaded nails driven home as close together as possible into every portion of the stanchions and frame that was exposed to view. In one of these hatchways were the doors leading to the men’s and the boys’ prisons. These openings were purposely made so small that only one person at a time could pass through them, and a military sentry was posted day and night in the hatchway to prevent any mutiny or other irregularity.
The military guard consisted of two commissioned and six non-commissioned officers, with about forty private soldiers, some of whom wore married and accompanied by their wives and families. While at Spithead, the prisoners were only allowed to come on deck in divisions, three-fourths remaining below while the others enjoyed the fresh air, six soldiers being posted at different parts of the ship. When they sailed, however, the convicts were allowed the liberty of the deck, the whole body except the sick being obliged to leave the prison every fine day by sunrise, and taking their meals on the deck, returning to their berths only at sunset, when they were mustered down by an officer.
Order was maintained among them, and a due regard to cleanliness enforced, by a boatswain and six mates, selected by the surgeon superintendent from the convicts, of whom he had the exclusive care. Their food consisted of the ration which was commonly known in the transport service by the name of “six upon four”, it being four men-of-war sailors’ allowance among six of the prisoners. When the voyage advanced, a small portion of wine or lime-juice was issued on alternate days. There was, in fact, no lack of anything felt on board save water, which was necessarily carefully husbanded, and the want of which was chiefly endured by those who devoured their salt provisions too greedily.
The day after the arrival of the draft, a boatswain, two cooks and other petty officers were chosen from among them, and the men distributed into messes or parties of eight in each, who were to receive their stated allowance of food and water together. It being known that nearly a fortnight would elapse before they sailed for their destination, many of the convicts busied themselves by writing to their friends or relatives to bid them farewell or to request a parting visit. As for Rashleigh, he had resolved not to let any person know his fate, and as his name was an assumed one, he conceived none of his connexions were aware of his degradation.
Bumboats with all manner of supplies attended the Magnet at her moorings daily; and as the time for their departure drew nigh, the deck frequently presented an animating and lively appearance, sorrowfully diversified at times by groups of weeping females or children assembled round some parent or brother who was about to be severed from them, most probably for ever.
Ralph had little to do with either leave-taking or bargaining. His slender store of money was soon expended in purchasing a little tea and sugar, with a few other trifling comforts, for his long voyage; and it was with no very poignant feelings of regret that he saw the anchor weighed and the sails loosed which were to waft him away from the land of his birth.
The vessel passed near the Isle of Wight, and standing out into mid channel, they continued their course until evening, when all were ordered below. The sleeping-berths between decks were framed of deal boards, supported by stanchions and quartering of the same kind of timber, and subdivided into compartments in which six men slept in a space of about as many feet. These bed-places were framed in rows along each side of the ship, and a double row was also formed in the centre, between which and the sides and hatchways, narrow passages were left.
This being their first night at sea, the broken waves of the channel tossed them about considerably, and the wind being aft, the vessel rolled much more than was agreeable to such raw sailors. A scene of great confusion was therefore the result, some swearing, some casting up their accounts, a very, very few indeed praying, and many lying without daring to stir. Rashleigh was not much affected by the motion, and when the tumult had a little subsided, he went to sleep; though, as he lay athwart the vessel, his rest was much disturbed by the rolling. Towards midnight he awoke and made the discovery that his feet were elevated about a yard higher than his head, an order of things which, as he had not been accustomed to it, he forthwith proceeded to alter. But scarce had he done so when he found himself subject to the same inconvenience in his fresh position, so that he was fain to replace his head against the ship’s side, as he had at first lain down, being fearful, while he lay the other way, that some roll more violent than the rest might suddenly dislodge him and cast him headlong into the opposite sleeping-berths: a mode of visiting his shipmates which he could very well dispense with.
He could not sleep more, however, in any position, so he sat up at last, leaning against the ship’s side and ever and anon wondering what it was that continually struck the bows of the vessel — as it seemed to him — with such tremendous fury, little thinking it was the waves, every time her head went down to meet them.
At length he heard a dreadful crash above, followed by the hurtling fall of timbers on the deck. At the same moment a tremendous sea broke over the bulwarks of the vessel and swept with fury down into the main hatchway, in which the sentry was posted. The violence of the rushing water drove the poor soldier with great force against the barricade, and a perfect deluge poured into the prison.
Dire was now the clamour. A hundred sleepers were aroused at once, to find themselves and their bedding immersed in water which every fresh roll of the vessel dashed from side to side, as it had no outlet. Most of them, in a state of mortal terror, deemed the ship was sinking, and a wild outcry of lamentation pealed from many tongues.
Very soon a few of the boldest rushed at the little gateway, hoping to force it and gain the deck, that they might not, as one of their number expressed it, “be drowned like rats, shut up in a cage”; but the wicket bade defiance to all their ill-directed strength. Meanwhile the tones of the sentry might sometimes be heard above the din of voices or the rush of the mighty waters, pouring forth a jeremiad in terms like the following: “Wirrah, it’s murdered, and kilt, losht, destroyed and drownded I am! Swate mother o’ Jasus! And my firelock gone. Shure, if I escape this turn, I’ll be hanged tomorrow for losing my arrums. Och, Wirrah! Wirrah!” And in the darkness the poor fellow would grope for his lost musket, when suddenly a roll of the ship would throw him forcibly against one of the sides, until, a lighted lantern being brought, his dilemma was observed and another sentry placed on his post.
The prisoners, however, were compelled to pass the night in the best manner they could, only being assured that there was no danger, the noise and confusion on deck having arisen from one of the yards giving way. They set to work and bailed the water into the privies as well as they could, and by morning everything was once more quiet below.
Nothing of moment now passed for some time. The good ship still gallantly breasted the billows on her watery way, and at last they neared the Equinoctial, where the ceremony of shaving, on crossing the line, was productive of much fun, about fifty of the prisoners undergoing that operation for the merriment of the others, who, with the captain, officers and passengers, were all equally amused thereby.
Some time prior to this event Ralph Rashleigh had been selected by the surgeon to act as his clerk, a circumstance which, while it procured him many comforts, also probably prevented his having any hand in a scheme that was now set on foot among the prisoners for seizing the vessel, which was shortly after their crossing the line brought to maturity, and but very narrowly defeated.
The boys’ prison was separated only by a bulkhead on either side from the portion occupied by the military and the older prisoners, with relation to which it occupied the centre. Some of these adroit young thieves had contrived to loosen a board in the bulkhead between their own and the soldiers’ apartment. Through this aperture one of the smallest among them used to get into the berth of the military when the latter were asleep, and steal tea, sugar, tobacco, biscuits, or in short, anything he could lay his hands on. This became known to some of the men, who concocted a plot, in which they were joined by others, that this boy should on a certain night steal three muskets which stood in an open arm rack in the soldiers’ berth, and which were visible from the deck and were supposed to be kept continually loaded. These muskets were to be passed from the boys’ into the men’s prison, and in the morning, when the convicts were let up to wash the deck, some of those who were first up were to go to the fore hatchway, and the stolen fire-arms were then to be handed to them from the prison. The rest of the convicts on deck were to be very active in throwing water about and bustling to and fro, so as to attract the notice of the sentries there, of whom there would be three, one at the forecastle, one at the waist, and the third on the poop, of whom only the last would have fire-arms with him. The two sentries forward, being surprised by men from behind them, were to be seized and thrown overboard, while the one on the poop was to be shot dead at the same signal. One party was then to cast loose the breeching of a cannon on the deck, which was known to be loaded, and run it to the companion ladder leading down to the soldiers’ berth, while in the mean time another party was to rush aft and secure the officers.
All this, to a certain extent, fell out exactly as the mutineers had anticipated. The sentries forward were seized, and one of the prisoners snapped his piece at the soldier on the poop; but it did not go off. The other two muskets were then tried with as little success-in fact, there was no priming in either. In the mean time the sentry on the poop roared out “To arms!” But a rush being made upon him, he fired his piece at random and the instant afterwards was thrown overboard. The party who should have cast loose the cannon found that the stubbornness of the fastenings bade defiance to all their efforts of loosening them by hand, and not one of them possessed a knife.
The soldiers now came pouring up the ladder. The first two or three were tumbled back on their companions by blows from the stocks of the mutineers’ muskets, until two of the military officers, who had leaped through the cabin skylight on finding themselves attacked, and who had now gained the poop with their fowling-pieces, levelled them and shot two of the boldest among the convicts dead alongside the ladder. Their companions recoiled. The soldiers now rushed upon deck. A volley of musketry was poured in among the prisoners, of whom five fell, three jumped overboard and all the rest were driven below, many being wounded severely by the bayonets of the exasperated guard. All that day they were kept below without food, and the next morning, the prison doors being thrown open, they were ordered to come on deck.
When Rashleigh did so, he found the whole of the military under arms, one line being drawn across the poop, and another line across the forecastle. Two guns had also been lashed in front of both parties, beside which stood a seaman with a lighted match, the muzzle of each cannon being pointed inwards towards the main hatchway, around which the convicts were huddled in a group. When all the latter had come up the ladder, the ship’s boatswain ordered them to answer their names and go on the quarter-deck as they were called. They did so; and when our adventurer’s turn came, he followed his predecessor into the presence of the surgeon, ship’s captain and military officers, who, dressed in full uniform, occupied the front of the poop stairs. The only sentry who remained alive out of the three that had been on guard the previous morning, and who had fortunately escaped by clinging to a rope that was towing overboard, stood near his officers, his business apparently being to identify the men who had been on deck during the attempt. Each prisoner was also stripped to ascertain if he had been wounded. If no wound appeared, and the sentry could not say that he had been concerned in the mutiny, he was then asked whether he knew anything of the attempted seizure, and informed that if he would give accurate intelligence respecting the authors of the plot he should be highly rewarded instanter, and strongly recommended for his liberty at the expiration of the voyage.
Rashleigh had always loved his bed too well to be an early riser. He had never been on deck any day since they left the land until he was compelled, and his being employed by the surgeon probably precluded any confidence being placed in him by his fellows; so after he had declared his ignorance he was dismissed. The affair ended by about twenty of the prisoners either being identified by the soldier, or being shown to have been wounded. These were now severely flogged and placed in heavy irons until the vessel should reach Port Jackson, being confined all the time besides in a sort of den under the forecastle. Although many of the convicts afterwards professed to give details of the plot and the names of the chief actors in it, nearly all the tales were found to be mere fabrications, and it was generally believed that the leaders in this abortive mutiny were among the number who had been shot dead, or who had leaped overboard on their discomfiture.
After this émeute there were always five sentries on deck in the daytime with loaded muskets, two of whom were stationed on the poop, two at the forecastle, and another at the waist with drawn bayonet only. All else on board resumed its wonted course, nor did anything of moment more occur until, a few days after passing the island of St Peter and St Paul, the captain descried a sail, and found it was standing on such a course that the Magnet must certainly pass very near her, which happened accordingly, and the vessels were quickly within hail. The stranger was a long low schooner, whose masts raked very much, and as the mariners said, “she loomed very suspicious altogether”; but as she had then apparently altered her course, no more was thought of it that day. In the grey haze of the next morning, however, she again bore down, and was close to them before she was perceived by anyone on board the convict ship. Suddenly a call was heard: “Port! Port your helm!”
The next instant the loud sullen boom of a heavy piece of artillery awoke the slumbers of that watery world. Directly after, a voice was heard to hail in some foreign tongue from the schooner, to which Captain Boltrope replied, “An English convict ship bound from Portsmouth to New South Wales.”
Ralph Rashleigh hurried on dock. This, being quite an event in the annals of their voyage, had roused his curiosity, and he now found the schooner lying to at a short distance, her sails flapping idly against her masts. Most of the passengers by the Magnet, and the military officers, were on her poop. From the observations made among these, it appeared that none on board the stranger seemed to understand English; but immediately afterwards the gaudy flag of Portugal was hoisted at the schooner’s gaff, and another gun fired towards the English vessel.
“That gun was shotted, by ——!” roared out the old mate, as he looked aloft, apparently pursuing the course of the ball.
“Nay, then,” rejoined one of the military officers; “it is time we began to look out, captain.”
Captain Boltrope replied, “Aye, aye, sit. We’ll soon see what sort of stuff she’s made of. Hoist away the Union jack there. Mr Travis, jump down below, and hand up a lot of cartridges and wads. Dr MacMorrogh, will you turn all your men up on deck? They can help to load and run the guns in and out. Ease her off, my lad at the helm! Bring her starboard side to bear on the stranger. By the Lord, we’ll astonish you, my joker, directly.”
“Do you mean to fight her then, sir?” enquired Dr Dullmere, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who was on board. in great fear.
“Fight?” replied the old tar. “Fight, aye? Why, that is a good ’un. To be sure, I do mean to fight. Do you think for a moment I’m going to have my ship plundered, and that glorious bit of buntin’” (pointing to the flag of England now flying at the peak) “insulted by a damned rogue like that? No, no! jemmy Boltrope will never stand that, while we’ve got forty sojers on board, besides all this mob, who are most of ’em wicked enough to fight the devil himself, were he to rise out of the ocean with seven heads and ten horns, like the beast in the Book of Revelations.”
While the captain was talking he was also busy, clearing away the poop for action; but the parson had vanished, and his place was far better supplied by ten or a dozen of the soldiers, who now appeared, as the skipper said, “in full fighting fig”. The military officer, at his request, now detached four more soldiers into each of the tops, and great was the laughter of Captain Boltrope at the lubberly way in which the “leather necks”, as he called them, got up to their new posts.
In the mean time a boat had been lowered from the stranger, apparently full of armed men, and was rowed towards the Leviathan; but on seeing the military guard displayed on the poop, forecastle and tops, the commander of the boat shouted out again to someone in his own vessel, and loud cries of “prisonniers! prisonniers!” or something of the kind, burst from many voices in both the schooner and the boat. The latter was now rowed back to the stranger, which soon after filled its sails and stood away.
From this incident until the end of their dreary voyage no other occurrence of any moment took place, and many were the hearts that bounded with mingled anticipations when one evening the cry of “Land ho!” was heard from the mast-head; which, upon the vessel’s approaching a little nearer, was declared to be the coast of New Holland, but some distance to the southward of their expected haven, which it was supposed, however, they would be nearly abreast of by the next morning; and eve sank down upon all on board the Magnet engaged in various contemplations of what fate might have in store for them in the land to which they were now exiled and which they were so rapidly approaching.
The band of Romulus, it is most certain,
Were ruffian stabbers and vile cutpurse knaves;
Yet did this outcast scum of all the earth
Lay the foundations of the eternal city.
Before daybreak next morning the light of Port Jackson was visible from the deck of the Leviathan, and shortly afterwards that trusty vessel entered the Heads — two bold bluff precipices, between which lies the entrance to that spacious harbour, supposed to be one of the finest on the surface of the globe. A pilot had come on board to direct the course of the ship to her anchorage; and during the run of nearly seven miles from the entrance of the Port to the site of the town of Sydney Rashleigh had ample opportunities of scanning the external features of the land in which he was destined to find his future home.
The shores of Port Jackson then possessed few charms, either natural or acquired: sandy bays opening to great distances inland, bordered apparently by stunted trees; rocky headlands between each inlet, crowned with similar foliage; and far away, on either hand, a background displaying dense forests of sombre green. There were then none of those elegant mansions or beautiful villas, with their verdant and ever blooming gardens, which now so plentifully meet the eye of the new colonist, affording abundant proofs of the wonted energy of the Anglo-Saxon race, who speedily rescue the most untamed sods from the barbarism of nature and bid the busy sounds of industry and art awaken the silent echoes of every primeval forest in which they are placed.
Not a single patch of cultivated soil appeared in those days to refresh the sight of the wearied voyagers with evidences that here the foot of civilised man had ever trod prior to their arrival. One of the passengers, who had visited New South Wales before, called the attention of his companions on the poop to an isle called Garden Island, and Ralph looked towards the spot, expecting now, at least, to detect some proof of the reclaiming hand of man. But alas, the so-called Garden Island presented nothing to his view but a doubly sterile mass of rugged grey rocks rising from the bosom of one of the numerous bays, and crowned with the same unvarying livery of russet green; but as they rounded the next projecting point they came in view of a small embattled building on a height, which was said to be one of the forts at the entrance of Sydney Cove. Immediately afterwards they saw a straggling range of cottages, mostly of a very small size, which stretched along an eminence, and which were declared by their informant to be a portion of the town of Sydney known as “The Rocks”.
The Magnet was shortly brought to anchor opposite a neck of land on which stood a slaughter-house, and our voyagers could survey the greater part of the town from a very favourable position. The dwellings appeared to he chiefly of one story; in fact, most of them deserved no better name than huts. The streets were narrow and straggling; nor did there seem to be more than half a dozen good or convenient private buildings in the town. There was no cultivated land to be seen from their station, and but a very few miserable cottages, peeping here and there out of the trees, stood upon the north shore of the harbour, in various parts of which there were then about six other large vessels at anchor, besides a good number of small cutters and boats which were passing to and fro continually.
The day after their arrival, the Colonial Secretary, the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, and other officers came on board to muster the newly arrived prisoners, who were each called separately into the cabin, asked their names, ages, religions, native places, trades and a host of other interrogatories, the replies to which were taken down and a personal description of each convict added. When this ceremony had been gone through with all the new arrivals, these official visitors departed and a number of other persons came on board, some seeking news from the “old country”, some to enquire after expected relations, a few of the great ones to ascertain what sort of men the new chums were, and whether there were certain descriptions of persons among them, according to the wants of each querist in the article of labour.
Among others who thus came was an elderly gentleman who kept an academy, whose object was to enquire for a suitable assistant in his scholastic labours. The surgeon superintendent accordingly recommended Ralph Rashleigh, who was at that moment writing in an inner cabin. Being called out, he was presented to the applicant, who questioned him as to his attainments. The answers appeared to prove satisfactory and the schoolmaster departed.
In about a fortnight from their arrival the prisoners on board were again mustered preparatory to their going on shore and received each a new suit of clothing, after which they were placed in boats, by divisions, and rowed to a spot of land near Fort Macquarie, where, being landed, they waited until all had arrived and then proceeded through a part of the public promenade known as the Domain, up to the Prisoners’ Barracks, where they were placed in a back yard by themselves, and shortly afterwards again paraded. On their dismissal a host of the older prisoners insinuated themselves among them for the purpose of bargaining for clothes, trinkets or other property, and many a poor new chum — the distinctive name bestowed upon them by the old hands — was deprived of all his little stock of comforts by the artifices of the others, who appeared to pique themselves in no small degree upon the dexterity with which they could thus pick up (rob) the unwary new-comers.
The day after Rashleigh’s landing the dispersion of his shipmates began, and in four days there remained but himself and two others out of about 140 who had safely reached the Colony with him, the remainder having all been sent, or, as the phrase ran, “assigned”, to the service of private individuals, by tens, fours, threes, or single individuals, according to the priority of application or degree of interest possessed by the masters. Most of these men were employed at the trades or occupations to which they had been brought up or accustomed, except such as had been used to trades which were not then in existence in New South Wales. They were assigned as labourers and sent into the interior. Of these the most numerous class was the weavers, who subsequently made but sorry shifts at using the axe or the hoe, the latter being by far the most usual mode of tilling the soil in that early period of Australian agriculture.
As for Rashleigh, he was in a few days sent to the schoolmaster whom he had seen on board the ship, and after a long lecture from his employer touching his future conduct, was duly installed into office, which, truly, was all but a sinecure, for the system or rather no system, of education pursued at this “classical and commercial academy”— for such, in sooth, it professed to be — was full easy for both instructors and instructed. It was most true that in Ralph’s after experience he never found any of his quondam pupils had attained any very high grade of scientific or literary acquirement; but then, the meeting was always a pleasant one, nevertheless, because the pseudo-scholars ever remembered their tutor with gratitude as one who was always ready to do his devoir at obtaining them a holiday, if he could, upon any pretence or no pretence at all.
The chief of this “educational establishment” was much more fond of his amusements by day and the allurements of the social glass by night, than the toil inseparable from that “delightful task” which Mrs Barbauld has sung so sweetly. His assistant, Rashleigh, who was now, once more, respectably clad and enjoyed a good deal of liberty out of school hours, began to form acquaintances among other educated prisoners, chiefly clerks in government offices, who were wont to meet, after they had concluded the small share of what they were pleased to call work that fell to the portion of each, to discuss matters of more weighty and deep moment, no less than the affairs of the State, which, being everybody’s business, were, as is usual in the opinion of such sages at least, most shamefully neglected.
But alas, no prophet is honoured in his own age or country, and the political disquisitions of these learned pundits at last attracted the attention of the Sydney police, who were so illiberal as to take umbrage at them. And one evening, when our hero, who began to feel the full fervour of amor patriae for his adopted country, was loudly descanting upon her wrongs under the iron sway of General Darling, then Governor, an addition to the auditory, equally unexpected and unwelcome, was made in the persons of half a dozen constables under the command of a chief who had formerly been a member of that fraternity, so useful to anatomical science, yclept stiff-hunters, or body-snatchers.
This man of office, with awful brow, began to question all of the amateur politicians as to their appellations and places of residence, but specially honoured Ralph Rashleigh, whose oratorical display he had so cruelly marred, with a double portion of his scrutiny. No further steps were taken that night, the party of embryo Demosthenes’ being permitted to repair to their several abodes, marvellously discomfited at this malapropos interruption.
After this Rashleigh dared not seek the same society for a while, and confined his amusements to walks in the town and neighbourhood, for though accustomed, as he had been, latterly at least, to scenes of vulgarity and to association with the lowest of the human race, even his mind revolted from mingling with the only sort of companions accessible to him.
The town at that time contained but two classes, one comprising the high government officers and a very few large merchants, who formed at that period the aristocracy of Australia. The other was composed of men who, like Ralph, either were or had been convicts, or, to use the milder colonial phrase, “prisoners of the Crown”. Many of the last, who were now free, had become very wealthy; but Heaven knows, they formed no exception to the description given by Pope of those on whom riches are generally bestowed, they being, he says,
Given to the fool, the vain, the mad, the evil,
To ward, to waters, chartres, and the devil.
And surely, the men among the freed convicts of New South Wales who had acquired riches offered abundant evidence of the truth of the above couplet, the nucleus of their gains having been acquired either by the exercise of every art of fraud, or at least by chicanery, and in some cases by pandering to the grossest vices of their fellow-convicts, whose chief luxuries. and in fact the grand prima mobile or summa bona of whose existence were rum and tobacco, to wallow in beastly drunkenness being to them the very acme of earthly bliss! As our adventurer was thus debarred from such male society as he preferred, he would fain have sought for solace among the gentler sex, who were beneficently bestowed by the creator to soothe the cares and enhance the blessings of man; but here the case was even worse, for the only females accessible to a person in Rashleigh’s situation had also reached the Colony as prisoners, and in pity to the frailties of the softer part of the creation the author willingly draws a veil over the description given by Ralph of the “ladies” of Sydney in those early days.
But the time was now at hand when a new phase in the life of a convict was about to open upon our hero. In about a month after the occurrence before related, when the police had interrupted his diatribe against the Governor, a constable came one day to the school with an order from the Chief Superintendent of Convicts that Ralph Rashleigh should accompany the bearer to Hyde Park Barracks; a mandate with which he was fain to comply, though sundry misgivings as to the purport of the recall shot athwart his mind. When he reached that establishment he was placed in strict and solitary confinement, and the next day, before sunrise, having been handcuffed, was dispatched in the care of a messenger, on the road to a Government Agricultural Establishment situated at Emu Plains, about thirty-five miles from Sydney. He was not to be permitted to call at his former abode or to obtain from thence any clothing or other necessaries. The messenger in whose charge he was proved obdurate to all his entreaties or offers of a bribe if he would only allow him to diverge a few yards from his road for any purpose; and thus he was compelled to march along in the slight dress he wore while teaching and having on a thin pair of shoes, which, long before he reached the end of his day’s stage, at Parramatta, were dropping from his feet in tatters. The day following he was obliged to march the remaining twenty miles barefooted over miserable apologies for roads, the greater part of which lay along stony ranges, so that his feet were cut and bleeding from twenty wounds before they reached their destination.
Robin: Work! Work! Work! All the day long! No such thing as stopping a moment, to rest yourself, for if you only straighten your back, up comes the overseer, and then ——.
Having crossed in a punt the splendid sheet of water which the Nepean river forms at Penrith, nearly at sunset on the second day of their journey, our weary travellers had a view of the broad expanse of Emu Plains, which afforded a noble prospect. But Rashleigh was too tired and full of pain to appreciate its beauties, only looking forward to the hope of a rest in some shed, however humble, and caring but little, at the moment, what might be his lot on the morrow, so he might enjoy a little present repose. They had yet a mile to pass over from the river; and when that intervening space had at last been crossed, they entered the camp — as it was called — a collection of huts built on both sides of the way, which might have reached to the number of nearly thirty. Though of all kinds, they were invariably of the same materials, being formed of split slabs of timber, one end of which was set in the earth and the other nailed to a pole, that formed a wall-plate above it, the whole being covered with sheets of bark.
The external appearance of these dwellings was anything but captivating, for the materials of which they were built had been all used quite green, and in seasoning, the slabs had shrunk one from another, so that a man could easily pass his hand through between them. In different places these chinks had been stopped up with old rags, parts of which, projecting farther than they were intended, either hung down in beauteous negligence or waved to and fro at the bidding of each capricious breeze. Glass, of course, there was none to any of the numerous openings called windows, they being supposed to be closed by shutters made of boards nailed on a sort of frame; but both these and the doors, from the same cause as the slabs, had shrunk to such a degree that the openings between the boards were half as wide as the boards themselves.
Here Rashleigh was given over in charge to the camp constable, a tall, stout countryman with a limp in his gait, who shortly piloted him to the residence of the superintendent of Emu Plains, or to Government house, as it was called. He was there directed by his conductor to wait while the other entered the mansion. In a brief space a personage made his appearance followed by the constable, who stood bareheaded behind him and motioned our adventurer to pull off his hat.
The superintendent was engaged in reading a letter, during which operation Ralph had time to scan the personal appearance of a man whom he had often heard spoken of before as a terror to all the convicts in the Colony. This official was rather above the middle stature, of an exceedingly swarthy complexion, with brows of portentous gloom, and when he spoke the stern severity of his tone belied not the austerity of his looks.
“So, my fine fellow,” said he. “you are inclined to politics, are you? Wen, we will try if we cannot find you something else to think of here. You are sent to this establishment to learn field labour, and on no account to be employed in any other way for two years. When that time has expired you will he assigned to a settler. Take him away, Row, and send the principal overseer to me when the gangs come in.”
Our hero now followed his conductor back to the camp, where the latter said with a sneer, in a strong west country dialect, “As you bees another of theasem dom’d quill drivers, I do zuppose you had better be put along with the rest; so you will stop in the pla’house there”, indicating an irregular sort of straggling-looking mass of buildings, all of them of the same stringy-bark order of architecture with the huts before described, from which it differed in no degree save size.
Rashleigh, who was really tired, nearly to death, and would have given worlds, had he possessed them, long before, to have been permitted to lie down, soon made his way to the hovel in question. Finding the door open, though the inmates were absent, he walked in and flung himself upon a rude bench made of a piece of split timber, set upon two stumps sunk in the earthen floor.
He now surveyed the interior of his future dwelling, which he quickly discovered was in perfect good harmony with its external attractions. Like the famed mansion of that worthy who delighted in the cognomen of “Jack Straw”, it was neither wind — nor water-tight; frequent awful gaps in the bark roof plainly indicated the causes of the many puddles on the dirt floor, and the cracks between the slabs freely admitted the playful vagrancy of every sportive zephyr. Furniture Rashleigh saw none save a table, made in the same manner as the bench on which he sat, two large iron pots, and a few vessels of tin.
His fatigue soon overpowered him, and he fell fast asleep; nor did he awake until he was rather roughly shaken by the shoulder, a man telling him at the same time that he must get up and answer his muster. He now staggered half asleep outside the hut; and in a few minutes the camp constable, with a train of watchmen, came bearing a lantern, which one of them held while another called over the names of the prisoners belonging to that hut, Rashleigh, of course, being last. In his simplicity he now asked the great man of office where he was to sleep.
“Wherever yow like, and be dom’d to yow,” was the courteous reply.
“But shall I not get a bed and blanket?” asked the new chum.
“I’ll tell ‘ee what!” retorted the other. “On’y I think yow bees a fool, by what yow’ve been up to in Sydney, I’d knock yow down for axing me such a dom’d stupid question. But I’ll compute it to yower ignorance. and tell yow there an’t no blankets for nobody in the stores. There’s two hundred men here a’ready wi’out any, and many on ’em has been so for more nor this two years; so doan’t ‘ee be bothering me any more, or else I’ll be dom’d if I doan’t find a shop for ‘ee.”
With this cheering assurance he departed, and Ralph followed the party into the interior, where one of the men observed “old Tom Row was getting good because he did not put the new chum in the chokey,” and another man, assenting, added that sometimes he had “knowed a dozen men put in for less than half that provocation.”
Ralph now begged to be informed what he had said that could by any possibility be construed into a crime; and the first speaker replied, “Lord bless you, stop a bit. You’re like a motherless cub, all your sorrows to come. You’ll soon find out the men in office here don’t want to receive no provocation to get a man flogged, for they delight in making out schemes to do so without”— an observation Rashleigh had abundant opportunities of verifying by actual experience afterwards. But he now enquired what shifts the rest of the men made for bedding who, like himself, were without any. His informant said some got a few sheepskins, which, indeed, were mostly stolen from drays passing on the road, and they sewed them together, rolling themselves up in them at night; while those who hadn’t the luck to get any skins had lately found out a way to prepare tea-tree bark for the same purpose; and he volunteered to show our hero the method of doing this the first leisure time he had.
Rashleigh returned his thanks, and as there was no other remedy, lay down in the ashes of the fireplace, Which, like those of the olden time in England, was spacious enough to allow half a dozen men to do so, besides leaving room enough for the fire, as it, in fact, occupied all one end of the hut. Here, though he was very hungry, he quickly fell asleep again, and awoke not until an excessive bustle caused him to do so.
Looking around him, he quickly perceived it was morning. The hut was nearly empty of its inmates, who were running out in great haste. Our adventurer jumped up. Being already dressed he found now to be some advantage, and he followed the throng of men he saw before him, going towards the camp gate, which Ralph was about to pass through, when the camp bell, which till now had been rolling most vociferously, ceased to ring; and instantly as it did so, a florid-faced man mounted on a black mare spurred across the gateway, stopping the egress, and roaring out, “Stop there, you sons of bitches! I’ll teach you fellows to come a little smarter to muster. Here, Sam, take these men’s names down.”
“Sam” was a clerk. albeit he wore a most unclerkly appearance, being very ragged, with an old pair of slop shoes on, that, having been immensely too large for him at first, had turned up at the toes, until the soles were now staring their wearer in the face. On the back part of his occiput he wore what had once been a cap made of kangaroo skin; but the crown, being nearly out, now overhung, flapping against his back; and the whole tout ensemble of this pupil of the pen much resembled what in Scotland is called a “potato bogle”, and in England a “scarecrow”. He now began to take down the names of those men that were inside the gate, of course, including our luckless adventurer whom the principal overseer no sooner saw than he cried Out, “Oho, my fine quill-driver, you are beginning well, at any rate! Here, Joe! Take this chap into your mob, and try if you can’t waken him up a bit.”
Upon this, Joe — as he was styled — a little bandy-legged chocolate-cheeked Jew, said, “Come here, you, sir. S’help mine Gott, I’ll shtir you up before night.”
Shortly afterwards, the names of all the men being read over, each shouldered his implement of labour, and the gangs began to move off; but for Rashleigh’s part, the overseer Joe called him and ordered him to take up a rope that lay near, and bring it along. Ralph looked at the rope, which appeared heavy enough to load a horse, it being nearly as thick as a cable and of great length. He attempted to lift it, but finding it far beyond his strength, he was fain to desist. He then received a volley of oaths from the little Jew, and two men being called, they placed the rope on his back. It was as much as he could stagger under, and finding it impossible to walk steadily, he ran a few paces, when his foot caught something, and he fell beneath his load, cutting his shin upon a root, so that it bled profusely. But the inflexible Joe directed the rope to be replaced on his back, which was done, and although he repeatedly fell down, it was as repeatedly again hoisted on his back, until at length, trembling in every limb from the intensity of this over-exertion, Ralph reached the scene of their appointed labour.
The gang under the orders of overseer Joe was at present employed in burning off the trees, which had been some time previously fallen, for the purpose of clearing the land and reducing it to culture. To do this the huge monarchs of the forest, now recumbent, were lopped of all their boughs, and the larger limbs and branches cross cut with saws into convenient lengths, the stumps of the trees having before had all the earth dug away from around them, so that the roots were laid bare, many of tile smaller ones being cut through. The timber was then piled around and over these stumps, the butts or large logs beneath, and the smaller and lighter branches above, the interstices being filled up with twigs, bark and chips, to make the whole ignite readily; and when a suitable number of the stumps had been thus made ready — or in wet weather, as fast as they were prepared — the masses were lighted, the fires, if necessary, being attended to until the firewood and with it the stump were completely burned out.
All the gang, having now arrived at the scene of action, were quickly distributed to their several tasks; and Ralph and some others each obtained a wooden handspike, with which to roll out the trunks of trees or carry them upon to the fires for which they were designed. A favourite plan with the overseer — Joe — who appeared to delight in oppressing his men as much as possible, was to cause six or eight handspikes to be laid on the ground before a large trunk of wood, which was then rolled thereupon; twelve or sixteen men, one at each end of the handspikes, lifted the trunk bodily up, on which master Joe would order six of their number away, on pretence that the remainder were well able to carry the log. These were thus often compelled to strain every nerve to do so; otherwise, if any one gave way, of course the log fell to the earth, and those on the same side with the defaulter stood in imminent danger of fractured limbs. But should they escape these, they were certain of incurring punishment from Joe, who would surely cause them, every man, to be flogged for neglect of work, or, at least, put into “Belly Bot” that night.
Again, this worthy would pitch upon one of the gang who had incurred his anger — which it was most easy to do, by the by — generally someone who was old or constitutionally infirm, and having selected a stump or short block of wood of the very uttermost weight any ordinary man could carry, he would call the culprit to him and cause two other men to lift this burden upon his shoulders, directing him to carry it to some distant fire. If the poor fellow could at all make shift to move under his load, he would stagger off, amid the jeers of the overseer and his toadies. When he had nearly reached the place where he supposed he had been directed to carry the load to, Joe would shout with the lungs of a Stentor — for though a small, stunted abortion of humanity, he had wondrously effective lungs —: “You blasted crawler, where are you going to? That’s not the fire. Take it over to the one far over there, on your right.”
The poor wretch, frightened at the threatening tone and language of the overseer, would now attempt to go as ordered; but Joe would still keep on, roaring out, “Not there”, “Or there”, wherever he went, until at last the man, being utterly exhausted, would fail himself or perchance throw down the load, when he was certain of condign punishment from the bench of the magistrates.
It may seern strange that such doings were allowed; but besides this establishment being a place of punishment for convicts who misbehaved in a minor degree, yet whose offences were not cognisable by law, the superintendent was very anxious to get as much work done as possible by any means. To effect this he selected from among the convicts under his charge the worst behaved and most indolent of the number for his overseers and other subordinates, who, as he rightly judged, by being the most afraid of the hardships of work themselves, would exercise all manner of rigour towards their fellow-prisoners and exact as much labour as possible from each, in order to keep their places. Thus it was that the men were so much oppressed, for if one of these convict overseers were working a gang of fifty men and had ten of them flogged every week — no uncommon proportion — it became a mere matter of arithmetical certainty that another who had a gang of twenty-five could not do his duty unless he took five of his men to Court weekly also.
Again, it was the policy of the superintendent to put two gangs of similar strength at the same kind of work within view of each other, when the overseers would vie one with the other to try which could get most done; and dire was then the cursing, swearing, raging and tearing of the rivals, who would goad on their men every instant with threats of the torturing lash, uttered with all the real arrogance of low-bred jacks-in-office, who, it need hardly be said, were capable of any atrocity themselves, and would commit any crime rather than descend from their ill-sustained eminences to work among their fellows. This is premised, lest the reader should scarcely believe what follows; yet there are many scores now alive in New South Wales who can vouch for the truth of the leading features.
Rashleigh and his fellows were quickly immersed in their fatiguing occupation, grimed from head to foot with charcoal from the logs they carried, and blinded by the smoke from the numerous fires near at hand; until at length, being employed with the others in turning the huge butt of a tree which was partially embedded in the earth by the force of its fall, Ralph, through his awkwardness, placed the end of his handspike between the body of the tree and a broken limb which was attached to it, and which formed a very acute angle with the body of the log. When, after many oaths and the expenditure of much sweat, the log at last was moved, it went over with a sudden jerk; and the branch referred to, striking the back of Ralph’s handspike as it turned over, of course forced the implement out of his grasp, and the handspike whizzed through the air, passing so close to overseer Joe’s head that it tore a portion of the brim of his hat away in its flight, and then ploughed a furrow in the earth for some distance behind him. Most assuredly, if it had struck his head, this worthy would have ended his days on the spot; but fate had otherwise decreed the issue, and Joe, transported with rage, now rushed towards Rashleigh, pouring forth a volley of mingled threats and execrations.
It chanced that upon his way he had to pass the trench out of which the log had just been turned; here there lay, now exposed to view, an enormous Jew lizard — a kind of reptile supposed to derive its name from the membranous bags around its jaws, which it distends with air when enraged, so as to form a slight resemblance to a human beard. This the overseer nearly trod upon; but drawing back, he lifted it on his foot, casting it with great fury towards the unlucky Rashleigh, who, on his part, seeing the unknown but very forbidding reptile come flying towards his throat, made an involuntary blow at it with his right hand; and Joe being now close to him. the lizard was flung full in his face. Dropping from thence on his breast, it began tearing away at his handkerchief and shirt, until one of the bystanders assisted the affrighted Israelite to remove it. The latter no sooner recovered himself than he ordered Rashleigh to be secured, vowing, with the bitterest malice in every gesture, that “he’d make him pay for all”.
Accordingly, Ralph was seized by the deputy overseer and the water carrier of the gang, and hustled to a tall bare stump standing near, when a chain having been passed round it, he had his hands locked behind his back to the chain by a pair of handcuffs. In a few minutes Joe came up, and saying, “You blasted varment! I’ll teach you to mutiny and try to take my life, I will,” he then struck the defenceless prisoner on the head, knocking off his hat; and having thus given him a foretaste of what he might expect from his brutality, this choice specimen of a government officer then withdrew.
Not long after, the superintendent made his appearance on the ground, and having demanded what Rashleigh had done, was informed by the overseer that he had thrown a handspike at him and attempted to take his life, showing his mutilated shirt and tom straw hat in proof of what he alleged.
“Let him be confined in the camp until next Tuesday, and then brought to court,” said the great man.
At dinner-time, Rashleigh was marched a prisoner home, when being given up to old Tom Row, that functionary grinned and said, “Oho! Thee bees danngerous, boost thee? Oi’ll teake cear thee does noa more dommage for one whoile!” Thus saying, he laid hold of the culprit’s collar, and in this guise conducted him to an open triangular space formed by the converging ends of buildings erected on two sides of a square, the external side of this space being secured by a high palisade fence, in which was a small open wicket.
Tom Row pushed Ralph in at this opening with such force that the latter almost fell headlong; as it was, he lost his hat in going through. The old constable chuckled and said, “There! Thee bees safe enough naw! Thee’ll knock nobody’s brains out naw, I’ll warrant thee!” And he laughed heartily while he locked the gate. Rashleigh begged in vain that he might have the handcuffs he wore transferred from behind his back to his front, as the former position, besides being very painful, impeded any attempts at helping himself. The other, however, only grinned and left him.
Being bareheaded, and the sun now nearly vertical, he knew not how to shield himself from its too powerful rays, which made him feel both giddy and sick; but the open area in which he was enclosed prevented his gaining any shelter until the afternoon, when the sun’s decline enabled him, by thrusting his head against the end of one of the buildings, to obtain a little shelter and relief. His dinner, a morsel of salt beef and a dough-boy, or dumpling made of boiled maize meal, had been brought to him soon after his confinement; but at the time he felt much too sick to eat anything. When he got better he would fain have done so, but did not know how, as the position of his hands, thus secured behind him, would not permit any other mode of eating than by going down on his belly and gnawing his food, like a dog, out of the dish. This, at last, hunger compelled him to do, and he was compelled to remain this way from the Thursday night until the following Tuesday morning, without the handcuffs being once removed. It being advanced in autumn, the nights were piercingly cold and the dews abundant; so that our unhappy prisoner was regularly wet through his flimsy rags every evening soon after sunset, and he spent each long night shivering in this plight, not being dry again until the sun acquired power enough to do so, after many evolutions and turnings on his part to expose each side of his person alternately to the beneficent source of heat. Sleeping, it may well be imagined, was almost out of his power, as independent of the cold preventing him, the constrained position in which his arms were confined produced intense pain. In the bitterness of his anguish he repeatedly wished for death, and in order to effect it ran his head with great violence two or three times against an angle of one of the sheds; but this only added to his excruciating torments.
At last the morning of Tuesday arrived, and his keeper came to order him out of this wretched place of confinement. It was necessary he should he washed, and for this purpose his handcuffs were taken off, but the anguish of bringing his cramped arms round again into their natural position completely overpowered him, and he fell fainting to the earth. When he recovered he found himself lying in a puddle of water; and the cause of it was disclosed by the sneering laugh of one of the constables standing by with an empty bucket in his hand, who asked, “An’t I a fine doctor to bring any fellow out of a swound?”
Ralph got up, and then, for the first time, saw that his wrists were swollen to more than twice their original size; and when he tried to wash his face lie found he could not bend his arms to do so. This swelling produced one good effect: there was not a single pair of handcuffs to be procured that would go upon his wrists, and consequently they were, sorely against their will, obliged to permit him to go over to Penrith without any. But one of his feflow-convict constables marched alongside of him, having received strict injunctions from Tom Row at parting, that if the prisoner made the slightest attempt to escape, the constable was to knock him down that minute, for, added this humane official, “’Tis no odds breaking the heads of a score such fellows as he. There’s plenty more of his sort in the country.”
In this guise they reached the Court-house without any interruption, and they found the business of the day there far advanced. There were a great many men — as usual, from Emu Plains — brought up to answer various charges of insolence to overseers, neglect of work, breach of regulations, or disobedience to orders; and the majority of them had already been tried and sentenced to receive various amounts of corporal punishment, from seventy-five to a hundred lashes being the general proportion of the sentences. A very few accounted themselves fortunate in only having got fifty; and one man came out of the presence of the awful conclave of magistrates wearing a countenance radiant with smiles. On being asked by a compeer what had been his luck, he replied, laughing, “Oh, I’ve nobbed it. I’ve got life to Newcastle,” meaning that he was fortunate in being about to leave Emu Plains, though he was sentenced to go to pass the rest of his days at a place of punishment of no common degree of rigour.
Ralph’s turn now came to be heard, and he was placed at the bar before the magistrates, who were an ancient parson, an old settler and a young military officer. Overseer Joe, being now sworn, circumstantially related the facts of a most mutinous attack and murderous assault which had been made upon him by the culprit, who he said had shied a handspike with all his force at the head of the said overseer, and he once more produced the mutilated straw hat in proof of the narrow escape he had made from death. He added that after this Ralph had come up to him and violently assaulted his person, so as to tear his shirt — also produced — and wound up by assuring the bench that he “never knowed a more desp’rater, a more dangerouser ruffian than the willain before them”.
Rashleigh was now asked by the military gentleman what he had to say, though the settler J.P. muttered two or three times, “A clear case, a very clear case. Never heard a clearer case.” As for the clerical gentleman, he had been asleep nearly ever since Ralph came into Court. The prisoner, however, shortly detailed the real facts of the case, making use of his hands and fingers to show the relative positions of the log, branch and handspike. While he was doing so the young officer observed the swollen state of his wrists, and demanded to what this was owing, on which Rashleigh narrated his sufferings in handcuffs. As the captain had not been very long in the Colony, all these proceedings were quite new to him and appeared to excite his compassion. He minutely questioned our adventurer as to the facts, and finally, appearing to be convinced that he spoke the truth, the military man turned to the farmer magistrate with an air of astonishment and asked if it was possible such cruelty could be allowed.
The other calmly replied that it was necessary the most stringent measures should be adopted to control the turbulent spirits of convicts and ensure their safe custody, that no doubt the prisoner now before them was much better known to the authorities of Emu Plains than to any other persons, and that, in short, it would not do for the magistrates to interfere with the duties of a government establishment like that or they should never be out of hot water. The last portion of this reply was made in a very low tone of voice, as if confidentially to the captain; but Rashleigh’s ears being sharpened by self-interest, he caught it every word.
As soon, therefore, as he could speak with propriety, he declared to the magistrates that this so-called offence had taken place on the very first day he had been sent to work upon Emu Plains, and also that this was the only charge that had as yet been made against him since his arrival in the Colony. On this the captain asked if he had any witnesses who could prove his statement. The settler J.P. observed with a sneer, “Witnesses! Aye! I’ll be bound he has. Fifty, if that’s all, ready to come and swear to that or anything else.”
“But,” returned the militaire, “we’ll take care of that. Let him name his witnesses to us only. Then let him be closely confined over here till the next Court day, so that he cannot see or speak to any of them. We will examine them ourselves, and if he has attempted to impose upon us, we will give him a hundred lashes in addition to the punishment of his crime.”
This proposal being agreed to, Rashleigh described four men who had been working with him as well as he could to the military magistrate, and the case stood over.
Upon the next Court day the same three magistrates attended, and shortly after their arrival Rashleigh was again ushered into the Courtroom. The reverend J.P. was installed into the chair, and the captain and settler sat on either side of him. The proceedings began by the clerk reading the deposition already made by the overseer and the prisoner’s defence. During this reading the chairman, as was his wont, went to sleep, ever and anon making such profound reverences to the back of the clerk that his reverend nose appeared to be in imminent danger from the desk behind which he sat. The settler J.P. in the mean time amused himself by reading a newspaper. The captain next enquired whether the witnesses were in attendance, and having ascertained that they were, he ordered one to be called in.
This fellow, who was a raw countryman, made a loutish reverence and looked very much afraid as he entered the room. He was sworn, and the captain asked him if he knew the prisoner.
Witness: (scratching his head — with a sort of leer): Ees, sur; that is, noa, sur.
Captain: What do you mean by that? Did you ever see the prisoner before?
Witness: (very much afraid): Whoy, Oi’ve a-seed un, sur, on the pleans.
Captain: Were you ever at work with him? Don’t be afraid, but speak.
Witness: Ees, sur, Oi wor.
Captain: Well, do you know what he did to be brought here?
Witness: Whoy sur, they do zay he troyed to kill th’ overseer.
Captain: When did that happen?
Witness: That day as he wor at work wi’ Oi.
Captain: Were you there?
Witness: Oi wor a-working alongside of him.
Captain: Now, tell us what you saw of the matter.
Witness: Whoy, sur, Oi on’y seed the Jew lizard a-tearing of Joe’s shirt.
Captain: You did not see this man throw a handspike at his overseer.
The witness replied that he did not, and a few more questions satisfied the captain that the matter had occurred as Rashleigh had stated; which was unwillingly confirmed by the other men, who all gave their evidence in the prisoner’s behalf with great apparent reluctance, being obviously fearful that they would suffer the ill will of the dreaded Joe for speaking the truth.
The captain now addressed the settler, and enquired what he thought of the matter after that.
The agricultural Lycurgus smiled sarcastically and said, “Oh, captain, I leave it entirely to you. But when you have been so long in this country as I have, you will not take much notice of anything these fellows either say or swear!”
The captain now ventured to disturb the profundity of the reverend chairman’s slumbers by a gentle nudge, asking him at the same time what he thought of the case.
That holy man suddenly jumped out of his seat, pulling up the slack of his black silk small-clothes as he did so, and cried, “A most dreadful scoundrel, an atrocious villain. Send him to Newcastle. Or stay! He won’t stop there . . . Send him . . . Send him Aye, send him to eternity!”
“Nay, but,” remonstrated the captain, “it don’t appear to me he’s guilty of any offence. Mr Clerk, read over the last evidence!”
While this was being done the reverend gent settled himself for another nap; but ere he could go to sleep again the brief notes taken in the case were concluded, and he then said, “Well, well. Give him a hundred; it will help to smarten him.”
“Pardon me,” quoth the son of Mars, “I can’t see he has deserved any punishment; or if he has, surely what he has already suffered ought to be taken into consideration.”
“Oh, you don’t know the artfulness of these scoundrels,” retorted this christian pastor. “You’d better give him seventy-five, at any rate.”
I think rather,” persisted the captain, “we may let him go this time; but if ever he comes again, we’ll double his punishment.”
“Well, well. Do as you please, captain,” said the chairman with an air of virtuous resignation; “but the overseers ought to be supported in their duty.”
“True,” said the captain; “but this man has been twelve days now in strict confinement, and we’ll take that for his present punishment. Prisoner, you are discharged. Go back and mind your work, for if ever you are brought here again, you will not escape so easily.”
“No,” added the farmer J.P. “You shall receive double punishment for giving us all this trouble.”
Rashleigh was removed, and when the Court had concluded was about to leave the place in charge of a constable, when overseer Joe came up to them, his saffron-coloured cheeks fairly livid with rage; and shaking his fist at our adventurer, he said, “Gott shtrike me dead, my fine fellow, if you an’t the very first man that ever beat me at Court; and I’ll take blasted good care you don’t come off free next Tuesday.”
A commanding voice was now heard from within a pair of Venetian blinds attached to the window of one of the rooms in the Court-house close by. It called out, “Come here, you, sir!”
Joe’s jaw dropped. He was about to walk off when the blinds were pushed open suddenly, and the military magistrate thrust his head out of the window and again called loudly and passionately, “Here, you, sir! You, overseer, I mean! Come back instantly!”
Joe now very reluctantly complied, and pulling off his hat, confronted the dreaded man of power bareheaded, while the latter said, “Now, sir, I happened to overhear your language just now, and in the first place I’ve the greatest mind in the world to give you a most sound flogging for the daring impiety of your expression; but as the Court has now broken up I will overlook that. Still, I’d have you take great care what you are about, for if I catch you tripping in an oath, I’ll prosecute you myself for perjury. And by heaven, sir, I’ll make you wish you never had been born. Now be off to your duty, sir . . . and beware!” shaking his finger at Joe in a most significant manner.
Joe now sneaked off, and he suffered not the grass to grow under his feet until he was completely out of view from His Majesty’s Court-house, Penrith. Our adventurer was shortly afterwards reconducted to the camp, when he was received by his fellow-prisoners with a kind of awe, such as vulgar minds feel towards a conjuror or person of wondrous acquirements. In fact, he was looked upon by the convicts as being a kind of lusus naturae, solely on account of his acquittal; for such a phenomenon had never before been known in the history of Emu Plains as a working man obtaining a victory over an overseer, or even of getting the benefit of a doubt in his case when a charge was preferred against him by such a hard-swearing fellow as Joe was well known to be, it being a common saying of him “that he would swear a white horse was a chandler’s shop, and every hair upon his back a pound of candles”, rather than be vanquished.
Rashleigh slept this night in clover, for a man who had run away a short time before had left behind him a little nook formed of a sheet of bark like a boxed shelf, which was filled with the inner husks of Indian corn. Among these the wearied wretch, who had not since his arrival had any better resting-place than the slab door of a lock-up or the cold earth, was too happy to burrow as quickly as he could. In the dead hour of the night, however, he was aroused by a most discordant din, arising, as it appeared, from half a score or upwards of old tin dishes, beaten with fists, after the fashion of gongs, and sundry other noises, which reminded him of the manner in which the country people of England swarmed their bees.
Upon enquiry, he learned that this unearthly turmoil was occasioned by a party of men, who, having resolved to run away themselves, adopted these means of beating up, as they called it, for “recruits for the bush”!
In consequence of the execrable system of tyranny and intolerable oppression perpetrated by the convict overseers, constables, watchmen and others “dressed in a little brief authority” upon this government farm, scarcely a week passed without numbers of men absconding in this manner; and others were actually paid by the petty officers, their fellow-convicts in place, to do so, that the latter might gain either a pecuniary reward or a remission of sentence for taking them prisoners again. For instance, there was either a sum of ten shillings in money or a remission of six months’ servitude allowed for every runaway convict apprehended by another. It was a common practice, therefore, for the overseers to oppress some poor fellow under them until they had, as they called it, converted him into a crawler, that is, a spiritless wretch heart-broken by hardship and hunger, who could scarcely move, and who could not, then, do any proper share of hard work. The overseer would next say to him. “Why the devil don’t you bolt (run away)? I’ll give you some grub, to get rid of you;” and the poor fellow, willing even to earn a few days’ rest from labour by a sound flogging, would at last agree to abscond. The same night he would receive from his kind friend a few pounds of flour a small quantity of tea and sugar, and perhaps a little meat, the overseer promising him in addition his favour and protection after he should succeed in getting the reward for taking him. It would then be agreed by the crawler that in three days’ time, which it was necessary should elapse before any reward would be given, the overseer should meet him in a certain place, whither the latter would go, as if by chance, and capture him. He would then bring his prisoner before the magistrates, magnifying his exertions, of course, in making this capture, and swearing a host of lies respecting the desperate resistance made by the runaway, who would, if it was his first offence, get off for the punishment of a hundred lashes, being then returned to his work, where his overseer would quickly turn him out of his gang, to be subject to the same discipline from another, ending in the same results, except that the runaway, on his second offence, would be punished by being sent to a penal settlement. In this manner many of the convicts’ officers shortened their allotted periods of servitude; for the terms being eight, six, and four years for a life, fourteen, or seven-year convict respectively, of course, if any of them could thus capture half a dozen runaways, it at once wiped off three years from his servitude.
The next day after Rashleigh returned from the Court at Penrith he was ordered into a different gang, which was employed in felling timber under the orders of one David Muffin, a Welshman, the brutality of whose character will best be exemplified by the following incident, which occurred the first morning our adventurer was at work in his party.
The men were employed in pairs, and it chanced that two were cutting down a huge tree, which proved to be quite decayed at the heart; so that when they had chopped through the living timber, it snapped off suddenly, and falling in the line on which the boughs spread heaviest and farthest, crushed two ill-fated wretches beneath its ponderous top. So instantaneous was its fall that not a second’s space was afforded for warning the sufferers, who, being intent upon their work, did not observe the mass until, as it proved, they were hurried into eternity. But four of the men who were nearest ran to see if they could help their comrades; and they were penetrated with horror to find only a shapeless mass of quivering flesh and bones. denuded of all resemblance to the human form, where but a twinkling of an eye before had stood two robust, athletic young men in all the pride of conscious strength.
Davy, however, did not allow them to stand moralizing a moment on the subject, for with a volley of oaths, he ordered his satellites to put them, all four, into handcuffs for daring to leave their work without his permission; and for this crime they each got a punishment of fifty lashes on the next Court day. Such being the temper of his overseer, it may very easily be imagined Ralph Rashleigh’s employment under him was anything but agreeable, and as, although he was willing enough to work, he was most awkward in his attempts to do so, he came in for a double share of threats and abuse every time the overseer approached him.
Thus waned the day, until, at the sound of a bell, the overseer directed his deputy, or assistant, to collect the men and tools, while he started off to the camp. Rashleigh was loaded with a heavy rope, which he was told always fell to the lot of the man who had last joined the gang to carry, and consequently he was among the last that reached the tool-house, where, on throwing down his burden, he found Davy, Joe and other overseers standing by a number of men handcuffed to a chain, two and two, and guarded by two or three of the camp constables. He was ordered to join this body, which he did with a heavy heart, not doubting but that he was about to be confined again, in order to be brought once more to Court. In a few minutes the miserable cortège set forth towards a place of security called “Belly Bot”, which was situated about a mile from the camp, inside the first range of the Blue mountains.
Upon their arrival here, they were ordered into the interior of this receptacle, which was subdivided into cells about seven feet by four feet in area and eight feet high, into each of which they were literally crammed in an erect posture, until it was absolutely impossible any more could be stowed in them, when the doors, which shut from the outside, were closed upon them, squeezing them in tight against each other.
They were then left to pass the night as best they could. To sit or lie down was out of the question, unless some of them had been willing to be undermost and would also permit the others to lie upon them. But to prevent this possible contingency, a quantity of water was daily thrown into each cell, which converted the stratum of clay that formed the floor, with a very little trampling, into mire, ankle-deep at least; and thus these unfortunates were obliged to stand all night.
A little after daybreak next morning the doors of their dens were thrown open, and they were ordered to be off to muster. This they did as quickly as possible for fear of being too late, in which case they were sure of receiving some further punishment; and by the time they had reached the camp, the bell demanding their attendance began to ring, so that they had barely time to snatch a morsel of bread, which, eaten as they walked to work, formed their only breakfast.
In this wretched manner Rashleigh spent five nights out of each week for nearly three months after this, and was besides lumbered almost six months, the latter meaning being obliged to work for Government on Saturdays, while the rest of the men were allowed from one o’clock on that day to mend and wash their clothing. This was the mode by which Mr Davy Muffin avenged upon our adventurer the outrage which, through him, the majesty of overseership had received in the person of his brother officer Joe. This system of confining the men all night was allowed by the regulations of the place to be put in force by the petty officers as a sort of minor punishment for the misconduct of the working prisoners, which they were at liberty to inflict without appealing to any superior.
This, however, produced one tragical event in our hero’s presence. A man named Bright, of a gloomy morose temper, had been confined in Belly Bot one night by his overseer. As was this man’s wont, he bore it in silence, not even grumbling or saying one word to the men who were in durance with him; but on reaching the camp next morning, he went into his hut, like the others, for a piece of bread, and then walked across to the tool-house, where the implements of labour were laid in readiness for each man to take one with him to work. Bright here picked up a very narrow felling-axe, which he generally used, and went on towards the gate.
It chanced his overseer passed him on the way; and Bright said to him, “What made you put me into Belly Bot last night, ToM?”
“For a lark, you b — — ” replied Tom.
“Then take that for a lark!” responded Bright, at the same time swinging his axe down with irresistible force, so that he sank the head of the weapon to the poll in the overseer’s skull, until the edge protruded beneath his victim’s jaw.
So fell had been the blow that he could not disengage the axe again; but the dying man having sunk on the ground before him, he placed his foot on the body — for the overseer had neither spoke nor moved from the moment he was struck; and Bright was now struggling in vain to free his murderous weapon. In the mean time some of the camp constables, whom his demoniac fury had perfectly paralyzed before, rushed in and secured the murderer, who now surrendered himself, saying, however, “I wish I could have loosed my axe. I’d have made dog’s meat of a dozen more of you blasted tyrants.”
This man was soon after tried and hanged for his crime. When called on for his defence, he only said he was tired of his life, and all that he was sorry for was that he had not killed a hundred such wretches instead of only one.
It might be supposed this would have some effect in altering the system of the remaining overseers for the better. So far from it, however, they became more brutally oppressive than ever, each one after this carrying a huge club for protection; and if any of the men only looked cross at one of them the overseer would say, “You are a-going to bright me, are you, you rascal? I’ll chalk you first, at any rate,” finishing his speech by knocking the offender down.
Nor was the ill-treatment of the overseers, combined as it was with the hardship of perpetual labour, all the evil these luckless men on Emu Plains had then to contend with. As remarked before, nearly one half of them had no blankets or any other bedding. Happy and luxuriously lodged was the wight who was master of a few pieces of sheepskin, however acquired. The rest made beds of corn husks, thrown loose on their berths; these, however, could be obtained only once a year. For a covering to sleep under, they fabricated a kind of rug by stitching together layers of the paper-like inner bark of the Australian teatree. These rugs, indeed, were exceedingly fragile, and when they became perfectly dry, would tear like tissue paper. Some others wove a kind of matting of long grass. But all these expedients were wretchedly inefficient, and were it not that fuel was abundant, so that the prisoners could thus maintain large fires at night in the winter season, they must have suffered much more severely than they did. As it was, most of the elder men were periodically laid up with the rheumatism, and not a few lost the entire use of their limbs from paralysis.
The period of our adventurer’s sojourn at Emu Plains was also one of great dearth in the Colony, almost amounting to famine, arising from drought. No rain having fallen in any part of the country in sufficient quantity to cause vegetation for upwards of two years, all the inhabitants were reduced nearly to a state of starvation. Wheat was sold the year of his arrival on the Nepean river at seventy shillings per bushel, and maize at forty shillings, very little of either being in fact procurable at all. And such indeed were the necessities of the lower class of free colonists that when the government cattle were being slaughtered upon Emu Plains — which was done weekly to supply meat for the prisoners’ rations — the stockyard was absolutely besieged by old and young, the inhabitants of the once fertile district around, to beg of the convict butchers the entrails and offal of the cattle, a bullock’s paunch being esteemed a rich gift, and the feet almost invaluable.
This being the destitution of the free population, it may well be conceived the prisoners did not fare very luxuriously. The ration they at this time received was a fractional quantity more than five and a half pounds of flour and nine pounds of beef to all men in the service of Government weekly. In addition to this each obtained one gill of pease or an equivalent quantity of rice per day. This formed the whole quantity out of which they were supposed to make twenty-one meals; but in many places, where the whole weekly supply was issued to each individual at once, the prisoners would devour it all in, at most, three days, many of them, indeed, in one day; and they would then starve through the rest of the week as best they might, eking out a meal with various grasses and herbs — for vegetables were not accessible to them even if the seasons had permitted their growth — and in many cases satisfying the cravings of hunger with snakes, rats, lizards and even far more repugnant materials.
On one occasion a party of men stationed upon a road over the mountains coaxed a fine dog belonging to a traveller. When he came near they secured him with a noose after the mode of the South American lasso, and managed to stifle his yells. When the proprietor missed his faithful companion, and returned to the camp of the road party, where he remembered having seen him within the last half-hour, he saw a gaunt and hungry-looking wretch busily engaged in skinning the poor dog’s head. Upon questioning this man, it turned out that a regular fight had ensued for the dismembered limbs of poor “Nelson” as soon as the carcase was skinned, and that this man, in the scramble, had only got hold of the head, which he loudly complained was unfair.
As for the men on Emu Plains, their food was issued to them daily, so that they were at least certain of one meal. such as it was, in the twenty-four hours. To obtain more than this, many very ingenious schemes were resorted to. From the time that peaches, of which great quantities grew almost wild along the river banks, and even nearer to the camp, had attained the size of hazel nuts, they were eagerly sought after and devoured, many boiling them and adding salt to the mess.
When the crop of maize began to ripen, a fresh plan was followed by the starving wretches with much avidity. The men in the camp were mustered twice every evening, the last time at eight o’clock, after which it was a punishable offence for anyone to be found out of the hut to which he belonged; yet very many, impelled by hunger, would, at the season referred to, dare all the danger of being caught by the numerous watchmen round the camp, or those in the corn fields, and steal off to the latter provided with an old tin dish converted into a grater, or fiddle, as they called it. They would then spend perhaps three or four hours grating the scarcely Ripe cobs of maize with these implements, until they might probably have succeeded in obtaining four quarts of pulpy meal, and for this wretched booty they were content to lose the greater portion of their rest, beside running the hazard of obtaining at least a hundred lashes if detected.
So stringent were the rules of Emu Plains at this period of scarcity that if a constable or watchman, on entering a hut — which was done by one or other many times in the course of every evening, to see what was going on — should chance to observe the print of a cob of maize in the ashes of the fireplace, where they were sometimes roasted by the prisoners for food, the constable would question that unlucky wight who at the moment stood nearest to the fire, and if he could not point out the offender or would not do so, he was confined, and being brought before the worshipful bench of magistrates the next Court day, he was certain to receive seventy-five lashes, whether he had been roasting a Hawkesbury duck — which was the colonial phrase for a cob of parched maize — or not.
While our adventurer was thus placed amid scenes of suffering the like of which he had never before wimessed, it may excite surprise that he was not many times tempted to commit suicide; but the fact is no less singular than certain, that the majority of men only value life in a directly inverse ratio to the enjoyment it might be supposed to afford them. Thus Rashleigh declared that during his life of criminal prosperity in London, when he indulged in every pleasure that money could purchase, he had never valued existence half so highly as he did during the time of his most intense suffering as an Australian convict. This appears a most merciful dispensation of providence, for were it otherwise, there can be no doubt that eighty out of every hundred malefactors who for their crimes were exiled from England to this Colony of New South Wales until about ten years ago would most certainly have rushed headlong into eternity.
The play, the play’s the thing.
There were times when the yoke of this galling slavery was rendered lighter. Among the prisoners at Emu Plains a theatre was established under the auspices of one “Jemmy King”, a most eccentric genius, on a small scale, who was at once architect, manager, carpenter, scene-painter, decorator, machinist, mechanician, and to crown all, a very passable comic actor.
What rendered this combination of talents more extraordinary, Jemmy could neither read nor write, the only method he possessed of learning his parts being to listen while another read them; and though during these lessons the ever busy fingers of Manager King would still be at work, perhaps in the discordant avocation of a tinker, employed in making or mending the theatrical lamps, yet none of the corps dramatique were more perfect at rehearsal.
The theatre, as before stated, had few external charms. It was formed only of slabs and bark; yet the interstices of the walls being filled in with mud, and the whole of the interior whitewashed with pipeclay, of which there was abundance near, it produced no despicable effect by candlelight. The whole affair was under the benign patronage of the superintendent, who bestowed upon the performers many indispensables for their use. Of course, in New South Wales, there was no lack of timber. The materials for the walls of the edifice were thus easily procured, as were also those for the very rude seats of the pit and boxes — for to no less than the latter accommodation did the ambitious followers of Thespis at Emu aspire — together with the framework of the scenes.
The canvas necessary was obtained in fragments of bags, prisoners’ duck clothing, bed ticks, etc., and painted in distemper with pipeclay, charcoal and various coloured earths. Lamps and candlesticks were fabricated from worn-out tin pots and dishes by the never-failing hands of King. Materials to light the theatre were supplied by voluntary contributions of the officials, who, forming the haut ton of the establishment, received candles, or oil, as part of their supply of rations from the governmerit stores.
But the wardrobe! Oh, the wardrobe! No powers of language can enable me to do justice to a description of the wardrobe.
In the first place, to survey “King Artexomines” in the solemn extravaganza of Bumbastes Furioso: his glittering crown was composed of odds and ends of tin and copper, brightly furbished, most of it garnished with pieces of window glass set on parti-coloured foils of a flowing wig fabricated of bits of sheepskin, the wool being powdered with bone ashes; a gaudy fringe of fur bedecked a regal mantle that in the days of its pristine freshness had been a purple stiff cloak with cape and hood, and belonging to “Mother” Row, the wife of the camp constable; which splendid fur trimming had once covered a native cat, in the glossy spotted coat of which indulgent observers might detect a very faint resemblance to the imperial ermine; and to complete the truly magnificent ensemble of this august monarch, his boots of russet hue had assumed their present form from the legs of an ancient pair of duck trousers, whilom the property of Manager King, dyed to that colour by the juice of wattle-bark.
The caput of the doughty “General Bumbastes” was surmounted by a magnificent cocked scraper, the body of which was pasteboard covered over with black cloth, once appertaining to the skirts of the parson’s coat, adorned with a floating forest of feathers that waved gallantly in the breeze, the latter being supplied at the expense of the barndoor cocks belonging to Regentville, a host of whom had been denuded of their tails for this purpose. The stalwart general’s coat had once covered a corporal of the guard; but the theatrical tailor having turned it, and having with great difficulty procured a consignment of cast-off copper lace and bullion from the military officers at Sydney, this was newly furbished for the occasion, and now shone most resplendently decorative on the brawny breast and shoulders of the (pot?) valiant hero, whose unwhisperables of humble duck were clean washed and fancifully braided in a most ingenious manner with strips of old blue cloth. A pair of monstrous policeman’s boots, equipped with glittering tin spurs having rowells as big round as dollars, ended the martial person of the ferocious commander, who was, moreover, supplied with a sword that in point of size might have done honour to old “Bell the Cat” himself. The blade and guard were each composed of the very best hoop-iron, well scoured and bright, however, and the sword knot, to furnish which all the ragged silk handkerchiefs within a mile had been laid under contribution, might have vied in size with the swab of a 74-gun ship.
The rest of the properties of the theatre at Emu were of a like description; but seen at night, and from a distance, they appeared in the eyes of most of the beholders to be quite faultless. True it is, the chiefest number of the audiences, being composed of either the small settlers of the Nepean or their wives and children, had no more exalted idea of theatrical splendour than might be derived from the exhibitions of travelling mountebanks, or at best a strolling company of comedians in a country barn.
But there were at times others among the spectators of the humble attempts or the brethren of the sock and buskin: the then Chief Justice, nay, the very representative of royalty himself, having deigned to honour the Emu Theatre with their presence, moved, it may be supposed, by the novelty of the thing, and a desire to observe what kind of shifts could be made by men as utterly destitute of all means and appliances as even their great prototype Thespis, who first represented comedies in the early days of Athens to his then rude countrymen, having only a waggon for a stage and the sky for a canopy.
Visits such as these, of course, were hailed as great honours and prepared for with corresponding anxiety. Ralph formed one of the corps when it was honoured by a “bespeak” from the Chief Justice, who was then residing at Regentville for the vacation with all his family; and the Knight who owned that spacious and wealthy estate, together with a perfect galaxy of the élite of Australian aristocracy, proposed to accompany his illustrious visitor to the entertainment.
King having laid before the superintendent a list of the pieces they were ready to represent, it was forwarded to Sir John, who selected Raymond and Agnes, followed by The Devil to Pay, for the evening’s performance.
Dire was now the turmoil among all the hangers-on in the theatre, that structure, in the first place, requiring repairs, and all the interior to be whitewashed and redecorated. The scenery, too, and the dresses wanted a good deal of touching up. Rehearsals must be had and the properties looked to.
It must be borne in mind that every one of them engaged in these multifarious avocations had withal to labour in the fields at different kinds of work from sunrise to sunset every week day save Saturday, which could not, of course, be pitched upon, as it would be inconvenient, on account of the lateness of the performance encroaching on the hours of the Sabbath before the audience could reach their respective abodes. The indefatigable King and his trusty coadjutors worked nearly all the intervening nights with great zeal, for to these stage-struck heroes it was truly a labour of love.
By the time the period of representation had arrived, all was prepared much to the satisfaction of the manager himself, who, upon surveying the effect of his labours from the pit just after the whole was brilliantly illuminated by four small lamps and full twelve mould candles, rubbed his hands in an ecstasy, and cried, “Well now! This is something like.”
With palpitating hearts, partly through the haste of their running home from work, partly through awe at the greatness of their expected guests, did the assembled Company prepare for their début, and precisely at seven o’clock — in newspaper phrase — the “orchestra struck up an overture”. This orchestra, by the by, consisted of four instruments, namely a violin — only so styled in the theatre; elsewhere it received the humbler appellation of a fiddle —; a flute, much akin to a fife in sharpness of tone; a tambourine, profusely decorated with tin jingles, and the handiwork of Manager King; and a huge drum, which owed its origin to the same omni-capable personage, to whom must also be ascribed all the honour and glory of fabricating the flute, and though last, not least, the fiddle also — beg pardon, violin, I mean — the material of which was King’s great panacea, tin. Tin served him in an infinity of ways; of it he made all sorts of articles, swords and scabbards, spurs and spectacles, decorations and diamonds.
But lo! the curtain now draws up, and the play begins. The melodrama was received with rapturous applause by the unwashed multitude who crowded the pit, and with better expressed approbation by the occupants of the boxes; the only drawback to the manager’s satisfaction being that a number of the men belonging to the camp, as there was no gallery, had taken undisturbed possession of the roof, where they vented their criticisms in rather an obstreperous manner, deaf to the dignified remonstrances of the irritated Jemmy King, who ever and anon devoted them to the deis infernis in “curses, not loud, but deep”.
At length, the sweet symphony of the musicians failing to extract any more plaudits from the auditory, it was judged time to commence the after-piece, which also was received very courteously. In fact, it went off well, but for one trifling incident, which, however, luckily passed unnoticed by the audience, though it elicited a series of grave rebukes from the manager. It was thus. The representative of “Jobson”, having made rather free with some wine which the Knight of Regentville had presented to the performers to solace their thirst during their labours, was somewhat too energetic in applying the stirrup-leather to the shoulders of his sleeping partner “Nell”, whose prototype on this occasion was a strapping young man of twenty-two, and as Master “Jobson” observed his spouse for the nonce winced somewhat under this application, he took a malicious pleasure in repeating the dose when not required by the action of the drama. At last the patience of the quondam “Nell” being quite exhausted, he went close up to “Jobson”, and shaking a fist as large as a moderate sized leg of mutton in his face, said, sotto voce however, “D—— your eyes. If you do that again I’ll knock your infernal head off.” Luckily, at this moment there was a slight noise in the pit, which prevented the words being heard; but the natural energy of the gesture which accompanied them elicited a loud “Bravo! Bravo!” from Sir John, which recalled the recollection of the exasperated wight, or he might have proceeded to put his threat into execution, as he was by no means a person to stand upon trifles.
The performance concluded happily, and a respectful valedictory address having been delivered by the manager, the company prepared to depart. Prior to their doing so, however, the Chief Justice requested that the performers be brought to the entrance before he took his leave, in order that he might have an opportunity of examining their disguises more closely. This request, of course, from so exalted a personage assumed all the force of a command, and in a few minutes the Company of actors was mustered in a double line leading from the foot of the rude staircase to the entrance of the theatre.
The superintendent led the way, followed by his visitors, among whom were several ladies, who viewed the quasi-female performers with unmixed amazement on discovering that the chief representative of the softer sex on these primitive boards had, like Sir John Falstaff in the dress of the cunning woman of Brentford, a most unmitigated growth of whiskers, which the wearer valued so much that he would on no account consent to the sacrifice of them, but rather had contrived a head-dress with much art, the fastenings of which served pretty well, at a distance, to conceal these very unfeminine appendages to a female eye; but on a closer view the quondam lady of the gallant Knight in the play was discovered to be neither more nor less than a brawny bullock-driver, clad in attire which, though perhaps it might once have decorated a duchess, yet, if ever such was the case, its present dilapidated state and faded glories distinctly told of its having been a very, very long time before.
Nor was the astonishment of the gentlemen present much less, to observe the many shifts which it now became apparent had been resorted to in order to trick forth the male performers for the purpose of enabling them to “strut and fret their hour upon the stage” with something like dresses approximating to fitting costume. In particular, Ralph Rashleigh’s dress, as conjuror, elicited the admiration of the Chief justice, who had some difficulty in believing that the flowing wig which adorned his head was made of so humble a material as sheepskin, which after personal examination His Honour satisfied himself to be the case, and remarking that “necessity was the most fruitful parent of invention”, he returned the wig to its wearer, paying him, at the same time, a well-deserved compliment upon his ingenuity, and slipping a pound note unobserved into his hand, saying in a low tone as he did so, “For yourself.”
The guests now departed, the Knight of Regentville and all his party having expressed their high satisfaction at the entertainment, and made such presents to the manager for the Company as, with gifts more suited to their humble circumstances made by other spectators, enabled that functionary to distribute a share amounting to no less than ten shillings to each of the musicians and fifteen shillings to the performers.
These are thy blessings: Industry, rough power,
Whom labour still attends, and sweat, and pain.
As Rashleigh wsas returning from work one morning shortly after the memorable “bespeak”, in company with one of the pseudo-performers, he had to cross the highway road leading to Bathurst over Emu Plains. It chanced that just as they did so, a mounted traveller accosted them, who by his appointments had evidently been no long time in the Colony, and who was struck, as it would seem, with their appearance. The winter’s supply of clothing having been recently issued, each had on a frock and trousers which were nearly new. These garments were somewhat uncouth to look at, being merely the natural colour of the wool as it was cut in the fleece, put together in a truly antediluvian style which would have positively horrified the soul of a Stultz if he could have only caught a glimpse of them, and rendered much more conspicuous by the characters “P-B-E-P” each about six inches long, stamped with glaring red paint in no less than eight different places, before and behind each wearer. These letters were meant to represent “Prisoners’ Barracks Emu Plains”; but from the colour of the cloth, the utter shapelessness of the clothes, and the brilliant contrast afforded by the hue of the stamps, each person who wore this primitive garb resembled some strange monster in a state of transition, scarce half man but more than half sheep, branded, as it might appear — having been newly shorn — with the initials of its owner’s name.
So at least seemed to think the stranger, who checked his horse and sat motionless in the saddle, gazing with dilated eyes and gaping with open mouth at the long file of convicts as they passed. Ralph and his companion being last, he addressed them as if he were anxious to ascertain whether this were an unreal mockery of his vision or whether they were palpable living men possessed of the usual organs of speech.
“Halloo,” he said, “what are you?”
“We belong to the camp yonder,” was the reply.
“Oh,” returned the stranger, “and pray, what sort of dress is that you wear?”
“Our Government supply,” replied Rashleigh.
“Indeed; and now, if I may ask, what are the meanings of all those letters sprinkled over it?”
“Why sir,” answered Ralph’s companion, who was the small wit of Emu Plains, “they mean ‘Poor Beggar — Eternal Punishment’.”
“Dear me!” exclaimed the horseman. “I’m very sorry for you!” And he threw them a handful of silver, which they gathered with great goodwill. And the stranger departed.
Eighteen months had now elapsed since Ralph Rashleigh first joined the agricultural establishment at Emu Plains, during which period he had experienced full many an aching heart arid full many an empty stomach. By far the greater part of that time he had neither shirt nor shoes to wear. In fact, his only garments consisted of a tattered frock of the kind just described and scarcely three parts of a pair of unmentionables, so much patched that, like the celebrated stockings of Sir John Cutler, hardly a particle of the original material remained. The nether extremities of these scanty apologies for decency looked as if his constant nightly companions, the rats — who maintained almost an equal right to his wretched bed of corn husks with himself — had nibbled them away piecemeal, until at last they had encroached upon those regions which ought to have covered the knees.
But the worst and most trying deprivation of all, to him, was the lack of shoes. For in the fields the sharply angular masses of clay, indurated almost to the hardness of flints by the arid sky, produced painful stone bruises, while on the “burning-off” ground or in the bush the frequent fires, having consumed all the inflammable portions of the grass, left nothing behind but the short stems, stiffened by flame, and as sharp as pointed stakes, which pierced, cut and tore the soles of his feet, until it was absolutely painful to him in the least degree even to stand erect upon them. If he walked at all it was necessarily at the rate of a snail’s gallop, which procured for him a double portion of abuse from his overseers and the expressive but neither euphonious nor honourable appellation of a crawler.
In the winter time, too, the torment produced by the hoar-frost, which agonised his very soul whenever his lacerated feet came in contact with it, produced many a bitter pang. But time enabled him at last to find a remedy for even these evils. He invented a sort of sandal similar to those of the Romans of old, the bottoms of which were formed of light wood, having a complicated arrangement of buckling straps to secure them. He also fabricated a kind of stockings from old woollen rags, which served the double purpose of warmth and security against thorns and briary vines which had so cruelly mangled him before. Besides, and better than all this, he was now getting so much inured to work that he no longer dreaded it, nor had his hours of rest broken by frightful dreams of cruelties perpetrated by the tyrannical overseers, as was too frequently the case at first.
In addition to all these causes of self-gratulation afforded to our exile, the drought which had so long oppressed the Colony broke up in the ensuing spring, arid copious rains again blessed the earth with their fertilising effects, dressing the surrounding plains with nature’s gayest livery — instead of the arid appearance they had so long presented — and affording promise of an abundant harvest to gladden the long depressed hearts of the starving settlers. Besides, Rashleigh was now wealthy, his store having been increased by the unexpected liberality of the stranger to the sum of nearly two pounds — an amount which promised, with due economy, to afford him a moderate supply of extra food, sufficient to last him until the crops were ripe, when he hoped to earn a further supply.
Time now coursed rapidly on, until the month of November, when wheat reaping commenced. In compliance with an annual custom, instituted in order to afford the free settlers opportunities of acquiring additional labour to gather in their grain, which, in the then very limited population of New South Wales, would otherwise have been quite inaccessible, the superintendent of Emu Plains granted passes to such of the men under him as he thought deserving, each week upon Thursday evening; which documents entitled the holders thereof to be absent from camp and to work for themselves in the neighbourhood until the ensuing Sunday night — an indulgence which was so highly appreciated that all hands strained their nerves to the utmost to obtain it.
Ralph was among the fortunates, and having gotten his “pass”, with a merry heart and full of joyful anticipations he hied across the river in search of work to do, being accompanied by one of his hut-mates. About ten o’clock that night they reached a part of the Nepean bank which was thickly occupied by small settlers, and where he had learned the wheat was now nearly ripe. The yellow lustre of the harvest moon illumined all the surrounding scenery with its mild radiance, and the hum of many voices told that the settlers were busy.
Upon going nearer, the travellers soon found this to be the case in good earnest, for it was a favourite as well as beneficial practice with the Australian farmers of that day to perform the greater part of their agricultural labours either by night or early each morning, so that during the middle hours of the day, when the sun was in its greatest altitude, they slept or amused themselves in their dwellings. To do this with the greater advantage they carefully studied the phases of the moon, being rather guided in their hours of labour during the summer by that luminary than by the too ardent god of day. Thus, when Rashleigh neared their settlement, which stood upon the estate of Regentville and was named “Irish Corner” after the nation of its chief occupants, the greater part of the population were actively employed. Men and women, boys and girls, all had sickles, reaping away with the greatest energy, while ever and anon the jocund laugh, the shouted jest and the merry response told that all were engaged in an occupation they highly enjoyed.
The travellers, on reaching the first wheat field, waited at the fence until the reapers came up, when they saluted the leader with a good-night. He had not observed them, being absorbed in his work; but he now stood up and returned their salute in kind, asking them if they’d far to travel.
Rashleigh responded “that it depended on circumstances, as they were looking for work”.
“By my sowl, thin,” said the other, “you’ve come to the right place to find it! Praise be to the Vargin! But maybe, though it’s looking for work youse are, yees don’t want to do any yourselves?”
Indeed we do,” said Ralph, “if we can get anybody to employ us!”
“Employ yees? Gerrah, thin, why not?” returned the reaper. “I suppose youse are all right? Not crappies (bushrangers), I mean.”
“Oh no,” replied Rashleigh. “I and my mate here are men on pass from the Plains till Sunday. Here’s our passes if you like to look at them.”
“Is id me look at ’em?” responded the other. “Bedad thin, there ud be little good in that, anyway; be the same token that I don’t know big A from a bud’s foot!” And he laughed most heartily at this highly delightful idea. “But if id’s raally raping you want, I’ll give you a pound an acre for all you’ll cut of this saam whate. And if you’ll take that, jusht sthick in, and say no more about id.” And the old man again set to work, twisting the wheat down with surprising vigour.
Ralph remarked, however, that this was a strong heavy crop and worth more than that.
“Don’t be boddering us,” said the owner. “Sure I can cut an acre a day of id flankin’, and I’m sure hearty young min like the pair of youse ought to knock down a dale more nor that.”
Well,” rejoined Rashleigh, we’ll look about a bit among your neighbours, and if we can’t get any higher offer we’ll come and set on along with you.”
“By this and by that thin, you won’t,” said the choleric old chap. “If you go sthreeling about looking for more wages, you shan’t touch a sthraw of Jack Canavan’s whate, see that now!”
“Very well, no harm done,” returned the other, and passed on a little farther.
In the next field they reached, there were five individuals reaping, towards whom they went and found an elderly man somewhat ahead of the others. Hard-favoured, long-sided, and still unbent by age, the reaper raised himself up and said, “Good morrow, boys. Is id me you want?”
“Aye,” was the reply. “We want to know if you can give us work with you.”
“Bedad thin,” rejoined the old man, “I cud do that saam, but what ud you be axing?”
“Oh, we don’t know what’s going; but we’ll take the same as others get,” replied the travellers.
“Musha now,” said the senior. “I’ll tell you at a word what I’ll do. If you’ll work along wid us here, and work as we work, I’ll pay you a pound for every day you sthop; bekase, you see, my whate is rip’ing all in patches and I must rape wherever id’s wanted to be cut firsht and id ‘udn’t be convanient to mizzure.”
“What about our mess?” said Ralph.
“Arrah thin, I forgot that. Why, if you plaze me, I’ll not charge you a traneen for all you’ll ate of the besht of good living, such as I’ve got myself!”
On these terms a bargain was struck, and as by this time the other reapers had worked up to the foremost, they were directed to “side over” into the standing wheat, and each of the new-comers being provided with a sickle, to it they went right earnestly, the old man keeping the lead, Ralph’s mate nearest to him, then one of the others, and next Ralph himself.
The reapers on either side of Rashleigh were slim and agile in figure, the only dresses they wore apparently being shirts, made very long certainly, and hats. Neither of them — not excepting the old man — had shoes on, yet they swept along over the clods and stubble with a celerity that compelled Ralph, to use a colonial phrase, “to hit out from the muscle”, that he might not be left behind. For two hours they wrought in silence, till at length, observing a cessation among his preceding partners, the former looked up and saw the old man leaning over the fence apparently in a deep yarn with his mate. In a few minutes Ralph had also cut up to the fence, when he stood erect, to take breath and wipe the perspiration from his face.
The old man, now noticing him, said, “Bedad, my lad, you and your mate done well. We’ll soon cut all that’s ready at this rate.”
The remainder of the field (persons reaping) having now come up to the fence, the old man observed to Ralph’s amazement, “Now, gals, you and these two young men had better bind up what’s cut while the dew’s on it and lave it laying there. We’ll put it together in the daylight, and I’ll go and help the old woman get something ready for breqquest.”
Ralph now looked closely at the person who was standing next him, and though there were few feminine charms in her countenance, he could see enough to convince him that this hard-working reaper who had made him use such expedition to keep up with her was really nothing but a girl of at most thirteen, but even at that age nearly as tall as himself. The old man turned away as he spoke, and Ralph, with his companions, began to bind the sheaves where they lay, each going down the rows they had cut during the night. This, not being a very arduous task, admitted of conversation, and presently they were as intimate as if they had known each other for years.
There was no affected squeamishness or reserve among these unsophisticated children of nature. In reply to queries from their male companions, the latter discovered they were working for a man known on the river as “Big Mick”, who had a family of six daughters and no son, all his male children having died in infancy. It was said that soon after the birth of Mick’s third daughter he was lamenting to his wife their want of a son to help him in his labours on the “farrum”, when his strong-minded helpmate interrupted him by saying, “Gerrah, why, what are you boddering about? If I don’t make my darters better min than one half the crathurs I see crawling about the counthry-side, by the Jakus, I’ll ate ’em every one.”
In conformity with this resolution, from their earliest infancy each member of the family was employed to do whatever her strength would permit. The very youngest of all was set to mind the pigs, that they came not near the cultivation to do mischief, then promoted to pull suckers from corn or tobacco. As they advanced in years they took to the tools of manual labour nearly as soon as they could lift them.
The effects of this course of education were now to be observed upon all of them, for either of the girls could cut down the largest tree in the bush with an axe as readily as most men, or do a man’s share at breaking up new ground with the hoe, driving a team of bullocks, threshing wheat or maize, reaping, or in short any other agricultural occupation. Nor was Mick’s family a solitary instance of this. Many others at that early period, when labour was so very scarce in the Colony, bred their female children in the same way. When there were several daughters, as in the present case, one usually remained at home, alternately, to assist the mother in her necessary domestic duties; which was, in fact, all the chance they had of learning aught that would be serviceable to them when they got married and had houses of their own to mind. As it was, though they might, each and all, be able to sew, so as to mend their own clothes or those of their male relations, and bake a damper in the ashes — the usual method of preparing bread in the interior of Australia-or make ready the humble meals of the family, yet it was far more common to meet a young woman — in other parts besides Irish Corner — who could reap her acre of wheat a day than one who could make a shirt.
Thus masculine in their labours, their persons were scarcely less so. Though their features, in numberless instances, might be considered positively handsome, as are in fact the general race of fair Australians, yet exposure to the sun and wind completely tanned them and gave them a weatherbeaten tinge in their youth; while their forms, unrepressed by any confinement of clothing, acquired all those ungainly attributes which characterise the clown. But the chief marvel of all was the astonishing size of their feet, for never using shoes in their childhood, and being always in motion, those extremities obtained a most portentous development, a fact which may be guessed at from the following trivial circumstance.
Ralph one day subsequently was asked by the old man to fetch him his shoes. He went to the hut for this purpose and returned with a pair he had found on the floor which were much larger than his own. As he had not seen any other member of the family adopt such encumbrances he naturally concluded they were the right articles. But on reaching the threshing-floor, which as usual stood in the open air, and where all the family were then employed, he soon found out he had made a mistake, for Mick burst out into a horse-laugh and Said, “Arrah now, by my sowl, if that don’t bate Banagher! And all the world knows Banagher bates the Divil. If he hasn’t brought me Nancy’s little brogueens (small shoes) instead of my own.”
Rashleigh stared at Nancy, who was a girl about eleven years of age, and she came over laughing to claim her shoes.
“Bother you,” said her sire good-humouredly, “how foolish and fashionable you get! Must be claning your brogueens every week now! I’ll engage you are looking out for some sweetheart or other to put the come ‘ether over wid your capers and clane shoes.”
This sally over, he directed the girl to go and try could she find the right brogues; and as Nancy tripped off on her errand, Rashleigh had lots of opportunities to observe that large as the shoes were, they were likely by no means to be a loose fit for her feet.
Then, too, their out-of-door life rendered them excessively rude and boisterous, of which Ralph heard a laughable instance some time after.
A person with whom Big Mick had a dealing, after the business was concluded, produced a case-bottle of rum from his saddle-pack, vowing that they’d have a dram together to wet the bargain, and down they sat very seriously to discuss the drink. Now the stranger was a person of some little means and a shrewd, keen chap withal, who had got a few cattle and a couple of good brood mares, which were then quite a fortune. So Mick, after a few balls had opened his heart and his temper, began to think it would be no bad spec. to interest his guest in one of his daughters. Could he persuade him to take one as a wife, why, she would be, in his own expression, “a made girl for ever”.
Urged by this idea, he began a long eulogium upon the beauty and numberless good qualities of his girls. After a time, getting warmed by the theme, and a little piqued, it may be also, at the stoicism of his companion, who only opened his oracular jaws to emit the smoke of his dhudeen, he said that he could afford a smart penny to portion each of the gals, so that it would by no means be a bad chance for anybody “that ud know how to trate a dacent wife” when they got her. Still this did not produce the wished-for effect upon the insensible mind of Mick’s companion, and at last the old man broadly hinted to him, “Sure, it’s a shame for you that you don’t look out for some good little crathur to be keeping house for you, and not be living all your days like a solunthary bacheleer.” And he wound up by saying that his guest should see the darlin’s and judge for himself.
Upon this they adjourned to the outside of the dwelling, where the old man gave a loud cooay as a signal for his daughters to return home from their work. Both the men now gazed in the direction from which they expected the girls to appear, when lo! shouting, laughing, and tearing obstreperously along, the six beauteous and dutiful damsels came racing towards them. Disconcerted at this novel mode of introducing a bride-elect, no sooner did the stranger see this troop of Bacchantes sweeping over the newly ploughed ground at this rate, than he bolted to his horse and cried, “Goodbye, Mick! I might as well marry a whirlwind as one of thim wild divils. Why, the fastest mare I’ve got ud never be able to catch her!” And he rode off at speed, pursued by loud shouts of “Ahoo! Ahoo!” from the young ladies and peals of laughter from the merry old man.
After Ralph and his companions had finished tying up the sheaves that lay cut on the ground, they adjourned to Mick’s dwelling, which originally consisted only of two small apartments, with sundry additions made to it at various times, abutting from one or the other side in divers singularly ugly excrescences, with lean-to roofs resting against that of the parent edifice. All these structures were composed of the then unvarying materials of Australian architecture in the interior — slabs or thin pieces split off by means of mauls and wedges from logs, the roof covered with forest box or stringy-bark, which was stripped from the living trees in sheets of about six feet long and from two to four feet wide, laid upon rafters composed of small sapling poles just as they came from being cut in the bush. The sheets of bark, having holes pierced through each in pairs, were then tied on the rafters with cords twisted of the inner rind of the kurrajong tree. The whole framing of the roof was secured as it was needed by wooden pins in order to save the expense of nails, which were then both too scarce and too dear to be used by the lower order of settlers.
Indeed, all kinds of ironwork were equally inaccessible, and instead of hinges to tie doors or window shutters, those appurtenances were all made to revolve on wooden pivots in holes, bored a short distance into the corresponding parts of the frames.
Thus the materials of Mick’s habitation were pretty much the same as those of the prisoners’ huts on Emu Plains; but the chinks in the slab walls of the former were well stopped up with plaster made of cow dung and sand. A bark ceiling also was laid over the tie-beams which, while it prevented the dust from pouring down in such torrents through the interstices of the roof, also afforded a convenient loft for the storage of pumpkins and many other articles of domestic consumption. Besides these indications of comfort, the whole of the inside had been newly whitewashed — that is, only the Christmas before, though in the eleven months which had intervened the volumes of smoke which continually rolled through every cranny of the place had somewhat tarnished the virgin purity of its hue, converting it at length into a whity-brown yellow; yet even that colour was better than none.
As usual, the fireplace occupied nearly the whole of one end of the hut, and being composed entirely of wood, the danger of its igniting had been diminished by hard dried clods of clay built up about a couple of feet high round its interior and laid in a sort of mortar also composed of clay tempered with water to a semi-liquid consistency. On the sides of the ample fireplace were constructed rough seats for the winter nights, above which might be seen store of pieces of salted beef and pork, pigs’ heads, bags of cabbage and pumpkin seeds, and a multitude of other articles which required to be kept dry, this being by courtesy considered the most secure part of the dwelling from the incursions of rain. There was no possibility of any leakage, except from the top, which was not more than two feet square, and left quite open in the fond hope of persuading or enticing the smoke to go out there instead of continually struggling for passage through the crevices of the bark roof or pouring out in volumes at the ever open doors and windows. But such was the perversity of this obstinate element that it too generally preferred any illicit vent to the legal one and very frequently asserted its supremacy in such a manner as effectually to drive the inmates out of doors altogether, for sheer lack of breath to continue the contest any longer. As this generally took place in very wet weather, when a fire could not be maintained out of doors, as was the usual summer custom, and besides, the chilliness rendering it acceptable in the house for its warmth, it may be conceived that the piety of the inmates, at no time very conspicuous, was not vastly enhanced by their having to stand in the rain, perforce, in order to escape suffocation, until it pleased the vaporous enemy to allow them a short respite by retiring to the loft or any other part of the premises, except the chimney of course, which it appeared most of all places to shun.
The furniture was truly of a primitive cast. A number of tin pint pots and dishes, half a dozen three-legged cast-iron boilers of various sizes, a long-handled frying-pan, a few rough stools, mostly fixed on stumps sunk in the floor, two or three short round blocks of wood cut off trees with a cross-cut saw to serve as movable seats, and two stationary tables made of unplaned slabs, one fixed in the centre and the other on one side, completed the accommodation of the outer apartment.
When the doors of any of the sleeping-rooms admitted a view of their contents, it did not appear that luxury was by any means the besetting sin of either Big Mick or his family. The sleeping-berths were all fixtures, made of slabs and sheets of bark, only the one belonging to the father and mother being furnished with any attempt at curtains, which for economy’s sake were confined to the foot of the bed and one side. The berth being fixed in a corner, all was thus enclosed, partly by the slabs and partly by the curtain, which exactly answered the description given by Pope of those “in the worst inn’s worst room”, being tied with tape and never meant to draw; instead of which, the blue striped shirting of which it was composed was secured back by loops and buttons which hung them partly aside and exposed to view a tattered patchwork quilt, apparently innocent of the washing-tub since its formation.
The effeminacy of sheets was unknown to any of the inmates. Though they obtained abundance of feathers, which when plucked from the birds on which they grew, were suffered to lie on the spot where they fell until dispersed by the winds, when they sailed about in all directions, a positive nuisance, yet each of the family slept on beds of chaff contained in rough ticks, many of which, being the worse for wear, suffered their contents to escape through their numberless orifices, when it littered the earthen floor. Being scattered thence into unknown corners, where brooms never penetrated, the rubbish proved fruitful nurseries of “flaas”, to the extreme annoyance of the good matron of the house, who strove in vain to abate it by repeated libations of water, until mud was by no means a scarce article, either within or without the domicile.
To this habitation Rashleigh and his mate now received a “kindly welcome” from both the old man and the woman, and a plentiful supply of salt beef, damper bread and pumpkins being spread on the table, they all fed most heartily, washing down the feast with bumpers of tea out of the tin pots before named. When they had done, a short interval being allowed them to smoke a pipe each, they again sallied forth to work.
It was now dawn, and they continued to reap until about nine o’clock, when they returned to the hut, partook of another meal like the former, and then all retired to rest. Ralph and his companion, having obtained a couple of blankets and directions to a corner of the loft where lay a large heap of corn husks, slept soundly until about four o’clock, and then to work again.
In this way, making about fifteen hours at work out of each twenty-four, they both completed three and a half working days of ten hours each by Sunday night, when, having received their money and thanks from Big Mick, with pressing requests to come again whenever they could get leave, the reapers returned to Emu Plains and gave up their passes to the camp constable, after which they retired to rest, to prepare for another week’s work for Government.
In this way the harvest passed over. Twice more did Rashleigh obtain a pass, and each time was employed by his old patron Big Mick.
Base is the slave that pays.
A number of the settlers having preferred a request to that effect, the whole of the “play actors” of Emu Plains received permission to go with all their paraphernalia to perform a play at a distant part of the Nepean settlement.
Proud was the manager, great was the bustling importance of the Company, and by the first light of the day appointed, the “scenery, machinery, dresses and decorations” of the Emu Theatre having been transferred to a settler’s dray, all were en route to the scene of action — a large barn belonging to the keeper of a very small inn, who had kindly lent the edifice for this purpose; of course, solely for the amusement of his neighbours, without the slightest expectation of prospective advantage to himself. Notwithstanding his disinterested feelings, however, after the corps dramatique had been hard at work for a couple of hours, Boniface, rubbing his hands, came in to the quondam theatre and expressed his admiration in glowing terms of all that he saw, winding up a most flowery speech by enquiring whether it was not a dry job, at the same time hinting obliquely at the excellent qualities of a beverage composed of good rum and peach cider, of both which his stock was immense, adding that as no doubt the performance would amply remunerate the Company, he would not object to supplying the members thereof with refreshment for the day on credit, always providing his account should be liquidated as soon as the play was over.
These terms having been joyfully acceded to by, the thirsty Thespians, a sample of the much-vaunted drink was obtained, and although it was not quite equal to nectar — as the cider was something of the sharpest, and the rum rather peppery — yet to men from Emu Plains it appeared very superior. About noon, too, a servant came, who in the name of her master, the inn keeper enquired if any of the players wanted dinner. Accordingly, all adjourned to the kitchen, where salt beef and pork, abundance of greens, and the unvarying damper awaited their appetites. This sumptuous feast was duly crowned by libations, though sooth to say, the tender care of their host prevented their getting drunk, because the rum, though very pungent and very hot, was also very weak, being, in nautical phrase, only equal to three-water grog, and thus did not disturb the acting powers of even the most weak-headed among the theatricals.
The performances of the evening having closed amid rapturous applause, a good jollification was resolved on. But alas, as Burns has sung,
The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft agley.
All unforeseen difficulty arose; the innkeeper insisted on payment of his bill before any fresh supplies were afforded. On examination of this ingenious document, it appeared each performer owed him one pound two shillings and sixpence for drink, dinner and supper, both of these repasts being charged at three shillings per head, and the remainder made up of pints of rum, gallons of cider, and ditto, ditto . . . almost without end. Now, as is customary in such cases, the debtors could not by any process be brought to believe that they had actually obtained even half the liquor charged against them, and the obdurate creditor vowed most solemnly that he had served the whole of it himself. To add to the mischief, it was found on investigation, that after paying a few trifling claims for nails and other minor incidental expenses, the receipts would but admit of a dividend of thirty shillings to each principal player in the Company and the stipulated wages of the supernumeraries — scene-shifters and others.
Indeed, as each man’s share of the bill was alike, the Company actually owed more than their gross receipts; but on this being explained, the landlord at length agreed to take what the lower rate of performers obtained in full from them, if the others would cash up the amount of his claim on each of these. Further, he said he thought himself and the chief constable might persuade their superintendent to let the Company remain where they were and play again one more night; which he kindly volunteered to do, and in the mean time — always after a settlement — would let the Thespians go on again with a fresh score, on the faith of their next night’s receipts.
This arrangement being at once acceded to, the disinterested landlord received instantly by far the greater portion of the collection made by the theatrical treasurer, and then the Company began again to enjoy themselves, free from the dreadful thoughts of the reckoning, which was thus procrastinated twenty-four hours, at any rate. The next morning, betimes, Manager King called a council of his trusty coadjutors and opened to them a most brilliant device of his own composition, by which he doubted not to astonish the natives in general, and none more so than their kind confiding host in particular, who had been so fluent of his beverage and so cunning with his chalk; this notable plan was to be put into execution at the close of the evening’s amusement and was rapturously acceded to by his fellow-convicts, who deemed it would form a most appropriate finale to the amusements of the night.
They now partook of breakfast; and after a couple of glasses of grog by way of stimulus to repair the ravages made by their last night’s jollificationtion in the sensorium of each, the most eloquent of the performers were dispatched in small parties to make a circuit of the settlers dwelling near, exhibiting in each house a play-bill, to compose which Rashleigh had exhausted nearly all his powers of persuasive oratory, in setting forth the magnitude of that night’s attractions at their temporary theatre, enumerating the various points of allurement quite as grandiloquently as a London manager of a minor theatre, and winding up with the awful annunciation that it was most positively their last exhibition at that place. The ambassadors were also commissioned to explain to the expected guests such reasons good as compelled them to believe the last assertion, namely, that the passes of the histrionic heroes would expire that day.
Rashleigh, backed by a new and youthful recruit, whose beardless face well suited the female parts he sustained, made his rounds, meeting with many promises of attendance and much rude hospitality from all the small settlers round about. This was a period of most universal merriment, indeed, a sort of prescriptive saturnalia in society of that sort every year, but doubly so upon this occasion, when the agriculturists, for the first time in seven years, were blessed with overflowing garners teeming with grain. In every hut, therefore, was then to be found a keg, filled, not with choice Jamaica, but with its fiery prototype from Bengal; and mirth and revelry was the order of both day and night.
Evening drew nigh as they returned to their companions, when the manager announced to our adventurer that all was prepared for the successful dénouement of the preconcerted plot to form the finale of the night; and after each had partaken of a refreshment, it was time to dress for the play.
An early hour had been fixed upon for commencing, because, it being Saturday night, they wished the whole bill of fare, which was rather a long one, should be gone through before midnight. The barn — beg pardon, theatre — was crammed to over-flowing; many, who would not be turned away, were accommodated on the roof; and each new point elicited rapturous bursts of applause. But as soon as every thing was done with, either of the scenery or of the valuable properties, it was slyly and noiselessly withdrawn through an opening, which had been clandestinely contrived in the slabs of the barn; and at last, when the drop-scene fell, Manager King was the only performer left in the house. All the others had followed their paraphernalia, which, as it was removed, had been placed in a dray hired for the purpose, and kept concealed at a short distance, among some swamp oaks in a dell by the riverside, where the whole party now waited with impatience the arrival of their manager.
That eloquent personage, among whose other attributes was a most fluent “gift of the gab”, and who was not at all annoyed at any opportunity of exhibiting his oratory, amused the audience fully a quarter of an hour by his facetious farewells, returning thanks for the distinguished honour of their patronage, etc. Finally, perceiving a movement towards the door on the part of some impatient persons who wished to be at home, Manager King, amid a profusion of bows that would have done honour to a dancingmaster, each too, in accordance with approved theatrical taste, much lower than its predecessor, himself at length withdrew through the aperture before mentioned, carefully closing it after him, and leaving to the landlord, in liquidation of his claim, the drop-scene — which, by the by, was so foully abused by its antiquity that it had long been laid aside as condemned, even at the Emu Theatre — and about a dozen rough, battered tin sconces, with the ends of candle they contained. These were all the available assets they resigned to their creditor in satisfaction of his demand for the previous night’s festivity, their meals that day, and an awful accumulation of lush supplied these runagates by their too confiding host during the last twentyfour hours.
Boniface, who was himself in the theatre at the close of the performance, had vigilantly assisted the money-taker at the door, kindly volunteering his services, not only to prevent any from evaporating without payment, but also, by jocular railleries and reproofs of their stinginess, to stimulate those who did offer cash to exert unwonted liberality. After all the auditory had departed, the landlord remained near the orchestra, in patient expectation of the advent of the performers from behind the scenes. As there was no other outlet from thence — that he knew of — he made himself certain they must pass by him before they could leave the scene of their histrionic display, and probably the worthy Knight of the Spiggot consoled himself by casting up the “tottle of the whole”, as Mr Hume would say, and jingling imaginary coins in his breeches pockets, to be derived from the proceeds of the theatrical treasurer, whose harvest he was certain, from ocular demonstration, must have been a pretty productive one.
At length, however, finding the actors did not make their appearance, and hearing no sound emanate from their supposed retreat, the profound stillness of the whole theatre forming, too, a complete contrast to the merry shouts of jolly Bacchanalians whom he could hear noisily revelling away at his own house — which incident also demanded his early attention, in order that he might assist in the operations of his trusty coadjutors of the rum-keg — the landlord clambered over the rails which divided the orchestra from the pit, climbed upon the temporary stage, lifted the ragged curtain, and, after an awful pause, plucked up heart of grace and boldly entered the sanctum sanctorum of the sons of Thespis.
Here the bewildered Boniface could scarcely credit the evidence of his eyes. By the almost expiring rays of a single morsel of candle end, he could see neither scenery nor actors, and what puzzled him more, he could by no means conceive how they had contrived to get out, as there was then no opening whatever visible; and he at last well-nigh decided in his mind that they must be conjurors as well as comedians. Brimful of wrath, he hastened to his home to institute enquiries, which, it is almost needless to add, proved all in vain. Not one of the many persons there knew which way the fugitives had fled, and the advanced hour, with the darkness of the night, rendered pursuit at that moment hopeless. Vowing bitter vengeance against these delinquents, whom he stigmatised as monsters of most odious ingratitude, the irate man of reckonings was reluctantly compelled to bottle up his anger as well as he could for the present and defer until daylight any ulterior measures.
In the mean time, Manager King and his hopeful squad had pursued their journey merrily, keeping down in a grassy valley, where the turf offered no noisy impediments to their progress, until they reached one of the many rapids, or falls, in that part of the Nepean, which are often crossed by such wayfarers as eschew the payment of puntage. Here they waded the stream, and having gone but a little distance along the opposite bank, called a halt in a little sunken spot that promised to prevent their fire from attracting the attention of any wanderers. There they kindled a blazing flame and began to busy themselves in preparing a feed, the basis of which, I regret to record, had been procured from the victimised host under the pretence of a stage supper necessary in the course of their night’s performance, but which — with near two gallons of his much extolled beverage that they had secreted and brought with them to do honour to the occasion — had not been paid for as yet; and indeed, to say truth, if the wills of those about to consume it were to be consulted, the payment for the whole was like enough to be procrastinated ad graecas kalendas.
Here hilarity prevailed to an unusual extent, the staple fun with which their jokes were seasoned being all levelled at the luckless landlord; and many most witty conjectures were hazarded as to the length, breadth and depth of the astonishment which that worthy and liberal soul would exhibit upon making the disagreeable discovery that he had been so deeply done. The performers did not drink much, however, as they conjectured that mine host would make his complaint to their commandant, and they wished to appear before that awful officer in full possession of all their powers of reason.
About sunrise they arrived at home, and having unloaded their valuable effects, each man prepared himself as best he might for the approaching interview. Manager King — who in this, as in all things else, took the lead — promising to stand spokesman on the occasion. About seven o’clock the landlord made his appearance, accompanied by the chief constable, who, however, could scarcely conceal his merriment at the lugubrious tale, told with such unwonted energy, by the suffering subject of the “pla’actors’” peculations.
The landlord made his entrée to the theatre, where he discovered Manager King, dressed in his full suit of Sunday slops, lying apparently asleep in his berth. And that worthy certainly performed the part of one just awakened, to a miracle; for when the visitor enquired what he meant by running away without paying the debt incurred by the Company, jemmy King yawned heavily once or twice, then affected great anger at being so unceremoniously aroused, and at length gave the complainant very deliberately to understand that he, for one, thought the players had already paid dear enough for all that they had received from him; and further, if the landlord expected any more money from them, why, he must get it the best way he could.
On this the other burst out into indignant exclamations against such excessive ingratitude, saying, however, that he expected no less; and at last he started off to lay his lamentation before the superintendent, from whom he confidently expected both redress and sympathy. In a few moments a summons arrived for all the corps dramatique to attend that awe-inspiring official, and being quickly arranged in his sight, he demanded what they had to say for themselves in reply to this charge of fraud.
King, after apologizing for occupying the time of his superior, told all the history of the first day’s proceedings, laying particular emphasis upon the overcharges made by the landlord, as they appeared on the first bill, winding up his oration by a reference to the second account, and appealing to the superintendent whether he thought it at all possible the men then present, who, it was perfectly evident, were unaccustomed to the use of any intoxicating drinks, could have consumed the quantities of spirits charged against them in the space of about thirty-six hours, and still preserve their sobriety, so as to enable them to play both the nights, some of them sustaining three different parts on each — which, he submitted, it would have been quite impossible for them to do if they had even drunk half the liquor the landlord now sought to make them pay for.
The great man seemed rather struck with this defence, and on examining both bills, could not but admit the accuracy of King’s argument. Then, observing that the meals had been charged at three shillings each person, he asked of what viands they consisted; and the homely qualities of the several repasts being asserted by King and admitted by mine host, the superintendent told the latter he could not help thinking that part of the charge too dear by half; and as for the rest of his claim, he (the superintendent) could not believe the men had drunk all the grog stated, because each person’s share would in his opinion make, and keep, any ordinary individual drunk at least for a week, and yet those who the landlord stated had consumed it all in a day and a half now stood before them, apparently as sober as if they had never tasted anything stronger than water.
“At the same time,” concluded the chief, “if you request it, I will order the whole of them to be brought before the bench of magistrates, to answer any charge you may think fit to prefer against them. But I’d recommend you to remember that there is an Act of Council in force, imposing a fine of five dollars for each offence in serving a convict with spirits; so that, perhaps, you might lose more by taking them to Court than you would clear by making them pay, even if you gained your case, which seems rather doubtful.”
In brief, after all, the landlord was compelled to give the business up for a bad job, and console himself by reflecting that what with his first overcharge, and what the audience assembled through means of the performance had expended at his house, he was in the whole a gainer, instead of a loser, by the brothers of the buskin; though he often vowed he never had been so “willainously wictimised” before in all his life.
This was the last occurrence of any note in Rashleigh’s time at Emu Plains; for the two years having now expired to which his stay was limited at first, he was one morning kept back from work, and informed that he had been assigned to the service of one Mr Arlack of Bunbury Curran, since called Airds, and having received directions for his journey, and a pass for his protection, he departed after taking a friendly farewell of his quondam companions belonging to the play-house hut at Emu Plains.
He goes to a tint and he spends his half-crown;
He mates wid a frind and for love — Knocks him down.
It was a glorious spring morning when Ralph Rashleigh turned his back upon the scene of his late sufferings with a light heart. The charms of nature tended to delight him, and the soothing anticipations of hope promised him, at least, a much more comfortable home than the one he had quitted; and he plodded gaily on, albeit his whole stock of earthly chattels, besides the clothes he wore, were contained in a very small cotton handkerchief. Still, he considered himself positively comfortable for a convict, as he had a stout pair of boots, a whole pair of trousers, a new straw hat, and the magnificent stock of four shirts, besides a black silk handkerchief on his neck, and a tidy blue jacket to his back. He was also possessed of four pounds and upwards in currency money, and this sum in his present circumstances appeared a mint of treasure.
After he had passed the river and its clustering settlers, he journeyed through bypaths across the bush and was soon deeply immersed in the almost twilight gloom of an Australian forest, where the deepest silence ever prevails. No warbling choristers here greet the merry morn with jocund flights of song. No lowing of herds or bleating of flocks awakes the slumbering echoes. The feathered tribes are here entirely mute or only utter either discordant screams or brief harsh twittering. The solitary bellbird chiefly, whose voice may he heard sometimes, disturbs the primeval solitude with its single sharp note, which resounds through the grove with so great a resemblance to a sheep bell that it requires a practised ear to detect the difference between the bird and the reality.
Animated nature here appears to slumber, for not a single living thing can be seen, except at rare intervals, when a gaudily-marbled goanna of great size may perhaps hurry on his spiral route up a tree to avoid the approaching foot of man, or perchance, a snake may glide hastily across his path, the glittering colours of its skin, in its convolutions, chiefly attracting the eye by their brilliant contrast with the faded dull brown herbage or the dead leaves among which it rustics in its sinuous way. No kangaroo, emu or other larger fowl or animal may be seen; ’tis too near the busy haunts of man, while on the other hand, the domesticated quadrupeds are not found, because this forms part of a large settler’s grant. He has got no stock in this neighbourhood; yet will he not allow his poorer neighbour’s single cow to subsist upon the grass, which annually springs, comes to maturity, is parched to dust by the winds of summer and blown away by the breath of autumn.
Over such a forest tract as this Ralph pursued his way until noon, when, arriving at a pond of water and feeling both tired and hungry, he halted, procured fire by means of his tinder-box, made some tea by boiling it in a quart pot he carried with him, and ate some food he had provided. He next prepared his pipe and lay in luxurious ease upon the grass enjoying the dolce far niente until he fell asleep; and when he again awoke, by the altered position of the sun he thought it must be after three o’clock in the afternoon. He now started up and re-pursued his journey, still alone.
Since he had left the settlement on the banks of the Nepean he had not seen a single human being, nor could he be certain that he was following the right path. Still, from the slight knowledge he possessed of Australian geography, he was assured he must ultimately reach the road leading to the southern settlements by keeping the now declining sun upon his right hand. While these thoughts yet occupied his mind, he saw at some trifling distance before him a man who had seemingly joined the path he was upon from another, which came from towards the east. Rashleigh quickened his steps and called to the stranger, who stopped until he came up, when, after the customary salutations, the former enquired if he were going in the right direction for Liverpool. The other, who was a slim youthful-looking person, replied in a very sweet voice that he believed so, but was himself almost a stranger to that part of the country. Rashleigh now asked from whence the youth came, to which the reply was made that he had lately been in Parramatta, but was now making his way from South Creek to Liverpool.
Rashleigh, on his part, acquainted his new-found companion that he had belonged to Emu Plains, and they beguiled the way by talking over the various topics of interest that had lately occurred in the Colony within the knowledge of either of them until they reached a high-road, which the youngster pronounced to be the one they sought, leading from Sydney southward by Liverpool to Campbelltown, Airds, Appin, etc. After pursuing this for about half an hour, they overtook a cart drawn by a single bullock, who was plodding steadily along, though no driver could be seen. When the travellers came up, however, they perceived an old woman lying down in the bottom of the cart, fast asleep. She, apparently relying on the sagacity of the beast, had resigned herself to the arms of Morpheus, being no doubt stimulated thereto by deep draughts from a small keg, which even in slumber she still enfolded in a most ardently loving embrace.
The cart contained various articles of property of those kinds that generally constitute the bulk of a settler’s swag. There wore pipes, tobacco, the keg above named, a quantity of tea and sugar, two or three coarse cotton striped shirts, and a pair or two of duck trousers.
Rashleigh thought it best to awaken the old lady, fearing if she were robbed it might be discovered they had passed her on the road, and they be blamed and perhaps punished for it; so, after shouting a good many times in vain, he seized the occupant of the cart by the leg. She, arousing herself, stared at both the travellers alternately for a second or two, and then burst out with, “Wirrah! Wirrah! Shpare my life! Shpare my life!” To which our wayfarers, overpowered by her ridiculous attitude and the dolorous gravity of her address, only responded by a loud peal of laughter; and the poor old soul, who, by the by, still clung to the keg with the tenacious grip of desperation, resumed her lament: “For the love of the blissed Vargen, don’t murder me. Take what you want, and go your way!”
Ralph now assured her that they had not the slightest intention, either to injure or rob her, adding that if such had been their purpose, they needed not have aroused her.
“Arrah thin, what du ye want?” demanded the ancient dame.
“Nothing at all; only your company to Liverpool,” returned Rashleigh.
“By the powers thin, my shild, you shall have all that same,” replied the old woman. “Git up and ride in the cart, the pair of yees.” And she now addressed the bullock, saying, “Wo, Nobby! Woa!!”
The poor beast, unconscious of his mistress’s alarm, had still been creeping on at his own discretion, but now obeyed the well-known voice, which he also acknowledged by half turning his head toward the cart and giving it what seemed a deprecatory shake or two on perceiving the proposed addition to his burden. The travellers got up and were most cordially welcomed by its mistress, who supplied them with some empty sacks, upon which her own august person had been reposing, directing them to sit down and handing them the keg when they had done so, inviting them to drink after she had herself sanctified the bunghole by the application thereto of her own sweet lips.
Rashleigh received this vessel, and putting it hastily to his mouth, did not inhale the powerful odour which it emitted; nor was it until — in his own opinion, at least — he had swallowed an ocean of liquid fire that he discovered the contents to consist of very powerful raw rum from Bengal. When he had made this discovery, he hastily set down the keg again, gasping for breath, and testifying his discomfiture by sundry diabolical grins, which elicited great mirth from the old lady, who demanded if he’d never drunk a “drap o’ rum” before.
“Not like that, nor out of such a droll drinking-cup,” was our adventurer’s answer.
“Bother!” rejoined the old girl. “I s’pose you’re of the silver-spoon sort . . . want a chrishthial tumbler to dhrink out of. . . . Here, young man, will you have a taast?” And the youngster, to Rashleigh’s great amazement, put the keg to his head and took a hearty swig.
“Ah, now!” said its mistress. “That’s something like! But by the Jakus, it’s a’ most sundown. Come Nobby, pull foot. You’ll he late at home else! Nobby! Nobby!!”
The old bullock, who at the first mention of his name, had only cocked up his ears and whisked his tail, manifestly mended his pace the second time it was spoken, and absolutely quickened it into a run on the third repetition. Thus rolling and, tumbling one over another through the roughness of the road — while ever and anon some clumsier jump than common would cause uproarious mirth to the merry old dame, who made them ever the apology for another swig at the keg — they jolted into Liverpool, just as it was becoming dusk in the evening.
Liverpool is a town about twenty-one miles from Sydney, on the Great Southern Road of the Colony. It was founded by Governor Macquarie who, in selecting that name for it, seems to have expected it would become an important mart of manufacturing industry or of commercial enterprise. With this view he built an excellent hospital of great extent, a gaol, a barrack and many other public buildings. But alas, His Excellency could neither improve the quality of the soil around it nor supply the deficiency of water; for although a stream called George s river, navigable! — for shell boats — quite up to the town, runs in from Botany Bay to the interior, passing very near Liverpool, yet it flows with salt water, and the only method the inhabitants found, in after times, to obviate this pressing deficiency, was by building a dam across the river’s bed and thus repressing the influence of the tides.
When the old convict system fell to decay and the government establishments were withdrawn, Liverpool sank at once to its proper grade of a village, and that too, one of the very dullest in all the Australian colonies, since from the causes we have named above, it is not nor ever will be the centre of any overabundant agricultural population; while its want of water effectually precludes its becoming a manufacturing town of any note. ’Tis true, if the trifling sum of a few millions were expended in deepening the channel of George’s river, and in removing the impediments it presents to navigation, such as trees drifted by the stream, rocks as large as churches, etc., it might then become a port, though for what trade as yet appears an insoluble mystery.
In the days, of which we write, however, there were 1,500 convicts employed by Government there, and a new church was also erecting by contract, which gave the place quite a bustling and lively appearance as Rashleigh and his companions entered the town, though it was just getting night; for all the workpeople were now returning to their homes, and the prisoners to barracks.
The travellers went on, unheeding the jocular observations made on them by the loiterers, many of whom hailed the old lady in the cart with various quaint kinds of salutation; but she only replied to them by laughing, until a person called out to her in a strong Hibernian tone, “Gerrah, Biddy! Who’s thim in the cart wid you?”
“My governmint min, to be shure, you shpalpeen!” returned Biddy, winking at Ralph, and meaning that they were convicts assigned to her service.
“Asy now wid your jokin’. Shure, id ain’t in airnest she is, young man, is id?” said the querist, appealing to Rashleigh.
“Oh yes,” asserted the latter, to keep up the joke. “We’re this lady’s government men.” And the young lad also joined in this harmless deceit, which appeared highly to delight its object; for, swallowing the story, he roared out, “Whoo! Success, Biddy! Shure, yous’ll all be getting on now, like a house a-fire at both ends!” And they rattled on, leaving him in the midst of apparently earnest congratulations on this stroke of good luck that had fallen to the lot of his old acquaintance Biddy.
As they jolted on their way, this ancient dame kept stimulating the old bullock by repeated cries of “Nobby! Nobby!!” uttered reproachfully whenever that discreet animal showed any symptom of relaxing in his run. And as this continually occurred, so great an expenditure of breath involved a necessity for stimulating herself also with the contents of the keg, an operation at which the old lady was amazingly au fait; for she took such hearty swigs as quite surprised Rashleigh, who frequently wondered with what kind of uninflammable composition her throat must be lined, to enable her to gulp down this liquid lava.
The old dame offered both of her companions in the cart a sup as often as she drank from the keg, and finding Ralph did not avail himself of this invitation, she at last insisted on his doing so, saying, “Gerrah, ye wake-barred crathur! Take some of the native . . . Shure, it’ll keep the cowld out of your stummick this raw night.”
At last, when every bone in Rashleigh’s body ached by reason of the sore bumps he received at the rate of two or three in every second, the ancient crone observed, “Praise be to the Vargen, I see our lights yonder. We’ll soon be at home now, Nobby.”
In a few moments afterwards the old ox turned off the road towards a cluster of huts situated in the centre of a large clearing. The noise of their approach, through the rumbling of the cart and the jingling of the harness, quickly alarmed the canine inhabitants at any rate, so that a right noisy salute now welcomed Biddy’s return; and to judge from the uproar, at least fifty dogs surrounded their vehicle, barking, yelling, jumping and snapping around poor old Nobby the bullock, who however seemed not at all to be disturbed in his equanimity by the vain clamour.
Presently a group of bare-legged urchins, bearing torches formed of filaments stripped from stringy-bark, came racing out, with loud cries of “Here’s Granny. Welcome home, Granny!”
The old woman stopped Nobby with some difficulty, for that sapient beast began to smell his usual place of repose, and two or three of the least that were roaring for a ride were placed in the cart, and once more they were set in motion. The distance was but very short, and the ancient bullock stopped at the door of a large rambling hut of the usual kind, in which were six or seven demi-savage-looking mortals, both men and women apparently, moving busily about by the light of the fire. The old woman now got out first and the “childher, God bless ’em,” after her. The precious keg was next received into her loving arms, having been handed to her by Rashleigh; and the old dame, when she had thus secured all she apparently thought of any value among the miscellaneous contents of the cart, left the remainder of her purchases to be brought in by the young fry, and entered the hut, bearing with her the burden of that dear native, as she called it, which seemed to be the object of her most ardent affection.
“Welcome home, Mother!” said, or shouted, all the group. “How are you after your journey? And how did the corn sell?”
“Why thin, acushla,” replied the old lady, “I’m most bate down wid fatague and wore out wid sore thravelling; but id’s all no odds now . . . Shure, I’m safe at home wanst more! I sowld die corn raking, and I’ve brought you lashins of tobacky, tay and shuger, and a dhrop of the crathur! Bud, by the Jakus, I’m aforgettin’ . . . Here’s two poor thravellers, childher, I fell in wid by the road; and they’ll sthop wid us to-night.”
“Cead mille falteagh! Welcome, kindly welcome!” said all the inmates in a breath. “Dra’ forret to the fire. Supper’s been ready this hour, Granny, and awaitin’ for you.”
“Wen thin, alanna, and now I’m reddy for id . . . But where’s my owld man?” enquired Biddy.
“Faix thin,” returned one of the juniors, “he got tired and wint to bed an hour ago.”
“Did he thin, poor owld sowl!” observed the considerate dame. “Bud shure, I’ll take him a dhrop of the shtuff. 1 know he won’t mind being awakened for that!”
In the mean time some tin pots had been wiped out and a “small taast”, as the ancient granny called it, consisting of about a gill of the fiery spirit, was poured into each. But when all the vessels in the house had been mustered, they were not found enough to afford one to each person; so that they were fain to do as well as they could with one pot to two of their own family. The strangers, however, were scrupulously attended to, and received a cup apiece.
When all were thus accommodated, the “ould woman” cried out. “Now bys and gals, as ye are! I’m going to give you a sintimint . . . And bad loock to the wan that don’t dhrink id wid all the veins of their hart!! Here’s success to ould Ireland, for ever and ever, Amin!”
Rashleigh dared not refuse due honour to a toast like that, so he drank off his liquor — an example which was followed by all the others, repeating at the very top of their voices, “Success to ould Ireland! Whoo!!”
In the mean time “Granny” had gone to an inner apartment, and presently returned divested of her travelling dress, which, it should have been stated, was simply an old horseman’s coat. Bonnet she had none, but an ample night-cap and two or three dirty handkerchiefs did duty in place of it, to keep out cold.
The whole party now sat down to supper, which consisted of pork fried, damper bread, and tea, with abundance of eggs and a very small piece of butter. The meat, as usual, was all put into a dish, which stood in the centre of the table. Plates, knives, forks, or tablecloth were apparently superfluous encumbrances which were utterly unknown to these good folks, each of whom, however, was provided with a pocket-knife, with which he, or she, first cut a slice of the cake, then, selecting a morsel of pork to their fancy, placed the meat on the bread, and sawed away as hard as they liked. The whole family pressed our travellers to help themselves and not to be any ways “sthrange”, but make themselves at home, the old lady taking the lead in these hospitable solicitations. In fact, she would fain have persuaded the strangers to devour enough at least for six meals, telling them that “people on the road ought always to lay in a good foundashun, whin they cud, seein’ that none cud tell how soon they might be short taken, and ded bate for a male of vittles in the wild bush.”
The supper did not pass over without a feeling lament from the ancient dame that “there wor no shpuds (potatoes) to be got in this thieving cullony, bekase they wouldn’t grow in id”: an idea, which, strange as it may now seem, was very prevalent about thirty years since in Australia; for whether it was owing to the want of proper culture or suitable seed or some other cause, it was exceedingly rare to see these well-known roots in any part of New South Wales; or, when they were found after many trials to grow, they scarcely attained the size of hen eggs, even the largest of them, while by far the greater portion were only about as large as musket bullets.
Supper being at length over, the “equipage” was soon removed and the fragments were equitably shared among two or three pet pigs, which enjoyed the privilege of the entrée into this Australian dining-room, where, indeed, if certain indubitable symptoms on the floor might be credited, they felt themselves, if anything, rather more at home than the inmates; for the human inhabitants of this choice domicile, though they were sufficiently indifferent to filth, yet did not go the length of defiling the room to quite so great an extent as the four-footed denizens.
The philanthropic tenderness of this primitive family was not confined to the progeny of the sty only, but was extended to a sick calf that was nursed in one corner and a favourite mare whose accouchement had taken place in another. The latter, indeed, seemed to fancy her temporary quarters so well that although she had now occupied them more than three months, she still made her way to the accustomed place at nightfall, where she behaved herself with due and befitting gravity, as might be expected from an animal of advanced age. Her foal, on the other hand, appeared a perfect imp of playful mischief, for during the meal, he could scarcely he restrained from mounting on the supper table altogether; and he played various tricks by stealing bread from the juniors, then turning round to kick at them, thus adding with all the levity of youth — in every case — insult to injury, but which only elicited shouts of laughter and applause from the admiring witnesses of his frolics, the younger fry of whom enjoyed his tricks in an uproarious manner, as he formed a most befitting playmate and jovial companion for them. Beside the quadrupeds, who shared the floor, a host of fowls roosted among the timbers of the open roof, whose loud cackling at times testified their unqualified alarm when the mirth of the family became too obstreperous.
As soon as the table was cleared, a bucket was placed upon it, to serve as a stand for the rum-keg, which was presently hoisted into its place surrounded by all the tin pots they could find. A supply of the tobacco brought by the old lady from Sydney was next distributed to those who required it, and a few neighbours dropping in, they seemed bent on enjoying themselves, for two or three shapeless fragments of drinking-vessels having been filled up with grease and provided with twisted rags inserted in each to act instead of lamps in illuminating a space which had been cleared from obstacles, half a dozen of the youngsters, both male and female, stood up to dance, an amusement which one or other kept up with great zest for many hours, although their only music was a large and ardent tin dish, beaten after the manner of a tambourine, by a person who really seemed to consider it a labour of love, at least if one might judge by the awful intensity of the thumps he bestowed upon his instrument from time to time.
The seniors, in the mean time, sat on either hand, enveloped in the vapour raised by their dhudeens, which soared in mist above their heads until it joined the main body of smoke arising from the fireplace, which, according to established Australian usage, eschewed the meanness of sneaking off by the regular vent, but rather seemed to prefer struggling to get out through the interstices of the roof.
The grave sages who sat around on such seats as chance provided, among which buckets and tubs turned upside down appeared to be the favourites, from time to time emitted their admiration of the performers on the “light fantastic toe” by loud shouts, such as, “Hurra, Paddy!” “Now go it, Mick!” “You’re the gal. Biddy!” “That’s the darlin’, Norry!” and turned from time to time to each other, criticising upon the excellencies or defects which the style of either exhibited. The ardent founder of the feast, in the mean time, was not at all idle, either in partaking of the consolation derivable from the contents of the keg or in dispensing it to the guests. So, about midnight, there was as pretty a chaos of dancing, drinking, roaring, shouting, singing, love-making, kissing and fighting as Rashleigh had ever borne witness to in all his days.
He kept as sober as he could without affording serious offence to the hospitable intentions of his hostess, who many a time and oft replenished his tin when he would fain have been excused. He also contrived to remain neutral in a corner, pleading his fatigue as a reason for not dancing, and was by this means considered fair game by an old fellow, who had been transported to New South Wales for participating in the Irish rebellion of ‘98. This senior posted himself at Rashleigh’s side and began a long detail, in most prosaic style and execrable English, of his wonderful feats at Vinegar Hill and Enniscorthy, at last favouring him with a song of interminable length in the Irish language relating to the same, a musical treat which our adventurer most willingly would have dispensed with, as he knew as much of Sanscrit as of the language in question.
But the prosy old chap persisted in his monotonous chant, until a loud and apparently excited voice having roared out, “Whoo, Shanavest!” at the end of the hut, the ancient songster ceased his ditty, jumped up, and ran to the spot, which now appeared the scene of a regular scrimmage, or “hurra” fight.
The only sounds at all distinguishable by Rashleigh’s ears were “Whoo, Shanavest!”, “Whoo, Carawot!” which ever and anon pealed high above the din of conflict, being apparently used as battle-cries of contending parties, whose strife now raged fierce and fell. Old and young, males and females were mingled in the MÊLÉE, wielding sticks, buckets, broken stools, or whatever else came to hand, kicking, cuffing, cursing, swearing, raging and tearing, the men fighting hand to hand with cruel oaths, the women engaged in more distant combat, swelling the din with their shrill screams. The children roared, the dogs growled and bayed fiercely, finally tearing one another with tooth and claw in ambitious emulation of their masters, the pigs squeaked and the fowls lent their shrill cackling to augment the uproar, which seemed of duration as interminable as the confusion was appalling. In all the row, however, the two strangers were strictly regarded as neutrals, nor did any of the combatants approach them, their only danger being from the many missiles that flew about in all directions.
At length, the belligerents were carried outside by “the fierce current of the heady fight”, and the interior of the dwelling was left in the deep repose of silence for a short time; after which, the inmates began to straggle back, one by one, to vent their maudlin grief at the scene of utter dilapidation presented by their household appurtenances, but pouring out the fulness of their sorrow in pathetic jeremiads over the prostrate rum-keg, which had been overthrown early in the conflict, so that a great portion of its precious contents had escaped on the floor, where part of it lay in puddles, mingled with the other abominations of this unsavoury apartment.
But old Granny herself, who lay prone in a corner, soon attracted the attention of her dutiful offspring, one of whom staggered towards her; and after twice or thrice falling down himself in vain attempts to lift up his fallen parent, he at length gave up this mode of succour as being unattainable under present circumstances, and after his last tumble, having gained a sitting position, he edged closer to his mother and taking her head in his lap, found to his horror that it was covered with blood. He instantly broke out into a sort of prolonged howl, that might have almost awakened the dead, saying at last, “Ochone! Ochone! Mother darlint, can’t you tell your own Tady who’s afther killing you, and by the Jakus, I’ll make him smell hell, so I will! Och, wirrah, wirrah! What’ll we doe”
By and by the pulling and dragging the old dame got from her sympathising and sorrowful sons and daughters actually restored her to life; for it appeared she was not dead through the flight of her immortal spirit, but through the quantity, amounting to a superabundance, of spirits which she had poured down her throat. In other and plainer terms, she was dead drunk! But now, slowly opening her eyes, she gazed around in most ludicrous amazement, and heaving a deep sigh, exclaimed, “Wirrah! Wirrah! Where am I? Sure it’s losht, and disthroyed, kilt, and murdered I am, in the ind ov my days!”
All the rest, as with one accord, roared out to know “who bate her”. And the old lady was about to reply when her eyes rested on the rum-keg.
Springing on her feet, she leaped towards this cherished darling of her heart’s warmest affection with an agility that quickly set the minds of the bystanders at ease as to her having received any very serious injury. But on finding out the diminished state of the contents of that valued receptacle, the old lady burst into a fresh storm of passionate exclamations, until at last her mouth having approached the bunghole, the fading echoes of her voice were lost in the reverberating cavity of the keg. Everyone present now followed the old dame’s example, and this genial refresher having apparently cured all their complaints, they retired to rest, the travellers being accommodated with a shake-down of straw on a sheet of bark before the fire.
There woman reigns: The mother, daughter, wife
Strews with fresh flowers the narrow way of life.
Around her knees domestic duties wait,
And fireside pleasures gambol at her feet.
The next morning Rashleigh and his companion were first stirring. The latter, somewhat to Ralph’s surprise, made a fire, swept up the earthen floor, and put the débris of the last night’s battle into as tidy a state as he could, for which both received the warmest thanks of their hosts when they arose. A breakfast, ample in quantity though rude in quality, being soon after paraded and discussed, the wayfarers departed, having been first obliged to take a “taast of the native” just as old Biddy said, “to wash away the cobwebs out of their heads, afther lasht night”., and to this was added a hearty invitation, if ever either of them “passed the door”, a threatened curse if he did so without calling in being implied, of course.
The route of the travellers now lay along the high-road between Liverpool and Campbelltown, at which latter place Rashleigh’s companion intimated his journey would end. There were at that time no ponds and but few houses near the highway in this part, and they suffered a good deal from thirst as the clay was very warm. They had, however, no remedy save that of using greater speed, and they accordingly reached the few scattered huts then dignified by the name of Campbelltown soon after midday. They went into the first public-house to solace their thirst, and Ralph observed that the young man, before he would enter, went to a window that commanded a view of the single public apartment as if he were anxious to ascertain who was inside; after taking this survey they went in and quenched their drought with copious draughts of cider.
Rashleigh proposed to remain awhile to rest and invited his companion to dine at his expense; but the latter refused, urgently requesting instead that our adventurer would accompany him to his sister’s, whither he was himself bound, and which was at no great distance, adding that he was sure Ralph would be most welcome for his sake. This being at last agreed to, our exile purchased a bottle of rum, unknown to the other, which he designed to carry with him as he had observed enough of colonial society to he certain that this stimulus was always an acceptable adjunct to a settler’s meal, and that the bringer of any was sure of being doubly welcome.
Having put the liquor up in his bundle, he followed his companion, who was conversing outside with some female, from whom he parted when joined by Rashleigh. They both proceeded on their way, which led them off the high-road, past the church along a narrow lane bordered by fields of green maize, through which they walked for nearly a mile, until at the edge of a piece of standing timber, they saw a pretty little hut with more of an English appearance about it than any other Rashleigh had yet seen in Australia. Although it was formed of the ordinary bush materials, the frame being of split timber and its roof barked, yet the walls had been coated externally with mud, after the manner of rough casting — colonially called “daubing”— and this when dry had been well whitewashed. There was also a verandah ranging along the whole front, around the rough untrimmed wooden pillars of which a few parasitical plants had been trained; and before the dwelling — what was a most uncommon rarity in those days to see-there was actually a plot of flowers.
Small, indeed, was the extent of that little parterre, and very very common were its plants; yet, from its extreme rarity, it breathed the balmy breath of old England’s cherished homes around the travellers as sweetly as if it had contained many acres and had been appended to a palace.
“This is my sister’s,” said Rashleigh’s companion, and Ralph fancied there was some exultation in the tone; at any rate, he thought a little pride in so neat a relative would not he unbecoming. The front door was shut, and the travellers went round to the rear of the house, where they saw a spacious yard, well enclosed by a high fence made of cornstalks set upright and kept in their places by rails of split timber on each side of them. Through the gate of the enclosure might be seen a number of fowls and a few pigs; and there was a stockyard visible, with milking sheds and pens for calves, from which a woman was now approaching, who quickened her steps at the sight of strangers.
Rashleigh’s companion spoke not, though it was plain he was subjected to a very earnest scrutiny by her who now came towards them, and who at last, to Ralph’s extreme surprise, cried out, “What, Jane! My dear girl! Is that you?” And the two sisters, for such they were, were presently enfolded in a warm embrace. After a few hasty enquiries they entered the house, our adventurer being invited to accompany them. The females soon withdrew into an inner apartment, and their visitor had time to comment upon the very different appearance of this hut from that of most belonging to the lower classes in the Colony.
The floor, ’tis true, was only made of cow dung and ashes trod into a solid and firm mass, but then, it was level and clean-swept. The stools and tables, though all of the coarsest make, being apparently the handiwork of the settler himself, were scoured until they were perfectly white. The tin pots and dishes all shone with the resplendence of new-minted silver, and the whole of the interior was whitewashed to almost a degree of fastidious purity. The walls, in place of pictures or any other production of art, were decorated and relieved by suspended bunches of fresh-gathered and sweetly-scented flowering shrubs, the most choice indigenous produce of the neighbouring bush.
Rashleigh was musing upon the wide difference between this hut and the one in which he had spent the previous night, though it had been occupied by persons of the same rank in life and having the same means of improvement with his present hosts, when the door of the bedroom opened and the mistress of the house made her reappearance. After a few commonplace remarks she busied herself to set out the dinner. She was a woman apparently of twenty-five, who, though no great beauty, had a very pleasing countenance. Her dress was of the simplest form, the only parts in view being a kind of dimity jacket tied dose up to the throat in front, and extending a short distance below the hips, with short sleeves, which left bare the arm from the elbow, and a blue dungaree petticoat with a checked apron. A pair of slippers, apparently made by the wearer, completed her costume, for she wore no cap, her hair being neatly, although very plainly, arranged.
In a few minutes Ralph’s late travelling companion made her appearance, dressed in a very neat and becoming style as a female; and now our adventurer began to wonder how it was he had not made the discovery of her sex during the many miles they had journeyed together. This idea perhaps his countenance betrayed, for his former companion, after shaking his hand, laughed and said, “I suppose you had no idea your fellow-traveller was a woman, had you?”
The comical look which accompanied Rashleigh’s acknowledgement how well she had sustained the part of a man so as completely to deceive him, caused great mirth to both the sisters, and they enjoyed it very heartily, after which the matron went to the back of the house, and ascending on a stump, gave a very loud and shrill cooee for her husband to cease labour and come to dinner.
Presently the “good man” entered, accompanied by a little troop of children, who, after washing themselves and welcoming their relative and the stranger, sat down to their meal, which, though consisting of only salt pork, pumpkins and bread, with tea as usual to drink, was far better prepared than is general, the meat having been soaked to deprive it of a portion of the salt; and the pumpkins, besides having been pared before they were boiled, were steamed after they were done, which made them dry and mealy instead of being, to use a colonial phrase, “all of a squash” when they were served up, which is generally the case. The bread was leavened and baked in a huge loaf under an inverted iron pot, which nude it much lighter and more palatable as well as more enticing in appearance than the ordinary damper simply cooked in the ashes of a wood fire.
The appearance of both father and children told that the hand which thus laboured for their creature comforts also extended its attention to their personal wants. Rashleigh noticed as they came in that the children washed themselves in water set ready near the back door, even to their feet; and those who were too little to do this properly for themselves were cleaned up by the elder ones. Their clothing was certainly simple enough, each and all wearing only a kind of pinafore or smock frock reaching from the neck to the ankle and made of very coarse osnaburg, but kept as clean and whole as the nature of their employment allowed. Besides this single garment, each youngster was equipped with a coarse straw hat, but of shoes they had none among them, for probably, like nearly all Australian children, they looked on them as useless encumbrances.
The father’s striped shirt, sleeved waistcoat and duck trousers were all clean and carefully mended; nay, his very boots, though patched in all directions, had evidently been well greased only the night before. in short, cleanliness and care appeared to be the chief attributes of all belonging to this house, which formed a complete contrast to the dwellings of Australian farmers in general.
The husband, who was addressed by the very unpretending appellation of Bob, welcomed his sister-in-law with great cordiality, but during dinner he enquired whether there had not come two men down the lane. On being told that Jane was one of them, he laughed and asked how far she had come in that dress. She replied all the way from Parramatta, and the reason she had adopted it was because she thought it a good deal safer to travel as a man than a woman, especially on foot and alone. Bob observed, “I don’t know how anybody could he deceived in your baby face. I am sure I should find you out in any dress for a woman.”
Dinner soon being ended, Rashleigh apologized for taking such a liberty and produced his bottle of rum. The host at first declined taking any, but at length, his sister-in-law joining our adventurer in pressing him, he agreed, upon condition that his eldest boy should be sent into Campbelltown for some more liquor, so that they should not be altogether drinking at the stranger’s expense. This being complied with, and the rest of the youngsters dispatched to their several occupations, the four seniors sat down to drink their grog and play at cards for a couple of hours, when the females pleaded fatigue and retired to lie down, while our hero and his new-found friend stuck to the sport a while longer, until, upon Rashleigh’s stating that he would like to look at the farm, they set out together for a stroll.
The portion of land cultivated by Bob did not exceed fifty acres, but it was all good soil, well cleared and carefully tilled. The fences were nearly new, and maintained in good order; in short, all the arrangements bespoke as much care out of doors as the aspect of their domestic management proved to reign within the walls of their humble home.
Bob told his companion in the course of their walk that he had been free about two years, having spent all the period of his sentence in the service of a rich settler near Campbelltown, to whom he had acted as working overseer for about four years. When he had married he had held a ticket of leave, but preferred remaining with his old master until he became free altogether, because he well knew that a ticket was at best but a very fragile indulgence, liable to be lost at the will of any great man who might wish to injure the holder.
When he received his certificate, finding that the savings of himself and his wife would amount to a pretty fair beginning, he had looked about him awhile, and having discovered that the land he now occupied was unused and remained in a state of nature, he made enquiries respecting the owner, whom he at last discovered to be a military officer abroad with his regiment, and that a merchant in Sydney acted as his agent.
To this gentleman, therefore, Bob went, and after a little bargaining, obtained from him a lease of the whole farm for seven years, on condition of his clearing fifty acres out of the 1,280 of which the grant consisted, and giving it up in a well-fenced and cultivable state at the end of the lease if required to do so. Only a little while before Rashleigh’s visit, Bob had been to Sydney, where he chanced to see the merchant in question, who told him Colonel Cornewell — the owner — had written lately to him, stating that if the tenant liked to clear and fence another fifty acres, he might occupy the whole of the grant for fourteen years instead of seven. To this proposal the farmer had agreed. A fresh lease on these terms had therefore been executed, so that the land was now his for twelve years more, certain; and they hoped, if they had success during that term, to be able to purchase a piece of land of their own at the expiration of their occupancy.
Of course, both Bob and his wife had worked very hard, both day and night occasionally, in falling, stumping and burning off the land, and Rashleigh found that this truly industrious woman had always shared her husband’s toils, from the first. She helped him cross-cut the trees, roll them together, mend the fires, put up the fences; indeed, she was, as Bob observed, better to him than any government man or even free hired servant would probably be, for she worked with greater zeal, knowing that herself and her children reaped all the benefit of her labour. Even at that time she still wrought as occasion required the same as a man; for her husband’s old master always lending him oxen to yoke their plough, Mary drove the bullocks while Bob held the stilts, so that the tedious operation of breaking up the land with a hoe was avoided.
While they thus talked they came to a piece of rich low land which was under tobacco; and here were the young ones, busily engaged with diminutive hoes, chipping between the rows to kill the weeds. Their father praised their industry, and Ralph taking one of their tools, Bob took another and worked awhile, to give the children a spell.
They were thus engaged when one of the youngsters cried out, “Look, daddy! There’s a gentleman at the fence.”
On turning to observe him, they perceived a person making towards them dressed in a clean grey shooting-coat, white trousers, black hat — in fact, a very decent-looking man. Coming up, he saluted both the men and enquired if one Robert Marshall lived thereabout, to which Bob replied, “I am the person.”
“Oh!” replied the other. “Then Mr Hammell of Campbelltown told me you’d got some fat pigs to sell, and I am buying pigs.”
“Why,” answered Bob; “I did think of selling some pigs, but I think I’ll require the meat myself now. How many do you want?”
“I want to buy a score or two, if I can,” said the stranger, at the same time rather ostentatiously rattling some dollars in his trousers pocket.
Ralph continued to eye this new arrival, for he thought he knew the slim form and pale, youthful, rather pretty-looking face again. He was just going to burst out laughing, but a glance checked him as his eye met that of the stranger; and all three turned to go towards the house, conversing as they went about the weather, the state of the crops, and the prospects of the settlers generally. When they had got up to the dwelling, Marshall called out his wife, who quickly made her appearance, and they both walked a short distance apart to converse together.
In the mean time Rashleigh said, “Aha, Mistress Jane, I knew it was you,” though in truth, he was not very sure of it.
But the stranger smiled archly and replied, “Hush! We’re going to have a bit of fun with Bob.”
The others now returned; but Ralph observed that Mary shunned to meet her sister’s eye and also kept a corner of her apron crammed in her month as if to stifle her inclination to laugh. Marshall and his customer went to the pigsty together, where the animals he was willing to sell were pointed out, most eloquently descanted upon by him, and knowingly examined by the pretended pig dealer, who, after a good deal of chaffering, finally struck a bargain, and the contracting parties adjourned to the house to pay for them and take a receipt.
Writing materials being procured, the stranger sat down, and made a great parade of looking out the cash. Rashleigh, having been requested to draw up the necessary document, enquired the purchaser’s name.
“My name?” returned the soi-disant pig merchant, with an arch look at Marshall, “why, my name is Jane Bates.” At which Marshall jumped up and making a playful blow at his sister-in-law’s head, knocked her hat off, and then her luxuriant hair, bursting its fastenings, tumbled all over her face, amid the laughter of Jane and Rashleigh, and to the discomfiture of Bob, who was forced at length to own, not only that he did not detect his sister’s disguise, but what was more strange, that he did not know his own best clothes and hat which she had got on. But, as he observed, the latter after all was not so much of a wonder, because he had only worn them about twice, for he very seldom dressed himself up, having something else to do.
By this time the lowing of cattle announced that the cows had come home, and the men went out to put up the calves in their pen for the night. The stockyard, though small, was strong and compact, formed of four horizontal rails and a cap, making in all a fence about seven feet high. The bails for milking and the calf pen were both roofed with bark and floored with slabs. The herd comprised only eight milkers; but, as Marshall remarked, eight good ones were worth fifty wild brutes that no one could get near, and every one of these had cost him £20 apiece. They had got some fine heifers and steers running with them; four of the latter Marshall intended breaking in the next year, so he hoped soon to have a team of his own.
At sunset the children all came in to supper, and Jane, having by that time changed her dress, once more assisted their mother in washing them and getting ready for their evening meal, which seemed, by the extent of the preparations, to be considered the chief one of the day. Indeed, Bob observed that was the case, as a farmer could then take his time and enjoy himself after his day’s work. Accordingly, the viands included short cakes, light bread, good fresh butter, cream with the tea, a couple of young fowls broiled, and plenty of eggs, to which ample justice was done by all.
After supper, the young fry being dismissed to play for an hour in the stockyard, the seniors drew their chairs around the fire, each with a little hot grog, to converse together, Marshall having asked Jane how she had been getting on lately. Rashleigh discovered she had only just become free out of the Female Factory at Parramatta — the place where all the female convicts not in assigned service are kept at labour. It appeared that Jane had been a kind of overseer, or monitress there, until she had lately become free. And by her accounts, the inmates of that choice establishment for reclaiming the dissolute members of the tender sex were little less than incarnate furies, as the following relation, made by the young woman in question, will show.
Only a short time prior to this period a kind of food called hominy had been issued to the convicts of both sexes in the Colony as part of their rations, which was new to them, it being a sort of porridge made from boiled Indian corn meal. This issue, being a substitution for other and more palatable food, had caused serious discontent among all the prisoners, the carriage of the Governor upon the Race Course at Sydney having, as a mark of their displeasure, been placarded by stealth with a paper bearing the marvellously ill-written and worse-spelt inscription of
“Thiss year his ommani toms drag — lord send itt ma drag im to ell.”
At which the Australasian representative of royalty was so grievously irate that he offered a reward of £50 to discover the daring scoundrel who wished to send him such a long journey to a place having so hot a climate; but though the author of this insult was never discovered, yet the exertions made by the authorities upon the occasion, and the distribution of a few thousand lashes among the grumblers effectually prevented any worse consequences from the male convicts.
The gentle dames at the Female Factory, however, openly rebelled the first morning the hominy was offered to them, and most positively as well as disdainfully refused to receive it. On this emergency one of the most active members of the magistracy that formed the governing committee of the institution was sent for, and the revd gentleman, who was very short and very fat, came bustling in, much out of breath with his haste. The cause of the uproar having been stated to him, he declared that he was perfectly surprised at their conduct — this would appear rather a premature declaration, seeing what followed — and attempted to reason with the exasperated fair ones, winding up an eloquent oration in praise of hominy by stating that he frequently ate it himself and liked it very well. One of the hardiest of the Amazons now exclaimed with many expletives that if he had been always obliged to live upon it he’d never have possessed such a paunch as he then could boast of; but, added she, turning to her companions, “As he’s so fond of it, in the devil’s name let him have plenty of it.” And she suited the action to the word by snatching a small kit or piggin of the much-lauded condiment from one of the bystanders, who had brought it for the magistrate’s inspection. That revd gentleman, overpowered by the heat of the day and the fervour of his eloquence, had removed his hat and was wiping away the perspiration from his rubicund face, when the last words of the virago were spoken, and ere he could avert the infliction by any means, she inverted the little kit on his head, driving the vessel down with her fist.
Fortunately, the hominy had got a little cool pending the dispute, or the consequences might have been serious. Still the mess — which much resembled hasty pudding in consistency — was hot enough to be very painful. Besides, the little kit fitted his head so tightly as to defy his hurried efforts to remove it; but at last His Reverence escaped, nearly suffocated by this novel poultice, and pursued by inextinguishable merriment from the mob of women.
In the mean time, a violent onslaught had been made upon the body of insurgent Amazons by the matron, or female superintendent, at the head of a sort of bodyguard of monitresses and other she-official toadies, who wished to rescue His Reverence from the sacrilegious claws of his enemies; but alas, the daughters of Belial were too strong for them. These well-meaning personages — matron and all — were overpowered, and every one compelled, under the direst threats of punishment, to swallow each the allowance dispensed for six women, which in good truth was nearly enough to burst them; and then, as a parting salute, the rebels shaved every particle of hair from the scalps both of the superior and of her satellites, finally letting them go as bald as Capuchin friars — a mode of treatment, by the way, which the prisoners might have considered in some degree to partake of the nature of retributive justice, as shaving the heads of incorrigibles had been recently recommended by the Matron and adopted by the assembled committee to be put in force as a punishment for misbehaviour by the confines.
This second revolt of the Harem was not quelled until after the escape of many of the ringleaders, which was vainly endeavoured to be prevented by calling in the aid of a company of soldiers. But these gallant militaires, who belonged to an Irish regiment recently arrived from the “isle of saints”, swore they’d “rather kiss the darlin’s than charge them”. So they grounded their arms and allowed the Amazons to escape without opposition, after which order was at length restored among those who chose to remain.
In talk of this kind the evening passed sociably away, and at a late hour the party separated. Rashleigh was accommodated with a comfortable bed and the luxury of a clean pair of sheets for the first time since he had left Sydney. After a luxurious repose, for the enjoyment of which the night seemed much too short, our hero arose, and declining to wait for breakfast, took leave of his hospitable entertainers and departed, amid reciprocal good wishes, with a cordial invitation from Marshall to come and see them as soon as he could obtain liberty from his new master.
Her face wad fyle the Logan-Water;
Oh, sic a wife as Willie had,
I wadna gie a button for her.
It was early morning when Rashleigh took the road once more, pondering upon the comfort enjoyed by these industrious people, whose whole mode of life and manners formed so complete a contrast to that of the lower classes of Australian society that he scarcely dared to hope the habitation of Mr Arlack, to which he was bound, would be in any way comparable to it.
According to the directions he had received, he now retraced his steps towards Campbelltown, and going on to a small public-house at the southern end of its straggling street, obtained some breakfast, after which he enquired among a knot of idlers who were playing at quoits which was the road leading to Mr Arlack’s.
“Mr Arlack!” replied the man to whom he addressed himself. “I never knowed as he had got a handle to his name before!”
Then, calling to one of his compeers, he shouted, “Why, what do you think! Here’s a cove as wants to find out Mr Arlack’s. An’t that a pretty go?
“Ho! ho! ho!” roared out the other. “I say, young fellow, how long have you been in the Colony?”
“About two years and a half,” replied Ralph.
“Oh! Then you’re only green yet, as green as a savoy cabbage; but old Lunnon Bob is the name we gives your Mr Arlack. What do you want with him, eh?”
“Why, I am assigned to him,” responded Rashleigh.
“Aye, aye! Assigned to him, are you? Let’s look at your teeth,” said the other; and our adventurer, simply enough, opened his mouth.
“Ha! By George!” swore the querist. “You’d better knock one half of them there grinders o’ yourn out again the first iron-bark fence you come to; for in the first place, you’ll have no use at all for them at old Bob’s, and in the next, Polly Arlack will hate you like hell, for she’ll think you’ve come a’purpose to eat her out of house and home.”
At this sally, the man’s brother compotators testified their satisfaction by redoubled peals of horse-laughter; and Rashleigh, taking such treatment in dudgeon, was about to depart when the fellow who had first spoken to him offered him a drink of something from a pot he held, saying as he did so, “Never mind that old fellow, he’s only having a lark with you. Come, drink a drop o’ this; you won’t have a chance again soon. Now, do you see them slip-rails? Well, you must rum down a road that leads through them, and follow it along until you come to a farm you’ll see in a cleared bottom; enquire there and they’ll show you the path to Lunnon Bob’s.”
Thanking the man, Rashleigh followed the route he had thus indicated, and soon arrived at the first farm, where the dogs, to the number of at least a score, rushed out upon him with tremendous yells, their gaunt and bony frames testifying such an extremity of famine as might well inspire fear in the breast of anyone whom they assailed, lest the ravenous brutes should immolate him as the readiest means of appeasing that hunger which had reduced them to skeletons.
This danger he happily escaped, and being again instructed as to the proper path, at length arrived upon Bob Arlack’s farm. The culture of this cherished spot of the earth’s surface did not afford any very high specimen of the arts of agriculture. Weeds of rank and luxuriant growth formed by far the most prominent objects in the so-called cultivated field, amid which, in one corner, about ten acres of straggling rows of maize seemed to maintain a most desperate conflict for sufficient air from the heavens and nutriment from the soil to enable them to support a sickly existence.
Other crops there seemed to be none, and the rest of the cleared land was enjoyed by the weeds in undisputed supremacy. Where the fence could be seen, it appeared in a most dilapidated condition; the bush poles of which it had at first been composed were in many places broken down and in others altogether missing, thus leaving the paddock they were destined to secure at the mercy of any vagrant animal who might chance to stray that way. At the farther end of this clearing might be seen a cluster of huts, towards which a narrow pathway appeared to lead, that Rashleigh now followed; but upon his getting near his destination, the view did not afford any very cheering anticipations of his future lot.
The principal dwelling, or home of all the Arlacks, was a hut which, even in that age of simple materials and rude workmanship, might claim pre-eminence for ugliness and deformity. The walls, having dropped much out of the perpendicular, were shoved up by props applied externally. The gaping orifices in the bark roof bespoke premature decay, occasioned by neglect. The chinks between the slabs, of fully an average width, had once been attempted to be stopped; but the rain having wetted the plaster through the yawning fissures, it had fallen in piecemeal, and was never renewed; and finally, it seemed a moot point whether there was more filth to be found inside, or out, of this most delectable dwelling.
As Ralph drew nigh the door, a shoal of half-starved hens and ducks disputed the precedence of the entrée with him; while just as he was crossing the threshold, a whole flight of these fowl intruders, apparently alarmed by some unexpected opposition from within, fluttered out past his head with most discordant screams. Inside the hut was a being of epicene gender; at least, its dress rendered sex doubtful, inasmuch as the upper parts, which first met his gaze, were, a tattered man’s hat and shirt, both marvellously out of repair, and utterly unacquainted with any kind of ablution or other purification. The elf locks which in greasy and matted luxuriance shaded her face, and a questionable garment that depended from her middle, looking more like a petticoat, however, than anything else, seemed in Rashleigh’s opinion to stamp this apparition of uncleanliness as a female, and accordingly he saluted her as such, with, “Pray, ma’am, is Mr Arlack at home?”
The lady replied, “He’ll be here just now. What do you want with him? Drat them fowls!” she added parenthetically. “What a deuce of a row they kick up!”
“Why, ma’am,” replied our exile, “I’m assigned to him, from Emu Plains.”
“Oh,” returned the dame. “You’re the new government man. Sit down and rest yourself.” And then she began again the execution of some domestic duty which the irruption of the feathered invaders had apparently interrupted.
Rashleigh, having obeyed her injunctions to be seated, calmly surveyed his future mistress at his leisure. In person Mrs Arlack was rather above the middle height, but so far from being en bon point that her enemies called her skinny. Her cheek bones in particular were remarkably prominent. Above these twinkled a sparkling pair of small greenish-grey eyes. These orbs of vision, in apparent mistrust of the “willainy of the world”, as Arlack would express it, had retreated as far as possible from the surface of her countenance, and taken up their abode at the bottom of two deep caverns, the entrances to which were fortified by stiff bristly overhanging brows of portentous size and a very dirty flaxen hue. Her nose, from its irregular aquiline shape, bore no slight resemblance to the broken bill of a cockatoo, but ever appeared to maintain an anxious guard over the orifice that formed a most capacious mouth, into which, in fact, the nasal protuberance seemed desirous of intruding its extremity at least.
Her complexion, as far as the important fact could be ascertained through the dirt which so perpetually begrimed it, was a kind of dingy yellow, and her voice was a not very melodious compound of a growl and a squeak.
As Mrs Arlack was so philosophically negligent of the means of setting off her own most powerful natural charms by any recourse to the fastidious arts of tidiness or cleanliness, it may easily be conceived that her dwelling was none of the neatest on earth. Indeed, the complicated arrangement of unhewn timber, which by the greatest stretch of courtesy was called a table, appeared never to have been cleansed or washed since it first was put together and at present afforded a singular mélange of movables, among which may just be mentioned a large black iron pot, leaning negligently on one side, so as to show a little hominy in the bottom; a few wooden spoons, of most indubitable native manufacture, as they might vie in size as well as rudeness with the paddles used by the Tonga Islanders; some half-munched fragments of corn cake; in divers places a plentiful sprinkling of tobacco ashes from the pipe of the proprietor; a lump of blackish-yellow home-made soap swimming in a puddle of slop; a lot of ragged children’s clothing, with a few filthy napkins among them; and some four or five dirty tin pots, which were battered and bruised into all manner of shapes.
The earthen floor of this recherché retreat was plentifully strewn with fowls’ dung, agreeably chequered by petty lagoons of stinking water. The fireplace, for want of care, had most grievously suffered in its contests with the fury of the element it was erected to control, for many of the slabs that composed it were burned quite across at their bottoms, leaving large orifices for the accommodation of a stray dog or pig who might wish to enjoy the genial warmth of the ashes, which a grunter was at that moment doing, having stretched his lazy length along in perilous proximity to a blazing log.
To crown all, the hut appeared the chosen rendezvous of myriads of fleas upon the floor and of clouds of flies in the air, the perpetual biting of the former serving to counteract the somnolent desires occasioned by the monotonously drowsy hum of the latter.
While Rashleigh was intently gazing upon the varied rich and rare beauties of this charming prospect, a pot on the fire near him boiled over suddenly, and Mrs Arlack cried out, in a tone like that of a cracked tin trumpet, “What the hell are you gaping at, you, sir? Why don’t you take the pot off?”
This he hastened to do, and the lady added, “You’d better look a little smart here, I can tell you. We don’t like no sleepy-going coves about our farm.”
In a few minutes more, Mr Arlack appeared at the door, dressed in a dirty and ragged cotton shirt, ditto duck continuations, a dilapidated straw hat, and boots to match.
His beauteous helpmate said, “Here, Bob, is a new government man for you;” and showed him the pass which she had received from Rashleigh.
While his new master was reading, or rather pretending to read this pass, Rashleigh observed that Mr Arlack was short, squat and bowlegged. His mouth, to use a colonial witticism, was unlike a poor man’s lease in being “from y-ear to y-ear”, because it stretched from here to yonder; and yet, in spite of its size, it seemed still to be too small for his tongue, which, whenever its owner was quiescent, protruded very much and wobbled about in an extraordinary way as often as he spoke.
Besides the decidedly open feature above referred to, Arlack possessed a most splendid squint with both eyes, so that it was often observed he would make a capital cook, as he could always keep one eye on the pot while he surveyed the intricacies of the chimney with the other; and, to complete the catalogue of his complexional recommendations, his face was absolutely furrowed, seamed and gashed until it had nearly lost a human shape by the pitiless assaults of the smallpox.
As Mr Arlack had originally been a member of the ardent fraternity of chummies in the cityward regions of London, he had there contracted the usual cockney contempt for the letters “v” and “w”, transposing those much injured visible signs of spoken sounds in the most careless and ludicrous manner. His first address to our adventurer exemplified this peculiarity; for having apparently at last deciphered the date of the pass, he demanded, “Vell, and vere have you been to all this vile? Vy didn’t you come ’ere sooner than this ’ere?”
“I am not a very good hand at walking,” replied Rashleigh; “but I did not lose much time on the road, any more than I could help.”
“Um,” replied the other. “I s’pose not; but howsomever, I von’t take no furder notice of this ’ere breach. Sally, did you give him his mess?”
“No,” said Sally. “I thought there was time enough.”
“Vell, vell. Give it to him now, and let him go to his hut,” returned the caro sposo of the amiable lady, who thereupon left off mixing up her corn meal and enquired of Ralph, “What are you going to put your mess in?”
“Why,” returned the other, “I don’t know, unless you may be good enough to lend me a bag.”
“Well, I’m sure!” retorted the dame. “Lend you a bag, indeed! A pretty thing, as if I’d got nothing to do but make bags for government men!”
As this was spoken with sufficient haughtiness to show that she was fully aware of the immeasurable distance in point of station between herself and the applicant, Ralph saw he could not hope for any accommodation from her, and he replied, “Very well, ma’am. I’ll put it in my handkerchief and hat, if you please.”
“Come on, then,” said his mistress. And after measuring the grain with the greatest nicety in a quart pot, she said, “There now. There’s a peck of corn (maize) for you, and here’s four pounds of pork. That’s your week’s mess, and you’ll come to me this day week for more.”
Not if I can help it, thought Rashleigh, as he withdrew to the hut, which Mrs A. pointed out from her back door as his future residence. He passed a small shed open on three sides, where there was a steel mill. A little beyond this stood three diminutive stacks of bush hay and straw, which the efforts of the cattle had nearly overturned, these roving bands of plunderers having nibbled all round their bottoms until they looked just like whipping-tops, supported by some most mysterious agency. A little beyond these stood the government men’s hut.
It may easily be imagined from the account given of Mr Arlack’s own dwelling that the abode of his assigned servants was anything but a palatial residence. In good truth, a more desolate and neglected-looking hole can scarcely be conceived. Two rude sleeping-places constructed of sheets of bark, and three pieces of broken iron pots comprised all the movable articles, except two short blocks of wood. The sides and roof were more than commonly pervious. The earthen floor was covered with littered straw, apparently wasted out of one of the berths, where it lay as if the occupant used it for a bed, loose as it was. On a fence opposite the door hung a mass of rags, which only close examination could convince an observer had once been a blanket. Ralph, who had found an empty bag hanging up, went his way to grind the maize with the steel mill. This instrument was in very bad repair, and sunset arrived by the time he had ground his pittance of meal, which was, after all, so coarsely done that if he had used a sieve fully half of the weekly allowance would have been lost; but Mr Arlack’s establishment did not allow such a wasteful piece of refinement.
He now returned to the wretched hut, brought a little wood in, made up a fire, and swept the floor with a handful of leafy boughs. While he was thus engaged, his future companion came in, bearing a calabash full of water. Rashleigh had well-nigh fainted with affright at the first glimpse he caught of this gaunt and woebegone wretch, whose emaciated figure would have well befitted him to represent Shakspeare’s starved apothecary, so much so, indeed, that our adventurer at first deemed him no earthly being; but the spectral visitant speedily reassured him by saying, though in melancholy and sepulchral tones, “Well, mate! You’ve come home, I see!”
“Aye,” returned Rashleigh; “and a pretty home it is to come to!”
The other only replied by a significant gesture, and after having brought in his tattered bed-clothes, set himself to work in the preparation of some hominy. Having procured another of the pieces of iron pot, Ralph followed his example, and both sat down upon the blocks to eat this meagre fare. Salt or sugar they had none, and Rashleigh could swallow only a few mouthfuls of the tasteless repast; but his companion, after remarking that he did not seem to like hominy, quickly finished what he had left. He then produced a few dry leaves of bush tobacco, offering some to our exile, who declined it, while “Jem” filled a rough wooden pipe and sat down to smoke in silence.
After a while, he asked Rashleigh whether he had yet obtained a blanket, and being answered in the negative, observed that he ought then to go to the house and ask for one; which Rashleigh did, and received a tattered rag from Mrs Arlack, after a few muttered curses from his master for being so troublesome. Ralph ventured to observe “that it did not seem a very good one”; but the gentle dame replied, with an oath, that “most likely the blanket was as good as he was”, and then shut the door in his face; upon which rebuff he returned to his companion, who aided him in bringing a quantity of straw to lie upon, which was laid in the vacant berth, and as comfortable a bed made as circumstances would permit.
Rashleigh slept quickly, nor did he awake until his hut-mate shook him by the shoulder, saying it was more than time to get up, for the laughing jackasses — certain birds so called — had been crying out a long while. Ralph tumbled out quickly, and began to put on his clothes in great haste.
Before he had done this, however, though it was not yet clear daylight, Arlack was at the door, damning them for a pair of lazy beggars, and asking if they meant to stop there all day. When they came out he said to Rashleigh, “I’ll tell you vot it is, my fine svell cove. You an’t a-goin’ to do as you likes here. So don’t think it. If you don’t brighten your lamps (open your eyes) pretty quick, I’ll try what good a teazing (flogging) will do you . . . And as for you, Jem, you ort to know better. ‘Ow do you expect I’m agoin’ to find you in wittles if you lies there stinking till these ’ere ‘ours of a morning, eh?”
“Why, Bob,” replied Jem in a plaintive tone of apology, “I overslept myself; and this young fellow I suppose was tired arter his journey!”
“Bob, indeed!” said the other. “I think it might he Mr Arlack, or Master at any rate, in your mouth! Have I served my lagging in all sorts of misery to be ‘Bobbed’ by you, do you think?”
Thus grumbling and growling, he led the way to the house, where he gave to each a tremendous large hoe, saying, “There, Jem. You know the new ground. Go there with your mate and pitch into it, and I’ll be down presently.”
Rashleigh and his companion went to a distant part of the farm which had just been cleared, and where a small portion was newly broken up. Jem now explained the manner in which they were to set in, each taking a piece to himself, so that the work could be afterwards measured without difficulty, as Arlack insisted upon his men doing the full government task at all kinds of labour every day that a man went into his ground.
Now the allotted portion of new land for each assigned servant to break up was thirteen superficial rods per day, two spits deep; and even in a favourable spot it was found quite work enough; but here the soil was as hard as stone, and the hoe rebounded off it. Rashleigh was very soon bathed in perspiration; but he kept on, thinking it might come easier after a bit. About eight o’clock they went home to a breakfast of more hominy, with a little pork fat to relieve it, and in half an hour resumed their work. Arlack came to look at them very soon after breakfast, and seeing that Rashleigh had done only a very small portion of his task, he abused him most heartily, telling him that it was just as he expected; but he’d take care no beggar had the laugh of him, to make him find rations for nothing. If he hadn’t got his government work done by sundown he might look out, for he should go to Court, and then he’d find out there was no gammon in Bob Arlack.
Such were the truculent threats of this worthy that Ralph began with all his heart to wish himself back again on Emu Plains; but still, as he knew he could not try any harder than he had done, he hoped to be forgiven if he were taken before the magistrates, and therefore resolved not to give Arlack any insolence that might furnish him with a further and more reasonable ground of complaint. But by steady perseverance he managed to get his task done a few minutes after sunset, his master having been standing over him for fully two hours before.
Tired to death, and every bone aching with the severity of his toil, our unlucky adventurer hastened home and threw himself on his miserable bed, where he lay like one entranced until morning, not even feeling energy enough to get up and prepare any food.
Mr Robert Arlack belonged to a class at that time very numerous in New South Wales, both among the very great and very little, who looked solely upon their assigned servants or government men as machines for getting money, and who with this view worked them most unmercifully, extracting from each the full quota of work stipulated by the regulations; and if they broke down, returned them to Government, obtaining fresh ones in their places. In fact, they considered convicts to be only a more expensive kind of labouring cattle, and on account of their not being able to live upon grass, a trifle less worthy than working bullocks. With such views they never thought of giving these unfortunate wretches a single ounce of any nourishment they could possibly avoid or a single article of raiment unless absolutely compelled; and strange to say, it was only very recently that regulations were made by Sir R. Darling, then Governor, to compel an equitable supply of food and clothing to be given by assignees to their servants; and even then, for a long period the regulations were evaded. Thus the position of convicts assigned to private service, even of the more wealthy among the early settlers, was sufficiently irksome, because these gentlemen, for the most part avowing that they came so many thousand miles from home for the sole purpose of amassing fortunes, considered any and all means to be sanctified by such an end. As for those whose fortune allotted them to the employment of the lower class of Australian agriculturists, their lot was pitiable in the extreme.
The latter, being men who had for the most part served sentences of transportation during which they had themselves suffered all the rigour of oppressive task masters, thought they were fully justified in retaliating upon those whom the change of fortune incidental to freedom had placed under them all the ill usage which they had endured in their periods of bondage. Besides this, they also had the incentive of a grasping desire to get money; though the majority of them could neither use nor accumulate any sum, but regularly wasted the produce of their land in scenes of the most brutal debauchery, which they continued as long as they had the means, and starved during all the rest of the year, both themselves and their families and of course their assigned servants subsisting almost entirely upon maize.
In addition to these evils of starvation and hard work, convicts assigned to such men as these were obliged to endure all the acts of petty tyranny and overbearing malice that vulgar minds, intoxicated by the acquisition for the first time in their lives of almost unlimited power over a fellow being, alone could either conceive or prompt the execution of. And no complaints, however well founded, stood the slightest chance of redress, for the simple reason that the magistrates before whom such complaints must be brought were all masters of convicts themselves and consequently highly interested in upholding what they no doubt considered a proper system of discipline and subordination.
Then again, the overbearing pride and hauteur generally assumed towards government men by their masters tended much to irritate the minds of the former, more especially when it happened that their superiors for the present were men who, originally steeped to the lips in the cornmission of every atrocity, had at length but recently become free themselves, too many of them having also acquired freedom by acts of the basest treachery, or by the most tyrannical abuse of power entrusted to them as constables, overseers, et hoc genus omne.
For many days Ralph Rashleigh wrought at the hoe, breaking up new ground in the manner before described, until at length, having recovered his appetite, he found his ration very insufficient; and as he could not starve, he had recourse to the system he had learned on Emu Plains, of grating corn to meal. In order to supply animal food, he laid all sorts of plans to trap the poultry belonging to the farm; and this went on until Mrs Arlack began to suspect her government men of being the culprits chargeable with this crime. She came into the hut one night at the moment after Rashleigh had taken out of the pot two of her young ducks, scenting the odour of which, she vented her anger in most opprobrious epithets; but as Ralph had seen her approaching, he concealed the spoil in such a manner as to defy her strictest search. Still, she could see the liquor in the pot, and truly enough insisted it was some of her poultry that had been boiled therein.
After this narrow escape from detection. our adventurer, still goaded by hunger, resorted to another means of cooking any fowls he could purloin. Not daring to bring them into the hut, he made fires in such secluded spots of the bush as might be secure from observation. Some hours afterwards, when the fires were sufficiently burned down, he enveloped the birds in tempered clay, feathers and entrails included, then covered the whole mass with red-hot ashes, after the manner of baking a cake. When sufficiently done, the covering would break off like pieces of potsherds, carrying with it the feathers incorporated in the clay; and on opening the bird, all the entrails fell out in a lump, leaving the cavity perfectly clean and wholesome.
His mistress, who found her stock of poultry diminish fearfully under this process, having no means of securing or watching the objects of plunder, at last resolved to watch the suspected plunderers; and one night, as Rashleigh sat alone by the fire, revolving plans in his mind of escaping from this state of intolerable thraldom, to the service of Government, he heard the sound of breathing close to his ear, and turning suddenly round, he saw through a chink the light reflected from the fire by a pair of sparkling eyes, and through other minor causes he rightly conjectured his mistress was there. He took no notice, however, but went to bed and pretended to snore audibly soon after. Presently Mrs Arlack entered the hut on tiptoe, having very stealthily opened the door. She marched round the place, peeping into every nook and cranny she deemed could possibly conceal even the bones of a fowl, but could find nothing.
Rashleigh now feigned to talk in his sleep, and after some indistinct muttering said distinctly, “Two last night . . . Two more tonight, feathers and all . . . The old goose too. Feathers and all. Oughch! Feathers and all . . . Oughch!”
Then, turning partially and heavily over, he began to snore more loudly than ever; but all the time he took great care to observe the prowling dame with a very small portion of one of his eyes unclosed. That good lady seemed almost beside herself with rage. She looked round apparently for something to strike him with, but finding no weapon at hand, had time to recollect herself, and withdrew.
Rashleigh now went to sleep in reality; but some time in the night he awoke, and going to the fire to light his pipe, he observed through a hole in the slabs part of a plaid cloak, which he knew belonged to his mistress.
Close by the fire was a pot full of liquor, in which pork had been boiled, which, through a hollow log that ran near it having taken fire, was now simmering, and appeared pretty hot. Pretending to kick against the pot, he muttered a curse, and seizing it by the pothooks, dashed its contents full at the hole. A loud shriek attested the success of his cruel experiment, and Rashleigh ran out. He was saluted by Mrs Arlack — for she it was, as he had anticipated — with a volley of oaths and the most dire abuse, she swearing she was scalded to death, and that she would have him hanged, if there was any law or justice to be obtained in New South Wales.
In the midst of this tumult, Arlack came running out in his shirt, armed with an axe; and before Rashleigh could defend himself, the axe was thrown at his head, which it very fortunately, but narrowly, missed. His master then rushed upon him like a fury, bellowing all sorts of threats; but as he came with his head rather low, Rashleigh raised up his knee, which caught Arlack in the mouth at the same rime that he received a well-aimed blow planted just under his right ear, that felled him senseless to the earth. Dreadful was now the clamour of Mrs Arlack, who had got hold of the axe, which she uplifted to strike our adventurer; but he, closing upon her, wrested the murderous weapon from her hand and pushed her backwards on the ground. Then, bidding her get up and take her husband away with her, he retreated into the hut, fastening the door as well as he could, and keeping the axe with him.
His discomfited master and mistress withdrew, vowing that they’d get our adventurer hanged, at least, next day; but as soon as they were out of sight, Rashleigh dressed himself and left the hut. He walked to the residence of the district constable, about eight miles off, where he told his tale and begged protection from the brutality of Arlack and his wife, showing in confirmation of the truth of his statement, the axe he had brought with him, and his face, which had been much torn by Mrs Arlack’s nails in the struggle.
Now it so happened that this worthy official wanted the services of a man for a few days, and he had, besides, a strong though concealed hatred of Arlack; so he listened very attentively to the story, and when it was over, received Rashleigh, locking him up in a small room used for purposes of confinement.
About an hour after sunrise Mr Arlack arrived, and our adventurer, on hearing his well-known voice, repaired to an orifice, where, himself unseen, he could still both see his master and hear the awful account he gave the constable, of a “vicked and murderous assault made by a willain of a government man of his, both upon himself and his vife”, concluding by saying that “the wagabond had bolted avay with an axe, and as he vas a most desperate willain, the constable had better look out for him”.
“Well,” replied the constable, “there’s nothing like hearing both sides of a story, certainly. I had heard your man’s, for he has been here this three hours, and now I’ve heard yours. But I expect the magistrates will have to settle betwixt you. So I’ll only tell you my private opinion, and that is, that you are both a liar and a rascal, and your wife a damned sight worse than you are! I’ve had my eye upon the pair of you this long time, and I’ll let the magistrates know how you goes on with your men.”
Arlack was rather taken aback at this unexpected rebuff; but, at last recovering a portion of his native impudence, he retorted, “Vell, and I should jist like to know vot it is to you, how ve uses our government men, eh? I’ll tell you vot it is, Mr Constable, you’d better mind vot you’re arter, or I’ll try if I can’t put a lever under you that’ll hoist you flying out of your billet.”
“Be off with you!” said the man in office, enraged. “And don’t come here athreatening of me in the execution of my dooty, or else I’ll find a shop for you, as free as you are.” And off went Mr Arlack in high dudgeon at his reception, which greatly delighted Rashleigh, who had been a gratified spectator of his mortification.
In a little while, the door of the place of confinement being unlocked, the constable let Ralph out, saying, “As you’ll be here a week now before there’s any Court, if you have a mind to help me on my bit of ground a little, I’ll find you in summat to eat for your trouble; and that’ll be better for you than stopping in here upon dry bread, which is all that Government allows for prisoners before they are tried.”
Rashleigh very gladly assented, and after a hearty breakfast they went out together to burn off some fallen timber. About noon, however, another constable came, who spoke to the lock-up keeper in private; and they both departed together, leaving Ralph to work alone during the rest of the day.
Shortly after sunset the myrmidons of the law returned, bringing with them a prisoner. When our adventurer came in from work he found them in high glee, and by their conversation it was evident they anticipated a heavy sum of money as a reward. They had also brought with them some spirits, for the lock-up keeper gave Rashleigh a small quantity before he locked him up.
Come, read me my riddle! Come, hearken my tale!
And tell me the craft of bold Allen-a-Dale.
The imperfect light which streamed through the chinks of the slabbed partitions between the place of confinement in the lock-up house and the room occupied by the constables enabled Rashleigh to see that the other confine was a very tall and bulky man, who lay upon the rude floor, wrapped up in an opossum-skin cloak. He scarcely deigned any reply to Ralph’s salutation of good-evening, but aroused himself, after a little while, upon observing that our adventurer had brought in a lighted pipe with him, and asked the other to fill one for him, which the stranger could not do for himself, as he was handcuffed.
This little piece of kindness, being performed, seemed to abate something of the stranger’s sullen reserve, for he sat up, and in reference to the mirth of his captors, who, it appeared by their jovial conversation, were now getting merry over their grog, the new-comer observed, in a tone of grim irony, “Aye, booze away, my boys. You think you’re all right now; but my turn will come again yet.”
This remark exciting Rashleigh’s curiosity, he asked what his companion in captivity was confined for, but received only an evasive reply; and finding that the other eschewed any conversation, Ralph made a sort of bed with a few articles lent to him for that purpose by the lock-up keeper, on which he lay down and soon fell asleep.
Far in the night he was awakened by someone who said, “Get up, and come along,” shaking him as he did so. Not being thoroughly aroused, he could only at the moment notice that the door of the lock-up was open, and that a tall figure was going towards it. He involuntarily arose to dress himself; but before he had got his jacket on, the same figure reappeared, saying, “Why the hell don’t you make haste?”
Rashleigh thereupon went forth into the outer apartment, where he saw half a dozen men, in various dirty dresses, but all armed to the teeth. The two constables were fast asleep, with their arms resting on the table.
“Now,” said a voice which Ralph recognised as being that of the late captive, “get some fire sticks. We’ll set light to the hut and burn both it and these blasted dogs together.”
“Aye, aye!” responded his companions, thronging around the fireplace to obey the cruel mandate.
“For God’s sake,” cried Rashleigh, “don’t burn the men, but go away. As you’ve got out, they won’t know anything about it, and you may be far enough before they awaken.”
“Hold your infernal tongue!” retorted the other. “Or else we’ll handcuff you and chuck you neck and heels into the lock-up again, to be roasted like a snake in a log.”
Ralph was about to reply; but the man, whose strength was equal to his tremendous size, put one hand over his mouth, and gripping him by the collar with the other, led him out. They walked to a small distance in front of the hut, when Rashleigh’s companion halted and released him. Turning towards the lock-up, Ralph could see the roof was already in a light blaze; and as it was thatched with reeds, that combustible covering was rapidly consuming with a loud crackling noise, which contrasted fearfully with the perfect stillness of all around, and which, as our adventurer hoped, could not fail of awakening the slumbering inmates.
Apparently his huge captor thought so too, for he asked of those standing near, “Has anyone fastened the jigger and the jumps (door and windows)?”
“Yes, I did,” responded another. “I took blasted good care not to leave the rascals a hole to creep out of.”
“Heavens!” said the horror-stricken Rashleigh. “You surely will not let the poor wretches die such a dreadfully lingering death.”
“You mind your own business, and be damned to you,” was the reply.
“At least, then,” persisted Ralph; “save the woman and her children. Think of your own mothers,”
“Now by hell and the devils!” roared the former captive. “If you breathe another whisper, I’ll blow your head off!” And as he said so, he cocked a horse-pistol, which he held close to his prisoner’s ear.
The stern determination of this ferocious ruffian’s countenance, rendered plainly visible by the light of the burning hut, which cast a ruddy glare around, told Rashleigh he was not to be trifled with, and he wrung his hands in an agony of horror. Still, though the thatch of the lock-up house was now all consumed, and the flames had seized upon the slabbed ceiling, the doomed inmates slept on. Ralph supposed the men were insensible through intoxication, but knew not how to account for the sound sleeping of the woman, who, with her two children, had retired to rest at the same time that he was himself locked up. In a few minuters more, a portion of the roof that had stood over their sleeping-room fell in, blazing up bright and fiercely just before its fall, its concussion scattering myriads of burning flakes, which flew far up into the sky.
The next instant arose such a shrill and piercing scream that it agonised Rashleigh’s inmost soul, for he knew it emanated from the hapless mother just awakened to behold this dire calamity. Next came the wailing cry of the children, shriek upon shriek, and the vain attempts of the men to break the clumsy fastenings of the door and windows, accompanied by many oaths and exclamations of despair. The timber walls now began to blaze, when Ralph, seizing an opportunity that offered by his guard’s relaxed vigilance for an instant, rushed towards the hut, bent on rescuing the inmates by forcing the door. At this moment one of the constables, having succeeded in breaking down the window shutter, jumped out of the flames. In an instant four or five guns were discharged. The half-escaped wretch leaped convulsively up and fell to the earth, and immediately afterwards, Rashleigh received a violent blow from behind on the back part of his head, which stretched him, bleeding and insensible, on the ground.
When he recovered, he felt very stiff and sore; but on attempting to rise, he found himself fastened down to the earth so strongly as to prevent his doing so. His struggles apparently had the effect of attracting the attention of some watchful guard, who in a menacing tone bade him, “Lie still, and be damned to you, if you don’t want another knock on the head that will settle you altogether!”
This language effectually put an end to the attempts of our captive, who remained passive in his painful posture until the dawn of morning; in fact, from the mode in which he was bound, he was unable even to turn himself.
As soon as it became light he cast his eyes around and discovered that the party of men, whom he had seen at the lock-up house the night before, now lay in various positions upon the ground near him. The spot they occupied seemed to be only sheltered partially by an overhanging rock, and to be open to the bush on all sides save one, and from the edge of this semi-cavern the ground appeared to dip or sink into a valley. It was late in the morning when some of the party arose, made a fire, and commenced preparing breakfast, which consisted of tea made in tin quart pots, meat broiled upon the coals, and dough cakes cooked in the same way.
The remainder of the party, having now got up from their various lain, assembled round the fire, and Rashleigh then perceived that they were seven in all, variously dressed, some clad in government slops, and others in better habiliments, obviously unsuited to their station in society and most probably stolen from some settler. The nature of their avocation was now plain to Ralph. Their arms and the outrage they had committed after rescuing their captive leader from the lock-up spoke them to be one of those bands of ruthless bushrangers who then roamed at large in the wilds of Australia, carrying terror and devastation wherever they made their appearance.
While he was thus commenting upon the character of his guards or captors, and puzzling himself by vain conjectures as to what they could propose to do with him, the party had discussed their breakfast, which done, one of them approached our adventurer, and casting loose part of his fastenings, bade him get up. Rashleigh complied, and guided by the other, now approached the leader, who had seated himself on a small hillock near the entrance of the cavern. This man, whose name was Foxley, was of stature far above that of his fellows, and muscular in proportion; he was dressed in a fustian shooting-coat, with a broad riding-belt round the middle, containing two large pistols. Shaggy cloth trousers, a blue woollen shirt, fur cap and pampoos or rough hide boots completed his costume.
His first salute to the captive was, “Stand off, and don’t come too close. What were you in the lock-up for?”
“I gave myself up to complain of my master,” replied Rashleigh.
“Oh, you’re one of the complaining sort, eh? Who was your master?” demanded the other.
“One Arlack of Airds,” was the rejoinder.
“Well and what did he do to you?” enquired the bushranger.
“He wanted to starve me to death and work the flesh off my bones,” responded Ralph.
“Why the devil didn’t you knock the beggar’s brains out and take to the bush?” asked Foxley.
“Why, I thought it better to get away quietly,” was the answer.
“But wouldn’t you like to be revenged of the old tyrant?” demanded the outlaw.
“Why, yes,” returned Rashleigh, with some hesitation; “if 1 could without murdering him or his family.”
“Murder be damned!” said the other fiercely. “If it was me, I’d set fire to the old brute’s hut and burn both him and all that belonged to him in it. Bad egg, bad bird, as we used to say long ago in Tipperary!”
Ralph made no answer to this speech; but the truculently diabolical look that accompanied it, and a remembrance of the dreadful catastrophe of the last night, which it naturally excited, shot athwart his mind, and upon the recollection, too, of the woman’s piercing cry of horror, a shuddering fit seized our adventurer, which was plain enough to the bushranger, who added, with a strong expression of contempt, “But 1 can see you are a regular chicken-hearted crawling fool, who would stand anything and be trampled upon like a dog rather than turn out like a man. I wish I’d left you in the lockup, for you an’t worth saving; and maybe you’d hang us all if we was taken.”
“Aye, I told you so,” said another of the party, whose name was O’Leary. “I knew he was a cur.”
“Let’s knock the beggar on the head, to make sure of him,” said a third. And many threatening expressions burst from the rest of the party, who began to handle their weapons and eye poor Rashleigh with looks of the most hostile import.
“Silence!” cried the leader in a commanding voice. “I’ll not have him hurt, and you know I will have my way. We want somebody to carry our swag (plunder) and cook our grub, for you all grumble like hell to take it in your turns; and this fellow shall do that. It is damned hard if seven men can’t watch one; and if we find him out in any treachery, he shall die like a dog, if he were twenty times my own father.”
To this the rest grumbled a surly sort of acquiescence, and one of them was told by the chief that for one day he should be answerable for the captive, while another was warned to take charge of him at night, this duty being thus destined to all in turns.
Ralph was now completely unbound and informed that he might get his breakfast and then gather up the utensils and food in readiness to move off when he had done. In a very short time, all being prepared, the party set forward, Rashleigh bearing a heavy load and being closely followed by the person who had been directed to guard him. With this exception, no particular order appeared to be observed, nor were they very scrupulous in preserving silence. Indeed, from the nature of the country through which they passed, little danger was apprehended. They travelled on some hours over a succession of broken ranges and at nightfall they found themselves near a small running creek, the course of which they followed for a considerable distance. Having chosen a commodious spot, the fire was quickly kindled and Ralph prepared a meal, which all sat down together to partake of.
The conversation turned on their recent exploits. And now, for the first time, Rashleigh had reason to believe that the whole of the wretched inmates of the lock-up had perished miserably in the flames, for from words dropped in broken sentences, he learned that the man who had broken out in his sight and another who followed him through the same outlet had both been remorselessly shot dead, and their lifeless remains hurled into the blazing ruins. The fate of the woman and children was left to conjecture; but as he gathered that some of the bushrangers had stayed by the burning lock-up house until it was completely consumed, there remained not the slightest hope that any had escaped with life.
After the band had finished their meal, Rashleigh was directed to prepare some dough for baking in the ashes, and on the flour bag being produced, Foxley remarked that it was getting low, but it was no matter, they would soon fill it again. From this remark and other expressions which fell from individuals of the party, our adventurer concluded they contemplated the commission of some fresh act of violence very soon. It was wearing late before the party lay down to rest; and when they did so the man who now took charge of Rashleigh for the night handcuffed his prisoner to himself.
Early the next morning they arose and after taking a meal, proceeded on their route. About midday one of the men observed he knew, by the shape of a certain hill close by, that they were not far from Campbelltown, which rather surprised our adventurer, as, from his idea of the distance they had walked, he imagined they were much nearer to Sydney, or to Liverpool at least, towards the sea-coast; but he afterwards found that in order to avoid the settled districts the bushrangers had made a very wide circuit, first going towards the east and then returning westward,
The party now lay still in the heart of a very luxuriant scrub, or thicket of bushes, which was in fact so dense that nothing could be seen at the distance of a couple of yards. Here the men prepared their arms, made masks to conceal their features, and then lay quiet until dusk.
Shortly after nightfall they were again in motion, and having proceeded about four miles through a tract of open forest land, they again halted, two of the party being now sent forward to observe the intended object of attack. On their return they communicated their intelligence to Foxley, and all proceeded with stealthy caution in the way indicated by these spies. The bushrangers soon came to a narrow lane, and a dog was heard to bark at a very small distance. After a short consultation the body was divided, four of them getting over the right fence of the lane, along which the others continued to proceed in silence, Rashleigh being attached to the last-mentioned, who after proceeding a few rods farther, arrived before a small cottage, which Ralph, to his great pain, soon discovered was the neat little abode of Marshall, in which he had passed so pleasant a night a few weeks before. His consternation increased when he discovered, by the threatening execrations of their leader, that Bob, who had once been Foxley’s overseer, had in that capacity procured him the punishment of a flogging, for which the latter was now come to exact revenge according to his own brutal code of undiscriminating vengeance.
Ardently did Rashleigh pray that some lucky chance might defeat the vindictive object of this ruthless ruffian, whose cold-blooded atrocity, on the former occasion, had made a deep and heart-felt impression upon the mind of our adventurer; but all seemed as peaceful as the grave within and about the doomed dwelling. Not a light glimmered through any opening, nor did even a dog bark outside — a circumstance which much surprised Rashleigh, who knew that the owner had more than six of these animals, some of whom were tied up all day, but allowed liberty to roam about the yards at night. And Marshall had boasted to him respecting the vigilance of two of them in particular, who, he asserted, would not suffer even a leaf to fall without giving the alarm, and were so ferocious that they would tear a stranger limb from limb after dark. He afterwards found that all these faithful guardians had been fastened up for this occasion in a distant shed by the family, in order to avoid any accidental rencontre with the company they had invited to celebrate the christening of their youngest child. Of this gathering, of course, the bushrangers knew nothing; and they were consequently most amazed, while waiting the appointed signal from their detached confederates, to hear a peal of merry laughter emanating from some building in the rear of the cottage, whence also soon after issued the notes of a fiddle and tambourine, the staple music of a colonial sheevo, or merry-making. There was an open gate beside the dwelling, through which the bushrangers cautiously passed into a stockyard that seemed to contain the building the sounds proceeded from; and on passing round some smaller sheds, they found this to be the case, for just before them was a large barn, through the chinks of which much light streamed, and other indications of revelry were manifested which audibly proclaimed the occupants of the barn were amusing themselves with a dance. The marauders were now joined by their four companions, who had approached by some back way.
The leader, Foxley, now issued his commands, that all the outbuildings should be searched to secure any stragglers and prevent them from escaping. This being done and no person discovered, the bushrangers now approached the only door of the barn, where they knocked some time without being heard; but when at length the door was opened, and the grim array of armed and masked figures in their uncouth and dirty dresses met the gaze of the festive party gathered within, a scene of universal consternation ensued. The women shrieked, the children screamed with affright, and the men huddled themselves together.
Foxley now advanced into the middle of the floor, which terror had completely cleared, and he shouted out in loud and savage tones, “What! Are you all scared at a few young fellows that have come to your spree without being invited? Won’t anybody welcome us? No! Why, where’s the master of the house? Ha, I see you, Mr Marshall! Come out here”
And with that he very deliberately cocked his gun, which he levelled at the unfortunate man, while those who were near him slunk away, and he, seeing escape hopeless, reluctantly advanced towards the bushranger, saying as he did so, “You an’t a-going to murder an unarmed man, are you?”
Foxley deigned him no reply, but made a sign to one of his comrades whose name was O’Leary, who came to his side and having received a whispered command from his leader, produced a pair of handcuffs, with which he secured Marshall’s wrists and then retired with his prisoner.
Foxley now ordered all the terrified inmates of the barn to get together on one side of the door; and two of the other bushrangers coming in, one proceeded to search the pockets of the festive group, and laid whatever he found upon the floor at Foxley’s feet. The demented ones, after having been thus closely examined, were passed over to the other side of the barn, where they were strictly guarded.
It chanced however that one of the females was attacked by some sort of unusual fit, which produced a considerable degree of confusion, during which a young man and woman had the address to escape through die open door unobserved by any of the bushrangers. Rashleigh saw them, and going round the barn, suddenly confronted them as they were about to get over the fence.
The young woman, seeing him masked, shrieked; but our adventurer made a deprecatory motion and was about to approach her when her male companion said, “Stand back. I dare say you are armed; but by the heaven above us, you shan’t lay a finger on that girl, unless you do so over my dead body.”
“Be quiet,” returned our compulsory outlaw. “It seems the noise the young woman has made was drowned by the shrieks of that poor creature inside, or else you would find others who might not be inclined to let you go.
“Well,” replied the youth; “here’s all the money I’ve got, and my watch. I’ll give you that to let her go. I don’t care for myself.”
“No,” rejoined Rashleigh, suddenly making up his mind. “Go, both of you. I don’t want your money; but for the sake of heaven, make haste in to Campbelltown and tell the chief constable that Foxley the Murderer is here. Beg him to hurry; or Marshall will be slaughtered and all his family. Do not delay, as you hope for salvation.”
“I’ll run every step,” said the girl, now recovered from her terror; and, jumping, over the fence, both disappeared, while Rashleigh, fearing lest he might have been missed, crept back in the shade of the barn to the spot where he had been placed by the bushranger who had the care of him.
In the mean time the sufferers in the barn having been reduced to order by the stern threats of Foxley, the ceremony of fleecing them proceeded anew. Both sexes underwent this ordeal, being stripped of their money, trinkets, watches, and in several cases of their silk handkerchiefs, coats and waistcoats to boot, until there was a great heap of these articles of spoil upon the floor. All were plundered in this way, which, however, was not done without some delay, and a vast deal of tears, lamentations and entreaties from the females, as a cherished trinket or valued scrap of finery was snatched from its possessor by the rude hands of this unwonted toilet assistant; but Foxley was inexorable to all the prayers, entreaties, or all the soft artillery of blandishments with which he was plied by the fair victims, and in reply to their most moving supplications only ordered them to stand off.
At length, the whole party had been completely shorn of their disposables and the robber now directed the clothing to be stowed in some wheat sacks, loading his own pockets and filling his hat with the watches money and jewellery. When this was accomplished, the sacks were put outside the door, and all — but two, to whom was deputed the task of guarding the prisoners in the barn — the bushrangers withdrew into the stockyard, where O’Leary and poor Marshall were standing. Foxley directed them to accompany him and Rashleigh to follow with his provision bags; they then all went to the back door of the dwelling-house.
This entrance was fastened in some way; but a blow from the butt end of Foxley’s piece made it fly open, and all the party went in. The interior was in darkness, and O’Leary was dispatched to the barn for a light. When he returned they saw a goodly store of poultry and other eatables, ready dressed, together with many bottles of wine and spirits, apparently prepared for transmission to serve as a supper for the party assembled in the barn.
Foxley, directing his address to Marshall, said, “What money have you got in the house?”
“Only about four pounds,” was the reply.
“Where is it?” was the next brief demand of the bushranger; and on being informed it was in the bedroom, he ordered Marshall to point it out and they both withdrew.
Presently the noise of breaking woodwork was heard, and loud curses from Foxley, apparently produced by disappointment at the meagre amount of the plunder. The door being left open when they came out, Rashleigh cast a glance into the once neat bedroom, which was now strewn with articles of dress and bedding, broken drawers, boxes, etc., in dire confusion.
“Where’s your tea and sugar?” now demanded Foxley; and the chest of tea and cask containing sugar being indicated, Ralph, under the direction of O’Leary, began to fill the bags he had brought with him for this purpose.
While this was doing, Foxley demanded of their unwilling host what had become of the money he had lately received for the wheat he had sold, and was answered that it had been all paid away, except the sum Foxley had got.
“I know that’s a damned lie,” was the rejoinder. “But no matter. Though I can’t get it, I’ll take precious good care you don’t live to enjoy it!”
The poor man, upon whom the stern brutality of Foxley began to produce an effect of fear, now again asked with a tremulous voice, “surely you will not murder a defenceless man, who has not done you any harm.”
“Silence, liar!” was all the reply.
“For God’s sake, think of my poor wife and helpless children!” persisted Marshall.
“Think of your damned tyranny!” now roared Foxley, suddenly removing the crape from his face. “Look in my face, wretch! I am Philip Foxley, that you got flogged for neglect of work. Don’t you know me?” And then, sinking his voice to a sort of half whisper of concentrated malignity. “If you had as many lives as I got lashes through you, aye, ten times told, I’d take them every one tonight. So you may make up your mind to die . . . I’ve already slaughtered eleven of my old masters and overseers, and you shall make up the dozen!! For I’m a good mark. I never forget to pay my debts.”
Marshall’s whole frame shook with terror at the sight of a man whose face he knew too well and whose bloodthirsty name was a terror to the whole country; but after a, strong effort, apparently perceiving the inutility of more entreaties, he calmed his outward demeanour.
In the mean time Rashleigh had got a quantity of tea, sugar and flour put up, to which some of the cooked food and four bottles of spirits were added by Foxley, who then withdrew into the yard with his prisoner. Here they were met by Mrs Marshall and her sister, who had but just ascertained that Bob was a prisoner, and who, driven to desperation by the idea of his probable fate, had rushed past the guards, who did not know what to do, not liking to fire upon two women, whom however they could not otherwise stop. They now clung to the doomed man with frantic eagerness, demanding what the wretches were going to do with him.
“Drag those women away!” roared Foxley, absolutely foaming at the mouth with fury at this further delay of his revenge; and after a severe struggle they were brutally torn from the arms of Marshall and forced back into the barn.
Foxley now directed McCoy to take charge of our adventurer and lead him to a certain place. Next, addressing O’Leary, he demanded, “Is your piece loaded with ball?”
“It is,” was the reply.
“Then, Marshall, kneel down and pray as if you mean it,” continued Foxley in a very cool tone. “I’ll give you ten minutes to make your peace with God!” And he took out the poor man’s watch, which he held near a light carried by another bushranger.
By this time Rashleigh, urged by McCoy, had taken up his load to depart, and turning away, could still hear the prayers and entreaties for mercy made by the wretched man, who seemed to increase the intensity of his supplications as the awful moment drew nearer. Just as our adventurer and his guide had got on a fence and were about to cross it, the former looked back, aroused by a yell from Foxley, which reached him like the blast of a clarion on the breeze.
“Down! Down on your knees! Here, O’Leary. He won’t pray. So be ready; and when I give the word, aim right between his eyes.”
The wretched man appeared still to be imploring his murderers for mercy when flashes close at hand, followed by the reports of a dozen or more muskets, appalled the bushrangers, one of whom, the man who held the light close by Foxley’s face, fell with a piercing cry.
“Surrender, in the King’s name!” Was vociferated by many tongues.
“Fire at the beggars and keep close together, my lads. ’Tis your only chance!” roared out Foxley in reply; and again a stream of brilliant flashes gleamed on the darkness, followed by cries of pain, rage, anger and exultation, according to the different fortunes of those who uttered them.
After the bushrangers had fired their pieces, they thronged round Foxley and all made their way to the fence, on which McCoy and Rashleigh had remained, as it were entranced by the suddenness of the surprise; but now, joined by the others, they were urged into a rapid flight by the exclamations and example of Foxley, who, with all his haste, forgot not to enquire whether their slavey — meaning Ralph — had escaped; and on finding he had not, he told McCoy it was a good job, for if that beggar had got away, his life should have answered for it, an asseveration which produced the effect of making McCoy doubly anxious for the security of the captive.
The darkness of the night and the confusion of those who had attacked them favoured the escape of the bushrangers, and having run across Marshall’s clearing, they gained the covert of the standing timber unpursued. Halting now to breathe awhile, the first care of the discomfited ruffians was to ascertain how many of their body were missing. Three of the party were accordingly found absent, two of whom were known to have fallen at the first fire, but whether dead or only wounded was uncertain. After a brief rest, they pursued their way with as much speed as possible, directing their course eastward by the guidance of the stars; and when daylight came they sought a deep and rugged gully, in which they concealed themselves. But the food had been lost, together with all their plunder, in the hurry of their flight, except the more portable articles taken from the festive group, which had been deposited on the persons of Foxley and McCoy.
Rashleigh might certainly have escaped from the bushrangers at the time he had spoken to the two runaways behind the barn; but he then preferred remaining until the police, whom he hoped they would send, should arrive, thinking that perhaps something might occur in the interim to enable him to save the poor man Marshall. His being placed under the strict charge of McCoy and hurried away before the constables came prevented his either doing this or joining them later and helping to capture the ruffianly crew, whom he had come to hate. We have seen that during their retreat, hasty as it was, he was too closely looked after to run in any other direction than the one pointed out to him. Deeming that at any rate Marshall’s life was saved for the present, he was the more readily consoled for this disappointment, because he hoped some opportunity must certainly occur before long to enable him to bid adieu to his ruthless companions.
The party of bushrangers, after having slept a few hours, awoke in very ill humour, as they were exceedingly hungry; and they all united in venting their spleen upon Rashleigh, whom they asserted might, if he had chosen, have retained and preserved the bag of provisions. O’Leary, who from the first had appeared to dislike the prisoner, never allowed any opportunity of showing that he did so to escape him, and now not only abused him heartily, but struck him violently, and was about to repeat the blow when Foxley interfered to prevent him. An angry altercation then ensued between O’Leary and the leader, who seemed to be ready to fight over it. At the instance of the rest, who soothed and separated them, a hollow kind of peace was restored, though Rashleigh observed the former long afterwards muttered revengeful threats against both himself and Foxley, casting malignant glances at them from time to time.
The party, towards evening, began to consult who should venture into Campbelltown or Liverpool, from which places they were about equidistant, in order to purchase some necessary supplies of food. Prior to this being arranged, Foxley called up McCoy to produce the different articles of spoil he had carried, which being complied with and united to those in his own custody, the whole was divided into four parts and apportioned by lot among the surviving bushrangers, Rashleigh not being allowed any portion. After this distribution was over, lots were again drawn for the purpose of ascertaining who should be their messenger, and O’Leary being pitched upon, he received from each a sum of money, divested himself of his arms, and departed.
Shortly after he was gone, Foxley, McCoy and Smith — the other bushranger — held a sort of consultation together, from part of which, overheard by our adventurer, it appeared to consist of invectives against their absent confederate O’Leary; and many dark hints of apprehended treachery on his part were thrown out by the leader, who proposed they should remove from the place in which they then were, and seek some more secluded spot before he came back, so that, in case he should prove faithless, they might witch him as he returned, and if he was accompanied by any one, they might thus be enabled to fly. This being acceded to, in a little while they all removed more than half a mile farther away, into the bottom of a narrow valley overhung with trees. By this time it was nearly night, and Foxley went back to lie in wait near their first camping-ground, so that, if all was right, he might guide O’Leary to their new retreat.
Time wore on. Rashleigh and the remaining two bushrangers were dozing near the fire; and it seemed to be late in the evening when O’Leary, conducted by Foxley, returned. They brought a good store of tea, sugar, bread, and salt pork, also four bottles of rum. Some of the meat being hastily cooked in a calabash, in another of which some water was boiled and tea prepared, the whole party made a hearty and most welcome meal. After this, O’Leary proposed they should have some grog, and produced the tip of a bullock’s horn to serve as a drinking-cup.
The present manners of this man seemed to excite some surprise in the minds of the others, one of whom remarked that he was getting mighty good all at once, as he pressed the others continually to drink and did not seem anxious to do so himself, alleging that he had drunk half a pint to his own share at Campbelltown, where he had purchased the supplies. Rashleigh noticed that in proportion as O’Leary increased in gaiety, Foxley became more gloomy and taciturn, until at last he wrapped himself up in his skin cloak and lay down to rest, which Ralph also did soon after. Having drunk a little of the rum, the latter quickly fell asleep; but a sudden squall of wind, that caused the fire near which he was lying to roar very loudly, again awoke him. He now got up in order to remove to a greater distance from the huge burning pile of wood. Before he again lay down, he observed that the two men he had left sitting with O’Leary now lay, stretched at full length, snoring loudly and apparently insensible from the effects of intoxication. O’Leary himself lay at a little distance, and Rashleigh fancied that he was not asleep; indeed, as the latter passed him, a ruddy glare of light appeared to sparkle from beneath his bushy brows, as if he had been watching the movement of our adventurer, who, however, once more disposed himself to rest, and was half asleep when he observed O’Leary raise his head and look furtively around towards himself and Foxley, who was obviously deeply buried in slumber.
Ralph, willing to observe what O’Leary’s intentions were, settled himself to watch, but pretended to snore, counterfeiting sleep with all his might. In a few minutes O’Leary arose and taking in his hand the calabash in which the pork had been boiled, he crept slowly and stealthily towards McCoy and Smith, whose pieces lay beside them. Over the locks of these he dropped a small portion of the pot liquor, and then spilt some more upon the pistols which they wore in their belts. O’Leary now more cautiously approached Foxley, creeping along upon one hand and his knees, carrying the calabash in his right hand and an open knife in his mouth. When he had thus got dose to Foxley’s back, he raised himself a little and peered cautiously into the other’s face. Foxley lay with his gun secured fast between his knees, but still remained soundly asleep. After a pause, O’Leary took something out of his pocket, and appeared to the watchful Rashleigh bent upon turning the screw that secured the flint which lay conveniently exposed for his machinations, and which at last he effected, as Ralph could see by the firelight that the flint fell out when this was done. O’Leary made some futile attempts to possess himself of Foxley’s pistols, but fearing apparently to arouse the sleeper, he again desisted, and after a short delay, on reattempting, managed to open both the pans and shut them softly, thus permitting the priming to fall out. He next wetted the whole of both the locks, after which he arose, and glancing around, took up his musket and stealthily withdrew in the direction of Campbelltown.
Rashleigh made no doubt from these proceedings that O’Leary was playing the traitor, as the pains he took to render their arms useless proved that he expected an attack from someone whom he was now most probably going to seek, that he might guide them to the capture of his betrayed companions. Our adventurer was now much inclined to adopt the opportunity afforded him by the relaxed vigilance of his oppressors to withdraw and deliver himself into the hands of the police; but he reflected that if O’Leary’s plan proved successful, as there was every prospect of its doing, unless he should take steps to prevent it, they would all be tried together, in which case the traitor would unquestionably be accepted as an approver; and his well-known hatred to Rashleigh left no doubt of his evidence being directed to criminate the other, no matter how guiltless, as being actively concerned in the robbery and attempted murder of Marshall. Independent of the certain punishment to which he would be consigned if his guilty accession to this crime should be considered proved — and he knew too well the weakness of any exculpatory defence he could make, as it would be unsupported by any other evidence than his assertion, therefore he had every just cause, to dread such a result on the mere ground of fearing an ignominious death — he could not besides for a moment endure the idea that Marshall’s wife and sister-in-law, who had treated him with so much kindness, should suspect him of the base ingratitude of joining in an attempt so nefarious against them.
Actuated therefore by these double motives, he resolved upon denouncing the traitor to Foxley, whom he awakened for the purpose by touching him with his foot. The bushranger sprang up at once, gun in hand, and presenting his weapon at Rashleigh’s head, hurriedly exclaimed, “Stand off, or I’ll fire! I’ll never be taken alive!” Then, seeing who it was, he demanded angrily what he wanted.
Rashleigh now briefly acquainted him with the conduct of O’Leary and his suspicions of this man’s treacherous intention, which the missing gun flints and wet pistols of Foxley too abundantly confirmed. McCoy and Smith were now awakened and made to comprehend their danger with some difficulty, owing to the drunken confusion of their thoughts.
Their fire-arms were now put in proper order, loaded and primed anew. It was then resolved that they should all withdraw a short distance within the covert of the thickest neighbouring shrubs, there to await the issue of the event, Foxley’s opossum-skin rug and part of the other men’s clothing being disposed in such a manner where they had previously lain as to afford a slight resemblance to sleeping men, that might deceive any one approaching hastily, with only the fitful glare of the firelight to guide him.
They spent more than an hour, shivering for lack of their usual covering, in thus watching their late place of bivouac; and the intensity of the cold, together with their eager anxiety, made the time seem interminable. At length the noise of crackling twigs and a slight rustling in the brushwood denoted the approach of someone. Foxley stood next to our hero, who could not help remarking the diabolically savage expression of his features, the compressed lips and glaring eye-balls of the desperado evincing a ferocity and thirst for blood which were truly appalling.
O’Leary first approached with cautious and stealthy steps, like those of a cat endeavouring to surprise her winged prey. He bore a gun in his hand, and was followed by four other well-armed men, who emerged into the open space and looked around upon what they thought were the sleeping robbers. After a whispered consultation they separated and approached the places where the men seemed to lie. Foxley now motioned the other two to follow him, and while his opponents were still intent upon their supposed capture, the three bushrangers levelled their pieces and fired at the constables, one of whom fell, pierced by a ball in the forehead; and a second dropped directly afterwards. Foxley then clubbed his piece, and rushing upon O’Leary before the latter, amazed at this sudden surprise, could present his gun, he dealt the traitor such a fell blow that the stock of the musket broke short off and O’Leary sank on the ground without a groan. In the mean time the other two constables, having partially recovered from their alarm, fired their muskets at random and hastily made off in safety.
Foxley and his mates now surrounded O’Leary.
“He an’t dead,” cried Smith.
“Stand on one side and I’ll blow his brains out!” said McCoy, cocking and presenting his gun.
“Hold!” shouted Foxley, knocking up his comrade’s piece with the musket barrel he still retained. “Don’t hurt him for your life! I would not for a thousand pounds the traitor should die so easy a death! I’ll pay him off better than that.” And fetching some water, he bathed O’Leary’s head, until the wounded man recovered consciousness.
The banditti now examined the other fallen men, one of whom they found quite dead. While they were stripping the body naked, the other, whose thigh was broken, got partially up, and deliberately resting his gun on the log, took a steady aim at McCoy, who stood beside O’Leary and was not aware of the danger. Rashleigh saw it, but would have cared nothing if all the three were shot, so did not interfere; but unluckily, the bullet only whizzed close by the bushranger, burying itself deep in the bark of a tree against which he leaned. Foxley sprang upon the wounded wretch with his knife and stabbed him repeatedly until the yells of the dying man, which had at first rung through the forest, died away in inarticulate sobs, whereupon McCoy, who had stood threateningly over the prostrate wretch with the broken musket barrel but feared to strike while Foxley was engaged in his brutal work, now rained a shower of blows upon the victim’s skull until it was actually smashed into a shapeless pulp of hair and brains. Both bodies were now stripped and hauled to a deep waterhole close by, into which they were finally thrown and a number of large loose masses of stone piled on them.
The ruffians then turned their attention to their living captive, whom, traitor as he was, and ruffianly as had been his conduct towards himself, Rashleigh could scarcely help pitying, as he concluded the truculent wretches who had captured him no doubt designed a fearful fate and dreadfully lingering death in expiation of his attempted treachery. At present, however, he was safely tied to one of the party and driven forward amid the blows and execrations of the other two, which he endured with a sulky silence. Rashleigh, loaded with their remaining provisions, was obliged to accompany them, marching along in their front. In this guise they shortly after daylight crossed the Great South Road, one of the bushrangers first exploring the way so as to assure his confederates that the path was free from impediment and that no travellers were near. They now entered a tract of very gloomy and sterile country, which seemed to descend perpetually and bore scarcely any other than that kind of trees which in the Colony are called forest oak, from what reason seems totally unintelligible, as nothing, at any rate in external appearance, can be more dissimilar than this denizen of the Australian woods from the oak of old England.
At long past noon the party halted in a spot which to Rashleigh’s foreboding eyes appeared at any rate a fitting scene for the horrid tragedy he feared would here ensue. Not a blade of grass concealed the naked barrenness of the sod, which consisted of gravel only. Not a sunbeam could penetrate the umbrageous canopy of boughs, whose formation and evergreen hue bore a striking resemblance to that of the funereal cypress or yew. Not a sound disturbed the silence of the mighty world of forest, and all nature seemed hushed in horrid anticipation of the scene of barbarity which was about to disgrace the men here assembled, who, though they possessed the outward semblance of humanity, yet proved their hearts might vie with that of the tiger in ferocity.
Rashleigh was directed to make a fire and prepare some food, and O’Leary, being partially unbound, was confronted with Foxley, who eyed him with stern malignity for a few minutes, and at length broke silence, saying, “Well, have you got anything to say for yourself, you blasted wretch?”
The other replied with a voice of concentrated hatred, “No! I’m only sorry that you wasn’t all grabbed; for there’s nothing on earth I’d rather see than all three of you cowardly, blasted murdering dogs hanging.”
On this, McCoy, who was standing close by, raised his piece, and striking the scurrilous captive on the mouth, drove his front teeth down his throat with the brass-bound butt end of the musket. Of course O’Leary fell. But the remorseless Foxley cried out, “Fetch some water. Throw it on him . . . When he comes to, we’ll make him fast to a tree and flog him first as long as we can stand over him. After that we’ll hang him up to feed the crows.”
Soon after he was raised up perforce, as he refused to stand, and was bound to a neighbouring tree. Foxley, now taking off a broad leathern belt which he wore, flogged him with the buckle that secured it until to Rashleigh’s sickened sight it appeared as if large pieces of flesh were actually knocked off his back at each of the last blows. When Foxley was tired, he resigned the instrument of torture to Smith, who again applied the scourge until O’Leary, ceasing gradually his dreadful shrieks and the terms of bitter execration and abuse he had been heaping on his tormentors, suffered his head to sink on one side and hung, apparently lifeless, in his bonds.
McCoy next took the belt, saying, “Oh, you’re fainting, are you? Blast you, I’ll bring you to.” And he administered a sound thrashing in his turn to the now apparently insensible corpse, until all present really thought O’Leary was dead.
“Hold your hand,” said Foxley; “or he won’t have life enough left to be worth hanging.”
Some moments after he was taken down from the tree and Foxley again directed water to be brought. McCoy gave him some, which he threw over O’Leary’s head; but Smith scraped a piece of salt pork into some water in which Rashleigh had washed other slices; and this wretch now brought it to the seemingly lifeless sufferer, saying, “Clear the way. I have something will revive him with a vengeance!” And he began to rub their victim’s lacerated back with the saline fluid.
O’Leary almost instantly returned to consciousness, and the intolerable anguish occasioned by this smarting application made him howl with torment, he mingling his yells with the direst reproaches and most biting sarcasms against his tormentors.
“Gag the brute!” at last said Foxley; and a short stick having been forced into his mouth, it was tied fast at the back of his head.
A cord was next made of some supple green vines, and a tree having been selected, one of whose vast arms stretched out horizontally at a distance of about twelve feet from the ground, the most agile of the bushrangers climbed up with one end of the rope, which he fastened round the limb, a running noose being formed at the other extremity. A pile of logs was next made up immediately under the bough in such a manner that a slight push would throw them down again.
The wretched captive had watched all these movements with foreboding eyes. He now struggled violently to rid himself from his bonds, but in vain, biting furiously at the stick in his mouth and speaking incoherently in his abortive rage. The dread preparations being all made, Foxley came towards the detected traitor and began to drag him towards the place destined for his final exit; but O’Leary forcibly threw himself on the earth, and it was as much as the united exertions of Foxley and Smith could effect to bear the struggling ruffian to his death, and no sooner had they placed him on the logs, than his struggles knocked them all down. At length he seemed somewhat exhausted and they contrived to secure the rude noose around his neck. Foxley, with O’Leary in his arms, next got on a fallen tree and called out to his confederates above to tighten the rope. When this was done, the robber chief cast his burden rudely away, and O’Leary swung to and fro, distorting his limbs in convulsive spasms of agony.
Twice, through the stretching of the green vines, the rope lengthened so much that the feet of the dying victim touched the ground; and twice did Foxley hold his body up on high, so that his life might at last be ended, while Rashleigh, in pity to his prolonged agony, prayed that at least they would blow the quivering ruffian’s brains out.
“No!” was the brutal declaration of the leader. “I would not shorten his well-deserved struggles a single second, for a thousand pounds! He did worse than a dog’s deed. and he is now dying a dog’s death., as he ought!”
This truly dreadful scene, which harrowed every fibre in the body of our adventurer, was at length brought to a close. The awful death rattle and a final quivering convulsion that shook his whole frame announced that last dread struggle of nature to be over, and O’Leary was a rigid breathless corpse.
A meal was now prepared by Rashleigh, to which his three ruffianly companions did ample justice, making during its progress many coarse jests and brutal allusions to the death pangs of their treacherous associate, whose lifeless body hung within a very few feet of the spot they had selected for their repast.
It may easily be conceived that our adventurer had no appetite after the appalling scene of mortal suffering he had so recently witnessed, and he waited most anxiously for the signal to commence their march, so that he might at least be relieved from the sight of the dead ruffian. But he had a task to complete that he did not anticipate; for Foxley, seeing that he had put together the fragments of food and their humble cooking materials, ordered him to gather a pile of dry wood and place it beneath the body of O’Leary as it hung. This being quickly done, as there was abundance of fuel at hand, one of the party applied fire to the pile, and when it was alight another got on the limb to which the rope was fastened, which he cut through, and the corpse fell into the midst of the flames, while the bystanders laughed, and Foxley remarked, “The damned scoundrel has got a warmer bed now he’s dead than ever he had during his life!”
An additional quantity of dry timber being now thrown into the fire, until the corpse was completely concealed from view, the desperadoes only waited until the roaring progress of the devouring element assured the dead bushranger’s combustion, when they withdrew.
No hope arose of being freed
And my dim eyes of death had need.
About noon the band of bushrangers and their unwilling companion crossed the Cowpasture river upon a rude catamaran, made of apple tree boughs tied together with vines, and in a short time had gained the rough broken country at the foot of those lofty mountains that traverse the whole of the centre of New Holland, then even more solitary than it is now, the poverty of the sod forbidding any cultivation whatever; while the natural grasses are so scanty that they do not afford pasturage even for the indigenous animals of Australia. Through such sterility as this they journeyed during three days without seeing a single habitation or even a human being. Their provisions again began to grow short, when, on the fourth morning from the death of O’Leary, a few hours after they had quitted the spot of their past night’s sojourn, they came to the summit of a lofty range, where a prospect equally unexpected as it was beautiful and varied burst upon the sight of the enraptured Rashleigh, whose tormenting feelings, induced by the fear of what fate might have in reserve for him as punishment of his involuntary association with the desperate and blood-stained ruffians who now formed at once his guard and his masters, all gave way before the majesty of nature, and he drank in large draughts of delight in contemplating the lovely scene now expanded before him.
Immediately in front of his present position was a precipice some hundred feet in height, whose ragged breast sank sheer down to the broad expanse of the low country; but immediately at its base the Nepean river, here narrowed to about the distance of a hundred yards between its banks, rushed with tumultuous force around the greater part of the hill on which they stood, from which immense masses of rock had apparently been detached by some long past convulsion of nature, and now lay in the bed of the torrent, causing the rapid waters to flash around them in sheets of snowy foam. Far to the right and left the winding convolutions of the stream might be seen at intervals appearing through the foliage, here in magnificent sheets of water, and anon, beyond a projecting promontory forming a low range of hills, the river seemed contracted into the semblance of a dazzling silvery riband that sparkled in the beams of the morning sun.
In the background rose the lofty heights of gloomy mountains, whose variously undulating sides were chiefly clad with the dark evergreen foliage of New Holland, though here and there might be seen upreared the giant form of some rude and fantastically shaped peak or rifted cliff whose grey bosoms were boldly exposed in naked sublimity. As far as the eye could reach in front was an expanse of nearly level woodland, broken here and there by cultivated patches of a greater or less extent, and thinly studded with solitary farmhouses, cots and one or two hamlets with their churches.
The houses were for the most part embosomed in peach orchards, whose leaves of more delicate green contrasted well with the sombre hue of those that clad the neighbouring indigenous trees. The maize fields, too, which were now in full blossom, and gracefully waved their lofty tasselled tops over many an acre of the rich soil on the river bank, formed no inconsiderable item in the charms of the landscape, the appearance of which Rashleigh surveyed in a reverie of pleasure, until the iron hand of Foxley smote upon his shoulder, and his deep harsh voice demanded, “Are you dreaming?”
Aroused to a sense of the dull and dread realities of his present condition, Rashleigh turned mechanically and followed the party, who struck more deeply among the hills. At an early hour in the afternoon Foxley warned his mates that they were approaching the Great Western Road, leading over the mountains to Bathurst, which it was necessary they should cross, and therefore it behoved them to keep a sharp look-out, that they were not surprised by any straggling party of constables or mounted police, which were frequently much on the alert just on the edge of the highlands in order to prevent the escape of any of the prisoners — who at that time were employed working in irons, in order to form the new line of road — as the latter frequently absconded in large or small parties, carrying plunder and havoc into the settled districts during their brief career wherever they came.
The warning had scarcely been given by the leader, whose two companions reloaded their fire-arms, when they heard a shrill cry of a peculiar kind, which is in the Colony called a cooee, and which is chiefly used by parties in the bush to denote their positions or make known their desire of help, guidance, etc. The bushrangers halted and listened attentively; the cry was two or three times repeated, apparently by the same voice. At length, after a brief consultation, McCoy went towards the place from where the sound proceeded, while Foxley, Ralph and the other plunged into the heart of a thicket a little apart, and in a short time the voice of their companion who had gone to reconnoitre was heard hard by. They now got up and went to meet him.
He was accompanied by a short stout man seemingly past the middle age, rather decently dressed, who carried a thick walking-stick, and was introduced to the party by the name of “Mr Huggins, the overseer of No. 1 Iron Gang, who had lost his way while looking after bushrangers”. This introduction was made in a very peculiar manner by his companion to Foxley, who received it with a most significant look, in which Rashleigh fancied he could observe traces of malignant and ferocious satisfaction that made him shudder; while Huggins glanced apprehensively from one to the other of the party who now stood before him.
Silence was broken in a few minutes by Foxley, who said briefly that he thought he could put Mr Huggins in the right way to find some bushrangers very soon; at any rate he’d “be sure to put him into a way that would be certain to take him home”.
Satisfied by this ambiguous speech, Huggins placed himself under the treacherous guidance of his foe, and they all moved on towards the west. Ralph could hear fits and snatches of conversation between Foxley and the newcomer, by which it appeared the former described the party as bush constables belonging to Campbelltown, who were in search of Foxley and his gang of bushrangers, then supposed to be lurking somewhere in the fastnesses of the Blue mountains. Imbued with this idea, Huggins talked much and long of the necessity of putting a period to the depredations of this notorious horde of daring scoundrels and wound up his speech by declaring that if he (Huggins) should come across the rascal in question, he’d never change a word with him, but shoot him down like a dog. Upon this declaration of his sentiments by the overseer, Foxley turned his head to McCoy and Smith, who marched last of the five — Rashleigh being kept in the centre — and shot forth a glance of sarcastic contempt, twisting his naturally coarse features into a truly Satanic as well as sardonic grin, at the effusion; while the other two responded to the gesture by gripping their guns more closely, with expressively grim looks at their leader’s companion.
After they had thus walked about an hour, Huggins began to be alarmed at the duration and tendency of their journey, as they did not reach any road. He repeatedly asked Foxley if he were certain of being in the right direction, to which the other replied, as before, ambiguously, that they would be “as safe as the bank directly”!
In a few minutes more, as they were descending a very deep and rugged glen, or gully, Foxley placed his foot before Huggins, who of course fell some feet forward; and in order to prevent any resistance, Foxley secured him by falling on his back. In his overthrow, Huggins had struck his head with some force against a stone, and before he could recover the effects of this blow his treacherous assailants had firmly bound both his hands and feet.
When the captive regained his senses, his astonishment could only be equalled by his affright; and now, too late perceiving the real character of his captors, he begged in the most moving terms for mercy, abjectly supplicating for heaven’s sake that they would not harm him; but he might have spared this humiliation of himself, for no tiger was ever more pitiless to his prey than the fiend in human shape into whose power he had now fallen. No reply whatever was vouchsafed by Foxley, who seized him by the collar, and assisted by one of his confederates, they thus between them partly led and partly dragged their captive to the bottom of the narrow valley, which was a dreary spot almost inaccessible to the light, and looking as if in fact it were a mere rift, or chasm, in the range, formed by an earthquake, each side being chiefly shut in by naked and jagged rocks, some of which were blackened by age until it appeared as if they had been split by the agency of fire.
A small space, level and clear from obstructions having with some difficulty been found, Foxley seated himself upon a fallen rock, while his companions stood before him with Huggins between them; and now, with a smile of malignant cruelty about to be gratified, the bushranger informed his captive, “As you have such a mighty great wish to see Philip Foxley, I think ’tis a pity so reasonable and harmless a desire should not be granted; and as you’re a nice sort of a man, you shall have your own way . . . I am Foxley. What do you think of me, eh? You won’t speak. Well now, that’s what 1 call being very ungrateful. However, it’s no odds. As it’s a very great favour to see me and my mates, I mean to take care you shan’t tell anybody you have done so!”
As these words were spoken with cool and concentrated malignity which left no doubt of the fell meaning they implied, the hapless wretch to whom they were addressed gave himself up for lost, but endeavoured to move his iron-hearted captor by supplications for mercy.
“Silence!” said one of the bushrangers. “Don’t you know me? Ay, look! What! Not know Sandy McCoy?”
Huggins looked at him, but shook his head and burst out into a fresh paroxysm of lamentations and entreaties.
“Ah,” resumed McCoy, “You know me too well! It is not twelve months ago since I was under you in your infernal gang, and one day when I wanted to go and see the doctor, you put me in the lock-up. You left me there thirty-six hours, handcuffed over a beam, both wrists twisted above my head, all my weight hanging on my hands, and my toes only resting on the ground. You delighted in nothing but tyranny, as long as you had the power. But now, our turn is come; and you may say your prayers, for you are standing on your own grave!”
“Oh,” remarked Foxley. “That tricing men up to a beam is a very common trick of his. Why, not a month ago one of the deputy overseers was tried for killing a poor devil of a crawler who was very sick and wanted to go to hospital; but Mr Huggins ordered him to be triced up, and the other obeyed him, and handcuffed the man over a pole for two days and a night. The first night the deputy was told the man was dying; but he only answered, ‘Let him die and be damned, there’s too many of his sort in the country.’ So the next night, when the doctor came at last to see him, the poor fellow was dead and stiff. That scoundrel, though he was committed, managed to pull through it. He made shift to escape from the Law. But I’ll take rattling good care you don’t escape from Justice, my fine fellow, for I’m judge in this here Court, and I never acquitted a tyrant like you in my life.”
At this Huggins threw himself on the ground in an agony of despair. He beat his head against the earth. He knelt to Foxley, alternately invoking blessings on his head if he would be merciful, and denouncing the most awful imprecations if he deprived him of his life.
At length Foxley roared out, “Damn the crying beggar; he’ll make us all deaf. Gag him at once.”
As he spoke thus the outlaw rose from his seat, and it appeared to his fellows that their chief had suddenly gone mad; for he jumped about, he threw himself down, he raved and swore most vehemently, and as a finale to this extraordinary performance, tore off all the clothes he had on, until he stood before them stark naked; nor did his energetic exertions cease even then, for he danced, whistled, sang, halloed and swore all in a breath.
In vain did his companions ask for many moments what was the matter with him. At length they gathered that their chief, in the pride of his triumph over Huggins, had sat down incautiously within a very dangerous proximity to a huge nest of those ants which are called by the lower classes in the Colony light-horsemen. They are of immense size, upwards of one and a half inches long, of blue and green colours, and the most fierce and virulently biting insects in the bush. So long as Foxley sat quiet they did not molest him, but the moment he put himself in motion he was stung by scores at once; and now his whole body presented a most singular appearance, being completely covered with swellings the size of a hazelnut, very deeply inflamed, which arose instantaneously after the bite of these sanguinary insects, and to judge by the grimaces of this dauntless ruffian, who had frequently endured the most severe floggings without wincing, the pain must have been intense. When it was in some measure allayed, Foxley gathered his clothes, shook them free from the intruders, and vented several bitter execrations upon Huggins, whom he considered as the origin of his mishap, and who now lay grovelling in the dust, completely senseless with the agony of fear.
“Blast you!” roared Foxley, with inexpressible ferocity of tone and manner. “I’ll waken you directly, with a vengeance.”
With that he directed the other two bushrangers to get some bark to twist into ropes; and this being soon accomplished, all of them set to work making cordage, by laying two or three plies of the inner coat of the bark up, until a good-sized line was formed by each.
Foxley, who had first completed the fabrication of a stout and tolerably long cord, next proceeded to cut a number of stakes about two feet long, which he also pointed with his knife at one end, and then directed the others to gather as many short logs of timber together as they could. At length all these methodical preparations — the meaning of which Rashleigh could not divine — had been completed, and the ruffians approached their victim, who still appeared paralyzed by fear.
He was first stripped entirely of his clothing, and then maugre his struggles, carried, or rather dragged, along until they reached the ant-bed. The dreadful nature of the torture intended to be inflicted upon the helpless wretch now flashed upon the mind of our adventurer, who had before heard of bushrangers having thus wreaked their vengeance upon persons inimical to them; and he began by using every argument he could think of to endeavour to move Foxley to pity or remorse and to induce him to forbear his horrid purpose, pointing out to him that sooner or later it must come to his turn to suffer for the crimes he seemed so much to delight in committing.
At last the patience of the bushranger gave way. He had before only shot darksome glances at Rashleigh from beneath his shaggy eyebrows; but now he burst out in tones of thunder, “Hold your infernal tongue, you blasted crawling wretch, or else I’ll lay you alongside of him. I know damned well that if ever I am taken alive 1 shall swing; but that can never be while I have one charge for a bulldog left. So while 1 live I’ll be revenged on all such bloody tyrants as this is.”
His speech was delivered with such a suitable emphasis and seconded by so many appalling denunciations against Rashleigh as well from the others as from Foxley, that the poor fellow was fain, for very fear of his own life, to cease his supplications, and he withdrew to a short distance, turning his back upon the scene. He would now most willingly have stolen away altogether from his ruthless companions but that he knew not which way to turn himself and was well aware if they pursued him with success his doom would be certain death, perhaps with additional and cruelly refined torments. On the other hand, if he lost his way amid these pathless mountains, there could be no doubt of his dying a miserable death by starvation, as many others had done, who like him had wandered away from companions on or near the only road that then traversed that inhospitable tract.
After a short time a piercing yell attracted his attention and forgetting his resolution, he involuntarily looked around. The ruffians had now placed Huggins on the ant-bed. When he felt the stings of the enraged insects, despair lent him herculean strength and he burst from the grasp of his three captors. He was free! Alas, he had run but a few yards when a stone hastily caught up in the race by McCoy, but thrown with all the fury of disappointed malignity, struck him between the shoulders, felling him to the earth. Foxley now roared out for the assistance of Rashleigh, swearing that if he did not come and aid them he should die the death of a dog; and thus coerced, our trembling adventurer was compelled to help carry the senseless man back to his bed of torment.
Huggins was now hurled again on the ant-bed, from whence he had so nearly escaped, and the top of which having been flattened down, a slight trench had been made in it to receive the luckless wretch. The insects, angered into madness at the injuries inflicted on their storehouse, were swarming in thousands around it; but the moment the fresh shock was felt from the fall of Huggins’s body, they all rushed to the spot and he was completely covered with them directly afterwards. The bushrangers, being thus relieved from the attacks of the furious ants, now coolly set to work, and tied the wretched sufferer fast down with several cords passing over his thighs and body, two to each arm and leg, and two crossing his neck. The ends of the cords were secured to the pegs cut by Foxley, which were now driven tight into the ground in a sloping direction the better to retain them. The struggles of the wretched victim to escape from these bonds, which were at length so numerous as to form a complete network over him, were further rendered nugatory by logs that were piled upon the cords, between his body and the pins on every side, so that they were tightened until they cut into the flesh.
All these dire arrangements were completed before Huggins had recovered from the effects of that fatal blow which had caused his recapture. When he again became conscious, the convulsive throes of agony that heaved the mass of flesh, cord and logs were so appalling that a sensation of dizzy sickness came across the brain of Rashleigh, who fell to the earth and cut his head severely. Perhaps the flow of blood from the wound removed his faintness, for he felt no more of it, and was now permitted to withdraw under the guidance and guardianship of McCoy on a search after water. It was long before they found any of this necessary fluid; but having done so, Ralph prepared a scanty supply of food, all that they had left. When Foxley and Smith joined them, the former, upon noticing their slender stock of eatables, observed that “only it would put that rascal (meaning Huggins) out of his pain too soon, he would go and cut a steak off his body.”
Perceiving that Rashleigh looked rather incredulous as well as disgusted at this abominable idea, the truculent desperado verified his assertion with a volley of energetic oaths, winding up the whole by declaring, “There can’t be a sweeter morsel cooked for a man than the heart of a tyrant.”
Such, it is to be observed, is the term used by all the convicts of New South Wales to designate any person, whether magistrate, overseer or constable, who may perform his duty more strictly than is agreeable to the exalted notions these worthies entertain of the deference and consideration with which they ought to be treated.
After supper the party lay down to rest, and at an early hour in the morning were again in motion up the valley, on their return towards the western road, from which, it now appeared, Foxley had turned on meeting with the ill-fated Huggins, whose lair they now shortly passed, when what was Rashleigh’s astonishment, upon casting a furtive glance at the spot for an instant, to find that nothing remained of him but bones, not quite clean certainly, but with little indeed of flesh to be seen upon any part, except the head, which was still nearly untouched. While our adventurer was amazed at the voracity of these tremendous insects, he also felt a little comforted at the idea that the sufferer’s death could not have been so painfully lingering as he had anticipated; and Foxley, seeing the astonishment depicted in Rashleigh’s features, observed with a sort of grim chuckle, “Aye! Them’s the little boys for polishing a bone. In a few hours there won’t be a morsel of Huggins left but his bare skeleton.”
That night it was my lot to gain
A reliquary and a chain. . .
Demand not how the prize I hold!
It was not given, or lent, or sold.
Upon approaching the western road, the party lay to in a thicket, while McCoy, who was now dressed in Huggins’s clothes, was sent forward to reconnoitre. He carried a pistol, a pair of handcuffs, and a letter which had been found in their victim’s pocket, and was instructed by Foxley, in the event of being met and questioned, what he should say, so that he might pass for a constable proceeding from Penrith, with a letter for Overseer Huggins.
He was away nearly two hours, and on his return he reported that the coast was clear, when the rest of the party recrossed with him the avenue they had so much dreaded to pass. All that day they wandered about in the vicinity of the road without food, and after nightfall McCoy was dispatched with directions to endeavour to procure some eatables from a station which they knew to be at no great distance. Rashleigh, worn out by hunger and fatigue, had long been asleep in their temporary hiding-place, when, far in the night, their emissary returned. Our adventurer, however, was awakened by Foxley, who bade him “bear a hand, rouse up, and eat that”, at the same time throwing him a piece of bread and a lump of raw salt meat, as, independent of their desire for speed, they dared not light a fire to cook anything, being too close to the road and settled part of the country. When he had partly devoured this primitive meal, he was handcuffed to Smith, who was, for the present, divested of his arms and destined with himself to enact the part of a prisoner in charge of Foxley and McCoy, who both of them assumed the character of constables, escorting prisoners to Penrith lock-up house.
They now went boldly on to the high-road, along which they proceeded in silence about two miles, until Rashleigh came to a place he recognised as being on the top of Lapstone hill, the last eminence of the Blue mountains eastward, and but a short distance from Ralph’s old quarters at Emu Plains. At the foot of the hill, a usual halting place, they found two drays, the drivers of which, according to their general practice, were encamped under them. The sham constables here diverged from the road and went up to the fires left alight by the travellers. The oxen were grazing around, but the dogs quickly aroused the sleepers, of whom there were four in all. The mock prisoners were now ordered to halt by Foxley and McCoy, who asked if they could have a drink of water. One of the men replied, “Certainly”, and gave them some, adding that if they would wait a few minutes, some tea should be prepared for them.
“Why, neither I nor my mate,” returned Foxley, “care about tea; but if you’ve a mind to give these poor devils of prisoners any, I dare say they would be glad of a feed, before they get to their journey’s end in the chokey (lock-up).”
“If that’s like to be the end of their travels,” observed the kind-hearted bullock-driver, “I pity them, with all my heart.” And he half-filled a large iron pot in order to boil it for tea.
The rest of the travellers were now assembled round the fire, helping to get ready a feed; for these wayfarers on the roads of New South Wales were at that time remarkably hospitable, as their erratic mode of life placed them completely at the mercy of any of the many small bands of armed plunderers who were so frequently levying contributions on the King’s highway in those days; and the ordinary carriers always paid great court to the convict population, perhaps imagining they might often escape being plundered, if they could only acquire the name of good fellows among that class. In the present case, therefore, while they treated the supposed constables with only ordinary civility, they paid most solicitous attention to their sham prisoners, supplying them with pipes and tobacco, and hastening the preparation of food for their use.
At length, all being ready, the new-comers sat down to eat, their hosts excusing themselves from joining in the repast, upon the ground that they had supped at a very late hour, and they sat in various positions telling, or seeking after news. At length one of the bullock-drivers asked what the prisoners were charged with, and McCoy replied, “They are bolters (runaway convicts). They belonged to that mob of Foxley the bushranger’s; but they won’t tell us where we could find him, or else we’d very soon have him as well as them.”
The name of Foxley caused an instant sensation. All the travellers began at once to question their visitors.
“Was Foxley near this? — How long since he’d been heard of? — What way was it thought he was going?” And the last querist enquired what was the last robbery or murder he had done.
To these hasty queries McCoy replied that it was thought Foxley was now somewhere near Bathurst, but had been heard of going back to the south, where he had lately been robbing all the country, concluding by stating that “Foxley might be a great terror to the south country constables, but he only wished that himself and his mate could come across the scoundrel, that was all!”
At this the elder of the bullock-drivers very politically observed, “For my part, I’d like to make a child’s bargain with Foxley: let be for let be. For folks do say he’s a regular devil, a complete fire-eater; and at any rate, it don’t answer, you know, for us folks that’s on the road to be meeting with gentlemen of his sort very often.”
“Och, botheration to your clack,” now struck in a sprightly Hibernian among the travellers, whose face betokened his unquestionable Milesian origin. “What a clatter you keep about Foxley! As if nobody knew anything about him at all at all but yourself. Sure, an’t Phil Foxley my own uncle’s wife’s shister’s husband’s sixth cousin? And oughtn’t I to know him, whin we used to be gossoons together playing at hurley in ould Ireland? And mark my words, sure you’d see if Phil was forenenst me now” (and the speaker looked direct at Foxley) “all that would be in id: he’d say at wanst, ‘Murtagh Cassidy, my jewel, is id yourself that’s in id?’ And he’d thrate me to the besht that was to be got!”
“But did you ever see Foxley since you came to this country?” now enquired McCoy, having been prompted to ask this ingenious gentleman the question by the real Simon Pure, who in fact appeared much to enjoy the rhodomontade of his Irish relation.
“Is id me see him?” responded the other, nothing abashed. “Faix thin, Mr Consthable, maybe id’s wanting to thrap me you are, in the regard ov my poor cuzin Phil, bein’ onlooky and the like. But, you see, I’ll only tell you I seen him a good many times in the counthry, and I won’t tell you neither whin nor whare we met. So you can’t take no hould of that, you see. Oh, I don’t mean any harm,” replied McCoy; “but only I’d like to know what like a man he is in size, as everybody talks so much about him. I’ve got a description of him from the runaway list; but then, that was took a long time ago, when he first came to the country, you know.”
“Och faix. As to that, if id’s your look to take the poor boy a presnor, ‘why, God’s will be done! What soort of a man is he, agrah? Faix thin, he looks just like meself; and we used always to be took for brothers even, if you plaze, whin we’d be together.”
Now the only difference between the appearance of Foxley and his veracious pretended kinsman were these: the former was as swarthy as an Italian, the latter as red as a fox; Philip was about sixteen stone weight, Murtagh not more than seven; Foxley was a strongly built, muscular and well-proportioned man, Cassidy was a little lean fretful-looking being, with ferret eyes, fiery hair and a confirmed snub nose. So, after all, their general favour could never have been so exceedingly alike, but the fact was, the whole tale was no more than a pure invention of the fertile brain of this ingenious off-side bullock-driver, who was very fond of what is by the vulgar in the Colony called “lifting himself”, that is, seeking for respect from others at the expense of truth.
Another of the bullock-drivers hereupon observed, “It’s all very well for you to talk about such things; but I should only just like to know whether there is any chance of our falling in with the same Foxley, for I could guess what to do in such a case.”
“Indeed!” said the bushranger chief. “Then I can tell you I have real good reasons for believing that Phil Foxley is not so far off as my mate here seems to think. In fact, I am certain I have been quite close to him this very day, and I’ll swear I will be alongside of him tonight yet, let him look as sharp as he likes; for I won’t sleep until I do. But, you know, when we came across these two men, we was forced to take them to the lock-up before we could go after the others.”
“Well then, if he’s so close as that,” returned the bullock-driver, “we must begin to look a little sharp, for he may be paying us a visit, if he knows we are on the road. I’ll just get my musket ready, and I’d advise you to do the same, Jem.”
Accordingly, Jem and the last speaker disappeared under the dray and presently returned with two old soldiers’ firelocks, which they began to arrange. Jem remarked that the charge had been so long in his gun he should draw it out, and began to do so; but Foxley, seeing that the screw on the end of his ram-rod was broken, offered to do it for him, and the other thanked him, resigning the weapon for this purpose.
In the mean time McCoy had got hold of the other man’s piece under pretence of looking at it. He turned round to Foxley. Their eyes met. Both lay down the travellers’ muskets and presented their own at the astonished bullock-drivers, whom they ordered to stand still on peril of their lives. “For,” added Foxley, in a tone of thunder, “I am Foxley the bushranger!”
Master Cassidy at that moment was stooping to light his pipe; but no sooner did he hear this dreaded mandate than, letting fall both pipe and knife into the fire in a paroxysm of fright, he leaped backwards over a heap of bullock bows, yokes and chains and ran off with the speed of a hunted deer.
McCoy presented his piece; but Foxley, who burst into an uproarious fit of laughter at the hasty retreat of his so-called cousin, thrust up the muzzle of the other’s musket, and as soon as he could speak cried, “Damn him, how he runs away from his relation. Come back, you fool, to your cousin phil! No. he won’t! Well then, blast him, let him run. He can’t get any help within three miles, at any rate, and I strongly suspect he’s too much bothered by his fright to know what way to go to look for it at all.”
The handcuffs were now taken off the pretended prisoners. Smith, being equipped with a gun, was posted as a guard over the remaining three travellers, whose persons were then closely searched by McCoy, who deprived them of their valuables with considerable address and some jokes as to how nicely they were taken in by the supposed constables. In the mean time Foxley had nearly unloaded both the bullock drays and selected such articles as he thought fit from their lading, all this being completed in a marvellously short space of time. The bullock-drivers were lashed fast to the poles and wheel of their drays, and the bushrangers, heavily laden, departed under the guidance of their chief.
The neighbourhood seemed to be quite familiar to Foxley, who led them by a most circuitous route until they again reached the foot of the mountains, where they are washed by the Nepean at the northern end of the Emu Plains. Here, in a most sequestered spot, they halted as the morning dawned, and took their first regular meal for forty-eight hours; after this they examined their booty, which comprised half a chest of tea, a bag of Mauritius sugar, a basket of Brazilian tobacco and a quantity of wearing apparel, shawls and handkerchiefs. They had also secured some flour and pork, and fancied themselves freed from apprehensions of famine, at least for a week. The greater part of the day was spent in sleep, and at the approach of night, McCoy was again dispatched to reconnoitre. After a short absence he returned and led the party to the river bank at a spot where they found a large bark canoe, which it seemed he had stolen from some settler’s wharf hard by.
In this they paddled along very softly for some hours, keeping under the shade of the mountains as much as possible, for the opposite bank of the river was crowded with human habitations, and it was sometimes so narrow that even the slight noise they unavoidably made in using their rude oars alarmed the farmers’ dogs, who ran along the shore baying with all their might and thus aroused their masters and mistresses, who then appeared in grotesque groups on the heights beside the stream, bearing bark torches in their hands, and hailing, to know whether there was anyone upon the river. But as the depredators in the canoe, of course, did not choose to reply, and as the precautions taken by these good folks in bringing out their flaring flambeaux effectually prevented themselves from seeing any object at the distance of a dozen yards from their noses, they could not discover the cause of the incessant din created by their wiser as well as more sharp-sighted canine guardians, and the party proceeded unmolested until the first blush of dawn tinged the eastern sky; when, finding themselves near a favourable spot, they ran their canoe close in among the reeds, unloaded her, concealed their cargo in various places, and then betook themselves to a fastness in the North Rocks, where they slept without fear.
Upon awakening in the evening, Foxley and McCoy had a short conversation with Smith, and leaving him, as it seemed, to watch Rashleigh, they set off towards the river. From conversation with his companion in their absence, Ralph discovered that their present hiding-place was the North Rocks, near Richmond, and that the other two bushrangers had now gone to that place in order to find out a purchaser for the fruits of their enterprise. They did not return until very early in the morning, when all of the party set to work collecting the goods they had hidden, and placing them together, the person with whom they had agreed to become a purchaser being expected every moment.
There was a man, at that time, whom every person in the neighbourhood of Richmond knew by the name of Sobersides. Originally a prisoner, and one of the greatest scamps even among that most scampish body, he for a very long period endeavoured to acquire the enviable notoriety of a flash man; that is, in the terms of the immortal Shakspeare,
A ruffian that will swear, drink, dance,
Revel the night, rob, murder, and commit
The oldest sins the newest kind of ways!
But alas, he found that fame did not flow upon him so quickly through this channel as he had expected, probably owing to the number of skilful competitors with whom he had to contend in the race for this very amiable distinction. He therefore suddenly altered his whole plan, and, as many other vulgar-minded men in New South Wales have done, nay, are daily doing after a long career of villainy, Mr Sobersides turned hypocrite, no doubt expecting that the éclat which was denied to his previous course of atrocity would readily be granted to the brilliant novelty of his conversion. And in his common daily conversation, which had heretofore been a disgusting olla-podrida of the most brutal sensuality and soul-destroying imprecations, he now expatiated with vast unction upon the marvellous power of grace which had plucked him, as it were, like a brand from the burning, and delivered him from the domination of the world, the flesh and the devil!
So great a proficient did this consummate schemer become in his new art that his hypocrisy very shortly deceived both the village parson, who appointed him his clerk and sexton, and the village magistrate, who appointed him district constable. In this united capacity Mr Sobersides had now continued to officiate for several years, during the course of which he contrived to accumulate a very considerable portion of the world’s wealth; the rather that though he was extremely Pharisaical in his outward deportment, and no man could utter the responses on Sunday in his elevated station before the assembled inhabitants with a more solemn and edifyingly sanctified tone, yet he, in truth, possessed a most accommodating conscience, and never scrupled to overlook any violation of the law, so long as he obtained good and sufficient reasons of Sterling weight for doing so. But it is to be observed that he invariably atoned for his deviations from the strict line of duty in favour of those who could pay him well for his lenity, by a double portion of rigour towards all those rapscallions who, though they were so poor as to be unable to afford the harbinger of justice a douceur, yet had the unparalleled audacity to commit a breach of law or decorum, and their slightest faults were always magnified by him into crimes of heinous turpidity before “Their washups” until he thus became a perfect terror to all the miserable wretches of government men in his neighbourhood who fell under the displeasure of their masters for non-performance of the allotted quota of labour which the government regulations of that day exacted from each assigned convict.
Such was Mr Sobersides, whose terror to the minute fry of evil-doers illustrated the saying that “laws are like cobwebs, which catch the small flies, but allow the large ones to escape”; and his fame for pitiless execution of his duty having long before extended to Emu Plains, it may be supposed that Rashleigh’s astonishment was great when he saw this vigilant conservator of public peace and morality appear in the North Rocks in the capacity of a customer for the spoils of the lawless Foxley and his desperate associates, whose freebooting exploits, it seemed, he had often before profited by, heedless that by so doing he supported and encouraged a band of bloodthirsty ruffians who would stop at the commission of no act of atrocity to glut their eager desire for spoil.
In order to guard against any unpleasant recognition in after times on the part of their visitor, the bushrangers all wore pieces of crape upon their faces and were directed by Foxley not to speak during the bargain, which was to be carried on solely by himself. From the easy and unrestrained manner of both parties, it was evident they had frequently transacted business together before; nor were they long at present in making a deal, when he departed, leaving behind him a sack full of empty bags, into which the tea, sugar and other articles were transferred from their original packages. The replenished sacks were stowed away in a secret nook, the tea chest, bags and basket, which had been taken from the dray, being carefully buried by the bushrangers.
The latter now retreated to a place of security in the neighbourhood, where the day was spent subsequently in sleeping by Foxley and McCoy, who had apparently been up all night, Smith and Rashleigh being directed to maintain a sharp look-out; though from the nature of their present nearly inaccessible retreat there was indeed little danger of interruption.
The North Rocks of Richmond is the name given to a most singular valley that appears to have suffered some extraordinary convulsion of nature, being completely filled with immense masses of stone, apparently vomited out of the bowels of the earth by the agency of an earthquake, and left lying wherever chance had directed their fall, so that it was absolutely choked with
Rocks, mounds, and crags, confusedly hurled,
The relics of an earlier world.
At the upper end of this valley rises a precipitous hill, in the face of which appear many horizontal chasms. One of these, in particular, near its base, though possessing a very low entrance, is internally of great extent, and in most places from ten to twelve feet high. The floor of this cavern is composed of the débris of the sandstone that forms one stratum of the hill, and is perfectly dry, save in a corner, where a single drop of pellucid water continually falls from a joint in the rock; and this, through its long sustained action, has worn a basin about two feet wide and eighteen inches in depth, which is constantly full of most beautifully clear and cold water.
At the opposite side of the cavern from this spring is a narrow perpendicular slit in the rocky roof, open to the heavens, but fringed with brushwood so as to be nearly invisible from any distance, either above or beneath. This orifice admits a considerable quantity of light to the interior of the cave, which was selected for their retreat by Foxley, who had obviously made use of it for a similar purpose before, as he led the way to the opening, that admitted them without any difficulty, though it was so very low and well concealed by an overhanging rock that any person unaware of its existence might pass to and fro its front daily for years and still never discover it. In fact, it was necessary to creep into it on all fours; but after their having gone a few feet in this manner, the rock that formed its roof receded so much that the tallest man could stand erect. In this secluded spot did the party of bushrangers spend the rest of the day. A fire was made under the cleft before spoken of, on a spot that indicated having been appropriated to the same purpose before, and the materials for which they found lying near.
At nightfall they conveyed their plunder to the bank of the river under the guidance of Foxley, and very shortly after they had done so could observe, from the concealment in which they stood, that a boat approached, sculled by a single person, who proved to be Mr Sobersides, bearing the money agreed on between himself and Foxley as the price of the spoil. A few moments served to transfer the bags into the boat, which now disappeared, and the marauders retraced their steps towards the cavern, as it seemed to Rashleigh; but after travelling a short distance, the leader and his two companions held a consultation which ended in their turning abruptly again towards the river and reaching the bank at a different spot to the one they had so lately quitted. McCoy now searched among the reeds for some time, and then called to the others, who, on obeying his summons, found him guiding a catamaran, upon which they all got and quickly crossed the stream.
After they had ascended the high river bank, many lights were visible, and the busy hum of voices was heard directly in their route. Foxley and McCoy walked on either side of Rashleigh, whom the former cautioned to be silent, and they thus went on for about half an hour, until they had left the greater part of the houses behind. They then halted and McCoy went forward alone; but upon his returning in a few moments, the whole party again proceeded and presently arrived at a house standing by itself. Lights appeared within and the voice of a female was heard singing. Foxley tapped at the door and the travellers were admitted.
The apartment was a spacious one, of the usual humble order as regards furniture, etc., with those belonging to the greater portion of settlers; still, from many circumstances, it was obvious the occupants of the dwelling were in easy circumstances. The female that admitted them was a young and handsome Australian, who appeared overjoyed to see McCoy, whom she welcomed with many kisses. in a few moments two other girls and an elderly man and woman came in, who seemed happy to see the new arrivals, to whom food was pressingly offered, but declined by all; and McCoy, taking one of the girls aside, spoke something to her, finishing his conversation by giving her money. She went Out, and Foxley and Smith, who had by this time attached themselves to the other two girls, maintained a conversation with them, abounding, as it seemed, with some very merry topics, for ever and anon a loud and hearty peal of laughter accompanied their sallies.
The absent fair one now returned, bringing on her head a keg, the arrival of which was hailed with acclamations; and the party, excepting our adventurer, drew up to the table. Cards were produced, rum served round, and all preparations made for spending a social evening. Foxley had told Rashleigh, before he joined the group at the table, to sit in a certain part of the room, warning him that if he offered to leave it but for one instant without acquainting either himself or McCoy, then he would shoot him dead; and he cocked one of the pistols he wore at his belt, with a glance that spoke volumes, as he whispered this caution.
Near to the stool on which our adventurer was seated there was a table with a few books. One of these he found to be the Arabian nights, which was wonderfully tattered and dog’s-cared, while a volume alongside of it, The whole duty of man, was scarcely soiled, and though of an ancient edition, had more than half its leaves uncut. Rashleigh took the former and was quickly lost to all sense of the outer world, as well as the noisy mirth of the group around him, while perusing its pages, which frequently filled him with painful recollections, as it reminded him of the happy and guiltless days of his youth, when he had last delighted in the gorgeous delineations of Oriental magnificence with which these tales abound.
In the mean time his companions were rapidly getting furious with intoxication. They began to sing, to bellow and to rave, until at length, Foxley’s eye resting upon Ralph, he got up, staggered towards him, and asked what was the reason he did not drink; was he too much of a gentleman for his company? In vain did the other assure his tyrant that he had drunk abundantly and proffered evidence of his having just emptied a teacup full of rum and water.
“A tea-cup!” hiccupped the desperado. “To the devil with such an egg shell as a tea-cup.” And going to the fireplace, he seized on an empty quart pot which, after spilling a great deal, he at length succeeded in filling with raw rum from the keg.
Then, returning with it, he addressed his prisoner thus, “Here, damn your snivelling carcase. Take that and drink it off, directly. Do you think I’m going to let you keep sober while we all get drunk, so that you may go and bring the bloody traps (constables) upon us? So drink that at once, d’ye hear?”
Rashleigh remonstrated. The eyes of Foxley flashed fire; he drew the cocked pistol from his waist and presented it full at Rashleigh’s head, roaring, “Drink, you beggar, or die!”
This effectually put a stop to any further scruples, so our wretched adventurer took the pot and raised it to his lips, while Foxley kept on shouting, “Down with it, every drop,” still menacing with the pistol. Thus perforce compelled, Ralph drained the vessel of its burning contents. A savage laugh of exultation rang in his ears, and he sank senseless on the floor.
When Rashleigh recovered his consciousness, he was oppressed with a sensation of parching thirst. The torments of the damned raged in his whole frame. He attempted to rise, but fell again to the earth. He strove to speak, but his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth, and he thus lay in agony, but perfectly sensible. In a little while he heard the voice of Foxley, engaged in conversation with a female. They appeared to have been awakened by the noise of Ralph’s fall, and were sleeping in the same room at no great distance from him. Presently their alarm respecting the disturbance subsided, and their conversation took another rum, in the course of which the female seemed anxious to impress upon the mind of Foxley the magnitude of some booty that he would acquire by engaging in a certain enterprise, which, it appeared, they had been conversing about before, winding up her exordium by saying that she should soon find out whether her present bedfellow really loved her, as, if he did, he would not let that saucy Nancy Doughboy wear a silk gown while she had only a printed one! To all this Foxley replied in a suitable manner, so as to remove any doubts of his resolution from the mind of his chère amie, and silence was soon again restored.
This dialogue set our adventurer’s rum-bewildered brains in a complete ferment, for by it he well knew some new and most probably atrocious act of turpitude was resolved upon by Foxley; and the state of Rashleigh’s sensorium conjured up the most appalling visions of demons, furies and disembodied spirits colleagued to punish his wicked and guilty companions as well as to lavish torments upon himself for being even their unwilling associate. Never did poor mortal pass hours of such intense pain, both bodily and mental; but the former, sharp though it was, almost enough to bid his throbbing temples split, was yet as nothing to the latter, for his diseased imagination presented the most vivid representation to his inward vision of the last dread place of final torment spread with lakes of never-dying flame, where foul and gibbering monster fiends of all kind of hideous and indescribable shapes exhausted their ingenuity in inventing fresh and unendurable tortures for himself and the bushrangers.
Dogs! Think of your chiefs by this hand that were slain.
Exhaust all your tortures, you try them in vain;
For the chief of Oswego shall never complain.
Long ere dawn the next day the bushrangers were afoot, bringing with them the wretched Rashleigh, who, though he was perforce compelled to swallow a large draught of the fiery spirit that morning to revive his prostrate energies, yet felt so ill that he would fain obtain permission to lie down and die. And never did he hail a place of repose with more heartfelt joy than spread itself over him when they at length arrived at the cavern and he was at liberty to stretch his palsied limbs upon the rocky floor of that secure retreat.
Here he lay all day in a state of semi-insensibility, until, in the evening, he was aroused by the full deep tones of Foxley, who ordered him to get up directly and come along with them, a command which he was fain to obey, though every nerve in his body trembled like the leaves of an aspen through the latent effects of his involuntary but deep debauch.
The moon was in its first quarter, and its pale light was just glimmering above the trees when the little band of plunderers set forth from their hiding-place, as Rashleigh doubted not, upon remembering the last night’s conversation, to carry havoc, and perhaps slaughter, to some peaceful fireside. By the great caution evinced among the party, it was evident they feared detection more than was their custom, and the oft-repeated baying of watch-dogs near them proved that human habitations were numerous and close to the route they were pursuing.
For some hours they continued their journey in silence and at length entered a spacious clearing, in the centre of which a cluster of huts appeared, that they boldly approached. All was silent within, nor was there any light to be seen, and the outer door being fastened only by a latch, the whole party soon stood in an apartment which served the usual purposes of dining-room and kitchen to the family, none of whom were yet apparently awake; though many dogs, who had probably been absent at the critical moment of the marauders’ approach, were now exerting their vigilance too late, by baying most furiously around the door, which some of them were making fierce efforts to open, but in vain, for the uninvited visitors had taken the precaution of shutting it fast behind them.
A light was obtained by McCoy, and at that instant a man clad in sleeping dress came out of an inner apartment to that occupied by the intruders, grumbling, as he came forth, sundry drowsy imprecations against the dogs for their clamour. He had, however, scarce placed his foot upon the floor of the outer room when the hand of Foxley upon his shoulder and the muzzle of a pistol presented at his forehead caused him to start and utter an equivocal sound, which the robber at once checked by growling in a suppressed tone, “Silence! On your life! Or I’ll drive a brace of bullets through your skull!!”
Foxley then dragged him to the opposite side of the room, when he continued, “What men are there asleep in the house?”
“Only my two sons and a stranger,” was the reply.
“Where are they?” was the next demand.
“In yonder,” returned the old man, shaking as if with an ague fit, and pointing out a door different from that at which himself had entered.
Foxley now, with a mute motion to Smith that he should guard the settler, took a light, entered the room with McCoy, and soon his rude voice was heard arousing the inmates, who then, to the number of three, as the old man had said, came forth in their shirts and were ordered to take their places beside the first prisoner.
“Now,” said Foxley, addressing the old farmer, “call your wife and daughters out here; but mind! if there’s any more men, even another one, he shall die and all of you too!”
The women soon made their appearance, pale, disordered and trembling; but McCoy desired them to lay aside their fears, assuring them no harm was intended to their personal safety, an assurance which was echoed by Foxley, who ordered the mistress of the house and her daughters to prepare a feed for all the party.
While this request was being complied with, Foxley spoke to the settler himself, who now stood motionless in the corner where he had been placed, evidently suppressing strong feelings of indignation at the unceremonious behaviour of the bushranger.
“Well, Mr Shanavan,” said the robber chief, “I’ve been informed that you came up from Sydney with a swag of property the other day. I mean to have my share of it. So look sharp and bring it out here to the light; and mind that there is not one article deficient in the lot you bought; for if there is I shall be able to tell in a minute and I’ll cob you within an inch of your life . . . Where is it?” resumed the ruffian after a pause.
“In my bedroom,” stammered out the old man at length.
“Then come with me,” was the next direction given by the outlaw in such a tone of command that Shanavan dared not deny him, and taking up a lamp, he marshalled the bold intruder into another room.
In the mean time Smith the bushranger had been steadfastly looking in the face of the stranger whose ill fortune had brought him that night to partake of Shanavan’s hospitality, and who was now standing beside the two young men, sons of his host. This man did not seem at all easy under the scrutiny of Smith and repeatedly changed his position in order to evade the ruthless gaze of the other, which was evidently fraught with no kindly meaning.
At length Foxley returned with the master of the house, whom he compelled to carry out a quantity of wearing apparel and other goods, which were consigned to the care of McCoy.
Smith now addressed his leader thus, “I say, Foxley. who do you think we ve nailed upon the ground hop at last?”
“I can’t tell, I’m sure. Who is it?” replied the other, examining the man whom Smith’s gesture indicated, but whose face was now hidden from view, until the bushranger, stepping over to him, laid hold of that ear which was nearest to him, and with a sudden jerk, turned his head completely round to the light, saying, as he did so, in tones of the coarsest sarcasm, “Come, Mr McGuffin, let us have a look at your pretty mug (face). You didn’t use to be so bashful!”
“Why, ’tis McGuffin the tyrant!” roared Foxley in tones of savage triumph.
“You may well say that,” rejoined Smith. “Why, the very last time I ever saw him, he flogged our whole gang, fifteen in number, overseer and all, giving all us that were working hands fifty lashes each, and the overseer a hundred without being charged with any crime, and of course without the shadow of a trial; and when jack Bunn, the overseer, as good a fellow as ever broke the world’s bread, asked what we were all to be flogged for, this scoundrel said, ‘Why, to keep the hair out of your eyes, to be sure, you rascal!’”
“Aye, aye. I know him well by report!” now remarked Foxley. “An’t he the beautiful inspector of falling parties that Major Fireplace got the Governor to grant power to, so that he might flog any or all the men in the gangs under him without the trouble of bringing them to Court? And ever since that time, hasn’t he gone about on horseback all through the country, with a flogger at his heels for a running footman, sarving out stripes to all and sundry, so as to show, not only that he had got the power, but also that he was determined not to let it go to sleep in his hands. And now, my gentleman, I’ve got you. I’ll try if I can’t clear off all scores with you. At any rate, you’ve sarved out your last slops!!!”
McGuffin. who was a tall, weather-beaten, dark-complexioned man with unusually stern and determined features, seemed quite appalled by the ferocity of Foxley’s tone and manner when the latter began to talk; but by the close of the robber’s speech he recovered self-possession, and said, in a cone as resolved and stern as that of the other, “Well, you infernal, cold-blooded, murdering, treacherous ruffian, and what can you do after all but only take my life? And that you may do and be damned, if you like. Yes, I have had hundreds of such crawling caterpillars as you and your mob well flogged before now, and I’ve got one comfort left yet. It is this, that neither God nor man can much longer keep you from the gallows; for the Devil has almost done with you, and Jack Ketch must soon get his due in choking you and your loblolly boys. So you may do your worst, for I defy you!”
The bushrangers appeared paralyzed by his indomitable boldness. At almost his first word Foxley had taken a pistol from his belt, which he deliberately cocked, and with a scornful sneer, as coolly levelled at the captive’s head, still, as it seemed, suspending his final purpose, though his brow, true index to a tragic page, grew black with the darkness of tenfold night. As for Smith and McCoy, they stood gaping at McGuffin as though they were charmed with the audacity of his defiance; but the instant he had ceased to speak, McCoy, whose face was perfectly livid with the intensity of his rage, lifted his musket and felled the prisoner to the earth with the butt end of his weapon; while a loud shriek burst from one of the girls, who dropped senseless on the floor.
Foxley sprang up and said, “Now, by all my hopes of deep and black revenge, I’m glad you knocked the bragging bully down! For I was just that instant going to shoot him, and it would have been ten thousand pities he should get such an easy death! Is he hurt much?”
This query being satisfactorily replied to, Foxley next demanded what had ailed the girl who cried out, and having elicited that she had fainted through fear at the fate she supposed intended for McGuffin, to whom she was about to be married, the heartless ruffian roared out, striking his hand with tremendous energy upon the table, “Better and better . . . Why, this is glorious. We shall have most capital sport here presently. Bring the wench to, as quick as you can.”
He paced the apartment for a few moments with hurried strides as if under the influence of some extraordinary excitement, and presently broke out again with, “McCoy, throw a bucket of water over that grovelling beast. So! That will revive him! And now, mistress, let’s have our supper directly!”
McGuffin was then bound fast to a mill post that stood on one side of the room. The bushrangers had before this secured Shanavan and his two sons by placing them back to back, next tying their arms, legs and bodies together with many cords and lastly girthing them tight up with a horse’s surcingle.
Foxley and the other two now sat down to supper in such a position that they could keep their eyes upon the prisoners. Rashleigh was also invited by the former to partake, but he declined. He in truth felt such a sensation of nausea, which arose from apprehending that perhaps a scene of worse atrocity might here be perpetrated than any he had yet witnessed, that it was quite impossible for him to swallow any food whatever; and he sat shivering with dread and longing for a means of escape, yet completely cowed and fascinated by the searching glances which Foxley directed towards him from time to time.
This ruffian compelled the girl betrothed to McGuffin to serve him with food upon her knees and to taste everything on the table prepared for their supper. He also bade her, “Remember, as nobody else but such a superfine scoundrel as McGuffin would do you for a husband, his life is now in my hands; so you’d better try to keep me in good temper.”
After supper was over the involuntary attendants were obliged to produce spirits, and Foxley, having ascertained there was very little flour in the house, directed one of the girls to fill the hopper of the steel mill with wheat. This being done, McGuffin was partially unbound and ordered by McCoy to set to work and grind the grain.
His reply was equally brief and energetic. “I’ll see you all in hell first!”
Foxley heard this, and leaping up, cried, “Oho, you mutiny, do you? I’ll see how game you are!”
And he ran to a saddle, from which he stripped the stirrup-leather. Then, pouncing upon McGuffin, he tore the shirt from his back and this being his only garment, the latter was quite naked. The bushranger then began to beat him with the buckle