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Title: Red O'shaughnessy Author: J H M Abbott * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402121h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2014 Most recent update: May 2014 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy 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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Chapter I.—Condemned to Hang!
Chapter II.—The Hulk Retribution.
Chapter III.—His Journey Out.
Chapter IV.—In Sydney Town.
Chapter V.—At The "Sheer Hulk".
Chapter VI.—The Kidnappers.
Chapter VII.—The Whaler.
Chapter VIII.—The Coal River.
Chapter IX.—King's Town.
Chapter X.—The Coal Mine.
Chapter XI.—The Commandant's Man.
Chapter XII.—The Girl at the Green Hills.
Chapter XIII.—Marjory Aylmer.
Chapter XIV.—The Two Bad Eggs.
Chapter XV.—The Loss of Mr. Aylmer.
Chapter XVI.—The Capture.
Chapter XVII.—Mr. Saxton Departs This Life.
Chapter XVIII.—Six Months.
Chapter XIX.—Mr. Blaxland's Enterprise.
Chapter XX.—The Western Wall.
Chapter XXI.—The Mountaineers.
Chapter XXII.—Mount York.
Chapter XXIV.—Revenge Is Sweet.
Chapter XXV.—The Lover Forlorn.
Chapter XXVI.—The Valley.
Chapter XXVII.—The Desperate Trail.
Chapter XXVIII.—The Letter.
Chapter XXX.—The Best Man Wins.
"I shall not have very much to say to you," said Mr. Justice Creighton, as he signalled with a little wave of the right hand to the Chaplain on the Bench beside him to place upon his wig the small square of dark cloth that represents the Black Cap—"for I do not desire to inflict pain upon you. All I shall permit myself to remark is that you are a brute and a blackguard, and will be better dead. The sentence of the Court is that you be taken hence to the place whence you came, and thence to the place of execution on Monday morning next ensuing, and shall there be hanged by the neck until your body be dead—and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul!"
"Ye d——d old goat!" shouted the condemned, as the Newgate turnkeys led him down the steps from the dock. "Ye ——- ould hayayna!"
"Bring back the prisoner," commanded his Lordship, and, when the red-headed young giant once more faced him, the two burly prison warders gripping him apprehensively by the arms as he stood glaring at the Judge, addressed him in icy tones.
"Prisoner, you will be hanged on Monday morning, and I have no doubt but that Almighty God will see to it, in the world to come, that you are fittingly punished for your disrespect to His Most Excellent Majesty the King, whose representative I have the honor to be in this place. I can do nothing further to punish you in this life myself for having called me a goat and a hyena—but I can order that your body be handed over, after execution has been done upon it, to the Royal College of Surgeons for dissection, which it gives me satisfaction now to do. After your demise you will at least be more useful to the community than you were in life, and I doubt not but that many students of the profession of surgery will benefit in knowledge from examination of the dismembered corpse you will leave behind. At all events, whether this pleases you or not, it will mark the disapproval of this Court of those who—ah—liken it to goats and hyenas. Pray remove the prisoner."
"Faith, I don't want to be car-rved like a tur-rkey," growled the large young man as they marched him along the underground corridor leading into Newgate from the adjacent Old Bailey. "What a nasty ould man, for to think o' that same!"
"Well, then, cully," responded the turnkey on his right, "ye should ha' thought o' that afore ye so misnamed his Lordship. Damme, a man must get his own back, somehow! 'Tis all he could do for to get even."
"Ah, well," remarked the prisoner philosophically—"I'm not hanged yet."
"Ye're as good as it, me young blood," cheerfully interposed the custodian on his left. "Jack Ketch'll fix ye, neat an' proper, three marnin's from now. That's all there is to it, me lad. Sure as Gawd made little apples. Come along, now—'tis th' condamned cell this time. An' ye might leave me that there coat an' veskit ye've got on. Ye'll not miss 'em. Plenty o' gents get turned off in their shirt-sleeves in the summer time. Quite comf'orble."
"Faith, thin, if I'm scragged ye can have the clothes, Morrison, for I've met worse than y'silf. But I'm not hanged yet, as I told ye before."
"Monday morning, at ten o'clock sharp, Red-head," laughed the other cheerfully—"at ten sharp be St. Sepulchre's clock," he added, as his colleague unlocked the door of a cell in the condemned ward of the gloomy prison. "This covey gets his customers turned off to th' tick. Knock on th' door if ye want aught—an' keep y'r sperrits up."
This was Friday afternoon, and on the following morning the Chaplain of Newgate prison—they used to call him the "Ordinary" in those days—came to offer spiritual consolation to Mr. Edward O'Shaughnessy, and to prepare his immortal soul for its impending parting with the body to which it had belonged for somewhere about twenty-five years. His visit was not a great success, this being due largely to his native English tactlessness—a disadvantage under which Englishmen have ever labored in their dealings with the Irish.
"You've been a bad man, my poor fellow," said the worthy gentleman, seating himself upon the single stool the cell contained. "Your soul's in great peril—the very greatest—but, with the blessing of Heaven, I hope——"
"Ye're a liar," said Mr. O'Shaughnessy. "An' what's more, ye're a ——- liar! I've not been a bad man, an' what th' divil do ye know about me sowl, I'd like for to know? To Hell out o' this. I don't want ye. Get to blazes."
"Tut, tut, my poor fellow—you are overwrought. You will not deny that you are guilty of the crime of murder for which the law is about to exact retribution."
With a howl of wrath, Mr. O'Shaughnessy took a step forward, shaking his fist in the clergyman's face, and that gentleman seemed to shrink within himself, as he noted with apprehension the almost ungovernable fury which seemed to possess the doomed Irishman. He raised an expostulatory hand, and, calming himself with a great effort, the red-headed young man resumed his leaning posture against the grimy stone wall at the end of the cell farthest from the door.
"'Tis like y'r impart'nince, me black-coated bucko, for you to be a-tellin' me I've done murther. Did you see me a-doin' ut?"
"No, my poor man—of course I didn't. But the jury, after impartial consideration, came to the conclusion that you——"
"Conclusion me gran'mother! Them dozen deludhrers! What did they know about it? Sure, I wasn't near th' spot whare this Misther Larraby was foun' dead wid his head bruk in. A mile, or more, I was away. Listhen, now! This fellie's found croaked on wan side o' Hampstead Heath, an' I'm found walkin' off with a dead goose in me fist on the other. I murthered th' goose, I'm not denyin' of it—but I knew naught o' Larraby. An' yet a fellie I niver seen, an' who niver seen me, ups an' swears he watched me knock th' mahn on th' head an' run away. He seen me red head, he says—th' blashted liar! Ain't there no others wid red hair in London town, I ask ye? But look it here, now—will ye do something for me, Misther Parson? Tisn't much I'm askin' ye for to do? Will ye not do it for a mahn's in wan o' th' wor-rst fixes mortial man cud be? I ask ye' that. Will ye do it?"
"What is it, then, my poor fellow? I promise I'll do anything reasonable that may lie in my power. What do you wish me to do for you? I'll do what I can."
"Will ye go to Lor-rud Crawshaw's house in Bloomsbury Square, an' ask for to see his Lor-rudship? An' whin ye've seen him, will ye tell him from Red O'Shaughnessy th' bad throuble he's in? Will ye tell him he's like for to be scragged o' Monday marnin' if he don't intherfere? Raymind him 'tis th' same Red O'Shaughnessy who stopped Mick Brady from a-shootin' him at Ballyhinchy. Just say that, an' lave th' rist to his Lurrudship. 'Tis th' only chance I've got. Will ye do that for me, Mister Or'nary? Don't be arguin' about whether I killed a mahn or a goose—jest remind Lorrud Crawshaw about Ballyhinchy. 'Tis all I ask of ye. I don't care about me sowl—mebbe I haven't got wan. 'Tis me squeezed neck on Monday mornin' that moa consarns me. I'm not wantin' it squeezed, so I'm not. Will ye go to Bloomsbury Square, an' see his Lorrudship? He's th' close frind o' th' Prince of Wales—th' Prince Regent."
"Yes, I'll try to see Lord Crawshaw on your behalf, my man. But I pray you to place no reliance on a chance of a reprieve. Make yourself ready to meet your Maker, I beg it of you."
"Faith, I'd be glad to mate Him anny time, so I would—but I don't want to be inthroduced to him be Jack Ketch, so I don't. He'd not think much of such an introduction, I'll go bail. Ye'll go, thin?"
The chaplain rose to his feet, and knocked with his stick on the cell door, which was presently opened by the turnkey in the corridor.
"I'll do what I can, O'Shaughnessy. But, pray, do not entertain hopes that may not be realised, and make your peace with Heaven. The time left to you is but short. Do not, I beg it of you, neglect the welfare of your immortal soul. I'll do what I can."
"'Tis me morthal body I'm a-thinkin' of, y'r rev'rince. Well, good luck go wid ye, an' bring it back here. I nade all I can get."
Red O'Shaughnessy had heard no more from the chaplain. When Sunday came, they took him to the church within the prison, where he sat in a square pen, with his coffin beside him, and listened, more or less indifferently, to a sermon preached by some other clergyman who was taking the Ordinary's place. Curious visitors attended the service, who watched the condemned man intently, for any movement, any expression of countenance, that would indicate his state of mind. Morbidly they gloated over him, as he sat in that stall of death with a turnkey by his side. But he gave them little to wonder about, and for all they could see in his demeanor might merely have been one like themselves, come to satisfy a whim.
All through that last night the doomed man was disturbed by one who rang a handbell in the street without the prison, and cried out, in a loud voice what o'clock it was, and how many hours he had yet to exist upon this earth. He asked the turnkey who sat with him what this disturbance meant, and was told that, many years before, some rich merchant of the City of London, who lay buried in St. Sepulchre's Church across Holborn, had left a sum of money for the purpose of feeing a crier who was to commit this outrage throughout the night before anyone in the prison was to suffer public execution. He walked up and down beneath the quarter of Newgate where the condemned were lodged, and chanted his dreadful hymn each time St. Sepulchre's bell tolled out the hour.
And now, with arms bound behind him, Red O'Shaughnessy faced the murmuring crowd that filled the Old Bailey and Newgate streets to overflowing, as he stood upon the scaffold that had been erected in front of the black-walled prison during the night. The hangman lounged beside him, glancing from time to time at the clock in the church tower opposite. The noose of the rope lay loose about his shoulders.
"In th' name o' God, why don't ye do y'r job?" the young man murmured to the executioner. "For God's sake, get it over."
"Three minutes yet, lad," growled the law's last functionary. "I don't hold wi' hurry. 'Tis all for your sake. A respite might come th' werry last minute."
"Do they ever come like that?"
"No—I ain't never seen it 'appen in fifteen year, laddie—but it might. There ain't no knowin'."
Red O'Shaughnessy watched the minute hand of the clock, as imperceptibly it crept towards the hour. He gazed at it, fascinated, as it reached a minute before his death. And then he shut his eyes, and waited for the sudden end of all things. The crowd of spectators was very silent now.
And then, loud and distinct, he heard a cry behind him—the voice of the Governor of Newgate.
"Mr. Sheriff, Mr. Sheriff—for the Lord's sake—HOLD!"
"Well, I'll be d——d," growled the hangman, as he lifted the noose over Red O'Shaughnessy's head. "Here's y'r ——- reprieve, me joker. Go-bless me soul—you're th' werry first as has cheated me like this in all me time as finisher. Blime, y'ought to be ashamed o' y'self."
"Bedad, thin—so I am," murmured Red O'Shaughnessy, feeling a little sick in the stomach. The mob howled like a wild beast.
WHEN they led him from the gallows outside the wall facing the Old Bailey into the gloomy interior of Newgate Prison, Edward O'Shaughnessy found awaiting him in the Press Room, where his irons had so recently been removed, Lord Crawshaw himself.
His Lordship was a middle-aged man, a little inclined to stoutness, whose red face, its color heightened by a well-powdered box wig, seemed to indicate that he was not indifferent to the pleasures of the table and the stimulating properties of good wines. Something of a dandy, his apparel was nevertheless ordered with good taste, and was in no way influenced by the extravagances of which Mr. George Bryan Brummell—better known as "Beau" Brummell—was the arbiter and high priest in those earlier days of the Regency. As the red-headed young Irish giant re-entered the room, his arms still pinioned, and himself a little pale of face by reason of his recent close introduction to Death, Lord Crawshaw stepped indolently up to him, his hand outstretched.
"Delighted, my dear O'Shaughnessy," he drawled languidly, "to have been of service to you. I cannot forget what you did for me at Ballyhinchy, when that blackguard Brady tried to shoot me. Egad, though, I came near to being too late to do you any good! A wheel came off my carriage as we turned out of Bloomsbury Square, and I had to run to get here in time to be of any use. However, better late than too late, my dear good fellow. It gives me great pleasure to have been the means of securing your respite. Lord, but 'twas a near thing! Damme, I'd have dismissed my coachman if you'd swung, I give you my word on it. Too bad, though, I can't shake hands with you. Here, one of you turnkey rascals, pray untie this gentleman's arms. This is no way for two old friends to meet. D——n my limbs, 'tis not!"
With an obsequiousness due to the fact that the Earl of Crawshaw was well known to be a boon companion of the Prince of Wales, the Governor of Newgate himself came forward and untied O'Shaughnessy's arms, bowing to the great man as he did so.
"I congratulate you, my good fellow," he said to the Irishman. "You couldn't have been closer to it."
"Faith, thin," said the reprieved man, "'tis mesilf knows all about gettin' scragged—excipt th' lasht kick. I thank y'r honor—an' me beggin' Jack Ketch for to hurry up. But 'tis y'r Lardship I do be owin' most o' me thanks. Faith, ye've paid tin times for th' plug in th' jaw I give Micky Brady."
"And glad I am of the opportunity for evincing my gratitude, O'Shaughnessy. But I couldn't do anything else for you—though I tried. 'No, no,' says George—I mean the Prince Regent—'he'll have to go to Botany Bay.' But, pray, what is to happen to our friend now, Mr. Arkwright?" he asked the Governor. "What will happen to our young friend now?"
"Well, your Lordship," replied the Governor of the prison, "I think 'tis safe to say he'll spend a few months in the hulks, down the river, until a transport's ready to give him his passage over sea. That is the usual thing, your Lordship."
"He can't be kept here?"
"Faith, I don't want to be kep' here," interrupted O'Shaughnessy. "I've tuk a dislike to th' place, afther this mornin's expay'rince. I'd sooner be annywheer else, savin' y'r prisince, Misther Gov'nor. I wud as lief go to th' wor-rust sor-rt o' hulk as shtop in y'r hotel, sorr, so I wud. These, divarsions, like th' wan I just missed this marnin', faith they're a little thryin', so they are. Mebbe there won't be no galluses on them hulks, sorr?"
"Oh, no," laughed Mr. Arkwright. "You'll have to come back here, my man, if you want to play with Jack Ketch."
"Very well, then, O'Shaughnessy.
"'Twill be some months before they ship you off to Botany Bay," said Lord Crawshaw. "I'll write immediately to Colonel Macquarie, with whom I am acquainted, and when you get to New South Wales perhaps he'll be able to do something for you. You must face whatever may be coming to you here, but probably in the new world you'll have another chance given to you. Mr. Macquarie has recently gone out as Governor, and probably a word in season to him will do you no harm. Good-bye for the present, and I'll do what I can for you in the future. Keep up your spirits. You're a young man still, and have all your life before you. Good-bye to you. Please to treat him kindly, Mr. Arkwright. I'm indebted for my life to this young man, and would do what I could for him."
"I'll do what I can for him, too, your Lordship," replied the Governor of Newgate, bowing to Red O'Shaughnessy's preserver. "That is, while he's in my charge."
"Bedad, thin, me Lorrud," said the young Irishman gratefully, "'tis Ned O'Shaughnessy's th' thankful man to ye. God bless ye for y'r koindness, sorr."
"Pooh, pooh," observed the Earl of Crawshaw, taking snuff and proffering his gold box to Mr. Arkwright; "'twas nothing at all—nothing at all, I vow."
"Bedad, thin, it mint a dale to y'r very humble sarvint, sorr. I didn't like th' look o' that rope at all, at all. Or of Mr. Ketch, ayther. A murth'rin' blaggar-rd, if ever I see wan."
A fortnight after his narrow escape from hanging, Mr. O'Shaughnessy was conveyed from Newgate to the hulk Retribution, moored in the Thames off Woolwich. These floating prisons at this time were largely used for the accommodation of convicted prisoners who had been sentenced to transportation, and they remained aboard them until the ships which were to carry them round the world to New South Wales were ready for sea.
Prisoners aboard the hulks were confined in narrow cells, hardly seven feet long, by three in width. Stout oaken partitions separated them from one another, and the foul cubicles were always dark and cold and damp. On the lower deck, below the water-line, they lay in almost total darkness—the only light that pierced their gloomy prison coming from a horn lantern that hung from a beam in the 'tween decks. During the daytime the convicts were worked ashore, as is described below.
There is a faded letter in existence written by Mr. Edward O'Shaughnessy, to a brother in Ireland, some time after he had been in New South Wales, which vividly describes these dreadful craft, and some of it may be quoted here:—
"There were confined in this floating dungeon," he says, "nearly six hundred men, most of them double-ironed, and you may conceive the horrible effects arising from the continual rattling of chains, the filth and vermin naturally produced by such a crowd of miserable wretches, the oaths and execrations constantly heard amongst them, and, above all, from the shocking necessity of associating and communicating more or less with so depraved a set of spalpeens.
"On first going down the hatchway, you can have no idea, my good Patrick, of the scene which presented itself. Nothing short of a descent into Hell could be at all worthy of comparison with it, and the demons who populace the place are an indescribable set of rogues, who rob one another right and left—a man there will rob his best friend, or his most intimate messmate, of an article hardly worth one half-penny. He would murder him for half-a-crown.
"Every morning at seven o'clock all the convicts capable of getting into the boats are taken ashore to a place called the Warren, in which the Royal Arsenal and other public buildings are situated, and are there employed at various kinds of labor, some of which are very hard and fatiguing. While so employed, each gang of sixteen or twenty prisoners is watched and directed by a fellow called a 'guard.' These guards invariably carry a large shillelagh, with which, often without the smallest provocation, they will fell an unfortunate convict to the earth, and frequently repeat their blows long after the poor devil has lost his senses. On returning on board at nightfall all hands are mustered by a roll, and all being turned down below, the hatches are put over them and secured for the night.
"The rations are horrible and scanty. The allowance of bread was said to be about twenty ounces a day. Three days in the week we had about four ounces of cheese for dinner, and the other four days a pound of beef. The breakfast was invariably boiled barley, of the coarsest sort, and so nauseous that only starvation drove a man to eat it. For supper they have burgoo, of as good (?) a quality as the barley, and on meat days the water in which the beef was boiled was thickened with barley and formed a mess which they used to call 'smiggins,' of a more detestable nature than either of the two former. The cheese was generally so bad that they used to throw it away. It was manufactured, I believe, of skimmed milk for this particular contract.
"The beef generally consisted of old bulls, or cows which had died of age or famine—the least trace of fat was considered a phenomenon, and it was far inferior to horseflesh. I once saw the prisoners throw the whole day's supply overboard the moment it was hoisted out of the boat, and for this offence they were severely flogged.
"If I were to attempt a full description of the miseries endured in these ships, I could fill a volume as big as a Bible. I shall only sum up by stating that, besides robbery from each other, which is as common as cursing and swearing, I witnessed among the prisoners themselves, during the three months I remained with them, one deliberate murder, for which the perpetrator was hung in chains on the Isle of Dogs, and one suicide, and that the most bestial offences against all decency were openly committed."
One morning, after Mr. O'Shaughnessy had endured, as he mentions above, three months in this floating hell, all hands, instead of being taken ashore to hard labor, were paraded on the upper deck, and presently learned that they were to be inspected by the surgeon of a transport which was to sail before long for Sydney. The prisoners were formed up in straggling lines on the port and starboard sides, and before choosing his passengers the doctor addressed the convicts. He was business-like and brisk.
"Now, then, my lads," he said, "I'll make myself known to you. I'm James Moriarty, surgeon of the transport Admiral Gambler, and because I've been fortunate enough, during several voyages to New Holland, not to lose any prisoners by the hand of Death, the Government gives me first pick of the hulks, when it comes to the selection of my complement of passengers. So I'm not going to spoil my record by taking any of you who look at all likely to give me the slip by dying on the way to Botany Bay. I only want forty of you, and I'll pick them myself. Hey, you big, red-headed fellow by the mainmast, come over here—you, I mean," he said pointing a finger at Red O'Shaughnessy.
Gaunt and thin, but still erect in his strong young manhood, the Irish convict shuffled across the deck and stood before the surgeon of the Admiral Gambier, who looked him up and down.
"You'll do," he said in a few moments. "Go aft and stand on the quarter-deck."
The doctor was hardly half an hour choosing his men, and then he made them a little speech, whilst the rest of the unhappy ship's company were ferried ashore to work.
"Now, you men, I'm to be your father and mother for the next few months, and I want to tell you that if you treat me well you'll be well treated yourselves. But if there's any nonsense, you'll find I can be a holy terror. I know prisoners' ways, and all about 'em. Play fair, and you'll get a fair deal. Be mutinous, or dirty, or dishonest—and I'll give you b———y hell. Now you'll all get a fair chance. You're going to a new country, and it's one of the best I've ever been to—and I know the whole world. Now then, you big carroty-nob, you're the first man I picked this morning—are ye going to play the game with me."
"Be God, sorr," said Red O'Shaughnessy, fervently, "I'd play fair wid ould Nick himself, so long as I could get out o' th' Rethribution. I would that. I would so."
It was in a spirit of fervent thankfulness that Red O'Shaughnessy and his thirty-nine companions selected for the voyage to New South Wales descended the side-ladder of the prison hulk Retribution into the barge awaiting them alongside that unsavory floating inferno.
Dr. Moriarty's address had put new heart into all of them. His exhortation to "play the game" and the straightforward statement as to the severe treatment they might expect if they did not do so seemed to have somewhat cleared the sordid atmosphere in which all of them had been living for months. They realised vaguely that they had a man to deal with, and one who was also a gentleman—which could not be said of every naval surgeon of the period. Especially of those who had charge of convict transports.
But before they reached the Admiral Gambier they were to learn that Surgeon James Moriarty, R.N., was a man who could act promptly and ruthlessly as well as make inspiring little speeches.
Lower down the stream the Admiral Gambier was lying a hundred yards or so from the Kentish side of the Thames. As the barge, in tow of one of the transport's boats approached her a sudden commotion broke out in the bows, and one of the prisoners sprang up from his seat, placed a foot on the gunwale, and dived overboard.
"Sit still, you men!" cried Dr. Moriarty as he rose to his feet in the stern sheets. He grasped a musket from the hands of one of the military guard, and called out to the crew of the tow-boat to cease rowing.
"Come back!" he shouted, as the head and shoulders of the escapee appeared above the surface. "Come back immediately—or I'll shoot you!"
The man gasped in a hasty lungful of air and dived again. The doctor slowly raised the firearm to his shoulder and waited. In a few moments—that seemed an age to Red O'Shaughnessy—the man's head broke the surface again, some five or six yards farther inshore.
At once the musket cracked and the white smoke of the discharge drifted above the muddy water. The "bolter" threw up his arms, uttered a smothered scream as he sank, and disappeared.
"Give way!" commanded the surgeon, handing back the musket to its owner. "Alongside the ship!" he ordered peremptorily. The prisoners in the barge had no manner of doubt now as to the character of the man who was to take them to Botany Bay.
The transportation of prisoners from England, Scotland, and Ireland to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land went on for more than half a century, and its conditions varied greatly. Its more horrible features have generally been emphasised by historical writers, but the fact remains that, with some evil exceptions, vessels employed as transports were generally ruled by their surgeon-superintendents with humanity and care of the convicts' health.
There had been some terrible hardships, with resultant mortality, in the earliest days of transportation—the Second Fleet, which arrived in Sydney in 1790, had a dreadful death-roll. The transport Neptune lost 158 out of 502 convicts, the Surprise 36 out of 256, and the Scarborough 73 out of 259. In 1799 the Hillsborough came into Port Jackson with about 200 survivors out of the 300 convicts who had begun the voyage. But such cases were exceptional, and most of the transports arrived with their compulsory passengers in fairly good condition, considering the length of the voyage and the difficulty of obtaining sufficient supplies of fresh provisions during its course through every sort of climate.
We may quote again from one of Edward O'Shaughnessy's letters home during his earlier years in New South Wales. It well describes the conditions of the convicts' existence in one of the better conducted transports, such as was the Admiral Gambier when under the superintendence of Dr. Moriarty.
"Before we left that damnable Retribution," he writes, "we were given new clothing and were ironed pretty securely, and 'twas queer to observe how comfortable some of the old-lags could make themselves in their anklets and bracelets. The accommodation aboard was closely packed, but like living in Dublin Castle compared to the hulk off Woolwich.
"Two rows of sleeping-berths, one above the other extended on each side of the 'tween-decks in the transport vessel, each berth being six feet square, and calculated to hold four men, giving each of them 18 inches of sleeping-room, which you will admit, my dear Patrick, is none too much. But 'twas too good for some of those rapscallions with whom I made the voyage out to Sydney Town. The hospital was in the fore-part of the ship, with a bulkhead across separating it from the prison, having two locked doors to keep out trespassers, while there was a separate prison for the boys, to keep them away from the contamination of the older prisoners. Strong wooden stanchions thickly studded with nails, were fixed round the fore and main hatchways, between decks, in each of which was a door with three padlocks, to let the convicts out and in, and to secure them at night. The convicts by these means had no access to the holds through the prison, a ladder being placed in each hatchway for them to go up and down by, which is pulled on deck at night.
"Scuttle-holes, to open and shut for the admission of air, were cut in the ship's sides; a large stove and funnel placed between decks for warmth and ventilation; swing doors and charcoal put on board, to carry about into the damp corners; and, in fact, everything possible done to secure comfort to the prisoners during the voyage. Each man was allowed a pair of shoes, three shirts, two pairs of trousers, and other warm clothing, besides a bed, pillow and blanket.
"The rations were good and sufficient, three-quarters of a pound of biscuit being the daily allowance of bread, while each day we used to sit down to dinner of either beef, pork, or plum pudding, having pea-soup four times a week, and a pot of gruel every morning with sugar or butter in it. Vinegar was issued to the messes weekly, and, as soon as the ship had been three weeks at sea, each man was served with one ounce of lime-juice and the same of sugar daily, to guard against scurvy, whilst three or four gills of wine weekly, and three quarts of water daily was the general allowance. The sick were provided with all necessary medicines and comforts, as well as with warm clothing, spare bedding, sheets, and every description of hospital furniture.
"The common diet allowance was certainly enough to keep us in good health, as there was no work to do. Two delegates, chosen in turn from the several messes, saw the provisions weighed out each day, and that everyone had his fair share.
"The greater part of the main deck was made over to the use of the prisoners, who numbered upwards of 200. The guard consisted of two commissioned officers, six non-commissioned officers, and 40 soldiers, and the ship's routine was to arrange that, whilst at sea, the prisoners were allowed on deck from sunrise to sunset, under an armed guard. From the ranks of the convicts a boatswain and six mates were chosen by Dr. Moriarty, who were made responsible for the cleanliness and good order of the remainder. Water was the only thing that was restricted—of the food there was always an ample abundance."
The Admiral Gambier called at Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope, and the voyage was without event, and made, for the most part, in good weather. Red O'Shaughnessy, having been made one of the convict boatswain's mates by Dr. Moriarty, found his lot a little better than that of most of the other prisoners, in that it was not quite so monotonous, and was ameliorated by certain small privileges. He was well-conducted and steady in the performance of his duties, and it soon became evident that the Surgeon-Superintendent had come to regard him with a favorable eye.
"O'Shaughnessy," he said to him one day at the ration inspection, "you're doing very well indeed, and maybe when we reach Sydney, I'll be able to recommend you for some better sort of employment than is made available to most prisoners when they land—something better than the gaol-gang or the road-making. Keep on as you've been doing, and you won't be sorry for it."
"Faith thin, sorr, 'tis grateful I am for y'r anner's kindness—but I suppose 'twould not be a passage home ye'd be recommindin' me for? I cud do with that same, sorr."
"You won't go home for a good while, my man," laughed the Doctor—"but don't give up hope. 'Tis not such a bad life in New South Wales, if you face it rightly, and you'll get home again in good time—so long as you don't make a fool or a rogue of yourself."
"Bedad, thin, I don't know at all, at all, sorr, which of the two I must be for to be makin' the voyage. But I'll be as careful as I know how to be, and not go lookin' for throuble."
"That's right, O'Shaughnessy. You're a young man, and there ought to be a decent future for you in New South Wales, if you look after yourself."
"I'll do me best, sorr—an' thankee for y'r kindness."
It was sometime in the hours of darkness when they made the Heads of Port Jackson, and the Master of the transport stood off and on until daylight, before attempting the entrance to the harbor. The sun was well up when O'Shaughnessy, with five or six others of the prisoners were summoned on deck to assist the crew in working the ship up to Sydney Cove. They were all the morning beating up the harbor against a light westerly breeze. There was little sign of the town in those days until an entering ship was abreast of Pinchgut. Its furthest outposts were on the western heights of Woolloomooloo. There were one or two outlying houses between them and the coast, belonging to officers of the garrison and the civil department, but they lay in an inhospitable wilderness of scrub and forest, and were as far removed from Sydney as are farms on the Hawkesbury in these days.
Just before noon, the ship dropped her anchor within the mouth of the little bay round which the town of Sydney clustered—a primitive, quaint little place it was then, straggling up the valley of the Tank Stream, and upon the low hills to east and west of it, for about a mile inland. There were a few public buildings, a fairly large military barracks, a gaol and Government House. There were a few good residences up on "The Rocks," to the west of the Cove, but for the most part the houses were small two or three-roomed cottages, with little vegetable gardens in front of them, and with no claim to architectural adornments of any sort. They were mostly the primitive "wattle-and-daub" structures which had been erected in the early days of settlement—and yet, considering that the place had only been occupied for about two dozen years, Sydney in 1812 was no disgrace to the British genius for colonisation. Such, in a few words, was the capital of all Australia, and the South Seas, when Red O'Shaughnessy made its acquaintance for the first time.
In our next chapter, we will see what a singular introduction the young Irish man had to the Sydney of Macquarie's day.
THE transport Admiral Gambier's arrival in Port Jackson had been expected for a short while before she passed between the Heads, a fishing-boat having sighted her south of Botany Bay on the evening before her arrival. As a consequence, the Naval Officer—Harbor Master and Collector of Customs—had boarded her in Watson's Bay almost immediately after her entrance on the following morning, so that she was but little delayed by the usual business incidental to a vessel's arrival in the port. Leave had been given her to proceed at once to her allotted anchorage off the town of Sydney, and at midday, as has been recorded in the previous chapter, she dropped anchor in the mouth of the little bay round the head of which clustered the quaint village that was the capital of New South Wales in 1812.
When Red O'Shaughnessy made his first acquaintance with the little town he was to know so well in the future, and whose growth into something better than it was in 1812 he was to witness in the coming years, it was a primitive place indeed. A description of the conditions then obtaining in it, written by an authority on the Macquarie period—Mr. J. P. McGuanne—gives us some idea of the community into the midst of which the young Irishman was about to make intrusion. It refers specifically to the year 1816, but may very well stand as a brief description of the social aspect of New South Wales at the time when Red O'Shaughnessy landed in the country.
Practically, Sydney and its immediate neighborhood were all there was of British Australasia in 1812—with the Derwent settlement in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) as an outlying dependency. There was no real settlement, save in the districts immediately about Port Jackson and the Hawkesbury. Outside a strip of coastal country, not more than 80 miles long and half as wide, the colony did not exist. To the north was the rude and severe penal settlement at the Coal River—as the Hunter was still most familiarly called—and to the south there were the Cow Pastures, and a few scattered cedar-getters in the Illawarra. Between the sea and the hitherto impenetrable wall of the Blue Mountains, an indifferently hospitable terrain afforded hardly more than a mere subsistence to its scattered inhabitants.
"In Sydney and the remaining towns," says Mr. McGuanne, "we find that jail-gangs did the scavenging; oil lamps and home-made tallow candles supplied light to the houses, supplemented in bush circles by 'guano oil and 'possum fat; fires were lighted by the aid of tinder boxes, flint and steel, or sun-glasses; resuscitated by leather bellows or puffs of breath; snuffers were constantly in use, so were spills, and brooms were made from any brush. Houses of the poor had brick floors, when not of trodden clay, causing the inmates to suffer from 'rheumatiz' and 'brownchitis.' Cups, mugs, spoons, platters, bowls, and saucers were of iron, tin or wood. People were not food-faddy; 'rheubar'-pie, pumpkin-pie, or wholemeal bread baked in 'drippin',' was considered a luxury for Sunday. Soups were made from wallaby or 'possum bones. A wooden trough, or the end of a hollow log, embedded in clay, was used for holding water when empty wine barrels were not procurable.
"In the best houses well-executed pencil sketches by Lewin's pupils decorated the walls; bells were suspended from elastic ropes, and door-knockers were considered an ornament. Buildings of slab, weatherboard—chiefly whip-sawed or bricknog—were painted blue; ploughs, water-butts, barrows, carts, and front fences were a darker blue. So heterogeneous were the articles exposed for sale that would-be humorists have quoted their unique assortment in order to raise a smile in England. Early hours of retirement dispensed with the consumption of trade oil. Numerous sign-boards protruded in every street. The husband looked after his trade or workshop, while the wife attended to the counter.
"... As a rule the inhabitants were hard drinkers, crotchetty, narrow-minded, ignorant, and often tyrannical, impressing their narrow views upon each batch of new colonists. Women shared in laborious duties. Their daughters, compelled to live in the back-wash, became bashful and awkward in demeanor, insipidly sentimental, and elaborately stiff, when not unctuous, during a social interview. Romances, even if available, dared not be read by unmarried females. The humming of a spinning-wheel, the dashing of a churn, or the grinding of corn in the steel mill were more often heard than the music of a piano. At five o'clock on Sunday evenings promenaders wended their way to Hyde Park to listen to the band of the . . . Regiment, while interchanging small talk and scurrility."
As soon as the Admiral Gambier had been brought up to her moorings, and the sails furled, numerous boats from the shore put off to the ship, but were warned off by the sentries. The Naval Officer had left instructions that no one was to land, or no visitors admitted to the transport until he should give orders to that effect. In the meantime the prisoners were kept busy in cleaning out their quarters and getting themselves ready for disembarkation.
Within an hour's time, the Naval Officer again boarded the transport, and warned Dr. Moriarty to be prepared for a vice-regal visit.
"The Governor is coming off to you this afternoon, Doctor," he said—"so mind your p's and q's, for Mr. Macquarie's a great stickler for having things done properly. Be sure and see to it that your military officer has the guard under arms, and all ready to accord him a salute so soon as he sets foot upon the quarter-deck. His Excellency's very precise in these matters. And have the convicts paraded on deck, amidship, for his inspection. He'll be here sharp at 3 o'clock. You know the Governor, I think."
"Oh, yes," replied the Surgeon-Superintendent with a little smile—"indeed I do, and I can promise you, sir, that everything will be strictly 'comme il faut' as regards the ship and her passengers."
It was a little before three when the Governor's boat was observed to be putting off from the jetty below Government House. The prisoners were immediately ordered to form up in a double rank in the waist of the ship on the port side, and the whole of the military detachment, under the lieutenant and ensign in charge of it, fell in with fixed bayonets on the quarter-deck. They were more spick and span than O'Shaughnessy had hitherto seen them, and every button glittered in the sunshine, while their cross-belts were pipe-clayed to a snowy whiteness. Everybody in the ship wore the best clothes he had, and the Captain's blue cloth coat was in imminent danger of splitting at the seams, since the worthy master of the Admiral Gambier had put on flesh during the voyage.
The boat came alongside in man-o'-war fashion, the crew tossing their oars, as the bow-man hooked on to the side ladder. Dr. Moriarty and the Captain stood at the gangway to receive him, and, with the soldiers presenting arms, and the prisoners bare-headed, His Excellency, Colonel Lachlan Macquarie, C.B., Captain-General and Governor-in-chief in and over His Majesty's Territory of New South Wales, stepped onto the quarter-deck of the Admiral Gambier. He halted at the gangway, and returned the salute with stiff and impressive dignity. Then he turned to Dr. Moriarty and the Captain, and shook hands with them.
"A good voyage, I trust, gentlemen?" he said.
"Excellent, your Excellency," replied the Surgeon.
"Ah—delighted to hear it. I will inspect the guard, sir, and then the prisoners. I should like to say a few words to the convicts before I leave the ship."
"Faith, thin," whispered Red O'Shaughnessy to his right hand neighbor in the ranks of the prisoners, "'tis th' rale McGuinness his High Mightiness is. Divil a doubt of it! An' 'tis not himself I'd be afther thryin' for to cross. He's got a look about him, so he has!"
The young Irishman was right. Macquarie certainly had "a look about him"—a look of stern and unbending uprightness, it was, of a stiff dignity that was almost grotesque, of natural kindness that could never degenerate into weak leniency, a little of pomposity and of energetic determination. No one could regard the rigid soldierly aspect of Governor Macquarie without realising that he looked upon a Man. At this time be was fifty-one years of age, not much beyond his prime, and his broad shoulders and sturdy build gave him a look of physical strength that his constant activities did not belie. His face was sun-tanned almost to swarthiness by his many years of service in India, and he limped slightly, because of an old wound in the leg.
After he had done with the guard, he addressed the convicts, his bright dark eyes seeming to size each individual up, as his quick gaze shifted from one to another of them whilst he spoke.
"Now, my men," he said, "I hear from your Surgeon-Superintendent that you have had a fine passage and are all in good health. You will be disembarked to-morrow, and your lives in New South Wales will begin. What you make of them is in your own hands. This is a penal colony, and its discipline is necessarily severe, but honest effort, sobriety, and industry will do much to ameliorate the lot of each one of you. There are many temptations to be overcome here, and fortitude and resolution are very necessary for those who wish to live down past errors and indiscretions. But every one of you has a chance of redeeming the past and of enjoying a prosperous future. Those who persist in evil courses will find their transgressions rewarded with fitting severity. I wish you all well in your future life here. Do your best. That is all I have to say to you."
His gaze wandered up and down the double rank of prisoners, as though he were searching for someone in particular. He turned to the military officer who had accompanied him aboard, and asked him a question in a low tone. He nodded to the reply, and again faced the uneven ranks of convicts.
"I desire," he said, "to speak with Edward O'Shaughnessy. Pray step forward, O'Shaughnessy."
Bewildered by the suddenness of this distinction, Red O'Shaughnessy did not move immediately. He stood gaping at the Governor, and it was not until his name was repeated again by Macquarie that he awoke to what was required of him.
"Edward O'Shaughnessy?" said his Excellency again, scanning the ranks of the prisoners.
"Come, come, O'Shaughnessy—you're not deaf! Step out here immediately," cried Dr. Moriarty peremptorily and impatiently. "Be quick about it, my man!"
Hesitantly, the tall young Irishman took a couple of paces to the front, and stood before the Governor, his red head flaming in the afternoon sunlight and his cap in his hand. He raised a crooked forefinger to his right eyebrow in the convict salute. Macquarie looked him over in a kindly fashion, and nodded his approval.
"You are Edward O'Shaughnessy, in whom the Earl of Crawshow takes an interest?"
"Yes, sorr. I'm known to his Lor-rudship. 'Twas him saved me from th' gallows."
"Well then, my good fellow, I wish to see you immediately at the Government House. You will be so kind as to give this man permission to get his belongings from below, Mr. Surgeon-Superintendent, and to accompany me ashore when I leave the ship presently. I have some special employment for him. Captain Antill," he turned to his aide-de-camp, "will you please take charge of the prisoner?"
"Off with you and get your things, O'Shaughnessy," said Dr. Moriarty.
The thoroughly bewildered young Irishman went down the hatchway, muttering to the soldier who accompanied him—
"Now, what in God's name does it all mane, I'd ask ye? What'll they be afther doin' wid me wud ye be thinkin', Misther Souldier? Wud it be good or bad, wud ye say, now?"
"Th' werry wust, ginger-top," was the soldiers consoling reply. "I 'spose the' Gov'nor's got horders for to 'ave ye 'ung—to do wot oughter bin did houtside Noogit. That's abart wot it is, cully."
AS he walked down into the town of Sydney from Government House on the sunny morning of his coming ashore from the transport Admiral Gambler, Red O'Shaughnessy marvelled at the good fortune that seemed almost overwhelming after all the bad luck that had been his since being charged with murder in London nearly a year before.
Escorted by one of the Governor's two orderlies, he had followed his Excellency and Captain Antill up the hill to Government House, after landing at the jetty in Sydney Cove. Whilst Macquarie and his aide-de-camp entered the house immediately, he had been bidden to wait on the verandah, and had spent twenty minutes in the company of his stalwart guardian looking down at the little town straggling on either side of the Tank Stream, up the valley from the waterside. He had attempted a trifle of genial conversation with the big trooper standing near him, but had met with a quick and enthusiastic rebuff.
"Sure, thin, Misther Souldier," he had ventured, "'tis not a bad sort of a place at all, at all—this Sydney Town!"
"Shut y' jaw, ye ——- lag!" responded the warrior gruffly. "Speak when you're ——- well spoke to!"
"Howly Moses!" muttered the discomfited young convict. "Faith, 'tis but dir-r-t a man must be!"
"So ye ——- well are, ye stinkin' 'ound! Keep y'r mouth shut."
Then a gentleman came to the front door—it was Mr. John Thomas Campbell, the Governor's secretary—and spoke his name inquiringly.
"Are you Edward O'Shaughnessy, a prisoner-of-the-Crown?"
"I am thin, sorr. At y'r honor's sarvice."
"Come with me, my man. His Excellency requires you at once. Come inside, and follow me, if you please."
With a gesture Mr. Campbell dismissed the surly orderly, who saluted, and clanked himself and his big sabre away, round the corner of the house, to the back. O'Shaughnessy walked after the secretary down the hall until they came to a half-open door. Signing to him to follow, Mr. Campbell entered the room.
"The prisoner O'Shaughnessy, your Excellency," he announced.
Red O'Shaughnessy walked into the room, his cap in his left hand. He raised a finger to his forehead in the convict salute, as he halted before the Governor's writing table, behind which sat his Excellency, straight backed and erect. Another officer was seated on a chair by the wall, who looked curiously at the tall young Irishman, seeming to take stock of him carefully.
"Ha, my man," said Macquarie. "I'm glad to say I have a very good report of your conduct, during the Admiral Gambler's voyage out, from surgeon Moriarty."
"'Tis thankful I am to his 'anner, sorr, for his good wor-rd."
"I have also had in my possession for some time a letter concerning you from the Earl of Crawshaw, a gentleman with whom I had the honor of serving in his Majesty's 71st Foot in New York, and at Charleston, during the American revolution. He tells me of your having saved his life from an assassin in Ireland and also of the manner in which he saved yours. Were you guilty of the crime for which you so nearly forfeited your life?"
"'Your Excellency,' if you please, my man. Well, that is as it may be. But to get to business. I am under an obligation to Lord Crawshaw, and am glad to do what I can to further his wishes with regard to yourself. This gentleman, Captain Edward Axthorpe, of the 73rd, is about to take up the position of Commandant at the Coal River settlement—Newcastle—and I have requested him to take you with him as a personal servant. You will understand, my man, that you are fortunate in not being sent to one of the labor gangs, to which newly-arrived prisoners are usually assigned. Captain Axthorpe proceeds to Newcastle to-morrow, and you must be ready to go with him in the schooner, which sails in the morning. D'ye think he'll suit you, Axthorpe? Have you any objections?"
The young officer, a good-looking man of about thirty, shook his head and smiled.
"No, your Excellency. I think this lad should suit me very well. Can you read and write, my man?"
"Yes, sorr," replied O'Shaughnessy. "I was educated for to become a praste."
"Indeed! Well, I'm a good Protestant, but I daresay that won't matter. I think he will do very well, your Excellency."
"Good!" said the Governor. "Here is a pass for you, O'Shaughnessy, from the Superintendent of Convicts, which sets out your special appointment. Do not lose it—it is your only protection from the constables. And I trust I will hear good reports of you from Captain Axthorpe. Be sober and industrious, and avoid the temptations so rife in this settlement. That is all, I think. You may take him with you, Axthorpe. Good-bye to you—and I wish you success in your new command. Mr. Campbell, will you kindly see Captain Axthorpe to the door? Good-day to you, O'Shaughnessy. Do your best, my good fellow, and I'll keep you in mind."
Red O'Shaughnessy followed Captain Axthorpe from the room and out of Government House, and when they had passed the guard-room at the entrance gates the officer halted and turned to address his new servant.
"Look here, O'Shaughnessy," he said in a kindly fashion, "I won't worry you with orders until we get to Newcastle. In the meantime, I don't suppose you'd be averse to stretching your legs for a while, after your long voyage. But, by Jove, I expect you've even longer than that to make up for, eh? How long have you been a prisoner—I mean since first you were apprehended for the offence that has brought you to Botany Bay—they call all the Territory Botany Bay at home, don't they? How long have you been in confinement, my man?"
"'Tis but just short of a twelvemonth, sorr, since me bad luck got a holt of me. Very n'yh a year, y'r anner."
"Ah, well—we'll give you the afternoon to yourself, then. Report to me at 9 o'clock in the morning, at the barracks—over yonder in George Street. The schooner won't be sailing until noon. Have you any money?"
"Yes, sorr—a few pounds."
"Well, you'd better get yourself some clothing. Keep clear of the grog-shops and the women of the town—they're a bad lot of trulls—and be careful to have the pass his Excellency gave you ready for instant production. These convict constables are keen to get cases, and not over scrupulous as to evidence. But if you have your pass, and mention that you're in my service, you'll be all right. Nine o'clock sharp, remember—at the barracks."
Nodding good-bye, Captain Axthorpe walked away in the direction of the town, leaving Red O'Shaughnessy a little bewildered at the contemplation of the first spell of liberty he had enjoyed since his arrest in London the year before.
For a long time, he stood with folded arms gazing down at the little village in the valley below him, and at the loveliness of the blue waters of the harbor, glittering in the sunlight of late afternoon between their densely-wooded shores. Suddenly, his absent-minded spell of contemplation was rudely awakened by a vigorous "kick in the stern" which caused him to spin round in angry resentment.
"What the hell!" he shouted, and then, remembering that he was only a poor prisoner, entitled to more kicks than half-pence, angrily addressed the grinning corporal who must have administered this rude reminder of his status. "What th' divil did ye do that for?" he asked the soldier, savagely.
"Na then, cully, you jest mind wot ye're abart!" responded the corporal of the guard. "Show us y'r pass, will ye? The sargeant sent me for to see wot ye was up to, a-loafiin' 'ere in front o' Gov'ment 'Ouse. Come on, now—bring out y'r pass, if so be as ye've got one. If ye ain't, 'tis th' guard-room an' the' watch-'ouse for you, me liddle dicky-bird. So no dam' cheek, an' let's take a squint at y'r paper."
Suppressing a violent inclination to "see red" and smash his fist into the fat and silly face before him, O'Shaughnessy took the pass from his pocket, and showed it to the fellow, who returned it with a curse of disappointment.
"D——n me heyes," he cried disgustedly, "'tis all in order—an' us a wantin' ye for to do some wood-choppin' for th' guard-room fire. So ye're goin' as Teddy Axthorpe's sarvint, are ye? Well, Teddy's a good covey—but wot th' 'ell 'e wants for to take on a ——— lag, when there's plenty good sojers for to pick from, I dunno. Anyway, ye mouldy convict rat, get to blazes outer this! Off wi' ye, now. We don't want ----- hornaments of your sort a-hangin' abart th' Gov'nor's front door. Clear outer this, ye mongrel. Step lively, now!"
Boiling with rage, and holding himself very erect, Red O'Shaughnessy stalked down the hill in the direction of the bridge that spanned the Tank Stream immediately below where he had been standing. He came to it presently, and walked over the stone viaduct that spanned it in those days—a little way in front of the Royal Exchange of to-day. Here he paused for a while, wondering where he should go—when again he was accosted with a rudeness that made his Celtic blood boil. But he was beginning to recognise that restraint and self-control were the only safe courses of conduct for prisoners of the Crown in New South Wales. He had sense enough to realise that it would be fatal to slacken the reins of his fiery temper.
He turned, and saw a squint-eyed fellow in a blue uniform faced with red, and a flat peaked-cap, who carried an immense watchman's rattle in his right hand, whilst his left rested upon the hilt of a naval cutlass hanging at his side. He was speaking angrily to O'Shaughnessy. Nevertheless, the latter took some comfort from the sound of the man's voice.
"Now, thin, 'ye blarsted loafin' vaggybone—for why is ye're idlin' about Macquarie Place. Tell me that, now, ye red-headed baboon. Show me y'r pass, ye blaggar-rd—or 'twill be th' warse for ye. Out wid it, now, ye great big ugly spalpeen."
"Glory be to God, sargint—'tis glad I am for to meet with a Christian in this quare counthry, so it is. Here's my pass, an' welcome to it. I'm on leafe for th' rest o' th' day, so I am. Here it is, sorr."
The horribly squinting constable—he was one of the new police instituted by Macquarie soon after his arrival in New South Wales—took the paper, scanned it, and passed it back to O'Shaughnessy. His ugly, monkey-like face had softened a little—though it still remained a very evil countenance. Like most of his comrades in the force, he had himself arrived in the colony as a transported felon, and very much more like the majority of them, was a rogue, a thief and a liar of the worst description.
"So ye're on leafe from Cap'n Axthorpe, are ye—an' ye come from th' ould sod, be y'r o' talk. An' phwat might ye be a-doin' of now, me mahn?"
"Oh, just takin' a luk at Sydney Town, seargeant."
"I'm not yet a sergeant, me bhoy, though 'tis not for want of desarvin' to be such. Have ye anny money?"
"Indade I have, sorr—a few guineas. I'm a-goin' for to do a bit o' shoppin'. Th' Cap'n tould me to get myself some clothing before I go to th' Coal River—Newcastle, or what iver they call th' outlandish place."
"Now luk here, me bhoyo—'tis th' lucky man ye are for to ha' met wid Mick Riordan—that's me—for I was at th' Coal River in Gov'nor Bligh's time, an' can tell ye all ye'll want for to know about th' place. Come, we'll go drink a dram together up on th' Rocks, where there's a dacint public kep' be wan of our countrymin. Sure, ye'll enjoy th' crame o' society an' good fellowship at The Sheer Hulk. Come wid me, now, Mister O'Shaughnessy, an' I'll show ye what's what in Sydney Town."
So, under guidance of Constable Michael Riordan, did Red O'Shaughnessy wend his way across Sydney, and up the western hillside into Harrington Street, at whose northern end, not very far from St. Philip's Church, was situated the lowest and most infamous drinking-den of all Sydney of 1812, of which the licencee was likewise infamous and low. So, poor O'Shaughnessy was soon to learn, was the liquor dispensed there. The name of this disreputable tavern was "The Sheer Hulk"—a name which fitted it with peculiar appropriateness.
CONSTABLE MICHAEL RIORDAN was eloquent in his introduction of Red O'Shaughnessy to Mr. Thaddeus Driscoll, landlord of "The Sheer Hulk" tavern. Mr. Driscoll was as unprepossessing in appearance as his house, but the enthusiasm of Constable Riordan could find nothing but perfection in either.
"Well, thin, Misther O'Shaughnessy," he said, as they approached the low doorway of the disreputable-looking shanty, from which boisterous noises drifted out discordantly, "this is the snuggest little cosy-corner in all Sydney Town, so it is. Ye'd not foind betther in Cork or Dublin, so ye wuddn't. An' Thady's one o' th' best lads iver breathed, begorra, 'tis so. Oho," he shouted through the open doorway of the inn, "come outside wid ye, Misther Driscoll. 'Tis th' polis."
A sudden silence overpowered the babel within—until a tousled head poked itself out of the glassless window beside the entrance, and a thick voice cried out:
"Oh, 'tis on'y Micky th' Goat!" Whereupon the sounds of unrighteous revelry recommenced. The two of them stood waiting by the door, listening to the uncouth noises incidental to the proceedings inside.
The din was a strange blend of all manner of discordant riot. A score of voices were singing twenty different songs, some identical in words, but all of them varying in tune and time. A bellow of male voices would be succeeded by the screeching of shrill-toned females. The banging of drinking vessels upon tables, the loud yelling of thirsty customers for more grog, the frenzied shouting of drunken men and women who bordered on delirium—it seemed as though a little corner of Hell was shut in beneath that thatched roof, and behind the weather-stained walls of the old and dilapidated building. Hardly any name could have suited the inn better than the one it bore. It was, indeed, a "sheer hulk" of a house—frowsy, decayed, and infinitely degraded.
The unkempt head thrust itself out of the window again. "Come inside, Mick Riordan, th' boss says. He'm too busy for to come out to ye."
Constable Riordan led the way into the evil den. Over beyond the blue waters of Cockle Bay, which was the name of Darling Harbor in those days, and for many years after, the sun was setting behind the green, scrub-covered ridges stretching away towards the distant cobalt ranges of the Blue Mountains. Red O'Shaughnessy followed in the wake of his guide, and came into the queerest company he had ever encountered.
Inside "The Sheer Hulk" Mr. Thaddeus Driscoll, a villainous personage with a broken nose, a squint, and black whiskers growing beneath his chin presided in an overbearing and muscular fashion over the revels that were taking place in the large low-ceiled, shabby room that was the main apartment of the house. The approaching darkness was dimly illuminated by three horn lanterns depending from the rafters. There were benches fixed up all round the walls, and in front of them were long, narrow, greasy, wooden tables covered with pewter pots, glasses, and clay pipes of the churchwarden sort. A thick, rank haze of tobacco smoke, and the dancing shadows made by the swinging lanterns, gave to the place an aspect of disreputable and ghostly unreality.
All round the den men and women were seated at the tables—drinking, bawling, quarrelling, gambling, and making shameless and indecent love. All except a few drunken sailors from the ships in port, whom Mr. Driscoll and his regular clients regarded as their legitimate prey—were of the convict and ticket-of-leave class. The men were bad, but the women were obviously worse. Hogarth might have done justice to the scene as a typical thieves' kitchen—it is not easy to picture it in printed words.
Driscoll was a convict "free by servitude," and his establishment was ostensibly a lodging-house for sailors. His partner, who does not come into this veracious chronicle, exhibited a barber's pole outside the door as "a blind," but did no hairdressing, except of the sort that has been described as "shearing lambs." The place was a boozing-den, a brothel, a crimping establishment, and a resort of the worst characters in Sydney. Rum was all it sold in the way of drink—but it did so well out of that that Thaddeus Driscoll had hopes before long of getting back to the banks of the Liffey, there to conduct a similar enterprise that would have greater opportunities.
He was surveying the dim but entrancing scene before him—standing beside two small barrels of Bengal rum to serve it out as fresh supplies were ordered by his customers, and thinking pleasant thoughts over the prospect of a retirement from business in Sydney and a change of address to Dublin when Mr. Riordan led Red O'Shaughnessy up to him to be introduced. He hailed the constable with saturine geniality.
"Good ev'nin' to ye, Micky, me bhoy," he exclaimed with false enthusiasm. "An' what've I been doin' now, that th' polis has to visit me so arly in th' avenin'?"
"'Tis but a friendly call, Thady, me bucko. Here's a young man's but new to Sydney Town, an' I wanted to make a firrum frind for him, so I brung him to 'The Hulk.' Sure, he'll find it out for himself, I mek no doubt of it at all, that there's warse an' more discomfortable places in these parts than your snug little retrate."
"Right you are, Micky—ye niver said a truer worrud," gratefully responded Host Driscoll to this flattering enconium upon his establishment. Others present, however, held divergent views.
"Aw, my God!" exclaimed a red-haired, pudding-bosomed, red-faced female seated within hearing. "'Ark to 'em,' ladies an' gents—'ark to 'em! Th' bloodiest spongin' 'ouse in th' Sou' Seas. Lord, it mikes me sick! Th' ——- liars!"
Mr. Driscoll met this hostile opinion with characteristic promptitude. Picking up a bucket of rum-sodden, dirty water, in which the drinking vessels were rinsed, that stood on the floor between the barrels, he emptied it over the lady's unkempt auburn locks. She screamed curses at him and he roared like a bull to her male companion—a little man of somewhat timid aspect—to take her away.
"Outside wid her, Jawn Toovey," he bawled above th' din. "Outside wid her, now—elst I'll break both y'r heads. I mane it, so I do. Be off, th' both of ye, quick an' lively, now!"
He picked up a huge blackthorn stick and whirled it above his head threateningly. With a squeal of terror, Mr. Toovey laid hands upon his innamorata and dragged her, protesting obscenely, to the door. Here the tousled one who had welcomed our two visitors pushed her out into the darkness, bestowed a kick behind upon her male escort, and closed the door upon the pair.
"Good for you, thin, Thady," admiringly exclaimed Constable Riordan. "'Tis no disord'ly house you'd be afther permittin', I know it well, so I do. Ye seed that, Mister O'Shaughnessy. 'Tis th' model publican is Thady Driscoll. If there was more like him in Sydney Town, there'd be no nade for us. Give us two noggins, thin, me bould Thady, an' join wid us. Faith, we'll drink hear-rty to such a wan as y'silf. Come now, 'tis th' dry t'roat a man gets listenin' to such a trollop as that Sally th' Hin. Bad luck to such a bad-mouthed bitch!"
So Red O'Shaughnessy sat down at one of the greasy tables with mine host of "The Sheer Hulk," whilst the latter's tousle-headed factotum—he rejoiced in the name of Jerry the Rat—served him and Constable Riordan with copious libations of rum, the only doubtful virtue of which was its strength and potency. They "drank hearty" to the prowess of Mr. Thaddeus Driscoll, the efficiency of Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth's new police, as exemplified in that doughty guardian of law and order, Mr. Michael Riordan, and to the future colonial career of Mr. Edward O'Shaughnessy—and Mr. O'Shaughnessy was graciously permitted to pay for all the drinks.
Meanwhile, as the night grew older, "The Sheer Hulk" developed its charming characteristics in a fashion that, whilst he retained his senses, was fascinatingly interesting to the young "new chum" Irish colonist. People went and people came, and steadily the hullabaloo and disorder increased in volume. By midnight the smoke-laden taproom was a roaring volcano of ribaldry, noise, and general pandemonium. Long before midnight, Red O'Shaughnessy had succumbed to the soporific influences of Mr. Driscoll's rum, and by the time the new day was in its first hour was sleeping stertorously at the table, his carroty head pillowed on his arms and his snores competing with the general din in trumpet-like fashion. Long abstinence from alcohol, during the time he had been in Newgate and aboard the Retribution and Admiral Gambier, contributed to this weakness in the face of Mr. Driscoll's fiery liquor—but also it was due to the fact that he had had no food since early morning, having missed the midday meal on the transport by reason of the excitement and preoccupation of preparing for disembarkation. So, to the shame of Michael Riordan, Red O'Shaughnessy was quite incapable of paying for the ceaseless rounds of drinks that were set before the trio by that indefatigable tapster, Jerry the Rat. However, with great consideration, Constable Riordan searched the stupefied man's pockets and generously shared the proceeds of his investigations with Mr. Driscoll.
"Sure," said the policeman, "'tis—hic—no condition th' young fellie's in for to look afther his cash, an' I'm thinkin' that some o' y'r guests, Thady, me bucko, are not to be thrusted at all, at all. So we'll put timptation out o' their way an' purtect th' young lad from such thayves. He's—hic—quite safe now, for 'tis me own expayrance that no man can be robbed of what he ain't got. Hullo, thin, an' who'll this be, now?"
The door had been pushed open and a huge and not unhandsome man of seafaring aspect completely filled the aperture, as he stood on the threshold with bent head and surveyed the singular scene in the interior of the house.
"Begorra," whispered Constable Riordan to Host Driscoll, "'tis Cap'n Grimmett, o' th' whaler Brotherly Love, an' I know he's lukkin' for to complate his crew. Good avenin' to ye, Cap'n. Here's th' landlord, Thady Driscoll. He's asked me to come an' kape or-rder for 'um—th' bhoys an' th' colleens bein' a little frisky, so to shpake. An' phwhat can we do for ye, Cap'n?"
"See hyar, Mister Policeman, I'm awanting one more man to complete me crew and must get him to-night. Who's that red-headed fellow asleep there? He's got a good pair o' shoulders, for to pull an oar, anyway. What about him—d'ye think he'd like for to go to sea? Guess he'd do me, if he would. Come now, I'm in a hurry. We sail at daylight."
Mr. Riordan looked meaningly at Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Driscoll looked meaningly at Mr. Riordan.
"Cap'n," said the landlord of 'The Sheer Hulk,' "he's yours for five guineas."
And so, carried by shoulders and heels by two of Mr. Driscoll's soberer—or less drunk—clients, did the unfortunate Red O'Shaughnessy go aboard in the American whaler, Brotherly Love.
WHEN Red O'Shaughnessy came to himself he immediately realised three unpleasant facts—that his arms were bound to his sides, that he was confined in some dark and evil-smelling hole that had obvious connection—from the odor of tar and bilge-water and its eccentric motion—with a ship at sea, and that his head ached abominably. Also, he understood that he was not alone in this unpleasant predicament, for, close at hand, he recognised the audible symptoms of violent seasickness, and was aware of profane lamentations that did not cease.
"Hell and thunder!" someone invisible cried in a thick voice. "If I ever get out o' this, I'll make that big Yankee sweat blood, d——n and sink his soul. Th' flamin' dawg! To think he'd do th' like o' this! Blast me gizzard, I've a thirst on me would kill a man, an' me head's crackin' in two!"
From somewhere in the darkness, a little farther off, came the unpleasant noise of violent retching, groans, and the whimpering of one in unalleviated torment.
"In th' name o' God, where are we?" gasped Red O'Shaughnessy.
"Aw—ye're waked up, have ye?" yelled his unseen companion. "Well, I'll tell ye where we are, me lad. We're aboard th' barque Brotherly Love, Noo England whaler, an' we're in th' hands o' th' toughest Yankee skipper a-sailin' th' Sou' Seas. That's th' fix we're in, Johnny—an' ye'll know what a fix it is presently, when this murd'rin' villain has us up on deck. We must be well out to sea now, be the way th' hooker's pitchin' an' rollin', and, if I know this cove, Ike Grimmett, he won't leave us idle very long."
"Howly saints!" exclaimed the young Irishman. "An me due to sail for Newcastle to-day wi' Cap'n Axthorpe. God hilp us all!"
"Ye'll need His help afore ye're done with this Grimmett. But, anyway, ye're goin' close to Newcastle, if that's any comfort for ye. I heard Grimmett say yesterday, afore he doped me—he must ha' done that, blast him—that he was goin' to run into Port Stephens for to cut wood for his try-pots—what they boils down th' whale blubber in. Oh, stop y'r dam' spewin', ye ——- lubber. Ye'll be made a dam' sight sicker when ye meet Cap'n Grimmett directly, on his own quarter-deck."
"Oh, my God—I wish I was dead!" groaned a feeble voice in the darkness.
"Ye'll wish it a dam' sight more afore long!" was the seasick captive's only consolation.
The man had hardly vouchsafed his sick comrade in misfortune this comforting information when a sudden rift of light in front of them appeared, first of all as a long crack of brightness in the opaque black night in which they lay, and then on an opening a foot and a half wide, as a sliding door in the bulkhead was violently opened. A tremendous voice roared at them, and they became aware of a huge negro peering into the darkness of their den. His white eyeballs rolled fiercely, and his thick red lips were parted in a savage snarl as he reached in an immense arm and seized Red O'Shaughnessy by one of his ankles.
"Now, den—yous goddam lubbers, com'n out o' dis yere lugsurous stateroom. Skipper wants you, see! On deck. Look alibe now!"
He hauled O'Shaughnessy out on his back, kicked him heartily, and lifted him to his feet by the collar of his jacket. The others he treated similarly in turn. They found themselves in the ship's cabin, but had not recovered their vision before the black giant—he was the boatswain of the Brotherly Love—drove them with curses up the companion-way to the deck.
"Yous'll mobe a lot smarter dan dat afore Black Sam's done w' ye," he roared as he booted them up the steps.
On the quarter-deck they found Captain Grimmett and the mate, a swarthy ruffian with gold earrings, together with three other captives bound as they were themselves.
"Now, ye convict scum," the master of the whaler addressed them genially, "ye gotter darned well forgit what ye was, an' larn to be whale-men. Untie 'em, Sam. Mister Capotti, interjuice y'self to th' goddam loafers, first."
With strict impartiality the foreign-looking mate slapped each man's face and then spat on it.
"That's what we genlemen o' th' United States thinks o' goddam crawlin' ------s o' Britishers," observed Captain Grimmett. "That thar was only a gentle hint. Antonio Capotti's th' bes' fightin' man afloat in th' South Seas, as some o' ye might come in th' way o' larnin', if ye don't move lively. Now, ye're off for a v'yage to th' whale fisheries south o' New Zealand, lemme tell ye—so ye'd bes' make up y'r minds to be civil to Mister Mate. If ye don't—well, God help ye! Now get away forrard an' find y'r quarters. Clothes an' blankets will be sarved out later on."
The negro boatswain untied their arms, one by one, kicking each of them good-humoredly as he did so.
"Luk here," protested Red O'Shaughnessy—"what th' divil's th' manin' o' this? What right have ye to trate us so?"
"Tell him, Antonio," said the skipper with a grin.
Our unfortunate hero only had a vision of a snarling countenance like a devil's approaching, him rapidly. Then a fist crashed into his face with the force of a horse's kick, and he knew no more until late in the afternoon.
When he came to himself he was lying on the deck in the forecastle with what felt like a broken nose. His upper garments were soaked with blood, and he was stiff and sore all over from the merciless boot-work of Mr. Capotti on his carcase, as he lay unconscious on the quarter-deck after that knock-out smash in the face from the mate's fist.
"Th' saints defind us," muttered Red O'Shaughnessy to himself, as he sat up stiffly, fingering his swollen nose with delicate hand. "Tis a crool warld, so it is!"
He had not been cogitating in this pessimistic strain for very long when he became aware of the truculent boatswain's roaring voice outside the foc'sle.
"Lay off, yous goddam gaol-birds, an' git y'r dunnage. Hurry now! 'Tain't healthy for to keep Mister Mate awaitin'. Come along, Ginger—is yo' pore face very sore?" he grinned as he poked his ugly black features into the dim twilight of the crew's quarters. "Git a move on, an' step libely—elst ye'll git some more."
The fresh breeze on deck revived him, and he made his way aft with his fellow-victims to where the mate stood.
"Hullo, you bigga fiery-nob," he addressed O'Shaughnessy, "guess you no-awanter maka da talk again, hey? Taka dese clo's. You come along my watch. I maka you goddam gooda da sailor-man, presto-quveek, I tink. You come along eight bells, an' we begin-a da lessons. Savvy?"
It was only with an effort, and by reason of the painful condition of his countenance, that Red O'Shaughnessy could contain his indignant soul. However, cursing inwardly, he managed to keep his temper in check, took the clothing, and departed for'ard with a respectful, if unwilling—
He was on watch as the dawn broke the following morning.
The yellow face of Toomeree—Port Stephens' southern headland—split from summit to base by a deep chasm into which the waves surged interminably, became a buttress of shining gold; the dark green crest of the north head—Yacaaba—surmounted similar golden walls, with a line of pink foam at their feet; and the wide waters of the great bay spread west and nor'-west to distant wooded shorelines of gleaming beaches backed by dark, forest-clad hills, with far-off blue ranges behind them, shining and glowing in the light of the new morning like the inside of mother-of-pearl shell.
On the port side, when the ship had passed Toomeree, the white beach of a pretty bay stretched to an inner headland, and when they were past it they opened up the bay which is now known as Nelson's. Here the ship was brought to, the anchor dropped, and the watches dismissed to breakfast.
"I wanta all you lubber mens from Sydenee to go ashore after breakfast for to cutta da firewood," said the mate, before dismissing them. "Sam, de bosun, he go wit' you. Me, I come ashore dis afternoon, an', by Godda, eef I fin' you no a bin work-a, I skeen you alive. But I tink-a Black Sam know-a how to make-a yous crawlers do-a da job. What you tink, Sam?"
"Guess Ah knows how, boss," replied the big negro with a grin that divided his shining black face in two. "Ah can keep dis yar lot whar dey b'long, sah."
A boat was lowered, and Red O'Shaughnessy and the others who were in the same unfortunate situation as himself tumbled into her. Besides Black Sam, a couple of the whaler's original crew, armed to the teeth with muskets and pistols, went with them. They landed in the middle of the white beach, and the boatswain handed to each man an axe.
"Charley," he said to one of the armed guards, "you stay an' luk after de boat. Fire yo' gun if any dam niggers comes a-snoopin' aroun'. Bill, you come wit' us, an' if any o' dese lubbers tries to run away, shoot him plumb daad. Yo' hears dat, boys. Don' try no funny tricks, 'cause I guess an' calc'late you'll find dey don't pay. Now, den, come wit' me up into dem dar woods, an' get busy. An' I can tell yo' right hyar, if you don' wuk hard, I'll deal wit' you, an' de mate he'll deal ten times wusser, when he comes ashore in de arternoon. Come on—step lively, now."
The huge negro led the way up the slope towards the timber, and as they trailed after him, with the armed whale-men bringing up the rear of the procession, Red O'Shaughnessy found himself beside the man who had spoken to him in the black hole they had been confined in aboard the barque. He was a strong-looking man of middle age, active and well-built.
"Listen," he whispered as they approached the forest. "Let us two make a bolt for it, as soon as we get in amongst where the trees are thick. We'll have to suffer Hell if we stay on that cursed whale-ship. Anything's better. Let's chance it, and run. What d'ye say, cully?"
"Begorra," whispered back Red O'Shaughnessy, "I'm wid ye, ould fellie. I've had all I want of Misther Antonio, so I have. You give the signal, and I'll go wid ye."
Deep into the forest the big negro led them. For a while the other man—O'Shaughnessy never knew his name—let his eyes wander to left and right amongst the tall trees, seeking cover for their flight. At last, just as the boatswain raised a black hand above his head to halt the party, he whispered—
"Now!" and darted away, with Red O'Shaughnessy after him. They had only a few yards to go before a thick belt of undergrowth would provide them with cover.
But the musket of the armed seaman cracked almost as soon as they were clear of their companions, and O'Shaughnessy saw his mate throw up his arms, heard him scream, and watched him tumble onto his face and lie still. He jumped over the stricken man's body and plunged into the thicket, just as the whale-man snatched a pistol from his belt and fired at him, the big bullet whistling so close to his ear that he could feel the wind of it. But he ran on, and was presently deep in the almost impenetrable scrub.
RED O'SHAUGHNESSY ran as he had never run before, plunging through the dense bush like an elephant blundering hastily across a jungle. It suddenly occurred to him that he might climb a tree and hide himself in the branches, and he paused at the foot of a slender eucalyptus, up which he thought he might be capable of shinning. But, not far behind, he could hear the armed seaman also crashing a way through the thicket in his wake, and gave up the idea. He ran on, with only one purpose in mind—to get away from that detestable Yankee whaler and her fiendish chief officer, to say nothing of the redoubtable master mariner who commanded her.
Suddenly he came into an open glade in the forest, where there was no undergrowth, and congratulated himself, until the thought came to him that he would be an easy target for the sailor's musket. The ground began to rise here to the crest of a low ridge, and he made up his mind that the only safe thing to do was to get over the summit and put the thickness of the hill between himself and his determined pursuer. So he redoubled his efforts, stumbled pantingly up to the crest, and flung himself down on the other side—into the midst of a score of naked savages.
Promptly a nulla-nulla applied to the skull gave him his quietus, and he subsided into dreams of black and hideous faces in which white eyeballs rolled fiercely and gleaming teeth suggested vague ideas of cannibalism. He was dreamily conscious of excited jabbering, of loud yells and howls, of a musket shot, and a scream that was long sustained. As it faded away he lost consciousness altogether.
He came to himself with a vague realisation of a quarrel amongst his new captors, which seemed to be about to develop into active fighting.
"Th' Lor-rud presarve us," he muttered, "'tis out o' th' fryin'-pan into th' fire!"
Suddenly a revoltingly hideous old blackfellow made his appearance in the midst of the yelling mob of aborigines, and the strident row ceased immediately.
The new arrival was a terrible-looking being. He was quite bald except for a narrow fringe of grey hair, long-bearded, thin and bony to the point of emaciation, scarred all over his shrunken body, and most incredibly filthy. As he drew near the others retreated from the spot where Red O'Shaughnessy lay, and silence fell upon them, whilst the earnest gaze of each of them was fixed upon the old man.
The chief supported his tottering frame with a staff, and, at a gesture he made, the blacks fell farther back, crouching together in a circle, whilst the ancient squatted on the ground at the recumbent Irishman's head. He delivered some kind of an harangue, to which the natives listened with absorbed attention, and at its conclusion gave vent to a series of guttural grunts.
Two muscular young men now came forward, and assisted O'Shaughnessy to his feet, making it clear to him by signs that he was to go with them. Resistance seemed hopeless, and he did as he was bidden, and, held and helped by his two guardians, presently came to the tribe's encampment, situated in a small clearing in the forest. The camp was merely a number of small fires, round which lay the wives and mongrel dogs of the fighting men. He was led by the direction of the old chief to where his own three fires were burning, with his three unlovely spouses squatting by them. Here he was forced to the ground and his arms bound to his sides and his feet tied together with rough cordage that looked to O'Shaughnessy as if it had been spun from the bark of trees.
He lay trussed up all through the warm afternoon until nightfall, left quite alone. Just as dusk was descending over the wild scene, the old man came to him, accompanied by one of his gins, who carried on a few fronds of bracken a newly roasted fish. Apparently at the old man's direction, she pulled O'Shaughnessy up into a sitting position, tore the fish to pieces with grimy fingers, and commenced to feed him with fragments of it. He was very hungry, and the rough meal was quite acceptable. When the fish was eaten, the woman held a bark vessel containing water to his lips, and he drank greedily. She pushed him down again onto his back, covered him with a rug of 'possum skins, and made signs to him that he was to go to sleep.
Terrified and anxious as he was, it was not long before he was slumbering soundly. He had noticed during the afternoon two or three of the blacks examining and trying on some articles of a white man's clothing, which had bloodstains on them, so concluded that the pursuing seaman from the whaler had met with a fate that might easily have been his own.
"Pore divil," he muttered. "I expect they shtuck him full o' thim nasty-lookin' shpears!"
He was awakened, just as dawn was breaking, by one of the blackfellows untying his bonds. The savage motioned to him to get up. He did so, stiffly, and saw that all the bucks were gathered together, armed to the teeth with spears, boomerangs—the marvellous returning missile of which he had heard talk on the voyage to Sydney—and waddies, whilst their faces and naked bodies were fearfully and wonderfully adorned with stripes and circles of white, red, and yellow pigments.
A procession of the natives moved off through the forest, the frail and hideous old man at its head—although so decrepit-looking, he was full of an uncanny vitality—and O'Shaughnessy in the midst of it closely guarded by well-armed warriors. The blacks were equipped with spear, shield, and waddy, and wore their hair fantastically decorated with the feathers of parrots stuck amongst tufts of grass. Bones pierced through the lobes of their ears and the cartilages of their noses. Between twenty and thirty men made up the party.
After a mile or two, they came out on the sea-shore, and O'Shaughnessy found himself tramping along the wet sands of a yellow beach that curved away in a south-westerly direction to where, in the distant haze, he could make out a small rocky inlet lying out in the sea at a little distance from the land. Behind it were hills, and, far away beyond, the faintly blue outlines of distant ranges.
All day, with only one or two halts for brief periods of rest, they tramped along this interminable beach, the frail-looking old chief belying his miserable appearance by always maintaining his position in the lead. While the tide was out the going was fairly good along the firm surface by the water's edge, but when it rose and they had to trudge through the loose and shifting sands higher up the slope, travelling became wearisome and fatiguing. For almost the whole length of their journey, low, scrub-covered sandhills were on their right-hand side. Once, when they halted, the whole procession dashed into the surf, and O'Shaughnessy, hot and weary with the labor of marching in glaring sunlight reflected back from the sands and the sea, was not sorry to go into the cool breakers with them.
Just as the sun was setting, and the rocky islet seemed little more than a couple of miles away, the old man led his little company into the sandhills, and they turned inland from the ocean-side. As they came onto the crest of a hummock, O'Shaughnessy suddenly realised that they were close to the mouth of a great river, whose wide estuary was only separated from the sea by the low sandhills across which they were laboriously travelling. The rocky island seemed to mark its mouth, and, greatly to his amazement, he could see a little village on the other side of a wide basin of blue water that was the mouth of the river.
As the red sun sank behind the ranges to the westward, O'Shaughnessy was roused from a sort of lethargy induced by heat and weariness by the excited chattering of the natives, who were gazing seaward and pointing with their spears. He turned to look, and saw, far out near the horizon, the tall pile of sails, all golden in the last rays of the setting sun, of a ship standing to the south-east. His whoop of joy startled the blacks.
"Glory be to Jasus!" shouted the Irishman, flinging his cap in the air, and dancing in his excitement. "There she goes—an' bad luck go wid her! Good-bye, Antonio, ye divil, an' good-bye to ye, Isaac Grimmett—an' may ould Nick get hold o' yez both, ye blaggards. Sure, I was niver so glad to see th' lasht of anyone in all me borrun days!"
He had recognised the barque Brotherly Love, bound for that vague region of the Southern Ocean which, in those days, used to be spoken of as "The Fisheries." There was no mistaking his joy at seeing the last of the ship of ill omen, but the blacks were a little astonished at these manifestations of it. One of them approached him with upraised waddy, but an angry shout from the old chieftain saved Red O'Shaughnessy's head from further damage.
They camped that night close to where the ferry wharf at Stockton is to-day, and the lights of the little village across the water were a pleasant sight to the blackfellows' captive—though he had his apprehensions as to the sort of reception he would be likely to get from the authorities. There seemed to be little doubt that the natives' object in bringing him there was to surrender him, for a consideration, to the Commandant of the settlement, and he had already seen enough of the condition of a convict's status in New South Wales to recognise that he was invariably regarded by Authority as a liar. He had little hope that his story of having been kidnapped aboard the whaler would be believed. It was far more likely that he would be charged with having deliberately planned to get out of the country in the Brotherly Love.
Soon after sunrise, a bark canoe having been procured from some of the local natives, the old chief was paddled across the harbor in the direction of the village by one of his young men, and O'Shaughnessy and his guardians sat down at the water's edge, in the shade of a clump of tea-trees, to await developments. Late in the forenoon a white whaleboat carrying a file of red-jacketed soldiers and an N.C.O. was seen approaching from the south shore, followed by the native canoe carrying the old chief and his black subject. As the prow of the boat grounded on the sands, Red O'Shaughnessy stood and waved a hand to the white men. He was relieved at the prospect of being taken over from the natives, but full of apprehension as to what kind of a reception he was likely to get from his fellow countrymen. As soon as the boat reached the shore, the soldiers landed, and the corporal walked across the beach to where O'Shaughnessy stood waiting, surrounded by his captors.
"Well, cully," the non-commissioned officer addressed him genially, "so ye've come back to us, eh? When did you give us leg bail—when did you clear out from Newcastle an' th' Coal River?"
"Well, thin, Corp'ril, mebbe ye'll not belayve it, but I've niver been here afoor in all me borrun days."
"Ye can tell that to th' Marines, me covey, but Bill Jones ain't swallerin' it. Come, now—when did you make your bolt?"
"Niver. I was kidnapped aboard a whale ship down in Sydney Town, an' I run away from her in a big harbor—up beyant, a day's walk away."
"Mebbe. I'm but new to th' counthry, an' don't know th' names of it at all, at all. 'Tis that's its name, most like."
The old black had landed and joined the group, and another native who had come across in the boat was called up by the corporal.
"Jimmy," the N.C.O. said to the latter, "you askem ole whiskers where he got this pheller."
An excited jabbering followed, and presently the interpreter was able to confirm Red O'Shaughnessy's story.
"Him ole man, him bin tellum them pheller, catchem this one convick longa Por' Stephy. Him bin come off tchip. No plurry liar. Him bin tellum true pheller yarn."
KING'S TOWN, on the Coal River—for a little while about this period these were the names by which Newcastle and the Hunter were most popularly known, though by Macquarie's day the city's present title was the official designation of the place—was a tiny hamlet when O'Shaughnessy first saw it in 1812, containing hardly more than about 300 inhabitants, made up of laboring prisoners, their military guardians, and a few civil officers. The Commandant was all powerful, but the scope of his government had been very strictly limited and defined by the exceedingly comprehensive set of regulations furnished by Macquarie to Lieutenant Purcell, of the 73rd Regiment, when he went there in command of the settlement in October, 1810.
These regulations—no fewer than 39 in number—open with a sort of definition of what the place really was, and it may be quoted here with some advantage to the reader's understanding of early Australian history.
"The principal objects in view," Governor Macquarie informs Mr. Purcell, "on the original establishment of a port or military station at Newcastle having been to procure supplies of coals, timber, and lime for the service of the Government, you are to employ all the means you are possessed of in the prosecution of these objects, and endeavour to have collected at all times large supplies of those articles, ready to be shipped on board the Government vessels, or on board such vessels as may be hired by Government, on their arrival in the Coal River, taking care to despatch said vessels immediately on their being loaded; and for your guidance each vessel will carry from hence a specification of the articles with which she is to be laden, to which you are to conform as nearly as circumstances will admit."
Lieutenant Purcell had ruled a population of exactly 100 souls in 1810, but by the time Captain Axthorpe took charge, a couple of years later, the little village had expanded its bounds and the number of convicts working thus had greatly increased. Nevertheless it was still a very primitive outpost of such civilisation as Australia possessed, and O'Shaughnessy's remark to Corporal Jones, as the whaleboat carried him across the harbor from its northern shore, had some justification.
"Sure," he said, as they approached the King's Wharf—a long jetty running out from the curving beach on the south side of the river's mouth—"'tis more of a camp than anything else, Corpril. King's Town, they call it? Faith. I cud almost build a town like that, mesilf, in two months. Sure, 'tis nothing at all, at all."
"Lookye, me buck," replied Corporal Jones—"ye may be a great trav'ler, an' know all th' big cities in th' world—but, lemme tell ye, pris'ners ain't allowed for to have opinions. So I'd advise ye, for y'r own good, not to be so free with yourn. Ye'll find King's Town quite town enough for ye, me boyo—'specially as ye're a runaway lag. So keep y'r mouth shut, for y'r own good."
When the boat ran alongside the jetty, Corporal Jones was hailed by an officer standing on it whose voice seemed familiar to Red O'Shaughnessy. As he climbed the ladder behind the corporal his heart sank a little, and a shiver of apprehension passed over him. He had recognised Captain Axthorpe. The recognition was mutual when he stood upon the decking of the bridge before the Commandant. How, he wondered, would his story be received? To himself the young Irish prisoner could do nothing else but admit it to be a somewhat unconvincing tale. He had a little difficulty, even, in believing it himself.
"O'Shaughnessy!" exclaimed Captain Axthorpe, after staring at him incredulously for a few moments. "Why, how the deuce do you come here? I was certain that the man whom old King Boomi of Port Stephens reported having captured must be a runaway prisoner from the Coal River settlement. How on earth does it happen to be you? 'Tis but a few days since his Excellency handed you over to me at Government House in Sydney—and yet here you arrive from the nor'ard like a visitant from some other world!"
"Them blackfellows, y'r honor," interposed the Corporal—"they told a tale of how they took him at Port Stephens, where he'd landed from a ship what put into the bay. I think they got two on 'em—two or three—but this one was th' on'y fellie they didn't spear or knock on th' head."
"Well, O'Shaughnessy—how does it happen? Tell me your own story, my man. And let me warn you that you'd better tell the truth. 'Twill pay you best to do so. I have a dislike for liars, so stick to the truth, for your own sake."
A little nervously, Red O'Shaughnessy related his adventures since parting with the officer outside Government House in Sydney, a few days before. He found some difficulty in beginning, but an impatient order brought him to the point.
"Now, then, my man, hurry up! I can't stay here all day. I want some reasonable explanation of your conduct, and I want it immediately. You are liable to a flogging, you know, as an absconder. Some people in my position would flog you immediately, as a means of opening your mouth. But I'm giving you a chance. Don't abuse it. Tell me at once what has happened to you. Come now—out with it!"
Red O'Shaughnessy hesitated no longer. Every day since his arrival in the colony it had been repeatedly impressed upon him that a convict had no rights whatever, and especially none as might regard the expectation of the slightest consideration on the part of his guardians and his taskmasters. He was a stray dog to be kicked or pelted, a liar, a scoundrel, a rogue—from the very fact of his position in the world of felony. He had no claims of manhood, he could expect nothing of the treatment by his fellows that was, under the laws of England and by common usage, the inalienable heritage of free Britons. His only defence was to "grin and bear it." That was the one thing it was essential to recognise. Even a kindly man like Captain Axthorpe, to whom he had been recommended by the Governor himself, must regard him in such a light as this.
As he told his story, simply and truthfully as well as briefly, his eyes wandered over the scene about him. The Commandant's scarlet jacket, and those of the two soldiers standing behind him with grounded muskets, stood out brilliantly in the sunlight against the blue background of ocean and sky out beyond the wide mouth of the river. Curving away into dim haze to the north-east, stretched the long beach down which he had trudged with his dusky captors yesterday. Seaward lay the strange isolated lump of rock which was then called the Coal Island, and has since been known for many scores of years as "Nobby's." Below the rising hills to the southward—they had been christened the "Sheep Pasture Hills" by Colonel Paterson when he explored the river in 1801 with Ensign Barrallier and Dr. John Harris, and something of their first name seems to have survived in "Shepherd's Hill"—lay the unprepossessing little town. Behind the broad, calm sheet of blue water forming the estuary of the Hunter River, and beyond dark belts of mangrove and far-stretching timbered flat's, the distant blue ranges in the almost unknown interior slumbered in the brilliant sunlight of a perfect Australian day.
"Well, sorr," he began—"'twas loike this, y'r anner. Whin I left ye in Sydney, outside o' Gov'mint House, sure I wandered off into the village, an' down be th' crik, where th' stone bridge crosses over. I ran into a blaggard polisman be th' name o' Mick O'Riordan."
"Ha," ejaculated the Commandant—-"I know the fellow!"
"Faith, thin, sorr, so do I, and I'm not hopin' for to forget him this manny a long day. He axed me for me pass, an' whin I showed it to him he became uncommon friendly, an' takes me for to inthroduce me to a frind of his, wan Thady Driscoll, him that kapes th' Good Intint tavern, over beyant from where Misther Macquarie do be livin'."
"Oh, indeed! A pretty place into which to introduce a newcomer! I know Mr. Driscoll, too."
"So do I now, sorr—to me sorrow. Well, we drunk rum, y'r anner, an' thin more rum, an' the' constable an' Driscoll, they was uncommon frindly. An' afther a bit I dunno rightly what happened at th' Good Intint, or what tuk place afther—but I come to in a black hole aboard of a ship, where there was a couple more who'd bin made away with loike mesilf. 'Twas th' 'Murcan barque Brotherly Love, y'r anner, bound for th' whale fisheries—Cap'n Isaac Grimmett, th' b———y villain!"
"Oho," smiled Captain Axthorpe, regarding Red O'Shaughnessy with an access of sympathy the latter was quick to appreciate—"so they played that trick on you, did they! An old game of Mr. Driscoll's, if report speaks truly—and I think it does. Go on, my man—I think you're telling me the truth. Such little transactions are by no means uncommon in Sydney."
"There's little else for to tell, y'r anner. They tuk us on deck, an' th' mate, he knocked me out. Thin th' ship come into that big harbor up beyant that long bache over yonder, sorr, an' we was sint ashore for to cut wood. Two of us, we thried for to mek a run for it. Me mate got shot, an' I got knocked on th' head be thim blackamoors, sorr, an' they brung me down here. That's all there is to it, y'r anner. That's all I've got to tell—an' 'tis th' God's trut', y'r anner, Cap'n Axthorpe. May I dhrop dead if 'tis not!"
The Commandant regarded Red O'Shaughnessy seriously for a little while, before a quiet smile came slowly into his countenance which brought some comfort to the young Irishman.
"Well, well," said the ruler of the Coal River presently—"I think I believe you, O'Shaughnessy. Of course, you ought to be flogged for absconding, you know—but I don't think I'll do that for you. You seem to have had a pretty rough time of it, and I'll take that into consideration. But you must be punished, you know. You may have been hocussed at the Good Intent, robbed, and kidnapped aboard the whaler—but that's not my affair. I only know for certain that you failed to report aboard the Government schooner, as ordered, and could not be found anywhere in Sydney when we sent a patrol to search for you. So I'll have to punish you. You see the force of that, don't you, my man? You must realise you're in the wrong—whatever adventures you may have had. You see that?"
"Yes, y'r anner," responded Red O'Shaughnessy ruefully.
"Very well, then. I'll take time to consider your case, and in the meantime you'll be locked up. I'll deal with you in the morning at the usual time when I attend to the defaulters. Take him to the gaol, Corporal Jones. I'll give you a note for the gaoler."
The Commandant took out his pocket-book, scribbled a few lines in it in pencil, tore out the leaf, and handed it to the corporal. Obeying a gesture from the latter, the two soldiers formed up on either side of Red O'Shaughnessy, fixed their bayonets at his order, and brought their muskets to the slope.
"Escort—quick march," bellowed Corporal Jones, and Red O'Shaughnessy moved off to make the better acquaintance of King's Town on the Coal River.
Captain Axthorpe looked after them with a quiet smile, as he walked off the King's Wharf, acknowledging the salute of the sentry at its landward end.
WHEN O'Shaughnessy and his escort arrived at the Newcastle Gaol—it stood somewhere about the present position of the tramway depots, on the isthmus joining Colliers' Point (Fort Scratchley) to the mainland—he was not welcomed with overmuch enthusiasm by the gaoler, Mr. Timothy Bateman.
"An' where did ye get a-holt of this bright young spark?" he inquired in surly fashion of Corporal Jones.
"He's a visitor from Port Stephens," replied the N.C.O. "The blacks brought him in. I don't think ye'll have him long, Mr. Bateman. Th' Commandant's leavin' him wi' ye to-night, whiles he thinks out what he'll do to him. It's th' coal mine or the limeburners for this lad, I expect. Yi're a bit of a dam fool, ain't ye, Red Head?" he said to O'Shaughnessy. "Here's Cap'n Axthorpe takes ye for to be his own man in th' settlement 'ere, an' ye does a bolt! By Gawd, me bucko, ye won't find coal-diggin' or limeburnin' as they do 'em at th' Coal River not nearly sich good jobs as Commandant's Orderly would ha' bin. Not 'arf, ye won't—I can' tell ye that much, me lad! A pretty ——— goat, ain't ye?"
Red O'Shaughnessy inclined his head mournfully, and answered in a dejected tone of voice.
"Begob, thin, corporal, 'tis y'silf that spakes th' thrue worrud. A goat I am—a dam' silly ould billy, an' that's sayin' th' laste of it. I dunno how 'tis, but Ned O'Shaughnessy's wan o' th' misfortunate, if ever there was wan. I would to God I'd never gone to London town, for me luck's been clane out iver since I set fut in th' blashted place, so it has!"
Corporal Jones clapped him on the back, with a not unkindly laugh.
"Aw, keep y'r pecker up, me boy. Ye're not goin' for to be hung. Th' bad luck's bound to change. I'll go bail on that. Cheer up, cully!"
He marched his two men away, and Mr. Bateman unlocked the gate of the prison.
"Come inside," he said, "an' see ye behaves. We don't stand no foolin' 'ere, I can tell you, me lad. What'd ye say y'r dam' name was?"
"Edward O'Shaughnessy, sorr. An' I'll do me best. I've had too much o' doin' me wor-rust—be accident, sorr. Can I get somethin' to ate? I'm fair starvin'."
"Well, ye'll ha' to keep on a-starvin' till sundown, w'en the gangs come in, an' supper's served hout. Ye didn't think this was a flamin' hinn, did ye?"
"No, sorr," said O'Shaughnessy humbly. "It don't luk it."
"'Tis a lot more like one than th' coal mine or th' limeburners' camp, up th' river. I'll go bail ye'll be glad to come back from either o' them places. Well, here ye are, O'Shaughnessy—make y'self at home. Ye'll know where ye're goin' to-morrow."
The gaoler pushed him into a large yard which surrounded a stone building where the prisoners found shelter, and little else, at night or in bad weather. Here he slept upon the flagged floor, listening to the roar of the surf upon the beach and the rocks, after receiving a scanty meal of "salt-horse" and hominy. Long he lay awake, thinking that, after all, his present situation, bad as it was, could not be so bad as it might have been aboard the Brotherly Love under the tender care of Mr. Antonio Capotti. It was something not to be with him, at any rate.
Early in the morning, a constable came to take Red O'Shaughnessy to Government House, to hear the Commandant's decision. That gentleman's quarters were in a substantial stone cottage, not far from the gaol, before which a red-coated sentry paced up and down, with bayonet fixed, below a tall flagstaff flying the Union Jack. Captain Axthorpe, on the verandah, acknowledged the salutes of the constable and his prisoner, and then addressed the latter.
"Well, O'Shaughnessy," he said, in a not unkindly way, "I've been considering your case, and have come to a conclusion that you haven't demonstrated your reliability very strikingly. The Governor hands you over to me for service at the Coal River settlement, as my personal servant—and you immediately disappear. Whether 'twas your own fault or not cannot be considered. The fact remains that you were missing when I sailed from Sydney the other day. So I'm going to send you to work in the coal mine, upon the hill yonder, until his Excellency's pleasure regarding you be known. I have sent a report to Governor Macquarie by the schooner which sailed at daylight this morning. So take him up to the mine, constable, and tell the overseer to find him work. That is all, O'Shaughnessy, and I trust we'll have no further trouble from you."
Upon the hill to the southward of the town a shaft had been sunk at about the position occupied by the greens of the present Newcastle Bowling Club, and thither dejectedly the young Irish prisoner accompanied his guardian. The first primitive coal-getting in the settlement had been done by picking it out of the seams visible in the cliffs along the sea-shore, but by this time more or less experienced miners had improved on those early methods and had attempted something similar to English coal-mining practice.
A surly, ill-tempered, hard-visaged overseer received O'Shaughnessy at the pithead, and extended the sort of welcome to which he was becoming well used in his brief experience of New South Wales.
"An' who th' flamin' hell are you?" he inquired savagely. "Ye big carroty lout—what d'ye want here?"
"Excuse me, Mr. Ramage," said the convict constable, "'Tis Cap'n Axthorpe's sent this man 'ere, for to be put to work in th' mine. Name of O'Shaughnessy, a bolter from Sydney Town. Th' blackfellies brung 'im in yestiddy. That's all there is to it."
"You shut yi jaw, Bill 'Arris—I don't want no back chat from lag polismen. Go to 'ell out o' this. Awright. O'Connor," he cried in the direction of a roughly built bark hut that was evidently the mine office, "come out 'ere an' take this fellie's likeness. Ye'll get no chance o' doin' a bolt from 'ere, me beauty. To hell wi' you, Bill 'Arris—I don't like y'r face!"
Wordlessly, but with a grin, Constable William Harris took his departure down the hill in the direction of the village. Out of the hut came a thin and meagre young man holding a book in his hands, which he set down on the top of a stump.
"Take 'is likeness," commanded the amiable overseer, "and 'urry up about it."
O'Shaughnessy expected the man, who had a lead pencil in his hand, to make a sketch of, him, but was undeceived when the fellow began by asking his name, his ship, and his sentence. Being told, he muttered, as he wrote in the book:—
"Ed'ard O'Shaughnessy, per A'miral Gambier, life. What's y'r religion?"
"Sure, I'm a Cath'lic. Mebbe I'm not a good wan, but that's what I am. I was brought up be——"
"Shut y'r flamin' jaw!" barked Overseer Ramage. "Get on wi' y'r job, O'Connor, an' be quick about it. I want to put this fellie down below, where 'e can't do no boltin'. Look sharp."
The convict clerk muttered the words he was writing, as he entered in the book a description of O'Shaughnessy.
"Six foot three—strongly built, an' broad shouldered—red 'air—fresh complexion—large feet—blue eyes—reddish beard—active. Any tattoo marks?"
"Take off y'r shirt!" ordered Mr. Ramage.
Obediently, O'Shaughnessy removed his jacket and the coarse flannel shirt that had been served out to him before landing in Sydney from the Admiral Gambier. His fine torso, muscular and massive, evoked the surly admiration of the overseer.
"Y'r no chicken, dam' ye. We'll make ye properly 'ard underground. All right—mark 'im 'clean-skin,' O'Connor. I'll lay y'r back's not so pretty inside a month, Mister O'Shaughnessy. Come on, then—ye needn't put y'r clo'es on, ye won't want 'em down below. Git inter th' bucket. Hi, yous swine—come an' let this fellie down"—he cried out to a couple of prisoners who were working with spades at a big heap of coal near the mouth of the shaft, shovelling it into a handcart.
With the two prisoners at the handles of the windlass erected above the black hole in the ground, O'Shaughnessy stepped into the big iron bucket used to haul the coal from the mine, and was immediately lowered to the bottom of the pit, which was not very deep. A strange scene gradually made itself manifest when his eyes became used to the dimness of the mine after he had stepped out of the bucket, which was immediately hauled to the surface on his evacuation of it.
He peered into the darkness, amazed and bewildered by the almost incomprehensible strangeness of what he saw. Three low passages branched out from the roughly hewn chamber at the bottom of the shaft, sparingly illuminated by a few dim oil lamps, but—at the end of each burrow a great light blazed. In the dancing radiance, which made extraordinary shadows, he saw groups of almost naked men picking at the coal seam, or wheeling little trucks to and from the lower end of the shaft. They did not seem to O'Shaughnessy to be working very hard, but with the clang of the bucket behind him, as it again descended, and Overseer Ramage alighted on the floor of the mine, they became feverishly active.
A truck had just been wheeled along one of the drives as the subterranean taskmaster of these luckless lost souls came down into the workings, and immediately Mr. Ramage's loudly expressed wrath filled the mine with echoing bellows.
"Ye idle scum," he roared at the party of three who had propelled the little vehicle. "I'll ——- well larn ye! I'll teach ye a lesson, ye dogs! What d'ye mean by bringing up a skip what's on'y half full?"
Without waiting for any answer to his angry question, and with curses and abuse, he jumped into the midst of the cowering wretches—O'Shaughnessy, with bent shoulders shrank away from his fury—and began to lay about him with a heavy stick he carried in his right hand. In turn he knocked each of the frightened creatures down, and belabored him viciously as he writhed upon the ground. Then he ordered them, reflecting on their mothers, to get up and take the truck back and fill it properly. For a few moments after they had gone he remained more or less quiet, panting and grunting from the violence of his exertions. Presently he turned to O'Shaughnessy.
"Ye flamin' big ———!" he roared. "Go down that drive behind ye, an' get a pick an' sail into it. An' Gawd 'elp ye if I find ye loafin'. Ye'll git wus'n what they got, ye lousy Irish ——- if I find ye playin' th' crawler. Off wi' ye, now!"
"Howly Moses!" muttered Red O'Shaughnessy, as, bent almost double, he made his way along the low tunnel. "'Tis out o' Cap'n Grimmett's fryin' pan, so it is, into th' fire!"
WHEN he came to the end of the tunnel O'Shaughnessy found half a score of completely naked men, whose coal-dusted skins glistened with streaky runlets of perspiration, toiling in the suffocating atmosphere of a hot and stifling cavern, as they hacked out lumps of coal with their picks from the black seam. A huge fire was burning in the middle of this great chamber, and its acrid fumes made breathing difficult and the work more laborious and exacting than it might have been had the mine been properly ventilated. A sub-overseer, evidently as a matter of principle, swore vigorously and bitterly at O'Shaughnessy, and set him to work with a pick.
"Bog in, ye ugly big ——— !" the man shouted. "I'll crack y'r ——- skull if I cotches ye loafin'."
"Faith, 'tis more kicks than ha'pince a man must be lukkin' for in this job," muttered the Irishman, as he set to work.
Without rest or pause the naked demons toiled all day, under the threats and blows of the slave-driver, in the glare of the hot fire. Continuously, the men dragging the little trucks filled them with broken coal and shoved them along to the bottom of the shaft, where they were emptied into a heap, to be hauled to the surface in the bucket. When the day's weary work came to an end at last they were served out with scanty portions of boiled maize, a little salt beef, and some water.
Naked, they slept in any part of the workings, the heat being so great that any covering was unbearable, and the only bedding was made of heaps of coal dust, which such of them as were not too worn out to make the effort scraped together to provide at least a little softer surface for aching bones and over-strained muscles than the hard rock floor of the tunnels. Some were too weary to essay even this attempt at obtaining a minimum of comfort, but simply dropped to the ground and lay exhausted there until the next day's work began.
It was Tuesday morning when O'Shaughnessy went into the pit, and, without respite, until Saturday he and his fellows toiled and starved and wallowed through the nights in coal-dust underground. About three o'clock in the afternoon on the last day of the week, the gentle Overseer Ramage came down the shaft with a paper in his hand, bellowed a summons along the tunnels that called the miners to the bottom of the shaft, and then read out a list of those who were to receive punishment on the following day. To his bewildered amazement, O'Shaughnessy's name was called at the end of the list.
"Phwat's it mane, at all, at all?" he whispered to one of the black and savage-looking crowd clustered near the bucket.
"It means ye're for th' triangles, me lad," came the answer in a hoarse growl. "Bully Ramage don't like vargin backs, that he don't. 'Twill be a Bot'ny Bay dozen—twenty-five lashes—I expect. Cheer up—ye'll soon get used to it. I'm for it meself. He's never let me go more'n a month without a floggin'. Th' pay's pretty reg'lar here," he croaked. "'Tis about all we can count on wi' any sartainty."
A surge of hot indignation caused the young Irishman's coal-blackened skin to tingle. He had worked his hardest all the week, and not once had the sub-overseer bestowed a curse upon him during the five days of heartbreaking toil. Foolishly, he was moved to make protest. Pushing his way through the naked throng, he confronted the amiable Mr. Ramage, as the mine overseer stood scowling at the abject, weary creatures drooping before him in the dim light of the oil lamp burning at the foot of the shaft.
"In th' name o' Jasus, sorr," he gasped, "for why've I bin ordered a floggin'? There's naught I've done for to desarve th' loike o' that. Howly saints! What's this for?"
"Oho, me ——— Paddy! I thought I'd get ye," roared Ramage in delight. "Ye mayn't ha' done nothink afore—but now ye're hinsolent. 'Twas a mistake o' th' clurk's, puttin' ye on th' list. But now I'll leave ye on it, for y'r damned cheek. I'll larn ye, me clean-skin. Ye'll be no better than y'r mates now. Th' Coal River uniform'll suit ye very well. Now, then, into th' bucket, two by two, ye lousy scum. Don't ye want y'r ——- holiday, then?"
Uncontrollable anger overcame O'Shaughnessy, and his fists clenched involuntarily. But just as he was about to hurl himself upon the overseer, who had turned half-round to watch the first two men getting into the bucket, his wrist was gripped by a large and horny hand, and the man who had explained why his name was on the punishment return growled a warning.
"Ye ——— fool! Keep quiet! Don't think of it. If ye lays a finger on the ——— they'll flog ye in hunnerds, instead o' twenty-fives, an' ye'll go up th' river to th' limeburners' camp. Laddie, th' mine's a joke to th' limeburnin', you take it from me. Don't be a flamin' goat!"
With a mighty effort, the enraged Irishman managed to restrain himself, and presently, taking his turn in the bucket, was blinking dazzled eyes in the daylight at the top of the shaft. When all the miners had been hauled to the surface, the overseer came up, cursed the company comprehensively, and ordered them to fall into rank. Corporal Jones, with two soldiers, was waiting to escort them down the hill.
When they reached the bottom of the slope, the direction of their shuffling, tired march was turned towards the beach, where they were halted, and told to strip. Most of them had come from the mine wearing only their trousers—a couple, who had had theirs stolen, were entirely nude—so the order was soon obeyed.
"Into th' breakers, ——- ye!" shouted Overseer Ramage, and the motley crew eagerly plunged into the waves—their weekly luxury of a wash in salt water, which was the only one the sorry wretches had.
It was an unspeakable relief to O'Shaughnessy to plunge into the green seas that came roaring and breaking on to the sands, to feel the cool, clean waters of the blue ocean that stretched away across to a world of freedom far out of this prison colony, washing body and limbs clear of the sweat-caked grime that had covered him like a sooty garment all the week, and to know that for at least thirty-six hours he would live in daylight, instead of darkness and dirt.
When he came out of the water, at Mr. Ramage's command, with his fellow miners, he noticed that the majority of them bore the mark of the lash on backs or buttocks, and shivered a little as he reflected that by that time to-morrow he would probably, and unless some good miracle happened, be similarly branded. He said to a man who was dressing near him:—
"Sure, there must be a dale o' floggin' goes on in th' sittlemint, thin! Faith, there's harrudly a wan hasn't been skelped!"
"Ye're right, cully. That's one thing ye'll never be stinted of in Noo Sou' Wales—th' cat-o'-nine-tails. Th' las' cove was commandant, Cap'n Burriss—he was a holy terror. But they say this noo cove, Axthorpe, ain't quite such a devil as him. But they all do it. A pore pris'ner's not supposed to have human feelin's that can be got at, excep' be th' ——— floggers. You got yours to come, ain't ye, cully? Mos' remarkable w'ite skin you've got, laddie, to be shore!"
"Bedad, I'm for it to-morry, thin."
"Well, put a bit o' stick in y'r gob to bite on, an' don' sing out. Them floggers makes it wuss if ye kicks up a shindy. Oh, I know—my ------ hoath, I know!"
As they marched away from the beach, in the direction of the gaol, O'Shaughnessy noticed the white sails of a schooner, which lay, almost becalmed, a mile or so seaward of the Coal Island and the mouth of the river. He pointed her out to one of the men beside him.
Into the gaol they went, when, after eating the eternal boiled maize and salt horse by way of supper, they were locked up in a large room where they were left to pass the night, without bedding, on the stone-flagged floor. Weary with the harrowing toil of the week's work underground, there were few who did not enjoy a good night's rest, even under such unfavorable conditions.
At daylight on Sunday morning they were turned out into the yard, where already three sets of triangles had been prepared for the weekly dose of punishment by which the sanctity of the Sabbath was impressed upon the population of Newcastle in 1812—and for many years afterwards. Three scourgers stood ready for business, and there was a sergeant's guard under arms at the entrance to the prison. A clerk sat behind a table with the punishment book—made up from the overseers' lists the previous evening—open before him. Presently a roll of drums and the rattle of the soldiers' accoutrements, as they came to the "present arms," announced the coming of the Commandant to hold his weekly court of petty sessions. Captain Axthorpe was in full uniform, and wore his sword. He was accompanied by the Surgeon, Dr. Macklewain, and the Superintendent of Convicts, Mr. Samuel Morrison.
Immediately the new Commandant exploded a bomb. There were to be no floggings that morning, and the court would not sit. A dull murmur of astonishment went through the mob of prisoners, but Captain Axthorpe's upraised hand vetoed any demonstration of approval. The overseers looked at one another in questioning glances of disapproval.
"Now, men," said the Commandant, "this is my first Sunday in charge of you, though I was present last week when Captain Burriss officiated. I'm not going to begin with harsh discipline, so I intend giving each and every one of you a clean slate to-day. But only for to-day, mind. Quiet, now, men—quiet! Mr. Morrison, please have the prisoner Edward O'Shaughnessy sent down to Government House. You may dismiss the parade, sir. O'Shaughnessy is to be my orderly."
A CONVICT constable conducted O'Shaughnessy from the gaol to the Commandant's house. Glumly morose he was, partly for the reason that he seemed to consider Captain Axthorpe's clemency to the defaulters a sign of lamentable weakness of government policy, and partly because of O'Shaughnessy's good fortune in having been chosen for the envied billet of "Commandant's Man."
"I tell ye wot, me Joker," he said as they walked across the isthmus, "this 'ere sort of carryin' on won't do no good—won't do no good at all. 'Im lettin' of 'em off like this won't make them coveys think any th' better o' th' Commandant, that it win't. 'E oughter've flogged th' tripes out o' them for a beginnin', jest to show 'em wot's wot, an' that 'e ain't no Mary Hann. Then they'd ha' respectit 'im proper. Now they won't give a damn for 'im, nor for us neither. An' wot th' 'ell does 'e go a-pickin' you hout for to make ye 'is horderly? Ain't you th' cove was brung in from Port Stephens be th' blackfellers?"
"Well, thin, I am," said his charge genially. "I'm that same fellie."
"Well, I'd ha' skinned ye alive, if I'd bin Cap'n Axthorpe, jist for an example. By Gawd, I would!"
"Thankye for y'r koindness," pleasantly returned the prisoner.
"None o' y'r —— lip! 'Ere we are. You wait 'ere till I go an' tell 'im ye're come."
In a few moments O'Shaughnessy was summoned into the Commandant's office, and the constable dismissed. He departed with a scowl at the fortunate recipient of Government favor.
"Well, O'Shaughnessy," said Captain Axthorpe with a smile, and in a kindly tone, "so here you are at last, ready to report yourself for duty in my service. I hope we'll have no further interruptions of it. How do you find yourself?"
"Faith, I'm glad to be wit' ye, sorr—an' that's no lie, ayther. I've not found one imploymint in the colony all beer an' skittles, so far. Mebbe I'll have betther luck from now on. Bedad, I couldn't ha' had worse, I'm thinkin', y'r honor—what wit' thim American blaggards, an' th' naygurs, an' all. Not to say annything o' th' coal-minin.'"
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Commandant. "I thought you wouldn't like it. It's not meant to be anything else but the devil's own job, as you put it. However, you're done with that now, and your service with me should be a little more agreeable. For your own sake, I hope you'll never have to be a miner again. Now what you've got to do in future is always to be ready for anything I want you to do. Your first job won't be a bad one—'tis one, in fact, that most of the people of the Coal River will envy you."
"Might I make bould to ax what it is, sorr?"
"I was just about to inform you, my man. To-morrow morning, at daybreak, I am going to start on a journey into the interior, to the limits of this settlement. That is to say, I'm going up the river by boat to the outlying station at the Green Hills, about thirty miles from here by water, and I wish you to accompany me as my personal attendant. We'll make the voyage in my whaleboat, with Corporal Jones and three soldiers as an escort. I'll take you out and introduce you to my cook presently, who has orders to make ready provisions for the expedition. 'Twill be your task to carry them down to the boatshed at the King's Wharf, and see to their stowage aboard the boat."
"Right ye are, sorr—I'll do me damndest."
* * * * *
Just as the sun rose over the edge of the ocean out beyond the Coal Island on the following morning, Captain Axthorpe and his fellow-voyagers began their expedition up the river by shoving off from the King's Wharf in the capacious whaleboat kept for the Commandant's use. It was a still, clear morning, and the wide basin of the Hunter mouth looked very lovely in the bright sunlight. Flocks of seagulls rose as its rowers urged the graceful craft across the water to the windward of the mangrove-fringed low-lying shores on that side of the harbor. They turned northward up the channel, and then west again, as they came into the river proper, leaving the squalid water and smoking lime-kilns behind them as they passed by Limebumers' Bay on the inner shore of what afterwards became known, and is known to-day, as the Stockton Peninsula. There it was that those prisoners who were deemed "incorrigible" by authority toiled savagely and miserably at their endless task of burning sea-shells gathered on the ocean beach into lime. It was a dreadful place of punishment that, in a few years, under the iron discipline of Major Morrisett, was to become even more dreadful still.
Beside the Commandant, O'Shaughnessy, and the four convicts who toiled at the long oars, the boat carried a coxswain, Corporal Jones, and three armed soldiers. It was provisioned for a week, and a couple of tents—a small one for Captain Axthorpe and a big one to be shared in common by the others—completed its equipment. To the unfortunates who looked after it from the limebumers' camp it must have looked a lonely, solitary, forlorn little craft as it disappeared round the corner of one of the lone islands that almost fill up this part of the wide estuary of the Hunter River. The voyagers themselves had an impression of leaving the world of civilisation, as the smoke of the kilns vanished behind the dense and glossy green of the mangroves.
Soon they were in the river itself, not far below the Hexham of to-day, and presently the mangroves began to give place to dense reed-beds lining either shore, whilst tall forests rose inland on each side of the placid stream, reflecting their high-flung foliage in its mirror-like surface.
Very different does the Hunter look nowadays between Hexham and Raymond Terrace, with wide treeless plains stretching away on either side from its low banks, from which the primeval forests of water-gum and cedar have long disappeared. But in 1812 the quiet river flowed silently to the sea between dense, tall jungles of vegetation almost too thick to penetrate. At high water they went ashore and rested, whilst food was prepared for the midday meal.
During this rest for the rowers, Captain Axthorpe, bidding O'Shaughnessy to follow him, walked over to the huts, where they found a solitary old man superintending the boiling in a three legged pot of a couple of haunches of kangaroo meat. The Commandant greeted him cheerily.
"Well, my man," he said, "and who may you be? Where is the rest of your party, pray?"
"I be th' cook, y'r honor, for big Bill Carey's gang o' cedar-getters, an' they'm off in th' hills a-fellin' timber. They'll not be back afoor sundown, an' there's their tucker all a-bilin' for 'em. I feeds 'em proper, y'r honor, an' none of 'em has no complaints for to make about old Jimmy, I'll go bail to ye, sir. An' what's become o' Cap'n Burriss, sir—if I might make bold to ax ye?"
"Captain Burriss has gone back to headquarters in Sydney, and I'm the new Commandant at the Coal River," Captain Axthorpe informed him. "How far do you reckon it is, my man, to the Green Hills, where we are going?"
The old fellow shook his head doubtfully.
"I dunno, y'r honor—I never bin there. Mebbe 'tis forty mile—mebbe a hunnerd. Who can tell? I don't concern meself wi' what's beyond them woods. I on'y knows th' places I finds meself in—that's all. Sydney Town I knows, an' th' settlement down th' river. Long ago I came from Bristol, over a job o' poachin'—that's all I knows—an' here I be. 'Tis good enough for me, y'r honor. 'Tis all I want." He fell to silently stirring his pot with a stick.
Nothing more was to be got out of the camp-keeper, so they went back to the boat, and after another hour or so of rest the rowers were ordered into their places, and the voyage recommenced—this time against a strong ebb tide.
Passing the mouth of the Williams, they pushed on silently up the Hunter, the prisoners straining at their oars, whilst the boat forged ahead against tide and current. In the late afternoon the tide turned again, and they made better progress against the stream—but the wide waterway seemed to O'Shaughnessy to stretch on for ever between the tall and silent forests that then clothed all the wonderful fertile river flats that have since proved to be some of the best agricultural country Australia holds. One of the lonely camps on the left bank of the river they passed about sunset, and a solitary man came out and waved to them, and went into the bark hut again. When night fell they were still pulling up-stream, the oarsmen very weary and stiff from their strenuous all-day pulling.
"How much further, coxswain?" asked Captain Axthorpe, just as the dusk was settling down over river and forest.
"Not too fur, y'r honor. I reckon we ought to sight the lights in Mr. Aylmer's house afoor very long. 'Tis about time we did, soon. We passes the mouth of another river, over on th' right—an' then th' Green Hills station should be in sight soon arterwards. Twon't be long now, sir."
Just as it grew dark, at the end of a long, straight reach they saw the lights of a dwelling-place seemingly high above the river. Wearily and rhythmically the oars thudded in the rowlocks as the tired oarsmen pulled the long, slim craft up-stream in the dancing track of the lights ahead.
"Here we are," said Captain Axthorpe, as the boat approached the landing-place that was invisible to all save the coxswain. "O'Shaughnessy, as soon as you get the things out of the boat, I want you to serve out a tot of rum to all hands. Then we'll have supper, and after that is over you may see to pitching the tents. Your men can do it, Corporal James, whilst the crew rest. Make it a good allowance of grog for the rowers, O'Shaughnessy—a double one. I think they've fairly earned it—I do, indeed."
Presently they ran in alongside a little jetty constructed of piles and slabs, above which, whilst the boat had been traversing the last couple of hundred yards, a lantern had guided them into port.
"Oh—'tis the new Commandant," cried a female voice—the voice of a young girl—that sounded strangely lonely to Red O'Shaughnessy in the solitude of that lonely place. "Pray, come up to the house at once, will you? My father will be delighted to welcome you. We've been expecting a visit—'tis months since Captain Burriss came up the river."
Looking up, O'Shaughnessy became aware, in the fitful, dancing light of the lantern she carried in her hand, of a beautiful girl. There was something in that first revelation of Marjory Aylmer's beauty that the Irish exile never forgot. Little did he realise—but this is the end of the chapter.
IN the morning O'Shaughnessy woke to the singing of birds, just as the rising sun was turning the long reach of river below the tents into a burnished sheet of gold between the tall trees lining the low bank on either shore. He stepped over the prostrate forms of his sleeping comrades, and went out of the tent.
Mr. Aylmer's station at the Green Hills—it was where Morpeth is to-day—had only been in occupation for half a year, but much had been done in this brief space of time to make it homelike and comfortable. A substantial stone cottage, with slab outbuildings behind it, faced eastward down the river, and a few acres of forest further back had been cleared for cultivation. Round the homestead were the beginnings of a garden, encircled by a white-painted wicket fence, and by the gateway grew a couple of little Norfolk Island pines, not yet four feet high, one of which still survives, a towering giant, wearing its age proudly and austerely. But the stone cottage is only a kitchen now, and all the place is so unlike what it was in the latter half of 1812 that it is only from the river, and the distant mountains, and the little eminence on which it stands, you may be able to identify the spot where Edward O'Shaughnessy paused this morning and met with Life.
Then he caught his breath, as an apparition became apparent outside the front door of the white stone cottage. "Glory be to God," he murmured, entranced—"th' quane o' th' Little People! Surely to Hiven, no mahn iver see th' loike av her before! Oh, th' beautiful wan! Glory be—she can't be mortial!"
Lightly and gracefully, Marjory Aylmer moved down the earthen pathway towards the garden gate, and you or I would have watched her as breathlessly as did the young Irish prisoner. The loveliness of the summer morning seemed only designed to frame this beautiful female figure, cool-looking and graceful in the high-waisted gingham gown that vaguely outlined the shape of her perfect form. Bareheaded, a pile of raven hair, glossy with dancing lights, set off the charm of her beautiful face, and violet eyes, sparkling with the joy of fresh and virginal young life, gave a character to its perfect oval which no man who saw it would be likely to forget. Her sleeves were rolled up, and over the crook of one dimpled elbow the handle of a wooden pail made a black line against the sunburnt softness of her rounded forearm. Her little feet were bare, and only protected from rude earth by leathern sandals laced by crossed bands of narrow ribbon over each arching instep. But the charm of all her beauty lay in the radiant aspect of vitality that almost made a visible aura about her.
For his part, O'Shaughnessy, as he stood outside the garden fence staring at this unexpected vision of loveliness and grace, was in magnificent masculine contrast to the girl's feminine perfections. Six feet four inches in height, with a well-shaped head—closely cropped, but still very red—poised upon a statuesque neck rising between massive shoulders, he was lean-flanked and well-supported upon a pair of long and shapely legs that were perfectly proportioned. The white tents, ablaze with the new sunlight, and the dark forest behind them, gave him a background that admirably set off the aspect of hardy, vigorous, athletic young manhood that was his. His features were handsome and proud, despite the scars acquired on the Brotherly Love, and as the girl caught sight of him she, too, was a little taken aback by the unusual figure the young convict presented to her impressionable eyes. For a moment she stood looking at him with something of surprise in her animated countenance. Then she let the handle of the bucket slide down her lovely arm, and moved forward to the gate. Opening it, she stepped out on to the grass. Smilingly, she greeted him.
"Good morning," she said, simply, as to an equal—and O'Shaughnessy's heart seemed to leap with joy the sight of her, and the sound of her clear voice, brought to him. But he could only stare at her, in dumb amazement, and curse himself inwardly for the shyness that seemed to overwhelm him. She spoke again before he found his voice.
"What a morning!" she said. "Isn't it glorious?"
O'Shaughnessy felt that it was the most glorious morning he had hitherto experienced—but did not know how to say so. Presently, conscious that it was expected of him, he stammered his response.
"Faith—faith, thin, miss—'tis God's own day. For sure 'tis."
She caught at the simple phrase, and nodded smilingly to acknowledge his use of it.
"Ah—yes," she cried, joyously. "One of those days God makes just to show us what He can do. It is, indeed!"
O'Shaughnessy gathered courage.
"Wud it be a bucket o' wather ye're afther, thin?" he asked, bashfully. "Sure, give th' pail to me, mem, an' I'll take it down to th' river an' fill it."
"Oh, no," she laughed; "'tis a bucket of milk I'm after. See, the cows are waiting over at the yard. I must go and attend to them. 'Tis my daily task, you know. We have to do a good deal for ourselves up here in the bush."
"Will ye not allow me?" began O'Shaughnessy, taking an undecided step forward, with a big red hand outstretched to relieve her of the bucket—when his polite intention received a sudden check. Captain Axthorpe called to him from inside his tent.
"Oh, ye'll plaise excuse me, mem," he uttered hastily as he turned to answer the Commandant. The girl nodded smilingly, as she walked round the corner of the garden fence on her way to the cow-yard behind the house. O'Shaughnessy stared after her, entranced, until another and more peremptory summons took him hurriedly to the tent door. He raised the flap at the entrance, stooped, and looked in.
"Sorr?" he answered. "Did y'r honor call?"
Captain Axthorpe, stretched on the ground in his blankets, a tasselled cotton night-cap on his head, greeted him pleasantly.
"Good morning, O'Shaughnessy. Breakfast as soon as you can—and get your own at the same time, for we'll be making an early start. But, first of all, I want you to go to the house and inquire for Mr. Aylmer. Give him my compliments, and ask him whether he'll be ready to set out at eight o'clock. Then tell Corporal Jones that I'll want a couple of his men to go with us, and that he's to find a musket for yourself. We're going to make an expedition into the woods, and 'twill be necessary to be well armed, on account of the blacks. Go and attend to those two matters, and then see about breakfast. Did you get me a bucket of water last night?"
"'Tis here at the door, sorr—I'll put it inside th' tint."
"Very good. Now go and see Mr. Aylmer."
In answer to his knocking at the open door of the cottage a voice inside bade him to "Come in." O'Shaughnessy entered the front room with his hat in his hand, and beheld, seated at breakfast, a gentleman of some impressiveness. As he stood in the doorway the owner of the Green Hills Station rose from his chair and stared at him inquiringly.
It came into the Irishman's mind that he had never before encountered a stranger and more singular person. He was very tall and very thin, and exceedingly bald. A pair of iron-grey whiskers decorated either cheek, and two bright eyes scanned him closely whilst he stood on the threshold, as though their owner were making an inventory of everything on his person. But the queerest thing about him was his attire. He was clothed in two blankets, one of which was girded about his waistline with a broad leather belt, and the other hung over his naked shoulders after the manner of a shawl, leaving his hairy and muscular body bare beneath its folds. It was fastened at the throat with a big ebony brooch.
"Well," asked this strange-looking person in a pleasant voice, "and who may you be, pray? Do you want to see me?"
"Mr. Aylmer, sorr?"
The tall man bent his head in assent.
"Th' Commandant's complimints, sorr. He's sint me for to find out if ye'll be ready for to make a start at eight o'clock, sorr."
"Tell Captain Axthorpe I'm ready now, if you please. Are you his servant?"
"Bond or free, my man?"
The expression was new to O'Shaughnessy, but he seized its meaning.
"I'm a pris'ner, sorr—worse luck. Sure, I'm the Commandant's man."
"A prisoner! A young man of your appearance! And why were you sent to the colony? You don't look like a felon."
"They said I'd murdered a man, sorr—but I niver done it. I was no where near when 't was done."
"Ah, well, you're here now, at any rate. Very good—give my compliments to Captain Axthorpe, and tell him I'll be ready to move off at eight, as he desires."
O'Shaughnessy saluted and went out. As he stepped from the doorstep into the garden the pretty girl opened the gate and came into it, carrying her pail full of milk. She smiled at him pleasantly, as he stepped aside, with his hat in his hand, to allow her to pass!
"Ah, we meet again," she said. "Have you been to see my father?"
"I'd a message from the Commandant for Mr. Aylmer, miss."
"Are you going with the party into the woods to-day?" she asked him, with something of anxiety in her tone.
"Yes, miss—I'm to go with Cap'n Axthorpe and Mr. Aylmer."
"Then," she whispered, coming closer to him, and glancing at the home as though she feared being overheard—"I beg you to look after my father. He's as helpless as a babe in the bush. Promise me you will do so—please."
A little astonished, O'Shaughnessy assured her he'd be at Mr. Aylmer's service whenever required, and with a grateful smile at him she entered the house.
"Faith, thin," he muttered, as he walked to the tents, "he looks big enough an' ould enough to look after himself, so he does—but I'd carry him on me back for such a wan as her, if she was to ask me."
MR. AYLMER made his appearance outside Captain Axthorpe's tent punctually at eight o'clock. O'Shaughnessy, busily preparing his master's personal equipment for the forthcoming expedition, was relieved to find the owner of Green Hills station less fantastically attired than had been the case when he waited on him with the Commandant's message a little earlier—but he was fantastic and remarkable enough in the bizarre outfit which he apparently deemed necessary for such an excursion as lay before the little party assembled at the camp. He had two guns, two big horse-pistols in his belt, besides an axe, a sketching portfolio, and an entomological collector's tin box slung from his shoulders and dangling at his left flank.
The two soldiers, severely 'military' in scarlet jackets, tall shakoes, pipe-clayed belts and cartridge pouches, and well-polished boots, stood 'at ease,' under the critical supervision of Corporal Jones, a few yards away from Captain Axthorpe's tent. The latter gentleman came out in his short-sleeves, as Mr. Aylmer made his appearance. He seemed to be no less astonished at the aspect of the latter than at that of his own bodyguard. Saluting Mr. Aylmer hastily, and bidding him "good morning," he addressed himself to the non-commissioned officer.
"Great heavens, corporal," he said a little impatiently, "why on earth are these men equipped in heavy marching order? Tell them to go and take off their coats, and to leave packs and belts behind. We've a hot day's work in front of us, and they'll be dead beat in a couple of miles' tramp through the forest, if you send them out in that kit. See that they make themselves comfortable immediately. They can carry rations and cartridges in their haversacks. That will be quite load enough, with their muskets and bayonets. Have you provided a musket for O'Shaughnessy?"
"Yes, sir. Here it is," said Corporal Jones, a little scandalised by the Commandant's condemnation of regimental 'spit-and-polish.' "Very good, sir. Parade, dismiss—and go and fix y'selves up. Step lively, now," he added, as some sort of despairing protest against the un-military outrage of considering soldiers' comfort. "Git a move on ye!"
The soldiers went to their quarters, grinning pleased appreciation of the Commandant's order. Captain Axthorpe turned to Mr. Aylmer.
"Are you going to overburden yourself also, Mr. Axthorpe? Pray permit me to offer a little advice, if I may make so bold with one who is, no doubt, a much more experienced bushman than myself. Leave one of those firearms at home and the axe. Two of my boat's crew are going with us, so we will be a party of seven, all told, each of us armed, and I have directed one of the boatmen to bring a hatchet. So we are really an overwhelmingly superior force to that against which we are taking the field. By the way, please tell me something of these runaway prisoners. What did you say their names were?"
Mr. Aylmer leaned one of his muskets against the side of the tent, and took the axe from his belt with some small air of disappointment.
"Perhaps your man here, my dear Mr. Commandant, will take them to my house, and hand them to my daughter? These two fellows, Saxton and Burrows? They are both ill-disposed rascals, both very bad eggs, indeed. 'Twould be impossible to describe them too disparagingly, I assure you. They came here in company, and have not ceased to be troublesome during the six weeks or so they have been in my assigned service. Lazy, mischievous, dishonest, mutinous—and very impudent. Oh, very impudent, I assure you. Saxton quite distinctly invited me on one occasion to go to Hell, and Burrows told me I was nothing but a sick headache. When they ran off, the day before yesterday, one of them was rude enough to write in chalk on my front door a most impertinent and insulting epithet. Oh, very, I assure you."
"What was it, pray?" inquired Captain Axthorpe, a little smile flickering round his lips.
"One of them wrote up on the door, in letters half a foot high, a most insulting expression. A very unpleasant thing to speak of at all, Mr. Commandant. The words were—I dislike mentioning them—'SILLY OLD MAGGOT!' Well, now—I ask you—have I not every reason to be annoyed with the fellow?"
"And what else did they do?"
"They stole a musket and a pistol, besides breaking into the store and helping themselves to a large quantity of provisions which we can very ill afford to spare, and left a message with the hut-keeper at their quarters that they'd come back and help themselves again, whenever they were in want of anything. So that, unless they are speedily taken, I fear they will be very troublesome. I hope we may have the good fortune to capture the rascals. I would willingly give ten pounds for either of them."
"Oh, we'll do our best to relieve you of them, Mr. Aylmer. A turn in the coalmine, or at Limeburners' Bay, will take some of the villainy out of Messrs. Saxton and Burrows. All right, O'Shaughnessy—take the musket and the axe over to the house, and give them to Miss Aylmer. Waste no time—we must be moving off."
It was not without pleasant anticipation of once again delighting his eyes with a vision of the lovely creature who had seemed to light up his world in some miraculous fashion that O'Shaughnessy again approached the front door of Mr. Aylmer's dwelling, carrying the musket and the axe. Besides Captain Axthorpe, she had been the only person to regard him in a kindly fashion, and treat him more as a human being than a prisoner, since his arrival in New South Wales, and he felt dumbly grateful. The few words she had spoken to him that morning, merely from the way she had said them, had cheered him immensely, and restored a little of the self-respect which the constant buffetings of misfortune had taken from him during the last twelve months of his life, ever since his disaster in London.
She was standing in the doorway as he came up the garden path, and his heart beat a little faster as she greeted him, holding out both hands to relieve him of his burden.
"Oh, dear," she cried laughingly, "I knew my father's equipment would strike the Commandant as being a little superfluous. He was quite convinced that he must have a gun for each of those men, Saxton and Burrows, notwithstanding anything I could say. And the axe, too—though what that was for I don't know. Give them to me, please, Mr.——Mr——I don't know your name. Won't you tell it to me?"
The idea of anyone wanting to know anything about him a little embarrassed O'Shaughnessy. He was not used, in this country, to such civility. He handed her the axe and the musket before he was able to stumble into speech, and when he did so, with furious blushing, it was with a consciousness that he was making a complete fool of himself.
"Well, thin, y'r leddyship—I mane, Miss—'tis—'tis most condiscinding of ye for to ask it. Me name, is it? Me name's O'Shaughnessy—Ned O'Shaughnessy, ma'am. Thank ye kindly for askin'."
"'Tis Irish, isn't it?" she asked, smiling at the obvious shyness of this giant of a young man.
"Sure, th' very Irishest, ma'am. And now I must be going—th' Commandant's a-waiting for to make a shtart. I'll be afther wishin' ye good marnin', ma'am, wit' me dutiful respects."
She detained him with a little gesture that had something of appeal in it.
"Just a moment please, Mr. O'Shaughnessy. I asked you this morning to look after my father—and I want to repeat my request now. These two runaway prisoners are very bad characters, indeed—two bad eggs, my father calls them—and they told some of the men who are employed here that they meant to get the blacks to attack the station, when they would kill my father, burn the place down, and take me off into the bush. It was provident that Captain Axthorpe arrived here last night. I think we can trust the other assigned man—and, of course, we are all right now that the Commandant is here with his soldiers, and all the rest of you. But I am terribly anxious about my father. He is a most simple man, though he's so clever and so brave. I'm afraid that if you encounter these two men they'll single out my father to do him an injury. So I want to beg you again—you are so big and strong-looking—to take care of him for me. I'll be much happier about him going with the party if you'll promise to do as much as that for me. You will, won't you?"
With a mighty stirring of all his bold young being, the Irishman drew himself dramatically erect.
"Miss—Miss Aylmer, I'll look afther him as if—as if he was me own son—I mane, me brother, ma'am—an' not ayther o' thim bad eggs will I let come nigh him. Ye may depind on me, ma'am. I'll promise ye that. I'd do more'n that for ye, Miss—indade, I wud!"
"Well, then—good-bye, Mr. O'Shaughnessy—an I'm very grateful for you for your promise."
She gave him her hand, and for a moment or two it rested in his great red paw, whilst he vainly sought for something to say. But his embarrassment was cut short by a shout from the Commandant.
"Now then, O'Shaughnessy—come along! We're waiting for you."
Hastily mumbling incoherent apologies for the abruptness of his departure, O'Shaughnessy released Miss Aylmer's hand, and ran down the garden path.
"Coming, sorr—coming!" he bawled.
Picking up his musket, he followed after the little column, which was already making its way across the clearing behind the house, towards the tall forest that was its background. Captain Axthorpe and Mr. Aylmer walked in the lead. Then came the soldiers, with the two boatmen, acting as transport animals, in the rear of the little column. O'Shaughnessy caught up with them and fell in behind the Commandant.
BETWEEN the present Morpeth and West Maitland—which used, long ago, to be the Green Hills and Wallis Plains—the Hunter River winds in the most sinuous manner imaginable. The two towns, as the crow flies, are under five miles apart—by the river the distance is over twenty. On either side of the twisting waterway, deep and rich flats of chocolate alluvial, laid down in the floodings of the valley through countless ages, stretch away to the foot-hills of the distant blue ranges, clear of all their native timbers, and farmed and cultivated to the last acre. But in 1812 a dense forest covered all the countryside—an extent of bushland so thick and luxurious as is hardly to be realised to-day. Great 'flooded-gums' grew close to the river's banks, and further back many varieties of eucalyptus covered the country, interspersed with belts of forest-oak, whilst everywhere was an abundance of the vanished and valuable red cedar.
It was into this wilderness that Captain Axthorpe led his little contingent, half-a-dozen strong, in the somewhat vague hope of coming up with the two runaway assigned servants, Saxton and Burrows, who had so despitefully and contemptuously treated their master, Mr. Aylmer, besides robbing him, and threatening him with personal violence. A blackfellow of the district, who claimed to know where the bushrangers were to be found, acted as guide to the little column, and led them through the forest along the right bank of the river in a more or less westerly direction. The Commandant and Mr. Aylmer were in the van, followed immediately by Red O'Shaughnessy. Then came the two soldiers detailed by Corporal Jones, and after them a couple of the boatmen from the whaler, carrying such supplies as Captain Axthorpe had deemed it necessary to take with them.
All the forenoon they tramped through the timber, sometimes coming on to placid reaches of the river reflecting the tall timber on either side with mirror-like faithfulness. Kangaroos in smaller or larger mobs they encountered frequently, and now and then an emu or two, but beyond three or four abandoned gunyahs close to the Hunter's banks, or beside little still lagoons some distance back from the stream, they found no signs of humanity. Bird life of all sorts abounded, and in places, on the stream and its backwaters, they disturbed great flights of wild-duck and other fowl. It was with difficulty, once, that Captain Axthorpe was able to prevent Mr. Aylmer from firing at an old-man kangaroo, who sat up like a statue to watch them as they passed along an open glade in the forest.
"My dear sir," he expostulated, as the tall gentleman halted and swung his musket to his shoulder—"for Heaven's sake don't fire. Indeed, I must forbid you to do so. There's no necessity to advertise our arrival to your two bad eggs, who may be anywhere within earshot."
"Oh," remarked the station-owner absently—"I'd quite forgotten Burrows and Saxton. Dear me, how thoughtless of me!"
Red O'Shaughnessy muttered to himself, as he stood behind them—"Gorra a doubt av it, but 'tis a quare birrd ye are, Misther Aylmer. An' y'silf that wan's father! It bates cock-fightin', so it does!"
He was to learn, very astonishingly, a little more of the 'quarniss' of Mr. Aylmer before the day was over.
Noon came, and Captain Axthorpe called a halt for the midday meal beside a little creek running down to the main stream, which here was some considerable distance from where they made their camp. They did not boil a billy, for in those days tea was an expensive luxury which had no part in the ration-scale of soldiers and convicts, but a small keg of rum carried by one of the boatmen was tapped, and each man of the party was served with a 'nobbler.' They ate their food, and then lay about on the grass, in the shade of the tall trees, smoking and yarning, and one or two of them snatching forty winks, until the Commandant, at the end of an hour's rest, decided that it was time to resume the march. He stood up and looked round, as he buckled his pistol belt about his waist.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "What's become of Mr. Aylmer?"
O'Shaughnessy looked round also, and could see no sign of the gentleman whom his goddess had committed to his care. His musket was leaning against a tree at a little distance from where the others had been sitting, but the overlord of the Green Hills was missing. One of the two soldiers spoke up, saluting the Commandant.
"If ye please, sir, th' gennleman wandered away half an hour agone, down th' creek. He took that little black box with him as he was a-carryin' slung from his shoulder, and when he passed me by he said he was a-goin' lookin' for beetles, an' wouldn't be long away."
"Which direction did you say he took, Harris?" asked Captain Axthorpe anxiously.
"Down the creek, sir."
"Oh, well—I suppose we must await his return. It won't do to hulloo after him, since we don't want to let the gentlemen we are looking for know exactly where we are. Look here, O'Shaughnessy—take your musket and go down the creek. He can't have wandered very far in half an hour. Keep on until you come to the river bank, which can't be more than half a mile from this spot. But you are sure to drop across him before then. Tell him I'm anxious to push on, and request him, with my compliments"—the Commandant permitted the shadow of a smile to flit across his face—"to rejoin the party as soon as possible. Urge him to hurry."
"Very good, sorr," replied O'Shaughnessy, picking up his firearm—"I'll find th' gintleman in th' half o' no time. He'll not be far away."
It is not to be expected that, after hardly a month in the country, Red O'Shaughnessy could have been anything of a 'bushman,' in the sense in which the word has been in use in Australia almost ever since the period under consideration. Indeed, Captain Axthorpe was not one, nor the two soldiers, nor the boatmen, and there was really only one bushman in the party—the blackfellow Billy, who was acting as guide to the expedition. He was the only man amongst them competent to find the missing Mr. Aylmer, but the Commandant knew so little of the Australian bush that even the realisation of as much as this was beyond him.
So, in his ignorance, he had sent Red O'Shaughnessy away on a job for the execution of which he was utterly and altogether incapable. Wherefore it is not surprising that the young Irishman added to the tally of his misfortunes by speedily managing to lose himself. He did this in the simplest fashion possible; and before he had gone any more than a quarter of a mile from the place where the party had camped for dinner.
He started off down the narrow rivulet, and not ten minutes after leaving the rest of them found himself, though not at first realising it, as completely 'bushed' as any man ever has been. Had he stuck to the creek, of course, he could not have failed to find his way back to the camp, but he made the mistake of not doing so, and the mistake was fatal.
Fifty yards down, the timber became very dense indeed—nearly impenetrable. The tall trees grew closer together, and what was almost a veritable network of vines depended from their limbs to a barrier of undergrowth through which it was hardly possible to look ahead for more than a couple of yards. The only way in which he could make any progress at all was by keeping right along the bank of the creek. This way, too, it was apparent that Mr. Aylmer had pursued his absent-minded wanderings, for, in one or two places, even O'Shaughnessy could not fail to make out his tracks in the soft, loamy, damp soil through which the tiny stream had cut its course.
He pushed his way along the right bank for some distance before it struck him that the left one seemed to be a little more open, and might afford him an easier passage. So he jumped across, and found the going a little better.
Suddenly he stopped, and stood still to listen. He thought that he had heard someone shout—only once—away out on his left, somewhere in that mysterious forest. For more than a couple of minutes he remained where he had halted, striving to make certain whether he had heard a cry—the cry of a human being in distress, and doubting whether his ears had deceived him or not. He could not be sure. He waited, tense and nervous, for the sound to repeat itself. But the forest seemed to be asleep in the noonday heat, and was as silent as the Australian bush is ever capable of being. Then, and startlingly close at hand—to the left of the creek, apparently—he heard an unmistakable, though rather feeble, cry for help in Mr. Aylmer's voice. It had a sound suggestive of someone trying to stifle it, and there was a quality of agony in it, too.
"Oh—oh—help! Captain Axthorpe! Oh—you brutes!"
Red O'Shaughnessy plunged into the bush on his left-hand side, and forced his way many yards into the thicket, and when he halted again to listen, and heard nothing, a slow realisation came to him, in the course of minutes, that he had no notion as to the direction of the camp—did not even know where the creek was. He was well and truly bushed. And the realisation was unpleasant.
FOR a short while longer, Red O'Shaughnessy remained where he was, vainly puzzling his brain to realise just exactly where that might be. All the bush about him was silent in the hushed stillness of a summer afternoon, and only those little noises that go on in it without ceasing, day and night, came to his straining ears. He had not a notion of even the direction of the creek he had left only a few minutes before, and could not imagine where Captain Axthorpe and the rest of the party were. Then, with startling clearness, he heard another agonised cry for help. It was Mr. Aylmer's voice, unmistakably, and the note of pain in it roused him to fresh exertion.
"Oh, for God's sake, help! Captain Axthorpe—Mr. Commandant—hurry! The devils are torturing me. Ah—ah—h—h!"
The quavering quality of bodily pain was in the last sustained wail of this dismal cry for aid in adversity, and the young Irishman responded to it with all the energy that was in him. Tearing the dangling vines apart, he forced a passage through the dense undergrowth of the tall trees that roofed him from the sky, and somehow made frustrated progress in the direction of Mr. Aylmer's voice. Somewhere about a hundred yards of this strenuous shoving through the green density of the forest, growing luxuriantly on these rich river flats, he found himself on the edge of a little natural clearing in the bush, and in sight of a scene as strange as it was appalling.
Evidently the place had been a recent camp of some of the aborigines of the district, for three bark gunyahs, whose lean-to roofs had not long been stripped from the trees that had furnished their material, stood on the side of the clearing opposite to where O'Shaughnessy peeped over the bushes that masked his body from the sight of the present occupants of the primitive hamlet. For a few moments he stood gazing at the queer drama which presented itself to his astonished vision, too bewildered by what he saw for immediate action.
Mr. Aylmer was securely tied, stripped naked, to a young tree, round which his arms were stretched behind his back and fastened together at the wrists, so that his gaunt thorax was thrust unnaturally forward. A lashing under his armpits kept him in an erect position, and his ankles were bound to the butt of the sapling. On his right breast, just below the collar-bone, were branded, in a series of angry and inflamed red spots, the letters J.S., and standing near with a smoking firestick in his right hand, was a big fellow with a leering, ugly face, who jeered at his unfortunate victim with a devilish expression of gloating cruelty in his evil countenance that made O'Shaughnessy shudder. A gag had been tied round Mr. Aylmer's mouth, so that he could no longer cry out loudly, but was only able to relieve his feelings by a constantly maintained series of dismal moans and groans. Another man, short and thick-set, was stooping over a little fire burning in front of one of the bark gunyahs.
"There y'are, Ben—there's my mark on his hide, so's he won't ever be likely to forget good old Jimmy Saxton all th' days of his life. 'Urry up, an' put your brand on 'im, too. That'll learn 'im not to come a-chasin' gentlemen wi' sojers. Oo, ye silly ole goat—that'll learn ye! Come on, Ben. We ain't got time for to waste. Them others might come this way any moment. Look sharp, now."
The shorter man straightened up, as he drew a smoking stick out of the fire, and walked across towards Mr. Aylmer.
"Right ye hare, Jimmy-boy," he laughed to his companions. "I won't take long over puttin' my initials on 'im, too. Jay Hess an' Bee Bee—James Saxton an' Benjamin Burrows—'twill be a pretty decoration. We might ha' put it on 'is rump—on'y then 'e wouldn't ha' bin able to show th' marks in p'lite society. As it is, anyone can admire our 'andiwork. Put another stick in th' fire, will ye. I won't be able to do mor'n one B with this 'ere. Now, ole Daddy Longlegs, I'll give ye my little bit o' remembrance. 'Ope it don't 'urt ye, ye —— ole cow!"
As the grinning convict drew near his victim, the unfortunate Mr. Aylmer squirmed and struggled in his bonds, emitting a sustained groan that was almost a muffled bellow. His eyes were starting from his head as the man Burrows approached him. A yard away from the writhing, naked body, the fellow halted, and waved the firestick round his head to enliven its burning end. Mr. Saxton shouted encouragement.
"Don't make a botch o' th' job, Ben. Take y'r time. Be a hartist."
Slowly O'Shaughnessy straightened up behind his bush, as he brought his musket up to his shoulder, levelling it at Burrows' head. He took a long and steady aim, and, just as the fellow brought the point of the smoking stick down on a level with his victim's breast, pulled the trigger.
"Now, then, me ole buck,"—Mr. Burrows had just remarked, before the loud crack of the exploding musket, hardly ten yards away across the open glade, cut the sentence short. The bullet took him in the right temple, and went clean through his head. He spun round, flinging out his arms and opening his hands convulsively, before subsiding face downward on the turf. Mr. Aylmer closed his eyes, and his head drooped forward, as he swooned. None of this did O'Shaughnessy notice in the fury of immediate action. All his powers of observation were concentrated on the other convict, Saxton.
He burst out of the scrub, clubbing his musket as he charged at the startled ruffian. Saxton stared at him for a moment before he realised his danger. Then he made a short run for the nearest gunyah, on the grass in front of which lay an axe stolen from the station at the Green Hills. He reached it, and stooped to pick it up as O'Shaughnessy came rushing onto him, the butt of his musket raised high aloft for the blow. Down it came, as Saxton stooped, and he also lay stretched upon the turf in the little clearing out of which the runaway convicts had probably driven its rightful tenants. But he was not quite so dead as his comrade.
O'Shaughnessy dropped his musket, and ran to the assistance of Mr. Aylmer, whom he found to be quite unconscious. With his knife he cut the bonds that lashed the unhappy station-owner to the tree, and eased his limp body to the ground, until he lay stretched out on the grass, moaning pitifully, and gradually coming to himself. He took off his jacket and rolled it up into a pillow which he placed beneath Mr. Alymer's head. Then he stood up, panting from his exertions, and surveyed the battlefield. He walked over to the man he had shot, and examined the body.
Burrows lay in a pool of blood that dripped from the hideous wounds in his head made by the big leaden bullet at entrance and exit, and it was obvious that he was quite dead.
"Faith, thin," muttered the Irish prisoner, "ye'll not be afther playin' anny more o' y'r pretty little jokes, me boyo. I dunno what th' Commandant'll say, but I done right, ye blackguard. Sure, ye're a betther man dead than iver ye was alive. An' what about th' other fellie? Have I done him in, too, I wonder?"
Saxton's body was moving spasmodically when O'Shaughnessy stooped over him to make an examination of his injuries, and he opened his eyes and groaned. Looking up in a dazed fashion, he made a hideous grimace and attempted to rise. But O'Shaughnessy placed a foot on his chest, and forced him back into a prone position.
"Lie there, ye dog, till I tie ye up," he said to his captive.
Unbuckling the runaway convict's belt, he rolled him ungently onto his face, and fastened his wrists together with the leather strap. He went over to where Mr. Aylmer was lying, and picked up the severed cords which had bound him to the tree. Knotting them together, he went back to Saxton, and lashed his ankles tightly. The fellow had regained consciousness, and spat a volley of obscene curses at his captor.
"Ye big, red-headed ———!" he howled. "Lemme up out o' this, an I'll belt th' tripes out o' ye!"
"Aw now, be aisy, me boy. Ye'll need all th' breath ye've got for th' hangman, whin we get ye back to Newcastle. Don't get excited, now. 'Twill do y'r health harrum, so it will. Take it aisy, do, while I'm lettin' th' Commandant know where we are."
Lying on the ground inside one of the gunyahs, he found the musket and horse-pistol stolen by the two absconders from the Green Hills. They were both loaded and primed, and O'Shaughnessy fired them into the air, in rapid succession, to inform Captain Axthorpe as to where he was. He left his captive, and went to see how Mr. Aylmer was getting on.
The victim of the two convicts' vengeful brutality was sitting up when O'Shaughnessy came back to him, still as naked as at birth, but obviously not very much damaged, except for the burns, which were painful enough, though only skin deep. The Irishman collected his scattered garments, and handed them to him.
"Faith, thin, sorr," he said consolingly, "thim blackguards done ye no good, so they didn't—but wan of 'em's fixed up for kapes, an' t'other's all trussed up ready for th' Commandant. They ought to be here soon, th' rest o' thim. Sure, ye'll be all right presintly, sorr. Th' Commandant's got a pot of ointmint, I know, sorr. He'll fix ye up in th' half o' no time."
EXACTLY three weeks after the rescue of Mr. Aylmer from his diabolical tormenters by Red O'Shaughnessy, as detailed in the preceding chapter of this veracious biography of the young Irishman, Mr. James Saxton, the only survivor of the bushranging firm of Saxton and Burrows, became 'the late' Mr. James Saxton, accomplishing his demise in a fashion not uncommon during those years in His Majesty's Territory of New South Wales.
This fortunate proceeding took place one sunny morning outside Newcastle Gaol, in the presence of practically all the white inhabitants of the Coal River Settlement and a few of the black, whilst the roar of the surf on the rocky beach hard by supplied solemnly appropriate music befitting the occasion. In the felon colloquialism of the period, he 'danced upon nothing,' 'had his neck stretched,' 'fought a round with Jack Ketch'—picturesque idioms whose meaning was expressed on the back of the warrant signed 'L. Macquarie,' received by the schooner from Sydney the day before, by the single word, 'Executed.'
The Commandant's expedition to the Green Hills had returned down the river to Headquarters on the day following Red O'Shaughnessy's timely intervention at a critical and painful period in Mr. Aylmer's affairs, bringing their prisoner with them.
On his arrival at Newcastle, that is to say on the following day, Captain Axthorpe had convened a Criminal Court composed of himself, the Superintendent of Convicts, and the Storekeeper—the three magistrates of the Settlement—for the trial of James Saxton on the capital charge of having stolen a musket, valued at thirty shillings, from Horace Aylmer, Esquire, of the Green Hills. Mr. Aylmer and his daughter, who had followed in the run-holder's boat in the wake of that of the Commandant, had given their evidence, as had also Red O'Shaughnessy, and the prisoner, being found guilty, had been duly sentenced to death. With characteristic amiability, on being asked by the Court at the commencement of the proceedings whether he pleaded 'guilty' or 'not guilty,' he had requested that tribunal to go to Hell. On being asked, after the verdict, what he had to say about sentence of death being pronounced upon him, he had, more emphatically still, told the Court to go to ——— Hell. Whereupon, its President, Captain Axthorpe, as in duty bound, had pronounced the words that were to serve Mr. Saxton as an introduction to the Devil—though he had also expressed some doubtful solicitude as to the Lord having mercy upon his (Mr. Saxton's) soul. With a simple terseness of expression, Mr. Saxton had then shouted to all whom it might concern:—
"Go to Hell, th' whole ——— lot o' ye!"
Had this pleasant gentleman been tried in Sydney, so long an interval would not have elapsed between sentence and execution, but whenever a prisoner was capitally convicted, in those days, at an outlying settlement, the whole of the depositions had to be sent to the capital of the Territory for consideration by the authorities there, and he could not be finally dealt with 'according to law' until a warrant for execution signed by the Governor had been returned to the outpost. Thus it came about that Mr. Saxton enjoyed nearly three weeks' holiday in Newcastle, before being sent on his travels and adventures in the next world, instead of the usual three days in the condemned cell that would have been his lot in Sydney. Bad weather on the coast delayed the arrival of the warrant at the Hunter River, so the condemned man was enabled to put on nearly a stone in weight, by reason of this period of leisure and the better ration scale upon which he regaled himself daily during the period of waiting for the morning when he would fight his 'round with Jack Ketch.' However, the delayed ticket for Eternity at last arrived in Newcastle, and on the nature of its purport being communicated to Mr. Saxton, that gentleman, with a malevolent grin, requested the gaoler, Mr. Bateman, to send for Edward O'Shaughnessy, as he wished to have with his captor some little private conversation.
"And what th' devil do ye want with th' fellie as put th' come-hither on ye, Jimmy. Ye wouldn't be gettin' hung to-morrow if 'twarn't for that red-headed long Irisher. Don't fancy ye'll be permitted to bash his face in, or anythink o' that sort. I'll take dam' good care o' that, me buck. What d'ye want to see him about?"
"You mind y'r ——— business, Tim Bateman. I want to see 'im, that's all. Ain't ye Christian enough for to respect th' wishes of a dyin' man? Who wants for to touch th' big swine? Jest a few words alone wi' O'Shaughnessy—that's all I want. Can I see him?"
"Oh, all right," grunted the gaoler. "But ye'll be handcuffed out in the yard, an' chained to a ringbolt be th' hankle. I'm not takin' hany chances wi' gents havin' such a record as you've got, Jimmy Saxton. Very well, I'll send word across to th' Commandant's. He'll prob'ly come over some time this afternoon. An' see ye behaves decent, or I'll tell th' stretcher to spin out th' job in th' mornin'. All right."
This was the amazing thing the condemned man told to Red O'Shaughnessy, when the latter came to the gaol at sunset.
"Well, that's 'ow it is, Mister Red O'Shaughnessy," he said maliciously. "You're 'ere f'r th' term o' y'r nat'ral life for th' murder o' Mr. Thomas Larraby, on Hampstead Heath, over twelve month ago—an' 'twas me, Jimmy Saxton, what done th' job. If I wanted to, jst by sendin' for th' Commandant an' tellin' me story I could get ye a pardon—see! But I don't want to—not by forty ——— mile. You shot my mate, Ben Burrows, an' you cracked me over th' nob, an' got me took, up th' river the other day, an' so I'm to be stretched in th' morning. Well, I'll keep me mouth shut. There's no one listening to us now, an' if you go to Cap'n Axthorpe an' tell 'im wot I've told ye, I'll swear blind I never said no sich a thing. So there ye are, me dam' smart Irish bog-trotter. I'm th' on'y one can get ye justice—an' I won't do it."
Red O'Shaughnessy looked down at the manacled man who leered up at him from the three-legged stool in the prison yard, and knew that the wretch would be as good as his word. Hate and malicious triumph were written in his grinning, evil countenance, and the Irishman saw no hope of moving him to make proper confession to the authorities of his own guilt of the crime for which he was a prisoner in New South Wales. He could not help giving vent to a despairing groan, which Jimmy Saxton noted with leering satisfaction.
"Oh, ye pore lad!" he leered. "Ain't it bad luck? Oh, my Gawd, it is so!"
"Ye blaisted hell-hound!" growled O'Shaughnessy. "F'r tuppince I'd take an' bate ye till ye howled f'r mercy. Howly Saints, I'd not ha belayved there was such bad 'uns made as you are, Jimmy Saxton. You die to-morrow, an' ye'd say no worrud! Ye'll fry in Hell for this, ye devil's get!"
"Yes, ginger-nob, an' you'll sweat many a year in Noo South Wales, too."
With clenched fists, O'Shaughnessy took an involuntary step closer to the chained prisoner—and immediately Mr. Saxton emitted a yell of simulated terror which brought the gaoler running from the further side of the big yard, where he had been strolling up and down out of earshot of the two of them.
"Hey, then—what's the matter?" cried Mr. Bateman. "What are ye screechin' about, Jimmy?"
"I thought he was a-goin' to crack me over th' nob, sir," said the condemned man. "Look at him, Mr. Bateman! He's gone orf 'is 'ead—out of 'is mind. Take care, sir—'e might do you a mischief y'self."
Poor O'Shaughnessy's countenance certainly had an alarming aspect. His face was livid with righteous rage, and his eyes, almost literally, flashed fire. He really looked to Mr. Bateman as though he contemplated some sudden assault on Jimmy Saxton. The gaoler interposed his burly carcase between the two men.
"'Ere!" he shouted at the Irishman, taking him roughly by the arm. "You get out o' this, O'Shaughnessy. I'm not a-goin' to 'ave no carry in's on 'ere, no matter wot this blarsted Jimmy's said to ye. Get out o' th' gaol, as quick as ye like—an' quicker. Come, now—I'll let ye out myself."
With a groan, Red O'Shaughnessy suffered Mr. Bateman to lead him to the gate. He knew that he was helpless, and that nothing on earth would move the abandoned villain to speak the truth before it was too late. He left the gaol, and walked back to the Commandant's house.
They duly hanged Mr. Jimmy Saxton in the morning, on a primitive gibbet unprovided with a drop—two uprights and a cross-beam—which had been erected overnight outside the gaol gate. As the ruffian stood up in the cart which was to be drawn from under him, when the hangman gave the signal, by a team of four convicts, he caught sight of O'Shaughnessy's tall figure behind the line of soldiers which kept the crowd from coming too close to the gallows.
"Irishman's luck, ye big yob," he yelled. "Irishman's luck!"
They drew the cart from under him.
SUCH expeditions as that to the Green Hills, O'Shaughnessy was soon to realise, were not weekly diversions. Life at the Coal River settlement early resolved itself into a monotonous round of wearisome repetition not at all easy to endure.
Every day the prisoners worked from sunrise until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, with an intermission of an hour for breakfast at eight, but no midday break for dinner. That was supposed to be eaten after the day's work for the government was at an end, anything in the nature of earlier refreshment being taken without any cessation of whatever task upon which the prisoner happened to be employed. On Saturday afternoons the coal-miners washed the grime and sweat from their weary bodies in the ocean, and Sunday morning had its court of petty session, presided over by the Commandant, and after that its resultant flogging parade. There was a parody of Divine Service in the afternoon, and in the evenings, round a big fire near the gaol—this relief had been instituted by Captain Axthorpe—a sort of public concert was held which would hardly be described as entertainment.
Once a week the schooner came in from Sydney, bringing prisoners, stores, and mails, and departed after a couple of days anchored in the river mouth. Her comings and goings were about the only notable things that happened in Newcastle. Now and again a hanging took place, and this grim diversion was almost all the convicts had to talk about for days before and after such miserable public spectacles. When the day's compulsory tasks came to an end—only for those who were lucky enough not to work in the coalmine—most of the 'government men' employed themselves in hut-building, washing clothing, gardening in the little patches of cultivated ground, carefully fenced-in against raids by the settlement's goats, that stood before nearly every primitive dwelling in the town. Some of the prisoners fished assiduously in most of their spare time, either in the river or along the surf-washed coast to the southward of the Coal Island. Generally the fishing was good, and afforded a welcome change in diet from the eternal 'salt horse' and maize-meal that was the staple ration of both soldier and convict.
O'Shaughnessy's main occupation was a housekeeping one. Besides himself the Commandant's domestic establishment consisted of a cook and a clerk, both prisoners, and neither of them very desirable companions. The cook was a West Indian negro who went by the name of 'Hector,' and the secretary a rat-faced cockney who had been a clerk in some mercantile establishment in the City of London, had been transported for forgery, and was as complete a little villain as the Irishman had ever encountered. They occupied a hut at the end of the enclosure behind Government House, where they slept and took their meals, and in which O'Shaughnessy's principal occupation was that of keeping the peace between his companions, who quarrelled continuously and with bitterness.
"Ye big, black 'ippopot'mus," he heard Martin, the clerk, snarl one evening, as he entered the hut to go to bed—"wot th' 'ell use are ye, I'd like to know? 'Ere ye've bin an' give th' gov'nor that there leg o' mutton for 'is dinner wot I sneaked from th' Commiss-ry this mornin'. D'ye think I goes puttin' me 'ead in a noose for to feed Axthorpe? Wot th' devil's got ye, ye hugly son of a sweep. D——n me heyes, if you ain't th' flamin' last stror!"
"You lissen to me, ye blarsted gutter-snipe," said the big nigger. "Whatever tucker comes into my kitchen, th' Cap'n's got first pick at it. You knows dat bery well. We eats what Massa Axthorpe leaves—an dat's too a'mighty good for th' likes o' you, you white trash!"
"Don' you call me trash, ye ———, or I'll break y'r 'ead for ye. I ain't a-goin' for to be misnamed by no black 'eathen, I tells ye stright. Ye savage! Ye stinkin' cannibal! Oo eat, is wife's father? Yah!"
Whether the gibe about having annihilated his father-in-law had some foundation in fact O'Shaughnessy never knew, but it was sufficient to turn the big negro into a raging devil. He sprang from his bunk, and leapt across the room to come to grips with his enemy. That vicious little ruffian immediately drew a knife from beneath the straw palliasse, and prepared himself for murder. It was only by hurling himself between them, and threatening both with equal terrors that the Irishman was able to keep a semblance of the peace.
"Be th' howly piper," he yelled, "if ayther th' wan or th' other o' ye stirs another fut I'll break his neck. Back to y'r bunk, Hecthor, ye big stiff! Martin, ye dam' little murtherin' blackguard, gimme that knife—or I'll cut y'r t'roat wid it! Lay down, th' both of yez, or be th' hokey, I'll give yes ache th' father of a batin' an' lug ye into th' Commandant. So there, now. Mind y'silves—or ye'll catch what ye're not lukkin' for."
As the young giant had more than once demonstrated to both of them his ability to do what he threatened, they reluctantly subsided, cursing each other vigorously, until O'Shaughnessy blew out the candle and ordered them to keep quiet.
"Sure," he threatened, "if y' don't both hold y'r jaws, I'll put th' two o' yez outside. Ain't a man to get anny rist arl night for two dam' fools like ye? Shut up now, Hecthor—keep quite, Martin, bad luck to ye. 'Tis th' timper of an angel a man'd be nadin' for to live wid ye. Kape quite, now—or out yez both goes."
He looked after the Commandant's clothing, and became a very efficient valet. He swept and scrubbed out Government House, and kept it as clean and shining as the decks of a man-o'-war. He waited at table, groomed and fed Captain Axthorpe's horse, carried his gun and the day's provisions when the Commandant went shooting in the scrubs at the back of the settlement, and attended him as boatman when he went fishing. His master trusted him absolutely, and treated him with every consideration and kindness. For his part, O'Shaughnessy came to like and respect the young officer with an enthusiasm that grew more fervid every week. Woe betide the convict whom he overheard disparaging his master! There were not many who did not look carefully round to see that the Commandant's Man was nowhere within earshot, ere they ventured to unburden their souls of any criticism or abuse of Captain Axthorpe.
It was a quiet, monotonous life, and so well was he treated that sometimes O'Shaughnessy almost forgot that he was a prisoner for life. He was popular in the settlement, and, being so close as he was to its ruler, was regarded as a person of some importance in the queerly-mixed community at the mouth of the Coal River. The days began to go faster when he found himself getting used to the life and the conditions of the primitive little penal settlement, and it was with something of astonishment that he realised, early in 1813, that he had been at Newcastle for over six months. It was the Commandant himself who reminded him of the fact. One evening, as he sat smoking on a stool outside the hut at the bottom of the garden, Captain Axthorpe came to the back door of the cottage, and called him by name.
"O'Shaughnessy! Come into my office, will you, please! I've something to say to you."
Knocking the ashes from his pipe, he jumped to his feet.
"Comin', sorr," he shouted, and ran up the pathway to the back door. He found the Commandant in the room at the front of the cottage where he transacted the business of the settlement. He was seated behind his writing-table, and smiled pleasantly as the young man entered the room and stood to attention in front of him.
Two candles, in long silver candle-sticks, lit the papers in front of Captain Axthorpe, and hardly lit the rest of the large apartment. He waited for the Commandant to speak.
"Well, O'Shaughnessy," he said, "how would you like a holiday?"
"A holiday, sorr! Faith, thin, if I might spend it at home in Ireland, I'd like it mighty well. But there's no chance o' that, sorr."
"I'm afraid not," laughed Captain Axthorpe—"not for a while, at any rate. But I haven't the slightest doubt you'll see your own country again one of these days. You're not looked on as altogether hopeless, you know, and I don't think you'll have to spend all your days in New South Wales. But that's not what I wanted to tell you. I'm thinking of taking you to Sydney with me for a couple of weeks. How'd you like that?"
"Sure, sorr, ye've trated me well here at th' Coal River—but 'tis not an exciting place at all, at all, and a bit of a change wouldn't do a man anny harrum. I'd like it fine, sorr."
"Good. Well, when I came up here to take charge of the settlement as Commandant, his Excellency the Governor agreed to give me some leave at the end of six months. The six months has been up for a week or two, now, and I wrote to the Governor not long ago to remind him of the promise. I had his answer by the schooner to-day. He gives me a fortnight's holiday, and has consented, as I asked him when I wrote, that I should bring my personal servant with me. By next week's schooner my relief—one of the officers of the garrison—will arrive, and we will sail to Sydney in her. I'm going to take you with me, partly because I really need you, but also as a reward for your good service to me here in the settlement. So have everything ready for our departure by the middle of next week. That's all I wanted you for. I hope the news is agreeable to you, O'Shaughnessy."
"Faith, sorr—'tis th' best I've heard since I've been at th' Coal River."
THE days went slowly for O'Shaughnessy until the time came round for his master and himself to sail for Sydney in the Government schooner. He was kept busy with preparations for their departure, and when at last the subaltern officer arrived who was to relieve Captain Axthorpe temporarily in the command of the Coal River Settlement, during that gentleman's absence on leave for a fortnight at headquarters, he had all the Commandant's effects in good order and condition. They went on board the little vessel the night before she sailed, so as to be ready to take advantage of the ebb-tide in getting to sea at daylight on the following morning.
As the sun rose, they drifted over the bar and came abreast of the Coal Island, where a gentle nor'-easter filled the schooner's sails, as she came round on to her course towards the south. The flag on its tall mast at the signal station on Collier's Point—the site of the present Fort Scratchley—was dipped in honor of the Commandant, as they began the voyage to Port Jackson, and duly answered from the schooner. They saw the curling spirals of blue smoke eddying up into the sunny morning from the breakfast fires of the little village as they slipped past it at sea, and standing on the fo'c'sle-head, O'Shaughnessy waved a hand in derisive farewell as he muttered to himself:——
"Good luck to ye, Newcastle, an' 'tis Ned O'Shaughnessy wouldn't give a tinker's damn if he niver saw ye again."
He turned in surprise, and looked down into the schooner's waist as he heard his name pronounced in a female voice he had not forgotten. Smiling up at him, and beckoning him to come to her, was Marjory Aylmer, from the Green Hills. His heart gave a jump as he turned to obey her summons.
Very sweet and dainty she looked, as she stood on the main hatch, the breeze from astern whipping her skirts about her shapely limbs, fluttering a dark curl that seemed to be trying to escape from the prison of her coal-scuttle bonnet, shaking the fringes of her Indian shawl she wore over her trim shoulders—the freshest and daintiest thing O'Shaughnessy had looked upon since last he saw her up the river at the Green Hills, the day after he had rescued her father from the runaway convicts, Saxton and Burrows. She had been in Newcastle whilst her father was in attendance at the trial of James Saxton, but he had seen little of her then, and last remembered her as she had looked when, with tears of gratitude in her beautiful eyes, she had thanked him for what he had done, in the garden of her father's homestead beside the Hunter River.
A little shyly, he stood before her, his hat in his hand, joy in his heart, but no words on his tongue. She gave him a dainty, mittened hand, and he took it in his great red paw. As he felt its warm smallness in his grasp he managed to gasp, in a sort of hoarse whisper——
"'Tis y'silf thin! 'Tis rayly y'silf, Miss Marjory?"
"Indeed it is," she replied, with a happy little laugh. "Did you think you saw my ghost, then?"
"Faith, Miss, I'd no notion ye was aboard. And Mr. Aylmer, is he on th' schooner, too? 'Tis well his honor is, I do be hopin'."
"Oh, yes—my father's still asleep below. We did not get down the river until after midnight, and 'twas one o'clock before we came on board—having heard in Newcastle that the schooner was to sail at daylight. But how glad I am to see you again! And so will my father be, too. We owe you everything, Mr. O'Shaughnessy. If it had not been for you, I don't know what those awful men would not have done to him. There is no doubt but that you saved my father's life. I shall never forget that."
And then, to Red O'Shaughnessy's intense disgust, Captain Axthorpe came on deck. Hastily mumbling some kind of apology and saluting his master, the young Irishman went for'ard, whilst the Commandant took his place at the side of his divinity. He was in love, and knew it, but he also knew that he was a prisoner of the Crown, and had a definite place to keep. He had no further opportunity of speaking to her during the voyage to Sydney, though Mr. Aylmer sought him out before they reached Port Jackson, and was profuse in his gratitude to 'his brave deliverer.'
The nor'-easter increased in force as the day grew older, and they made almost a record passage to the Heads. There was a full moon, and the master of the schooner brought her up the harbor, instead of waiting in Watson's Bay for daylight. They were anchored in Sydney Cove before nine o'clock, and Mr. Aylmer and his daughter went ashore immediately. As she stepped over the side, she turned and waved a hand to him, as he stood under a lantern hanging in the mizzen rigging.
"Glory be!" he muttered to himself. "And me a poor divil of a lag, and all! God bless her, then!"
Captain Axthorpe did not land until next morning, when, with O'Shaughnessy in charge of the baggage—it was carried in a handcart drawn by a couple of prisoners—he went to lodgings in King Street, for which he had made arrangements by letter from Newcastle. Being seconded from his regiment for duty at the Coal River, there was no necessity for him to go to the Barracks, though he dined in the officers' mess every night when not otherwise engaged.
On the second morning after their arrival his master informed O'Shaughnessy, who occupied an attic room in the house where he lodged, and waited each morning on him for orders, that he intended having some guests to dinner in the evening.
"Mr. Gregory Blaxland, of South Creek," he said, "and Mr. William Wentworth will dine here this evening at five o'clock, O'Shaughnessy. You will consult with Mrs. Porgis, our landlady, as to making provision for the meal, and afterwards I want you to take this note to the mess-man at the Barracks, who will provide you with some bottles of wine, which you will bring here. I will decant them myself. Here is some money, which you will expend in eatables as Mrs. Porgis directs. She will know what to order—her husband is butler to the Governor, and she is well experienced in arranging for dinner parties. Do whatever she directs. And I will require you to wait upon us at dinner. However, your experience at Newcastle will have taught you all that is necessary. Five o'clock—that is the time when I expect my guests to arrive. You will be ready to show them up here then. You understand?"
"Sure, thin, I do, sorr. Everything will be done as y'r honor daysires."
Punctually at five o'clock came a knocking at the front door, and O'Shaughnessy, awaiting it in the kitchen, admitted to the house Mr. Gregory Blaxland, the younger of the two brothers whose names are among the most noteworthy of Australia's early free settlers, and Mr. William Charles Wentworth, destined to become one of the most famous of native-born Australians. He took their hats and sticks, and showed them upstairs into his master's apartment.
Mr. Blaxland at this time was a sturdy, stockily-built man of thirty-five, sun-tanned and vigorous-looking, and Mr. Wentworth a tall, slim youth of twenty, or thereabouts—there is a little uncertainty as to the exact date of his birth at Norfolk Island, where his father, D'Arcy Wentworth, had been medical officer to the settlement during the administration of Lieutenant-Governor King. Both of them were heartily greeted by Captain Axthorpe, with whom, it was evident to O'Shaughnessy, they were well acquainted.
"A pleasure to meet you again, my dear Axthorpe," said Mr. Blaxland. "Will Wentworth and I were wondering, as we walked down King Street—we've been spending the afternoon with his Excellency—whether we'd find you much altered after six months of autocracy at the Coal River. But you seem much the same."
"You know, sir," observed young Wentworth, with a smile—"these military men are all the same. Everything comes as being in the day's work, and nothing makes much difference to them. They always remain imperturbable soldiers, ready for anything, from a game of billiards to a battle."
"Oh, well, I don't know about that," laughed Captain Axthorpe—"though I suppose 'tis the kind of philosophy we ought to cultivate. But pray seat yourselves at table, gentlemen. I'm hungry, and I hope you are. O'Shaughnessy, you may serve the soup."
For a while their host entertained his guests, at their request, with an account of his experiences at the Coal River, but it was not long before he turned the conversation over to Mr. Blaxland with a direct question.
"But you, my dear Blaxland, have much more of interest to talk about than the daily doings of an outlying penal establishment. This enterprise you are contemplating. Tell me all about it. Is it really true that you are going to try and cross over the Blue Mountains? Can it be possible? They have turned everybody back since the colony was started. Please to tell me all about your plans, I'm immensely interested. Do now, I beg it of you. I am all impatience to hear about this tremendous enterprise you contemplate."
So Mr. Blaxland said all he had to say—in our next chapter.
WHILE the three gentlemen—Captain Axthorpe, Mr. Wentworth, and Mr. Gregory Blaxland—dined, and afterwards as they sat over their wine, the last-named of the trio gave the others a sort of lecture on the story of the various attempts that had been made during the twenty-five years of the existence of New South Wales as a British colony to penetrate the rugged ramparts of the Blue Mountains in order to find out what sort of country might lie behind the seemingly impregnable barrier that had hitherto defied the most strenuous efforts of all who had striven to cross it. Red O'Shaughnessy, waiting at table, was an interested listener.
"You must know, my dear Axthorpe," he said, "that the idea of getting over the western wall that has hitherto confined settlement in the colony to a mere coastal strip of country, is by no means a new one—though I flatter myself that my own plan of doing so is entirely original. Governor Phillip himself came to the foot of the wall in 1789, when he discovered the Hawkesbury River, and others afterwards essayed to escalade it—but all to no purpose. Every effort to get beyond the rampart was defeated by the peculiarly broken, precipitous, and irregular character of a region where, instead of wide river valleys winding through the hills, as in the more usual mountain country, deep gorges seemed to cut across every ridge, and every stream tumbled over a series of waterfalls. There are several records of these tremendous difficulties."
"Pray, mention one or two of them, sir," interposed Mr. Blaxland's host.
"Well, for instance, Colonel Paterson, exploring the Grose River, had to climb round five considerable waterfalls in ten miles. Doctor George Bass was over a fortnight trying to find a pass through the mountains. He and his party provided themselves with scaling-irons for the feet and hooks for the hands, and they took rope with them for lowering themselves down ravines. They were hardy, determined men, but they were wholly baffled. It began to be thought that the barrier was altogether impassable. Ensign Barrallier, of the Corps, and the botanist, George Caley, made courageous attempts to get across, but both failed, though each of them was a capable and brave explorer. Governor King, in 1806—the year when my brother John and I arrived in Sydney—had come to the fixed conclusion that the Blue Mountains were never to be conquered, and almost everybody agreed with him. I must confess that I myself did so then, though I've since changed my mind about it. I'll tell you why.
"About three years ago our present Governor, General Macquarie, was good enough to invite me to accompany him on a boat voyage up the Hawkesbury, as far as it might be navigable. It was during this expedition that the notion came into my head that the way to get over the ranges was not to go up a valley, but to climb to the top of a ridge and follow it westward. I was confirmed in this opinion by my observations on a later expedition, when I took with me three of my assigned servants and a couple of blackfellows. I found myself completely blocked by sheer walls of rock, as previous explorers had been, but I came to a conclusion that it really was possible to get across the mountains. This is only to be done, I think, by crossing the river, and reaching the high land on its further bank, by the ridge which appears to run westward, between the Warragamba River and the Grose. I have come to a conclusion that, if no more difficulties may be found in travelling than are to be experienced on the other side, we must be able to advance westward towards the interior of the country, and may have a fair chance of passing the mountains.
"Well, I made certain inquiries as to people who knew something about the foot-hills on the other side of the river, and was lucky enough to come across a man who had done a good deal of kangaroo hunting thereabout, in the direction I wished to go, and he undertook to get the horses to the top of the first ridge. Soon afterwards I mentioned my ideas to his Excellency, and he gave me every encouragement, obviously thinking that they were reasonable. So I have been looking round for a couple of companions, and have been fortunate in persuading Will Wentworth here to come with me, as well as Lieutenant William Lawson, of Veteran Hall at Prospect. I have also three picked men, prisoners of the Crown, whom I think I can depend on, but am looking for a fourth. Possibly you may know of some dependable man, Axthorpe? He must be a sound and trustworthy fellow, of course, and of a good physique. If he is a convict, I am certain that I can promise him his subsequent emancipation should we be successful in our enterprise. D'ye know of anyone, may I ask?"
Captain Axthorpe shook his head—and then his eye, wandering from one to another of the occupants of the dining room, lit upon the eager face of his Irish servant, who, standing by the sideboard, was leaning forward with open mouth, intensely interested in what Mr. Blaxland was saying. An idea struck the Commandant of the Coal River that was a little startling to himself at first, and then, as it became more familiar, seemed to have something in it that might be worth consideration.
"Why not?" he thought to himself. "Why not? He's a good fellow, and deserves his chance." He turned to his guest, and nodded vigorously, as if to contradict his former doubtfulness.
"Indeed, Mr. Blaxland," he said, "I do really believe I can help you—I do indeed."
"Ah—you have someone in mind, Axthorpe? Pray tell me, I beg, something about him." Mr. Blaxland was all keen attention.
Captain Axthorpe took another glance at Red O'Shaughnessy before he replied. The young Irishman regarded him eagerly and pleadingly, as though he had divined what was in his mind, and was begging for the favor he coveted. Mr. Wentworth was leaning back in his chair puffing at the long churchwarden pipe, one of which had been provided for each of them by O'Shaughnessy on the removal of the tablecloth. He was listening with interest for what his host was about to say.
"Well then, gentlemen," said Captain Axthorpe, "I really do believe that I know of a man who would suit your requirements very perfectly. He has been with me at the Coal River ever since I took charge of the establishment there, and I've had every reason to be satisfied with him. He's sober, honest, and devoted, and, I think, courageous and energetic. On a dangerous service, involving a conflict with a couple of desperate bushrangers, he acquitted himself remarkably well. I don't think that any of the dangers you'll have to face in your contemplated expedition across the Blue Mountains would daunt him in any way. In fact, I don't think you'd be able to find a better man, anywhere, to complete the complement of your party."
"But is he strong and robust, my dear Axthorpe?" asked Mr. Blaxland. "You will readily recognise that we cannot afford to take with us anyone who is not in the best of bodily condition—who is not hardy enough to undergo toils and privations such as even I may not yet have fully realised. What lies before us over those black ranges none of us knows. But this much I do know—we must have the very best of available manhood. I am fit and strong, and so are Will Wentworth and Mr. Lawson, and the three others whom I have chosen. D'ye think your man would come up to the standard I require?"
"Well—see for yourself," laughed Captain Axthorpe, pointing with the stem of his clay pipe at the red-faced giant standing by the sideboard. "There he is."
Mr. Blaxland swung round in his chair, and regarded Red O'Shaughnessy, who, very self-conscious and blushing furiously, stood bolt upright before the sideboard regarding him with deferential anxiety. He was a splendid figure of young, athletic manhood, and the leader of the forthcoming expedition could not restrain his admiration.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "By heavens—what a man!"
"Would you like to go into the mountains with these gentlemen, O'Shaughnessy?" asked Captain Axthorpe in a kindly and encouraging fashion. "'Tis for you to choose. As for me, I will readily give my permission for you to change from my service to that of Mr. Blaxland, and will ask the Governor's approval. Of course, it is a dangerous enterprise, and one that will be full of hardship; but if it succeeds, as I believe it will, it means, in all probability, that you will achieve emancipation. I know you'll find Mr. Blaxland a good master, and that he'll look after your interests in every way. However, as I've said, 'tis for yourself to decide. D'ye think ye'd like to go, O'Shaughnessy?"
For a moment or two the young Irishman was dumb with a sort of embarrassment of gratification, and stood looking from one to the other of the three gentlemen smoking their long clay pipes about the table in amazed pleasure that such a chance should have come his way. But presently he found his tongue.
"Sure, sorr," he said to Captain Axthorpe, "wud a duck shwim? Faith, thin, y'r anner, 'tis proud an' happy I'd be for to go wid Misther Blaxland an' Misther Wintworth, so be as their anners wud be afther choosin' of me. 'Tis th' wan thing I'd like above all others. An' I belayve, sorr, I might promise safely for to be of some use to th' gintlemin. 'Tis not a wake man I am, an' I'm thinkin' I cud undergo as much as most. I'm no chicken, sorr."
Young William Wentworth burst into a peal of boyish laughter. "By the Lord!" he cried, as his eyes took in the magnificent figure of the young giant standing before them. "I'd agree with you there, my man. You're certainly not a chicken, but a very well-developed rooster—so far as appearances go. What say you, Mr. Blaxland?"
"Oh, indeed," replied that gentleman, "I quite agree with you, Will. On appearances, at any rate. But tell me, my man—are you in any way acquainted with the care of horses? Were you to accompany us you would have charge of one of our pack animals, and 'tis important—most important—that you should have some knowledge of horsemanship. D'ye know anything about them—how to look after them, I mean, and how to attend to their necessities?"
"Faith, thin, y'r anner, 'tis mesilf was almost reared in a shtable, at home in th' ould counthry. I've had to do wid horses since I was a bit of a gossoon no higher than that." He held out a great hand, palm downwards, about three feet from the floor.
"Oh, well, in that case, and on Captain Axthorpe's recommendation," said Mr. Blaxland, "I'll be glad to take you with us. When can you let him go, Axthorpe?"
"I'll have to get his Excellency's formal permission," replied Captain Axthorpe, "for 'twas the Governor himself who handed him over to me. But I'm sure there'll be no difficulty about that. The day after to-morrow, I think, I may promise he'll be at your disposal."
"Very well, then. Three or four days from now, O'Shaughnessy, I'll expect you to report yourself at my farm on South Creek. The day after to-morrow, one of my bullock-drays leaves Sydney, and with it you may travel. Go to Mr. Simeon Lord's office in Macquarie Place to-morrow, and inquire for Sam Snodgrass, my bullock-driver. I'll scribble you a note to him. I'm sure, O'Shaughnessy, that we'll get on well, and I'm glad to have you. Thank you very much, Captain Axthorpe."
ON the evening of the third day after Captain Axthorpe's little dinner party in honor of Messrs. Blaxland and Wentworth, Red O'Shaughnessy found himself arrived at Mr. Blaxland's farm on the South Creek, near where the town of Penrith has been situated since a date not very much later than the period with which these chronicles have to do. He had walked beside Sam Snodgrass's bullocks all the way from Sydney, his few effects being carried with the stores and supplies on the dray. It had been a pleasant enough journey, for the autumn weather was crisp and bracing in the first week of May, and Sam, the bullock-driver, a prisoner like himself, was a good fellow and the best of company.
"Glory be!" he had remarked, when O'Shaughnessy presented him with Mr. Blaxland's note. "So youm one o' they fellies that's a-goin' to lose hisself along o' th' boss in them ——— mountains, eh? Well, laad, I'd not go wi' you 'uns, not if Mr. Blaxland was to gie me arl hem got—that I wudden. Youm arl soft for do sich like, an' niver again will any of us set eyes on ye. But I wish ee luck, arl th' same, laad."
Red O'Shaughnessy was to be startled, before the expedition set out in the following week, by the unanimity with which this opinion was held by all and sundry with whom he came in contact at South Creek. Quite commonly, Mr. Blaxland's expedition was regarded as the very maddest manifestation of madness that had made itself evident in New South Wales for many a long day.
Captain Axthorpe had treated his orderly very handsomely, presenting him with ten guineas wherewith to equip himself for the arduous undertaking before him, and had himself gone with O'Shaughnessy to the various shops where he made his purchases, in order to be sure that he was not cheated, or bullied, because of his convict status.
"When you return, O'Shaughnessy," he said as they parted, "even if you become a free man—as I'm certain you will—don't fail to come to me, and I'll find you employment. You've done excellently in my service, and there's no one in the colony whom it would give me greater pleasure to assist, and no one more deserving of assistance. Good-bye—and may the best of luck go with you. You are brave fellows, the whole seven of you, and I feel sure you'll win through. The very best of luck to you!"
"Thank you, y'r anner. I'm sure we'll arl do our best."
During the week he spent at Mr. Blaxland's before they set out on their journey westward, Red O'Shaughnessy was fully occupied, from daylight to dusk each day, in assisting with the preparations necessary for the equipment of the expedition. Messrs. Lawson and Wentworth were staying at the homestead, and he made the acquaintance of the other three assigned servants with whom he was to be associated in the undertaking. The three leaders were each taking a man, the best they could find, and he himself was a sort of extra hand. They were all good men, and all as keen upon the successful issue of the adventure as was Mr. Blaxland himself. The four pack-horses were specially chosen animals, sturdy and hard, and well broken in and quiet.
For several days before they made a start minute attention was given to the distribution and packing of the load of provisions they would have to carry, and the equipment was very thoroughly attended to. They had guns and ammunition in plenty, a light axe for each man, a couple of tents, ropes, cooking utensils, and everything else that careful consideration of detail could suggest. They rehearsed the packing and unloading of the horses continually, until each man knew where every article of equipment was stowed, and could lay hands upon it immediately. On the evening of Monday, May the 10th, Mr. Blaxland was of opinion that every preparation had been made, and it was decided to start on the following day in the forenoon. On their last night within the bounds of civilisation the leader entertained the rest of the party at supper in the homestead, and several toasts were drunk to the happy outcome of their hazardous enterprise.
"We go," said Mr. Blaxland, in the course of a little speech he made them, "to find the real New South Wales. So far, we British have but camped upon the edge of the continent. I hope that, before a month has passed by, we shall have proved to all the world that what country lies beyond yonder mountain ranges will turn out to be wide enough and good enough to support a population ten thousand times larger than that which is in the colony now. I feel sure that if we don't do so it will only be because we shall have perished in the attempt. But we won't perish, lads—we'll give to our people such an heritage as no man will be able to value for a hundred years to come."
So, some time after breakfast on the following morning, this gallant little band of pioneers set forth upon its travels—travels that were, perhaps, the most momentous and important upon which any Australian explorers have ever set forth. Mr. Blaxland's farm was almost, though not quite, on the very borders of the country's civilisation in 1813, and they only had to march some seven or eight miles to reach its furthest limits, at the foot of the forbidding ranges which for so long had baffled every attempt at penetration of their rugged contours and deep, inhospitable ravines. It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon when they crossed the Nepean River at Emu Ford—something more than a mile downstream from the present railway bridge at Emu Plains. There they left the young colony behind them, and set their faces towards the utterly unknown.
After they had ascended the western bank of the river, Mr. Blaxland led them in a south-westerly direction towards the foot of the ridge where he proposed to begin the ascent of the mountains. They passed through fairly open forest lands, beneath the timber on which well-grassed, undulating country carried them to their first camp. At five o'clock in the afternoon the leader called a halt, the horses were unloaded, their five dogs fed, and preparations made for the evening meal. Thus far they had been accompanied by two friends of Mr. Blaxland, who rode on horseback. Here these gentlemen turned back, after having bidden the adventurers farewell, and the latter were left alone with the beginning of their strenuous task.
A sturdily built, bull-dog type of man was Gregory Blaxland—one of those stout-hearted, indomitable men designed by nature for just such undertakings as the one on which he was now engaged. Having determined that the hitherto invincible barrier to the westward of the settlement could be surmounted, he was the sort of man who would know no rest until he found himself upon its further side. It was easy to see, thought Red O'Shaughnessy, as he went about his allotted duties that evening, that their leader had no intention of relaxing in his purpose, so long as there was breath in his body.
"'Tis an absurdity, the way these hills have come to be regarded," Mr. Blaxland remarked, as they sat about their camp-fire in the evening. "One would suppose that they were red-hot—or frozen and snow-covered—the way people have learned to speak of them! What if there be steep precipices, and great gulfs and chasms, and if the woods be dark and confusing? There is no land in the world that cannot be got over—somehow. If we can do naught else, we can hew steps in the soft sandstone of the cliffs. We must not think of turning back, whatever our difficulties. What say you, Lawson?"
Lieutenant Lawson was the oldest man of the party, and though he had come to the colony in its earliest days as an officer of the New South Wales Corps, he was still in the prime of life—handy and active, and well used to the vicissitudes of a pioneer.
"Never say die's my motto, Blaxland," he grunted, as he pulled at his pipe. "I think, too, that the Old Man of the Mountains is less of a bogey than he's been made out to be."
Young Wentworth, sprawling his long limbs across his blankets, laughed boyishly.
"The Old Man of the Mountains!" he chuckled. "D'ye know how Governor King—my father tells the story—how he commissioned Mr. Barrallier, when he set out to find a way across the ranges? Have you not heard the story, Mr. Blaxland?"
"No," said the leader, shaking his head, "I thought he'd tried it on his own account."
"Colonel Paterson made difficulties. He told Captain King that officers of the Corps were expected to attend to their regimental duties, and couldn't be spared to go exploring—since the battalion was under-staffed. So what did his Excellency do? Why, he appointed Ensign Barrallier his aide-de-camp, and sent him on a mission to His Majesty, the King of the Mountains, to conclude a treaty with him. Ha, ha! One way of getting over it. I wonder if we'll encounter his Royal Highness?"
Despite the fact that Mr. Blaxland pooh-poohed them, the dangers and difficulties that lay before the little band of adventurers might well have daunted the bravest of the brave. What sort of fearful wilderness lay beyond the first slopes, no man knew—but previous explorers had not minimised the terrors they had seen or suspected. It was all steep, inhospitable country, clad with dense and nearly impenetrable forests, through which they must attempt the forcing of a perilous and painful passage. How far the ranges extended there was no telling. They might be five miles in width or five hundred, for aught that anyone could say. All they were certain about—the seven men who slept round the fire that night—was that days and weeks of toil and danger lay before them. Towards daylight, the crowing of cocks in the settlements below them contrasted with the stillness of the black woods in which they lay, and seemed to accentuate the loneliness and homelessness of their situation.
They were early astir, but the grass and scrub were so drenched with dew that Mr. Blaxland decided to wait until they had dried a little before proceeding. It was nearly nine o'clock before they began to climb the ridge at whose foot they had spent the night. It was a long and heavy pull up this first stage, and they rested for a while beside a lagoon filled with coarse rushes, which you may find to-day between Glenbrook railway station and the road. From here the high land of Grose Head lay about seven miles away, in a direction north by east.
It was a rough and laborious introduction to the mountain country, which was covered with dense brushwood, and sometimes heavier timber. The ridge they followed was crooked and intricate, and for the greater part of the day's march deep and rocky gullies lay on either hand. So difficult was the going that, by sunset, they had only succeeded in pushing forward some three and three-quarter miles. They camped for the night at the head of a deep gully, into which they had to descend for water, and only found sufficient of it for their bare needs. They had no means of keeping distance, other than by computing it at the rate of about two miles per hour, but they were able to keep their course fairly accurately by compass bearings. Their direction varied on this first day's march from south-west to west-north-west. For a third of the distance they travelled due west.
MAKING up the fire in the pale light of dawn on the following day, Red O'Shaughnessy looked back over the wide and tree-covered levels beyond the river of the coastal country they were about to leave behind.
"Glory be to God!" he said aloud to himself—"'Tisn't much of a dinse poppylation we're a-gettin' out of, but 'tis crowds an multichoods to what's ahead of us. 'Tis th' loneliest job ye've iver been on, Ned me boyo, an' 'tis like to be a dam' sight lonelier. Howiver, 'tis arl in th' day's worruk, an' who are ye, ye pore gaol-bird, for to be argifyin' about it? Anyway, it may bring ye freedom, so hold y'r whisht!"
Their start was again delayed by the necessity of waiting until the dew drenched scrub had dried. Heading in a westerly and nor'-westerly direction, and after pushing forward about a mile, they came into a big stretch of forest land, fairly well grassed, which they supposed to reach as far as Grose Head. Someone had passed this way before them, since some of the trees were 'blazed,' and they had much speculation as to whether they were on the track of Lieutenant Dawes, Quartermaster Hacking, or the convict Wilson, each of whom had attempted to find a passage of the mountains somewhere in this direction. One or two native gunyahs were seen, but no signs of the presence of their builders.
They had hardly marched two miles, when they were blocked by a belt of scrub very much thicker and denser than any they had so far encountered. They turned aside in an attempt to find a way round, but each ridge they explored ended in a precipice, and there was nothing for it but to camp before the jungle, and make up their minds to cut a pathway through it on the following day. The dogs killed a large kangaroo during the afternoon, and they grilled some of its flesh for their supper, taking the opportunity to economise rations.
The next two days were spent, very laboriously, in hacking a passage through the thick and almost impenetrable scrub, and so severe was the task that by Saturday night they had only progressed another seven miles. Sunday they spent in camp, enjoying a rest. During this day a couple of the servants became a little frightened, and swore they would go no further. However, in the morning they reconsidered their attitude—largely owing to the forceful and cogent persuasion of Red O'Shaughnessy.
"Be th' holy poker!" he said to them. "If ye don't liven y'silfs up, me bucks, 'tis mesilf will be afther livenin' ye wid th' daddy of a batin'. So mind what ye're about—else ye'll get it!"
Monday was again taken up in hewing a way through the tangled bush. They only cleared the path for a mile and a half, the narrow ridge being blocked by a steep rock-face, nearly thirty feet high—it was near the present position of Linden railway station. They could only get past this obstacle by climbing up a broken and rugged track in the middle part of it, out of which, to make it practicable for the horses, they had to shift, with the greatest difficulty, some large rocks. They were most of Tuesday doing this, and on the Wednesday, only got forward another mile and a half, camping early in the day at one end of a swamp to 'spell' the horses.
Soon after they had begun this short march, they came on a cairn of stones, which they thought—quite wrongly—had been erected by George Bass, to mark the end of his journey. It is fairly certain, however—from his own description of his route—that Bass was nowhere near this spot. The pile was probably made by Hacking or Wilson, although it was for long referred to as 'Cayley's Repulse.' Still, they were entitled to assume from its existence there that they had reached a point as far as any Europeans had hitherto penetrated.
Next day's march was a good one, for they were able to lead the four pack-horses nearly five miles by noon, when they camped at the head of another swamp—it lies halfway between Hazelbrook and Lawson. In the afternoon, they cut a track through the scrub for the next day's stage.
On the 21st—the tenth day of their journey—they got forward four miles, halting again at noon, and track-cutting for the rest of the day. This camp was situated in the neighborhood of Wentworth Falls railway-station.
They moved on three miles on Saturday, the 22nd, to the high ridge on the Bathurst side of Wentworth Falls. The top of this slope was clear of timber—about 2000 acres of it—and they commanded a fine view of the coastal strip where the settlements lay below them, as well as over a great extent of country southward and westward. In the afternoon, leaving the camp in charge of three of the servants, and taking O'Shaughnessy with them, Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth attempted to descend into the deep valley, in order to study the geology of the land below, but were baffled at every point they tried by the vast precipices which overlook the Kanimbla Valley between Leura and Katoomba. They came to the conclusion now that they had surmounted at least half the difficulties of their undertakings, and hoped to find a way down the western side of the range farther to the north.
On the Sunday they camped three and a half miles farther on—probably in the vicinity of the marked tree on the Bathurst road, a little way west of Katoomba. The following day they advanced four and a half miles, in a direction varying from N.N.W. to S.S.W., and camped midway between the sites of Medlow Bath and Blackheath, again on a swamp. By keeping round the heads of the streams in the way they were doing, it was inevitable that the only water they would find would lie in the marshy bogs in which most of them have their origins.
Three and a half miles on the 25th, and two and three-quarters on the following day, places their situation on the western side of the location of Blackheath. On the 27th they proceeded five and a quarter miles, to a point in the neighborhood of Mount Victoria, whence they saw a large area of land below that was clear of trees, but looked like a reedy swamp. On the 28th they made five and three-quarter miles. The end of this day's journey brought them out to the edge of Mount York, and it is likely enough that on seeing the low-lying lands beneath him Mr. Blaxland considered that he had at last reached the termination of the main range.
From a spot near where the obelisk commemorative of their journey stands to-day the weary party caught their first glimpse of the promised land. They were delighted to find that the country underneath their lofty viewpoint was not, as they had supposed from a distance, a sandy and barren waste, but good grassland. They cut a track down the steep side of the mountain with a hoe, and here the horses were able to feed upon rich and nutritious grass for the first time since they had left the banks of the Nepean. The hardships they had endured were beginning to tell upon the poor beasts, and they had fallen into miserable condition. They reached the stream which Mr. Surveyor-General Evans afterwards called the River Lett, but returned to the summit to camp.
On the 29th they moved the camp into the valley. Part of the descent was so steep that the horses could only be led down unloaded, and for some distance they were obliged to carry their baggage themselves. The track lay through a narrow pass in the rocks, only 30 feet wide, along which the first Bathurst road was subsequently made. Traces of the old road are still visible. They reached the foot of the pass at 9 a.m., and went on N.N.W. for two miles, through open meadow land where the grass was two or three feet high, and camped on the bank of the Lett River, at a spot about half a mile south-east of the Hartley Vale road. On the Sunday they took a strenuously earned day's rest in their camp.
On Monday, the 31st, they marched some six miles further to the westward, through well-grassed forest and open meadow country. They crossed the Lett lower down its course, and then the Cox, at a little distance from a 'sugarloaf' hill, which was afterwards named in honor of Mr. Blaxland. In the afternoon they climbed to the summit of this eminence.
This was the limit of their journey—a journey that, to all who are familiar with the Blue Mountain country they traversed so long ago, must ever stand as a most remarkable achievement in exploration. They had, literally, discovered what was to be Australia for their own and future generations, and from that last day of May in 1813 the expansion of the Commonwealth really takes its inaugural date. The day marks a new epoch in the history of the continent.
Mr. Wentworth, with youthful enthusiasm, was all for pushing on.
"Here," he said, "we are only at the beginning of our discovery. Let us continue westward for a few days, and we will be able to determine what it is really worth. 'Tis not to be thought of, that we should not make sure of what we have found."
"No," said Mr. Blaxland slowly, shaking his head, "I think not, Will. I'd give much to do as you suggest—but 'tis impossible. Look at the horses—look at ourselves. We are all suffering more or less from our physical condition, and need rest and better food. We have done as much as we are able to do. I doubt whether our provisions will hold out until we reach home again. Our clothing is in rags, and our boots worn out. We must go back—though I confess 'tis much against my will to do so. However, we've done a great thing. Let's be content. We will turn back to-morrow."
On the 1st of June they camped at the foot of Mount York, and by the night of the 4th had arrived at the beginning of their marked track, close to the Glenbrook lagoon. From here they experienced considerable difficulty in finding their way down to the river. On the following day, Sunday, they crossed over, and about midday came to South Creek.
"Lord save us!" said Sam Snodgrass to Red O'Shaughnessy, "Ye've made liars of us all!"
"Wait, thin, Sam, me bucko, till we've rested a bit—an' thin I'm thinkin' ye'll be sayin' 'tis ourselves we've made liars of, whin we come to tell th' tale of crossin' thim mountains."
EARLY on the morning following the return of the explorers to Mr. Blaxland's farm on South Creek, that gentleman sent for Red O'Shaughnessy, and handed him a letter addressed to Governor Macquarie.
"I want you to ride to Sydney, O'Shaughnessy," he said, "and to deliver this document into his Excellency's own hands. 'Tis an account of our recent adventures, and of the discoveries we have made. Here is also a pass, which states that you are in my service, and will save you from interference on the part of any of the town constables, or such as you may encounter on the way. There is a horse saddled for you at the stables, and I want you to start at once. Come back immediately—that is, after a night's rest—with any message the Governor has to send me. Here is some money for your expenses."
He handed him a couple of guineas with the letter and the pass—the latter a very necessary safeguard in such a penal establishment as was New South Wales in 1813. Presently O'Shaughnessy was on his way to Sydney.
His mount was a good one, and he made Parramatta for the midday meal, which he partook of at 'The Dun Cow' public-house, where he watered and fed his horse, and rested him for an hour or so. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon he came riding along George Street past the military barracks, turned down Bridge Street, and crossed the Tank Stream, on his way up to Government House. Here he was halted by the sentry at the gate and required to explain his business to the sergeant of the guard.
"Well, thin," he told the N.C.O., "I've a letter from Mr. Blaxland for Gov'nor Macquarie, an' here's me pass."
"All right. I'll send the letter in. Give it to me. You can wait here."
"Faith, thin, that's what I can't be doin', sergeant. I've partic'lar orders for to hand it to none but his Ex'lency. Mebbe I might leave th' horse here, mebbe?"
The sergeant frowned, and shook his head.
"Aw, to hell wid ye!" exclaimed Red O'Shaughnessy, spurring his mount through the gateway, the sergeant running after him. The consequences of this high-handed proceeding might have been serious for the Irishman had not the Governor himself come on to the verandah with Mrs. Macquarie, as they prepared to set out for a stroll through the Domain. Macquarie gazed at the young giant on the big horse with astonishment. The sergeant halted just behind him, and saluted. Macquarie addressed him curtly.
"What's the matter, sergeant? What is this man doing here?"
"If y'r Ex'lency please, the fellow was challenged by the sentry, and replied that he had a letter for y'r Ex'lency. I told him to give it to me, and I'd send it in. He refused, and forced his horse through the gateway. I was about to arrest him, y'r Ex'lency, and put him in the guard-room."
"Ha, my man," said Macquarie brusquely, "and what do you mean by forcing your way past the sentry? If he had fired at you he would only have been doing his duty. You have done wrong—very wrong."
"If ye plase, y'r Ex'lency, I was told to hand th' letther to none but y'r Honor's silf. 'Tis from Mr. Gregory Blaxland, at South Creek. 'Tis his rayport o' the' crossing of th' Blue Mountains."
Eagerly, the Governor took a step forward, as O'Shaughnessy dismounted. Interest and excitement lit up his rugged, homely, strong features. Mrs. Macquarie also showed her interest. Pretty and dainty she was, O'Shaughnessy thought—almost as dainty and pretty as Marjory Aylmer. That, in his opinion, was to concede very much.
"By Jove, my man—d'ye mean to tell me Mr. Blaxland's been successful—that he's actually penetrated the ranges?"
"He has that, y'r Ex'lency. We got back yestiddy, afther being very nigh a month in thim wild hills. Here is Mr. Blaxland's letther, sorr."
"We?" exclaimed Macquarie, as he took the letter. "Were you one of the party, my man? What's your name? I seem to have seen you before. Well, then, and how did you fare on your journey? Pray tell me about it. I am all anxiety to learn particulars of this wonderful performance."
"Me name's O'Shaughnessy, y'r Ex'lency, an' y'r Honor's met me afore whin ye handed me over to Cap'n Axthorpe, sorr, for to go wid him to th' Coal River. I think y'r Ex'lency will find all our doin's in th' Mountains told be Mr. Blaxland. Me name's Edward O'Shaughnessy, sorr, per Admiral Gambier, lasht year. A life sintince, y'r Ex'lency."
"Oh, indeed, yes—I recollect. A letter from Lord Crawshaw. Then kidnapped to sea. Got to the Coal River from Port Stephens. Captain Axthorpe obtains permission for you to go with Mr. Blaxland. I remember. And are all the mountain party well, O'Shaughnessy—Mr. Blaxland, Mr. Wentworth, Mr. Lawson—your own comrades? No casualties or mishaps, eh? You returned all safe to South Creek?"
"We did that, y'r Ex'lency—all safe an' sound, but pretty shkinny an' shtarved, an' th' horses clane done, sorr."
"Well, well—I'm delighted. Take your horse round to the back, and tell the groom to water and feed him. Go to the kitchen and get some refreshment for yourself. My dear," he turned to Mrs. Macquarie, "I think, by your leave, we'll postpone our walk. I'm all anxiety to read Mr. Blaxland's report, and I know you'd like to hear his news yourself. Come to my office. O'Shaughnessy, do not leave Government House before I see you. When do you return to South Creek?"
"To-morrow marnin', y'r Ex'lency. If y'r Honor writes a reply to Mr. Blaxland, I'm to take it back. Thim's Mr. Blaxland's orders, sorr."
"I'll write to-night. In the meantime, I'll send for you directly, as there may be one or two matters in Mr. Blaxland's letter as to which you can enlighten me. I congratulate you heartily, O'Shaughnessy, upon having shared in this triumphant achievement."
O'Shaughnessy, refreshed with beer and cold chicken, sat for an hour in the kitchen, regaling the butler and other of the Vice-Regal servants with an account of his adventures in the Blue Mountains. Then a bell jangled high up on the wall, and the butler hurried out to answer it. He came back immediately, with a summons for O'Shaughnessy to the Governor's office. He found his Excellency glowing, positively glowing. Mr. John Thomas Campbell, the Secretary, a dour, witty, and very canny Scot, was with the Governor. Mrs. Macquarie had retired.
His Excellency stood up with outstretched hand as the butler ushered the young Irishman into the room.
"Your hand, O'Shaughnessy," he said enthusiastically. "Through you I do myself the honor to congratulate the whole of your gallant party upon the fine and splendid thing you have done. Mr. Blaxland's simple and straightforward account of your performance has warmed my heart. It is fine—very fine, indeed. I must confess that, when I gave my sanction to this undertaking, I was hardly sanguine of a successful issue. But the expedition has been more than successful. It has set a standard for all future ventures of the kind, and will, I am sure, be remembered in the colony with gratitude and admiration for years and years to come. I am so delighted with you all that I have decided offhand to reward the servants of the expedition in the way that will be most acceptable to them. The gentlemen will, of course, receive grants of land in due course, but to the rank and file of the party it is in my power to make immediate manifestation of the gratitude of the Government of this territory. I have instructed Mr. Campbell to make out four conditional pardons for you men. These are pardons operative only in the colony, and do not permit of your return to England. But, with good conduct on your own part, I can assure each one of you, through yourself, O'Shaughnessy, that it will not be long before the pardons become entirely free, and full emancipation be allotted to each of you. Go with Mr. Campbell, now, and give him all particulars of yourself and your comrades. You can carry the pardons with you when you return to South Creek to-morrow. I hope, my brave fellow, that you and your companions may live long to enjoy the restoration of that freedom and civil liberty which you have forfeited to the laws of your country. I trust, O'Shaughnessy, that this reward of your gallant efforts may be acceptable."
For a few moments the young Irishman found himself unable to speak. When he recovered his tongue he was only able, haltingly and shyly, to offer his thanks to Macquarie.
"Glory be to God, y'r Ex'lency—faith, I don't know what to be a-sayin' to y'r 'anner's silf. 'Tis thankful I am to ye, sorr—thankful, indade—an' I'm sure I can say the same for thim other fellies, y'r Ex'lency. Sure, there'll be three light hearts at Mr. Blaxland's to-morry night!"
"You've all deserved such a reward, my man. Now, pray attend Mr. Campbell, and help to fill up the forms of emancipation. I shall write to Mr. Blaxland to-night. You may stable your horse here, and I will give orders that he is saddled and ready for you at 7 o'clock in the morning. Everything will be ready for you then. Your own pardon Mr. Campbell will give you as soon as possible, and to-night, in Sydney, you will be a free man. I am sure you'll not abuse your freedom. Good-bye, my brave fellow—it delights me to shake your hand once more. Good-bye, Mr. O'Shaughnessy—good-bye and good luck!"
When, an hour later, Red O'Shaughnessy walked out of the gates of Government House, he felt a very different man to an unhappy prisoner who had done so before, hardly twelve months ago, when he followed Captain Axthorpe through them. Years seemed to have slipped from him, all cares and worry were behind him, he was lighthearted and gay. Almost, he felt that he could have danced down the hillside into the little village clustering along the Tank Stream. He was again Edward O'Shaughnessy, as good as any man, and a little better than some. It made a man feel like a boy to be given his liberty like this. With tears in his eyes, he thought with gratitude of all Captain Axthorpe had done for him, Mr. Blaxland, Governor Macquarie.
"An' jist to be thinkin'," he muttered to himself as he walked down the slope, "'twas but a fluke I wasn't hanged outside Newgate. 'Twas pure luck that ——— Yankee didn't take me away in his infernal ship. An' th' luckiest luck Mr. Blaxland tuk me wid him. Sure, thin, Ned, me boyo, y'r not near so misfort'nit' as ye was afther thinkin' y'silf to be."
With his ticket-of-leave, or conditional pardon, bearing Governor Macquarie's signature, safe in his breast pocket, Mr. Edward O'Shaughnessy, free citizen of New South Wales—but not of any other part of the British Empire—took a leisurely walk through the town on a bright and sunny morning a week after the momentous happening chronicled in our last chapter.
It was with a light step and a jaunty mien that the young Irishman, tremendously pleased with himself and the world in general, approached the shores of Sydney Cove. The sense of freedom that possessed him was extraordinary and exhilarating, and he felt that he had every good reason for the muttered remark that escaped his lips as he passed down the east side of Lower George Street, beside the verandahed house and store of that notable lady, Mrs. Mary Reibey.
"Ah!" he said to himself, quite unconscious that he uttered the words aloud, "'tis entirely glorious, so it is—this freedom! Sure, I'd not be callin' King George himsilf me uncle!"
"Well, now, wouldn't ye, me buck?" he heard a husky voice say jeeringly somewhere close at hand. "And who else might ye be claimin' to be ray-lated to, me great big mahn?"
O'Shaughnessy looked round for the speaker, saw him under the shelter of Mrs. Reiby's verandah, leaning against the doorpost of the prim and ugly stone house—and recognised him at once. His heart gave an angry leap—but some refinement in the cruelty that immediately took possession of his good-natured mental processes bade him restrain the oath that came to his lips and check the blow that made his fist tingle. By God, but this was luck! Nevertheless, he must not spoil its enjoyment by any too hasty action. Oh, yes—he must be careful. But he'd take it out of the blackguard all the same. He'd get something of his own back. By the Lord he would!
He had recognised ex-Constable Michael Riordan, who, in conjunction with that ruffian, Driscoll, had had him kidnapped by Captain Grimmett, of the American whaler, Brotherly Love. He must be cautious, for he wanted very badly to deal also with Thady Driscoll, to that gentleman's sore hurt and discomfiture. He must make use of this accursed hound in order to deal with Driscoll. So he spoke comfortably to Mr. Michael Riordan.
"Well, well," he said genially, "th' top o' th' mornin' to ye, Misther Riordan. Sure it does me eyes good to luk at ye! Th' very man I wanted for to see, so ye are. Hiven hilp me, but this is the best bit o' good fortin' I've had this long time!"
The unwholesome, blotched countenance of Mr. Riordan, with its network of purple veins, bulbous red nose, and little, squinting, shifty pig's eyes, had something of apprehension in it, as he recognised the giant figure of the red-headed young man whom he had done so well with the year before. He was a little frightened, but over on the other side of the street he saw old Jimmy Simmons, formerly a comrade in Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth's constabulary, who continued along the dusty sidewalk in his blue uniform with red facings and flat, peaked cap, his trusty cutlass dangling from his left hip—and this glimpse of the majesty of the law afforded him heart of grace. He was quite safe whilst Jimmy was in the vicinity. He would be friendly with the big galoot, and maybe there'd be something more to be made out of him. Times had not been good with ex-Constable Riordan since his dismissal from the force. He must waste no opportunities. The temporary job of wharf laboring, as to which he was attending upon Mrs. Reiby, might wait. He would again be the very good friend of his fellow-countryman. So he stepped from beneath the narrow verandah with outstretched hand.
"Th' saints defind ye!" he said, with an air of welcome. "'Tis y'silf is ut, Misther—Misther—faith, I disremember y'r name, me bully buck, but I'd know y'silf among tin thousand, so I wud, then! So y're back from th' whalin'? An' money in y'r pocket, I'll be bound? Well, good luck to ye! They tell me 'tis a har-rd life at th' fisheries, an' yous fine fellies desarves ivry penny ye comes by, so ye do. Good luck to ye, Misther Whoi's-this—'tis glad I am to see ye wanst again."
"Ned O'Shaughnessy's me name, Mr. Riordan—and glad I am, I do assure ye, for to see y'r kind face agin. Yes, I'm back from me vy'age in th' Brotherly Love—that lucky vy'age for which I've got to thank you an' good ould Thady. An' how's th' fine fellie himself? Sure, I'm longin' for to set eyes upon him. Could ye spare th' time, now, for to come wid me to Th' Sheer Hulk while I make a call on me good ould frind? I'd be that dam' glad if ye wud, now. Mebbe he's still got a dhrop o' th' ould stuff left? Come, now—I'll take no rayfusal. We'll go call on Thady Driscoll—God bless his merry hear-rt!"
Signifying his entire willingness to oblige his newly restored friend in the manner suggested so agreeably, Mr. Riordan turned back up George Street with Red O'Shaughnessy. They walked as far as the north-eastern corner of the gaol, and then turned up the rocky and unformed thoroughfare—merely a number of goat-tracks leading round ledges of sandstone on to 'The Rocks'—which had been called Essex Street, since Governor Macquarie re-planned the town in 1810. The steep declivity was known as Gallows Hill, by reason of the fact that it was the site of most of the executions that so often enlivened the social life of Sydney in those days, and for many years afterwards. In due course they came to The Sheer Hulk—that disreputable tavern which, with its evil proprietor and the miserable old ruffian beside him, had so nearly succeeded in making a South Sea whale-man out of Red O'Shaughnessy. The latter set his teeth and clenched his fists as they passed in through the open door into the dim and frowsy taproom. The dingy place was empty of all save the stale smell of the overnight potations and strong tobacco that were its morning characteristics. But someone was moving in the kitchen at the back, and Mr. Riordan raised his unpleasant voice jovially.
"Come out o' that, Thady me bould boyo, and wilcome a frind. Two of 'em—but there's wan will deloight y'r eyes. Ye'd not guess who 'tis, this bould sailor-man. He's a-dyin' for a sight of ye, so he is!"
"Faith, that's th' trut'!" muttered Red O'Shaughnessy. And then Mr. Thaddeus Driscoll came innocently forth from the back premises like a lamb to the slaughter. As he pushed aside the canvas curtain hanging in the doorway and entered the room, O'Shaughnessy toppled forward with an ominous growl, his close-cropped, red hair almost bristling on his scalp. All that Mr. Driscoll could say by way of welcome to this loving friend accompanying Mike Riordan was a startled:—
"Glory be to God!"
O'Shaughnessy's huge fist crashed into his face, squarely on the point of the prognathous jaw. Without a word, or even a grunt, he crashed forward and lay on the brick floor. Beside himself with fury, O'Shaughnessy bestowed a rib-smashing kick in the side of the inert man of villainy, and then turned on his alarmed companion.
"For th' love o' Jasus!" gasped Mr. Riordan, ere he, too, went down before that awful, battering-ram. Then the young giant, insanely rough, became malevolently busy.
He upset a table and threw it over the unconscious bodies of the two men, piled chairs and stools upon the heap with frenzied violence, and sought for other means of marking his dislike for the pair. An axe stood by the door of the kitchen, and he jumped across and seized it. Then he turned his attention to a barrel of rum standing near by, stove in the top with a crashing blow, dropped the axe, and picked up the half-empty barrel. He raised it above the heap of furniture piled upon the two unconscious men, and poured the contents over them. Then, picking up the axe again, he stove in every barrel and smashed every bottle he could see. He went into the kitchen and wrecked the place with sweeping blows, hacking the furniture to splinters, and smashing the windows. He came out, gasping from his exertions, and surveyed the ruined interior of the tavern with wolfish delight. His face was lit with triumph, as he stood looking at what was showing of his overwhelmed enemies. He let out a whoop of delight.
"Hurro, ye blackguards! That'll tache ye—that'll pay th' score I was owin' ye. Misther Thady Driscoll—an' you, ye scum, Riordan! That'll settle me account wid th' both of yez, ye robbin', schamin' pair o' bad uns. Ye low dogs! Lie there an' be d———d to ye!"
He rushed back into the kitchen, beside himself with rage and excitement, and returned with a smoking billet from the fire, which he waved in the air to fan it into flame. Kicking the articles of broken furniture piled above the two unconscious men into a closer heap over them, he held the burning brand ready to thrust into it, and was on the point of setting fire to the evil establishment, with its still more evil inhabitants—when he suddenly checked himself.
"Glory be!" he cried aloud. "God forgive me—but 'tis mad I must be! To think o' that, now! Murder 'twould be, no less, an' Ned O'Shaughnessy a-dancin' upon nothing down there on Gallows Hill. Ye blashted fool, O'Shaughnessy—would ye be askin' for th' like o' that? Howly Mary—have some sinse, ya borrun fool, ye!"
He stood looking down at the victims of his righteous wrath, and presently noticed that Rordan was gazing up at him from beneath the dismembered remains of a chair in his cross-eyed fashion, his mouth gaping grotesquely in sheer terror, and one arm feebly gesticulating from beneath the shattered chattels of mine host of The Good Intent.
"Ye ugly blaggar-rd!" he roared so fiercely at the recumbent ex-policeman as to cause him to shut his eyes in fearful anticipation of some further punishment. "That'll larn ye! That'll tache ye not to rob an' sell to the American pirates callin' themsilves whalers important men like meself. Ye dir-rty, wicked, murth'rin' little scut, ye! I've half a good mind for to roast th' pair o' ye alive an' bur-rn down this dir-rty shebeen. 'Tis all ye both desarve, so it is. But I'll not do so—for I'm goin' to bate ye both prop'ly, wan o' these times—an' thin I'll make ye raymimber Ned O'Shaughnessy. Ye pair o' swine—ye dir-rty, dir-rty dogs!"
He threw the smoking firestick out through the open door, and followed it himself. Hastening down the hill by the way he had come to The Good Intent, he soon found himself in George Street, and resumed his walk towards the shores of Sydney Cove. Turning the corner round the one-storey building that afterwards became the office of 'The Sydney Herald,' he came to the waterside. Lying beside the Government wharf he found the Newcastle schooner, all ready for sea, and, standing on the wharf beside her watching the detachment of convicts being marched aboard, stood Captain Axthorpe, talking with Marjory Aylmer. His heart gave a jump.
They both saw him at the same time, and Captain Axthorpe hailed him cheerily.
"A thousand congratulations, O'Shaughnessy," he said, holding out his hand. "I heard of the Governor's pardon, and am delighted."
"And so am I," said the girl softly, smiling up at him. "'Tis splendid—and well you have deserved it."
Red O'Shaughnessy was embarrassed, but he managed to say politely——
"Thankee, Miss Marj'ry—thankee, sorr!"
CAPTAIN AXTHORPE and Miss Aylmer greeted Red O'Shaughnessy with unmitigated enthusiasm.
"My dear O'Shaughnessy," said his former master, "I had to run down to Sydney to see his Excellency, and almost the first thing he said to me was that he'd had no end of pleasure in making you a free man. Gad, O'Shaughnessy, but I'm glad of it. My very heartiest congratulations, my dear fellow!"
"And mine, too," chimed in the girl, with shining eyes, and the same captivating little laughing smile that had won the Irishman's heart when he first saw her at the Green Hills. "The best news I've had for a very long time. Papa is delighted."
O'Shaughnessy gave blundering thanks to both of them, characteristically Irish.
"Sure, Miss Marj'ry," he said, saluting, "'tis the best thing there's about it—hearin' tell how it makes you glad. An' I can say with trut', sorr, that I don't give a tinker's cur-rse for it save in y'r prisince, Miss Aylmer—when I think that, bein' a free mahn I can't anny longer be Commandant's Mahn at th' Coal River."
"Oh, prettily said, Mr. O'Shaughnessy," laughed the girl, merrily. "You are quite the courtier!"
"Thank you, O'Shaughnessy," said Captain Axthorpe, "but I don't see why not. I might remind you of what I said to you just before you set out on the Blue Mountain expedition. D'ye remember?"
"Faith, sorr, 'twas y'silf was most kind to me that time!"
"Well, you'll recollect, no doubt, how I told you that if the crossing of the mountains resulted successfully I'd be glad to find you employment. I'd every faith that Mr. Blaxland's enterprise was going to succeed, and I really meant what I said, I do assure you. Your old job is still open, but with the difference that I'll pay you wages now, and your position as a free man in my service will be infinitely more agreeable than it was before. What about it, now? Can you come back to Newcastle with me and look after me again as well as you used to do? Could you sail with me in the schooner this morning? 'Tis rather short notice, I know, but if you'll come I can arrange with the master of the schooner for your passage, and I sincerely hope you'll see your way to doing so. You were most useful to me as a convict servant—I'm sure you'll be ten times more so as a free man. Come now, what about it?"
"Oh, indeed, I would, if I were you, Mr. O'Shaughnessy," the girl chimed in. "I wish you'd consent. Captain Axthorpe never tires of sounding your praises. DO make up your mind to do as he asks. I'm sure you'll never regret it! You're doing nothing, are you? I'm sure you're not. What have you been doing this morning, for instance? Only idling, I'm certain. And idling in the colony's the very worst thing anyone can do."
"Doing this morning, Miss Marj'ry? Faith, thin, I'd har-rdly like to be tellin' ye. 'Twas not a genteel imployment, so it wasn't!"
"What was it, O'Shaughnessy, then?" asked Captain Axthorpe with a smile. "We'd like to hear how you have been spending your first day's freedom. What have you been doing, pray?"
The big man reddened a little, and looked doubtfully at Marjory Aylmer.
"Well?" she smiled up at him. The young Irishman could not resist the appeal in her eyes, and, hesitating a little at first told them the story of his forenoon adventure of revenge.
"Well, thin, sorr—but 'tis har-rdly a tale for to be tellin' th' young lady an' y'r anner's silf. But if ye will have it, I met wid Constable Riordan—th' bad-mannered little rat what got me a berth in the American whaler."
"Oh, yes," laughed Miss Aylmer, "Captain Axthorpe has informed me of your expedition to Port Stephens in that awful ship. Well?"
"What happened, O'Shaughnessy?" asked Captain Axthorpe.
"Well, thin, sorr, I bade th' fellie come wid me to th' Sheer Hulk, and there we found Misther Thady Driscoll all on his lonesome."
"And you gave him your best thanks, I suppose?" laughed the girl.
"Faith, miss, if ye cud call it me best thanks 'twould be putting it nicely."
"How did you greet your benefactor?" laughed Captain Axthorpe.
"Wid a plug in th' jaw, sorr—th' best I cud give th' blag-garrd. An' Micky Riordan—he got wan, too. They wint to slape on th' flure. I bruk th' furniture a little bit, an' piled it a-top o' th' two spalpeens, an' had half a mind to set afire to it, so I did! But mebbe, I t'ought, betther not. An' thin I come awalkin' down here, sorr, a-wond'rin' what were to be done next. What I'd done wasn't much—but 'twas th' best I cud."
"And very well done, O'Shaughnessy," laughed Captain Axthorpe, while the girl smiled over the naive simplicity of the Irishman's story. "But look here—what are you going to do about my offer of employment? Will you come to the Coal River this morning—now?"
"Faith, I thank y'r anner heartily! There's naught I'd sooner be doin', sorr."
"Well, then—off to your lodging, and get your things. I'll give you an hour. I can hold the schooner for so long as that—she can't sail without me, and, with your leave, Miss Aylmer, I'll escort you back to your father's rooms. Off with you, then, O'Shaughnessy. Lose no time. We don't want to miss the tide. Be back in an hour—no longer!"
"Good-bye, Mr. O'Shaughnessy," said Marjory. "I'm looking forward to seeing you again at the Green Hills before very long. Good-bye." Again she raised the young Irishman into heaven by putting her little hand in his great paw.
"Good-bye to ye, miss," he said. "I'll be back in th' half o' no time, Cap'n Axthorpe, sorr."
It was brilliantly moonlight that evening as the Government schooner, bound for the Coal River with prisoners and stores for that primitive establishment, a gentle north-westerly wind on her port quarter, dipped to the ocean swell as she passed by Bird Island, and presently the entrance to Lake Macquarie, the far-off ranges inland, darkly indigo against the western sky, showing rugged contours clear and distinct in the silvery, soft radiance. Captain Axthorpe sat on the poop-rail of the little craft, O'Shaughnessy beside him, both clad in heavy overcoats, for the midwinter night was sharp and chilly.
Amidships, below the closed hatch, the convicts were singing some ribald chorus, the muffled cadences of which were a little toned down by the hatch-covers. Sitting on them, his musket between his knees and the fixed bayonet gleaming fitfully in the moonlight, as the schooner rolled it clear of the shadows of the sails, the sentry on guard gazed out over the sea, probably thinking of the time when the regiment would leave New South Wales and all the dreary prison guardian business, which was its distasteful employment in the colony. Captain Axthorpe, smoking a cigar, was talking to his companion, who puffed at a short clay pipe. The master of the schooner, standing by the man at the wheel, listened to their conversation, and wondered at the apparently good understanding that seemed to exist between the Commandant and the tall young Irishman, who had to duck his head whenever the boom of the big sail swung over as the schooner rolled. You didn't often come across such good feeling between the classes in this accursed prison colony, he was thinking.
"You know, O'Shaughnessy," Captain Axthorpe was saying, "I don't intend to stick to the army much longer. I've taken a great liking to this country, and am pretty sure I could count upon a fairly liberal grant of land from his Excellency were I to send in my papers on bringing my military career to a close. The Governor has as good as told me so much as that. Then I'd go exploring up the Hunter Valley, I think. From what I've seen of the lands along the river I'm sure there must be splendid pastures out beyond Wallis Plain, where no one has yet settled, and very few white men have ever been. One might take up country out there and, besides the grant from Government, there would be unlimited grazing for cattle and sheep and horses in all that unoccupied territory. I want to make a home—the sort of place where one could take a wife—for, in the very strictest confidence between you and me, I may tell you that Miss Aylmer has half-promised to share my fortune with me. I've got some capital, and it only ought to be a year or two before I might be in a position to make her as comfortable as she is, at least, in her father's house at the Green Hills. Perhaps I can rely on your future assistance in realising these happy schemes? I know that Miss Aylmer thinks well of you, and I'm sure you'd do all you could in assisting me to make her happy."
What a blow for poor, lovesick Ned O'Shaughnessy, who felt, almost, at the moment, that he could quite cheerfully push his master overboard! What a miserable crash to all his vain imaginings! He gulped a little before he could find words to acknowledge Captain Axthorpe's confidence in him. The moonlit track of the pale orb's radiance, shimmering and dancing and sparkling across the heaving black waters, swam mistily before his eyes. He felt crushed by the blow—but he must not let the Commandant see it.
"Well, and what do you think of the idea, my good Ned? I'm going to address you so in future, if you've no objection. We're going to have a new relationship from this time forward, and I want to be on the best of good terms with a man whom I respect and like as I do yourself, O'Shaughnessy. Come, what do you think of it? And will you join me in carving out a home from the wilderness? Maybe there'd be terms of a partnership later on—and then you could look round for a wife yourself."
"Faith, sorr, 'tis th' gran' schame entirely!" was all Red O'Shaughnessy could croak. His future and all his dream-castles had fallen in ruins about his ears. There WAS no future for Ned O'Shaughnessy—no future that he cared to contemplate. For the big, red Irishman had the complaint very badly from which all of us, more or less, have suffered at times in our youth.
"Ah, well—there's plenty of time for it, and to think about it," said Captain Axthorpe, as he stood up and threw the butt of his cigar into the sea. "I'm going to turn in. We'll probably be in the river soon after midnight—but will sleep aboard, and go ashore for breakfast in the morning. Good-night to you, Ned—and pleasant dreams."
"Good-night, sorr," responded O'Shaughnessy, with a lump in his throat.
As they slipped northward through the black waters Red O'Shaughnessy paced the schooner's deck, a prey to all the unhappiness he thought it possible to endure. Far off, above the settlement of Newcastle, he saw the red glow of the big, coal-fed brasier on Beacon Hill that was the young seaport's first lighthouse. As the schooner came over the bar, at one o'clock in the morning, he muttered mournfully:—
"Now, what th' blazes does it all matter? 'Tis a done man I am!"
WITH a sore heart—so sore that he was careful to give no indication to anyone of its forlorn condition—Red O'Shaughnessy took up his duties in Newcastle under the altered circumstances which emancipation had brought into his life. They were so changed from what they had been before he went away that the young Irishman could scarcely bring himself to believe in their reality.
Hector, the big negro who cooked for the Commandant's private establishment, was frankly pleased with the new fortunes of his master's right-hand man.
"I declar' to Gawd, Mistah Shansy," he said, when his former messmate came into his spotless kitchen soon after the return to Newcastle, "I'se dat delighted when I heard tell ob how Gubnor Macquarie been an' gorn an' set you free dat I don' seem like as if I'se quite right in de coco-nut. Nossah—dat's a fac', a plumb trooful fac'! Dey tells me how you clumb dem mountings like as if you was a honest-to-Gawd wallaby, or one o' dem goannas. I runned away one time, Mistah Shansy, from dat drefful stockade at Toonagabbie—nuffin to eat but cat-o'-nine-tails in dat dar gawddam lo-cation, sah—an' never stopped a-runnin' till I come to dem Blue Mountings, an', Lordy, dem black hollers an' yaller cliffs dey beat me bad. Yessah. Dey's no way o' gettin' ober dem stone walls, says I, after a-prowlin' roun' about 'em for nigh a week on a empty belly. So I makes right back to Toonagabbie, an' tells Black Tom Crawley, de oberseer o' my gang, dat I'se real glad for de chance o' meetin' de flogger in de mornin'. An' I declar' to you, Mistah Shansy, I a'most enj'yed dem four dozen what dey done gib me. 'Twas real homelike, dat dar lashin', an' made me feel safe an' happy again. But dem horrible black mountings, full o' ghosts an' gloominess, dey got me plum scairt, I tell you, sah. I reckon you alls mus' have de guts o' bull-elephints to climb ober dem frightful steep places. By Gawd—yassah!"
"Wisht I'd 'ad 'arf their bleedin' luck!" observed Martin, the Commandant's convict clerk. "A picnic in th' bush, an' they gets their tickets! Gorblime, it's heasy!"
"You jes' shut y'r foolishment, Charley Martin, an' don' git belittlin' yo' bettahs. You stinkin' gutter-snipe—git out o' my kitching, ye scum—elst I'll put you on' de spit an' roast you, an' poison all de dawgs in de settlement wit' de meat off y'r rattlin' bones, ye dirty lil bag o' mis'ry! Mistah Shansy's done a dam' fine thing, an' don' you forgit it, lousy!"
There were not many at the Coal River who begrudged Red O'Shaughnessy his changed condition—though he encountered one of them on the Sunday afternoon after his return. This was Mr. Overseer Ramage, the head of the coal-mining activities of Newcastle in 1813. O'Shaughnessy met him as he was returning in the evening from a stroll along the top of the cliffs to the southward of the settlement. Mr. Ramage was smoking his pipe outside the hut he occupied near the pithead, and glared at the young Irishman savagely when the latter nodded to him with a cheerful "Good evenin' to ye, Misther Overseer!" as he passed by where the bully was standing on the brow of the hill, looking down at the settlement and the broad expanse of the river estuary. With a surly snarl he took the short clay pipe from his mouth, and spat insultingly—at least, that was how the Irishman took it—in the direction of his late slave.
"Who th' hell wants y'r 'good evening,' ye big, hugly son of a Dublin doxy. Keep y'r ——— civilities to y'self, ye dirty bog-trottin' croppy. I've a mind to kick ye down th' hill, d——n ye, for y'r blasted impart'nince! Get out o' me sight!"
"Faith, thin, 'tis a pleasant felly ye are, Misther Ramage," said O'Shaughnessy, 'seeing red,' and remembering the miseries of his week underground with the brutally oppressed coal-miners. "But I'd have ye to know me mother was wan o' the saints—and ye'll not misname her, so ye won't! Take that—an' that, too—ye rampin', roarin' bully! An' may it tache ye civility."
A powerful left caught the overseer on the jaw, smashing the black clay pipe to fragments, and an equally powerful right drove into his waist-coat. Mr. Ramage collapsed.
"That for ye, ye dir-rty blaggard!" cried O'Shaughnessy. He turned and walked down the hill, leaving the unconscious mine-manager lying on the grass.
"Howly saints! Mebbee I've done it now!" he muttered, as he turned his steps in the direction of Government House and began to cool down. "Begob, there's but wan thing to do, an' that's to tell th' Commandant arl about it, 'an what th' felly said for to provoke me. I'm not thinkin' Cap'n Axthorpe'll fale too sorry for th' baste. He don't like Misther Ramage, I know that. Sure, I'll tell him th' whole tale. 'Tis best so."
When he came to the Commandant's quarters, he told Martin, the clerk, that he'd be obliged for a few words with Captain Axthorpe, and was shown into the office. His master laughed outright when the Irishman related his adventure near the pithead with Overseer Ramage.
"By Jove, O'Shaughnessy, 'tis lucky for you you're no longer a prisoner. But you're just as free now as Dan Ramage, and I very much doubt whether he'll make any complaint to me—he knows I'm not much in his favor. At our last interview I told him that, if he couldn't treat his miners more decently, I'd have him returned to the Depot in Sydney, with a recommendation that he be put in charge of one of the road-gangs, instead of the present comfortable billet he's got up here. No, I don't think he hankers after any more conversation with me. But, look here, Ned—there's work to be done for you and me. An immediate job. You'll have to be ready to set out with me and a patrol of the military at daylight to-morrow. We go up the valley of the Hunter River after runaways."
"Faith, thin, y'r anner, 'tis tired I am afther loafin' this wake or two, an' I cud do wit' some divarsion."
"I don't know whether there'll be much diversion about it, O'Shaughnessy—looks like a prospect of some pretty hard going for me—-and maybe some hard knocks." He paused and went on:—
"I've just had word from the junction of the Williams River and the main stream—from Overseer Farrell, who's in charge of the big cedar-cutting gang camped at Nelson's Plains—that half a dozen of his prisoners have taken to the bush. Almost at the same time, Bill Emmett, whom Mr. Aylmer left in charge of his station at the Green Hills, has sent a couple of his men down the river in a skiff with the information that these fellows have raided the homestead, and taken away muskets and ammunition belonging to Mr. Aylmer. They offered no violence to the people there, only helping themselves to the firearms, clothing, and provisions, and told him they were going to make up the valley to the dividing ranges, and get clear away from the settlements. Well, I'm going after them with a fairly strong force of soldiers—a sergeant's guard of a dozen men, with Sergeant Windle and our old friend Corporal Jones. They'll go to the Green Hills by water, and we'll join them at Mr. Aylmer's."
"And how'll we be afther gettin' there, sorr?"
"On horseback, O'Shaughnessy. You and I will take my two nags, whilst Mr. Bateman, the gaoler, and Dr. Macklewain, who both have horses, will accompany us. We can act as a sort of advance guard for the soldiers, and will be in a much better position to locate our quarry than if we were all afoot. After we have joined the sergeant and his men, our little force of cavalry will go on ahead of the main body, and when we come up with them we should easily be able to hold them until our infantry column arrives at the scene of action. I think we should have every chance of overtaking and arresting the absconders. It is possible they may be joined by other runaways from outlying stations, but even so, our party will probably out-number the bushrangers. Now, I want you to consult with Black Hector, my cook, who will come with us, or rather with the boat party, as to the provisions we should take. Let them be fairly ample, for we may be in the bush a week or more. You understand? We will start at daylight in the morning."
"Very good, y'r anner. I'll have everything ready. 'Tis only the mounted party I've to think of, sorr?"
"Yes; the soldiers' provisioning and equipment will be attended to by the quartermaster-sergeant of the detachment and the Commissariat Department. That will be no concern of yours."
"I'll see to everything, sorr, and have th' two horses saddled and ready at cock-crow."
"All right, O'Shaughnessy—I'll leave everything to you."
The valley of the Hunter River in 1813, higher up than the Green Hills and the long stretch of level country above the present city of Morpeth, was a wooded wilderness of forest and swamp, into which only infrequent white men, and those mostly absconding convicts, had hitherto penetrated. Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson, Dr. John Harris, and Ensign Barrallier had explored the main river in the boats of H.M. brig Lady Nelson as far up as the position of the town of Singleton in 1801, and Barrallier had mapped their discoveries, including the tributary streams, the Williams and the Paterson, but as yet settlement was practically non-existent. When the little party of four horsemen rode away from Newcastle in a westerly direction, soon after dawn on that winter morning over a hundred years ago, they found themselves entering a vast area of country almost quite unknown to Europeans. Dr. Macklewain and the gaoler, Timothy Bateman, had never been out of Newcastle, this way, before, and Captain Axthorpe and O'Shaughnessy had only penetrated a little beyond the Green Hills, on the occasion of their rescuing Mr. Aylmer from the bushranging convicts, Burrows and Saxton.
As the sun rose behind them over the grey-blue rim of the sea, with the birds singing in the trees and the freshness of early morning invigorating them like a draught of wine, O'Shaughnessy spurred his horse up beside the Commandant's, and asked him a question.
"Might I mek bould to inquire, sorr, what's th' arrangemint at th' Green Hills in these days? Don't Mr. Aylmer look afther th' place himself nowadays? I think ye mintioned some fellie named Emmett sent ye worrud o' thim run-aways a-robbin' th' station. Is he th' man in char-rge, sorr?"
"Yes, Mr. Aylmer's going to live in Sydney for the present. His daughter tells me that his experience with Saxton and Burrows had a bad effect on his nervous system, and that, for a while, at any rate, he doesn't feel equal to living in the lonely situation of the men at the Green Hills. Emmett's a fine fellow, a Royal Marine, who was transported for some trifling offence against discipline aboard one of his Majesty's ships. I expect we'll have his help when we move off from the Green Hills."
Owing to the necessity of making several roundabout excursions in the great marshes lying back from the rivers, some five or six miles out of the settlement—long known as the Hexham Swamps—it was dark before they came to Mr. Aylmer's station, where they found that the detachment of soldiers under Sergeant Windle had arrived not long before.
WHEN the four horsemen reached the Green Hills it was to learn some dreadful news—dreadful enough to Dr. Macklewain and Mr. Bateman, but overwhelmingly disastrous to Captain Axthorpe and Red O'Shaughnessy. Emmett, Mr. Aylmer's overseer, who had been left in charge of the station when the owner went to Sydney with his daughter, lost no time in telling it after they had alighted from their horses at the homestead.
"Great George, sir!" he exclaimed excitedly as he shook hands with Captain Axthorpe. "'Tis terrible tidings I've got for ye. Mr. Aylmer, sir—and Miss Marjory—they've gone—been taken away by the bushrangers."
"What!" cried the Commandant in a tone of surprised anxiety, whilst Red O'Shaughnessy felt a cold shiver tingle down his spine. "I thought Mr. Aylmer and his daughter were in Sydney. Why, I left them there only a few days since, when I returned to Newcastle! How on earth did they get here?"
"Mr. Aylmer, sir—he bought a 40 ton cutter in Sydney, finding her for sale quite by chance, and as he'd purchased a lot of stores and farming implements for the station made up his mind to load her with them and bring them up at once, since we were badly in need of them. 'Twas cheaper and quicker than shipping them in the Government schooner. Three days ago the Marjory—that's what he'd renamed her—came into the Coal River before dawn by the light of the moon, at the beginning of the flood-tide, and, not liking to miss it, he decided to come right on to the Green Hills instead of reporting at the port, as was th' reg'lar thing to do. He was going to send word down to you, with the manifest of the cargo, as soon as he got here, sir. He was a little upset over having seemed to neglect the port regulations."
"But was he here when the bushrangers came?" asked Captain Axthorpe.
"No," Mr. Windle told him. "The ruffians came that afternoon, and the Marjory was stuck on the flats down the river, between here and the mouth of the Williams, at low tide. They had no river pilot aboard the cutter. It was late in the evening before the Marjory, with Mr. Aylmer and his daughter as passengers, reached the Green Hills. The robbers, after looting the store and the stables, and running in other horses from the home paddock, had gone away at sunset. I sent my messenger to Newcastle to acquaint your Honor with the outrage, before Mr. Aylmer arrived. And then, soon after midnight, three of the villains returned and insisted upon Mr. and Miss Aylmer accompanying them when they rode away again. They had two horses for them, which they had taken from Captain Weyman's station, over on the Paterson. At daylight, with a couple of the hands, I tried to follow up the tracks on foot—there were no horses left here—but evidently the bushrangers, with their two captives, had ridden far and fast, and, after tracing them for five miles or so I realised we had no hope of catching up with 'em, and came back to the station."
"Miss Aylmer?" asked Captain Axthorpe anxiously, whilst O'Shaughnessy listened, with fear in his soul. "Did the brutes offer her indignity—any violence?"
"Oh, no, sir. Their leader, a fellow named Tom Boscawen, who had been head sawyer in the timber-getting gang from which they had absconded, is a fairly decent sort of fellow—has been a gentleman, I think, sir—and he told Mr. Aylmer that his only object in taking them away was to hold them as hostages in case they had to treat with the authorities. He said he was going a long way—right up the valley, and over the mountain at its head—and meant to put himself altogether out of reach of pursuit. Perhaps, he said, if things turned out all right for the runaways he would allow them to return, but for the present he meant to keep them, in order to have some advantage in bargaining with Government. I think he's a fellow who'd be as good as his word—I do, really, sir. I've known him some time, and always found him straight and honest. They'll be safe enough, I think, sir—unless anything happens to Tom Boscawen."
"God—I'm glad to hear you say so, Emmett—but we must go after them immediately. That is to say, at daylight to-morrow. 'Tis useless to try to follow them to-night. Can you mount any of my men? Is it possible to raise any more horses hereabout—in the district, I mean?"
"There are none of Mr. Aylmer's left, sir, but unless the bushrangers have been there, too—and I don't think they have, because it is off the line of their tracks as I followed after them yesterday—we may be able to get a few at Mr. Charters' station, about five miles southward from here, sir. Mr. Charters would lend them, I'm certain."
"He'd have to, if I requisitioned them on his Majesty's service. Send at once, Emmett—go yourself with a couple of men, and bring what horses you can. I'll give you a letter to Mr. Charters. We must push on at daylight. It relieves me greatly to hear what you say about this fellow Boscawen, the leader of the gang—but we must take no chances and waste no time. That poor girl—my poor Marjory!"
"And mine, too, bedad!" muttered O'Shaughnessy, as he went out to the stables to attend to the horses. "If I find th' fellie who tuk her away, 'twill go har-rd with th' rapscallion—by dam', it will!"
They lay down for a few hours' rest, but were up before it was light, and when dawn came had eaten a hearty breakfast, and were ready to take up the pursuit. As the sun rose they were well on their way, following up the easily discernible tracks of the bushrangers, which led them into the long, level region on the south side of the Hunter, afterwards known as Wallis Plains, in the midst of which the present towns of East and West Maitland are situated. Emmett, Mr. Aylmer's overseer, had taken with him one of the station blacks to serve as a tracker, and to him, following it on foot, the route of the robbers was as plain as daylight.
The party consisted of the Commandant, O'Shaughnessy, Emmett, Dr. Macklewain, Mr. Timothy Bateman, two soldiers, and the blackfellow—eight in all—the supply of horses from Mr. Charter's station having only amounted to three. Each rider was armed with a musket and a pair of pistols, and two mules, which Mr. Aylmer had imported to the Green Hills from South America, served as pack-animals. They carried provisions for a campaign of several weeks' duration, and a sufficient supply of ammunition, besides camping equipment—there were no tents—and cooking utensils. Captain Axthorpe ordered Sergeant Windle, in charge of the military detachment, to follow with his men next day, carrying their baggage on a light bullock-dray, which, fortunately, formed part of Mr. Aylmer's station plant.
"D'ye think, sorr, we've got any chanst o' comin' up wid them dam' rapscallions?" asked O'Shaughnessy anxiously, as he and the Commandant rode side by side through the dewy bush at the beginning of the march. "They've got th' shtart of us, bad luck to thim, but I'm thinkin' they'll not be pressin' on too quick, an' might aisy go a bit ashtray in this wild counthry. Mebbe, too, th' blackfellies might give 'em some throuble, an' hinder 'em a little. 'Twon't all be plain sailin' for th' blaggards, I'll go bail on that!"
"Yes, I think we ought to be close upon them in a day or two, O'Shaughnessy. As you say, they don't know the valley—though, for the matter of that, neither do we. However, all we can do is to push on without resting any more than is absolutely necessary. I'd like to travel through the night, but fear 'twould be useless, and that we'd only succeed in losing ourselves. But we'll do our best, and halt as seldom as possible. Their tracks are plain enough that's one good thing."
The valley of the Lower Hunter in 1813, with occasional tracts of open country—such as the great marsh-lands a few miles westward of Newcastle, and some parts of Wallis Plains—was densely wooded forest. To the north lay blue ranges, in which the Paterson and Williams Rivers had their sources, and southward equally blue highlands that were part of the watersheds of the Hawkesbury and the Hunter. Westward the mountain country closed in on either side of the narrowing valley until, ahead of the travellers along the winding course of the river, a chaotic jumble of piled-up mountains formed that part of the Great Dividing Range which cuts off the narrow eastern coastal area from the vast western interior. Well might the task of the pursuing party have seemed almost hopeless, should the escaping bushrangers manage to reach the distant blue ranges in which the Hunter apparently had its source. It was with some sinking of the heart that Captain Axthorpe contemplated the task ahead of them. But he refused to despair of its accomplishment, and so did Red O'Shaughnessy.
WITH only the briefest halt at noon, the little cavalcade rode up the valley throughout the day, and when the early dusk closed down over the gradually narrowing levels they had come out into more or less open country again. Seven years later explorers from the Hawkesbury—Howes and Loders and others—came down from the ranges to the south, and, because the date was the 17th of March, named the rich district they had discovered 'Patrick's Plains.' The people who came after them made a town in the middle of the valley, which became known as Singleton. This had been the limit of Colonel Paterson's boat voyage in 1801.
They camped on a bend in the river that night, and after supper O'Shaughnessy called the Green Hills blackfellow aside, and asked him some questions. He was the same native who had accompanied them when they had chased the runaway convicts, Saxton and Barrow, and he was on good terms with the red giant, whom he seemed to regard as a superhuman being of some sort.
"Now thin, Billy me bhoy," said the Irishman, "d'ye think thim fellies is far ahead of us, or have we maybe caught up wid 'em a bit?"
"Dis pheller bin t'inkum," importantly stated Billy, pleased at having been consulted by the great red man, who towered above him, almost into darkness, as they stood by the diminutive fire of little sticks that was the blackfellow's private camp—"bin t'inkum dat pheller Big Tom, he no too much far away from dis place. Dem pheller tracks," he pointed downward towards the gravelly river bed where the bushrangers had obviously forded the Hunter, "not long time made. Make 'em dis mornin', dis pheller bin t'inkum. Dem phefler make for camp one day longa dis place. S'pose him pull up, we catch 'em. Maybe pull up soon—some o' dem horses bin go lame. You tellem Axt'orpe. Dem pheller horses not shod—on'y one or two pheller. Maybe catch 'em up pretty soon. You tellum Axt'orpe."
"Faith, I'll tell his anner, quick an' lively, me black beauty. Billy, ye're a jool—be hivins, 'tis so! Here's some 'baccy for ye, me bould Moor o' Vinnis. Ye've gladdened me hear-rt, so ye have."
Just at dawn O'Shaughnessy found it, that most extraordinarily posted letter ever addressed from one person to another. It was actually floating in a little pool amidst the shallows of the river-crossing into which the tracks of the bushrangers' horses had led their pursuers overnight, when Captain Axthorpe called a halt until morning. They had made their camp on their own side of the stream.
With pannikin in hand, he had gone down to the waterside to get a drink, and was in the act of dipping the tin mug into the gurgling rapids when his eye caught something white floating on the surface of the dark pool, out of the current, just under the steep, chocolate loam wall of the other bank. He drank the cool draught, and then leaned forward to get a better view of whatever it might be. Staring at it for a moment or two, he dropped the pannikin with a tinny clatter on the water-worn stones of the river bed, and then, giving vent to an exclamation of surprise, waded into the pool and secured the mysterious object.
"Well, now!" he muttered. "An' what may this be? Sure, 'tis none of our own crowd wud be afther chuckin' it there!"
He regarded it curiously, as it lay in the palm of his big red, right hand. It was a small piece of white linen wrapped about a bit of dried wood with a length of tape, and, also lashed to the float was a little flat brass snuff-box with the initials "H.A." inlet in blue enamel on the lid. O'Shaughnessy recognised it at once at Mr. Aylmer's personal property—the owner of the Green Hills station had been wont to carry it in his waist-coat pocket wherever he went. It was unmistakeably a message of some sort from Boscawen's prisoners, and must be shown to the Commandant immediately. He picked up the pannikin and hastened up the sloping grassy bank behind him to where, under a big she-oak tree, Captain Axthorpe was girthing up his horse.
"Hullo!" cried Dr. Macklewain, rolling his blanket close at hand. "Look at our red giant! Surely he's got something to show us?"
"What is it, Ned?" asked Captain Axthorpe, straightening up and turning round. "You look as if you'd found a lump of gold down in the gravel! Why, what have you got there?"
"Faith, thin, that's more'n I can be afther guessin', sorr—save that it must be some sort of message from thim we're lukkin' for. 'Tis Misther Aylmer's little shnuff-box, so it is, what I've seen him usin' for to take his shniff out of, manny's th' time. Ye'll reckernise it y'silf, sorr, I'll go bail. I found it afloatin' in th' wather down yarnder, whin I was gettin' mesilf a dhrink. Will ye not open it, sorr? Mebbe 'tis worrud o' Miss Marj'ry?"
"Gad! Yes, give it to me, O'Shaughnessy. This is a find indeed." He took it from the Irishman, and with his penknife cut the tape binding the little thin flat brass case to the wet pieces of wood. Pressing the catch of the snuff-box, he caused the lid to fly open, and inside it, quite dry, was another piece of linen, folded flat. Wonderingly, the Commandant unrolled it, and found this message, laboriously printed in capitals, that must have been inscribed on its unsuitable surface by means of a pointed twig, blackened to charcoal in a fire. This is what he read:—
"MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY, I AM SURE YOU ARE COMING TO OUR RESCUE. HURRY ON. WE ARE TRAVELLING AS FAST AS WE CAN, BUT SOME OF THE HORSES ARE GOING LAME. CAMPED HERE LAST NIGHT. BOSCAWEN IS GOOD TO US, BUT I FEAR ONE OR TWO OF THE OTHERS. WE ARE MAKING TO THE TOP OF THE VALLEY, AND B. SAYS WILL CROSS THE RANGES. BOTH WELL, BUT MAKE HASTE.—MARJORY."
Captain Axthorpe looked up at O'Shaughnessy, his mouth a little compressed. His expression was surprised. For a moment he said nothing, and then handed the missive to the Irishman.
"Pardon, O'Shaughnessy," he said quietly. "This seems to be meant for you. Marjory! I wonder," he did not utter what he seemed to be about to say, but picked up the reins, and put his foot in the stirrup. "Come!" he cried out. "We must not waste a moment, but must press on after them with all the speed at our command. Are you all ready to move off? Come, then! Miss Aylmer's given us the watchword. 'Tis 'haste'. Come, we must be moving."
He led the way down into the river, the others mounting hastily and following after in single file. They found a path up the steep bank, and Captain Axthorpe, in the lead, reined in his horse a few yards over the crest, and pointed to the ashes of several fires. "Here's where they camped, the night before last," he cried. "Come on—we must waste no time. Miss Aylmer has told us everything we need to know."
All the morning, it seemed to O'Shaughnessy, his master was unusually silent and preoccupied. Only once did he make mention of the letter in the snuff-box. It was in reply to a remark of the Irishman's.
"Faith, sorr, 'twas lucky th' salt bacon we had for breakfast med me t'irsty, or mebbe we might ha' ridden acrost th' river, an' niver seen th' little shnuff-box. Twas a quare place for to plant it, so it was!"
"Well," said Axthorpe—"'twas not so badly chosen, though. She must have dropped it over the bank not long before they left camp. It was the only place where she might have expected it to attract our notice. But I wonder why it was addressed to you, Ned?" he queried, with something of discomfort in his voice.
"I wonder, sorr?" said Red O'Shaughnessy, simply—but in his heart he rejoiced to think how certain she must have been of his coming to her rescue. Captain Axthorpe relapsed into silence, his only interest, seemingly, in the blackfellow's careful trailing of the horse-trader that were leading them up the valley.
All day long they rode through trees, trees, trees—interminable eucalyptus. The great dark forests swept down from the green-blue ranges ever drawing closer on either side of the narrowing valley, clothing its wide levels with a mantle of verdure that has long since been swept away by axeman and ring-barker. Sometimes there were stretches of bare and well-grassed downs. Sometimes the timber was more open, and the country park-like in its beauty. Sometimes the forest was dense and dark, and a little frightening to men who sensed instinctively that they were trespassing into territories where none of their race had ever trod before. It reminded O'Shaughnessy of the crossing of the Blue Mountains, of the sense of looking with new eyes on some old, old place where history had never been.
The short winter afternoon waned, and still they rode wearily forward along the forest aisles, both man and horse reacting to the fatigues of their strenuous march. Before evening fell they had ridden more than sixty miles from Mr. Aylmer's station down the river at the Green Hills. With the twenty of the day before from Newcastle to that locality, Captain Axthorpe reckoned they must have travelled from the settlement more than eighty miles, at a modest estimate. It was no 'record' of speedy equine travel, but the best they could do with the horseflesh they had. Their halts, some at night, had been few and short—watering the horses at some tributary creek flowing in the Hunter, or standing beside their grass-cropping, hungry mounts while they snatched a hasty meal of boiled corned-beef and damper. The tracker, Billy, had walked all the way. His thin, spindly legs seemed to be tireless—but he had consistently sustained himself with enormous meals, and this evening seemed to be almost as fresh as when he had started from the Green Hills.
"Glory be to God!" remarked O'Shaughnessy to Dr. Macklewain, as they contemplated the blackfellow's wolfish gluttony during the brief midday halt. "I'd sooner be kapin' Billy boy for a wake than a month, if 'twas me was a-payin' for his wittles! Sure, he can niver have had a square male in all his borrun days till he came out wid us!"
"The perfect eupeptic machine!" was the Doctor's admiring comment.
Just at dusk, they came to where a smaller stream junctioned with the main river, not very far from the locality where, first of all, Segenhoe station came to be established as settlement extended up the valley from Newcastle and Wallis Plains, and where in later years the town of Aberdeen, between Muswellbrook and Scone, was established. Twenty miles or so in front of them a great blue mountain, strangely like a reclining cat, dominated the upper end of the valley, seeming to watch their advance. It was the huge round dome of Mount Murulla, making the cat's head, and the swelling bulk of the Square Mountain westward of it outlining the gigantic feline back.
Here, they were surprised to find that the tracks of the runaway convicts left the main river, which seemed to turn eastward towards that side of the valley, and followed northward up the left bank of a small tributary afterwards to become known as the Kingdon Ponds. It was nearly dark when Billy made this discovery and informed Captain Axthorpe.
"Them pheller go 'longa crick," he said, pointing with outstretched arm. "Makeum for big pheller mountin. Better catch 'em, mine tinkit, before them pheller get past dat place, or lose 'em altergidder."
"All right, Billy. We'll camp here," he said to Red O'Shaughnessy and the doctor. "The horses are about done up, and I don't think a little rest would do us any harm, either."
After they had eaten, the Commandant called O'Shaughnessy aside. He seemed very grave and serious to-night, thought the Irishman—almost as though he harbored some feelings of disaster. This idea came forcibly to him now, and he had some uneasy feeling that his master's frame of mind was not a happy one—that he foreboded some evil. He remembered this next day. Remembered it with sorrow.
They sat and talked where they had spread their blankets on either side of a little fire burning beneath a great 'apple' tree on the higher bank of the creek. All round them, the forest stretched away into the darkness, and the blackness of the night, in which their own and the other fires of their bivouac lit up in ghostly fashion the grey columnar trunks of the nearer trees, seemed like an opaque curtain that cut them off from the future and the past in some mysterious fashion. It felt to O'Shaughnessy, strangely, as though he had never been in any other place. Far across the timbered flat, a curlew wailed eerily, and there was, apart from the mournful bird-call, a hushed silence that might almost be felt.
"Ned," said the Commandant gently, "you've been a good man in my service, both as a prisoner and a free man. I've always felt that I can trust you, and you have never undeceived me. There are not a great many people in New South Wales of whom I'd feel inclined to say as much as that—I want you to give me a promise, and I hope you will—'twill make my mind easier."
"Well, thin, sorr, ye can have the easy mind, so ye can! There's naught I'd not do for ye, sorr."
"Should I, by any means, have it placed beyond my power to aid Marjory—Miss Aylmer—in this dreadful predicament and peril in which she finds herself, I want you to give me your assurance that you will, under every risk and danger to yourself, leave no effort untried to rescue her. I know I can rely on you. You'll promise me?"
"I'd go t'rough hell an' damnation for th' blessed crayture, sorr! I'll do arl a man can."
"Good!" said Captain Axthorpe, quietly. "Good-night, my friend. God bless you, always!"
They were the last words Red O'Shaughnessy heard from Edward Axthorpe.
IT came with a tragic and startling suddenness—so sudden and so tragic as at first to be utterly unrealisable to any of the party from Newcastle and the Green Hills.
An hour before dawn, Red O'Shaughnessy got up from his blanket, on the other side of the fire from where his master was lying in his, fast asleep. The flame had died away, and only a few glowing embers in the heap of white ash showed where it had blazed when they lay down to rest. Gathering a few sticks together, the Irishman re-kindled it, and was about to go down into the creek for a pot of water when the thing happened.
As he picked up the receptacle and straightened himself, O'Shaughnessy gazed for a moment at the face of his master, who lay on his back with his head pillowed on his folded jacket. The dancing firelight lit up his good-looking profile. Then, from amidst the trees, and not more than twenty yards away, came the sudden crack of a musket, as a spurt of flame split the darkness outside the circle of dancing illumination made by the burning-sticks. He heard a thud and saw a bloody hole suddenly appear in Captain Axthorpe's temple. The Commandant flung out his arms and raised his body convulsively into a sitting posture. Then he fell back, groaned, bent his knees, straightened them out again, and lay quite still.
For a moment O'Shaughnessy stood paralysed. Then, with a yell, he bounded into the forest in the direction whence had come the murderous musket shot. He heard a sound of running feet, an evil, jeering cackle of laugher, and crashed in the dark into a tree trunk. Picking himself up, and hardly knowing what he did, he rushed back to the camp.
The sound of the shot and O'Shaughnessy's outcry had aroused the others, and they grouped themselves about the fire, startled and grief-stricken. Dr. Macklewain knelt beside the Commandant's body, his hand inside the hastily torn open shirt, feeling for a heart-beat. As O'Shaughnessy joined his companions, he withdrew it and stood up, shaking his head disconsolately.
"Quite dead!" he said, with a catch in his voice.
"My Gawd—my Gawd—oh, my Gawd!" Mr. Timothy Berkman kept on repeating in a dazed fashion.
"In the name of Heaven, O'Shaughnessy," asked the doctor, "how did this happen?"
"Howly Mary!" cried the distracted Irishman. "I dunno, Docthor—I dunno! God help me—I dunno! Och, th' dear, good sowl! Oh, wirra, wirra—an' him dead in th' twinkle of an eye! Glory be, but 'twas mesilf felt something was a-going to happen. God hilp us arl—an' give this good mahn rist!" The tears streamed down the big man's woeful face. He stooped and drew the blanket over Captain Axthorpe's pale features. "Oh, Mary pity us! Pace be wid ye; sorr!"
He hid his distorted countenance in his hands, and rocked to and fro in anguished sorrow.
Just as the sun rose they buried Edward Axthorpe in a shallow grave which, lacking tools, they dug with sticks and their hands. With rounded, water-worn stones from the bed of the Kingdon Ponds, they raised a cairn above the grave, and O'Shaughnessy stuck a roughly-fashioned cross in its apex. His heart too full for speech, he turned away and began to saddle his horse. Dr. Macklewain spoke to his awed and sorrowful companions.
"Men," he said, "we must go on—it behoves us to do so. That poor lady and her father, their dangerous situation. And our dear friend, here. He would have pressed forward, no matter what had happened. We must do so, too. Come, my lads—come, O'Shaughnessy. Let us push on. We must rescue Miss Aylmer and her father from these brutal ruffians—and we should be quick about it. They must be close at hand, or this murder could not have taken place. I make no doubt 'twas one of the bushrangers did this vile deed—no doubt at all. Assuredly, he shall answer for his wanton crime. But our first thought must be for the two captives—especially for the lady. Her danger is horrifying to think about. Come—mount your horses, and see to the priming of your muskets. Follow me, lads—come along."
The dapper doctor rode in the van of the little force, O'Shaughnessy beside him. They passed up the she-oak shaded creek and came into a more open piece of country. As the two in the lead left the timber they were startled to see a tall and powerful black-bearded man advancing towards them. He was unarmed and afoot. Immediately the doctor recognised him.
"Heavens above!" he gasped, as he pulled up his horse. "'Tis Tom Boscawen, the villains' leader. I know him well!"
"By God!" said O'Shaughnessy, dropping his reins and throwing the butt of the musket into his shoulder. "I'll shoot th' dog!"
"Stay!" shouted Dr. Macklewain. "Lower your piece, O'Shaughnessy. The fellow has something to say. Let us hear him. You must not. We must think of the Aylmers—he may have come to treat with us about them. Don't fire, my man—let him come on. He's not a wholly bad man—has been a gentleman, I think. Let's see what he has to say."
Growling a curse, Red O'Shaughnessy lowered his musket. The big man continued towards them. Half a dozen yards from the group he halted, and raised his hand, palm outward, in salute.
"Dr. Macklewain," he said in a rather pleasant voice. "I have the honor to wish you good-morning. I come to express regret."
"Yes, sir. One of my men before dawn this morning foully and in a cowardly manner killed your leader, Captain Axthorpe, whom all at the Coal River settlement respected and liked. 'Twas not with my knowledge that he did this—nor, indeed, with that of any other of my party. Half an hour ago I m'yself punished the man with death. As I have said, I have nothing but regret for the unhappy event. I beg that you will believe so much as that."
"Ah, d—— ye!" cried O'Shaughnessy, "what's th' good o' yer blashted regrets, ye dog."
"Quiet—quiet, O'Shaughnessy!" cried the doctor. "Let's see what he wants. Well, then, Boscawen—what of it? What's behind this attitude? D'ye wish to surrender?"
The bushranger laughed.
"Surrender! To be well and truly stretched at King's Town—or on Gallows Hill in Sydney? No, I thank you, Doctor. I'm going where I won't meet Jack Ketch—behind the big mountain up there. There's plenty of room in New Holland for both Governor Macquarie's Government and my humble self. I've no intention of putting his Excellency to the trouble of signing my death warrant. None whatever, thank you."
"Well, then, what do you want of us?"
"You mean, apart from the apology of one gentleman to another?"
"I mean, what is your real object in thus exposing yourself to capture? You must wish to communicate something, don't you?"
"Ah, yes, I do. I'll be brief. 'Tis merely to advise you to go back whence you have come. You'll never take us any of us."
"What's to prevent my taking you yourself, here and now, Boscawen?"
"A very cogent reason, Dr. Macklewain. I know your code of honor. You'd not do it."
"By God—'tis mesilf would!" cried O'Shaughnessy. "Take ye, an' hang ye like th' d dog ye are!"
"Quiet, quiet, O'Shaughnessy," said the doctor soothingly. "Boscawen," he went on. "I know that I can appeal to better instincts in you than I might in the case of most of your companions. I beg of you, therefore, by the memory of better days, to give up your captives—hand over to us Mr. Aylmer and his daughter, and I promise you we'll turn our horses' heads down the valley, and will leave you in peace. I beg you to do so. It can't possibly benefit you in any way to keep them prisoners—you ought to see that! And it might, indeed, incline Government to consider you favorably, should you make up your mind to surrender. What of it, Boscawen?"
The big man shook his head.
"No, doctor, 'tis too late. The only fate I can look forward to—and my band as well—is exile in the wilderness beyond those ranges to the nor'ard. And as to the prisoners we have, I'm going to keep them. They will be useful, should we be pressed by those who wish to destroy us. Moreover, I don't mind admitting that the girl has taken my fancy. Perhaps she might some day even come to conceive an affection for her devoted servant—myself. I have my hopes. Even a poor devil of an outlaw is permitted to hope—a mercy denied to prisoners of the Crown in, say, the limeburners' camp at King's Town."
It was too much for O'Shaughnessy. With a savage look of hardness in his countenance, he walked his horse towards the bushranger.
"Listen to me," he said. "Sure, I cud shoot ye where ye sthand; me mahn—but I'm a-goin' for to mek ye an offer, fair an' raysonable. I'll fight ye for her—fight ye wid th' bare knuckles. Come, now—are ye mahn enough for that? Or are ye on'y a crawlin' bully who can lor-r-rd it over a wake woman, an' daren't face a mahn of his own soort? Are ye that, Tom Boscawen? I doubt but ye are!"
The handsome bushranger looked at him for a moment or two, and then broke into a smile.
"By God, Redhead!" he exclaimed. "You look like a man who might put up a good fight. I've half a mind to oblige ye. But what terms might we expect, should I do so? If I win, would I have the doctor's promise that you and your party will abandon the chase of us? And Miss Aylmer, too—she'll go to the victor."
"Tell him, 'yis,' Docthor," said O'Shaughnessy. "Tell him ye agree. He'll not win. But if he loses we must have Miss Marjory, and her father as well. Will ye agree to that, Boscawen?"
"I will if the doctor gives me his word of honor he'll abide by the result," said the bushranger. "Will ye do it, Doctor?"
Dr. Macklewain thought for a little while. Then he nodded. "Oh, well, I will," he said. "I'll trust you, Boscawen. We'll declare a truce for an hour, and you and O'Shaughnessy can settle it here in the open. I'll act as his second, and you can get one of your friends to do likewise for you. Let your men remain at the edge of the timber yonder—I suppose they are close at hand?—and our party will stay under the trees opposite. Very well—'tis a bargain. Call your men and explain the arrangement. If you win you go free, so far as my party is concerned, it you lose you go free also—but Miss Aylmer and her father remain with us. That is understood, is it?"
"Perfectly, Doctor. With your leave, I'll go into the trees yonder and get my second. I agree to those terms. We want no more bloodshed after this morning's lamentable business. Your red 'un will argue it out with me in the good old way. 'Tis a bargain!"
He turned and walked back the way he had come, disappearing into the timber from which he had emerged a few minutes before. The doctor and Red O'Shaughnessy heard a cheer from the forest before them. They both dismounted, and O'Shaughnessy stripped to the waist, his mighty torso and hard muscles evoking Dr. Macklewain's admiration.
"Well, you look fit, O'Shaughnessy," he said. "But can you fight? Have you any science? I imagine from the alacrity with which Tom Boscawen took up your challenge that he probably knows himself to be the possessor of considerable skill in the noble art. Have you confidence in yourself?"
"Faith, thin, I ought to, sorr. 'Twas Tom Cribb himself brought me to London from Ireland, and was tachin' me for to be a champeen. Onless Black Tom's a top-notcher, Docthor, sure I ought to hold my own."
"Well—here they come. Good luck to you, O'Shaughnessy. I'm sure you'll make a fight of it!"
THERE was no doubt that O'Shaughnessy 'made a fight of it'—to quote Dr. Macklewain—and from the beginning, and during its short course, the battle was all his own. Tom Boscawen was a mighty man of bone and sinew, but O'Shaughnessy displayed all the 'science' of the brief, fierce combat.
When Boscawen lay stretched upon the grass, temporarily knocked out, even his bushranging companions, standing at the edge of the timber, could not forbear a cheer for the big, red, young gladiator who stood triumphantly over his prostrate body. And when Tom Boscawen himself came to in a few minutes, the half-dazed remark he made to Red O'Shaughnessy, as he held out his hand, was an admiring——
"The best man wins!"
The Irishman had helped him to his feet, and now grasped his hand and shook it heartily.
"Mebbe, Boscawen, I'd not be th' best mahn if Tom Cribb had dealt wid you as he done wid me—y'r gyard was wake, an' I got t'rough ut. But a bargain's a bargain. Where's th' leddy—where's Miss Aylmer?"
"I'll hand her over, O'Shaughnessy. She and her father are hardly a quarter of a mile away, back in the bush. One of my men is looking after them. She is quite safe, and has not been harmed in any way. I took good care of that. And now, sir," he addressed Dr. Macklewain—"I take it that you'll give up your chase of us? I know you to be a man of his word and such was the arrangement we made before Red O'Shaughnessy here dealt with me so efficiently. I thought I could fight—but, if he's been a pupil of the great Tom Cribb, I can see that I hadn't a chance. I was lacking in the advantages of education. Now, sir, I'll rejoin my men. I'll not repeat my regrets about the Commandant—I believe you know them to be genuine. The fellow who shot him is hanging by his bridle-rein to the limb of a tree up the creek. Goodbye to you, Sir."
"Come back with us, Boscawen," cried the doctor, impulsively. "I'll see Governor Macquarie himself about you. You're too decent a man to be allowed to perish in the wilds. Come! I feel sure I can represent events at headquarters to get you the most favorable consideration. Will you not take my advice? I beg you to do so!"
"No, Doctor," said the bushranger, a little sadly, though he smiled as he said it, "I thank you for your evident goodwill, but the world that is called civilised and Tom Boscawen have long fallen out, and I am convinced that my only resource, in what of life remains to me, is in that side of it which is spoken of as un-civilised. I'll go over these ranges up yonder, and be my own master. Goodbye to you—and to you, my Irish friend. Mr. Aylmer and his daughter will be with you in a quarter of an hour, or less. Goodbye!"
He strode across the open tract beside the creek and rejoined his men. In a moment or two they had disappeared into the tall timber.
"Will he let thim go, d'ye think, sorr?" asked Red O'Shaughnessy after they had been waiting a while. Dr. Macklewain nodded.
"Yes, I believe he will, O'Shaughnessy. In some queer way of his own, the fellow's an honorable man—I'm convinced of that. 'Tis most extraordinary behaviour in a runaway convict, but I think it's genuine enough. Why, look," he pointed across to the edge of the forest in front of them—"here they come!"
"Be th' powers o' goodness, 'tis hersilf!" muttered O'Shaughnessy. He and the Doctor advanced to meet Mr. Aylmer and his daughter. An unaccountable shyness and hesitation had come over the Irishman.
"Will you tell her, sorr?" he whispered to Dr. Macklewain. "I'm a-fearin' 'twill go har-rud wid her—Cap'n Axthorpe's death. God hilp us arl!" he added piously. Dr. Macklewain nodded.
Mr. Aylmer looked somewhat the worse for wear, but—in O'Shaughnessy's eyes, at any rate, there was not much evidence in his daughter's appearance that she had had a hard time of it. Her riding-habit was torn in places, her hair not quite so neatly arranged as he had been used to seeing it, and her complexion a little sunburnt, too, but she was the same beautiful creature of his constant dreams. To you and to me, she might have seemed just a charming and healthy type of young womanhood, but to him she was a goddess—peerless, incomparable, matchless, transcendant, inimitable, unrivalled, unapproachable (everything that this chronicler had been able to cull from a book of synonyms in his possession). As she walked through the grass towards them he stood with his hat in his big fist, fairly gaping his admiration.
"Oh," she laughed merrily, as she gave him her hand, "thank you, Mr. O'Shaughnessy—it seems to be your mission in life to rescue members of the Aylmer family from bushrangers. But thank you, also, Dr. Macklewain—and all the others of your party."
She scanned the group of them quickly, as if looking for someone else, and O'Shaughnessy's heart sank within him. Who could tell her? He glanced at Dr. Macklewain, and was relieved to see that he had taken Mr. Aylmer aside, and was evidently acquainting him with the disaster that had almost overwhelmed them in the early hours of the morning. The owner of the Green Hills looked grave and perturbed, and now and again glanced sorrowfully at his daughter, as she went from man to man of the party, thanking them in her pretty fashion. It was Mr. Timothy Bateman who gave O'Shaughnessy away. He had been a little embarrassed. Marjory Aylmer was not a type of womanhood with which the Newcastle gaoler was very familiar.
"Oh then, Miss," he had replied to her expression of gratitude, "ye needn't be thankin' any of us for a-gettin' free o' Tom Boscawen and his gang. We've done nothing but ride acrost the country. 'Twas him"—pointing to Red O'Shaughnessy—"'twas th' big Irish lad who set you free. He fought Tom Boscawen for ye, ma'am."
"Fought—for me! I don't understand, Mr. Bateman. Pray, how—how did Mr. O'Shaughnessy fight for me?"
"With his two big fists, ma'am—an' he done it beautiful. A clean knock-out on the point o' th' jaw, it was, in less than five minutes. Tom Cribb would ha' been proud of him, that he would. You see, Miss Aylmer, Boscawen says he was a-goin' to keep ye with him, an' O'Shaughnessy up an' offers to fight him, you to get your liberty if he won, an' Boscawen, being a sportsman, took him on, and—well—here ye are, ma'am, safe and sound. But 'tis Red O'Shaughnessy's doing."
"Is this true, Mr. O'Shaughnessy?" she asked the gay Irishman, who was miserably uneasy under her clear gaze. She noted his hesitation in replying, and pressed him further.
"Please tell me truly. Do, if you please, Mr. O'Shaughnessy. Oh, please!"
"Well, thin, Miss Marjory—sure, 'tis not worth mentioning. 'Twas a fine marnin' for a fight, so—well, him bein' agrayable—we—that is, him an' me—well, thin, we done a little sparrin'."
"Marjory," called Mr. Aylmer, standing beside Dr. Macklewain, "please come here. I want to tell you something."
The girl went to her father, and presently O'Shaughnessy saw her cover her face with her hands. He turned away in distress.
* * * * *
Dr. Macklewain decided to spell the horses for the rest of the day, and to camp where they were that night. All of his own party needed rest, and the horses even more than the men. They had sixty miles to travel to the boundaries of civilisation at the Green Hills, and, since the bushrangers had not surrendered any of the stolen horses, some of the rescuing party would have to walk, in order that Miss Aylmer and her father might be mounted on the return journey. When he spoke of his plans to Red O'Shaughnessy and Mr. Bateman, the former eagerly volunteered to hand over his horse for the use of the girl.
"And I'll tell ye what," he said, as they consulted together. "'Tis more than likely them fellies—Tom Boscawen's men—won't be afther botherin' to take away Miss Marj'ry's side-saddle. What use wud it be to them? So I'll go along afther dinner and see can I not find it. I'm thinkin' 'tis sure to be where them fellies camped lasht night."
"And Mr. Aylmer may have my horse," said the gaoler. "A walk won't do me any harm, for 'tis mighty little exercise I get down at the Coal River, lookin' after th' gaol. So there ye are, Doctor—that's all settled."
"We three," cried Dr. Macklewain, "will take it in turns to ride my horse—so that settles it even better, Mr. Bateman."
They ate their midday meal by the side of the creek, and after it was over, O'Shaughnessy announced his intention of going to look for the side-saddle in the place where the bushrangers had awaited the result of his pugilistic encounter with Tom Boscawen.
He started off up the creek, but had hardly gone fifty yards when he heard Marjory's voice behind him. He turned, thrilled to see her running towards him, the long skirt of her riding-habit—they were very long in those days—held up from tripping her by one small hand.
"Mr. O'Shaughnessy!" she cried, as she came up to him. "Oh, Mr. O'Shaughnessy, Papa says I had better go with you, to point out where the saddle is. Do you mind?"
"Come, thin, Miss Marj'ry." It was all he could say. They found the side-saddle with ridiculous ease, and O'Shaughnessy hung it on his arm, and turned to go back. But Marjory detained him.
"Mr. O'Shaughnessy!" she said, a little shyly.
"What is it, thin, Miss Marj'ry?" he asked, turning to look at her.
"You are a brave man, Mr. O'Shaughnessy."
"Oh, sure, thin—I dunno about that, Miss. 'Twas th' mortal fear I was in about ye, so I was. Faith, I was naught but a coward about ye whin that Villain shot Cap'n Axthorpe—God rist his sowl. I was that!"
"It must have been terrible! Dr. Macklewain has told me all about it. I grieve for poor Captain Axthorpe—such a gentleman, such a good man! Do you know, he wanted me to marry him? Did you know that?"
"Yes, Miss," replied O'Shaughnessy, becoming scarlet and stammering a little. "Th' Cap'n tould me—th' night we come to Newcastle in th' schooner th' lasht time. 'Twas ter'ble news—I mane, Miss—Miss Marj'ry—I mane 'twas glad I was ye wud be likely to be weddit to—to such a fine fellie."
"Oh, you were glad!"
He did not know what to say to her, and hardly dared to look at her face—but, when he did, he saw tears in her eyes, despite the little plaintive smile hovering about her lips. Something came over him—a surging rush of feeling that brought him into utter confusion. He turned away slightly, and saw the blue and distant dome of Mount Murulla, far away to the north, sleeping in the sunlight of a perfect winter day. A long way off and unattainable it looked, but very beautiful. Falteringly he replied to her.
"Yes, Miss Marj'ry—for your sake."
"And for your own—for your own—Ned?"
He dropped the side-saddle, and turned towards her. Unconsciously, his great arms were wide open. She crept into them, and their lips met.
"Oh, Ned!" she cried. "My own dear, big, foolish Paddy!"
"Now, glory be to God!" gasped Red O'Shaughnessy.
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