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Title: The Mystery Of The Laughlin
Author: Louis Becke
eBook No.: 2100021h.html
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
View our licence and header
Part 1. - The Official Version
Part 2. - What Happened On Board The “Resolution”
Part 3. - Mr. Irish Gets Square With His Enemies
Part 4. - On The Laughlin Islands
On the morning of the 10th of November, 1794, the Resolution and Salamander, storeships, were lying at anchor in Port Jackson harbour. The vessels had discharged their cargoes and had bent sails to get away to the whale fishery. Whaling at this time was just beginning to flourish, and most of the convict transports and clumsy storeships after discharging their freights at Port Jackson, sailed away on a whaling cruise.
It was a close, steamy morning, and a heavy mist still hung over the harbour and concealed the shore from view, when Mr. William Irish, the master of the Salamander came on deck and asked the mate if the hands had finished breakfast.
“No, sir,” answered the officer, “not quite.”
“Well, hurry ’em up, Wilkins. That flash gentleman over there,” pointing to the spars of the Resolution that towered up about a cable’s length away, “seems in a damned hurry to get away before us. Now I would like to get away first, just to spite him. He is a lowlived swab.”
Mr. William Irish did not like Mr. John Locke the master of the Resolution, and was not diffident in expressing his dislike upon every possible occasion.
The master of the Resolution was a gentleman of no small importance, and of considerable personal attractions. This was his own estimate of himself. Mr. William Irish—a short, stout man with a leathern-hued complexion—held different opinions. We know this because on one memorable occasion he thus expressed himself to a sergeant of the New South Wales Corps, who had boarded the Salamander on pressing official business.
“I call myself Bill Irish. I am a plain man, with no damned nonsense about me; but I am honest, and I am a master mariner, and left the King’s service with a clean record, as Governor Collins can tell you. Locke—who is a swab—calls himself ‘Captain’ Locke, oils his hair, and curls his blarsted whiskers, and is a blarsted liar. You can search my ship, sergeant, from the fore-peak to the lazarette, and if you find any of your infernal jail birds aboard o’ me, I’ll give you a cask of rum; but if you take my advice you’ll search the Resolution. And when you board her tell her flash captain that I say he is a liar, and be damned to him!”
And then, turning to his mate, Mr. Irish told him to assist the sergeant and his men to search the ship for convict stowaways, adding, “And the first one you get lug him up on deck, and then get a cask of rum up from the lazarette and put it in the sergeant’s boat.”
Sergeant Day, being a soldier and a man of few words, took the remarks of the master of the Salamander very quietly, merely observing—
“That is all very well, but it is my duty to search,” and then he stopped suddenly, and exclaimed, pointing to the Resolution, whose hull now came out clearly as the breeze dispersed the fog—“Why, he’s getting under weigh.”
“Serves you right! I told you he was a rascal and a liar. Now you’ll be very neatly sold. Told you he was going ashore to dinner with some of the soldier gentlemen, to-day, did he? He’s sold you very neatly. His anchor’s underfoot, and you can’t catch him.”
“I’ll try, anyhow,” said the sergeant, and then his face fell. He had sent his boat ashore to report to his officer that he had searched the Resolution fruitlessly. Turning to Mr. Irish, he asked him to lend him one of his boats.
“Don’t see why I should; but I will though, because the infernal liar told you I had ’em aboard of my ship.”
The sergeant was halfway down the side-ladder while Mr. Irish was speaking, and he was followed by Sergeant Jones and a couple of privates who had remained on board when the boat had been sent ashore to report.
“Two hands jump into that boat,” sang out the master of the Salamander. “I don’t want them redcoats cruising around the harbour in one of my whaleboats, with no one to look, after them,” he added.
In a few moments the boat had shoved off, and was pulling hard for the Resolution; the boat’s crew consisting of two seamen from the Salamander and the four soldiers. Even as they shoved off the Resolution’s maintopsail was sheeted home, and the cook of the Salamander, a personage with a snow-white cap, and an exceedingly dirty face, and who, when on shore, was a patron of sport in the neighbourhood of Whitechapel, called out as the boat was being urged on by the rowers— “Even money you doesn’t catch her; pull your damndest, you red-coated sons of guns; even money, I say, you doesn’t catch her.”
Now as this is a perfectly true story, we will, at this stage in the telling of it, “put in,” as they say in the courts of law, the affidavits of certain individuals who took part in the affair. First comes the—
AFFIDAVIT OF WILLIAM IRISH
Mr. William Irish, master of the ship Salamander, came before me and voluntarily deposed that, having been furnished with a copy of a letter which it was necessary to write to the Lieutenant-Governor, for the purpose of obtaining permission to receive on board such persons as he had shipped belonging to the Colony, and being officially desired to communicate the same to Mr. John Locke, master of the Resolution, and undertaking to do so, he accordingly supplied him with a copy of the paper he had received, as above mentioned, explaining at the same time to the said Mr. Locke the necessity there was for his obtaining the Lieutenant-Governor’s written permission to take any person from the Colony.
(Signed) William Irish
Sworn before me at Sydney this eleventh day of
(Signed) David Collins.
Witness present (signed) John Palmer.
The next document is the
AFFIDAVIT OF WILLIAM DAY
William Day, Sergeant in the New South Wales Corps, came this day before me and voluntarily made oath that he had the charge of the guard which was placed on board the Resolution storeship by order of the Lieutenant-Governor for the purpose of preventing convicts or other persons being received on board without permission: that on the morning of the departure of the said ship from this harbour, information was sent down to the master, John Locke, that some convicts were missing from the Colony and were supposed to be secreted on board his ship; that he assisted with the sergeant who came on board in searching the said ship, but without effect; that he went from her on board the Salamander to search that vessel; the while on board he perceived the Resolution getting under weigh, on which he returned to her and caused the master to come to an anchor, telling him he could not go to sea without having received a certificate of the number of persons he had on board belonging to the Colony; that having sent up the pilot and the boat to receive the Lieutenant-Governor’s further orders, that as soon as the boat was out of sight the master again got up his anchor, notwithstanding the remonstrances of this deponent, who urged him to wait the return of the boat; that the said John Locke made use of many execrations, refusing to wait under an idea that he might be ordered to return to the Cove; that the Salamander’s boat in which deponent had boarded the Resolution then returned, the ship by this time being between the Heads, and this deponent with his party having no means of leaving the vessel; that the said John Locke repeatedly asserted with many horrible curses that he would not furnish this deponent with a boat from the ship, but that he would certainly land him and his party on some desolate part of the coast if he persisted in waiting for a boat from Sydney; that firmly believing that Mr. Locke would put his threats into execution, he with some difficulty made himself heard, by the men in the Salamander’s boat, who returned and took him and his party in; that going down in the cabin just before this deponent left the ship he perceived the surgeon (Mr. Blackburne) and second mate (Mr. Gibson) filling several cartridges with powder, which he supposed were intended to be made use of in case any boat should attempt to come on board the Resolution; the master having repeatedly sworn that no boat should board her; that at the time this deponent left the Resolution she was eight miles without the Heads of the harbour. And further this deponent sayeth not.
(Signed) William Day.
Then followed the same signatures of the officials who had taken Mr. Irish’s affidavit
After this came the
AFFIDAVIT OF DAVID JONES
Sergeant David Jones, of the New South Wales Corps, personally appeared before me and made oath that on Sunday morning, the 9th of this instant month of November, he was sent on board the Resolution (John Locke, master), then at anchor just above the South Head of this harbour, with a message from the Lieutenant-Governor, which message was to inform the master that the Lieutenant-Governor had heard that he (John Locke) was about to quit the port without having received a certificate of the number of persons he was permitted to receive on board belonging to the Colony, and that he was not to take any person away without the Lieutenant-Governor’s permission; that this message being delivered to Mr. Locke, he replied to this deponent that he did not think he had any business with a certificate; that deponent, on telling Mr. Locke that he was ordered to search for a woman of the name of Morgan, the master of the Resolution said she was not there—he knew nothing about such a person; that having searched for the space of four hours, during which time the woman could not be found in this ship, this deponent went on board the Salamander to search that ship, and that while he was there he perceived the Resolution to be getting under weigh, though he had communicated to the master the necessity there was for his waiting until he heard further from the Lieutenant-Governor.
(Duly signed, witnessed, &c., &c.)
After Sergeant Jones’ statement comes another which tells this story from another point of view. This is the
AFFIDAVIT OF GEORGE BANNISTER
George Bannister (a free man) came before me on this day, the eleventh of November, 1794, and voluntarily deposed that on the night of Saturday the 8th instant, Mr. Stephenson asked him to go out in the boat to fish the next morning; that he is accustomed to fish with Mr. Stephenson; that accordingly he went with him accompanied by one Kelly, Thomas Vicker, and John Toft; that they procured bait in the North Harbour and went without the Heads to their fishing-ground, where they remained until the Resolution went out; that the ship stood directly out to sea, and that when they had nearly lost sight of her they saw her make a tack and stand towards Broken Bay; that when she had run nearly the length of Broken Bay she ran down along shore, heaving to several times; that a little time before sunset the ship being near Cabbage Tree Beach, round the North Head of this Harbour. Mr. Stephenson proposed to Kelly and the others in the boat to go on board the Resolution; that this deponent refused to be concerned in taking a boat belonging to any one, and declared he would not go; that this deponent and Toft refusing to row’ alongside the ship the other three men rowed the boat alongside; that they had previously perceived people on the foretopsail-yard looking at the boat with glasses, and on their coming alongside, the master, Mr. John Locke, asked them what they wanted; they said they had some fish to sell; that he gave them half-a-gallon of liquor for the fish; that he (John Locke) then asked Mr. Stephenson if he had seen a boat off there; Stephenson said, Yes, the boat he (Mr. Locke) wanted was there; the master then called him into the cabin; that in about ten minutes he returned with some wine, some cheese, and some bread, and told this deponent and the others to pull into Cabbage Tree and meet a boat they would find there; that they rowed into Cabbage Tree, and not finding the boat there they returned to the ship, and Stephenson, Kelly, and Vicker went on board, and this deponent with Toft returned with the boat up to Sydney Cove; that just as they left the ship they saw a boat lowered down from the ship and saw two lights hoisted, one at the stern of the ship and one on the foretopsail-yard; that Kelly took the fishing tackle belonging to the boat with him into the ship, saying that it might procure them a fresh meal at sea, and that the Lieutenant might be damned for all the fish he (Kelly) would ever catch for him again; that the ship appeared to stand off when they left her, at which time she might be about five miles from the land to the northward.
George X Bannister
Sworn before me, &c., &c.
From the foregoing it will he seen that the storeship Resolution had on board of her certain persons escaped from the Penal Settlement at Sydney, and that John Locke, her master, had connived at their escape. This much is told by the official records of the Settlement. What remains of this story is pieced together from information not officially available.
The Resolution is standing to the N.N.E., with a fresh breeze abeam and every stitch of sail set. Mr. John Locke, “who oils his hair and curls his whiskers,” is walking the poop of his cumbersome old ship, and the crew, under the orders of the mates, are lashing the movable objects on deck and generally getting things ready for sea before the land is lost sight of. The surgeon, Blackburn, as Sergeant Day calls him in his affidavit, is seated in the cabin and whistling softly to himself, every now and then glancing through the cabin doors, which open on to the main deck, as if he expected to see some one come in.
Captain Locke is a fine figure of a man, a trifle over six feet in height, not more than six-and-thirty years of age, showily dressed, shining and perfumed, and altogether justifying, by greasiness of face and head and general fashion of grooming himself, that serious allegation of the master of the Salamander in the matter of hair and whiskers.
Presently, the land being pretty well out of sight and the night having fallen enough for the man at the wheel to have asked for a light for the binnacle, Mr. Locke went to the cabin skylight and called down—
“Step up on deck a moment, Blackburn, I want you.”
Mr. Blackburn rose in a leisurely manner, and made his way to the poop.
“Here I am. What do you want?”
The surgeon of the Resolution is a very different-looking person to her dashing master, being a little man of very uncertain age and of an exceedingly dry and parched aspect, save for his nose, which resembled that of one of the “shocking examples” that temperance lecturers occasionally bring upon the platform with them to illustrate the curse of drink. Certainly no one could accuse Mr. Blackburn of greasing his hair or whiskers, though his voice would have been all the better for oiling—judging from its tones, which were not unlike the hoarse note of a molly-hawk or booby.
Captain Locke walked to the beak of the poop, followed by the surgeon.
“Well, we are in for it now, Blackburn. I didn’t bargain to bring away half the infernal Colony for the sake of this woman. What the devil shall we do with them?”
“My dear sir, I have thought of that. Of course it is inconvenient; but I assure you that it was unavoidable, and we can remedy the matter later on.”
“That’s all very well; but the whole thing is out. That Jack-in-office chief gaoler, governor, or whatever he calls himself, will report the matter at home, and we shall be tried for it.”
“Pooh, pooh! my dear sir. In the first place, the whole matter will be forgotten by the time we get back; and, by your plan, supposing it is not forgotten, there will be no evidence against you, while you will have my evidence in your favour.”
“I think you might have told me, Jack, that we were clear of the Heads, and have let me out of that stuffy cabin of yours before this.”
This from a woman who had suddenly come upon the poop from the cabin by way of the ladder on the larboard side. She was coarsely dressed in the plain shawl and stuff grey gown of a convict. Her ungraceful attire did not, however, disguise her great personal beauty. She was about six-or eight-and-twenty, tall, dark, and perhaps just a trifle too stout. Her black eyes and dark flush under the pale olive skin of her face, suggested the gipsy blood in her veins, her speech, in her every movement.
“Send that miserable little rat below,” she said, in quick, imperious tones quite audible to the surgeon, and indicating him with a nod of her dark head.
Mr. Blackburn was thereupon requested by his captain to go below, and with a deprecating but unpleasant smile at the woman, did so.
“Well, Miriam, my beauty,” said Captain Locke, “the job’s done so far, though I don’t think the worst of it is over. What the devil are we to do with all these Government chickens?”
“Jack,” said the woman, playfully pulling his long auburn whiskers, the mizenmast conveniently hiding the caress from the view of the man at the wheel, “you think yourself a clever man, but, upon my word, Jacky boy, you’re a fool.”
“Oh! come now, my beauty, I am sure I’ve brought the affair off very well, and—”
“Listen to the man!” and the woman shook her shapely forefinger mockingly in his face. “He enters the port not two months ago, a highly respectable and virtuous—no, I’ll allow, Jack, you were always a black sheep from the first. Well, to put it fairly, when you came to the Cove a couple of months ago you intended, after swindling the Government out of as much stores as you could, and driving a little trade on the sly with the officers, you intended to go away decently and catch whales—”
“Yes, but you—”
“Exactly, Jack dear; but I caught you, and in a week made you alter all your plans, convert your nasty old whaling ship into a—”
“Well, you witch,” and Locke seized her hands in his and looked down into the handsome, mocking face, “and did I not plan the whole affair and carry you off beautifully?”
“Why, you great stupid! I arranged the whole matter; but you, by your clumsiness, let half your crew, including that little worm of a surgeon, know all about it; and now, because you have had to take on board half his friends and their friends, you want to take credit for spoiling my plans. Jack, you have bungled the matter.”
Captain Locke looked very uncomfortable, and pulled his whiskers vigorously.
“I don’t know how it came out, Miriam. I was obliged to take the second mate and Blackburn into the plot—they suspected what we were up to from the first.”
“Well, we won’t argue about the matter; let us make our arrangements.”
“All very fine. What are the arrangements to be?”
“Leave everything to me. Come somewhere where we can talk, and I will tell you what to do.”
“You will take command of the ship, eh?” said Captain Locke, playfully.
“Precisely, my ducky.”
He laughed, and then went below, followed by the woman. As they passed Blackburn, sitting at the cabin table, drinking rum and water, she looked over at him, and said, sweetly—
“It is a beautiful night; why don’t you go on deck again, Mr. Blackburn?”
The little surgeon looked at her, and again smiled, in a weazel-like manner.
“Oh, of course, Mrs. Morgan, if you wish it.”
Twenty-eight days later, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the Resolution was off a group of nine low-lying, densely vegetated coral islands. The land had been sighted about noon, about ten miles away on the lee beam, and Captain Locke had immediately bore down for it. But the breeze that day had no heart in it; and at two o’clock, with the land still three miles distant, the ship lay rolling about in a dead calm. Sometimes, as she rose to the long sweeping roll of the southeast trades, those on board caught a momentary glimpse of the snow-white beach that fringed the lee side of the nearest island. Back from the beach line was a dense forest of cocoanut palms, with here and there a cluster of the grey-thatched houses of a native village.
At two o’clock Captain Locke came on deck, and took a long look at the land. Then he went below and sent up word for Mr. Barker, the mate, to come below.
Mr. Barker has not yet been introduced. He was an elderly man, a rough, but yet quiet-spoken, old-fashioned salt, who had been a long time in pickle, and looked it.
When the mate entered the cabin, Captain Locke was seated at the table studying a chart, and occasionally looking at a closely-written sheet of foolscap.
“Sit down, Barker,” said Captain Locke, with a quick, evasive sort of glance at the weather-tanned features of his subordinate; and then, leaning back in his chair and thrusting his hands in his pockets, he spoke rapidly, with his eyes turned away from those of the man to whom he was talking.
“Barker,” he began, “I have sent for you to tell you our plans, and I want you to fall in with them, and let us have no bother.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Thank you kindly. You have been very good to me; anything you please.”
“Very well. Do you know these islands here? Do you know anything of the people?”
“I suppose they are savage, like the rest; eat shipwrecked sailors, but safe enough to put into for wood and water if the boats’ crews are well armed and keep their weather eye lifting.”
“Oh, no, Barker; you are quite mistaken about these particular islands. I know all about them” (this was a lie). “Why, man,” and he looked at the paper he held in his hand, “these islands are well known. Those Dutchmen, Le Maire and Schouten, discovered ’em in 1616—nearly two hundred years ago—anchored here, and stayed a month or so refitting” (another lie). “Then Captain Cook spent a week there, and some of his men ran away, being so much taken with the amiable character of the natives” (more lies); “then the Scarborough transport called here on her way from New South Wales to Batavia a few years ago” (the one true item), “and I heard the master of her say that the people are the finest lot of natives he ever fell across. You see his report of the place gives the correct position— latitude 9° 19' 5" S., and longitude 153° 50’. Damned smart fellow, the master of the Scarborough. I knew him when I was running to the West Indies in the Zillah.”
“Yes, of course,” assented the mate. “You see, sir, I know nothing of these parts, not having been here before. But what might you be a-considering of, sir? We has plenty of water aboard, sir.”
“That is it,” and Captain Locke shifted uneasily in his seat, and his fingers toyed with the pencil he held in his hand; then, with his eyes bent upon the paper before him, he resumed, “You see, Barker, when you told me your sad story, I was— damme if I wasn’t — very much touched; and your appeal to me to rescue your daughter, so unjustly transported to New South Wales, determined me to make the attempt. But, damme, Barker, I did not bargain to take away a whole shipload of convicts besides your daughter.”
“No, sir. God know's we are indeed grateful to you for what you have done.”
“Very well,” and again Captain Locke’s eyes wandered, but never sought those of the anxious mate. “Now, I don’t want to remind you of what I have done for you. But it has become necessary now that you should do something for me.”
“Most a-willingly, sir. Why, sir, I will do anything you ask!”
“Quite so, Barker. You see the case is this”—and then for the first time Captain Locke’s wavering eyes made a bold effort, and looked into the mate’s. “You come to me in England with a very sad story, and offer to give your life and your fortune—such as it is—and all the rest of it, if I will carry away your convict daughter. Damme, man, you touched my feelings most damnably. Well, after we get to sea, you hand me a hundred guineas to work the oracle with the official people at the Settlement. You quite understand, Barker, that I am a gentleman. I am not the man to pocket money for the service I have rendered you, eh?” and then, conscious that in this matter he was telling the bare truth, Captain Locke’s eyes looked straight into the mate’s working features.
“Oh, yes, sir, I know you are above such a thing as that.”
“Very good. I go to all sorts of trouble, and get your daughter on board; but through this business I get hopelessly entangled with this Morgan woman and her gang, with the result that I have to bring her off and five men as well; so that I have seven convicts on board.”
“I am very sorry, sir. I thought that — that — that you took some pleasure in Mrs. Morgan’s—in Mrs. Morgan’s company.”
“Oh, well, of course, she is very well; and I made some sort of love to her while we were at Sydney; but—devil take the woman!—she fell so hopelessly in love with me, that I have been forced to take her and half the infernal Settlement on board to please her.”
“I am very sorry, sir, that I have got you into such a mess, sir; what can be done?”
“That is what I am coming to. The fact is this, the whole crew, led on by the second mate and surgeon, have got frightened, and, by the Lord Harry, I’m frightened myself. I can’t take these people to England —we should all be ruined.”
The mate’s face paled visibly, and he half rose to his feet and then sat down again. Hitherto his humility had been painful for even Locke to witness. He had been ready to fall at his commander’s feet in gratitude for the restoration of his daughter. Now, his honest soul was tortured by a horrible doubt. Placing both his shaking hands on the table, he gazed with an expression of intense anxiety into Locke’s shifty eyes.
“Not to England!” he said, with a catch in his breath.
“No, not to England. I am going to land them here—every one of them. All hands insist upon it. It has got to be done.”
Barker sprang to his feet. “My God! you can’t be such a villain, Captain Locke! My daughter shall go to England! You don’t mean to say that you would betray us like this?”
The man had changed. All his former servility had disappeared, and a dangerous look came into his eyes. Locke began to get frightened, and looked it, although he had a loaded pistol in the breast of his coat.
“Oh come, Barker, I can’t stand that sort of language. I am master of this ship you know.”
“But your promises? What is to become of my unfortunate daughter? Good God! Captain Locke, would you land her among cannibals? Better for her had she never escaped from the Settlement if this is to be her fate.”
He had come round to Locke’s end of the table now, and was standing beside him, speaking quietly enough, but yet with suppressed anger and fear struggling for mastery within him.
“Now, now, Barker, that is nonsense. I can assure you that not the slightest harm will come to any one landing here. The natives are quiet, wouldn’t hurt a child. And your daughter, with the others, can remain here until the next ship comes along—a matter of a few months—and then get away again as shipwrecked people. Anyhow, I can’t and won’t risk any more, and take these people further.”
The old seaman passed his hand across his brow in a dazed manner, and then spoke in husky tones.
“Captain Locke, for God’s sake, sir! . . . Look here, sir, I have struggled and slaved and saved my every penny to raise that hundred guineas to get my daughter away from that convict hell; . . . and now, just as we have met after three long years, you would part us again!”
Locke, still seated in his chair and feeling the butt of his pistol, screwed up courage enough to look into Barker’s face.
“Certainly not. You will go with her.”
The mate stepped back and drew a deep breath. “You damned scoundrel! May God Almighty punish you for this,” and then without another word he turned on his heel and walked out of the cabin.
A minute after Locke followed and gave orders to the second mate to lower away the waist whaleboat. Assembled near the ladder was a party of five men and one woman, getting ready to leave the ship.
The woman was Barker’s daughter. What her offence had been for which she was transported to Botany Bay does not here matter. She was tall and dark like Mrs. Morgan, but not beautiful like her.
This was the first time she had been seen on deck in daylight during the twenty-eight days’ voyage from Sydney Cove. She had ate and drank and slept in her father’s cabin, waited upon by him with the tenderest solicitude, and he lying upon the cabin deck just beneath her bunk had pleasantly dreamed of the happy life they would lead together once more in England. Only at nighttime, when it was her father’s watch, would she come on deck, and then the timid, shrinking creature would sometimes remain with him till he was relieved, fleeing below, however, on those few occasions when either Locke or Mrs. Morgan had come on deck.
The boat was ready, so the second mate reported to Locke in a whisper. Silence had been maintained so far. The crew, gathered for’ard in a group, were looking sourly at the five men and the woman, when Barker stepped out of the cabin, carrying a bundle of clothing.
For a moment he looked at the men for’ard and then spoke.
“Well, lads, this is a poor way to serve me like this. If you are honest men you would stand by me, if only for the sake of an innocent woman.”
Some mutterings followed, but none of the men answered.
The old mate gazed scornfully at them for a moment or two and then stepped over to the group by the ladder and took his daughter’s hand. Suddenly he stepped out again and looked up to Locke who stood at the beak of the poop.
“Where is that woman Morgan, Captain Locke? Why is she not here with us to share our fate? If these five people are escaped convicts and endanger your safety, how does it fall out that she, who is also a convict, remains on board?”
Locke descended to the main deck and came so close to Barker that those near him could not hear what he was saying, and answered—
“She remains with me; get into the boat, and let us have no more fuss, or I will not answer for your safety.”
“You villain!” the other exclaimed, “I understand you now. I see through your infernal plot. I have heard of the lying yarn you have told the crew. But I am glad that woman of yours remains with you. She is not fit to be near my daughter. But don’t make too certain John Locke, that you have won; for, by God, I might get back yet; and when I do, look out.”
“Into the boat, all of you,” said Locke, turning away.
They went down the side, the five convicts first, then Barker and his daughter, the painter was let go, the ship’s sails trimmed to catch a faint puff that began to ripple the glassy surface of the water, and then the boat pulled shoreward in the fast-gathering darkness.
In the month of December, in a year early in the present century, Mr. William Irish, once master of the Salamander, but at this period retired from the sea and proprietor of a highly-respectable tavern in the East End of London, was surprised in his inn parlour by a visit from a little man, shabbily dressed and looking blue with the cold, for he had no overcoat and was but thinly clad.
“You don’t remember me, sir,” said the little man, suddenly stepping into the room from the bar and standing in front of Mr. Irish, who was sitting in an arm-chair, dozing in front of the fire.
“No, I don’t.”
“My name is Blackburn,” smiled the little man, affably. “I was surgeon of the Resolution when Locke took those convicts away.”
“I knew he had ’em, damn him. I say, Polly.”
“What do you want, Irish?” and Mrs. Irish, a little creature with black, beady eyes came out of the kitchen.
“You remember that damned oily fellow Locke; him that I told you was an infernal liar?”
“Yes, I remember your yarn; him that you was always talking about, brought his ship to Plymouth or somewhere and then disappeared with a woman he had stolen from Botany Bay, and left the second mate to take the ship to London. If that’s him you’ve got there, I don’t want any dealings with him.”
“No, this isn’t him; but this chap was the surgeon aboard the Resolution.”
This conversation was carried on in very loud tones, Mr. and Mrs. Irish having contracted the habit of hailing each other in this fashion when the lady had assisted in the navigation of a coaster in which these two had made their last voyage to sea.
Mr. Blackburn did not appear to relish this publicity, and entreated Mr. Irish not to talk so loud.
“Oh, I see,” bawled Irish, “you was in it too, was you, eh?”
“Well, not exactly that, but—”
“What’s he wanting, Bill?” interjected Mrs. Irish, leaning against the doorway and eyeing the little man critically.
“Just a few minutes’ private conversation with your husband, Mrs. Irish, if you please.”
“See what he wants, Irish, and don’t you be giving your money away. I, know what a fool you are.”
“Clap a stopper on that tongue of yours, Polly. I am quite able to take care of myself,” replied the ex-master of the Salamander with much dignity.
Mrs. Irish disappeared, and then Mr. Irish got up and shut the door and said: “Now, Mr. Sawbones, pay out what you’ve got to say and have done with it.”
“Well, the fact is, I have reason to believe that you don’t like Mr. Locke; is that so, Mr. Irish?”
“No, I don’t like—that is, I didn’t like him. I have never seen him since he was in Port Jackson with me, and I never want to see him again. He’s a liar, and I told the Sergeant of Marines to tell him so. He spun a yarn about me having a woman convict aboard my ship while the lying swab had her aboard his. I never did him no harm. What did he want to tell blarsted lies about me for?”
“Quite so,” and the little man blinked and nodded violently, “quite so, Mr. Irish. Well, he behaved very badly to me also, and so did the woman he brought away. They cheated me out of a lot of money. I was weak enough to help them to get away a whole lot of prisoners and he cheated me, and cheated the second mate, and he cheated the mate.”
“What’s that got to do with me? Serves you damned well right for breaking the law.”
“Yes, that is quite true, Mr. Irish, and we have all suffered for it. The second mate was drowned the next voyage as a judgment upon him for his sins, and I am pretty near starving; but yet that wicked convict woman is rolling in riches.”
“Look here,” and Irish looked hard into Mr. Blackburn’s blinking countenance, “there’s something curious about her. If she was the woman he brought to England, who was the woman that he was said to have landed on an island somewhere? I’ve heard the yarn from two or three whaling captains.”
“That was the mate’s daughter, sir. We took two women away from Port Jackson. No one but Locke, Barker, and myself knew that the mate’s daughter was concealed on board till after we got to sea. We arranged with a lady—an officer’s wife—who had befriended her to make out that she had wandered out from the Settlement and been lost in the forest, and the savages had got her. She was a very good woman and was sent out for some trifling offence, and the officer’s wife, for whom she was working, helped her father to get her away.”
“It’s a pretty rum yarn; I don’t understand it.”
“The mate was a very respectable man, too, Mr. Irish, and he gave Locke a big sum of money to take his daughter home; then that scoundrel met the woman Morgan, and was so fascinated by her that he got her on board. Then, to keep the thing quiet, he had to take on board five of her male friends; then, when we got to sea, he concocted a fine plot to get rid of the lot.”
“I always knew he was a blasted scoundrel.”
“He got me and the second mate to tell the crew, just before we got to a group of islands in the South Sea, that the mate, for whom out of compassion he had taken the daughter on board, had plotted with the five convicts to take the ship.”
“Then you lied, too. I knew that mate; Jim Barker was his name. He was a very straightforward, good seaman, and I never heard what became of him.”
“Well, we told the crew that the mate and the convicts had plotted to take the ship, and that that woman Morgan had given us warning, and that Locke wanted them to keep quiet because he was going to turn the tables on them. When, a few hours later we were pretty close in to the islands, Locke told the crew that the time was at hand, and we put the mate and his daughter and all the convicts, except Mrs. Morgan, into a boat and cut them adrift. Then Locke took the ship to Plymouth by way of Batavia, and the first night after we got in he and the woman went on shore and we saw no more of them.”
“It seems to me that the whole lot of you ought to be hanged.”
“Our conduct was very wicked, Mr. Irish. Well, let me go on, please. A few days ago I saw Locke and had some talk with him, and that’s what I came to see you about.”
“Saw Locke! What the devil is he doing here?”
“He is a ruined man and nearly starving, and was looking for a shop when I saw him. That woman threw him over as soon as she got a footing in London. She actually drives a carriage now, and is living with some lord, and Locke whines about it, but is too much of a fool to inform against her.”
“Why do you come here and tell me all this? I don’t want to have anything to do with any of you.”
A green light came into the little man’s blinking eyes.
“I am going to get square with him, and with that woman too, and I want your help. I am sure you will be glad to be revenged upon the scoundrel.”
“Oh, that’s your idea is it? And how did you find all this out, and who told you to come to me?”
“I have heard people say you were very bitter against Locke for the lies he told about you. You know the people at Port Jackson always were in doubt as to whether the Salamander did not carry off some of the convicts, and they say your owners quarrelled with you over the matter.”
“Yes, that’s true enough; but how did you find me, and what do you want me to do?”
“Locke told me you kept this place. The poor, wretched scoundrel, several times, had thoughts of coming to you for help, but he said he had enough self-respect to keep him back.”
Irish glanced contemptuously at the surgeon, but merely said—
“Oh, did he? Well, what am I to do?”
“You see, Mr. Irish, I can’t appear in the business. I was suspected of having helped to bring those people away. But this is what I want you to do: You go to the woman. She is rich. You know her secret; get all the money you can out of her; she’ll bleed freely enough, I warrant. If you don’t want the money, I do. I have been defrauded by Locke and insulted by her. Then you can lay the authorities on the scent of Mr. Locke. He will never reveal where she is, so we shall have her at our mercy, and she will prove as good as a banking account to us.”
“A very beautiful idea of yours.”
“Will you carry it out?”
Mr. William Irish thought for some two or three minutes before he replied, the other man fidgetting in his chair and watching him narrowly all the while.
Presently the old sailor spoke.
“Look here. I’ll join you. It will be a good way for me to get square with that infernal scoundrel. But I’d like to make some improvements in the plan. First of all, find Locke and send him here to-morrow night at eight o’clock. Can you see him to-morrow?”
“I could find him now if I wanted to.”
“Very well. Find him to-morrow and send him here. I am going to treat him well, and so you can tell that I bear him no ill-will and will be glad to prove it to him; it will come all the harder on him, do you see, when he finds himself in Bow Street.”
The little man gave an appreciative grin.
“I see your idea; but be careful you don’t frighten him off.”
“You leave that to me. Meanwhile I’ll see the woman. This is Monday. I’ll see her about Friday. Where does she live?”
Blackburn wrote the address down and handed it to Irish, who put it in his pocket, and then resumed—
“I can’t go to her before Friday; but I fancy if you come here to me on Saturday night the whole thing will be arranged, and you’ll have a pocket full of guineas. I suppose we go halves?”
“Certainly, Mr. Irish, I am a gentleman—”
“I can see that.”
“And you’ll act square with me, Mr. Irish. You have been deeply wronged, you know, and now is your time to get righted.”
“Never fear, Mr. Blackburn. Come into the bar and have a glass of ale.”
A few minutes afterwards the little surgeon had slipped away into the darkness, with a few shillings given him by Mr. Irish to keep him going till he got more from Mrs. Morgan.
The ex-master of the Salamander looked after him and gave vent to an oath.
“The infernal little traitor.”
At eight o’clock on the following evening a tall, big-framed, but thin and wretchedly dressed man was ushered into Mr. William Irish’s parlour and asked to see the landlord.
Presently Irish came in, and closed the door behind him.
“Ah, how do you do, Captain Locke. Look here, I take back all the words I’ve spoken against you, and forgive you all the harm you’ve done me if you can do one thing— look me square in the face and tell me you ain’t guilty of a cruel and accursed crime. John Locke, you are a cold-blooded murderer.”
The man turned his haggard face to Irish and sought to say something, but his voice failed him, and then his eyes fell.
“You can’t deny it, man. God knows I always thought you to be an unprincipled swab, but I never thought I should hear that you had turned seven human beings—one of ’em a woman—adrift among savages. Good God, man, did you never have a mother?”
The once dashing captain of the Resolution had sunk into a chair and covered his face with his hands.
“Aye, hide your face, John Locke, the curse of your evil deed is beginning to come home to you. You and the she-devil that was a partner in your guilt ought to hang together.”
Locke rose up and faced the other, and Irish saw that the man was thin to emaciation and looked twenty years older than he really was.
“What you say is true; but I was the worst. I have suffered enough. I will wait here while you send for an officer.”
Irish did not answer for a moment, then he said—
“Where is Mrs. Morgan? She is equally guilty.”
A flush came into Locke’s pale face.
“I won’t tell you. She has betrayed and ruined me, but I am not going to see her harmed.”
Irish’s face softened. “You damned fool. She will come and see you hanged and laugh at you.”
“May be,” said Locke, calmly, “but all the same I’m not going to see her harmed.”
Irish went to the door and calling to his wife said—
“Polly, this gentleman and me is going to have a long talk; don’t let us be disturbed.”
Then closing the door again he motioned Locke back to his seat.
Two hours afterwards John Locke with a curious quaver in his voice said, as he rose to go—
“As God is my judge, William Irish, I will not fail you.”
The old seaman held out his hand to the ex-captain of the Resolution.
“I believe you, Locke, and if you want to try and meet your Maker with a clean sheet, you have got to find out what has become of those people you turned adrift on that island. As for the convicts, if they had their throats cut I won’t be sorry, but there’ll be a heavy score agin you if that poor woman and her old father have perished through your wickedness.”
Locke bent his head, and then turned towards the door, when Irish stopped him.
“Here, man, wait a bit. Here are a couple of guineas to carry you along till I have seen this woman. Come here again on Saturday night, and then I can tell you what she says. As for that little swab of a surgeon, I’ll soon put a stopper on him.”
“Good-night,” said Locke, holding out his hand with his face averted; and he added, almost in a whisper, “and God bless you, Irish.”
Then pushing open the door he walked quickly away.
On the Saturday night at six o’clock, John Locke again came to Mr. Irish’s parlour. He was now decently clad, and had some of his old swaggering style about him.
“I can get just the ship I want,” he said; “she is a small brig, and, as she is very old, the owners will sell her cheap. The Government will give her a freight of stores for Port Jackson, if the surveyors will certify that she is fit to make the voyage.”
“All right, Locke. But sit down and listen to my news. I went and saw Mrs. Morgan.”
“Yes,” said Locke, quietly.
“She’s living in great style, I can tell you. Well, I made short work of the business. She defied me at first, but as soon as I mentioned your name she stopped.
“‘Did Locke send you here?’ she asked me.
“‘No,’ says I; ‘although you robbed and deceived him, he told me he would never say a word against you that would bring you to harm.’
“‘Poor Jack,’ says she, with a laugh, ‘he was too fond of me, and spent his money on me like a man.’
“‘Well,’ she said, after a bit, ‘I suppose you’ve come here to get money out of me to make you hold your tongue.’
“Then I says very gently: ‘Look here, Mrs. Morgan, you and John Locke are murderers—you and he have the lives of seven people to answer for, one of them a woman who never harmed you.’
“She got a bit white then, and then I told her the yarn that Blackburn had spun me.”
“‘It’s true enough, Mr. Irish,’ she says, getting up and going to the window. She stood there for a moment or so and then slews round sudden.
“‘I’m a bad woman, it’s my nature to be bad; but I am sorry for what happened. Do you think the savages have killed them all?’
“‘Like enough, Mrs. Morgan,’ I said; ‘unless what Locke says about the people being a very inoffensive lot is true.’
“She sat down again, and then I told her what Blackburn had proposed to me to do. That made her wild, and she looked like a she-tiger. However, after a bit she calmed down, and says to me again—
“‘Well, Mr. Irish, what are you going to do with me, sell me to the Bow Street officers?’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t want blood-money—neither does Locke. But if you want to help to make amends for the wickedness you have done, you will spend some of your money in trying to find out if Barker and his daughter are alive. If they are dead they may have poor relatives in England.’
“‘You’re a good man, William Irish,’ she said. ‘Tell me what to do, and I will do it. How much money will be wanted? ’
“‘Five hundred guineas,’ I said.
“‘Come here to-morrow and you shall get it—more if you want it.’
“Just as I was about to sheer off —well satisfied—she asked me what you were doing, and if you were in want of money.
“‘Badly,’ I said; ‘but he wouldn’t take a shilling from you. He’s going out, please God, to try and see if he can find these people alive and bring back Barker and his daughter to England.’
“She squirmed a bit, and then said in a low voice: ‘I’d like to give Captain Locke some money, Captain Irish. He—he, he spent all his on me.’
“Next day I went there again. She wasn’t there, but the money was there for me—five hundred gold and a letter for me, enclosing one to you; here it is,” and Irish handed it to him.
Locke broke the seal, and read—
“Dear Jack,—You and Me did a Dirty trik to the Mait an his Doughtar, for wich Gods judmint mite fall on Us. I hope You will Find Her dear Jack, I want to take what Mr. Irish has For You. Good-bye Jack I am getin Old now but I am no hipocrit and will Never be Pious. Good-bye old Jack Yours
“And this is for you too,” and so saying Mr. Irish handed Locke four £50 Bank of England notes. “She enclosed ’em in my letter for you.”
Locke pushed them aside: “I don’t want her money, Irish, I—”
“You are a fool, Locke. She means it in good part, and besides she’s only doing the square thing. She skinned you, and she wants to give you some of your money back.”
Locke’s face reddened. He pushed the money over to Irish: “When I want a guinea I’d rather ask you for it, Irish.”
For nearly an hour more the two men, once enemies, sat and talked. Locke had bought a chart, and with an eager light in his eyes he was showing Irish the course he intended to make after leaving England. Irish had pointed out to him that it would never do for him to enter Port Jackson again, he would be arrested the moment he dropped his anchor there. And so the plan of taking out a cargo of stores had to be given up; and it was decided to fit the brig out as a whaler instead. If he could find no traces of the people he had abandoned on the island, the brig was to stay out on a whaling cruise till she was a full ship and then return to England.
At eight o’clock a knock came to the door, and at a sign from Irish, Captain Locke quietly slipped out into a back room. Then Irish opened the door and admitted the ex-surgeon of the Resolution.
“Ah, is that you, Mr. Blackburn? Come inside; I was expecting you.”
“Well,” said the little man, eagerly, “how did you get on; have you got any money?”
“You just sit down and listen, and don’t interrupt me till I’ve finished.”
“Certainly, certainly, Mr. Irish.”
“I went and saw Mrs. Morgan that was; I have also seen Mr. Locke. I told ’em both about your coming to see me, and I got out of ’em all I wanted to know about you; also I got some books and papers of yours from her which will soon make you see the inside of Newgate once they are made public.”
“What the devil—”
“Sit still, man, or I’ll twist your skinny neck. You are a most infernal scoundrel, Mr. Sawbones, a bigger one than ever Locke was. Now just listen. Mrs. Morgan and Locke mean to do the square thing. Locke is going out to the South Seas to try and find those people that you, you infernal rascal, helped to maroon. The whole thing is going to be put right and—”
“By God, will it? I’ll be even with you if I go to jail myself.”
“No need, Mr. Sawbones. I have arranged all that. Locke and me have been afore a magistrate and my lawyer has fixed the whole affair up. We thought of you. I told the magistrate that you would be at my place on Tuesday next, and he is going to have you arrested. You have got three days to get away; so if you take my advice you’ll start now.”
“Curse you for a—” the rest of Mr. Blackburn’s remarks were inaudible, Mr. Irish laughed so loudly, and ere he had ceased the ex-surgeon of the Resolution was out in the street. This was the last seen or heard of him.
At daylight, one day in the month of August, 1836, a cry of “Sail ho!” was called from village to village along the sandy beaches of the Laughlin Islands, and the brown men and women and children swarmed out of their thatched huts to look for the ship. The islands are but low, perhaps not ten feet above sea-level in the highest part— and so, although the ship had been but ten miles distant the previous evening, she had not been seen by any one on the island. Just as the red sun had cleared the eastern sky-rim they saw her topsails showing through the groves of cocoanuts on the southern point, and then in a few minutes she came into full view. From the number of boats she carried the islanders knew her to be a whaler, and a loud cry of delight rang through the village when she hauled up her courses and lay-to, to wait for the canoes to bring off supplies.
Only some three or four ships had ever before visited the islands, and the open, friendly manner of the natives and the delight they showed at meeting white men and the desire they expressed to have one to live among them was beginning to get known among the whaleships that cruised about in those latitudes sixty years ago. It was for this reason, and that he wanted to buy some hogs, that Captain Abraham Warren, of the Macedonian of Nantucket, determined to make a call at the island before working his way northward along the east coast of New Guinea.
Taranoa, the leading chief of this group of nine islets, was the first to board the whaler, accompanied by half a dozen of his young men. His simple pleasing manners and desire to serve the American captain in every possible way, expressed in perfectly intelligible English, decided Captain Warren to accept his invitation and spend part of the day ashore.
A boat was lowered from the ship and Taranoa, sending his canoe ashore with a message to his people to prepare food for his guest, got in the boat with the captain and piloted her ashore.
For some time the master of the Macedonian felt dazed by the noise of the welcome afforded him. He noticed that every native insisted upon shaking hands with him, English fashion, and also that many of them showed unmistakable traces of European blood in their veins The women, in particular, were very light in colour, and, indeed, many were not as dark as Creoles.
After the chief had managed to get his white guest through the crowd of natives that hung about him, he brought him to his house and placed a rude chair for him to sit upon, while the women of his family placed food before him; the captain motioned to the chief to sit near him and talk.
“Like white people?” Taranoa said, in answer to a remark of Captain Warren’s; “Oh yes, sir; every ship that comes here the captain say native here got skin like the white man.”
“Where did you learn to speak English?” asked the American presently.
“I have been to sea, sir—sailor man on board whaleship—English whaleship belong to Sydney.”
For nearly an hour the captain remained with his native host and then expressing a wish to have a look about the island, Taranoa at once offered to be his guide.
They set out a few minutes later and Taranoa, leading the way, took the white man to every point that he thought would interest him. As they were returning to the village along the path that led through the cocoanut grove on the southern side of the island, the chief pointed out to the American a cluster of native houses, and said that that was the place where the white men once lived.
“White men! Did any white men live here, and in those houses?”
“Yes. A long time ago; but they not live in those houses there. Houses belong to white men fall down long time ago.”
After they had returned to the chief’s house Captain Warren questioned Taranoa about these white men. At first the chief hesitated, but then told him this story:—
“A long time ago, in his father’s time, before he (Taranoa) was born, a ship had come in close to the land. The wind had died away and Kilāgia, his father, and four other men had launched their canoe to go out to her, when the breeze sprang up, just as darkness had fallen, and they saw the ship turn round and sail away. So Kilāgia and those with him turned back, but scarce had they dragged their canoe up on the beach when they heard the sound of oars, and running back they saw a boat close in. All the people ran out of their houses, some with torches in their hands, and they saw that there were six men in the boat and one woman. The white men were all very much frightened and feared to step out of the boat at first, but Uranu, Kilāgia’s oldest wife, ran out into the water and taking the white woman’s hand in hers placed it on her bosom as a sign of friendship and goodwill. So then they all came out, and the people took them to Kilāgia’s house and gave them food and drink. The chief of the white men was named Pākā; the woman, who was young, was his daughter. Pākā was an old man; his head was white; and all that night his daughter held his hand in hers and shook and trembled if one of the island men looked at her. But they meant them no harm, for Kilāgia told the people that these white men must not be hurt, as the gods had sent them at the time of the new moon, which is a lucky time. By and by, as the days went by, Kilāgia and the old white man Pākā swore a friendship and became as brothers, and Kilāgia built him a house for himself and daughter and gave him slaves to work for him. The other white men were not good men, they were bad men. But yet Kilāgia gave each one a wife from among the village girls and all went well for a time. But one day, when the white woman—whom her father called Neli—was alone, one of the five white men came to her and said she must be his wife. He was a big man named Kelli, and much feared by the others, but the white woman spoke scornfully to him and said he had a native wife already. Then she ran away and he ran after her. While he pursued her she cried loudly for her father, who ran out from his house to meet her. She sprang into his arms, but he put her aside, and drawing his knife, he sprang at the big man and thrust it first into his stomach and then into his throat. The other four men then tried to kill Pākā with their knives, but Kilāgia and his men came to his help, and they overpowered the four white men, and then binding their arms and legs with kafa (cinnet), they took them to the edge of the reef and cast them to the sharks which quickly devoured them. All these five men, so Pākā told Kilāgia, were prisoners who had run away from prison in Sydney. All the wives of these five men bore children—born after the fathers were given to the sharks. When a year had gone Pākā took a wife, the daughter of Uranu, Kilāgia’s chief wife. She bore him a child, and the white woman nursed it and loved it as much as did its mother. Nearly every day the old man and his daughter would walk together round the island and look out over the sea to see if any ship was coming. But after a time the old man ceased to look; he began to love the son born to him by the daughter of Uranu. Then, too, in time, the daughter of Pākā cared no more to look out over the sea for a ship; she told Kilāgia’s wives that she cared not to go back to her own country again—it was only because her father once desired it that she looked seaward with him for a ship. After she and her father had been living on the island for nearly three years the white woman took a husband, a man from the island farthest north of all these. His name was Kavirua, and although not a chief he was rich in land and houses and canoes. They had many children; and then when Pākā, the old white man, died, his daughter came over from the north island and took his body away and buried it near the place where she lived. As the years went on she forgot English talk, and although two whaleships called a year or two after her father died she went not near them, but lived and died as one of the island people.”
That was Taranoa’s story and Captain Warren listened to it with the keenest interest.
“If you like to come with me I show you the place where the old white man and his daughter are buried,” resumed Taranoa. “After the woman had been dead a year another ship came. She was a brig, and her captain was a big tall man. He and my father made friends and the captain said he had come to search for the old man and his daughter. Then my father told him all that had been done and showed him the place where they were buried. Come with me and I will show you.”
Entering a canoe with the chief and four natives the captain of the Macedonian an hour later was landed on the north island. A short walk through the groves of palms brought them to a cleared spot in the centre of the narrow island. A little to the right-hand side were two grassy mounds close together, and to Captain Warren’s surprise at the head he saw a weather-beaten headboard with an inscription painted on it in English. Over the headboard was a small shed, thatched with pandanus leaves, evidently built by native hands to protect the inscription from the fierce rays of a tropic sun.
“Who did this?” he asked of Taranoa.
“The big captain who came to seek for them. He stayed here with us for three days. He and the ship’s carpenter made this board and wrote words upon it, and we promised him to care well for the graves.”
The American leant down and read the lettering, which, from the effects of time, had in parts become almost undecipherable:—
The captain of the Macedonian took off his hat and for a minute or so stood in silence over the lonely graves. The sinking afternoon sun sent long arrow-like shafts of light through the plumed and silent groves of palm tree, and the throbbing of the surf upon the outer reef rose and fell in a soft and murmuring cadence. Then, with slow step and a thoughtful face, he turned away.
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