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3-295 (Raw)

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author,male,Clarke, Marcus,28 addressee
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Clarke, 1874
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THERE is no need to dwell upon the mental agonies of that miserable night. Perhaps, of all the five, the one least qualified to endure it realized the prospect of suffering most acutely. Mrs. Vickers - lay-figure and noodle as she was - had the keen instinct of approaching danger, which is in her sex a sixth sense. She was a woman and a mother, and owned a double capacity for suffering. Her feminine imagination pictured all the horrors of death by famine, and having realized her own torments, her maternal love forced her to live them over again in the person of her child. Rejecting Bates's offer of a pea-jacket and Frere's vague tenders of assistance, the poor woman withdrew behind a rock that faced the sea, and, with her daughter in her arms, resigned herself to her torturing thoughts. Sylvia, recovered from her terror, was almost content, and, curled in her mother's shawl, slept. To her little soul this midnight mystery of boats and muskets had all the flavour of a romance. With Bates, Frere, and her mother so close to her, it was impossible to be afraid; besides, it was obvious that papa - the Supreme Being of the settlement - must at once return and severely punish the impertinent prisoners who had [136] dared to insult his wife and child, and as Sylvia dropped off to sleep, she caught herself, with some indignation, pitying the mutineers for the tremendous scrape they had got themselves into. How they would be flogged when papa came back! In the meantime this sleeping in the open air was novel and rather pleasant. 
Honest Bates produced a piece of biscuit, and, with all the generosity of his nature, suggested that this should be set aside for the sole use of the two females, but Mrs. Vickers would not hear of it. "We must all share alike," said she, with something of the spirit that she knew her husband would have displayed under like circumstance; and Frere wondered at her apparent strength of mind. Had he been gifted with more acuteness, he would not have wondered; for when a crisis comes to one of two persons who have lived much together, the influence of the nobler spirit makes itself felt. Frere had a tinder-box in his pocket, and he made a fire with some dry leaves and sticks. Grimes fell asleep, and the two men sitting at their fire discussed the chances of escape. Neither liked to openly broach the supposition that they had been finally deserted. It was concluded between them that unless the brig sailed in the night - and the now risen moon showed her yet lying at anchor - the convicts would return and bring them food. This supposition proved correct, for about an hour after daylight they saw the whale-boat pulling towards them. 
A discussion had arisen amongst the mutineers as to the propriety of at once making sail, but Barker, who had been one of the pilot-boat crew, and knew the dangers of the Bar, vowed that he would not undertake to steer the brig through the Gates until morning; and so the boats being secured astern, a strict watch was set, lest the helpless Bates should attempt to rescue the vessel. During the evening - the excitement attendant upon the outbreak having passed away, and the magnitude of the task before them being more fully apparent to their minds - a feeling of pity for the unfortunate party on the mainland took possession of them. It was quite possible that the Osprey might be recaptured, in which case five useless murders would have been committed; and however callous in bloodshed were the majority of the ten, not one among them could contemplate in cold blood, without a twinge of remorse, the death of the harmless child of the Commandant. 
John Rex, seeing how matters were going, made haste to take to himself the credit of mercy. [137] He ruled, and had always ruled, his ruffians not so much by suggesting to them the course they should take, as by leading them on the way they had already chosen for themselves. "I propose," said he, "that we divide the provisions. There are five of them and twelve of us. Then nobody can blame us." 
"Ay," said Porter, mindful of a similar exploit, "and if we're taken, they can tell what we have done. Don't let our affair be like that of the Cypress, to leave them to starve." "Ay, ay," says Barker, "you're right! When Fergusson was topped at Hobart Town, I heard old Troke say that if he'd not refused to set the tucker ashore, he might ha' got off with a whole skin." 
Thus urged, by self-interest, as well as sentiment, to mercy, the provision was got upon deck by daylight, and a division was made. The soldiers, with generosity born of remorse, were for giving half to the marooned men, but Barker exclaimed against this. "When the schooner finds they don't get to headquarters, she's bound to come back and look for 'em," said he; "and we'll want all the tucker we can get, maybe, afore we sights land." 
This reasoning was admitted and acted upon. There was in the harness-cask about fifty pounds of salt meat, and a third of this quantity, together with half a small sack of flour, some tea and sugar mixed together in a bag, and an iron kettle and pannikin, was placed in the whale-boat. Rex, fearful of excesses among his crew, had also lowered down one of the two small puncheons of rum which the store-room contained. Cheshire disputed this, and stumbling over a goat that had been taken on board from Philip's Island, caught the creature by the leg, and threw it into the sea, bidding Rex take that with him also. Rex dragged the poor beast into the boat, and with this miscellaneous cargo pushed off to the shore. The poor goat, shivering, began to bleat piteously, and the men laughed. To a stranger it would have appeared that the boat contained a happy party of fishermen, or coast settlers, returning with the proceeds of a day's marketing. 
Laying off as the water shallowed, Rex called to Bates to come for the cargo, and three men with muskets standing up as before, ready to resist any attempt at capture, the provisions, goat and all, were carried ashore. "There!" says Rex, "you can't say we've used you badly, for we've divided the provisions." [138] The sight of this almost unexpected succour revived the courage of the five, and they felt grateful. After the horrible anxiety they had endured all that night, they were prepared to look with kindly eyes upon the men who had come to their assistance. 
"Man," said Bates, with something like a sob in his voice, "I didn't expect this. You are good fellows, for there ain't much tucker aboard, I know." 
"Yes," affirmed Frere, "you're good fellows." 
Rex burst into a savage laugh. "Shut your mouth, you tyrant," said he, forgetting his dandyism in the recollection of his former suffering. "It ain't for your benefit. You may thank the lady and the child for it." 
Julia Vickers hastened to propitiate the arbiter of her daughter's fate. "We are obliged to you," she said, with a touch of quiet dignity resembling her husband's; "and if I ever get back safely, I will take care that your kindness shall be known." 
The swindler and forger took off his leather cap with quite an air. It was five years since a lady had spoken to him, and the old time when he was Mr. Lionel Crofton, a "gentleman sportsman", came back again for an instant. At that moment, with liberty in his hand, and fortune all before him, he felt his self-respect return, and he looked the lady in the face without flinching. 
"I sincerely trust, madam," said he, "that you will get back safely. May I hope for your good wishes for myself and my companions?" 
Listening, Bates burst into a roar of astonished enthusiasm. "What a dog it is!" he cried. "John Rex, John Rex, you were never made to be a convict, man!" 
Rex smiled. "Good-bye, Mr. Bates, and God preserve you!" 
"Good-bye," says Bates, rubbing his hat off his face, "and I -I - damme, I hope you'll get safe off - there! for liberty's sweet to every man." 
"Good-bye, prisoners!" says Sylvia, waving her handkerchief; "and I hope they won't catch you, too." 
So, with cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, the boat departed. 
In the emotion which the apparently disinterested conduct of John Rex had occasioned the exiles, all earnest thought of their [139] own position had vanished, and, strange to say, the prevailing feeling was that of anxiety for the ultimate fate of the mutineers. But as the boat grew smaller and smaller in the distance, so did their consciousness of their own situation grow more and more distinct; and when at last the boat had disappeared in the shadow of the brig, all started, as if from a dream, to the wakeful contemplation of their own case. 
A council of war was held, with Mr. Frere at the head of it, and the possessions of the little party were thrown into common stock. The salt meat, flour, and tea were placed in a hollow rock at some distance from the beach, and Mr. Bates was appointed purser, to apportion to each, without fear or favour, his stated allowance. The goat was tethered with a piece of fishing line sufficiently long to allow her to browse. The cask of rum, by special agreement, was placed in the innermost recess of the rock, and it was resolved that its contents should not be touched except in case of sickness, or in last extremity. There was no lack of water, for a spring ran bubbling from the rocks within a hundred yards of the spot where the party had landed. They calculated that, with prudence, their provisions would last them for nearly four weeks. 
It was found, upon a review of their possessions, that they had among them three pocket knives, a ball of string, two pipes, matches and a fig of tobacco, fishing lines with hooks, and a big jack-knife which Frere had taken to gut the fish he had expected to catch. But they saw with dismay that there was nothing which could be used axe-wise among the party. Mrs. Vickers had her shawl, and Bates a pea-jacket, but Frere and Grimes were without extra clothing. It was agreed that each should retain his own property, with the exception of the fishing lines, which were confiscated to the commonwealth. 
Having made these arrangements, the kettle, filled with water from the spring, was slung from three green sticks over the fire, and a pannikin of weak tea, together with a biscuit, served out to each of the party, save Grimes, who declared himself unable to eat. Breakfast over, Bates made a damper, which was cooked in the ashes, and then another council was held as to future habitation. 
It was clearly evident that they could not sleep in the open air. It was the middle of summer, and though no annoyance from rain was apprehended, the heat in the middle of the day [140] was most oppressive. Moreover, it was absolutely necessary that Mrs. Vickers and the child should have some place to themselves. At a little distance from the beach was a sandy rise, that led up to the face of the cliff, and on the eastern side of this rise grew a forest of young trees. Frere proposed to cut down these trees, and make a sort of hut with them. It was soon discovered, however, that the pocket knives were insufficient for this purpose, but by dint of notching the young saplings and then breaking them down, they succeeded, in a couple of hours, in collecting wood enough to roof over a space between the hollow rock which contained the provisions and another rock, in shape like a hammer, which jutted out within five yards of it. Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia were to have this hut as a sleeping-place, and Frere and Bates, lying at the mouth of the larder, would at once act as a guard to it and them. Grimes was to make for himself another hut where the fire had been lighted on the previous night. 
When they got back to dinner, inspirited by this resolution, they found poor Mrs. Vickers in great alarm. Grimes, who, by reason of the dint in his skull, had been left behind, was walking about the sea-beach, talking mysteriously, and shaking his fist at an imaginary foe. On going up to him, they discovered that the blow had affected his brain, for he was delirious. Frere endeavoured to soothe him, without effect; and at last, by Bates's advice, the poor fellow was rolled in the sea. The cold bath quelled his violence, and, being laid beneath the shade of a rock hard by, he fell into a condition of great muscular exhaustion, and slept. 
The damper was then portioned out by Bates, and, together with a small piece of meat, it formed the dinner of the party. Mrs. Vickers reported that she had observed a great commotion on board the brig, and thought that the prisoners must be throwing overboard such portions of the cargo as were not absolutely necessary to them, in order to lighten her. This notion Bates declared to be correct, and further pointed out that the mutineers had got out a kedge-anchor, and by hauling on the kedge-line, were gradually warping the brig down the harbour. Before dinner was over a light breeze sprang up, and the Osprey, running up the union-jack reversed, fired a musket, either in farewell or triumph, and, spreading her sails, disappeared round the western horn of the harbour. 
[141] Mrs. Vickers, taking Sylvia with her, went away a few paces, and leaning against the rugged wall of her future home, wept bitterly. Bates and Frere affected cheerfulness, but each felt that he had hitherto regarded the presence of the brig as a sort of safeguard, and had never fully realized his own loneliness until now. 
The necessity for work, however, admitted of no indulgence of vain sorrow, and Bates setting the example, the pair worked so hard that by nightfall they had torn down and dragged together sufficient brushwood to complete Mrs. Vickers's hut. During the progress of this work they were often interrupted by Grimes, who persisted in vague rushes at them, exclaiming loudly against their supposed treachery in leaving him at the mercy of the mutineers. Bates also complained of the pain caused by the wound in his forehead, and that he was afflicted with a giddiness which he knew not how to avert. By dint of frequently bathing his head at the spring, however, he succeeded in keeping on his legs, until the work of dragging together the boughs was completed, when he threw himself on the ground, and declared that he could rise no more. 
Frere applied to him the remedy that had been so successfully tried upon Grimes, but the salt water inflamed his wound and rendered his condition worse. Mrs. Vickers recommended that a little spirit and water should be used to wash the cut, and the cask was got out and broached for that purpose. Tea and damper formed their evening meal; and by the light of a blazing fire, their condition looked less desperate. Mrs. Vickers had set the pannikin on a flat stone, and dispensed the tea with an affectation of dignity which would have been absurd had it not been heart-rending. She had smoothed her hair and pinned the white shawl about her coquettishly; she even ventured to lament to Mr. Frere that she had not brought more clothes. Sylvia was in high spirits, and scorned to confess hunger. When the tea had been drunk, she fetched water from the spring in the kettle, and bathed Bates's head with it. It was resolved that, on the morrow, a search should be made for some place from which to cast the fishing line, and that one of the number should fish daily. 
The condition of the unfortunate Grimes now gave cause for the greatest uneasiness. From maundering foolishly he had taken to absolute violence, and had to be watched by Frere. [142] After much muttering and groaning, the poor fellow at last dropped off to sleep, and Frere, having assisted Bates to his sleeping-place in front of the rock, and laid him down on a heap of green brushwood, prepared to snatch a few hours' slumber. Wearied by excitement and the labours of the day, he slept heavily, but, towards morning, was awakened by a strange noise. 
Grimes, whose delirium had apparently increased, had succeeded in forcing his way through the rude fence of brushwood, and had thrown himself upon Bates with the ferocity of insanity. Growling to himself, he had seized the unfortunate pilot by the throat, and the pair were struggling together. Bates, weakened by the sickness that had followed upon his wound in the head, was quite unable to cope with his desperate assailant, but calling feebly upon Frere for help, had made shift to lay hold upon the jack-knife of which we have before spoken. Frere, starting to his feet, rushed to the assistance of the pilot, but was too late. Grimes, enraged by the sight of the knife, tore it from Bates's grasp, and before Frere could catch his arm, plunged it twice into the unfortunate man's breast. 
"I'm a dead man!" cried Bates faintly. 
The sight of the blood, together with the exclamation of his victim, recalled Grimes to consciousness. He looked in bewilderment at the bloody weapon, and then, flinging it from him, rushed away towards the sea, into which he plunged headlong. 
Frere, aghast at this sudden and terrible tragedy, gazed after him, and saw from out the placid water, sparkling in the bright beams of morning, a pair of arms, with outstretched hands, emerge; a black spot, that was a head, uprose between these stiffening arms, and then, with a horrible cry, the whole disappeared, and the bright water sparkled as placidly as before. The eyes of the terrified Frere, travelling back to the wounded man, saw, midway between this sparkling water and the knife that lay on the sand, an object that went far to explain the maniac's sudden burst of fury. The rum cask lay upon its side by the remnants of last night's fire, and close to it was a clout, with which the head of the wounded man had been bound. It was evident that the poor creature, wandering in his delirium, had come across the rum cask, drunk a quantity of its contents, and been maddened by the fiery spirit. 
Frere hurried to the side of Bates, and lifting him up, strove [143] to staunch the blood that flowed from his chest. It would seem that he had been resting himself on his left elbow, and that Grimes, snatching the knife from his right hand, had stabbed him twice in the right breast. He was pale and senseless, and Frere feared that the wound was mortal. Tearing off his neck-handkerchief, he endeavoured to bandage the wound, but found that the strip of silk was insufficient for the purpose. The noise had roused Mrs. Vickers, who, stifling her terror, made haste to tear off a portion of her dress, and with this a bandage of sufficient width was made. Frere went to the cask to see if, haply, he could obtain from it a little spirit with which to moisten the lips of the dying man, but it was empty. Grimes, after drinking his fill, had overturned the unheaded puncheon, and the greedy sand had absorbed every drop of liquor. Sylvia brought some water from the spring, and Mrs. Vickers bathing Bates's head with this, he revived a little. By-and-by Mrs. Vickers milked the goat - she had never done such a thing before in all her life - and the milk being given to Bates in a pannikin, he drank it eagerly, but vomited it almost instantly. It was evident that he was sinking from some internal injury. 
None of the party had much appetite for breakfast, but Frere, whose sensibilities were less acute than those of the others, ate a piece of salt meat and damper. It struck him, with a curious feeling of pleasant selfishness, that now Grimes had gone, the allowance of provisions would be increased, and that if Bates went also, it would be increased still further. He did not give utterance to his thoughts, however, but sat with the wounded man's head on his knees, and brushed the settling flies from his face. He hoped, after all, that the pilot would not die, for he should then be left alone to look after the women. Perhaps some such thought was agitating Mrs. Vickers also. As for Sylvia, she made no secret of her anxiety. 
"Don't die, Mr. Bates - oh, don't die!" she said, standing piteously near, but afraid to touch him. "Don't leave mamma and me alone in this dreadful place!" 
Poor Bates, of course, said nothing, but Frere frowned heavily, and Mrs. Vickers said reprovingly, "Sylvia!" just as if they had been in the old house on distant Sarah Island. 
In the afternoon Frere went away to drag together some wood for the fire, and when he returned he found the pilot near his end. Mrs. Vickers said that for an hour he had lain without [144] motion, and almost without breath. The major's wife had seen more than one death-bed, and was calm enough; but poor little Sylvia, sitting on a stone hard by, shook with terror. She had a dim notion that death must be accompanied by violence. As the sun sank, Bates rallied; but the two watchers knew that it was but the final flicker of the expiring candle. "He's going!" said Frere at length, under his breath, as though fearful of awaking his half-slumbering soul. Mrs. Vickers, her eyes streaming with silent tears, lifted the honest head, and moistened the parched lips with her soaked handkerchief. A tremor shook the once stalwart limbs, and the dying man opened his eyes. For an instant he seemed bewildered, and then, looking from one to the other, intelligence returned to his glance, and it was evident that he remembered all. His gaze rested upon the pale face of the affrighted Sylvia, and then turned to Frere. There could be no mistaking the mute appeal of those eloquent eyes. 
"Yes, I'll take care of her," said Frere. 
Bates smiled, and then, observing that the blood from his wound had stained the white shawl of Mrs. Vickers, he made an effort to move his head. It was not fitting that a lady's shawl should be stained with the blood of a poor fellow like himself. The fashionable fribble, with quick instinct, understood the gesture, and gently drew the head back upon her bosom. In the presence of death the woman was womanly. For a moment all was silent, and they thought he had gone; but all at once he opened his eyes and looked round for the sea 
"Turn my face to it once more," he whispered; and as they raised him, he inclined his ear to listen. "It's calm enough here, God bless it," he said; "but I can hear the waves a-breaking hard upon the Bar!" 
And so his head dropped, and he died. 
As Frere relieved Mrs. Vickers from the weight of the corpse, Sylvia ran to her mother. "Oh, mamma, mamma," she cried, "why did God let him die when we wanted him so much?" 
Before it grew dark, Frere made shift to carry the body to the shelter of some rocks at a little distance, and spreading the jacket over the face, he piled stones upon it to keep it steady. The march of events had been so rapid that he scarcely realized that since the previous evening two of the five human creatures left in this wilderness had escaped from it. As he did realize it, he began to wonder whose turn it would be next. 
[145] Mrs. Vickers, worn out by the fatigue and excitement of the day, retired to rest early; and Sylvia, refusing to speak to Frere, followed her mother. This manifestation of unaccountable dislike on the part of the child hurt Maurice more than he cared to own. He felt angry with her for not loving him, and yet he took no pains to conciliate her. It was with a curious pleasure that he remembered how she must soon look up to him as her chief protector. Had Sylvia been just a few years older, the young man would have thought himself in love with her. 
The following day passed gloomily. It was hot and sultry, and a dull haze hung over the mountains. Frere spent the morning in scooping a grave in the sand, in which to inter poor Bates. Practically awake to his own necessities, he removed such portions of clothing from the body as would be useful to him, but hid them under a stone, not liking to let Mrs. Vickers see what he had done. Having completed the grave by midday, he placed the corpse therein, and rolled as many stones as possible to the sides of the mound. In the afternoon he cast the fishing line from the point of a rock he had marked the day before, but caught nothing. Passing by the grave, on his return, he noticed that Mrs. Vickers had placed at the head of it a rude cross, formed by tying two pieces of stick together. 
After supper - the usual salt meat and damper - he lit an economical pipe, and tried to talk to Sylvia. "Why won't you be friends with me, missy?" he asked. 
"I don't like you," said Sylvia. "You frighten me." 
"You are not kind. I don't mean that you do cruel things; but you are - oh, I wish papa was here!" "Wishing won't bring him!" says Frere, pressing his hoarded tobacco together with prudent forefinger. 
"There! That's what I mean! Is that kind? 'Wishing won't bring him!' Oh, if it only would!" 
"I didn't mean it unkindly," says Frere. "What a strange child you are." 
"There are persons," says Sylvia, "who have no Affinity for each other. I read about it in a book papa had, and I suppose that's what it is. I have no Affinity for you. I can't help it, can I?" 
"Rubbish!" Frere returned. "Come here, and I'll tell you a story." 
[146] Mrs. Vickers had gone back to her cave, and the two were alone by the fire, near which stood the kettle and the newly-made damper. The child, with some show of hesitation, came to him, and he caught and placed her on his knee. The moon had not yet risen, and the shadows cast by the flickering fire seemed weird and monstrous. The wicked wish to frighten this helpless creature came to Maurice Frere. 
"There was once," said he, "a Castle in an old wood, and in this Castle there lived an Ogre, with great goggle eyes." 
"You silly man!" said Sylvia, struggling to be free. "You are trying to frighten me!" 
"And this Ogre lived on the bones of little girls. One day a little girl was travelling the wood, and she heard the Ogre coming. 'Haw! haw! Haw! haw!'" 
"Mr. Frere, let me down!" 
"She was terribly frightened, and she ran, and ran, and ran, until all of a sudden she saw - " 
A piercing scream burst from his companion. "Oh! oh! What's that?" she cried, and clung to her persecutor. 
Beyond the fire stood the figure of a man. He staggered forward, and then, falling on his knees, stretched out his hands, and hoarsely articulated one word - "Food." It was Rufus Dawes. 
The sound of a human voice broke the spell of terror that was on the child, and as the glow from the fire fell upon the tattered yellow garments, she guessed at once the whole story. Not so Maurice Frere. He saw before him a new danger, a new mouth to share the scanty provision, and snatching a brand from the fire he kept the convict at bay. But Rufus Dawes, glaring round with wolfish eyes, caught sight of the damper resting against the iron kettle, and made a clutch at it Frere dashed the brand in his face. "Stand back!" he cried. "We have no food to spare!" The convict uttered a savage cry, and raising the iron gad, plunged forward desperately to attack this new enemy; but, quick as thought, the child glided past Frere, and, snatching the loaf, placed it in the hands of the starving man, with "Here, poor prisoner, eat!" and then, turning to Frere, she cast upon him a glance so full of horror, indignation, and surprise, that the man blushed and threw down the brand. 
As for Rufus Dawes, the sudden apparition of this golden-haired [147] girl seemed to have transformed him. Allowing the loaf to slip through his fingers, he gazed with haggard eyes at the retreating figure of the child, and as it vanished into the darkness outside the circle of firelight, the unhappy man sank his face upon his blackened, horny hands, and burst into tears. 

THE COARSE TONES of Maurice Frere roused him. "What do you want?" he asked. Rufus Dawes, raising his head, contemplated the figure before him, and recognized it. "Is it you?" he said slowly. 
"What do you mean? Do you know me?" asked Frere, drawing back. But the convict did not reply. His momentary emotion passed away, the pangs of hunger returned, and greedily seizing upon the piece of damper, he began to eat in silence. 
"Do you hear, man?" repeated Frere, at length. "What are you?" 
"An escaped prisoner. You can give me up in the morning. I've done my best, and I'm beat." 
The sentence struck Frere with dismay. The man did not know that the settlement had been abandoned! 
"I cannot give you up. There is no one but myself and a woman and child on the settlement." Rufus Dawes, pausing in his eating, stared at him in amazement. "The prisoners have gone away in the schooner. If you choose to remain free, you can do so as far as I am concerned. I am as helpless as you are." 
"But how do you come here?" 
Frere laughed bitterly. To give explanations to convicts was foreign to his experience, and he did not relish the task. In this case, however, there was no help for it. "The prisoners mutinied and seized the brig." 
"What brig?" 
"The Osprey." 
A terrible light broke upon Rufus Dawes, and he began to [148] understand how he had again missed his chance. "Who took her?" 
"That double-dyed villain, John Rex," says Frere, giving vent to his passion. "May she sink, and burn, and -" 
"Have they gone, then?" cried the miserable man, clutching at his hair with a gesture of hopeless rage. 
"Yes; two days ago, and left us here to starve." Rufus Dawes burst into a laugh so discordant that it made the other shudder. "We'll starve together, Maurice Frere," said he, "for while you've a crust, I'll share it. If I don't get liberty, at least I'll have revenge!" 
The sinister aspect of this famished savage, sitting with his chin on his ragged knees, rocking himself to and fro in the light of the fire, gave Mr. Maurice Frere a new sensation. He felt as might have felt that African hunter who, returning to his camp fire, found a lion there. "Wretch!" said he, shrinking from him, "why should you wish to be revenged on me?" 
The convict turned upon him with a snarl. "Take care what you say! I'll have no hard words. Wretch! If I am a wretch, who made me one? If I hate you and myself and the world, who made me hate it? I was born free - as free as you are. Why should I be sent to herd with beasts, and condemned to this slavery, worse than death? Tell me that, Maurice Frere - tell me that!" "I didn't make the laws," says Frere, "why do you attack me?" 
"Because you are what I was. You are FREE! You can do as you please. You can love, you can work, you can think. I can only hate!" He paused as if astonished at himself, and then continued, with a low laugh. "Fine words for a convict, eh! But, never mind, it's all right, Mr. Frere; we're equal now, and I sha'n't die an hour sooner than you, though you are a 'free man'!" 
Frere began to think that he was dealing with another madman. 
"Die! There's no need to talk of dying," he said, as soothingly as it was possible for him to say it. "Time enough for that by-and-by." 
"There spoke the free man. We convicts have an advantage over you gentlemen. You are afraid of death; we pray for it. It is the best thing that can happen to us. Die! They were going to hang me once. I wish they had. My God, I wish they had!" 
[149] There was such a depth of agony in this terrible utterance that Maurice Frere was appalled at it. "There, go and sleep, my man," he said. "You are knocked up. We'll talk in the morning." 
"Hold on a bit!" cried Rufus Dawes, with a coarseness of manner altogether foreign to that he had just assumed. "Who's with ye?" 
"The wife and daughter of the Commandant," replied Frere, half afraid to refuse an answer to a question so fiercely put. 
"No one else?" 
"No." "Poor souls!" said the convict, "I pity them." And then he stretched himself, like a dog, before the blaze, and went to sleep instantly. Maurice Frere, looking at the gaunt figure of this addition to the party, was completely puzzled how to act. Such a character had never before come within the range of his experience. He knew not what to make of this fierce, ragged, desperate man, who wept and threatened by turns - who was now snarling in the most repulsive bass of the convict gamut, and now calling upon Heaven in tones which were little less than eloquent. At first he thought of precipitating himself upon the sleeping wretch and pinioning him, but a second glance at the sinewy, though wasted, limbs forbade him to follow out the rash suggestion of his own fears. Then a horrible prompting - arising out of his former cowardice - made him feel for the jack-knife with which one murder had already been committed. Their stock of provisions was so scanty, and after all, the lives of the woman and child were worth more than that of this unknown desperado! But, to do him justice, the thought no sooner shaped itself than he crushed it out. "We'll wait till morning, and see how he shapes," said Frere to himself; and pausing at the brushwood barricade, behind which the mother and daughter were clinging to each other, he whispered that he was on guard outside, and that the absconder slept. But when morning dawned, he found that there was no need for alarm. The convict was lying in almost the same position as that in which he had left him, and his eyes were closed. His threatening outbreak of the previous night had been produced by the excitement of his sudden rescue, and he was now incapable of violence. Frere advanced, and shook him by the shoulder. 
[150] "Not alive!" cried the poor wretch, waking with a start, and raising his arm to strike. "Keep off!" 
"It's all right," said Frere. "No one is going to harm you. Wake up." 
Rufus Dawes glanced around him stupidly, and then remembering what had happened, with a great effort, he staggered to his feet. "I thought they'd got me!" he said, "but it's the other way, I see. Come, let's have breakfast, Mr. Frere. I'm hungry." 
"You must wait," said Frere. "Do you think there is no one here but yourself?" 
Rufus Dawes, swaying to and fro from weakness, passed his shred of a cuff over his eyes. "I don't know anything about it. I only know I'm hungry." 
Frere stopped short. Now or never was the time to settle future relations. Lying awake in the night, with the jack-knife ready to his hand, he had decided on the course of action that must be adopted. The convict should share with the rest, but no more. If he rebelled at that, there must be a trial of strength between them. "Look you here," he said. "We have but barely enough food to serve us until help comes - if it does come. I have the care of that poor woman and child, and I will see fair play for their sakes. You shall share with us to our last bit and drop, but, by Heaven, you shall get no more." 
The convict, stretching out his wasted arms, looked down upon them with the uncertain gaze of a drunken man. "I am weak now," he said. "You have the best of me"; and then he sank suddenly down upon the ground, exhausted. "Give me a drink," he moaned, feebly motioning with his hand. Frere got him water in the pannikin, and having drunk it, he smiled and lay down to sleep again. Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia, coming out while he still slept, recognized him as the desperado of the settlement. 
"He was the most desperate man we had," said Mrs. Vickers, identifying herself with her husband. "Oh, what shall we do?" 
"He won't do much harm," returned Frere, looking down at the notorious ruffian with curiosity. "He's as near dead as can be." 
Sylvia looked up at him with her clear child's glance. "We mustn't let him die," said she. "That would be murder." [151] "No, no," returned Frere, hastily, "no one wants him to die. But what can we do?" 
"I'll nurse him!" cried Sylvia. 
Frere broke into one of his coarse laughs, the first one that he had indulged in since the mutiny. "You nurse him! By George, that's a good one!" The poor little child, weak and excitable, felt the contempt in the tone, and burst into a passion of sobs. "Why do you insult me, you wicked man? The poor fellow's ill, and he'll - he'll die, like Mr. Bates. Oh, mamma, mamma, Let's go away by ourselves." 
Frere swore a great oath, and walked away. He went into the little wood under the cliff, and sat down. He was full of strange thoughts, which he could not express, and which he had never owned before. The dislike the child bore to him made him miserable, and yet he took delight in tormenting her. He was conscious that he had acted the part of a coward the night before in endeavouring to frighten her, and that the detestation she bore him was well earned; but he had fully determined to stake his life in her defence, should the savage who had thus come upon them out of the desert attempt violence, and he was unreasonably angry at the pity she had shown. It was not fair to be thus misinterpreted. But he had done wrong to swear, and more so in quitting them so abruptly. The consciousness of his wrong-doing, however, only made him more confirmed in it. His native obstinacy would not allow him to retract what he had said -even to himself. Walking along, he came to Bates's grave, and the cross upon it. Here was another evidence of ill-treatment. She had always preferred Bates. Now that Bates was gone, she must needs transfer her childish affections to a convict. "Oh," said Frere to himself, with pleasant recollections of many coarse triumphs in love-making, "if you were a woman, you little vixen, I'd make you love me!" When he had said this, he laughed at himself for his folly - he was turning romantic! When he got back, he found Dawes stretched upon the brushwood, with Sylvia sitting near him. 
"He is better," said Mrs. Vickers, disdaining to refer to the scene of the morning. "Sit down and have something to eat, Mr. Frere." 
"Are you better?" asked Frere, abruptly. 
To his surprise, the convict answered quite civilly, "I shall [152] be strong again in a day or two, and then I can help you, sir." 
"Help me? How?" "To build a hut here for the ladies. And we'll live here all our lives, and never go back to the sheds any more." 
"He has been wandering a little," said Mrs. Vickers. "Poor fellow, he seems quite well behaved." 
The convict began to sing a little German song, and to beat the refrain with his hand. Frere looked at him with curiosity. "I wonder what the story of that man's life has been," he said. "A queer one, I'll be bound." 
Sylvia looked up at him with a forgiving smile. "I'll ask him when he gets well," she said, "and if you are good, I'll tell you, Mr. Frere." 
Frere accepted the proffered friendship. "I am a great brute, Sylvia, sometimes, ain't I?" he said, "but I don't mean it." 
"You are," returned Sylvia, frankly, "but let's shake hands, and be friends. It's no use quarrelling when there are only four of us, is it?" And in this way was Rufus Dawes admitted a member of the family circle. 
Within a week from the night on which he had seen the smoke of Frere's fire, the convict had recovered his strength, and had become an important personage. The distrust with which he had been at first viewed had worn off, and he was no longer an outcast, to be shunned and pointed at, or to be referred to in whispers. He had abandoned his rough manner, and no longer threatened or complained, and though at times a profound melancholy would oppress him, his spirits were more even than those of Frere, who was often moody, sullen, and overbearing. Rufus Dawes was no longer the brutalized wretch who had plunged into the dark waters of the bay to escape a life he loathed, and had alternately cursed and wept in the solitudes of the forests. He was an active member of society - a society of four - and he began to regain an air of independence and authority. This change had been wrought by the influence of little Sylvia. Recovered from the weakness consequent upon this terrible journey, Rufus Dawes had experienced for the first time in six years the soothing power of kindness. He had now an object to live for beyond himself. He was of use to somebody, and had he died, he would have been regretted. To us this means [153] little; to this unhappy man it meant everything. He found, to his astonishment, that he was not despised, and that, by the strange concurrence of circumstances, he had been brought into a position in which his convict experiences gave him authority. He was skilled in all the mysteries of the prison sheds. He knew how to sustain life on as little food as possible. He could fell trees without an axe, bake bread without an oven, build a weatherproof hut without bricks or mortar. From the patient he became the adviser; and from the adviser, the commander. In the semi-savage state to which these four human beings had been brought, he found that savage accomplishments were of most value. Might was Right, and Maurice Frere's authority of gentility soon succumbed to Rufus Dawes's authority of knowledge. 
As the time wore on, and the scanty stock of provisions decreased, he found that his authority grew more and more powerful. Did a question arise as to the qualities of a strange plant, it was Rufus Dawes who could pronounce upon it. Were fish to be caught, it was Rufus Dawes who caught them. Did Mrs. Vickers complain of the instability of her brushwood hut, it was Rufus Dawes who worked a wicker shield, and plastering it with clay, produced a wall that defied the keenest wind. He made cups out of pine-knots, and plates out of bark-strips. He worked harder than any three men. Nothing daunted him, nothing discouraged him. When Mrs. Vickers fell sick, from anxiety and insufficient food, it was Rufus Dawes who gathered fresh leaves for her couch, who cheered her by hopeful words, who voluntarily gave up half his own allowance of meat that she might grow stronger on it. The poor woman and her child called him "Mr." Dawes. 
Frere watched all this with dissatisfaction that amounted at times to positive hatred. Yet he could say nothing, for he could not but acknowledge that, beside Dawes, he was incapable. He even submitted to take orders from this escaped convict - it was so evident that the escaped convict knew better than he. Sylvia began to look upon Dawes as a second Bates. He was, moreover, all her own. She had an interest in him, for she had nursed and protected him. If it had not been for her, this prodigy would not have lived. He felt for her an absorbing affection that was almost a passion. She was his good angel, his protectress, his glimpse of Heaven. She had given him food [154] when he was starving, and had believed in him when the world - the world of four - had looked coldly on him. He would have died for her, and, for love of her, hoped for the vessel which should take her back to freedom and give him again into bondage. 
But the days stole on, and no vessel appeared. Each day they eagerly scanned the watery horizon; each day they longed to behold the bowsprit of the returning Ladybird glide past the jutting rock that shut out the view of the harbour - but in vain. Mrs. Vickers's illness increased, and the stock of provisions began to run short. Dawes talked of putting himself and Frere on half allowance. It was evident that, unless succour came in a few days, they must starve. 
Frere mooted all sorts of wild plans for obtaining food. He would make a journey to the settlement, and, swimming the estuary, search if haply any casks of biscuit had been left behind in the hurry of departure. He would set springes for the seagulls, and snare the pigeons at Liberty Point. But all these proved impracticable, and with blank faces they watched their bag of flour grow smaller and smaller daily. Then the notion of escape was broached. Could they construct a raft? Impossible without nails or ropes. Could they build a boat? Equally impossible for the same reason. Could they raise a fire sufficient to signal a ship? Easily; but what ship would come within reach of that doubly-desolate spot? Nothing could be done but wait for a vessel, which was sure to come for them sooner or later; and, growing weaker day by day, they waited. 
One morning Sylvia was sitting in the sun reading the "English History", which, by the accident of fright, she had brought with her on the night of the mutiny. "Mr. Frere," said she, suddenly, "what is an alchemist?" 
"A man who makes gold," was Frere's not very accurate definition. 
"Do you know one?" 
"Do you, Mr. Dawes?" 
"I knew a man once who thought himself one." 
"What! A man who made gold?" 
"After a fashion." 
"But did he make gold?" persisted Sylvia. 
[155] "No, not absolutely make it. But he was, in his worship of money, an alchemist for all that." 
"What became of him?" 
"I don't know," said Dawes, with so much constraint in his tone that the child instinctively turned the subject. 
"Then, alchemy is a very old art?" 
"Oh, yes." 
"Did the Ancient Britons know it?" 
"No, not as old as that!" 
Sylvia suddenly gave a little scream. The remembrance of the evening when she read about the Ancient Britons to poor Bates came vividly into her mind, and though she had since re-read the passage that had then attracted her attention a hundred times, it had never before presented itself to her in its full significance. Hurriedly turning the well-thumbed leaves, she read aloud the passage which had provoked remark: - 
"'The Ancient Britons were little better than Barbarians. They painted their bodies with Woad, and, seated in their light coracles of skin stretched upon slender wooden frames, must have presented a wild and savage appearance.'" 
"A coracle! That's a boat! Can't we make a coracle, Mr. Dawes?" 

THE question gave the marooned party new hopes. Maurice Frere, with his usual impetuosity, declared that the project was a most feasible one, and wondered - as such men will wonder - that it had never occurred to him before. "It's the simplest thing in the world!" he cried. "Sylvia, you have saved us!" But upon taking the matter into more earnest consideration, it became apparent that they were as yet a long way from the realization of their hopes. To make a coracle of skins seemed sufficiently easy, but how to obtain the skins! The one miserable hide of the unlucky she-goat was utterly inadequate for the purpose. Sylvia - her face beaming with the hope of escape, and with delight at having been the means of suggesting it - watched narrowly the countenance [156] of Rufus Dawes, but she marked no answering gleam of joy in those eyes. "Can't it be done, Mr. Dawes?" she asked, trembling for the reply. 
The convict knitted his brows gloomily. 
"Come, Dawes!" cried Frere, forgetting his enmity for an instant in the flash of new hope, "can't you suggest something?" 
Rufus Dawes, thus appealed to as the acknowledged Head of the little society, felt a pleasant thrill of self-satisfaction. "I don't know," he said. "I must think of it. It looks easy, and yet -" He paused as something in the water caught his eye. It was a mass of bladdery seaweed that the returning tide was wafting slowly to the shore. This object, which would have passed unnoticed at any other time, suggested to Rufus Dawes a new idea. "Yes," he added slowly, with a change of tone, "it may be done. I think I can see my way." 
The others preserved a respectful silence until he should speak again. "How far do you think it is across the bay?" he asked of Frere. 
"What, to Sarah Island?" 
"No, to the Pilot Station." 
"About four miles." 
The convict sighed. "Too far to swim now, though I might have done it once. But this sort of life weakens a man. It must be done after all." 
"What are you going to do?" asked Frere. 
"To kill the goat." 
Sylvia uttered a little cry; she had become fond of her dumb companion. "Kill Nanny! Oh, Mr. Dawes! What for?" 
"I am going to make a boat for you," he said, "and I want hides, and thread, and tallow." 
A few weeks back Maurice Frere would have laughed at such a sentence, but he had begun now to comprehend that this escaped convict was not a man to be laughed at, and though he detested him for his superiority, he could not but admit that he was superior. 
"You can't get more than one hide off a goat, man?" he said, with an inquiring tone in his voice - as though it was just possible that such a marvellous being as Dawes could get a second hide, by virtue of some secret process known only to himself. 
[157] "I am going to catch other goats." "Where?" 
"At the Pilot Station." 
"But how are you going to get there?" 
"Float across. Come, there is not time for questioning! Go and cut down some saplings, and let us begin!" 
The lieutenant-master looked at the convict prisoner with astonishment, and then gave way to the power of knowledge, and did as he was ordered. Before sundown that evening the carcase of poor Nanny, broken into various most unbutcherly fragments, was hanging on the nearest tree; and Frere, returning with as many young saplings as he could drag together, found Rufus Dawes engaged in a curious occupation. He had killed the goat, and having cut off its head close under the jaws, and its legs at the knee-joint, had extracted the carcase through a slit made in the lower portion of the belly, which slit he had now sewn together with string. This proceeding gave him a rough bag, and he was busily engaged in filling this bag with such coarse grass as he could collect. Frere observed, also, that the fat of the animal was carefully preserved, and the intestines had been placed in a pool of water to soak. 
The convict, however, declined to give information as to what he intended to do. "It's my own notion," he said. "Let me alone. I may make a failure of it." Frere, on being pressed by Sylvia, affected to know all about the scheme, but to impose silence on himself. He was galled to think that a convict brain should contain a mystery which he might not share. 
On the next day, by Rufus Dawes's direction, Frere cut down some rushes that grew about a mile from the camping ground, and brought them in on his back. This took him nearly half a day to accomplish. Short rations were beginning to tell upon his physical powers. The convict, on the other hand, trained by a woeful experience in the Boats to endurance of hardship, was slowly recovering his original strength. 
"What are they for?" asked Frere, as he flung the bundles down. His master condescended to reply. "To make a float." 
The other shrugged his broad shoulders. "You are very dull, Mr. Frere. I am going to swim over to the Pilot Station, [158] and catch some of those goats. I can get across on the stuffed skin, but I must float them back on the reeds." 
"How the doose do you mean to catch 'em?" asked Frere, wiping the sweat from his brow. 
The convict motioned to him to approach. He did so, and saw that his companion was cleaning the intestines of the goat. The outer membrane having been peeled off, Rufus Dawes was turning the gut inside out. This he did by turning up a short piece of it, as though it were a coat-sleeve, and dipping the turned-up cuff into a pool of water. The weight of the water pressing between the cuff and the rest of the gut, bore down a further portion; and so, by repeated dippings, the whole length was turned inside out. The inner membrane having been scraped away, there remained a fine transparent tube, which was tightly twisted, and set to dry in the sun. 
"There is the catgut for the noose," said Dawes. "I learnt that trick at the settlement. Now come here." 
Frere, following, saw that a fire had been made between two stones, and that the kettle was partly sunk in the ground near it. On approaching the kettle, he found it full of smooth pebbles. 
"Take out those stones," said Dawes. 
Frere obeyed, and saw at the bottom of the kettle a quantity of sparkling white powder, and the sides of the vessel crusted with the same material. 
"What's that?" he asked. 
"How did you get it?" 
"I filled the kettle with sea-water, and then, heating those pebbles red-hot in the fire, dropped them into it. We could have caught the steam in a cloth and wrung out fresh water had we wished to do so. But, thank God, we have plenty." 
Frere started. "Did you learn that at the settlement, too?" he asked. 
Rufus Dawes laughed, with a sort of bitterness in his tones. "Do you think I have been at 'the settlement' all my life? The thing is very simple, it is merely evaporation." 
Frere burst out in sudden, fretful admiration: "What a fellow you are, Dawes! What are you - I mean, what have you been?" 
A triumphant light came into the other's face, and for the [159] instant he seemed about to make some startling revelation. But the light faded, and he checked himself with a gesture of pain. 
"I am a convict. Never mind what I have been. A sailor, a shipbuilder, prodigal, vagabond - what does it matter? It won't alter my fate, will it?" 
"If we get safely back," says Frere, "I'll ask for a free pardon for you. You deserve it." 
"Come," returned Dawes, with a discordant laugh. "Let us wait until we get back." 
"You don't believe me?" 
"I don't want favour at your hands," he said, with a return of the old fierceness. "Let us get to work. Bring up the rushes here, and tie them with a fishing line." 
At this instant Sylvia came up. "Good afternoon, Mr. Dawes. Hard at work? Oh! what's this in the kettle?" The voice of the child acted like a charm upon Rufus Dawes. He smiled quite cheerfully. 
"Salt, miss. I am going to catch the goats with that." 
"Catch the goats! How? Put it on their tails?" she cried merrily. 
"Goats are fond of salt, and when I get over to the Pilot Station I shall set traps for them baited with this salt. When they come to lick it, I shall have a noose of catgut ready to catch them - do you understand?" 
"But how will you get across?" 
"You will see to-morrow." 

THE NEXT MORNING Rufus Dawes was stirring by daylight. He first got his catgut wound upon a piece of stick, and then, having moved his frail floats alongside the little rock that served as a pier, he took a fishing line and a larger piece of stick, and proceeded to draw a diagram on the sand. This diagram when completed represented a rude outline of a punt, [160] eight feet long and three broad. At certain distances were eight points - four on each side - into which small willow rods were driven. He then awoke Frere and showed the diagram to him. 
"Get eight stakes of celery-top pine," he said. "You can burn them where you cannot cut them, and drive a stake into the place of each of these willow wands. When you have done that, collect as many willows as you can get. I shall not be back until tonight. Now give me a hand with the floats." 
Frere, coming to the pier, saw Dawes strip himself, and piling his clothes upon the stuffed goat-skin, stretch himself upon the reed bundles, and, paddling with his hands, push off from the shore. The clothes floated high and dry, but the reeds, depressed by the weight of the body, sank so that the head of the convict alone appeared above water. In this fashion he gained the middle of the current, and the out-going tide swept him down towards the mouth of the harbour. 
Frere, sulkily admiring, went back to prepare the breakfast - they were on half rations now, Dawes having forbidden the slaughtered goat to be eaten, lest his expedition should prove unsuccessful -wondering at the chance which had thrown this convict in his way. "Parsons would call it 'a special providence,'" he said to himself. "For if it hadn't been for him, we should never have got thus far. If his 'boat' succeeds, we're all right, I suppose. He's a clever dog. I wonder who he is." His training as a master of convicts made him think how dangerous such a man would be on a convict station. It would be difficult to keep a fellow of such resources. "They'll have to look pretty sharp after him if they ever get him back," he thought. "I'll have a fine tale to tell of his ingenuity." The conversation of the previous day occurred to him. "I promised to ask for a free pardon. He wouldn't have it, though. Too proud to accept it at my hands! Wait until we get back. I'll teach him his place; for, after all, it is his own liberty that he is working for as well as mine - I mean ours." Then a thought came into his head that was in every way worthy of him. "Suppose we took the boat, and left him behind!" The notion seemed so ludicrously wicked that he laughed involuntarily. 
"What is it, Mr. Frere?" 
[161] "Oh, it's you, Sylvia, is it? Ha, ha, ha! I was thinking of something - something funny." 
"Indeed," said Sylvia, "I am glad of that. Where's Mr. Dawes?" 
Frere was displeased at the interest with which she asked the question. 
"You are always thinking of that fellow. It's Dawes, Dawes, Dawes all day long. He has gone." 
"Oh!" with a sorrowful accent. "Mamma wants to see him." 
"What about?" says Frere roughly. "Mamma is ill, Mr. Frere." 
"Dawes isn't a doctor. What's the matter with her?" 
"She is worse than she was yesterday. I don't know what is the matter." 
Frere, somewhat alarmed, strode over to the little cavern. 
The "lady of the Commandant" was in a strange plight. The cavern was lofty, but narrow. In shape it was three-cornered, having two sides open to the wind. The ingenuity of Rufus Dawes had closed these sides with wicker-work and clay, and a sort of door of interlaced brushwood hung at one of them. Frere pushed open this door and entered. The poor woman was lying on a bed of rushes strewn over young brushwood, and was moaning feebly. From the first she had felt the privation to which she was subjected most keenly, and the mental anxiety from which she suffered increased her physical debility. The exhaustion and lassitude to which she had partially succumbed soon after Dawes's arrival, had now completely overcome her, and she was unable to rise. 
"Cheer up, ma'am," said Maurice, with an assumption of heartiness. "It will be all right in a day or two." 
"Is it you? I sent for Mr. Dawes." 
"He is away just now. I am making a boat. Did not Sylvia tell you?" 
"She told me that he was making one." 
"Well, I - that is, we - are making it. He will be back again tonight. Can I do anything for you?" 
"No, thank you. I only wanted to know how he was getting on. I must go soon - if I am to go. Thank you, Mr. Frere. I am much obliged to you. This is a - he-he - a dreadful place to have visitors, isn't it?" 
[162] "Never mind," said Frere, again, "you will be back in Hobart Town in a few days now. We are sure to get picked up by a ship. But you must cheer up. Have some tea or something." 
"No, thank you - I don't feel well enough to eat. I am tired." 
Sylvia began to cry. 
"Don't cry, dear. I shall be better by and by. Oh, I wish Mr. Dawes was back." 
Maurice Frere went out indignant. This "Mr." Dawes was everybody, it seemed, and he was nobody. Let them wait a little. All that day, working hard to carry out the convict's directions, he meditated a thousand plans by which he could turn the tables. He would accuse Dawes of violence. He would demand that he should be taken back as an "absconder". He would insist that the law should take its course, and that the "death" which was the doom of all who were caught in the act of escape from a penal settlement should be enforced. Yet if they got safe to land, the marvellous courage and ingenuity of the prisoner would tell strongly in his favour. The woman and child would bear witness to his tenderness and skill, and plead for him. As he had said, the convict deserved a pardon. The mean, bad man, burning with wounded vanity and undefined jealousy, waited for some method to suggest itself, by which he might claim the credit of the escape, and snatch from the prisoner, who had dared to rival him, the last hope of freedom. 
Rufus Dawes, drifting with the current, had allowed himself to coast along the eastern side of the harbour until the Pilot Station appeared in view on the opposite shore. By this time it was nearly seven o'clock. He landed at a sandy cove, and drawing up his raft, proceeded to unpack from among his garments a piece of damper. Having eaten sparingly, and dried himself in the sun, he replaced the remains of his breakfast, and pushed his floats again into the water. The Pilot Station lay some distance below him, on the opposite shore. He had purposely made his second start from a point which would give him this advantage of position; for had he attempted to paddle across at right angles, the strength of the current would have swept him out to sea. Weak as he was, he several times nearly lost his hold on the reeds. The clumsy bundle [163] presenting too great a broadside to the stream, whirled round and round, and was once or twice nearly sucked under. At length, however, breathless and exhausted, he gained the opposite bank, half a mile below the point he had attempted to make, and carrying his floats out of reach of the tide, made off across the hill to the Pilot Station. 
Arrived there about midday, he set to work to lay his snares. The goats, with whose hides he hoped to cover the coracle, were sufficiently numerous and tame to encourage him to use every exertion. He carefully examined the tracks of the animals, and found that they converged to one point - the track to the nearest water. With much labour he cut down bushes, so as to mask the approach to the waterhole on all sides save where these tracks immediately conjoined. Close to the water, and at unequal distances along the various tracks, he scattered the salt he had obtained by his rude distillation of sea-water. Between this scattered salt and the points where he judged the animals would be likely to approach, he set his traps, made after the following manner. He took several pliant branches of young trees, and having stripped them of leaves and twigs, dug with his knife and the end of the rude paddle he had made for the voyage across the inlet, a succession of holes, about a foot deep. At the thicker end of these saplings he fastened, by a piece of fishing line, a small cross-bar, which swung loosely, like the stick handle which a schoolboy fastens to the string of his pegtop. Forcing the ends of the saplings thus prepared into the holes, he filled in and stamped down the earth all around them. The saplings, thus anchored as it were by the cross-pieces of stick, not only stood firm, but resisted all his efforts to withdraw them. To the thin ends of these saplings he bound tightly, into notches cut in the wood, and secured by a multiplicity of twisting, the catgut springes he had brought from the camping ground. The saplings were then bent double, and the gutted ends secured in the ground by the same means as that employed to fix the butts. This was the most difficult part of the business, for it was necessary to discover precisely the amount of pressure that would hold the bent rod without allowing it to escape by reason of this elasticity, and which would yet "give" to a slight pull on the gut. After many failures, however, this happy medium was discovered; and Rufus Dawes, concealing his springes by means of twigs, [164] smoothed the disturbed sand with a branch and retired to watch the effect of his labours. About two hours after he had gone, the goats came to drink. There were five goats and two kids, and they trotted calmly along the path to the water. The watcher soon saw that his precautions had been in a manner wasted. The leading goat marched gravely into the springe, which, catching him round his neck, released the bent rod, and sprang him off his legs into the air. He uttered a comical bleat, and then hung kicking. Rufus Dawes, though the success of the scheme was a matter of life and death, burst out laughing at the antics of the beast. The other goats bounded off at this sudden elevation of their leader, and three more were entrapped at a little distance. Rufus Dawes now thought it time to secure his prize, though three of the springes were as yet unsprung. He ran down to the old goat, knife in hand, but before he could reach him the barely-dried catgut gave way, and the old fellow, shaking his head with grotesque dismay, made off at full speed. The others, however, were secured and killed. The loss of the springe was not a serious one, for three traps remained unsprung, and before sundown Rufus Dawes had caught four more goats. Removing with care the catgut that had done such good service, he dragged the carcases to the shore, and proceeded to pack them upon his floats. He discovered, however, that the weight was too great, and that the water, entering through the loops of the stitching in the hide, had so soaked the rush-grass as to render the floats no longer buoyant. He was compelled, therefore, to spend two hours in re-stuffing the skin with such material as he could find. Some light and flock-like seaweed, which the action of the water had swathed after the fashion of haybands along the shore, formed an excellent substitute for grass, and, having bound his bundle of rushes lengthwise, with the goat-skin as a centre-piece, he succeeded in forming a sort of rude canoe, upon which the carcases floated securely. 
He had eaten nothing since the morning, and the violence of his exertions had exhausted him. Still, sustained by the excitement of the task he had set himself, he dismissed with fierce impatience the thought of rest, and dragged his weary limbs along the sand, endeavouring to kill fatigue by further exertion. The tide was now running in, and he knew it was imperative [165] that he should regain the further shore while the current was in his favour. To cross from the Pilot Station at low water was impossible. If he waited until the ebb, he must spend another day on the shore, and he could not afford to lose an hour. Cutting a long sapling, he fastened to one end of it the floating bundle, and thus guided it to a spot where the beach shelved abruptly into deep water. It was a clear night, and the risen moon large and low, flung a rippling streak of silver across the sea. On the other side of the bay all was bathed in a violet haze, which veiled the inlet from which he had started in the morning. The fire of the exiles, hidden behind a point of rock, cast a red glow into the air. The ocean breakers rolled in upon the cliffs outside the bar, with a hoarse and threatening murmur; and the rising tide rippled and lapped with treacherous melody along the sand. He touched the chill water and drew back. For an instant he determined to wait until the beams of morning should illumine that beautiful but treacherous sea, and then the thought of the helpless child, who was, without doubt, waiting and watching for him on the shore, gave new strength to his wearied frame; and fixing his eyes on the glow that, hovering above the dark tree-line, marked her presence, he pushed the raft before him out into the sea. The reeds sustained him bravely, but the strength of the current sucked him underneath the water, and for several seconds he feared that he should be compelled to let go his hold. But his muscles, steeled in the slow fire of convict-labour, withstood this last strain upon them, and, half-suffocated, with bursting chest and paralysed fingers, he preserved his position, until the mass, getting out of the eddies along the shore-line, drifted steadily down the silvery track that led to the settlement. After a few moments' rest, he set his teeth, and urged his strange canoe towards the shore. Paddling and pushing, he gradually edged it towards the fire-light; and at last, just when his stiffened limbs refused to obey the impulse of his will, and he began to drift onwards with the onward tide, he felt his feet strike firm ground. Opening his eyes - closed in the desperation of his last efforts - he found himself safe under the lee of the rugged promontory which hid the fire. It seemed that the waves, tired of persecuting him, had, with disdainful pity, cast him ashore at the goal of his hopes. Looking back, he for the first time realized the frightful peril he had escaped, [166] and shuddered. To this shudder succeeded a thrill of triumph. "Why had he stayed so long, when escape was so easy?" Dragging the carcases above high-water mark, he rounded the little promontory and made for the fire. The recollection of the night when he had first approached it came upon him, and increased his exultation. How different a man was he now from then! Passing up the sand, he saw the stakes which he had directed Frere to cut whiten in the moonshine. His officer worked for him! In his own brain alone lay the secret of escape! He - Rufus Dawes - the scarred, degraded "prisoner", could alone get these three beings back to civilization. Did he refuse to aid them, they would for ever remain in that prison, where he had so long suffered. The tables were turned - he had become a gaoler! He had gained the fire before the solitary watcher there heard his footsteps, and spread his hands to the blaze in silence. He felt as Frere would have felt, had their positions been reversed, disdainful of the man who had stopped at home. 
Frere, starting, cried, "It is you! Have you succeeded?" 
Rufus Dawes nodded. 
"What! Did you catch them?" 
"There are four carcases down by the rocks. You can have meat for breakfast to-morrow!" 
The child, at the sound of the voice, came running down from the hut. "Oh, Mr. Dawes! I am so glad! We were beginning to despair - mamma and I." 
Dawes snatched her from the ground, and bursting into a joyous laugh, swung her into the air. "Tell me," he cried, holding up the child with two dripping arms above him, "what you will do for me if I bring you and mamma safe home again?" 
"Give you a free pardon," says Sylvia, "and papa shall make you his servant!" Frere burst out laughing at this reply, and Dawes, with a choking sensation in his throat, put the child upon the ground and walked away. 
This was in truth all he could hope for. All his scheming, all his courage, all his peril, would but result in the patronage of a great man like Major Vickers. His heart, big with love, with self-denial, and with hopes of a fair future, would have this flattering unction laid to it. He had performed a prodigy of skill and daring, and for his reward he was to be made a [167] servant to the creatures he had protected. Yet what more could a convict expect? Sylvia saw how deeply her unconscious hand had driven the iron, and ran up to the man she had wounded. "And, Mr. Dawes, remember that I shall love you always." The convict, however, his momentary excitement over, motioned her away; and she saw him stretch himself wearily under the shadow of a rock.