Ralph Rashleigh, by James Tucker

Chapter 17

Her face wad fyle the Logan-Water;

Oh, sic a wife as willie had,

I wadna gie a button for her.

It was early morning when Rashleigh took the road once more, pondering upon the comfort enjoyed by these industrious people, whose whole mode of life and manners formed so complete a contrast to that of the lower classes of Australian society that he scarcely dared to hope the habitation of Mr Arlack, to which he was bound, would be in any way comparable to it.

According to the directions he had received, he now retraced his steps towards Campbelltown, and going on to a small public-house at the southern end of its straggling street, obtained some breakfast, after which he enquired among a knot of idlers who were playing at quoits which was the road leading to Mr Arlack’s.

Mr Arlack!” replied the man to whom he addressed himself. “I never knowed as he had got a handle to his name before!”

Then, calling to one of his compeers, he shouted, “Why, what do you think! Here’s a cove as wants to find out Mr Arlack’s. An’t that a pretty go?

“Ho! ho! ho!” roared out the other. “I say, young fellow, how long have you been in the Colony?”

“About two years and a half,” replied Ralph.

“Oh! Then you’re only green yet, as green as a savoy cabbage; but old Lunnon Bob is the name we gives your Mr Arlack. What do you want with him, eh?”

“Why, I am assigned to him,” responded Rashleigh.

“Aye, aye! Assigned to him, are you? Let’s look at your teeth,” said the other; and our adventurer, simply enough, opened his mouth.

“Ha! By George!” swore the querist. “You’d better knock one half of them there grinders o’ yourn out again the first iron-bark fence you come to; for in the first place, you’ll have no use at all for them at old Bob’s, and in the next, Polly Arlack will hate you like hell, for she’ll think you’ve come a’purpose to eat her out of house and home.”

At this sally, the man’s brother compotators testified their satisfaction by redoubled peals of horse-laughter; and Rashleigh, taking such treatment in dudgeon, was about to depart when the fellow who had first spoken to him offered him a drink of something from a pot he held, saying as he did so, “Never mind that old fellow, he’s only having a lark with you. Come, drink a drop o’ this; you won’t have a chance again soon. Now, do you see them slip-rails? Well, you must rum down a road that leads through them, and follow it along until you come to a farm you’ll see in a cleared bottom; enquire there and they’ll show you the path to Lunnon Bob’s.”

Thanking the man, Rashleigh followed the route he had thus indicated, and soon arrived at the first farm, where the dogs, to the number of at least a score, rushed out upon him with tremendous yells, their gaunt and bony frames testifying such an extremity of famine as might well inspire fear in the breast of anyone whom they assailed, lest the ravenous brutes should immolate him as the readiest means of appeasing that hunger which had reduced them to skeletons.

This danger he happily escaped, and being again instructed as to the proper path, at length arrived upon Bob Arlack’s farm. The culture of this cherished spot of the earth’s surface did not afford any very high specimen of the arts of agriculture. Weeds of rank and luxuriant growth formed by far the most prominent objects in the so-called cultivated field, amid which, in one corner, about ten acres of straggling rows of maize seemed to maintain a most desperate conflict for sufficient air from the heavens and nutriment from the soil to enable them to support a sickly existence.

Other crops there seemed to be none, and the rest of the cleared land was enjoyed by the weeds in undisputed supremacy. Where the fence could be seen, it appeared in a most dilapidated condition; the bush poles of which it had at first been composed were in many places broken down and in others altogether missing, thus leaving the paddock they were destined to secure at the mercy of any vagrant animal who might chance to stray that way. At the farther end of this clearing might be seen a cluster of huts, towards which a narrow pathway appeared to lead, that Rashleigh now followed; but upon his getting near his destination, the view did not afford any very cheering anticipations of his future lot.

The principal dwelling, or home of all the Arlacks, was a hut which, even in that age of simple materials and rude workmanship, might claim pre-eminence for ugliness and deformity. The walls, having dropped much out of the perpendicular, were shoved up by props applied externally. The gaping orifices in the bark roof bespoke premature decay, occasioned by neglect. The chinks between the slabs, of fully an average width, had once been attempted to be stopped; but the rain having wetted the plaster through the yawning fissures, it had fallen in piecemeal, and was never renewed; and finally, it seemed a moot point whether there was more filth to be found inside, or out, of this most delectable dwelling.

As Ralph drew nigh the door, a shoal of half-starved hens and ducks disputed the precedence of the entrée with him; while just as he was crossing the threshold, a whole flight of these fowl intruders, apparently alarmed by some unexpected opposition from within, fluttered out past his head with most discordant screams. Inside the hut was a being of epicene gender; at least, its dress rendered sex doubtful, inasmuch as the upper parts, which first met his gaze, were, a tattered man’s hat and shirt, both marvellously out of repair, and utterly unacquainted with any kind of ablution or other purification. The elf locks which in greasy and matted luxuriance shaded her face, and a questionable garment that depended from her middle, looking more like a petticoat, however, than anything else, seemed in Rashleigh’s opinion to stamp this apparition of uncleanliness as a female, and accordingly he saluted her as such, with, “Pray, ma’am, is Mr Arlack at home?”

The lady replied, “He’ll be here just now. What do you want with him? Drat them fowls!” she added parenthetically. “What a deuce of a row they kick up!”

“Why, ma’am,” replied our exile, “I’m assigned to him, from Emu Plains.”

“Oh,” returned the dame. “You’re the new government man. Sit down and rest yourself.” And then she began again the execution of some domestic duty which the irruption of the feathered invaders had apparently interrupted.

Rashleigh, having obeyed her injunctions to be seated, calmly surveyed his future mistress at his leisure. In person Mrs Arlack was rather above the middle height, but so far from being en bon point that her enemies called her skinny. Her cheek bones in particular were remarkably prominent. Above these twinkled a sparkling pair of small greenish-grey eyes. These orbs of vision, in apparent mistrust of the “willainy of the world”, as Arlack would express it, had retreated as far as possible from the surface of her countenance, and taken up their abode at the bottom of two deep caverns, the entrances to which were fortified by stiff bristly overhanging brows of portentous size and a very dirty flaxen hue. Her nose, from its irregular aquiline shape, bore no slight resemblance to the broken bill of a cockatoo, but ever appeared to maintain an anxious guard over the orifice that formed a most capacious mouth, into which, in fact, the nasal protuberance seemed desirous of intruding its extremity at least.

Her complexion, as far as the important fact could be ascertained through the dirt which so perpetually begrimed it, was a kind of dingy yellow, and her voice was a not very melodious compound of a growl and a squeak.

As Mrs Arlack was so philosophically negligent of the means of setting off her own most powerful natural charms by any recourse to the fastidious arts of tidiness or cleanliness, it may easily be conceived that her dwelling was none of the neatest on earth. Indeed, the complicated arrangement of unhewn timber, which by the greatest stretch of courtesy was called a table, appeared never to have been cleansed or washed since it first was put together and at present afforded a singular mélange of movables, among which may just be mentioned a large black iron pot, leaning negligently on one side, so as to show a little hominy in the bottom; a few wooden spoons, of most indubitable native manufacture, as they might vie in size as well as rudeness with the paddles used by the Tonga Islanders; some half-munched fragments of corn cake; in divers places a plentiful sprinkling of tobacco ashes from the pipe of the proprietor; a lump of blackish-yellow home-made soap swimming in a puddle of slop; a lot of ragged children’s clothing, with a few filthy napkins among them; and some four or five dirty tin pots, which were battered and bruised into all manner of shapes.

The earthen floor of this recherché retreat was plentifully strewn with fowls’ dung, agreeably chequered by petty lagoons of stinking water. The fireplace, for want of care, had most grievously suffered in its contests with the fury of the element it was erected to control, for many of the slabs that composed it were burned quite across at their bottoms, leaving large orifices for the accommodation of a stray dog or pig who might wish to enjoy the genial warmth of the ashes, which a grunter was at that moment doing, having stretched his lazy length along in perilous proximity to a blazing log.

To crown all, the hut appeared the chosen rendezvous of myriads of fleas upon the floor and of clouds of flies in the air, the perpetual biting of the former serving to counteract the somnolent desires occasioned by the monotonously drowsy hum of the latter.

While Rashleigh was intently gazing upon the varied rich and rare beauties of this charming prospect, a pot on the fire near him boiled over suddenly, and Mrs Arlack cried out, in a tone like that of a cracked tin trumpet, “What the hell are you gaping at, you, sir? Why don’t you take the pot off?”

This he hastened to do, and the lady added, “You’d better look a little smart here, I can tell you. We don’t like no sleepy-going coves about our farm.”

In a few minutes more, Mr Arlack appeared at the door, dressed in a dirty and ragged cotton shirt, ditto duck continuations, a dilapidated straw hat, and boots to match.

His beauteous helpmate said, “Here, Bob, is a new government man for you;” and showed him the pass which she had received from Rashleigh.

While his new master was reading, or rather pretending to read this pass, Rashleigh observed that Mr Arlack was short, squat and bowlegged. His mouth, to use a colonial witticism, was unlike a poor man’s lease in being “from y-ear to y-ear”, because it stretched from here to yonder; and yet, in spite of its size, it seemed still to be too small for his tongue, which, whenever its owner was quiescent, protruded very much and wobbled about in an extraordinary way as often as he spoke.

Besides the decidedly open feature above referred to, Arlack possessed a most splendid squint with both eyes, so that it was often observed he would make a capital cook, as he could always keep one eye on the pot while he surveyed the intricacies of the chimney with the other; and, to complete the catalogue of his complexional recommendations, his face was absolutely furrowed, seamed and gashed until it had nearly lost a human shape by the pitiless assaults of the smallpox.

As Mr Arlack had originally been a member of the ardent fraternity of chummies in the cityward regions of London, he had there contracted the usual cockney contempt for the letters “v” and “w”, transposing those much injured visible signs of spoken sounds in the most careless and ludicrous manner. His first address to our adventurer exemplified this peculiarity; for having apparently at last deciphered the date of the pass, he demanded, “Vell, and vere have you been to all this vile? Vy didn’t you come ’ere sooner than this ’ere?”

“I am not a very good hand at walking,” replied Rashleigh; “but I did not lose much time on the road, any more than I could help.”

“Um,” replied the other. “I s’pose not; but howsomever, I von’t take no furder notice of this ’ere breach. Sally, did you give him his mess?”

“No,” said Sally. “I thought there was time enough.”

“Vell, vell. Give it to him now, and let him go to his hut,” returned the caro sposo of the amiable lady, who thereupon left off mixing up her corn meal and enquired of Ralph, “What are you going to put your mess in?”

“Why,” returned the other, “I don’t know, unless you may be good enough to lend me a bag.”

“Well, I’m sure!” retorted the dame. “Lend you a bag, indeed! A pretty thing, as if I’d got nothing to do but make bags for government men!”

As this was spoken with sufficient haughtiness to show that she was fully aware of the immeasurable distance in point of station between herself and the applicant, Ralph saw he could not hope for any accommodation from her, and he replied, “Very well, ma’am. I’ll put it in my handkerchief and hat, if you please.”

“Come on, then,” said his mistress. And after measuring the grain with the greatest nicety in a quart pot, she said, “There now. There’s a peck of corn (maize) for you, and here’s four pounds of pork. That’s your week’s mess, and you’ll come to me this day week for more.”

Not if I can help it, thought Rashleigh, as he withdrew to the hut, which Mrs A. pointed out from her back door as his future residence. He passed a small shed open on three sides, where there was a steel mill. A little beyond this stood three diminutive stacks of bush hay and straw, which the efforts of the cattle had nearly overturned, these roving bands of plunderers having nibbled all round their bottoms until they looked just like whipping-tops, supported by some most mysterious agency. A little beyond these stood the government men’s hut.

It may easily be imagined from the account given of Mr Arlack’s own dwelling that the abode of his assigned servants was anything but a palatial residence. In good truth, a more desolate and neglected-looking hole can scarcely be conceived. Two rude sleeping-places constructed of sheets of bark, and three pieces of broken iron pots comprised all the movable articles, except two short blocks of wood. The sides and roof were more than commonly pervious. The earthen floor was covered with littered straw, apparently wasted out of one of the berths, where it lay as if the occupant used it for a bed, loose as it was. On a fence opposite the door hung a mass of rags, which only close examination could convince an observer had once been a blanket. Ralph, who had found an empty bag hanging up, went his way to grind the maize with the steel mill. This instrument was in very bad repair, and sunset arrived by the time he had ground his pittance of meal, which was, after all, so coarsely done that if he had used a sieve fully half of the weekly allowance would have been lost; but Mr Arlack’s establishment did not allow such a wasteful piece of refinement.

He now returned to the wretched hut, brought a little wood in, made up a fire, and swept the floor with a handful of leafy boughs. While he was thus engaged, his future companion came in, bearing a calabash full of water. Rashleigh had well-nigh fainted with affright at the first glimpse he caught of this gaunt and woebegone wretch, whose emaciated figure would have well befitted him to represent Shakspeare’s starved apothecary, so much so, indeed, that our adventurer at first deemed him no earthly being; but the spectral visitant speedily reassured him by saying, though in melancholy and sepulchral tones, “Well, mate! You’ve come home, I see!”

“Aye,” returned Rashleigh; “and a pretty home it is to come to!”

The other only replied by a significant gesture, and after having brought in his tattered bed-clothes, set himself to work in the preparation of some hominy. Having procured another of the pieces of iron pot, Ralph followed his example, and both sat down upon the blocks to eat this meagre fare. Salt or sugar they had none, and Rashleigh could swallow only a few mouthfuls of the tasteless repast; but his companion, after remarking that he did not seem to like hominy, quickly finished what he had left. He then produced a few dry leaves of bush tobacco, offering some to our exile, who declined it, while “Jem” filled a rough wooden pipe and sat down to smoke in silence.

After a while, he asked Rashleigh whether he had yet obtained a blanket, and being answered in the negative, observed that he ought then to go to the house and ask for one; which Rashleigh did, and received a tattered rag from Mrs Arlack, after a few muttered curses from his master for being so troublesome. Ralph ventured to observe “that it did not seem a very good one”; but the gentle dame replied, with an oath, that “most likely the blanket was as good as he was”, and then shut the door in his face; upon which rebuff he returned to his companion, who aided him in bringing a quantity of straw to lie upon, which was laid in the vacant berth, and as comfortable a bed made as circumstances would permit.

Rashleigh slept quickly, nor did he awake until his hut-mate shook him by the shoulder, saying it was more than time to get up, for the laughing jackasses — certain birds so called — had been crying out a long while. Ralph tumbled out quickly, and began to put on his clothes in great haste.

Before he had done this, however, though it was not yet clear daylight, Arlack was at the door, damning them for a pair of lazy beggars, and asking if they meant to stop there all day. When they came out he said to Rashleigh, “I’ll tell you vot it is, my fine svell cove. You an’t a-goin’ to do as you likes here. So don’t think it. If you don’t brighten your lamps (open your eyes) pretty quick, I’ll try what good a teazing (flogging) will do you . . . And as for you, Jem, you ort to know better. ‘Ow do you expect I’m agoin’ to find you in wittles if you lies there stinking till these ’ere ‘ours of a morning, eh?”

“Why, Bob,” replied Jem in a plaintive tone of apology, “I overslept myself; and this young fellow I suppose was tired arter his journey!”

“Bob, indeed!” said the other. “I think it might he Mr Arlack, or Master at any rate, in your mouth! Have I served my lagging in all sorts of misery to be ‘Bobbed’ by you, do you think?”

Thus grumbling and growling, he led the way to the house, where he gave to each a tremendous large hoe, saying, “There, Jem. You know the new ground. Go there with your mate and pitch into it, and I’ll be down presently.”

Rashleigh and his companion went to a distant part of the farm which had just been cleared, and where a small portion was newly broken up. Jem now explained the manner in which they were to set in, each taking a piece to himself, so that the work could be afterwards measured without difficulty, as Arlack insisted upon his men doing the full government task at all kinds of labour every day that a man went into his ground.

Now the allotted portion of new land for each assigned servant to break up was thirteen superficial rods per day, two spits deep; and even in a favourable spot it was found quite work enough; but here the soil was as hard as stone, and the hoe rebounded off it. Rashleigh was very soon bathed in perspiration; but he kept on, thinking it might come easier after a bit. About eight o’clock they went home to a breakfast of more hominy, with a little pork fat to relieve it, and in half an hour resumed their work. Arlack came to look at them very soon after breakfast, and seeing that Rashleigh had done only a very small portion of his task, he abused him most heartily, telling him that it was just as he expected; but he’d take care no beggar had the laugh of him, to make him find rations for nothing. If he hadn’t got his government work done by sundown he might look out, for he should go to Court, and then he’d find out there was no gammon in Bob Arlack.

Such were the truculent threats of this worthy that Ralph began with all his heart to wish himself back again on Emu Plains; but still, as he knew he could not try any harder than he had done, he hoped to be forgiven if he were taken before the magistrates, and therefore resolved not to give Arlack any insolence that might furnish him with a further and more reasonable ground of complaint. But by steady perseverance he managed to get his task done a few minutes after sunset, his master having been standing over him for fully two hours before.

Tired to death, and every bone aching with the severity of his toil, our unlucky adventurer hastened home and threw himself on his miserable bed, where he lay like one entranced until morning, not even feeling energy enough to get up and prepare any food.

Mr Robert Arlack belonged to a class at that time very numerous in New South Wales, both among the very great and very little, who looked solely upon their assigned servants or government men as machines for getting money, and who with this view worked them most unmercifully, extracting from each the full quota of work stipulated by the regulations; and if they broke down, returned them to Government, obtaining fresh ones in their places. In fact, they considered convicts to be only a more expensive kind of labouring cattle, and on account of their not being able to live upon grass, a trifle less worthy than working bullocks. With such views they never thought of giving these unfortunate wretches a single ounce of any nourishment they could possibly avoid or a single article of raiment unless absolutely compelled; and strange to say, it was only very recently that regulations were made by Sir R. Darling, then Governor, to compel an equitable supply of food and clothing to be given by assignees to their servants; and even then, for a long period the regulations were evaded. Thus the position of convicts assigned to private service, even of the more wealthy among the early settlers, was sufficiently irksome, because these gentlemen, for the most part avowing that they came so many thousand miles from home for the sole purpose of amassing fortunes, considered any and all means to be sanctified by such an end. As for those whose fortune allotted them to the employment of the lower class of Australian agriculturists, their lot was pitiable in the extreme.

The latter, being men who had for the most part served sentences of transportation during which they had themselves suffered all the rigour of oppressive task masters, thought they were fully justified in retaliating upon those whom the change of fortune incidental to freedom had placed under them all the ill usage which they had endured in their periods of bondage. Besides this, they also had the incentive of a grasping desire to get money; though the majority of them could neither use nor accumulate any sum, but regularly wasted the produce of their land in scenes of the most brutal debauchery, which they continued as long as they had the means, and starved during all the rest of the year, both themselves and their families and of course their assigned servants subsisting almost entirely upon maize.

In addition to these evils of starvation and hard work, convicts assigned to such men as these were obliged to endure all the acts of petty tyranny and overbearing malice that vulgar minds, intoxicated by the acquisition for the first time in their lives of almost unlimited power over a fellow being, alone could either conceive or prompt the execution of. And no complaints, however well founded, stood the slightest chance of redress, for the simple reason that the magistrates before whom such complaints must be brought were all masters of convicts themselves and consequently highly interested in upholding what they no doubt considered a proper system of discipline and subordination.

Then again, the overbearing pride and hauteur generally assumed towards government men by their masters tended much to irritate the minds of the former, more especially when it happened that their superiors for the present were men who, originally steeped to the lips in the cornmission of every atrocity, had at length but recently become free themselves, too many of them having also acquired freedom by acts of the basest treachery, or by the most tyrannical abuse of power entrusted to them as constables, overseers, et hoc genus omne.

For many days Ralph Rashleigh wrought at the hoe, breaking up new ground in the manner before described, until at length, having recovered his appetite, he found his ration very insufficient; and as he could not starve, he had recourse to the system he had learned on Emu Plains, of grating corn to meal. In order to supply animal food, he laid all sorts of plans to trap the poultry belonging to the farm; and this went on until Mrs Arlack began to suspect her government men of being the culprits chargeable with this crime. She came into the hut one night at the moment after Rashleigh had taken out of the pot two of her young ducks, scenting the odour of which, she vented her anger in most opprobrious epithets; but as Ralph had seen her approaching, he concealed the spoil in such a manner as to defy her strictest search. Still, she could see the liquor in the pot, and truly enough insisted it was some of her poultry that had been boiled therein.

After this narrow escape from detection. our adventurer, still goaded by hunger, resorted to another means of cooking any fowls he could purloin. Not daring to bring them into the hut, he made fires in such secluded spots of the bush as might be secure from observation. Some hours afterwards, when the fires were sufficiently burned down, he enveloped the birds in tempered clay, feathers and entrails included, then covered the whole mass with red-hot ashes, after the manner of baking a cake. When sufficiently done, the covering would break off like pieces of potsherds, carrying with it the feathers incorporated in the clay; and on opening the bird, all the entrails fell out in a lump, leaving the cavity perfectly clean and wholesome.

His mistress, who found her stock of poultry diminish fearfully under this process, having no means of securing or watching the objects of plunder, at last resolved to watch the suspected plunderers; and one night, as Rashleigh sat alone by the fire, revolving plans in his mind of escaping from this state of intolerable thraldom, to the service of Government, he heard the sound of breathing close to his ear, and turning suddenly round, he saw through a chink the light reflected from the fire by a pair of sparkling eyes, and through other minor causes he rightly conjectured his mistress was there. He took no notice, however, but went to bed and pretended to snore audibly soon after. Presently Mrs Arlack entered the hut on tiptoe, having very stealthily opened the door. She marched round the place, peeping into every nook and cranny she deemed could possibly conceal even the bones of a fowl, but could find nothing.

Rashleigh now feigned to talk in his sleep, and after some indistinct muttering said distinctly, “Two last night . . . Two more tonight, feathers and all . . . The old goose too. Feathers and all. Oughch! Feathers and all . . . Oughch!”

Then, turning partially and heavily over, he began to snore more loudly than ever; but all the time he took great care to observe the prowling dame with a very small portion of one of his eyes unclosed. That good lady seemed almost beside herself with rage. She looked round apparently for something to strike him with, but finding no weapon at hand, had time to recollect herself, and withdrew.

Rashleigh now went to sleep in reality; but some time in the night he awoke, and going to the fire to light his pipe, he observed through a hole in the slabs part of a plaid cloak, which he knew belonged to his mistress.

Close by the fire was a pot full of liquor, in which pork had been boiled, which, through a hollow log that ran near it having taken fire, was now simmering, and appeared pretty hot. Pretending to kick against the pot, he muttered a curse, and seizing it by the pothooks, dashed its contents full at the hole. A loud shriek attested the success of his cruel experiment, and Rashleigh ran out. He was saluted by Mrs Arlack — for she it was, as he had anticipated — with a volley of oaths and the most dire abuse, she swearing she was scalded to death, and that she would have him hanged, if there was any law or justice to be obtained in New South Wales.

In the midst of this tumult, Arlack came running out in his shirt, armed with an axe; and before Rashleigh could defend himself, the axe was thrown at his head, which it very fortunately, but narrowly, missed. His master then rushed upon him like a fury, bellowing all sorts of threats; but as he came with his head rather low, Rashleigh raised up his knee, which caught Arlack in the mouth at the same rime that he received a well-aimed blow planted just under his right ear, that felled him senseless to the earth. Dreadful was now the clamour of Mrs Arlack, who had got hold of the axe, which she uplifted to strike our adventurer; but he, closing upon her, wrested the murderous weapon from her hand and pushed her backwards on the ground. Then, bidding her get up and take her husband away with her, he retreated into the hut, fastening the door as well as he could, and keeping the axe with him.

His discomfited master and mistress withdrew, vowing that they’d get our adventurer hanged, at least, next day; but as soon as they were out of sight, Rashleigh dressed himself and left the hut. He walked to the residence of the district constable, about eight miles off, where he told his tale and begged protection from the brutality of Arlack and his wife, showing in confirmation of the truth of his statement, the axe he had brought with him, and his face, which had been much torn by Mrs Arlack’s nails in the struggle.

Now it so happened that this worthy official wanted the services of a man for a few days, and he had, besides, a strong though concealed hatred of Arlack; so he listened very attentively to the story, and when it was over, received Rashleigh, locking him up in a small room used for purposes of confinement.

About an hour after sunrise Mr Arlack arrived, and our adventurer, on hearing his well-known voice, repaired to an orifice, where, himself unseen, he could still both see his master and hear the awful account he gave the constable, of a “vicked and murderous assault made by a willain of a government man of his, both upon himself and his vife”, concluding by saying that “the wagabond had bolted avay with an axe, and as he vas a most desperate willain, the constable had better look out for him”.

“Well,” replied the constable, “there’s nothing like hearing both sides of a story, certainly. I had heard your man’s, for he has been here this three hours, and now I’ve heard yours. But I expect the magistrates will have to settle betwixt you. So I’ll only tell you my private opinion, and that is, that you are both a liar and a rascal, and your wife a damned sight worse than you are! I’ve had my eye upon the pair of you this long time, and I’ll let the magistrates know how you goes on with your men.”

Arlack was rather taken aback at this unexpected rebuff; but, at last recovering a portion of his native impudence, he retorted, “Vell, and I should jist like to know vot it is to you, how ve uses our government men, eh? I’ll tell you vot it is, Mr Constable, you’d better mind vot you’re arter, or I’ll try if I can’t put a lever under you that’ll hoist you flying out of your billet.”

“Be off with you!” said the man in office, enraged. “And don’t come here athreatening of me in the execution of my dooty, or else I’ll find a shop for you, as free as you are.” And off went Mr Arlack in high dudgeon at his reception, which greatly delighted Rashleigh, who had been a gratified spectator of his mortification.

In a little while, the door of the place of confinement being unlocked, the constable let Ralph out, saying, “As you’ll be here a week now before there’s any Court, if you have a mind to help me on my bit of ground a little, I’ll find you in summat to eat for your trouble; and that’ll be better for you than stopping in here upon dry bread, which is all that Government allows for prisoners before they are tried.”

Rashleigh very gladly assented, and after a hearty breakfast they went out together to burn off some fallen timber. About noon, however, another constable came, who spoke to the lock-up keeper in private; and they both departed together, leaving Ralph to work alone during the rest of the day.

Shortly after sunset the myrmidons of the law returned, bringing with them a prisoner. When our adventurer came in from work he found them in high glee, and by their conversation it was evident they anticipated a heavy sum of money as a reward. They had also brought with them some spirits, for the lock-up keeper gave Rashleigh a small quantity before he locked him up.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00