Chapter 18339741

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Chapter NumberBOOK III XXIII
Chapter TitleRUNNING THE GAUNTLET.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18339741
Full Date1875-12-25
Page Number9
Corrections0
Word Count10396
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleHis Natural Life
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The Storyteller.

His Natural Life.

BOOK III. CHAPTER XXIII. RUNNING THE GAUNTLET.

BY MARCUS CLARKE.

THE Pretty Mary—as ugly and evil-smelling a tub as ever pitched under a southerly burster-had been lying on and off Cape Surville for nearly three weeks. Captain Blunt was getting wearied.

He made the most strenuous endeavors to find the oyster-beds of which he was ostensibly in search, but no success attended his efforts. In vain did he take boat and pull into every cove and nook between the Hippolyte Reef and Schouten's Island. In vain did he run the Pretty Marry as near to the rugged cliffs as he dared to take her, and make perpetual expeditions to the shore. In vain did he—in his eagerness for the interests of Mrs. Purfoy—clamber up the rocks, and spend hours in solitary soundings in Black man's Bay. He never found an oyster. "If I don't find something in three or four days more," said he to his mate, " I shall go back again. It*B too dangerous cruising here." • • • » » On the same evening that Captain Blantmade this resolution, the watchman at Signal Hill saw the arms of the semaphore at the settlement make three motions, thus :— , The semaphore was furnished with three re volving arms, fixed one above the other. The upper one denoted units, and had six motions, indicating ore to six. The middle one denoted tens, ten to sixty. The lower one marked hun dreds, from ONE HUNDRED to SIX HUNDRED. The lower and upper arms whirled out That meant three hundred and mx. A ball ran up to the top of the post That meant one thousand. Number 1806, or being interpreted, "Pbi- BONERS ABSCONDED." "By George, Harry," said Jones the signalman, " there's a bolt I" The semaphore signalled again: " Number 1411." " With arms !" Jones said, translating as he read. " Come, here, Harry ; here's ago !" But Harry did not reply, and looking down, the watchman saw a dark figure suddenly fill the doorway. The boasted semaphore had failed this time at all events. The " bolters" bad arrived as soon as the signal! The man sprang at his carbine, but the in truder had already possessed himself of it " It's no use making a fuss, Jones ! there are eight of us. Oblige me by attending to your signals." Jones knew the voice. It was that of John Rex. 'I Reply, can't you?" said Rex, coolly. " Captain Burgess is in a hurry." The arms of the semaphore at the settlement were, in fact, gesticulating with comical vehemence. Jones took the strings in Mb hands, and, with his signal-book open before him, was abou*. to acknowledge the message, when Rex stopped him. "Send this message, he said. "Not seen I Signal sent to Eaolehawk I" Jones paused irresolutely. He was himself a convict, and dreaded the inevitable Cat, that he knew would follow this false message. "If they finds me out "he said. Rex cocked the car bine, with so decided a meaning in his black eyes, that Jones—who could be brave enough on occasions—banished his hesitation at once, and began to signal eagerly. There came up a clink ing of metal, and a murmur from below. " What's keeping yer, Dandy ?" " All right Get those irons off, and then we'll talkjboys. I'm putting salt on old Burgess's tail" The rough jest was received with a roar, and Jones, looking momentarily down from his window on the staging, saw, in the waning light, a group of men freeing themselves from their irons with a "hammer taken from the guard house ; while two, already freed, were casting buckets of water on the beacon wood-pile. The sentry was lying*bound at a little distance. " Now," said the leader of this surprise party, "signal to Woody Island." Jones perforce obeyed. "Say, 'An escape at the Mines! Watch One-tree Point ! Send on to Eaole hawk r Quick, now!" Jones—comprehending at once the force of this manoeuvre, which would have the effect of distracting attention from the Neck—executed the order with a grin. " You're a knowing one, Dandy Jack," said he. John Rex acknowledged the compliment by uncocking the carbine. " Hold out your hands 1 —Jemmy Vetch !" "Ay, ay," replied the Crow, from beneath. " Come up and tie our friend Jones. Oabbett, have you got the axes?" " There's only one," says Oabbett, with an oath. " Then bring that, and any tucker you can lay your hands on. Have you tied him ? On we go then.*' And in the space of five minutes from the time when unsuspecting Harry had been silently clutched by two forms, who rushed upon him out of the shadow of the huts, the 3ignal Hill Station was deserted. At the settlement Burgess was foaming. Nine men to seize the Long Bay boat, and get hah! an hour's start of the alarm-signal was an unprece dented achievement ! What could Warder Troke have been about? Warder Troke, however, found eight hours afterwards, disarmed, gagged and bound in the scrub, had been guilty of no negli gence. How could he tell, that at a certain signal from Dandy Jack, the nine men he had taken to Stewart's Bay would "rush him ;" and, before he could draw a pistol, truss him like a chicken ? The worst of the gang, Rufus Dawes, had volunteered for the hated duties of pile-driving, and Troke had felt himself quite secure. How could he possibly guess that there was a plot, in which Rufus Dawes, of all men, had refused to join Constables, mounted and on foot, were de spatched to scour the bush round the settlement. Burgesa, confident by the reply of the Signal Hill semaphore, that the alarm had been given at Eaj{lehawk isthmus, promised himself the recapture of the gang before many hours ; and giving orders to keep the communications going, retired to dinner. His convict-servant had barely

* The copyright of " His Natural Life" hat been par «fc«ff by ™ Proprietor ot The (juamlandtr free. Hz

removed the soup, when the result of John Rex's ingenuity became manifest The semaphore at Signal HiU had stopped working. "Perhaps the fools can't aee," said Burgess. " Fire the beacon—and saddle my horse." The beacon waa fired. All right at Mount Arthur,* Mount Communication, and the Coal Mines, to the westward, tbe Une was clear. But at Bignal Hill waa no answering light. Burgess stamped with rage. " Get me my boat's crew ready ; and tell the Mines to signal to Woody Island." As he stood on the jetty, a breathless messenger brought the reply. "A boat's crew gone to One-Tree Point I Fro men sent from Eagle hawk IN OBEDIENCE TO ORDERS !" Burg63S understood it at once. The fellows had decoyed the Eaglehawk guard. " Give way, men !" And the boat shooting into the darkness, made for Long Bay. " I won't be far behind 'em," said the Com mandant, " at anyrate." Between Eaglehawk and Signal Hill were, for the absconders, other dangers. Along the in dented coaat of Port Bunche were four constables' stations. These stations—mere huts within signalling distance of each other—fringed the shore, and to avoid them it would be necessary to make a circuit into the scrub. UnwUling as he was to lose time, John Rex saw that to attempt to run the gauntlet of these four stations would be destruction. The safety of the party depended upon the reaching of the Neck while the guard was weakened by the absence of some of the men along the southern shore, and before the alarm could be given from the eastern arm of the peninsula. With this view, he ranged hia men in single file ; and quitting the road near Norfolk Bay, made straight for the Neck. The night had set in with high westerly wind, and prospect of rain. It was pitch dark; and the fugitives were guided only by the dull roar of the sea as it beat upon Descent Beach. Had it not been for the accident of a westerly gale, they would not have had even that bodeful assistance. The-Crow walked first, as guide, carrying a mußket taken from Harry. Then came Gabbet, with the axe ; followed by the other six, sharing between them such provisions as they had ob tained at Signal HiU. John Rex, with the carbine, and Troke's pistols, walked last It had been agreed that if attacked, they were to run each one his own way. In their desperate case, disunion was strength." At intervals, on their left, gleamed the Ughts of the constables' stations, and aa they stumbled onward they heard plainer and more plainly the hoarse murmur of the sea, beyond which waa liberty or death. After nearly two hours of painful progress, Jemmy Vetch stopped, and whispered them to approach. They were on a sandy rise. To the left was a black object that was a constable's hut; to the right wab a dim white line that was the ocean ; iu front was a row of lamps, and between every two lamps leaped and ran a dusky indistinct body. Jemmy Vetch pointed with his lean forefinger. "The dogs!" Instinctively they crouched down, lest even at that distance the two sentries, so plainly visible in the red light of the guard-house fire, should see them. "Well, bo's," says Gabbett, "what's to be done now )" As he spoke a long low howl broke from one of the chained hounds, and the whole kennel burst into hideous outcry. John Rex, who perhaps was the bravest of the party, shuddered. "They have smelt us," he said. "We must go on." Gabbett spat in his palm, and took firmer hold of the axe-handle. " Right you are," he said. " I'll leave my mark on some of them before this night's out!" On the opposite shore lights began to move, and the fugitives could hear the hurrying tramp of feet. * "Make for the right-hand side of the jetty," said Rex, in a fierce whisper. " I think I see a boat there. It ia our only chance now. We can never break through the station. Are we icady ? Now ! All together !" Gabbett was fast outstripping the others by some three feet of distance. There were eleven dogs, two of whom .»ere placed on stages set out in the water, and they were bo chained that their muzzles nearly touched. The giant leapt into the line, and with a blow of hia axe split the skull of the beast on his right hand. This action unluckily took him within reach of the other dog, who seized him by the thigh. " Fire !" cried M'Nab from the other side of the lamps. The giant uttered a cry of rage and pain, and fell with the dog under him. It was, however, the dog who had pulled him down, and the musket-baU intended for him struck Travers in the jaw. The unhappy viUain fell—Uke VirgU's Dares—" spitting blood, teeth, and curses." Gabbett • clutched the mastiff's throat with iron hand, and forced bim to loose his hold ; then, bellowing with fury, seized his axe and sprang forward, mangled as he was, upon the nearest soldier. Jemmy Vetch had been before hand with him. Uttering a low snarl of hate, he fired, and shot the sentry through the breast The others rushed through the now broken cordon, and made headloug for the boat " Fools !" cried Rex behind them. " You have wasted a shot Look to your left!" Burgess, hurried down tbe tram-road by hia men, had tarried at Signal HUI but long enough to loose the i-urprised guard from their, bonds, and taking the Woody Island boat, was pulling with a fresh crew to the Neck. The reinforce ment was not ten yards from the jetty. The Crow saw the danger, and flingLog him self into the water, desperately seized M'Nab's boat. " In with you for your lives !" he cried. Another volley from the guard spattered the water around the fugitives, but in the darkness the ill-aimed bullets fell harmless. Gabbett swung himself over the hheets, and seized an oar. " Cox, Bodenham, Greenhill ! Now, push her ofi'! Jump, Tom, jump !" and as wrathful Burgess leapt to land, CorneUus was dragged over the stem, and the whale-boat floated into diep water. M^Nab, seeing this, ran down to the waterside to aid the Commandant "Lift her over the bar men;*be shouted. With awiU—So!" And

raised in twelve strong tarns, the pursuing craft eud across the isthmus. "We've five minutes start,"said Vetch coolly, aa he saw the Commandant take hia place in the stem sheets. "p u ll away, my jully boys, and we 11 best em yet" The soldiers on the Neck fared again almost at random, but the blaze of their pieces only served to show the Command ant a boat a hundred yarda astern of that of the mutineers, which had already gained the deep water of Pirates Bay. Then, for the first time, the six prisoners became aware that John Rex was not among them. °

Chapter XXIV. in the nioht. John Rex had put into execution the first part of bis scheme. At the moment when, seeing Burgess' boat near the sand spit, he hod uttered the warning cry heard by Vetch, he turned back into the darkness, and made for the water's edge at a point some distance from the Neok. Hia des perate hope waa that, the attention of the guard being concentrated on the escaping boat be might favored by the darkness and the confu sion— swim to the peninsula. It was not a very marveUous feat to accomplish, and he had confi. dence in his own powers. Once safe on the peninßula, his plans were formed. But, owing to the strong westerly wind, which caused a sort of incoming tide upon the isthmus, it was neces sary for him to attain Borne point sufficiently far to the southward to enable him, on taking the water to be assisted, not impeded, by the cur rent. With this view, he hurried over the sandy hummocks at the entrance to the Neck, and ran backwards towardß the sea. In a few strides he had gained the hard and sandy shore, and, pausing to listen, heard behind him the sound of footsteps. He was pursued. The foot steps stopped, and then a voice cried— " Surrender !" It was M'Nab, who, seeing Rex'B retreat, had daringly foUowed him. John Rex drew from hia breast Troke'B pistol, and waited. " Surrender 1" cried the voice again, and the footsteps advanced two paces. At the instant that Rex raised the weapon to fire, a vivid flash of lightning showed him, on his right hand, a sort of path. On the ghastly and palUd ocean were two boats, the hindermoet one apparently within a few yards of him. The men looked like corpses. In the distance rose Cape Surville, and beneath Cape Surville was the hungry sea. The scene vanished iu an instant—swallowed up almost before he had realised it. But the shock it gave him made him miss his aim, and flinging away the pistol with a curse, he turned down the path and fled. M'Nab followed. The path seemed to have been mode by fre quent passage from the Station, aud Rex found it tolerably easy running. He had acquired like moat men who live much in the dark—that cat-like perception of obstacles, which is due rather to increased sensitiveness of touch than increased acuteness of vision. His feet seemed to accommodate themselves to the inequalities of the ground ; his handß to instinctively outstretch themselves towards the overhangiug boughs ; his head to duck of its own accord to any obtrusive sapling which bent to obstruct his progress. Hiß pursuer was not so fortunate. Twice did John Rex laugh mentally, at a crash and scramble that told of a fall, and once—in a valley where trickled a Uttle stream that he had cleared almost without an effort—he heard a splash that made him laugh outright. The track now began to go uphill, and Rex redoubled his efforts, trust ing to his superior muscular energy to finally shake off his pursuer. He breasted the rise, and paused to listen. The crashing of branches behind him had ceased, and it seemed that he was alone. _ He had gained the summit of .the cliff. The lights of the Neck were invisible. Below him lay the sea. Out of the black emptiness came puffs of sharp .alt wind. The tops of the rollers that broke below were blown off and whirled away into the night—white patches, swallowed up immediately in the increasing darkness. From the north Bide of the bay was borne the hoarse roar of the breakers as they dashed against the perpendicular cliffs which guarded Forestier'a Peninsula. At his feet arose a frightful shriek ing and whistling, broken at intervals by reports like claps of thunder. Where was he? Exhausted and breathless, he sank down into the rough scrub and listened. All at once, on the track over which he had passed, he heard a sound that made him bound to his feet in deadly fear—the bay of a dog. He thruat his hand to his breast for the re maining pistol, and uttered a cry of alarm. He had dropped it He felt round about bim in the darkness for some stick or stone that would serve as a weapon. In vain. His fingers clutched nothing but the prickly scrub and the coarse grass. The sweat ran down hia face. With staring eyeballs and bristling hair, he stared into the darkness, as if he would dissipate it by the very intensity ot his gaze. The noise was re peated, and, piercing through the roar of wind and water, above and below him, seemed to be close at hand. He heard a man's voice cheering the dog in accents that the gale blew away from him before he could recognise them. It was pro bable that some of the soldiers had been Bent to the assistance of M'Nab. Capture, then, was certain. In his agony the wretched man almost promised himself repentance should he escape this peril. The dog, crashing through the under wood, gave one shoit, sharp howl, and then ran mute. The darkness had increased with the gale. The wind, ravaging the hollow heaven, had spread between tbe lightnings and the sea an impene trable curtain of black cloud. It seemed pos sible to seize upon this curtain and draw its edge yet closer, f=o dense was it. The white and raging waters were blotted out, and even the lightning seemed unable to penetrate that in tense blackness. A large, worm drop of rain fell upon Rex's outstretched baud, and far over head rumbled a wrathful peal of thuuder. The shrieking which ho had heard a few moments ago had ceased, but every now and then dully-heard but immense shocks, as of some mighty bird Sapping the cliff with monstrous wings, rever berated around him, and seemed to shake the ground where be stood. He looked toward- tbe

ocean, and seemed to see rise a taU, misty Form that—white against the all-pervading blackness —beckoned and bowed to him. He saw it dis tinctly for an instant, and then, with an awful shriek, as of wrathful despair, it sank and vanished. Maddened with a terror he could scarce define, the hunted man turned to meet the material peril that was close at hand. With a ferocious gasp, the dog flung himself ' upon him. John Rex was borne backwards, but in his desperation he clutched the beast by the throat and belly, and exerting all hia strength, flung him off. The brute uttered one howl, and seemed to lie where he had fallen ; while above his carcase again hovered that white and vapor ous column. It was strange that M'Nab and the soldier did not follow up the advantage they had gained. Courage—perhaps he should defeat them yet! He hod been lucky to dispose of tbe dog so eaaUy. With a fierce thrill of re newed hope, he ran forward ; when at his feet, in his face, arose that misty Form, breathing cbill warning, aa though to wave birn back. The terror at lub heels drove him on. A few steps more, and he should gain the summit of the cUff. He oould feel the sea roaring in front of him in the gloom. The column disappeared ; and in a lull of wind, uprose from the place where it had been such a hideous medley of shrieks, laughter,' and exultant wrath, that John Rex paused in horror. Too late. The ground gave way—it seemed -beneath his feet. He waa falling—clutching, in vain, at rocka, shrubs, and grass. The cloud-curtaiu Ufted, and by the Ughtning that leapt and played about the ocean, John Rex found an explanation of his terror**, more terrible than they themselves had been. The track he had followed led to that portion of the cliff iu whioh the sea had excavated the tunnel-spout known as the DevU'a Blow-Hole. Clinging to a tree that, growing half way down the precipice, had arrested hia course, he stared into the abyss. Before him—already high above his head—was a gigantic arch of cliff. Through this arch he saw, at an immense distance below him, the raging and pallid ocean. Beneath him was an abytjs splintered with black rocks, turbid and rancous with tortured water. Suddenly the bottom of this abyss seemed to advance to meet him ; or, rather, the black throat of the chasm belched a volume of leaping, curling water, which mounted to drown him. Waa it fancy that showed him on the surface of the rising column the mangled carcase of the dog ? The chasm into which John Rex had fallen wa*s shaped like a huge funnel set up ou its narrow end. The sides of this funnel were rugged rock, and in the banks of earth lodged here and there upon projections, a scrubby vege tation grew. The scanty growth paused abruptly half way down the gulf, and the rock below was perpetuaUy damp from the uptbrown spray. Accident—had the convict been a Meekin, we might term it Providence—had lodged him on the lowest of these banks of earth. In calm weather he would have been out of danger, but the lightning flash revealed to his terror sharpened senses a black patch of dripping rock on the side of the chasm some ten feet above his head. It was evident that upon the next rising of the water-spout the place where he stood would be covered with water. The roaring column mounted with hideous swiftness. Rex felt it rush at him and awing him upward. With both arms round the tree, he clutched the sleeves of hia jacket with either hand. Perhaps if he could maintain his hold, he might outlive the shook of that suffocating tor rent He felt his feet rudely seized, as though by the hand of a giant, and plucked upwards. Water gurgled in hia ears. His arms seemed about to be torn from their sockets. Had the strain lasted another instant, he must have loosed his hold; but, with a wUd, hoarse shriek, as though it was aome sea-monster baffled of its prey, the column sank, and left him gasping, bleeding, half drowned, but alive. It was impossible that he could survive another shock, and in his agony he unclasped his stiffened fingers, determined to resign himself to bis fate. At that instant, how ever, he saw on the wall of rock that hollowed on his right hand, a red and lurid light, in the midst of which fantastically bobbed hither and thither the gigantic shadow of a man. He cast his eyes upwards and saw, slowly descending into the gulf, a blazing bush tied to a rope. McNab was taking advantage of the pause in the spouting to examine the sides of the Blow-hole. A despairing hope seized John Rex. In another instant the light would reveal to those above bis figure, clinging Uke a limpet to the rock. He must be detected in any case ; but if they could lower the rope sufficiently quickly, he might clutch it and be saved. His dread of the horrible death that was beneath him overcame his resolu tion to avoid recapture. The long-drawn agony of the retreating water as it was sucked back again into the throat of the chasm hud ceased, and he knew that the next tremendous pulsa tion of the sea below would hurl the spuming destruction up upon him. The gigantic torch slowly descended and he had already drawn in his breath for a shout which should make itself heard above the roar of the wind and water, when a atrange appearance on the face of the cliff made him pause. About six feet from him —glowing like molten gold in the gusty glow of the burning tree—a round, sleek strt-am of water sUpped from the rock into the darkness, like a serpent from its hole. Above this stream a dark spot defied the torch-Ught and John Rex felt his heart leap with one last desperate hope as he comprehended that close to bim was oue of those tortuous drives which the worm-like action of the sea bores in such caverns as that in which he found himself. The drive, opened first to the Ught of the day by the natural convulsion which had raised the mountain itself above ocean level, probably extended into the bowels of the cliff". The stream ceased to let itseU out of the crevice; it was then likely that the rising column of water did not penetrate far into this wonderful hiding-place. Endowed with a wisdom, which in one placed in a less desperate position would have been madnefcs, John Rex shouted to hia pursuers, "The rope ! the rope !" The words, projected against the sides of the enormous funnel, were pitched high above the blast, and reduplicated by a thousand echoes, reached the ears of tboee ahare.

" He's alive 1" cried M'Nab, peering into the abyss. " I see him. Look I" The soldier whipped the end of the bullock hide lariat round the tree to which he held, and began to oscillate it, so that the blazing bush might reach tbe ledge on which the daring con vict sustained himself. The groan which pre ceded the fierce belching forth of the torrent was cast up to them from below. "•God be gude to the puir felly I" saya the pious young Scotchman, catching hu breath. A white spume seemed visible at tbe bottom of the gulf, and the groan changed into a rapidly increasing bellow. John Rex, eyeing the blazing pendulum, that with longer and longer swing momentarily neared him, looked up to the black heavep for the laat time, with a muttered prayer. The bush.— the flame fanned by the motion— flung a crimson glow upon his frowning features, which as he caught the rope seemed to have a sneer of triumph on them. " Slack out! slack out I" he cried ; and then, drawing the burning bush towards him, attempted to stamp out the fire with bis feet The soldier set his body againt the tree trunk aud gripped tbe rope bard, turning his head away from the fiery pit below him. " Hold tight your honor," he muttered to M'Nab. "She's coming !" The bellow changed into a roar, the roar into a shriek, and with a gust of wind and spray the aeething sea leapt up out of the gulf. John Rex, unable to extinguish the flame, twisted his arm about the rope, and the instant before the surface of the rising water made a momentary floor to the mouth of the cavern, he spurned the cliff desperately with his feet and flung himself across the chasm. He had already clutched the rock, and thrust himself forward when the tremendous volume of water struck him. M'Nab and the soldier felt the sudden pluck of the rope and saw the light awing across the abyss. Then the fury of the waterspout burst with a triumphant scream, the tension ceased, the light was blotted out, and when the column aank, there dangled at tbe end of the lariat nothing but the drenched and blackened skeleton of the Bheoak bough. Amid a terrific peal of thunder, the long pent-up rain descended, and a sudden ghostly rending asunder of the clouds showed far below them the heaving ocean, high above them the jagged and glistening rocks, and at their feet the block and murderous abyss of the Blow-hole—empty ! They pulled up the useless rope, in silence; and another dead tree lighted and lowered, showed them nothing. " God rest his puir soul," said M'Nab, shudder ing. " He's oot o' our han'a.

Chapter XXV. THE FL.OH.. Gabbett, guided by the Crow, had determined to beach the captured boat on the southern point of Cape Surville. It will be seen by those who have taken the trouble to follow the description of the topography of Colonel Arthur's Peniten tiary, that nothing but the desperate nature of the attempt could have justified so desperate a measure. The perpendicular cliffs seemed to render such an attempt certain destruction; but Vetch, who had been employed in building the pier at the Neck, knew that on the southern point of the promontory was a strip of beach, upon which the company might, by good fortune, land in safety. With something of the decision of hia leader, Rex, the Crow determined at once that in their desperate plight thia was the only measure, and setting his teeth as he seized the oar that served as a rudder, he put the boat's head straight for the huge rock that formed the northern horn of Pirates' Bay. Saye for the faint phosphorescent radiance of the foaming waves the darkness was intense, and pursuing Burgess for some minutes pulled almost at random. The same tremendous flash of lightning which bad saved the life of M'Nab, by causing Rex to miss his aim, showed to the Com mandant the whale-boat balanced on the summit of an enormous wave, and apparently about to be flung against the wall of rock which—magni fied in the sudden flash—seemed frightfully near to them. The next instaut Burgesa himself— his boat lifted by the Bwiftly advancing billow— beheld at hia feet a sort of panorama. Suspended on the brink of the wave, the Commandant seemed on the summit of a cliff, from which he saw a wild waste of raging sea scooped into abysmal troughs, in which tbe bulk of a leviathan might wallow. At the bottom of one of these valleys of water lay the mutineers' boat looking, with its outspread oars, like some six-legged insect floating in a pool of ink. The great cliff, whose •very scar and crag was as distinct as though its huge bulk was but a yard distant, seemed to •hoot out from its base towards the struggling insect, a broad, flat straw, that waa a atrip of dry land. The next instant the rushing water, carry ing the six-legged atom with it, creamed up over this strip of beach; the giant crag, amid the thunder-crash which followed upon the lightning, appeared to stoop down over the ocean, and aa it stooped the billow rolled onwards, the boat gUded down into tbe depths, and the whole phantas magoria was swallowed up in the tumultuous darkness of the tempest Burgess—his hair . bristling with terror— shouted to put tbe boat about, but he might with aa much reason have shouted at an ava lanche. The wind blew bis voice away, and emptied it violently into the air. A snarling billow jerked the oar from his hand. Despite the desperate efforts of the soldiers, the boat was whirled up the mountain of water like a leaf on a water-spout, and a second flash of lightning showed to them what seemed a group of dolls struggling in the surf, and a wallnutshell bottom upwards was driven by the recoil of the wave towards them. For an instant all thought that they must share the fate which had overtaken the unlucky convicts ; but Burgess succeeded iu trimming tbs boat, and, awed by, tbe peril be had ao narrowly escaped, gave tbe orel*r to re turn. Aa the men set the boat's brad to tbe welcome line of lights that marked the Neck, a black spot balanced upon a black line was swept under their stern aud curie I out to the sea. As H swooped -mat tbem this black spot emitted a •ry, and tbey knew that it wat one of the shattered boat's crew clinging to an oar. "He was the only one of 'em alive," said Burgess, bandaging his sprained wrist two hours

afterward at the Neok, " and he's food for the fishes by this time !" He was mistaken, however. Fate had in re serve for the crew of villains a less merciful death than that of drowning. Aided by the lightning, and that wonderful "good luck" which urges villany to its destruction, Vetch beached the boat, and the party, bruised and bleeding, reached the upper portion of the shore in safety. Of all thia number only Cox was lost. He was pulling stroke-oar, and being somewhat of a laggard, stood in the way of the Crow, who, seeing the importance of haste in preserving hia own skin, plucked the man backwards by the coUar, and passed over his sprawUng body to the shore. Cox, grasping at anything to save him self, clutched an oar, and the next moment found himself borne out with the overturned whale-boat by the under-tow. He was drifted past his only hope of rescue—the guard-boat—with a velocity that forbade all attempts at rescue, and almost before the poor scoundrel had time to realise _Jb condition, he waa in the best possible way of escaping the hanging that hia comrades had so often humorously prophesied for him. Being a atrong and vigorous villain, however, he clung tenaciously to his oar, and even unbuckling his leather belt, passed it round the slip of wood that was his salvation, girding himself to it aa firmly as he was able. It waa in this condition, plus a swoon from exhaustiou, in which he was descried by the helmsman of the Pretty Mary, a few miles from Cape Surville, at daylight next morning. Blunt, with a wild hope that this waif and stray might be the lover of Sarah Purfoy dead, lowered a boat and picked him up. Nearly bisected by the belt, gorged with salt water, frozen with cold, and having two ribs broken, the victim of Vetch's murderous quick ness retained sufficient life to survive Blunt's remedies for nearly two hours. During tbat time he stated that his name was Cox, that he had escaped from Port Arthur with eight others, that John Rex was the leader of the expedition, that the others were all drowned, and that he believed John Rex had been retaken. Having placed Blunt in possession of these particulars, he further said that it pricked him to breathe, cursed Jemmy Vetch, the settlement, and the sea, and so impenitently died. Blunt smoked three pipes, and then altered the course of the Pretty Mary two points to the eastward, and ran for the coast It was possible that the man for whom he was searching had not been retaken, and was now awaiting his arrival. It was clearly his duty—hearing of the planned escape having been actually attempted— not to give up the expedition while hope re mained. " I'll take one more look along," said he to himself. The Pretty Mary, hugging the coast as closely aa she dared, crawled in the thin breeze all day, and saw nothing. It would be madness to land at Cape Surville, for the whole Station would be on the alert, so Blunt ss night was falling, stood off a little across the mouth of Pirates* Bay. He was walking the deck, groan ing at the folly of the expedition, when a strange appearance on the southern horn cf the bay made him come to a sudden halt There was a furnace blazing in the bowels of the mountain. Blunt rubbed his eyes and stared. He looked at the man at the helm. "Do you see anything yonder, Jem ?" Jem—a Sydney man, who had never been round that coast before—briefly remarked. "Lighthouse." Blunt stumped into the cabin and got out his charts. No lighthouse laid down there, only a mark like an anchor, and a note, " Remarkable Hole at this Point." A remarkable hole indeed; a remarkable "lime kiln" would have been more to the purpose ! Blunt called up his mate, William Staples, a fellow whom Sarah Purfoy'a gold hod bought body and soul. William Staples looked at the waxing and waning glow for a while, and then said, iu tones trembling with greed, " It's a fire. Lie to, and lower away the JoUy-boat Old Man, that's our bird for a thousand pounds I" The Pretty Mary shortened sail, and Blunt and Staples got into the jolly-boat. " Goin' a hoysterin', sir ?" said one of the crew, with a grin, aa Blunt threw a bundle into the stern-sheets. Staples thrust his tongue into his cheek. The objeot of the voyage had got to be pretty well understood among the carefully picked crew. Blunt had not choaen men who were likely to betray him, though, for that matter, all-thought ful Rex had suggested a precaution which ren dered betrayal almost impossible. " What's in the bundle, Old Man ?" asked WUI Staples, after they had got clear of the ship. " Clothes," returned Blunt. "We can't bring him off, if it it him, in his canaries. He puts on these duds, d'ye see, sinks Her Majesty's Uvery, and comes aboard, a ' shipwrecked mariner.'" " That's well thought ol Whose notion's that? Tbe Madam's, l'U be bound." "Ay." " She's a knowing one." And the sinister laughter of the pair floated across the violet water. "Go easy, man," says Blunt, as they neared the shore. " They're all awake at Eaglehawk; and if these cursed dogs give tongue, there'U be a boat out in a twinkling. It's lucky the wind's offshore." Staples lay on his oar and listened. The night was moonless, and the ship had already disap peared from view. They were approaching the promontory from the south-east, and theisthmua of the guarded Neck waa bidden by the outlying cliff. In the south-western angle of this cUff, about midway between the summit and the sea, was an arch, which vomited a red and flickering Ught that fa'ntly shone upon the sea in tbe track of the boat. The light was lambent nnd uncer tain, now sinking almost into insignificance, and now leaping up with a fierceness that caused a deep glow to throb in the very heart of the moun tain. Sometimes a black figure would pass across this gigantic furnace-mouth, stooping and rising, as though feeding tbe fire. One might have imagined that a door iu Vulcan's Smithy bad been left inadvertently open, and that the old hero was forging arms for a demigod. Superstitious Blunt turned pale. "It's no mortal," be whispered. " Lsi*. go Lack." "And what will Madam aay ?" returned dare devil WUI Staples, who would have plunged into Mount Erebus bad he been paid for it Thus

appealed to in the name of his ruling passion, Blunt turned his head, and the boat sped on ward.

Chapter XXVI. the work of the sea. The lift of the water-spout had saved John Rex's life. At the moment when it struck him he was on his hands and knees at the entrance of the cavern. The wave, gushing upwards, at the same time expanded, laterally, and this lateral force drove the convict into the mouth of the subterlapian passage. The passage seemed to trend downwards, and for some seconds he was roUed over and over, the rush of water wedging him at length into a crevice between two enormous stones, which seemed to overhang a BtiU more formidable abyss. Fortu nately for the preservation of his hard-fought-for life, this very fury of incoming water prevented him from being washed out again with the recoU of the wave. He could hear the water dashing with frightful echoes far down into the depths beyond him, but it was evident that the two stones against which he had been thrust acted aa breakwaters to the torrent poured in from the outside and repeUed the main body of the stream in the fashion he had observed from his position on the ledge. In a few seconds the cavern waa empty. Painfully extricating himself, and fooling as yet but half doubtful of his safety, John Rex essayed to cUmb the twin-blocks that barred the unknown depths below him. The first move ment he made caused him to shriek aloud. His left arm—with which he clung to the rope— hung powerlesß. Ground against the ragged entranoe, it was momentarily paralysed. For an instant the unfortunate wretch sank despairingly on the wet and rugged floor of the cave ; then a terribly gurgling beneath his feet warned him of the approaching torrent, and collecting all his energies, he scrambled up the incUne. Though nigh fainting with pain and exhaustion, he pressed desperately higher and higher. He heard the hideous shriek of the whirlpool which was beneath him grow louder and louder. He saw the darkness grow darker as the rising water spout covered the mouth of the cave. He felt the salt spray sting his face, and the wrathful tide Uck the hand that hung over the shelf on, which he felL But that was all, He was out of danger at laat! And aa the thought blessed bis senses, his eyes closed, and tiie wonderful courage and strength which had sustained the vUlain so long, exhaled in stupor. When he awoke, the cavern waa fiUed with the soft Ught of dawn. Raising hia eyes, he beheld, high above his head, a roof of rock, on which the reflection of the sunbeams, playing upwards through a pool of water, cast flickering colore. On his right hand was the mouth of the cave, on his left a terrific abyss, at the bottom of which he could hear the sea faintly lapping and washing. He raised himself and stretched his stiffened limbs. Despite his injured shoulder, it waa imperative that he should bestir himself. He knew not if his escape had been noticed, or if the cavern had another inlet, by which returning M'Nab could penetrate. More over, he was wet and famished. To preserve the life whioh he had torn from the sea, he must have fire and food. First he examined the crevice by whioh he had entered. It was shaped like an irregular triangle, hollowed at the base by the action of the water which iu such storms as that of the preceding night was forced into it by the rising of the sea. John Rex dared not crawl too near the edge, lest he should slide out of the damp and slippery orifice, and be dashed upon the rocks at the bottom of the Blow-hole. Craning his neck, he could see, a hundred feet below him, the suUenly frothing water, gurgling, spouting, and creaming, in huge turbid eddies, occasionally leaping upwards as though it longed for another storm to Bend it raging up to the man who had escaped its fury. It was impossible to get down that way. He turned back into the cavern, and began to explore in that direction. The twin-rocks against which he had been hurled were, in fact, pillars which supported the roof of the water-drive. Beyond them lay a great gray shadow which was emptiness faintly Ulumined by the sea-light cast up through the bottom of the gulf. Midway across the gray shadow fell a strange beam of dusky brilliance which cast its flickering light upon a wilderness of waving sea-weeds. Even in the desperate position in which he found himself, there sur vived in the Vagabond's nature sufficient poetry to make him value the natural marvel upon which he hod so strangely stumbled. The immense promontory, which, viewed from the outside, aeemed as soUd as a mountain, waa in reality but a hollow cone, reft and split into a thousand fissures by the unsuspected action of centuries of sea. The Blow-hole was but an insignificant cranny compared with this enormous chasm. Descend ing with difficulty the steep incline, he found himself on the brink of a gallery of rock, which, jutting out over the pool, bore on its moist and weed-bearded edges signa of frequent submer sion. It must be low tide without the rock. Clinging to the rough and root-like algae that fringed the eyer-moi-t walls, John Rex crept round the projection of the gallery, and passed at once from dimness to daylight. There was a broad loophole in the side of the honey-combed and wave-perforated cUff. The cloudless heaven expanded above him ; a fresh breeze kissed bis cheek, and, sixty feet below him the sea wrinkled all ita laay length, sparkling in myriad wavelets beneath the bright beams of morning. Not a sign of the recent tempest marred the exquisite harmony of the picture. Not a sigij of human life gave evidence of the grim neighborhood of the prison. From the recess out of which he peered nothing waa visible but sky of torquoise smiling upon a sea of sapphire. Thia placidity of nature was, however, to the hunted convict a new source of alarm. It was a reason why the Blow-hole and ita neighborhood should be thoroughly searched. He guessed that the favorable weather would be an additional inducement to M'Nab and Burgess to satisfy themselves as to the fate of their late prisoner. He turned from the opening and prepared to descend still further into the rocky pathway. The aunabine had revived and cheered him, and a sort of instinct told him that tbe cliff ao honey combed above, oould not be without acme guUy

or chink at its base, which at low tide would give upon the rocky Bhore. It grew darker as be descended, and twice he almost turned back in dread of the gulfs on either Bide of him. It seemed to him, also, that the gullet of weed-clad rock through which he was crawling doubled upon itself and led only into the bowels of the mountain. Gnawed by hunger and conscious that in a few hours at most the rising tide would fill the subterranean passage and cut off hia retreat, he pushed desperately onwards. He had descended some ninety feet, and had lost in the devious windings of his downward path all but the reflection of the light from the gallery, when he was rewarded by a glimpse of sunshine strik. ing upwards. He parted two enormous masses of seaweed, whose bubble-beaded fronds hung curtain-wise across hk path, and found him self in the very middle of the narrow cleft of rock through which the sea was driven to the Blow-hole. At an immense distance above him was the arch of cliff. Beyond that arch appeared a segment of the ragged edge of the circular opening down which he had fallen. He looked in vain for the funnel-mouth whose friendly shelter had received him. It was now indistinguishable. At his feet was a long reft in the solid rock, bo narrow that he could almost have leapt across it. This reft was the channel of a swift blade current which ran from the sea for fifty yards under an arch eight feet high, until it broke upon the jagged rocks that lay blistering in the sunshine at the bottom of the circular opening in the upper cliff. A shudder shook the Umba of the adventurous convict. He comprehended that at high tide the place where he stood was under water, and the narrow cavern became a subaqueous pipe of solid rock forty-feet long, through which were spouted the league-long rollers of the Southern Sea. The narrow strip of rock at the base of the cliff waa as flat as a table. Here and there were enormous hollows like pans, which the retreating tide had left full of clear, stiU water. The cran nies of the rock were inhabited by small white crabs, aud John Rex found to hia delight that there was on this Uttle shelf abundance of mus sels, which, though lean and acrid, were suffi ciently grateful to his famished stomach. Attached to the Hat surfaces of the numerous stones, moreover, were coarse Umpets. These, however, John Rex found too salt to be palat able, and was compelled to reject them, A larger variety, however, having a succulent body as thick as a man's thumb contained in long razor-shaped sheUs, were in some degree free from this objection, and he soon coUected the materials for a meal. Having eaten and sunned himself, he began to examine the enormous rock to the base of which he had so strangely pene trated. Rugged and worn, it raised ita huge breast against wind and wave, secure upon a broad pedestal, which probably extended aa far beneath the sea as the massive column itself rose above it. Rising thus, with its shaggy drapery of sea-weed clinging about its knees, it seemed to be a motionless but sentient being—some monster of the deep, a Titan of the ocean con demned ever to front in silence the fury of that illimitable and rarely travelled sea. Yet— silent aud motionless as he was—the hoary ancient gave hint of the mysteries of his revenge. Standing upon the broad and sea-girt platform where surely no human foot but hia had ever stood in life, the convict saw many feet above him, pitched into a cavity of the huge Bun blistered boulders, an object which his sailor eye told him at once was port of the top hamper of some large ship. Crusted with shells, and ita ruin so over-run with the ivy of the ocean, that ita ropes could barely be distinguished from the weeds with which they were encumbered, this relio of human labor attested the triumph of nature over human ingenuity. Perforated below by the relentless sea, exposed above to the dull fury of the tempest; Bet in solitary defiance to the waves, that rolling from the ice-volcano of the Southern pole, hurled their gathered flight unchecked upon its iron front, the great' rock drew from its lonely warfare the materials of ita own sUent vengeances. Clasped in iron arms, it held its prey, snatched from the jaws of the all devouring sea. One might imagine that, when the doomed ship, with her crew of shrieking souls, had splintered and gone down, the deaf, blind giant bud clutched this fragment, upheaved from the seething watera, with a thrUl of savage and terrible joy. Johu Rex, gazing up at this momen(o of a forgotten agony, felt a sensation of the most vulgar pleasure. " There'B wood for my fire !" thought he ; and mounting to the spot, he essayed to fling down the splinters of timber upon the platform. Long exposed to the sun, and flung high above the water-mark of recent storms, the timber had dried to the condition of touch- wood, and would burn fiercely. It waa precisely what he required. Strange accident tbat had for years stored, upon a desolute rock, this fragment of a vanished and long-forgotten vessel, that it might aid at last to warm the limbs of a villain escaping from justice ! Striking the disintegrated mass with his iron shod heel, John Rex broke off convenient por tions ; and making a bag of bis shirt, by tying the sleeves and neck, he was speedily staggering into the cavern with a supply of f ueL He made two trips, flinging down the wood in the floor of tbe gallery tbat overlooked the sea, and was re turning for a third, when hia quick ear caught the dip of oars. He had barely time to lift the sea-weed curtain that veiled the entrance to the chasm, when tbe Eaglehawk boat rounded the pronioatory. Burgess was in the stern-sheets, and seemed to I e making signals to someone on tbe top of the cli_C Rex, grinning behind bis veil, divined the manoeuvre. M'Nab and his party were to search above, while the Com mandant examined the gulf below. The boat headed direct for the passage, and, for an instant, Johu Kex's undaunted soul -havered at the thought that, perhaps after all, his pursuers might be aware of the existence of the cavern. Yet that was uulikely. He kept his ground, aud the boat passed within a foot of bim, gliding silently into the gulf. He observed tbat Burgess' usually florid face was pule, and that hia left sleeve was cut open, showing a bandage on the arm. There had been some fighting, then, and it waa not unlikely that hia feUow- desperadoes bad been captured ! He chuckled at his own

ingenuity and good sense. The boat, emerging from the archway, entered the pool of the Blow hole, and held with the full btrength of the party, remained stationary. John Rex watched Burgess scan the rocks and eddies, saw him signal to M'Nab, and then, with much reUef, beheld the boat's head brought round to the sea board. He was so intent upon watching this danger ous and difficult operation, that he was oblivious of an extraordinary change which had taken place in the interior of the cavern. The water, whioh, an hour ago, had left exposed a long reef of black hummock-rocks, was now spread in one foam-flecked sheet over the ragged bottom of the rude staircase by which he had descended. The tide had turned, and the sea, apparently sucked in through some deeper tunnel in the portion of the cliff which waa below water, was being forced into the vault with a rapidity which bid fair to shortly submerge the mouth of the cave. The convict's feet were already wetted by the incoming waves, and as he turned for one last look at the boat, he saw a green, grassy biUow heave up against the entrance to the chasm, and, almost blotting out the daylight, roll majestically through the arch. It waa high time for Burgess to take his departure if be did not wish his whale-boat to be cracked like a nut against the roof of the tunnel. AUve to his danger, the Commandant abandoned the search after his late prisoner's corpse, and hastened to gain the open sea. The boat, carried backwards and upwards on the bosom of a monstrous wave, narrowly escaped destruction, and John Rex, climbing to the gallery, saw with njnch satisfaction the broad back of bis out-witted gaoler disappear round the sheltering promontory. The last efforts of his pursuers had failed, and in another hour the only accessible entrance to tbe oonvict'a retreat was hidden under three feet of furious sea-water. His gaolers were convinced of his death, and Would search for him no more. So far, so good. Now for the last desperate venture—the escape from the wonderful cavern which was at once his shelter and his prison. Piling his wood together, and aucceeding after many efforts, by aid of a flint and the ring whioh yet clung to bis ankle, in Ugbting a fire and warming his chilled limbs in its cheering blaze, he set himself to meditate upon his course of action. He was safe for the present, and the supply of food that the rock afforded was amply sufficient to sustain life in him for many days, but it was impossible that he could remain for many days concealed. He Bad no fresh water, and though by reason of the soaking he had received he had hitherto folt little inconvenience from this cause, the salt and acrid mussels speedily induced a raging thirst, which he could not alleviate. It was imperative that within forty-eight hours at furthest he should be on his way to the peninsula^ He remembered the Uttle stream into which—in his flight of the previous night—he had bo nearly fallen, and hoped to be able under cover of the darkness to steal round the reef and reach it unobserved. Hia desperate scheme was then to commence. He had to run the gauntlet of the dogs and guards, gain the peninsula, and await the rescu ing vessel. He confessed to himself that the chances were terribly against him. If Gabbett and the others had been recaptured—as he devoutly trusted—the coast would be compara tively clear ; but if they had escaped, he knew Burgess too well to think that he would give up the chase whUe hope of re-taking the absconders remained to him. If indeed all fell out as he had wished, he had still to sustain life untU Blunt found him—if haply Blunt had not re turned, wearied with useless and dangerous waiting. As night came on, and the fireUght showed strange shadows waving from the corners of the enormous vault, while the dismal abysses beneath Bim murmured and muttered with uncouth and ghastly utterarces, there feU upon the lonely man the terror of SoUtude. Was thia marvel lous hiding place tbat he had discovered to be his sepulchre ! Waa he—a monster among his feUow-men—to die some monstrous death, en tombed in thia mysterious and terrible cavern of the sea? He tried to drive away these gloomy thoughts by sketching out for himself a plan of action—but in vain. Iu vain he strove to picture in its completeness that—as yet vague—design by which he promised himself to wrest from the vanished son of the wealthy shipbuilder his name and heritage. His mind, filled with forebodings of shadowy horror, could not give to the subject that calm consideration which it needed. In the midst of his schemes for the baffling of the jealous love of the woman who was to save him, and the getting to England, in shipwrecked and foreign guise, as the long-lost heir to the fortune of Sir Richard Devine, there arose ghastly and awesome shapes of death and horror, with whose terrible unsubstantiaUty he must grapple in the lonely recesses of that dismal cavern. He heaped fresh wood upon his fire, that the bright Ught might drive out the grewsome things that lurked above, below, and around him. He became afraid to look behind him, lest some shapeless mass of mid-sea-birth—some voracious polyp with far reaching anna and jellied mouth ever open to devour—might not alide up over the edge of the dripping caves below and fasten upon him in the darkness. His imagination—always aufficiently vivid and spurred to unnatural effect by the exciting scenes of the previous night—painted each patch of shadow, clinging bat-like to the humid wall, as some globular sea spider ready to drop upon him with its viscid and clay-cold body, and drain out his chilled blood, eufolding him in rough and hairy arms. Each splash in the water beneath him, each sigh of the multitudinous and melar.ch.oly sea, seemed to prelude tbe lalmrious advent of some mis shapen and uugainly abortion of the ooze. All the sensations iiftluced by lapping water and re gurgitating waves took material shape and sur rounded him. All creatures that could be engendered by slime and salt crept forth into the firelight to stare at him. Red dabs aud splashes that were living beings, having a strange phosphoric light of their own, glowed upon the floor. The livid incrustations of a hundred years of humidity slipped from off the walls and painfully heaved their mushroom surfaces to tbe blaze. The red glow of the unwonted fire, crimsoning the wet sides of the cavern, seemed to attract countless bUsterous and transparent

shapelessnesses, whioh elongated themselves towards bim. Bloodless and bladdery things ran hither and thither noiselessly. Strange carapaces crawled from out the rocks. All the horrible unseen life of the ocean seemed to be rising up and surrounding him. He retreated to the brink of the gulf, and the glare of the upheld brand fell upon a rounded hummock, whose coronal of sUky weed out-floating in the water looked like the head of a drowned man. He rushed to the entrance of the gallery, and his shadow, thrown into the opening, seemed to take the shape of an avenging phantom, with arms upraised to warn him back. The naturalist, the explorer, or the shipwrecked seaman would have found nothing frightful in this exhibition of the harmless life of the Aus tralian ocean. But the convict's guilty con science, long suppressed and derided, asserted itself in this hour when it was alone with Nature and Night: The bitter intellectual power which had so long supported him succumbed beneath imagination—the unconscious religion of the boul. If ever he was nigh repentance it was then. He deemed all the phantoms of his past crimes arising to gibber at him, and covering his eyes with bis hands, he fell shuddering upon his knees. The brand, loosening from his grasp, dropped into the gulf, and was extinguished with a huwing noise. As if the sound had called up some spirit that lurked below, a whisper ran through the cavern. " John Rex I" The hair of the convict's flesh stood up, and ho cowered to the earth. "John Rex!" It was a human voice ! Whether of friend or enemy he did not pause to think. His terror over-mastered all other considerations. " Here ! Here !" he cried, and sprang to the opening of the vault [TO BK COKTINVB-.]