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Was it possible that some new trade was to be initiated? Before he had settled this point to his satisfaction, he was startled by another boat expedition. Three boats' crews went down the bay, and returned, after a day's absence, with an addition to their number in the shape of four strangers and a quantity of stores and farming implements. Rufus Dawes, catching sight of these last, came to the conclusion that the boats had been to Philip's Island, where the "garden" was established, and had taken off the gardeners and garden produce.

Rufus Dawes decided that the Ladybird had brought a new commandant—his sight, trained by his half-savage life, had already distinguished Mr. Maurice Frere—and that these mysteries were "improvements" under the new rule. When he arrived at this point of reasoning, another conjecture, assuming his first to have been correct, followed as a natural consequence. Lieutenant Frere would be a more severe commandant than Major Vickers.

Now, severity had already reached its height, so far as he was concerned; so the unhappy man took a final resolution—he would kill himself. Before we exclaim against the sin of such a determination, let us endeavour to set before us what the sinner had suffered during the past six years. We have already a notion of what life on a convict ship means; and we have seen through what a furnace Rufus Dawes had passed before he set foot on the barren shore of Hell's Gates. But to appreciate in its intensity the agony he suffered since that time, we must multiply the infamy of the 'tween decks of the Malabar a hundred fold.

In that prison was at least some ray of light. All were not abominable; all were not utterly lost to shame and manhood.

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Stifling though the prison, infamous the companionship, terrible the memory of past happiness—there was yet ignorance of the future, there was yet hope. But at Macquarie Harbour was poured out the very dregs of this cup of desolation. The worst had come, and the worst must for ever remain. The pit of torment was so deep that one could not even see Heaven.

Closing Hell's Gates

There was no hope there so long as life remained. Death alone kept the keys of that island prison. Is it possible to imagine, even for a moment, what an innocent man, gifted with ambition, endowed with power to love and to respect, must have suffered during one week of such punishment? We ordinary men, leading ordinary lives—walking, riding, laughing, marrying and giving in marriage—can form no notion of such misery as this.

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Some dim ideas we may have about the sweetness of liberty and the loathing that evil company inspires; but that is all. We know that were we chained and degraded, fed like dogs, employed as beasts of burden, driven to our daily toil with threats and blows, and herded with wretches among whom all that savours of decency and manliness is held in an open scorn, we should die, perhaps, or go mad. But we do not know, and can never know, how unutterably loathsome life must become when shared with such beings as those who dragged the tree-trunks to the banks of the Gordon, and toiled, blaspheming, in their irons, on the dismal sandpit of Sarah Island.

No human creature could describe to what depth of personal abasement and self-loathing one week of such a life would plunge him. Even if he had the power to write, he dared not.

As one whom in a desert, seeking for a face, should come to a pool of blood, and seeing his own reflection, fly—so would such a one hasten from the contemplation of his own degrading agony. Imagine such torment endured for six years! Ignorant that the sights and sounds about him were symptoms of the final abandonment of the settlement, and that the Ladybird was sent down to bring away the prisoners, Rufus Dawes decided upon getting rid of that burden of life which pressed upon him so heavily.

For six years he had hewn wood and drawn water; for six years he had hoped against hope; for six years he had lived in the valley of the shadow of Death. He dared not recapitulate to himself what he had suffered.

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Indeed, his senses were deadened and dulled by torture. He cared to remember only one thing—that he was a Prisoner for Life. In vain had been his first dream of freedom. He had done his best, by good conduct, to win release; but the villainy of Vetch and Rex had deprived him of the fruit of his labour. Instead of gaining credit by his exposure of the plot on board the Malabar , he was himself deemed guilty, and condemned, despite his asseverations of innocence. The knowledge of his "treachery"—for so it was deemed among his associates— while it gained for him no credit with the authorities, procured for him the detestation and ill-will of the monsters among whom he found himself.

On his arrival at Hell's Gates he was a marked man—a Pariah among those beings who were Pariahs to all the world beside. Thrice his life was attempted; but he was not then quite tired of living, and he defended it. This defence was construed by an overseer into a brawl, and the irons from which he had been relieved were replaced.

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His strength—brute attribute that alone could avail him—made him respected after this, and he was left at peace. At first this treatment was congenial to his temperament; but by and by it became annoying, then painful, then almost unendurable. Tugging at his oar, digging up to his waist in slime, or bending beneath his burden of pine wood, he looked greedily for some excuse to be addressed. He would take double weight when forming part of the human caterpillar along whose back lay a pine tree, for a word of fellowship.

He would work double tides to gain a kindly sentence from a comrade. In his utter desolation he agonized for the friendship of robbers and murderers.

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Then the reaction came, and he hated the very sound of their voices. He never spoke, and refused to answer when spoken to. He would even take his scanty supper alone, did his chain so permit him. He gained the reputation of a sullen, dangerous, half-crazy ruffian. Captain Barton, the superintendent, took pity on him, and made him his gardener. He accepted the pity for a week or so, and then Barton, coming down one morning, found the few shrubs pulled up by the roots, the flower-beds trampled into barrenness, and his gardener sitting on the ground among the fragments of his gardening tools.

For this act of wanton mischief he was flogged.

Chained Convict for Life, Book One

At the triangles his behaviour was considered curious. He wept and prayed to be released, fell on his knees to Barton, and implored pardon. Barton would not listen, and at the first blow the prisoner was silent. From that time he became more sullen than ever, only at times he was observed, when alone, to fling himself on the ground and cry like a child. It was generally thought that his brain was affected.

When Vickers came, Dawes sought an interview, and begged to be sent back to Hobart Town. This was refused, of course, but he was put to work on the Osprey. After working there for some time, and being released from his irons, he concealed himself on the slip, and in the evening swam across the harbour.

He was pursued, retaken, and flogged. Then he ran the dismal round of punishment. He burnt lime, dragged timber, and tugged at the oar. The heaviest and most degrading tasks were always his. Shunned and hated by his companions, feared by the convict overseers, and regarded with unfriendly eyes by the authorities, Rufus Dawes was at the very bottom of that abyss of woe into which he had voluntarily cast himself.

Goaded to desperation by his own thoughts, he had joined with Gabbett and the unlucky three in their desperate attempt to escape; but, as Vickers stated, he had been captured almost instantly. He was lamed by the heavy irons he wore, and though Gabbett—with a strange eagerness for which after events accounted—insisted that he could make good his flight, the unhappy man fell in the first hundred yards of the terrible race, and was seized by two volunteers before he could rise again.

His capture helped to secure the brief freedom of his comrades; for Mr. Troke, content with one prisoner, checked a pursuit which the nature of the ground rendered dangerous, and triumphantly brought Dawes back to the settlement as his peace-offering for the negligence which had resulted in the loss of the other four. Lia has known true darkness—and not just because of the power grid failure nine months ago. She has faced evil and emerged a survivor.

But when Lia shocks him by saying she wants them both, he has the decision of a lifetime to make. Lose the girl, or lose his best friend. Proceed at your own risk.

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