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Chapter 6 New Horizons

The prisoners were taken out of the barracks and mustered along the quayside.  A party of Government officials appeared and, together with Lieutenant Bolt, passed up and down the line of men, studying their papers as they did so.

If a man looked as though he might prove particularly useful one of the officials pointed him out and a guard led him away.  Beresford was one of the first to be selected.

‘No,’ cried Jack.

‘Shut it,’ said the guard.

‘But he’s my father,’ Jack pleaded.  ‘You wouldn’t want to separate an orphan child from his father would you?’

The guard raised his hand to cuff him but one of the officials signalled to him to desist.

He was a tall man with a well-groomed beard and a thick head of hair with straggly locks framing his face like the ears of a basset hound.  His spectacles balanced upon the end of a sharp, thin nose.

‘Are you really trying to tell me that this man is your father?’ he asked.

Jack nodded.  The man consulted his papers.

‘It says here,’ he read, ‘that you are called Jack Dawkins and that this fellow, who you claim to be your father, is called Beresford.’

‘It’s his first name.’

The official tapped his fingers on his chin and turned to Beresford.  ‘Is this boy your child?’

Before Beresford could answer, Jack threw himself upon his knees and held his hands up to the official.  ‘I’m a bastard,’ he said.  ‘There’s no record of us.  We’ve just found each other after years of separation.’

The official shook his head and patted Jack on the head.  ‘Good try but I fear not good enough.  Even if you were related I’m afraid that the colony could not easily find work for one such as you.’

‘Come along, Dr Fowler,’ said the leader of the party, ‘we haven’t all day.’

The doctor patted Jack on the head and moved on.

The guard pulled at Beresford’s arm.  He resisted for a moment and clasped Jack on the shoulder.

‘I thought we’d not be able to stay together, lad,’ he said.  ‘But I’ll always remember you.  Look after yourself and remember; keep a lid on your swagger.’

The guard led Beresford away.  A familiar snigger sounded from further down the line.

‘Get lost, Crimp,’ Jack said.

Beresford need have had no worries concerning Jack’s behaviour at this moment.  No matter how much he tried to swagger, the chill in his heart prevented it.

The official party worked its way down the line, selecting about a third of the men for government work.  Those who were selected either had specialist skills or were particularly strong-looking men like Beresford and Trench.  Those left over were as varied a looking bunch of miscreants as could be found in Newgate or the House of Lords.

They were now herded close together and a new party of men strolled up and down, documents and little purses clasped in their hands.  These were the free settlers.

Some were inhabitants of Sydney wishing to be assigned servants.  Others were settlers from further away, many of them men termed squatters who owned vast tracts of land out in the wilderness.  They were looking for experienced men to tend their flocks or till their fields, or, failing this, men who looked strong enough to work until they dropped.

The wealthiest looking settlers were at the head of the line and they made selection of all the best men.  The whole process was much more chaotic and speedy than the measured progress of the government officials.  The settlers were in a hurry to get the choicest men possible and they knew they dare not linger over-long for fear of losing out to a rival.

In the end there were only two prisoners left on the quayside; Dodger and Crimp.

There were very few settlers either.  They looked long and hard at the two remaining figures before shaking their heads and leaving.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ cried Dodger bitterly.  ‘Can’t yer see what a bargain I am?’

Only one man scrutinised them still.  He was a huge man, nearly six feet tall and broad and fat.  He leaned upon a thick walking stick.  His right foot was swaddled in bandages.

Although the man was big his head was very small, looking like the head of a fox or weasel jammed onto the neck of a man.  His beady eyes were cold and unreadable.  A raw, red scar ran from just beneath his left eye to the edge of his lip.

He chewed tobacco and every so often spat it out, staining his bandaged foot brown.  Dodger noticed him staring and fell quiet, having no wish to attract his attention.

They continued in this impasse for a few minutes, until the man lurched over to him.  He held Dodger’s chin and scrutinised him carefully as if he were a horse or a dog.

‘Open yer mouth,’ he growled.

The voice was so harsh, so reminiscent of the all too-familiar one of Sikes, that Dodger obeyed.  The man peered at his teeth and shut his jaw with a snap.  He then turned and did the same with Crimp.

‘Take your glove off,’ he told Crimp.

Crimp gave an anxious look and shook his head.  The man lifted his fist and, muttering, Crimp inched it off.  Dodger gasped.  The top of the fingers had disappeared; the stumps which remained were blackened and charred.

The big man examined the hand for a moment and then shrugged as if he expected little different.

‘They’ll do,’ he said to the one remaining official.  He reached into a mud-stained purse and pulled out a sovereign and some silver.

‘It’s two pounds, Mr Stone,’ said the clerk, ‘one pound per convict.’

‘He’s only a lad and a puny one at that,’ Stone said, poking Dodger in the chest. ‘And the bloke’s not much better.  I think I should get a discount on account of the lack of eye and hand of the one and the puniness and ugliness of the other.’

‘How much are you offering?’

‘Thirty bob for the pair.’

The clerk considered for a moment, pocketed the money and thrust two sets of papers into Stone’s hand.  ‘Fred Crimp and Jack Dawkins,’ he said.  ‘Yours for thirty bob and no questions asked.’

He turned towards Crimp and Jack.  ‘This is Seth Stone, your new master,’ he said.  ‘Do well by him and he’ll do well by you.’

I doubt that, thought Dodger.

‘My carriage is there,’ Stone said, pointing to a tumble-down crate.  A donkey with a hang-dog expression stood in the traces.  ‘You can walk behind.’

The clerk handed Jack and Crimp a parcel each which contained some bedding and clothing.

As they walked towards the cart Crimp muttered, ‘I must have died and gone to heaven.  Do you know why?  Because I’m going to make your life hell.’

 ‘Artful’ is free today on Kindle and all Kindle apps.  Click on the pictures to the right to buy.

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About Martin Lake

Martin Lake lives in the French Riviera with his wife. After studying at the University of East Anglia he worked as a teacher, trainer and company director. A serious accident shattered his arm and meant that he had to rein back his work. He decided to concentrate on writing and is now writing full-time. He writes a wide range of fiction. His main interests are historical fiction, short stories and fiction for young adults. Martin has a series of novels 'The Lost King' which are set in the years following the Norman Invasion of England. They concern Edgar Atheling, last representative of the ancient English royal dynasty and his fight to regain the throne from William the Conqueror. Martin has also published 'Artful' the further adventures of the Dodger and 'Outcasts' a novel about fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His latest novel, 'A Love Most Dangerous' is about a maid of honour who becomes the lover of Henry VIII. Martin’s work has been broadcast on radio. He won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story based on 'The Wind in the Willows.' You can get the collection, 'The Wind in the Willows Short Stories' from Amazon.
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