The genial man who had been silently observing proceedings suddenly sat forward, cupping his chin in his hands.
‘Lenient?’ Jack said indignantly. ‘They sent me here, didn’t they?’
‘They did indeed. But with your crimes they could have put you in jail for the rest of your days.’
‘Perhaps it’s because I was framed. It was a put-up job.’
The man chuckled to himself. ‘You’re a fighter and no mistake.’
‘What do you think, John?’ the Governor asked, turning to the man. ‘What’s your advice? As a lawyer?’
‘There’s no question of a pardon, free or conditional,’ the lawyer answered.
‘A Ticket of Leave?’
The man walked over to the desk and picked up some papers. ‘He was convicted on 31st July 1838 and given a fourteen year sentence.’ He did a quick calculation. ‘He won’t be eligible for a Ticket of Leave until 1844.’
Gipps frowned and looked at Fowler.
‘My hands are tied, Fowler, I’m sorry. The boy will serve a minimum of three more years before he’s eligible for a Ticket. He’ll have to be sent back to the barracks.’
‘No,’ Jack cried, throwing himself to the floor. ‘Anything but that, Sir Gipps. I’ll be good, I swear it.’
The Governor looked at him with distaste but appeared unmoved by this demonstration of passion.
The lawyer tapped his finger upon his chin. ‘There is another option, Sir George,’ he said.
The Governor raised an eyebrow.
‘We could simply assign him to Dr Fowler. He becomes an indentured servant.’
‘But what about the death of Stone?’
The lawyer shrugged. ‘The Bathurst constabulary were quite confident that Stone fell into the well.’
‘And the severed rope?’
‘It could have been done by the Aborigines, particularly if Dawkins is correct in saying how Stone treated the girl.’
Gipps picked another pinch of snuff. The room fell silent.
‘I can’t say I’m enamoured of the idea,’ he said, at last. ‘This boy is an out and out villain. His own record condemns him as one of the most accomplished criminals in London when he was a mere ten years old. He would prove far more of a danger to the colony now.’
‘Pooh pooh, Sir George,’ the lawyer said. ‘Are we so scared of little boys that we hide our heads beneath the bed-sheets?’
‘This is not your typical little boy.’
‘And neither is my father a typical doctor,’ Beatrice said firmly. ‘As well as a medical man he is an amateur anthropologist.’
The Governor frowned.
‘My daughter means that I study mankind,’ Fowler explained. ‘The habits of different people, their cultures and their customs. It’s why I came out to New South Wales in the first place.’
‘So father will be well able to manage such a singular case as Jack,’ Beatrice said.
Gipps sighed and turned to the lawyer. ‘Are you sure there is no alternative?’
‘None that I would recommend,’ he answered. ‘If the boy is half as skilful as his record claims no barracks will possibly hold him. And if by some miracle he does remain there, he will become more hardened to crime. No doubt, he will make a mockery of the place and lord it over the guards.’
Jack sniggered at this.
‘See, Sir George,’ the lawyer continued. ‘I’ve hit the nail on the head. It strikes me that this boy will either end up a national hero or a disgrace dangling on the end of a rope. I think that it is largely up to us to determine the outcome.’
Gipps sighed and turned towards Fowler. ‘On your own head be it, Doctor,’ he said.
Beatrice clapped her hands and beamed at Jack. Fowler smiled but a good deal less enthusiastically.
Gipps turned a fierce gaze upon Jack, so fierce that Jack recoiled and took a step backwards.
‘Jack Dawkins,’ he said. ‘You’ve been saved from a terrible life by the goodness of Dr Fowler, a kind and worthy gentleman. If I hear that you in any way abuse his trust I shall have no hesitation in seeking out the Attorney-General, Mr Plunkett here, and I shall ask him to make sure you are hanged.’
‘So be warned,’ the Attorney-General said although his voice held little threat.
‘I will, sir,’ Jack answered. ‘I’ll be good as gold.’
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