Page:Melbourne and Mars.djvu/16

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14
MELBOURNE AND MARS.

One evening as father rode up to the hut he heard a series of shrill screams. He threw himself off his horse, and dashed in to see what was the matter, and found the girl Nattie struggling in the arms of his mate, who was attempting something improper. Seeing father he desisted, and the girl sheltered herself, sobbing and quivering with excitement, behind father. Father's companion pleaded that it was the custom of the country to make the jins into slaves of that kind, and told father that he was welcome to keep one himself. Father said he had a dear wife in England, and that, he would never degrade himself or his wife by any such connexion, and that he would protect Nattie from outrage.

From this time there was a deal of sullenness and illfeeling between the two men. Nattie, too, showed much aversion to Bob, and took care never to be in the hut unless father was there. So events went on until the day before mother got to Beedham's station. Again father had caught Bob in the act of molesting Nattie. This time he had ridden after the poor girl until she could run no longer, and had caught her, panting and gasping for breath.

Father kept his promise, Bob tried to defend himself, and managed to plant a few blows on father; but on the whole he got much the worst of the encounter. Beedham thought he understood the matter, and so sent the two of them off to M'Callum's station, charged with fighting for the possession of a jin and neglecting their duty. The innocent cause of all this trouble wandered about the hut for several days, and saw the return of Bob, with his half-healed back, and seeing nothing of father she went back to her tribe and her old wild life.

When father regained consciousness he was released from the grating, and mother was kneeling beside him washing the blood off his torn and bruised back, upon which had fallen five of the twenty-five lashes he was sentenced to receive for protecting a girl from the mad lust of a fellow countryman.

Fortunately Bob had been triced up the first, else father would have received twenty more, and been rendered incapable of movement for a week at least. It was a cruel time. For mere trifles, and often for no fault, men were flogged almost to death. A black pall of crime and cruelty overhung the whole land. No wonder that the settlers, a few years later, demanded that freedom from the stain of being a convict settlement. No writer will dare to depict the social life of the time, Marcus Clarke has given some phases of it as applied to Tasmania, and his pages are harrowing in the extreme.[1]

  1. Says one man who had business in Bathurst Courthouse:—"I saw a man walk across the yard with the blood that had run from his lacerated flesh squishing out of his shoes at every step he took. A dog was licking the blood off the triangles, and the ants were carrying away great pieces of human flesh that the lash had scattered about the ground. The scourge's foot had worn a deep hole in the ground by the