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2-026 (Text)

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author,male,Burn, David,30 addressee
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Burn, 1829
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2-026-plain.txt — 11 KB

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(Macquarie Harbour. The shore of Sarah Island, an extensive marine basin, girdled by lofty wood-clad mountains. PRISONERS dressed in yellow and black, mostly without shoes or stockings, many in irons, cross-cutting, sawing and shaping timbers for a vessel which is being built.
Appropriate music, as the curtain rises. BRADY, MacCABE and BIRD in front. REX, a convict overseer, watching. He throws a malignant leer at BRADY who retorts with a scowl of defiance. REX regards him significantly and walks away. BRADY drops his axe, and sits with his arms on his knees, and his head buried in his palms.)
MAC: So downcast, Brady? You are marked for mischief.
BRADY: Ay. The thankless slave, who, for a smile from power would sell his soul - that such a wretch should wield the destiny over men like us!
MAC: A fruitful source of evil - a fertile source of crime, when convict is empowered to drive to madness his fellow convict. Marked you his smile of mischief?
BRADY: I marked it, and defied it.
MAC: And yet his wiles may reach you.
BRADY: And if they do, 'tis but my fit reward that spared him from the claws of the eagle and the maw of the crow. 
MAC: I do not understand you.
BRADY: As willing guide to the party dispatched in pursuit of me and my luckless associates of my recent flight, unequal to the perils and privations of the dreadful route we led them, this Rex, this miscreant, must have whitened with his bones the barren strand of Port Davey, had not my lustier shoulders sustained his pack, my brawnier arm upheld his fainting frame, and my scanty scrip afforded a famished crust.
BIRD: Would you had buttered the crust with arsenic! Hang me if the herring-faced lubber ain't scheming to feed the cats on us.
BRADY: Let him do his worst; for here my time is brief.
MAC: What mean you?
BRADY: To compass liberty, or welcome death.
MAC: A dream - a dream.
BRADY: Not so, Mac. No dream to men as desperate as I.
MAC: What! Have you forgot that but two runaways have ever reached the peopled territory - and then only to find their way to the scaffold?
If you have forgotten this, have your own sufferings escaped your memory?
BRADY: No, MacCabe, no. With six despairing followers, and with a three days' scanty ration, we plunged into the mazes of Glow-Worm Forest, a jungle whose primeval solitudes the sun never yet illumined
MAC: And wilt thou again encounter horrors such as this?
BRADY: Look around you. What are we here? Helpless. Heartless. Hopeless. Despair our demon.
Death our only friend.
BIRD: Too true! Too true! Lucifer's must be an awful billet if it equals this. 
BRADY: Look at yon wretches struggling with the waters. Mark them and ponder our condition. At sunrise, in garments drenched with the watery labour of the previous day, we are dragged forth to toil, starved. What food we get, the worst and scantiest. Not one of earth's fruits, save bread, the weavily refuse of prison ships. The salt dead horse engenders scurvy - constant exposure to wet begets ague. Remonstrance is denounced as insubordination and the lash is our relentless doom.
BIRD: The triangle and the cat.
BRADY: Is punishment apportioned to offence? No! A deserter is berthed with a murderer. An educated forger shares the bunk with an abandoned cracksman. This, this is the felon's life. Is it marvellous then that our deaths should be consummated in madness, vengeance and despair?
MAC: You look on the horrid side of the picture, Brady.
BRADY: Perhaps so, MacCabe, for I have sat for its worst of portraits. One day I may tell you my unparalleled story, that is if you share my intended flight, and we reach the inhabited country.
MAC: But without food, or arms, or chart, or compass, how can we hope to pierce the trackless wastes, or how escape these death-dealing jungles?
BRADY: With slavery behind, and liberty before to urge us on, we shall not hesitate. I have profited by experience and have conceived an all but certain mode of escape; but were my first step from hence to death - to a torturing death - I would not stay to bear my anguish here.
BIRD: No peril, no prize. We have before been daring, and, come what may, I will be daring still.
BRADY: Be dauntless and despair not. 
BIRD: Rate Tom Bird as one of your ship's company. But avast! Here comes the commandant.
(They resume work. Enter CAPTAIN JAMES, ORDERLY, and REX. COMMANDANT inspects the men and approaches BRADY.)
COMMANDANT: Overseer, take a couple of hands to the moulding loft and attend to the Master Shipwright's instructions.
REX: Very good, sir. Here you Brady and you MacCabe
COMMANDANT: No insolence, sir; I will not permit an insult to your fellows. Bird, do you and MacCabe go. You are better acquainted with such matters.
(Exeunt REX, BIRD, MacCABE and ORDERLY.)
Well, Brady. Are you resolved to be eternally in hot water? You know well that I have granted you all the indulgence in my power.
BRADY: Sir, felon though I be, I can gratefully distinguish between the man and the Commandant. You were ever merciful to me.
COMMANDANT: Then, why do you abuse my good nature by pointless, vexatious and insane attempts to escape?
BRADY: I confess my fruitless endeavours, but, ah sir, were you in my unhappy condition, I am sure you would have done as I have.
COMMANDANT: When I detached you up the river, as an act of kindness, to the Lime Burner's Station, you contrived an escape in a fragile canoe, which by a miracle, was not your coffin. Is this wise? Is it well?
BRADY: Gracious sir, I have but one answer. It is for liberty I seek - for liberty - for which I must strive or die.
COMMANDANT: You are mad. You have found it of impossible attainment. Ponder the past, and beware the future. (Exit the COMMANDANT) 
LADY: He is kind and merciful; but he cannot feel the convict's woes.
(Enter BIRD and MacCABE.)
BIRD: And now, Brady, disclose your plan of escape.
BRADY: Tempt not the jungles. We must escape by sea.
BIRD: But how?
BRADY: See you yonder whale boat?
BIRD: Ay, better never swum.
BRADY: The brig is anchored near to Gummet Isle. At her stern floats this boat. In a crevice I have from time to time secreted oars, besides a fishing line. The nights are dark; there are no sentries on the isle. With this line I will swim to the boat, cut her painter, and you can quietly haul her to the shore. We can then embark together. The shoal water will prevent the brig from following. No other boat can touch this 'Blue-eyed Maid'. With hearts resolved, ere morning dawns liberty shall be ours. What say you, Mac?
MAC: The project is a feasible one.
BRADY: We have blankets enough for canvas. Round Wellington Head and we'll be away.
BIRD: No more shilly shally. When shall we start?
BRADY: This night or never.
BIRD: The hour?
BRADY: Midnight.
BIRD: Agreed.
(A bugle call. Muskets are fired - off. While BRADY is speaking, REX enters calling, 'Muster!')
BRADY: Sunset. The brig has hauled her ensign 160 down. The boats make for the shore; and see, the different gangs are mustering.  Let us be seeming busy; and, my friends, forget not midnight.
(REX looks malignantly at BRADY. Exeunt.) CURTAIN
(A romantic Tasmanian glen. The background is occupied with towering precipices, clothed with gum and other forest trees. In the foreground, which is a beautiful undulating plain, the mimosa is in full bloom. Enter MRS BROADHEAD, DOLLY, JEMMY and PEGGY.)
PEGGY: Now, do, Aunty, be after puttin' the best leg foremost. It's at home we soon shall be.
DOLLY: Home, cousin? I think it be from home we be goin' furder and furder every step.
JEMMY: Dang it, Dol, thee be'est one o' Job's comforters. Now, doan't 'ee be downhearted? Ma; we honly gotten more nor two miles now afore we git to our own grant o' land.
MRS BROADHEAD: Two mile! You might as well say two thousand. Lord, Jemmy, my dear, I'll never be able to reach it. I be clean done.
PEGGY: Och, Aunty, jewil, take a sup of this. It's the real thing, an'll put fresh spirits into yez.
(Gives a bottle to MRS BROADHEAD, who drinks) How is it with you now? I declare you look better already. I thought that it'd cheer the cockles of your old heart it would.
JEMMY: Oh! ... Oh! ... Oooh!
MRS BROADHEAD: What be the matter, Jemmy, dear?
Jemmy: Cramp i' the stomach. Mulligrubs. Oh! Oh! ... Peggy, some o' your drops ... quick! quick! 
(PEGGY gives JEMMY the bottle and he drinks.)
PEGGY: Och, Jemmy darlin' don't be after lavin' me a poor, forlorn widdy afore it's married we are. Are you any asier now, honey?
JEMMY: (faintly) Rather better. (Drinks) Yes - a good deal easier. (Drinks) Oh, it's the cordial Balm of Gilead. What I calls Paddy's genuine Elixir. I only want some fresh salve to make me quite well.
PEGGY: What salve, jewil?
JEMMY: Lip salve, Peggy. (He kisses her.)
DOLLY: For shame, Jemmy.
JEMMY: Now doan't 'ee be envious, Dol. If thee behave thyself I'll get thee Eumarrah, the King o' the Blacks, for a husband.
DOLLY: King o' the Blacks, indeed, thank 'ee for nothing. I'll tell thee what - I prefers a sodger hociffer. But, come, Ma, do 'ee try to crawl home.
MRS BROADHEAD: Oh dear! Oh dear! How shall I ever be able?
Jemmy: I'll tell 'ee what, Ma, sit down a bit an' the cart 'ull soon overtake us.
MRS BROADHEAD: Cart! Lord a mercy, Jemmy dear, you knock the breath clean out o' my body. Noa, noa, that cart has nearly been the death o' me already, an' never more will I put foot in it.  If we mun go, gie me you arm dear, an' I'll hobble on the best way I can.
PEGGY: That's right, Aunty. An' whin once you've got over this fatague an' we're fairly settled at the Shannon - och blessins on th' beautiful name o' it, for isn't it my own dear country it minds me of- whew! Isn't it ourselves that'll be as merry as eels in a frying pan.
JEMMY: You be a brave lass, Peggy, an' deserve ...
PEGGY: Well, Jemmy!
JEMMY: More than I can tell thee just now. But, come, Ma, here's my arm. Pluck up your heart. Step out and defy - Black Natives Bushrangers - Rocky Roads - an' Bullock Carts.
(Exeunt, supporting MRS BROADHEAD.)
(Macquarie Harbour. Midnight. Music: BRADY enters cautiously, beckons and is followed by the other PRISONERS. While they are speaking, REX enters, stealthily and unobserved.)
BRADY: Are we unwatched, MacCabe?
MAC: We are. The lynx eye of Rex for once is overpowered.
BRADY: Then must no time be lost. Follow - and if liberty be dear, be silent.
(Exeunt BRADY and the other PRISONERS.)
REX: When was I ever out in my reckoning? Said I not this morning, Rex, my boy, there's mischief about. Was I wrong? No, no, no. If they can scheme, I can dodge. What devil's game have they afoot, I wonder? Shall I fire my pistol or watch them closer? No, no, be still good tell-tale, till I snare them in my web.  Ha, ha, ha! So you thought to catch the old fox napping; but he is awake, vermin, awake to double on you all. What, back already? Good barrel, by your leave.
(Music: REX hides behind barrel. The PRISONERS return, dragging a rope which gradually lands the whole boat with BRADY on board who jumps ashore.)
BRADY: Thus fortune smiles approvingly on our efforts. We must not dally now. Aboard with our scanty store of food; and here, here for the willing oars. (He goes behind barrel and exclaims.) A spy. Betrayed! (Returns, dragging forward REX.) And is it thou, mine enemy? (He evinces deep but suppressed passion. REX attempts to draw his pistol. BRADY eyes him fiercely.) Strike but its flint and had you fifty lives, you die. (Wrenches the pistol from his grasp.)
MAC: Justice! Justice! Pate has yielded the Tormentor to his Victims. The Hangman has sought his doom. Drag him to death.