Excerpt from “For the Term of His Natural Life” by Marcus Clarke ~~Lashes~~

picture-ForTheTermOfHisNaturalLife-ClarkeAs he entered the yard, Troke called “Ten!” Kirkland had just got his fiftieth lash.
“Stop!” cried North. “Captain Burgess, I call upon you to stop.”
“You’re rather late, Mr. North,” retorted Burgess. “The punishment is nearly over.” “Wonn!” cried Troke again; and North stood by, biting his nails and grinding his teeth, during six more lashes.
Kirkland ceased to yell now, and merely moaned. His back was like a bloody sponge, while in the interval between lashes the swollen flesh twitched like that of a new-killed bullock. Suddenly, Macklewain saw his head droop on his shoulder. “Throw him off! Throw him off!” he cried, and Troke hurried to loosen the thongs.
“Fling some water over him!” said Burgess; “he’s shamming.”
A bucket of water made Kirkland open his eyes. “I thought so,” said Burgess. “Tie him up again.”
“No. Not if you are Christians!” cried North.
He met with an ally where he least expected one. Rufus Dawes flung down the dripping cat. “I’ll flog no more,” said he.
“What?” roared Burgess, furious at this gross insolence.
“I’ll flog no more. Get someone else to do your blood work for you. I won’t.”
“Tie him up!” cried Burgess, foaming. “Tie him up. Here, constable, fetch a man here with a fresh cat. I’ll give you that beggar’s fifty, and fifty more on the top of ’em; and he shall look on while his back cools.”
Rufus Dawes, with a glance at North, pulled off his shirt without a word, and stretched himself at the triangles. His back was not white and smooth, like Kirkland’s had been, but hard and seamed. He had been flogged before. Troke appeared with Gabbett—grinning. Gabbett liked flogging. It was his boast that he could flog a man to death on a place no bigger than the palm of his hand. He could use his left hand equally with his right, and if he got hold of a “favourite”, would “cross the cuts”.
Rufus Dawes planted his feet firmly on the ground, took fierce grasp on the staves, and drew in his breath. Macklewain spread the garments of the two men upon the ground, and, placing Kirkland upon them, turned to watch this new phase in the morning’s amusement. He grumbled a little below his breath, for he wanted his breakfast, and when the Commandant once began to flog there was no telling where he would stop. Rufus Dawes took five-and-twenty lashes without a murmur, and then Gabbett “crossed the cuts”. This went on up to fifty lashes, and North felt himself stricken with admiration at the courage of the man. “If it had not been for that cursed brandy,” thought he, with bitterness of self-reproach, “I might have saved all this.” At the hundredth lash, the giant paused, expecting the order to throw off, but Burgess was determined to “break the man’s spirit”.
“I’ll make you speak, you dog, if I cut your heart out!” he cried. “Go on, prisoner.”
For twenty lashes more Dawes was mute, and then the agony forced from his labouring breast a hideous cry. But it was not a cry for mercy, as that of Kirkland’s had been. Having found his tongue, the wretched man gave vent to his boiling passion in a torrent of curses. He shrieked imprecation upon Burgess, Troke, and North. He cursed all soldiers for tyrants, all parsons for hypocrites. He blasphemed his God and his Saviour. With a frightful outpouring of obscenity and blasphemy, he called on the earth to gape and swallow his persecutors, for Heaven to open and rain fire upon them, for hell to yawn and engulf them quick. It was as though each blow of the cat forced out of him a fresh burst of beast-like rage. He seemed to have abandoned his humanity. He foamed, he raved, he tugged at his bonds until the strong staves shook again; he writhed himself round upon the triangles and spat impotently at Burgess, who jeered at his torments. North, with his hands to his ears, crouched against the corner of the wall, palsied with horror. It seemed to him that the passions of hell raged around him. He would fain have fled, but a horrible fascination held him back.
In the midst of this—when the cat was hissing its loudest—Burgess laughing his hardest, and the wretch on the triangles filling the air with his cries, North saw Kirkland look at him with what he thought a smile. Was it a smile? He leapt forward, and uttered a cry of dismay so loud that all turned.
“Hullo!” says Troke, running to the heap of clothes, “the young ‘un’s slipped his wind!”
Kirkland was dead.


1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Literature

One response to “Excerpt from “For the Term of His Natural Life” by Marcus Clarke ~~Lashes~~

  1. Marcus Clarke was born in London, England on 24 April 1846, and died on 2 August 1881, aged 35 years. He had moved to Australia in 1863.
    ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’ was published as a novel in 1874.

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