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Chapter IX. The Summons.

MARK BRANDON, by one of the most daring stratagems in the annals of piracy, had got possession of a vessel admirably adapted for his purpose, and the crew, bound hand and foot, were stowed away here and there in convenient places; but still he felt he was not quite secure; the major and the mate were unbound; and, although confined in the cabin, and unable by themselves to cope with seven desperate men, it was possible for them to be dangerous; and the bushranger had too much experience in the power and resources of even a single man not to be alive to the possibility of the escape, and the successful resistance of two determined spirits—the one having at stake his pride and reputation as the

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chief officer of a ship, and the other urged by the still more powerful feeling of a parent struggling for the preservation of the life and honour of his daughters. Filled with these thoughts, but attending anxiously at the same time to the course of the vessel, he turned over in his mind a scheme to entice the officer on deck, and to neutralise the hostility of the major. The increasing storm favoured his project.

In the mean time the parties in the cabin were a prey to the most agonising anticipations.

“This takes one all aback!” said the mate, quite confounded by the unexpected aggression of the pilot and his followers. “Many a rum go have I been witness to; but this beats all! Who are these fellows? I never liked the look of that soft jawing pilot and his men, as they called him. And all the arms are on deck. This is what I call being thorough done!”

“I am afraid,” said the major, “that the case is too clear; in short, we have been deceived all along; and this sham pilot is some desperate man with his gang endeavouring to escape from the island.”

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“By George,” said the mate, slapping the table with an energy which at any other time he would have considered an unpardonable breach of good manners in the state cabin, and in the presence of ladies, too; “that's it; and that accounts for the rascals shying the up-passage, and trying to get out of the channel with every tide, and with every wind that blew! That's it! we're hard up! and we shall have all to walk the plank, every one of us; I know what that game is in the West Indies! But it's hard for you, Miss Helen, and for you, Miss Louisa: it dosen't matter for the like of me; it all goes in the day's work, as sailors say: but for you—” and here the worthy mate gave the table a tremendous thump with his fist in the excess of his emotion. The sound was echoed from the outside of the cabin window from the nozzle of a musket.

“What's that?” cried out Louisa alarmed.

“That's a summons, Miss,” said the mate.

“Better not to frighten you, but I suppose they want us to walk the plank; not you, perhaps,” he added, “nor your sister; but me and your

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papa. Major,” he said, turning to their father, “you don't mean to give in without a struggle?”

“What can we do?” said the major; “we are unarmed: better make terms for the girls.”

“Better drown them at once,” said the honest seaman, having before his eyes the scenes of horror which he had seen and known in the seas prolific of piracy in the West Indies; no use mincing the matter. If they were sisters of mine, I know what I would do.”

Helen calmly rose at these words: she first kissed her father, and then her sister, and then extending her hand to the mate, she shook it warmly. Without speaking, her gestures sufficiently intimating her intention, she sought in the steward's locker for a large table-knife: she selected one with a point, tried its sharpness, deliberately with her finger, and placed it in her girdle; she then resumed her place by the side of her father.

Louisa observed her proceedings with trembling interest. When the high-minded Helen took her hand in her's she shuddered convulsively, and placing the other hand before her eyes, as if to

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shut out at once the peril with which she was threatened, and the aspect of the Lucretian death meditated by her sister, she threw herself into the arms of her father. The major embraced her with despairing tenderness; the tears ran down his manly cheeks; and he lifted up his head to heaven as if he would pierce through the obdurate deck in his mental appeal for succour. But the action of the heroic Helen suggested other thoughts to the mind of the hardy mate:—

“Major,” he said, “Miss Helen shames us men. There are weapons still,” pointing to the knife appended to Helen's side; “and they may stand us in good stead at a pinch. Let us do our best to defend the cabin from an attack from without, and trust to chance for the rest. How the vessel pitches, poor thing! Those fellows don't know how to handle her—and the wind blows stronger and stronger every minute. That top-gallant mast will be sprung as sure as fate, if they don't look alive! But what does it matter what becomes of the masts, or the sails, or the gear, or any thing? we shan't live long to see the ruin that's coming on this prime little brig that I've

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brought over from the other side of the globe, safe and sound! Well, it will be all the same a hundred years hence! They are knocking at the window again, as if they were determined to have an answer this time.”

A voice was at this moment heard:—

“Below there!”

“Ay, ay,” said the mate, answering with professional promptitude. “What the devil do you want with us?” he added, raising his voice; “can't you let us be quiet?”

“The captain wants to speak with the major.”

“And who the devil's the captain?”

“Mark Brandon.”

“And who is Mark Brandon? One of the rascally convicts, I suppose, escaped from gaol?”

“He will soon let you know who he is if you give us any of your sauce. Look out of your stern windows at the sea beneath you; plenty of ground sharks at the bottom;—do you understand that?”

“Major,” said another voice from the top of the companion-ladder, which they instantly recognised as Mark Brandon's, “the ship is in

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danger, and you and your daughters will be lost if something is not done for the management of the vessel.”

“Ah, ha!” cried the mate, “it is come to that, is it?”

“If we let you free will you pledge your word of honour not to make any attempt against us? You are a soldier and a gentleman; and I know if you pledge your honour you will keep your word.”

“Do it,” whispered the mate, “if you do make a promise with such rascals, you need not keep it.”

“And my daughters,” asked the major, “what do you say of them?”

“If you can trust to my word,” replied Mark Brandon, “they shall remain in this cabin, and be respected. Our only object is to leave the colony, and regain our liberty: that done, we have no desire to do violence to any one. But you must decide quickly.”

“Don't let him come in, papa,” said Louisa.

“Trust him,” said Helen; “we are in his power; and if there is a spark of generosity in the man it can be kindled into goodness only by confidence: trust him.”

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The major hesitated; the danger was imminent: on the one side was certain death in case of unavailing resistance; on the other, the possibility of good treatment if the leader of the bushrangers were not thwarted in his object. Besides, there was hope in procrastination:— “Perhaps after all,” he said to the mate, “the only object of these men is to effect their escape; and it is quite clear that they cannot navigate the vessel by themselves. We must bend to circumstances. Pacifying measures are always the best for the weaker party. Will you promise to do no violence to the mate?” he asked of the bushranger.

“I promise not to take his life,” replied Mark Brandon through the door.

“Shall we trust him,” said the major to his officer, “or shall we sell our lives dearly?”

“I don't see how we are to help ourselves,” replied the mate; “and it will be something to save the vessel, for with the wind that is raging outside, these fellows will never be able to keep her off the land.”

“What is the alternative if we refuse?” asked the major, still hesitating.

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“Death!” replied the bushranger: “it is our lives or yours; we do not want to take yours, nor to harm you unnecessarily; but if it must be one or the other, you cannot expect us to sacrifice our own. My object is to save the vessel.”

“He's right in that, at any rate,” said the mate; “that's the first thing to be looked to; for if the vessel goes down we all go down with her—that's certain. Take him at his word, major; we can do no better: ‘and needs must,’ as the saying is, ‘when the Devil drives.’ ”

“I promise,” said the major.

“I cannot pay you a higher compliment than to trust to your honour, major,” said Mark Brandon, undoing the barricading of the door, at the entrance of which he appeared with two of his men with their muskets cocked and levelled at the parties within. Louisa screamed, and Helen put her hand on her weapon. “Now, sir, if you please, you may come out.”

His daughters clung to him instinctively, but Helen presently loosened her grasp; Louisa, however, would not relax her hold, but begged and prayed him, with the wildest grief, to remain to

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protect them. The mate, anxious to get on deck to take a survey of matters on board, passed up the ladder, and was instantly seized by four of the conspirators, who in a moment bound him hand and foot, and placed him by the wheel.

“If your father prefers remaining below,” said Mark Brandon, courteously, to Helen, “he is quite at liberty to do so; at the same time he may come on deck when he pleases: but as the waves are high, and as we have shipped several seas already, I think it will be more agreeable to you to close the hatchway;” and so saying he closed the door, and turned his attention to the prostrate mate, who, with a storm of oaths outrivalling in ferocity even the fierceness of the increasing storm, was cursing the bushranger and his gang:—

“You precious infernal rascal!—this was your promise, was it? I thought you said you would do me no harm?”

“And I have done you no harm,” replied the bushranger. “I promised not to take your life, and I will keep my promise. But I did not promise not to bind you, to keep you from doing

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harm to yourself and to others. And now, my friend, what do you say? will you help us to save the vessel, or shall it be a short prayer and a long plunge to see what the sharks will say to you?”

“Do what you like, you rascally, lying, lubberly sneak—do what you like; I'll do nothing for you with my hands bound this way. You and your villainous gang may go to the bottom, and your souls to — that is, if your friend there will take you in; but two of a trade, they say, never agree — so there must be some place made on purpose to hold such a rascal as you! I only wish I had my hands free, and a marline spike in one of them—you should not be grinning at me in that cool way.”

“Well, my friend,” replied Mark, “there's no time to lose; you must make up your mind at once. Roger and Dick,” he said to two of his men, “put your muskets to his head.” The men obeyed promptly.

“What do you say now?”

“I won't;—while my hands are bound I'll do nothing.”

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“Cock your muskets,” said their leader to his men.

There are few things more disagreeable than the click of the lock of a musket, when the muzzle of it is placed close to your head by a hostile party; but the mate was firm.

“Are you ready?” said Mark.

“Yes,” said the men, with their fingers on the triggers.

“What do you say now? in one moment you will have the contents of those pieces through your brains.”

“Fire away,” said the mate.

“Stay,” said Mark Brandon.

Knowing well the habitual horror which sailors have of drowning and of sharks, and their superstitious dread of remaining unburied after death, he thought he would try another method.

“The shortest way,” he said, “will be to throw him overboard. Take him up and heave him over the taffrail, and then there will be an end. Now, my men—one, two, three. — Have you nothing to say to stop them,” he said to the mate, who, with hands and legs tied and bound tightly

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together, was utterly incapable of the slightest resistance — “have you nothing to say to stop them?”

At this moment a tremendous sea struck the little bark, and the main-top-mast, with a crash, came rattling down, encumbering the deck with its ruins. The mate and his executioners were nearly washed overboard; but high above the din and the roar of the elements the mate's voice was now heard:—

“Unbind me,” he cried out, “and I promise to save the ship. You will all be lost, and this tight little brig, that I have brought so far, will go down with you all.”

“You will promise, then, not to make any attempt to regain the vessel,” said Mark Brandon, preserving his coolness in the midst of the confusion around him.

“I will promise anything,” said the mate, “only let me save the vessel. There's another sea coming! Starboard the helm, or it will be upon us.”

A monstrous sea burst over them, doing fresh damage, and adding to the confusion and danger.

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Mark Brandon, seeing that the case was desperate, and trusting to the instinct of the seaman to abandon all other thoughts than that of saving the vessel, at once cut the cords which tied him, and the mate, starting to his legs, immediately rushed to the wheel and assumed the command of the vessel.