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Chapter X. The Storm.

THE storm raged; and the shattered ship, pitching and reeling under the influence of the roaring wind and raging sea, was driven with desperate speed towards a projecting promontory on the western side of the channel. The voice of the sturdy mate was heard above the shrieking of the tempest, but in vain; the terrified followers of the bushranger, unused to wage war with the elements, were utterly useless in the extremity. It was in vain that their leader exerted himself with almost preternatural energy, and endeavoured to rouse the exertions of his men: they were not sailors; and they had neither the bravery to dare, nor the skill to execute, the feats of seamanship which

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were necessary to give them a chance of escaping the perils of the storm.

“We shall never save the ship with these fellows,” said the mate to the bushranger, the urgency of the danger drawing into momentary fellowship two minds, though belonging to different characters, of kindred courage; “if you don't let my own blue jackets free, the ship is a lost ship.”

“Can I trust them?” said the bushranger, balancing the two perils in his mind, and at a loss to decide to which to give the preference.

“Trust them! You may trust them to save the ship—at least to do their best for it;—every sailor will do that: as to the rest, that is another matter, and you must look out for yourself; that's fair and above-board, at any rate, Mr. —— Pilot!”

Mark Brandon was not a man to give way under difficulty: with a firm mind he rapidly compared the two dangers, and, with the decision of a bold one, he determined on giving liberty to the crew. Without hesitation, he directed his men to unbatten the fore hatchway, and to release from the hold the sailors who were confined there.

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This was a matter by no means of easy execution; but at the expense of shipping much water it was effected, and the liberated sailors gladly jumped on deck. The bushranger directed his men to retain their arms, and endeavour to keep them from the wet to guard against a surprise; but the seamen, cheered by the voice of their officer, and in a moment conscious of the extreme danger of the vessel, thought only of their duties, and of saving themselves from shipwreck, leaving the bushrangers to keep guard as they could or as they pleased, and paying no other attention to them than to tell them to get out of their way.

It is not to be supposed that the noise of the raging wind, and the confusion caused by the fallen mast, had passed unnoticed by the parties in the cabin. The major wished to go on deck; but Louisa clung to him with so tenacious a grasp, and the uncertainty of the nature of his reception by the bushrangers was so great, that the father yielded to the entreaties of his youngest daughter, and remained below. But when he heard and recognised the familiar voices of his own sailors battling with the thunder of the storm, he ventured

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to raise his head above the companion ladder.

A washing of the waves drove him quickly back, at the same time that it deluged the cabin. By taking advantage of a lull, he again essayed to emerge from his place of security, and to his amazement beheld his vessel apparently in the possession of his own people, and his officer at the wheel, issuing his commands as usual, for the management of the ship. He quickly joined him, though it was with difficulty he was enabled to make good his footing.

“What chance is there,” he asked, “of saving the vessel?”

“Very little; you see we are a mere wreck; there's scarcely a rag of sail left: we are driving before the wind on that point of land that you may see yonder through the haze. Our only chance is getting a soft berth to bump on; but that chance is very small, for most of this coast seems rocky. It won't be long, however, before we shall know our fate. These rascally lubbers of bushrangers have done for the poor brig. Serve 'em right, for pretending to know how to

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take care of a vessel they knew nothing about. More fools they for binding with fetters those who might have saved them: and now they see what they've got by it.”

“Had I not better prepare the girls for what is to happen?” said the major, his mind borne down for the moment by the extent of his disaster; his gallant vessel lost, his property presently to be scattered to the waves, and his children's lives and his own in imminent peril!

“I hardly know what is best to be done,” replied the sturdy seaman, almost subdued by the danger of the ship, and the thought of the women: “but better let 'em stay below till the shock comes; they couldn't hold on here.”

“Could the boat be of any use?” asked the major, in a sort of despair.

“It was washed overboard a quarter of an hour ago. But look at the raging sea around us! Do you think a boat could live in such a sea as that? If our own vessel—poor thing!—wasn't as good a sea-boat as ever swam, it never would live in such a whirlpool as it's in now! I wonder what has become of the boat that we saw coming, before the

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wind caught us:—gone to the bottom, I fear, long ago!”

“And the people in that boat, perhaps, were our deliverers,” said the major. “Good God! that land seems fearfully close! Is there no way to save ourselves?”

“Look out for a soft place,” replied the mate, with a grim smile, for he knew full well that the death-struggle of the gallant little ship was at hand. “The sea refuses to keep us, so we must needs trust to the land; though I must say it doesn't look very smiling at us.”

As he spoke, the impetuous winds seemed to gather up their strength for a final effort to hurl the devoted ship on the expectant rocks; but at this moment the watchful mate, as cool in the moment of danger as if the vessel was within view of the windmill at Gravesend, caught sight of a break in the cliff, forming a little creek or armlet of the sea: with a vigorous hand he directed the ship's course to the opening, and in another minute, by an instantaneous and seemingly miraculous change, the shattered brig, with a sudden turn, found itself floating on the smooth

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surface of a little bay sheltered from the wind and the waves. The vessel glided slowly towards a grassy bank, and, gently touching it, remained stationary.

For a brief space every man on board held his breath with joy and surprise at an escape from the horrors of shipwreck which struck them as something supernatural! But presently the consciousness of the unsafe position of either party called into fresh activity the energies of both to guard against the aggression of each other; and, before the major had time to congratulate his daughters on the extraordinary preservation of the brig, the bushranger summoned his men to his side, and assumed an offensive attitude, while the seamen, hastily clutching at any materials within their reach which might serve for weapons, gathered together in a body, and stood in defiance of the threatening muskets of their opponents, and, with the stern determination of revenge depicted on their worn and hardy countenances, turned their eyes to their officer for directions in the new emergency.

At this moment a column of thick smoke, as if

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from damp wood newly fired, was observed to rise from the other side of a low hill bare of trees. Mark Brandon seemed struck with a sudden thought at this indication of other parties being near at hand. In his own mind he feared that the fire had been kindled by the people in the boat, who, he felt sure, were in pursuit of himself and his companions. Aware that if his conjecture was right the reports of fire-arms would quickly bring his enemies upon him, he stood before his men, and repressing their preparation to fire by a gesture of his arm, he directed his voice to the major, who was standing on one side, restrained by his promise from taking part in the threatened conflict, and filled with hope that the result would be favourable, even against the superior weapons of the bushrangers, to the injured party.

“Major,” said Mark Brandon, in the clear, cool, and articulate voice for which he was so remarkable, “I see that you can keep your promise like a soldier and a man of honour; and you shall see that I will keep mine. Do you see that smoke yonder? That smoke proceeds from the body of

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natives on the coast—the most numerous and the most savage of all the mobs on the island! If we weaken our force by fighting with each other we shall become an easy prey to them.”

“Gammon!” said the mate.

“I do not wish to be devoured by those wretches,” replied the bushranger, without being in the slightest degree moved by the contemptuous expression of the mate: “nor do I suppose the major there would like to see his daughters torn limb from limb, and chucked on that fire that the black devils have kindled yonder, and eaten before his face.”

“Gammon!” repeated the mate.

“That would be a fate,” continued Mark, “too dreadful to contemplate. And therefore, I say, let us forget for a while our own quarrel, and join together to resist the attack of the natives.”

“But we are not sure that they are natives,” replied the major.

“Suppose it is the party that we saw in the boat coming after us,” said the mate—“the party that you persuaded us were bushrangers or pirates, or whatever you may like to call them;

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then, you know, there would be no danger from them. I propose that two of us—that is, one from each side, should go and find out; and in the mean time we will agree to a truce till our messengers come back.”

“Agreed!” said Mark. “I will go for one on my side, and you for one on the other.”

“I can't help thinking,” said the mate to the major, in a whisper, “that he is hatching some mischief or other; but he will find me wide awake.”

While the mate communicated this suspicion to his commander, Mark Brandon gave some directions to his followers; and then the bushranger and the officer set out together, each keeping a wary watch on the other to prevent surprise or treachery.