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Chapter XVI. Mr. Silliman Insists That He Was Not Drowned.

THE mate, astonished to find a native, as he supposed, in the possession of fire-arms, was a little at a loss for a few seconds to know how to act; for there seemed to be as much danger in retreating as in remaining where he was. But as the report of the musket was not followed as he expected by a yell from the other savages, and as the ensign's party was too far off for their movements to be heard, the sturdy seaman quickly recovered his presence of mind, and with professional audacity conceived the design of carrying in the native as a prisoner to the major's encampment.

He still kept a firm grip of Jerry's leg; and that astounded individual, persuaded that his limb was

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clutched either by a real native or by some ferocious animal of the woods, was too terrified for some time to give vent to his fright by vocal exclamations. Nor did his enemy give him time; for the mate starting on his legs, suddenly clasped him in his arms, and before Jerry could cry out, threw his prisoner on the ground, and ramming his handkerchief into his mouth in a moment with a bit of lanyard which, sailor-like, he always carried about him, he tied Jerry's elbows together, and so had him hard and fast.

Poor Jerry finding himself trussed up after this fashion, with his face to the earth and his antagonist's knee in his back keeping him down, immediately concluded from the celerity and dexterity of the operation, that by some horrid mischance he had again fallen into the clutches of the dreadful bushranger, and he gave vent to his anguish in a doleful groan!

But the mate, who had possessed himself of the musket and bayonet of the captured sentinel, immediately endeavoured to make the native sensible that any noise would be promptly punished; and “unshipping” the bayonet, as he mentally expressed

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it, that it might form a handier instrument for his purpose, he applied it gently but decidedly to the fleshy part of his prisoner's person, which caused the party afflicted to perform an undulatory contortion of his body, wriggling it snakelike, and digging his toes into the ground with a quick and convulsive motion, strongly expressive of his dislike to the operation,

Several attempts at crying out were repressed in the same way; but the mate could not help being exceedingly surprised to find a native of Van Diemen's Land clothed like an European; which was altogether at variance with all that he had heard on the subject. But his astonishment was increased when Jerry, not being able any longer to bear the arguments à posteriori repeatedly applied by the mate to keep his prisoner quiet, with a convulsive effort contrived to disengage the handkerchief from his mouth, and in the extremity of his despair roared out “Murder!”

Sailors are proverbially superstitious. The voice was the voice of Mr. Silliman, whom the bushrangers had chucked into the sea, and whom the mate had supposed long since to have become food

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for the Australian fishes! Utterly unable to account for the resurrection of the drowned Jeremiah at such a time and in such a place, the amazed mate—his faculties wearied and confused with the events of the day, and the strangeness of an unknown country, and the darkness, helping, as he afterwards explained, “to flabbergast him entirely”—was struck with the notion that he was the sport of the Evil One!—or else that it was with the spirit of the murdered passenger that he was now contending!

For a moment the courage of the hardy seaman was at fault. As to bushrangers, or natives, or anything living, howsoever dangerous, he snapped his fingers at them; but to have to do with an unreal thing! the ghost of one who had met with a violent death! that was more than his nautical philosophy could bear; and he meditated a hasty retreat, when his prisoner, who had recovered his breath, set up a second shout:

“Murder! help! Here are the bushrangers on us! Help! murder!”

It was certainly the voice of the deceased Jerry! But the sincerity of his terror as exhibited in the

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energy of his cries, and the plump substantiality of his person so indicative of a real living body, struck the worthy mate, and dispelled the superstitious feeling of ghostly apparitions or supernatural agency. Wishing to test still farther the fact of the body under his knee being that of a real living man, he applied the bayonet in a manner calculated to elicit that fact by some further demonstration.

“Don't,” beseeched Jerry; “pray, sir, don't; good bushranger! Mr. Mark Brandon! I'll do what you please; but don't—don't keep sticking that ugly bayonet into me every instant. …”

“Why!” exclaimed the mate, “who the devil are you?”

“Mr. Northland! By George, it's all right after all! What! don't you know me? Don't you know Mr. Silliman, the passenger on board your ship?”

“But that Mr. Silliman was drowned,” returned the mate, still keeping his knee stuck into Jerry's back, as a precautionary and preventive measure against sudden retaliation; “I saw him go down myself.”

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“I know I went down,” replied Jerry; “but I came up again:—I wasn't drowned. The boat that we thought was full of bushrangers, contained a party of soldiers and constables, who were in pursuit of Mark Brandon and his gang, and they saved me.”

“And where are they?” asked the mate. But before Jeremiah had time to answer the question, the mate uttered a peremptory “Hush! I hear footsteps approaching.”

“Who comes there?” said a voice, which Jerry recognised as that of the ensign; “Mr. Silliman, is that you?”

“Ay, ay,” said Mr. Silliman, getting on his legs, to which the mate assisted him; “it's me, and more than me. Here's the mate of the brig, Mr. Northland. He caught hold of my leg in the dark, and I fired off my musket.”

“Are you sure it is the mate of the brig?”

“Sure! Haven't I made all the voyage with him? and do you think I don't know his voice as well as I do my own?”

“Where are the bushrangers?” inquired the ensign.

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“On board the brig,” replied the mate. “They offered to let us go on shore with arms to protect us from the natives; and as they had us completely in their power, the major thought it best to agree to it. When I gripped Mr. Silliman's leg, I thought I had got hold of a native.”

“There are no natives in this part of the island,” said the constable; “what put that in your head?”

“Why, Mark Brandon declared there was a mob of at least three hundred natives preparing to attack us! And I saw one myself, a most ferocious-looking rascal, brandishing his spears at us from the top of the hill …”

“That was me!” said Jerry. “It was that confounded bushranger who made me paint myself like a native with his filthy black mud, and stuck me at the top of the hill to frighten you.”

“By Jupiter,” exclaimed the mate, “I see it all now! And that confounded bushranger, with his jaw, has been persuading us all the time that you were a party of natives; for we saw the smoke of your fire over the hills. That we could ever be such fools as to be so bamboozled!”

“Don't be ashamed,” said the constable, availing

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himself of the freedom of the bush to put in his say; “Mark Brandon has bamboozled as good heads as yours; but now we must see if we can't bamboozle him.”

“Come on to the fire,” said the ensign, “and then you can explain more of this matter to us. There is something in it that I can't altogether comprehend. This Mark Brandon seems to have the art of the devil himself to deceive you all in the way that he has done.”

The mate, during this colloquy, had freed his prisoner from the cord, and at the invitation of the ensign, he moved on with Jerry to the spot where the fire was blazing brightly. They were duly challenged by the sentries as they approached; and having reached the light, it was with considerable curiosity that the mate surveyed the well-known podgy person of his fellow-passenger of the brig; not without some vague lingerings of doubt, however, as to whether he could be the real Silliman after all, so strongly was his mind impressed with the remembrance of having seen him going down to the bottom of the sea in D'Entrecasteaux's channel. He was glad, however, to sit down by the

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side of the fire with the ensign, while Mr. Silliman endeavoured to rest himself on his knees.

The ensign, observing that he continued in that unnatural and inconvenient posture, asked him, goodnaturedly, why he did not sit down? But Jerry shook his head, and rubbing himself behind with a most lugubrious expression of countenance, intimated that the mate's vivacious hints with the bayonet had incapacitated him from enjoying that luxury for some time to come.

The mate having explained the meaning of Jerry's pantomimic action, the bystanders, as is usual on such occasions, set up a hearty and simultaneous laugh, which was rendered the merrier by the comical seriousness preserved by the smarting Jerry, who did not laugh at all; and, as he observed, “couldn't see what there was to laugh at. How would they like it themselves?”

Their merriment quickly gave way, however, to the more serious consideration of the steps to be pursued for the recovery of the brig. The major's daughters were safe; that was a great point; and George Trevor's heart beat quick as he thought that the Helen, whom he had sought over a large

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part of Europe in vain, was even now within a short distance from him, and that in a brief space he should have the happiness of beholding her again!

In his romantic enthusiasm he was almost angry that circumstances had disappointed him of the opportunity of showing his courage by rescuing her from the power of the bushrangers! But that idea soon gave way to more sober thoughts. Her father, by the mate's account, would be ruined by the loss of the brig, in which had been embarked nearly the whole of his property; besides, it was his duty to leave no means untried of capturing the runaway convicts, who were in arms against the government, and whose escape it was important to prevent, lest it should operate as an encouragement to similar attempts.

He turned his attention, therefore, firmly to the business of retaking the brig, without allowing the thought of Helen, whom he burned to see again, to distract him from his duty; but, as he considered that the major's military experience would be valuable in deciding on the proceedings to be adopted, he determined on joining him without delay.

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Desiring his party to follow in Indian file, and requesting the mate to act as guide, they proceeded as rapidly as the darkness and the inequality of the ground would permit to the spot where the major, with his daughters and the crew of the vessel, held their entrenched encampment.