― 16 ―

Chapter II. Hopes.

IN the mean time the Major, assisted by his active officer, and ably supported by the crew of the vessel and the government sailors, was vigorously engaged in battling with the fire which had been kindled in the principal cabin of the brig by Mark Brandon, who had perpetrated that most diabolical act in order to occupy the attention of his antagonists, and to prevent them from turning their thoughts to him and to the inmates of the cave.

In this he had fully succeeded; for so busy were the sailors, with their commanders, in extinguishing the flames, and in repairing the damage that had been done to the vessel,

  ― 17 ―
as well by the fire as by her striking on the shoal, that they could think of nothing else but the urgent work on which they were employed.

The extinguishing of the fire proved a less difficult matter than they had hoped, although the parts which had been ignited continued to send forth smoke for some time after the flames had been overcome.

This being effected, however, and all danger on that score over, the sailors began to recollect that it was near eight bells—that is to say, that it was about mid-day;—and that they had been able to procure no refreshment, since the night before, more than a bite at some hard ship's biscuit, which was by no means sufficient to satisfy seamen's appetites when “better grub,” as they nautically expressed it, was to be got.

With one accord, therefore, they signified to the mate that they would take it as a particular favour if the skipper would be pleased to make it twelve o'clock; it being the peculiar function of that omnipotent person

  ― 18 ―
on board-ship—the captain—not only to make it twelve o'clock every day at his will and pleasure, but on the extraordinary occasion of a voyage eastward round the globe to make either an extra Sunday or an extraworking day on some one week of the circumnavigation, according to expediency, and to his own particular convenience.

As the Major well knew that one most important means of keeping sailors in good humour is to feed them and grog them well, he forthwith gave orders for striking eight bells, according to the request conveyed to him; and as the brig's cabouse was found to be sadly out of order from the effects of the storm, which Mark Brandon's people had neither the time nor the skill to remedy, he gave directions for making up a huge fire of wood on the beach; and it was the smoke from this extempore ship's kitchen that the party at the cave mistook for the burning of the vessel.

The dinner from the ample stores of the brig's beef and pork went on favourably, while

  ― 19 ―
a judicious distribution of rum completed the general satisfaction; and the jovial sailors, refreshed with rest and food, rushed joyously to their work, which was to get the brig off from the shoal.

Fortunately for the bottom of the gallant vessel, the part of the shoal where she struck was entirely of sand, so that there were hopes that so far she had escaped uninjured. The mate, also, did not fail to take advantage of the rising tide, by carrying out an anchor seaward, and putting a strain on the cable from the bow of the vessel. The position of the brig, however, was an awkward one, and it required all the skill and exertions of their united strength to warp her off on the rising of the tide with the assistance of both boats, and with the strain of two cables attached to the anchors besides.

This, however, by the perseverance and encouragement of the mate, who bent his whole soul to the work, and by the liberal promises of the Major, was at last effected, and the little vessel was once more afloat on the

  ― 20 ―
bosom of the waters. The wind had gone down again; but there was a broken swell which caused the vessed to toss about like a maimed and crippled thing, filling the worthy mate with a poignant pain which almost counterbalanced his joy at seeing the mistress of his affections swimming with a melancholy flauntiness on her native element.

Ah! poor thing! he said, as he stood on the shore and surveyed her changed appearance, you see what has happened to you, you hussey, by letting yourself get into bad hands! But it wasn't her fault neither, he said; but mine, for listening to the blarney of that cursed pilot, with his sea-lawyer's jaw and his damn'd long-tailed coat! I ought to have known better—I ought—and that's the truth of it. I mistrusted those long tails from the first; it wasn't seaman-like, to say the least of it—it was indecent! and I deserve to be flogged, I do, for being so flummoxed by such a lubberly-looking rascal! But I'll make you all right again, my beauty! I will. There's a lovely foresail in the mainhold, and I'll spread it

  ― 21 ―
on her, and she shall look as saucy as a new bride!

“But her mainmast is gone,” said the Major, interrupting his officer's self-accusatory and affectionate exclamations; “how shall we manage for that?”

“It's a bad job, I confess,” replied the mate. “But look at that grove of trees, yonder, with their tall straight stems; those are the stringybark trees, I take it. There's a new mast ready-made to our hand; and it is but a light bit of timber that we want for our little boat, God bless her! and we'll ship it in no time, that is, if it wouldn't be better to rig out a jury-mast enough to carry us into port in the Derwent; and then we can do it at our leisure, and more ship-shape.”

“Bear-a-hand, my sons,” he sang out to the sailors, “and clear away this gear,” pointing to the shattered mainmast which had been cut away from the vessel, and was lying half in the water on the shoal.

“I think,” he continued, turning to the Major, “that we had better trust to a jury-mast

  ― 22 ―
to take us round the headland and through the channel: we shall not make so good a job of it here, and it's best to be in port as soon as we can. There's no knowing how soon we might have another visit from these confounded bushrangers—the devil burn them! the place seems to grow bushrangers! And the sooner, perhaps, we get the young ladies on board the better: to my mind it's safer for them to be on board than on shore any time. When one is on board ship we know where we are, which we never do ashore; for the streets run in and out, and the houses are all alike—and there's no getting a sight of the sun, so that you never know your bearings; and as to your latitude and longitude, it's all a guess! But on boardship you know what to look out for and what to prepare against; there's the wind and the sea—and a lee-shore, may-be, and that's all: but on the land you never know what the danger is, for it is never over! What with land-sharks and fireships of all sorts—let alone the difficulty of keeping steady on one's legs

  ― 23 ―
when there's no motion to help one, and not one in a hundred knows starboard from larboard, or how to put up their helms when you're bearing up, may-be in Cheapside, against a wind!—for my part, I say the sea for me: and all the use of the land, so far as I can see, is to grow vegetables on!”

“And now, Major, if you will take my advice, you will let me tow the brig opposite your camp, over the water, yonder, so that the young ladies can come easy on board; and I should like to see the bushranger that would attempt to take them out again!”

From this long and characteristic harangue, it may be seen that the worthy mate was in excessively high spirits; and as the Major expressed his immediate approval of his suggestion, all the materials belonging to the vessel were collected without delay, and the two boats being manned, they were on the point of giving way, when a shout from the top of the hill overlooking the shore attracted their attention, and the ensign with three soldiers, was seen coming down in all haste towards the vessel.

  ― 24 ―

The Major desired the boats to rest on their oars, and presently Trevor reached the beach:—the vessel being beyond convenient hail, he made the most energetic signs to make the Major understand that he wished to communicate with those on board. One of the boats being detached, the Major stepped into it and proceeded to the shore.

“Are you aware,” were the first words uttered by Trevor, “that Mark Brandon, with two of his comrades, have escaped?”

A sudden fear came over the father as he thought of his daughters.

Trevor then communicated to him, in as few words as possible, that his party of soldiers had hemmed the bushrangers into a corner, and that all who were not killed in the conflict were captured, but that Brandon and two others were not among them. He said further, that some of the convicts had informed him that Brandon had promised to meet them at the foot of a certain hill, about a dozen miles off, but that it was the opinion of the head constable, who was a most intelligent fellow,

  ― 25 ―
that this was only a feint on the part of Brandon, and that he would most likely visit the cave where the Major's daughters had been left, and where many of the Major's valuables had been deposited.

The Major changed countenance at this communication, and for a few moments was at a loss how to act; for he could not make up his mind which was the best way of reaching the side of the bay near which the cave was situate, whether by land or water.

Trevor saw that his mind was troubled as if with a presentiment of some disaster, and he immediately offered to go round by land with his men while the Major proceeded by sea. The Major, without speaking a word, but with lips pale and his teeth clenched, immediately agreed to this arrangement, and stepping back into his boat, nodded his head to the men to take to their oars; when a new apparition arrested his sight, and gave rise to sudden hopes and fears, which took from him the power of speech, and it was only by a sign that he

  ― 26 ―
could intimate to the boat's crew to remain still.

On the summit of a low green bank he beheld a female, whom the father's eye instantly recognised as his daughter Louisa, descending with precipitate but staggering haste. Extending his arm to the object, he pointed it out to Trevor, who, in a moment, started off to meet her, followed by his men.

The Major could not move; he saw his daughter, but he saw only one! Where was the other? Where was Helen? It might be, that, exhausted with her flight, she had sunk down on the way;—but was that likely?—It was Louisa that was likely to be exhausted, not the strong-minded and intrepid. Helen! The courage of the old soldier was destroyed by the apprehensions of the father! He awaited the arrival of Louisa, and the tidings which she brought in gloomy silence.

She was not long in coming, or rather she was carried by Trevor down the slope and placed in her father's arms. Frantically embracing him with convulsive joy, she sank

  ― 27 ―
down, faint, exhausted, and collapsed, and burst into an hysterical flood of tears!

Hitherto she had not spoken a word; but her flight, her exhausted state, with terror still imprinted on her countenance—all gave evidence that she had been witness of some shocking catastrophe, and was the bearer of terrible tidings. The Major, for some moments, could not interrogate her; the sight of her, and the fears which that sight suggested, unmanned him, and for some minutes he mingled his tears with those of his recovered daughter.

The hardy boat's crew, who were acquainted with all the circumstances attending the seizure of the brig by the bushrangers, and the perils to which the Major's daughters had been exposed, and who, with the true feeling of British sailors where the safety of a woman was concerned, were generously alive to everything that affected her and those to whom she was dear, regarded the sorrow-stricken father with sympathising looks, and one or two of them laid their hands on the ship's cutlasses which

  ― 28 ―
were in the boat, as if eager to revenge any wrong that had been committed on a female whom they considered especially under their protection.

When the first burst of Louisa's emotion had subsided the Major removed her from the boat, and taking her apart to some little distance on the beach—for he was fearful that she had some dreadful disclosure to make which it would shock her delicacy to speak of except to himself,—he asked her the reason of her sudden appearance, and of her flight from the place of their retreat, and desired her to tell him without disguise all that she could of what had occurred since he had left her and her sister with Mr. Silliman at the cave.

The poor girl, who was well aware of the necessity of being prompt in affording succour to Helen, stifled her sobs; and by a great effort was able to recover her voice sufficiently to narrate to her father, that they had seen the smoke, and that Helen had heard the sound of firing in the distance; and that, unable to control her curiosity, she had ventured from

  ― 29 ―
the cave to endeavour to see what was going forward, but, alarmed at her not returning, she had prevailed on Mr. Silliman to leave the cave to seek for her; and that when Mr. Silliman did not return, she being frightened at the continued absence of him and of her sister, went out to look for them.

She then described the scene of her sister and Mr. Silliman in the hands of the bushrangers; and she said, that when she saw Mark Brandon she gave up all for lost!—herself also!—but fortunately, they had not perceived her, she was so well hidden among a confused heap of rocks. She told, also, the conversation which she had overheard between Mark Brandon and her sister about the money which had been taken from the brig and deposited in the cave, and that Helen had been prevailed on by Brandon to tell him where it was concealed; that the three bushrangers—that is, Mark Brandon and two other men whom she recollected as having been on board the brig, from the remarkable fierceness of their countenances—went away to the cave,

  ― 30 ―
taking Mr. Silliman and Helen with them, and that when they were out of sight she ran off by the shore of the bay to the spot where she saw the smoke.

She added, though with some hesitation, that before the bushrangers went away to the cave they talked of casting lots for her sister, which she supposed meant that one of them was to take Helen away into the bush.

When she had concluded her narrative the Major beckoned to Trevor, who was within sight, and made Louisa repeat all the circumstances which she had related to him, which Louisa did, nearly in the same words, but omitting that part of it where the bushrangers talked of casting lots for her sister, but stating that she feared from their talk that it was their intention to take Helen away with them.

It is impossible to describe the agony which overwhelmed the father and the lover at this dreadful communication. The loss of his money was as nothing compared with the horrible fate of his daughter. The Major sat

  ― 31 ―
for a few minutes in silence, stunned with the blow, and unable to exert himself in thought or action. But Trevor, wild and mad with grief and rage, stamped frantically on the beach, and called out to his soldiers to advance and get ready to follow him instantly in pursuit. He ran to the boat, and with vehement declamations told the story to the crew.

The sturdy sons of the sea, albeit they could not understand how the male guardian of the women had allowed the bushrangers to maltreat a girl without first sacrificing his own life in her defence, were roused to the highest pitch of indignation at the idea of the rascally pilot who had played such a trick on themselves, having carried away a nice girl into the bush, and—climax of villany and cruelty!—with her hands tied behind her! “It wasn't,” they said, “giving the gal a chance, and was altogether contrary to all manliness, and unfair to the last degree; and none but a rascally convict would be guilty of such an abominable action.”

  ― 32 ―

They demanded eagerly to be led in pursuit; and Trevor took advantage of their enthusiasm so far as to urge them to pull with all their might to the opposite shore of the bay towards the right, as he thought that would be the quickest way of reaching the scene of Helen's adventures. The Major also, having recovered from the first effects of the shock, was desirous of losing no time in taking measures for the recovery of his daughter, alive or dead; for his knowledge of her character convinced him that the high-minded Helen would not survive any indignity offered to her by the miscreants who had her in their power. But there was a sadness, and a solemnity, and a quiet sternness in his manner, which contrasted remarkably with the wild restlessness and the extravagant gestures and impetuosity of Trevor.

Hastily making known to the mate, as they passed the brig, the reason of their hurried passage across the bay, and putting Louisa on board under his care, the Major bidding him make all speed in taking the brig to the place

  ― 33 ―
of her destination, the excited sailors made the blades of their oars bend and quiver as they propelled the boat rapidly through the water, Trevor standing up and urging them by voice and action to put forth all their strength to arrive as quickly as possible to the shore before the bushrangers had time to make good their retreat, or to consummate their premeditated villany on the poor girl in their possession.

Urged by such lusty arms and such willing hearts, the boat soon touched the sandy beach abreast of the lofty rock at which the Major had established his encampment on the previous night, and without waiting for the Major, Trevor leaped on shore, followed by his soldiers, and made his way to the cave. The sight of the remains of the ransacked trunks and packages told him in a moment that the bushrangers had done their work, and had doubtless escaped with their plunder.

While he was still gazing at the wreck of the property, the Major arrived with four armed sailors, among whom was the carpenter, who

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had acted as second mate of the vessel, leaving the rest of the crew to guard the boat. Paying little attention to the loss of his goods, he directed his sailors to light torches from the branches of a peppermint-tree which grew close by, and to explore the interior of the cave, while two of the soldiers were directed to use their best endeavours to discover the track of the bushrangers and their captives.

In the mean time Trevor with the corporal made a circuit round the place, with the hope of meeting with some object which might serve as a hint for their future proceedings.

He readily recognised the spot amongst the rocks where Louisa had hid herself, and the relative positions of the parties during that agonising scene. Then ascending a high mass of rock, he took a view of the surrounding country, but he could not see far, owing to the intervention of low scrubby hills and occasional clumps of trees; he saw enough, however, to impress him with the feeling that it was a most romantic part of the country,

  ― 35 ―
though of a rugged and savage character, and affording opportunities, as he judged, for successful concealment of a most embarrassing nature.

But considering the “lie,” as it is colonially called, of the country in a cooler and more attentive manner, it became clear to him that the fugitives could have taken their flight through one particular segment only of the semicircle which extended from the end of the lake on his right to the sea-coast on his left. Mark Brandon, he argued, would not dare to proceed northwards in the direction of Hobart Town; nor was it likely that he would attempt to keep along the sea-shore to the left, from the high and precipitous cliffs which he was aware bounded much of the coast on that side; nor would he try to skirt the coast, from the extreme difficulty of making progess over a line of country so unfavourable for pursuing the rapid flight which was necessary for his safety.

There was only one direction, therefore, left open for him, which was comprised within a small angle; but still there was room and scope

  ― 36 ―
enough for them to baffle their pursuers, unless the most prompt and energetic means were adopted for getting on their track.

Carefully noting all the points which might serve him for marks of distance, Trevor descended from the rock, and keeping the direction in his mind's eye, he immediately started off, accompanied by the corporal, on the line which he judged would be the probable course of the bushrangers, and proceeded without stopping several miles.

He then made a halt; and, after surveying the scenery narrowly on all sides, he made excursions from right to left, like a sportsman beating for game, inspecting the ground narrowly to discover some indication of the track of feet. This toil he continued for some time in vain; but at last his exertions were suddenly rewarded with success.

Passing near a low rock he saw, to his surprise, something lying on it which he was sure could be neither leaf nor twig, and eagerly running up to examine it, to his excessive joy he found that it was a woman's glove!

  ― 37 ―

In a moment he felt sure that at such a time and in such a place the glove could be no other than Helen's; and it was partly with the gladness with which it inspired him from this discovery of the track, and partly with the rapture of a lover at beholding an article of dress which had been worn by his mistress, that he was about to snatch it up and carry it to his lips, when it struck him that its position as it lay was remarkable, and, as it presently occurred to him, was intentional.

Three of the fingers and the thumb, he observed, were bent together as if with a hasty compression, while the fore-finger was, as it seemed to him, purposely left free and pointing in a particular direction. He followed with his eyes this direction, and saw that it pointed to an opening between two hills at a considerable distance.

Taking into consideration all these circumstances, which, howsoever trivial they might be thought at other times, were now most important signs for his guidance, he felt sure that Helen had contrived to leave one of her gloves

  ― 38 ―
on the rock, and that she had bent the fingers into the shape in which he found them as a sign to her friends, should they be so fortunate as to light on it in their search. The corporal also, whom Trevor consulted was of the same opinion, remarking “that it was evidence also of the young lady's hands having been set at liberty.”

This was a fresh source of satisfaction to Trevor, who argued from it also that Helen had hopes of being succoured, and that her mind was cool and ready enough to devise this means of indicating the direction of their retreat.

The shades of evening were now beginning to encompass them, and the corporal counselled his officer that he should return to the cave for the other two soldiers, and for such materials and provisions as would be necessary for them to take with them in their pursuit.

But Trevor, who had now become warmed and excited, would not listen to any such proposal, as it involved a certain loss of time,—and time was everything; besides, it was, for many very powerful reasons, extremely important that

  ― 39 ―
they should come up with the bushrangers before night. Trevor had his own motives for this, but from some secret feeling which perhaps it would have been difficult for him to explain in words, he did not communicate them to the corporal.

He contented himself with asking him, whether he could depend on him to stand by him in the conflict which would be certain to take place on their coming up with the enemy.

The corporal, who was a cool and brave old soldier, although he had not a lover's enthusiasm to excite him on the present occasion to a dangerous enterprise, slapped the butt-end of his firelock with his hand, and assured Trevor with energy that he would stand by his officer to the last drop of his blood, and wherever his ensign would lead, he would follow him!

Thus encouraged and supported, Trevor wrote on a leaf which he tore from his pocket-book, his intention to pursue the bushrangers accompanied by the corporal only, and directing any friend who might see the writing to

  ― 40 ―
take the direction of the opening between the two high hills in the distance which was nearly west-north-west. Having written this, he stuck it on a small stick, which he secured to the rock with a heavy stone; and having set up a pole from a neighbouring clump of thin trees, known in the colony by the name of the tea-tree, used by the natives for their spears, and to which he affixed a tuft of native grass to attract attention, with the corporal for his companion, he set out rapidly in the direction indicated by Helen's glove, which, loverlike, he had deposited in his bosom.

As they had now got on the track, which was occasionally visible, they kept their arms in readiness, in the hope of coming suddenly on the freebooters, to whom the corporal secretly vowed he would grant no quarter, and on whom the ensign was determined to take summary vengeance.