― 17 ―

Chapter II. Suspicion and Distrust Breed Fear and Treachery.

THEY had not proceeded far before they came to a huge blue gum-tree, on which was fastened, by a wooden pin, another copy of the proclamation which the Bushranger and his companion had seen at the entrance of the cave. Grough read it over again, and seemed to dwell rather meditatively on the reward of “dollars” and “pardon.”—Brandon marked his fellow's look, but said nothing.

The sight of this second handbill, however, made Brandon for the moment more suspicious

  ― 18 ―
of other enemies than of his companion, and he looked about uneasily:—

“The enemy seems to be on this track,” he said; “we must shift a little more to the coast.”

Grough was rather inclined to proceed in a northerly direction towards the town; but this manœuvre was gently opposed by Brandon. They continued their course to the coast, therefore, for about half a mile, when, fastened on a peppermint tree, they beheld another copy of the Governor's proclamation. Grough cast his eyes round on all sides with an odd and doubtful expression: Brandon looked to the primings of his fowling-piece, and kept to the right of Grough so that his barrel thrown over his left arm might naturally point towards his companion.

“Proclamations seem to grow in these parts,” remarked Grough.

“I don't think this is the best way for us after all,” said Brandon. “They will be looking out for me near the coast.”

  ― 19 ―

“And for me too.”

“And for you too,” repeated Brandon, thoughtfully.

Turning sharp round, he retraced his steps, with Grough by his side. He thought that his comrade seemed inclined to stick to him more than ever.—But he was determined to follow out his own plan.

He then made a start in the direction of the north-west, keeping clear, however, of his previous route when he was accompanied by Helen, and having it in his mind either to climb the mountainous ridge to the right of the opening which he had passed before, or to try to go round it. But after about a quarter of a mile's walk he encountered another ghost of the hateful proclamation!

“Another!” said Grough.

“They seem to be determined to hem us in with their bribes of dollars and pardons,” said Brandon, eyeing his companion.

“It's a great temptation to a prisoner,” observed Grough, sentimentally;—“and they

  ― 20 ―
that did it know it. Not that I would be such a rascal as to betray a chum! Sooner than turn nose, I'd rather … I'd .. rather.…”

“Rather what?” said Brandon, drily.

“Why you don't suspect me, do you?”

“Not I: you know that your fate is bound up with mine, and that it is to your interest not to betray me.”

“I don't know that,” replied Grough, a little doggedly. “It would be to my interest, perhaps, to get the dollars and the free pardon; but may I be hanged like a dog, and sink into eternal flames, if I ever betray a friend!”

“Now then,” said Brandon, “you have read the Governor's proclamation; will you stay behind and give information of me if you like; or will you go with me and take your chance of our seizing a boat together, and of escaping from the colony?”

“Which will I do? Do you think I would hesitate for a moment?” replied Grough, who was puzzled to determine in his own mind which was the likeliest way of his being able

  ― 21 ―
to deliver up his friend to the authorities and of claiming the reward. “What will I do?” he repeated, after having revolved the pros and cons in his mind as well as the short time afforded to him for his decision would enable him, “why, follow you, Mark, to the world's end, and stick to you, my boy, like a barnacle!”

This friendly resolve he had come to from the calculation that, if he left Brandon and sought to give information to the authorities of his comrade's whereabouts, he might possibly be tried and hanged before the value of his information could be ascertained; but if, on the contrary, he accompanied his friend, some opportunity would occur, as he flattered himself that Brandon was quite unsuspicious of his intention, to enable him to fall suddenly on him, when he was asleep perhaps, and bind him; and so deliver him alive to the governor in camp.

Brandon, on the other hand, had made up his mind, before he asked the question, to shoot

  ― 22 ―
his comrade on the spot if he refused to accompany him, as he judged it would be dangerous to let him go; but, as he wanted his services to carry various necessaries into the bush for his convenience as well as safety, he let the huge oaf hug himself with the idea that he had the cleverness to deceive one who, by his art and daring, had acquired for himself, pre-eminently, the title of “The Bushranger;” and knowing well that nothing more effectually blinds a treacherous plotter, of Grough's description, than to suffer him to delude himself with the idea that he is the deceiver, he allowed his companion to enjoy, undisturbed, his secret satisfaction at being able “to put such a dodge on Mark.”

With this thought, he extended his hand to his comrade, and wringing it strongly and with much apparent emotion, declared, solemnly that “he would rather have such a man as he was to stand by him, than a dozen cowardly and treacherous rascals whom an honest man could place no reliance on!”

  ― 23 ―

Grough expressed, in his rough way, his utmost satisfaction at this exhibition of the warmth of his comrade's attachment, and swore a prodigious oath to signify that he would be true to him to the last. He walked on by his side, therefore, full of glee, for he considered the dollars and the free pardon as his own already; while Brandon made up his mind, definitively, to blow his friend's brains out the moment they arrived at their place of destination.

In this amiable disposition of mind towards each other the two proceeded on their way, keeping to the right of their former route, for Brandon still cherished the hope that he might possibly fall in with Helen by the way, for it was clear that she had not reached the cave, and the probability was that she was lost in the bush;—or possibly she might have been taken away by the natives, though that was not likely. There was reason to conclude, however, that she had not been killed in the fight, for in that case, her body would have been found.—

  ― 24 ―
Perplexed and irritated by these conflicting surmises he determined to visit the scene of the fight again, and search narrowly for her remains, and, if necessary, communicate with the wounded officer, if he still remained there.

As to the risk of being taken he did not care much for that, as he considered that he was more than a match for the two soldiers in the bush, and that if it came to the worst it would only be making a fight of it. To this step, however, he would not have been inclined, for his maxim was “never to give away a chance,” had he not been incited by his burning passion for the girl for whose repossession he would have incurred almost any danger.

With this resolve he proceeded rapidly on, but his companion was so loaded with his various assortment of useful and necessary articles for the bush, that soon after nightfall he expressed his utter inability to proceed a single step further; and as they found themselves in the vicinity of a little streamlet, they

  ― 25 ―
arranged themselves for the night. Grough disencumbered himself of his load, and with an affectionate earnestness, which manifested itself by many endearing expressions, he embraced a bottle of the rum which formed a considerable part of the bulk of his provisions. Hastening to extract the cork, he applied it to his mouth, and indulged in a prodigious gulp of the liquor.

“You seem to enjoy it,” observed Mark.

“If one could only get as much rum every day as a man could drink,” replied the other, “I wouldn't mind whether I was prisoner or free! Rum's the stuff for me!”

“And how much have you left for me?”

“How much! why, this bottle holds two quarts.—Drink, Mark—drink.—There isn't such stuff in the colony! It's downright beautiful! I'll fill my skin with it this blessed night, and then I shall have the less to carry tomorrow! This night I'll be jolly drunk if I never am again! With a pipe of baccy in your mouth, and a bottle of rum by your side,

  ― 26 ―
what does a man want more! Eh, Mark?—Here, man, take the bottle.”

Brandon took the bottle, and then selecting the pannikin, in the dusk, from the heap of articles on the ground, he fetched in it some water from the stream, to which he added a small quantity of the spirit, which he drank leisurely.

Grough observed this moderation with extreme surprise! That any one should refrain from taking his fill of rum when he had the opportunity, was a prodigy that surpassed his comprehension! There must be a reason for it, he thought sagely to himself. Why should Mark not drink?—Was he afraid of getting drunk?—By——, that was it!—More fool he! Then he, Grough, could drink Mark's share and his own too! Capital!

With this he was about to put his beloved bottle to his mouth again; when, suddenly, a thought struck him—a most awkward thought! Perhaps Brandon was meditating to do the same thing to him which he was meditating to

  ― 27 ―
do to Brandon? To fall upon him, and secure him, and deliver him up to the Government for the sake of the reward! That was the reason why Mark would not drink! He, Mark, wanted him, Grough, to drink, and get drunk, so as to be able to master him easily!—What a rascal!—But here was a particularly disagreeable fix!—If he didn't drink, what was the use of the rum which he had carried all that way? And if he did, and got drunk, he should be entirely helpless, and at the mercy of Brandon, to do with him as he pleased!

The shock of this cruel dilemma was most horrid! He held the rum in his hand which he dared not drink! Life had lost its salt and its savour! Bushranging had lost its relish!—What was to be done?—The only thing was to wait till Mark fell asleep, and then to fall on him.—To this end he resolved to keep his eyes open diligently, though fatigue and travel had wearied his faculties sorely.

“You don't drink,” said Brandon, as Grough placed the bottle on the ground with his hand

  ― 28 ―
still on it, and with a countenance which, even in the gloom, Mark observed. was ludicrously sorrowful.

“Better not drink it all up at once;—you know we shall want it in the bush.”

“You have changed your mind rather suddenly,” replied Brandon, “I thought you were determined to take your fill this time?”

“Better keep it for times when we shall want it; the best thing to do now is to go to sleep, so as to be fresh for to-morrow.—I suppose, Mark, you feel sleepy as I am,” said Grough; wishing by this considerate suggestion to put it into his friend's head to lose no time about it.

“I am very tired, and very sleepy,” replied Mark; “and I feel that I shall be off in a few minutes.”

“So shall I,” replied Grough, making an effort to keep his eyes open.—“We will both of us go to sleep,” he continued aloud, and then saying to himself, “If I do, I'm d——d.”

“You will be a clever fellow!” thought

  ― 29 ―
Mark on his side, “if you catch me asleep! Depend on it, my fine fellow, that Mark is always wide awake!”

“I shall be asleep in a minute, Mark.”

“And so shall I.”

Presently Mark breathed heavily.

“I wonder if he is shamming!” thought Grough.—“But I am up to that dodge too!” Accordingly he performed a deep and regular snore.

“That rascal is not asleep,” said Brandon to himself; “he is feigning for some purpose! Does he think to come over me that way! the thrice long-eared ass! Does he think that Mark Brandon is to be taken in by his contrivances! Shall I shoot him now? No:—I want him to carry his load for me, and to assist in beating off the natives, for it is more than probable that we shall meet with them before long in this direction, and for his own sake he will not fail me then. Besides, it will be better to appear to the young officer as two to two, should it be necessary for me to communicate

  ― 30 ―
with him.—No, I will not shoot him yet.—I will make use of him, and then punish him for his meditated treachery.—But, positively, I think the brute sleeps.”

Mark spoke to him in a low tone, to which Grough made no answer;—he then approached him cautiously, and satisfied himself that it was no sham; for in fact, the first copious draft of rum which the creature had imbibed was sufficient to dispose him, wearied as he was, irresistibly to sleep.

The Bushranger, now stepping with the utmost caution, withdrew silently from the spot, and continued his course till he arrived at a thicket about a quarter of a mile distant from the place where he had left his companion, and burying himself among the densest of the bushes, he endeavoured to compose himself to sleep.—But the thought of his precarious position; the ill-concealed design of his companion; and the gnawing fury of his disappointment at the loss of the girl on whom he had set his whole soul, for a long time kept him awake.—But at

  ― 31 ―
last he was able to procure a few minutes of fitful slumber.

His fears, however, haunted him in his dreams; and he awoke with the sensation of being suddenly grasped by a powerful hand on his collar!—It was only his neck-handkerchief which, in the uneasy position in which he lay, had become tightened round his neck.

He found it impossible, however, to sleep again. He made his way back, therefore, to his companion, whom he found still snoring. He sat by his side for more than two hours, cold and cheerless, for he feared to light a fire lest some enemy on the look-out should discover him by its light. At last the dawn of day came; and then, thinking that his companion had slept long enough, and being anxious to get towards the sugar-loaf hill, he awoke him, by putting his hand to his shoulder.

“Hands off!” cried Grough. “D——n me! you shan't take me alive! What! Mark! is it you? By——! I thought it was some of the

  ― 32 ―
constables that had got hold of me! By——! and haven't you been asleep!”

“I could not sleep; so I have been watching for both of us.”

“You haven't been asleep! and I have!” said Grough, rubbing his eyes, and endeavouring to reconcile the fact of Mark's forbearance with his own previous suspicions; “well, there is something in this I can't make out!”

“What can't you make out?”

“What can't I make out?” replied Grough, a little confused;—“why—I can't make out why it is that you don't sleep after you have been awake I don't know how many nights!”

“It is well,” replied Mark, quietly, “that one of us can keep awake; for if we were both to fall asleep together, we might be surprised and taken before we knew where we were—as you might have been last night.”

Grough was considerably puzzled, and could not make out at all the reason why Mark had not seized on him when he was asleep and defenceless, as he certainly would have done

  ― 33 ―
to Mark. “Mark is up to some game,” he thought; “but what is it?”—The uncertainty of Mark's object troubled the worthy Mr. Grough exceedingly; but disguising his thoughts as well as he could, he proceeded to load himself with his goods and chattels, taking, on this occasion, only a very moderate sip of rum, in which he was joined by Mark; and postponing his breakfast until he should have the opportunity of bringing down a kangaroo, which he did not doubt of being able to effect shortly, as the fresh marks of their passage were visible in the grassy gorge which they were traversing.

Leaving them to pursue their way, and to meditate on their mutually-resolved treachery towards each other, exemplifying the life of fear and distrust which criminals who take to the bush, sooner or later, invariably suffer, the course of this narrative turns to the fate of Helen and her fellow-captive.