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Chapter III. Helen a Prisoner with the Natives.

AT the time when the natives attacked the two bushrangers near the Sugar-loaf hill, Helen and the unfortunate Mr. Silliman had been made to lie down on the ground by Brandon while he stood concealed behind the thicket towards which he had enticed his pursuers for the purpose of shooting them securely as they advanced.

It was from the accident of their recumbent position that the spears of the natives passed over their heads; and it was owing to the same circumstance, perhaps, that the savages, seeing them down, forbore to wreak their fury on them.

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As the crowd of males pressed forward, driving back the white people, the females followed, not less cruel than the first, perhaps, in their treatment of their enemies, but who, on this occasion, were struck with the appearance of Helen, whom they were not long in discovering to be of the same sex as themselves.

At the same time they beheld the prostrate form of Jeremiah, and were surprised to observe that he had his hands tied behind his back; and they immediately guessed that so palpable an act of coercion had been committed by his enemies. But seeing that he was secured from doing any injury, and that he was entirely at their mercy, with the caprice not inconsistent with their wild natures and with their sex they postponed putting him to death, with the intention of keeping him for the performance of certain ceremonies which, time out of mind, had been in usage with the original inhabitants of the country.

After poking at him, therefore, with their

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spears for a little while, to see, perhaps, how he would comfort himself under the infliction of that preliminary trial, they signified their desire that he should stand up, which he did accordingly, endeavouring by all the signs and gestures which he could think of to excite the compassion of these black furies.

At the same time, others of the women assisted Helen to rise from the ground, when they immediately proceeded to examine her dress with great curiosity, and showed a strong disposition to possess themselves of it, a proceeding which, if they had persisted in it, would rapidly have reduced the poor girl to the same primitive condition in that respect as themselves; but as the fight raged hotly, and as the guns of the white men continued to send forth their thunder, they were too much alarmed and hurried in their movements to carry their design into execution.

Presently, also, the number of killed and wounded of their countrymen became so numerous, some of the balls fired by Trevor

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and the corporal hitting one or two of the native women whom they wounded slightly, that the alarm of the females was too great to allow them to remain so close to the scene of action. They retired, therefore, to a little distance in the rear, compelling Helen to accompany them, and driving Jeremiah before them with the points of their spears, one or two of the younger girls not being able to restrain their laughter, notwithstanding the seriousness of the fight which was going on, at the curious grimaces exhibited by that unfortunate gentleman as he made little convulsive leaps in accordance with the application of the stimulating spears administered behind. Helen, however, did not lose her presence of mind, even in this urgent time of peril.

At first she succumbed to the natural terror of finding herself in the hands of savages excited to fury by the fierceness of the fight; but when she saw that the native women refrained from putting her to an immediate death, she gathered courage, and was inspired with the hope of

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being able to save herself, as Trevor and a supporter were at hand combating for her rescue.—No sooner, therefore, had their new captors stopped at the entrance of the forest, than she began to think of escaping.—She communicated her intention to her companion:—

“Mr. Silliman, now is the time to make an attempt to join our friends; try to get your hands free; these are only women who are around us. Come towards me and I will untie your arms.”

Jeremiah was still loaded with the variety of articles which the uncommiserating Grough had packed upon him, and which prevented him from exercising much activity in his motions; but he endeavoured to comply with Helen's intimation by sidling towards her with a shuffling step which the natives regarded with astonishment, not being able to make out whether it was the performance of a sort of war dance, or a natural mode of progression habitual with the white people. They suffered him, therefore, to place himself before Helen; but they no

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sooner perceived the object for which the white man's movement had been effected, than they interfered promptly with spears and waddies, and while some thumped Jerry as well as they could get at him through his manifold encumbrances, others threatened Helen with the points of their spears.

“Wait,” said Helen, “till I can find an opportunity to release you; then cast aside your load, and snatch some of their own weapons from the women, and let us fight for our lives.”

“I will fight for you, miss,” replied Jeremiah, “till I die! But what can we do against such a herd of black wretches? Those spears are uncommon sharp, although they are made only of wood; they are indeed! I have felt them!”

“Never fear the wounds that a wooden spear can make,” replied Helen; “we must fight for our lives, and try to join those who have come to rescue us.”

“You see, miss, I can do nothing with my

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hands bound behind me this way; and that ugly rascal has tied them so strong and so tight, that it is impossible for me to loose them myself.—But never mind me, miss; try to save yourself. They would not hurt you perhaps. Suppose you ran off and kept round to the left, so as to avoid the natives and join your friends. Anything is better for you than to be killed and eaten by these savages, for they are all cannibals, I can tell by the looks of them! One old woman,” pointing with his head to a venerable lady of terrific aspect, who had been eyeing Jerry in a very affectionate manner, “has been looking at me in a very odd way! We shall both of us be eaten, miss, if the savages get the better, that's certain.”

While Jerry was speaking, two or three of the natives with faltering steps, were seen coming over the narrow space of plain between the scrub and the wood, and at the sight of their wounded countrymen, the women set up a wail of sorrow, and looked fiercely at their white prisoners, whom they were about to put

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to death. But the old woman, whom Jerry had already remarked as regarding him with longing eyes, which he construed into an excessive desire to eat him, interposed, as it seemed with authority, and prevented them. She said something to her companions, and pointed to the spot where the sound of the guns and the shouts of the fighting natives were heard; and the rest of the women submitted with deference to her command.

She had greater difficulty in holding back the bleeding natives from taking their revenge on the white people in their power; and, although they were bleeding and faint from their wounds, they exhibited a ferocious determination, which made Helen turn pale and Jeremiah cry out with fright.

But the old woman stood before the prisoners and, with arms upraised, vociferated with an energy and a volubility which betokened that she was an adept in the management of that most fearful of all weapons—a woman's tongue! Besides, it appeared that

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she had some pretensions to be obeyed, for the women listened to her with deference, and made no attempt to support the assault of the wounded males.

Whether their wounds, therefore, by producing faintness and weakness, made the men less firm to their resolves, or that they were fairly mastered and borne back by the eloquence of the old woman, they desisted, for the present at least, from their determination and laid themselves down on the ground; while some of the native women, to whom they were attached by particular nearness of kin or other ties, endeavoured to stop the bleeding of their wounds by such simple means as their little knowledge suggested.

But now the firing, which had been very sharp, ceased, and the whole body of natives fled through the covert towards the wood, bearing with them some of their wounded companions. It was fortunate for Helen, at this moment of their exasperation after defeat, that she had been taken possession of by the females at

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the head of whom was the old woman who extended her protection also to the white man; but it was not less fortunate for Jeremiah that he had his hands still tied behind him; for, in that condition, he presented no provocation to the men, who, seeing that he was incapable of defending himself or of acting on the offensive towards themselves, hesitated to use their waddies on his skull—which was, besides, protected by the load of goods which surmounted his head and shoulders. Without delaying to make inquiries, however, as to how the white man and woman got there, or why their lives had been spared by those who had them at their disposal, the black man, who acted as the chief of the party, gave the signal for immediate retreat.

Upon this, without noise, the whole of the sable troop made their way rapidly through the forest, the men supporting such of the wounded as they could hastily convey with them, and the women leading the van, with Helen and Jerry in the midst, whom they forced forward

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notwithstanding their resistance and the urgent appeals which Helen despairingly made to be left behind. Seeing the difficulty with which the white man walked with his hands tied behind him one of the women released him from his bonds.

Thus was Helen exposed to a new peril, the more to be dreaded as it was uncertain, and that she could expect no mercy from those who had so severely suffered from the thunder of the white people in the disastrous fight. Poor Jerry already considered himself as roasted and eaten; and the wretched Helen doubted whether instant death would not be the mildest fate to which she could be condemned. In this way they travelled without stopping for the remainder of the day.

When the darkness of the night came on, although the moon afforded light enough to travel for those who were acquainted with the country, the natives stopped. This halt Helen thought a fortunate circumstance, and she determined to take advantage of the opportunity and endeavour to escape.