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Chapter VII. The Attack.

THE consummate art of the bushranger in proposing that the crew of the vessel should be armed, while his own men undertook the management of the vessel, had its intended effect. There was no suspicion on the part of the major or of his people that the approaching boat was really in pursuit of the absconded prisoners on board the brig; and the activity of the supposed pilot in preparing the means of defence was regarded as corroborating evidence of the danger threatened to the vessel. All was activity on deck; muskets, pistols, and cutlasses were brought up from the cabin, and ammunition was disinterred from the lockers: and the bushranger

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took care to provide himself amply with the means of defence or offence, as the case might be.

Still he was well aware that the moment was critical and most perilous. He was now in the worst position: his confederates were defenceless; the sailors of the vessel were armed, and prepared to resist aggression: and the boat, which he had no doubt contained a government party in pursuit, was coming nearer and nearer every minute. But with a coolness and courage worthy of a better object, he bided his time, and waited with patience for the result, which he calculated must take place when his men attempted to work the vessel.

At this time a brisk breeze had sprung up from the south, which gave the advantage to the brig over an attacking boat, as it enabled the vessel to choose her position. The increase of the wind rendered a corresponding arrangement of the sails necessary; but here the ignorance and blundering of the supposed pilot's men was too provoking to be endured by the angry mate:—

“What do you call your fellows?” he broke

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out to the pilot: “do you call that chap a sailor? See how he handles a rope! By——! look at that fellow sticking in the shrouds! There's another creeping through lubber's hole! That's right, my man, take care of your precious limbs! Oh! this will never do,” he said to the major; “these men will never work the vessel: such a lubberly set I never set eyes on! There goes the jib! Hold on there, hold on! By——! you'll have the maintopsail-yard down by the run. Pilot, hold your men off. What's the use of such a pack of fools? Keep an eye on the boat, some one, can't you? A pretty set, that don't know the main-sheet from the topsail-halyards; and they can't fight! No, not they! I should like to know what they are fit for?”

“Do you think your men would stand by us?” asked the major, eagerly, of the pilot; “you see we want our own people to work the vessel.”

“Fight!” said the pilot; “they will fight like devils, depend upon it, when the time comes; but of course you can't expect them to be used to arms,” he added carelessly: “however, they

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will do their best. Come aft, my men.” They quickly came at the voice of their leader.

“The major says he wants his sailors to work the vessel; and he asks me if you will stand by us to defend the brig from the bushrangers coming on to attack us in the boat yonder?”

The diligent Mr. Silliman, who was examining the boat through the ship's glass, cried out at this moment, “I can see the men in the boat, and I can see the gleam of some muskets: the boat is full of the rascals!”

“Make haste, then,” said the bushranger; “relieve the sailors of their arms; and be ready to use them,” he said, significantly, “when I give the word.”

The exchange of duties between the sailors and the conspirators was the work of a minute only; and the crew of the vessel became immediately busied in trimming the sails and attending to the ship; while the supposed pilot and his gang stood with arms in their hands, ready to pounce on their unsuspecting victims.

The bushranger felt that the time had come when he must strike a decisive blow; but first he

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ran rapidly over in his head a scheme to get the major and his chief officer below, in order that the crew, being deprived of their leaders, might be more easily mastered: his object was unexpectedly furthered by the officious Mr. Silliman.

“Major,” said that bustling individual, as he hurriedly loaded his musket with an excessively martial air, “would it not be better for the young ladies to go below? they will only be in our way on deck, and hinder us from fighting.”

“We shall work the better,” put in the pilot, “if we are assured that your daughters, major, are out of the reach of the bullets.”

Louisa, who was very pale, assented to this suggestion without reply; but Helen, who was flushed and excited, remonstrated and resisted. “I can fire a gun,” she said, “as well as any of you; any woman can do that: and where my dear father is there will I be also:” and saying this she seized a musket, and held it in the attitude of a heroine prepared for war.

It required all her father's entreaties and, at last, commands to induce her to descend into the cabin. The major was obliged to lay down his

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weapons and accompany her below. The bushranger saw his opportunity, but the troublesome Mr. Silliman came breathless to the entrance of the companion-way, and bawled “Major, major, I can see the red coats of soldiers in the boat!”

“Soldiers!” said the major; “what can that mean? But they are in my line; I'll soon be up and give a look at them.”

“Mr. Northland,” called out the pilot, “the major is asking for you below; something about the dead-lights, I believe.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” said the mate, as he ran aft; “look out, pilot, the boat's upon us;” and by an indescribable process of locomotion, which sailors alone possess, he dived down below, and his head disappeared in a twinkling.

The bushranger immediately made a sign to four of his men who were near him to close the hatchway: it was done in an instant. At the same time he presented his own musket, which he cocked with an audible click, at the man at the wheel. Mr. Silliman observed these extraordinary manœuvres, which altogether exceeded his

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nautical experience, with inexpressible astonishment; but before he had time to make up his mind what to do, he was seized by two of the bushrangers, disarmed, and on his resisting, with the courage of desperation, their attempt to bind his hands and feet, was without ceremony pitched into the sea.

“That was wrong,” said Mark Brandon, quietly; “never take life if you can avoid it: but the boat will pick him up; and after all, perhaps, he was of no great value.”

In the mean time, the carpenter, who was a cool and determined fellow, with three of the crew, armed themselves with the capstan-bars, resolved to resist, though unable to make out the reason or object of the sudden attack on them by the pilot and his followers; but the bushranger, rushing forward with four of his fellows, presented their muskets; and the sailors, taken unawares and in amazement at the suddenness and strangeness of the proceeding, and seeing, besides, that resistance was hopeless, quietly surrendered. The rest of the crew were as easily brought under subjection, and, having been bound hand and foot, were

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placed singly in convenient places below, and in less than ten minutes the vessel was in the possession of the marauders.

“Now, my men,” cried out Mark Brandon, “a cheer for liberty!” His associates raised a wild hurrah, which conveyed to the inmates in the cabin the information that the vessel was overpowered; but by whom or how was a mystery! The mate put his head out of the stern window, but the bushranger was too well on his guard to permit such an escape; and, meeting the muzzles of two muskets close to his face, the enraged officer was obliged to retreat, though not without venting his discontent in a vigorous volley of nautical abjurations.

Mark Brandon now took the helm, and, making a gesture of defiance with his fist at the still distant boat, he immediately turned the vessel's head back again towards the south; and, under all the sail that she could carry, the captured brig making short tacks stood out to sea.