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Chapter XX. The Modern Prometheus.

“WE can escape yet,” said Helen, “See! the ground is free to the left. There is smoke, but no fire.”

They made their way through the smoke, and found themselves treading on loose stones interspersed among the bushes, and presently they came on large masses of rock. The flames were raging to their left, and spreading onwards. They could see nothing before them, the smoke was so thick; but as they continued their course, they found themselves ascending a rocky mound. Judging, that if they could get on the summit of some

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high rock, they should be secure from the flames at least, although the smoke would embarrass them, they encouraged each other to proceed.

The wind now rose again, and increased till it almost became a hurricane. The two toiled up the mound which now had assumed the appearance of solid rock, and the wind, which increased the power of the flames, but which dissipated the smoke, enabled them to see their way before them.

They were now within a few feet of the top.

“Courage, miss,” said Jerry, as he assisted her up a nearly perpendicular declivity; “we shall be at the top soon, and then we shall have a flat surface to rest on.

“What is that strange noise?” asked Helen.

They listened; and they heard a noise like the flapping of wings.

“It must be some great bird!” said Jeremiah.

A shrill and discordant shriek now assailed

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their ears, of a sound so strange and fearful that had they not been hanging as it were on the verge of a precipice, which made it more dangerous to go back than to move forward, they would have recoiled from a cry of such evil omen. But even as they heard it, they had, by a powerful effort, gained the summit of the rock, and then to their amazement, and not less to their terror, they beheld a powerful eagle, of the vulture species, with its talons firmly fixed in the body and garments of a man, who was lying prostrate on the rock and who was writhing under the creature's monstrous beak and claws!

At the sight of the strangers the gigantic monarch of the mountains flapped its huge wings, and shrieked with its hoarse throat, as it struggled to disengage its claws, which had become entangled in the clothes of the man, who moaned piteously, but who seemed to be deprived of all power of motion. And still the great eagle screamed and struggled, and Helen and her companion looked on with horror, for

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in spite of the change which had taken place in the features of the man, who even before death had become the vulture's prey, one eye having been already digged out as a dainty which that voracious bird most delights to revel in—they distinguished the countenance of THE BUSHRANGER!

“It is Mark Brandon!” exclaimed Jeremiah. “This death is more dreadful than to be burnt alive!”

“It is that terrible man,” repeated Helen, with her hands clasped in terror at the awful sight. “Such a death as this is horrible indeed!”

The quivering wretch seemed to be still sensible; for at the sound of Helen's voice, he uttered a painful groan, and his lips moved as if he wished to speak. But the eagle, angry and alarmed at the presence of strangers, who had come perhaps to dispute his right to his prey, now redoubled its efforts to release its claws. It beat its wings with convulsive struggles; but the weight of the body was too great for it to lift into the air. Their power

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however, was sufficient to enable the creature to drag the body to the edge of the rock on the contrary side to that where Helen and Jeremiah stood, and which rose to a perpendicular height of nearly a hundred feet from its base, at which a mass of decayed wood and dry shrubs was fiercely burning.

The dying wretch now seemed sensible of his coming fate; for with the instinct which prompts all creatures to cling to life, he clutched feebly at the edge of the precipice as he toppled over into the burning abyss The eagle uttering discordant cries at being deprived of its prey, soared aloft towards the clouds; and Helen and her companion—impelled by an irresistible impulse—looking down from the height, beheld a shower of burning sparks uprising from the raging fire, as the still-living body of the murderer crashed into the flames below!

They shuddered and drew back. Neither spoke; but they regarded each other in silence—filled with awe and wonder!

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After a while, Jerry began to congratulate Helen on their almost miraculous escape, when casting his eyes down he saw a pocket-book which after some little hesitation he picked up, and which Helen immediately recognised as having belonged to her father.

She opened it; and there, written in his blood she saw short snatches of the Bushranger's former life. Curiosity excited her to read one. She read aloud:—

“The eagle is come again” …….

“Stop!” interrupted Jeremiah; “what is that on the right-hand side—by the side of the water?”

“Heavens!” exclaimed Helen, “it is a native!”

“And there is another,” said Jerry; “and another! And by St. George and the Dragon, there is the old woman! I should know her among a thousand! They have tracked us! And—look! they see us! It is the whole tribe after us! Oh, miss! miss! here's a job! Was ever there anything like it! Out

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of one mess into another! What's to be done now?”

Helen looked around her. On each side was a precipice; before them was the river which flowed bubbling and sparkling in its rapid course; and on the other side were the natives, who having caught sight of their prisoners on the top of the rock, uttered savage cries of vengeance and came tumultuously on. Jeremiah now really gave himself up for lost; but Helen did not lose courage:—

“We have two pistols,” she said; “they are but small, but they will be something; and we have powder and bullets.”

“We will fight for it,” said Jerry. “I remember the Bushranger,” and shuddering as he spoke, “used to say, ‘never say die while there's a chance:’ ”—

“They cannot attack us from behind,” observed Helen, casting her eyes round and regarding the precipices which surrounded them; “The savages must come on in front.”

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“That's not much comfort,” replied poor Jerry, whom the rapid succession of dangers had rendered frightfully calm; “but as it is all we have got, we must make the most of it. If it comes to the worst I should prefer going down into the water here in preference to the fire on this side. But it's not much odds perhaps. Now miss, do you stand behind me, so that when the natives throw their spears they may hit me first; and at any rate we will have a fight for our lives.

But Helen, disdaining to avoid her share of the danger, took her place on the left-hand side of her kind-hearted protector, and thus posted, they awaited the onset of the savages, who with loud screams and yells were swarming up the rock.