previous
next



  ― 72 ―

Chapter VIII. Information.

THE unfortunate Mr. Jeremiah Silliman made more philosophical reflections during his rapid evolution from the deck of the brig to the waters of the sea, than had ever occurred to him in the whole of his previous life. The first dreadful thought that presented itself to him was that he could not swim! but before he could give vent in words to the novel sensations which assailed him he found himself plunged under the waves, and descending beneath them with a velocity proportionate to his specific gravity and the precipitancy of his descent. As he felt himself hurrying down to those abodes, which in the poetical simplicity of his imagination he had been wont to picture as the dwelling-place of sea-nymphs


  ― 73 ―
with green gauze robes and coral necklaces, but which he now contemplated with affright as abounding in enormous crayfishes and voracious ground-sharks, deeply and energetically did he lament that his love of the romantic had led him away from the peaceful haunts of Cheapside and Cornhill to the villainous shores of Botany Bay; and much did he marvel at the disagreeableness of his reception into the bosom of the land of his adoption.

Such and so sad were the curious reflections which were suddenly forced on him by the novelty of his situation; and still he went down and down, as it seemed to him, and deeper and deeper still, till his thoughts became confused, and he felt a cold, fishy sensation, as if he had became partially transformed into the semblance of a scaly inhabitant of the deep; gradually his feelings became blunted; his last thoughts were of the brig from which he had been unceremoniously cast, and the bright eyes from which he was for ever separated,—even in the last moment he could not make up his mind which he preferred —and then the dimness of death came over him;—he


  ― 74 ―
mentally uttered a fragment of a prayer, and all was oblivion!

The party in the boat, however, had not failed to notice the summerset involuntarily performed by the luckless individual in question: and the occurrence, indicating that violence was going on in the brig, confirmed the suspicion to which the unaccountable changes in her course had given rise,—that the bushrangers had got possession of the vessel.

“There's bloody work going on, I'm thinking, on board that craft,” said the constable, who was sitting with his face towards the head of the boat. “I saw one chap pitched overboard plain enough: I wonder which party he belonged to.”

“Give way, my men,” cried the corporal, standing up in the boat, and looking through a glass with which he was provided. “I can see the body, it has come to the surface of the water; it's not above half a mile from us. Give way—stick to your oars—and we shall save him yet, whoever he is!”

The men bent stoutly to their oars, and in a few minutes, the tide being in their favour, they


  ― 75 ―
shot up alongside of the floating body, which they caught just as it was sinking for the last time. The lifeless corpse as it seemed, was quickly hauled into the boat, and a brief consultation was held as to the best means to be adopted for its recovery.

“Nothing better than a bit of salt beef,” suggested an old sailor: “rub it well in; I know it recovered a man off Yarmouth—at home—that had been in the water more than four hours: the salt, you see, rouses him up, if there's any life in him.”

“This is not one of the bushrangers,” pronounced the constable, as they stripped off the clothes from the drowned man in order to give him the benefit of the salt beef recipe prescribed by the old sailor; “this must be one of the people of the vessel; he looks like a sailor by his dress, but his hands are too smooth for that; perhaps he's a passenger.”

“Rub away, my hearties,” urged the sea-doctor; “rub it into him, and if there's any life left, the beef will fetch it out.”

The body of the unconscious Jeremiah was


  ― 76 ―
excoriated accordingly, secundum artem (salsi junki), the boat continuing its pursuit of the vessel nevertheless, as the surmises of the officials were confirmed by the appearance of the body which they had rescued from the water. At last, after a prodigious quantity of rubbing, which reduced the person of the apparently deceased to a substance closely resembling the material which was made use of as a flesh-brush, signs of warmth were observed in the body, and presently a sigh was ejaculated which indicated returning sensibility. The progress of the boat was suspended for a few minutes at this interesting success of the old mariner's surgical operation, and the attention of all was directed to foster the breath of returning life which the stranger now exhibited. The result was speedily favourable;—the man, rescued from death, sat up, and looked around him.

“How do you find yourself, my hearty?” said the corporal; “you have had a narrow escape.”

The stranger stared at him unmeaningly.

“Who are you?” asked the constable, anxious to ascertain the condition of the vessel, and to


  ― 77 ―
learn some tidings of the bushrangers; “what's your name, and who are you?”

But the intellects of the poor man had been too much obfuscated by the salt water, to say nothing of the subsequent scarification to which he had been subjected, to understand where he was, or what had happened to him.

“Can't you tell us who you are?” repeated the constable, impatient to get at some information for his guidance; “what are you?”

“A freeman of London, and a liveryman,” answered Jerry, his mind wandering to former scenes.

“His wits are a wool-gathering,” said the constable.

“It's the water that's swamped 'em,” said the ancient mariner; “salt water grog's poor stuff at any time, 'specially without the rum: and this cove has had too much of it for one bout.”

“What are you, and who do you belong to?” repeated the constable, giving the reviving man a little shake in his impatience.

“The Chandlers' Company,” replied Jerry; “and so did my father before me. I'm a freeman,


  ― 78 ―
I say—and a liveryman; and if I don't shoot the centre arch of Battersea bridge….”

“What company did he say he belonged to?” asked the corporal, “the Chandlers'? He means Captain Chandlers!—Ask him what regiment? And he said something about shooting; I can't make it out at all.”

“It's not that,” said the constable; “but he seems plucking up a bit. How is it now with you, my man? We have saved you from drowning. Who was it that chucked you overboard from the brig yonder? Have the bushrangers got possession of the vessel?”

The word “bushrangers” seemed to strike some responsive chord in the bewildered man's memory.

“Bushrangers!” said he, “bushrangers! Ah, that's it! The bushrangers have got me, and now I'm done for!”

“No, no,” said the corporal; “we are not bushrangers: look at our red coats; we are soldiers going after the bushrangers. Look here, man, bushrangers don't keep their arms bright like ours. Can't you tell the difference between a bushranger and a gentleman in his Majesty's


  ― 79 ―
service? Look at our firelocks; bushrangers can't show such tools as these!”

By degrees, the recovered Jeremiah began to understand what had happened to him, and the character of the party who had saved him from drowning. He was excessively rejoiced at his fortunate escape, and vowed manfully that if he could only come across that insinuating rascal of a pilot, he would serve him out for his ungenteel behaviour. He narrated all the events that had happened; how the chief of the gang had introduced himself on board as a pilot; the plot which he had schemed to get his confederates into the vessel; and the art with which he had contrived to transfer the arms of the sailors to his own followers, under the pretence of leaving the crew of the brig at liberty to manage the vessel in the approaching encounter with the boat which the major was made to believe contained the runaway prisoners who actually were on board all the time.

“By George!” said the constable, “that is Mark Brandon all over! That man would circumvent the very devil himself! It's impossible to be up


  ― 80 ―
to all his dodges! But what's to be done now? The wind's getting up, and that's all in favour of the rascals on board the brig. How many did you say there were with Mark?”

“Six others,” replied Jerry. “And now I recollect we all thought them most desperate-looking ruffians: but that Mark Brandon, as you call him, is quite a genteel person; there doesn't seem to be much harm in him.”

“Didn't he chuck you overboard?” asked the corporal.

“No; it was two other chaps. Mark, as you call him, was standing by the man at the wheel with a cocked musket presented at his head.”

“Just like him!” said one of the sailors; “that's their way. Somehow, all the bushrangers take to the same ways. When they attack a man they make him throw his arms above his head, and then they stick the muzzle of a fowling-piece, or a musket, if they have one—but they don't like muskets, they are so heavy to carry about— close to his ear; and then what can a man do? No pleasant thing, I can assure you; I have felt it myself.”




  ― 81 ―

“But what's to be done,” repeated the constable; “are we to attempt to attack the bushrangers in the brig with this boat? Let us see;— how many are we? Four at the oar—two of us constables, and the corporal with his two men— that's nine; and with the new comer, ten against seven: we can do it easily, corporal.”

“If we could only get at them fairly, we could do it,” replied the corporal; “but the odds would be against us with a vessel under sail: they could fire on us from the protection of the sides of the vessel; and four of our party at least would have to use their oars. There ought to have been more of us.”

“There are more of the bushrangers,” replied the constable, “than were reckoned on in camp to have made their escape; it was supposed that only Mark and two others had gone off: but half a dozen, with Mark Brandon at the head of them, is a formidable party—and all well-armed too!”

“There will be the major's party on board, as this gentleman says, to help us; and, as the major has seen service, he would know how to second us if it came to a brush.”




  ― 82 ―

“Lord bless you!” replied the constable, “you don't suppose the bushrangers will be troubled with the crew of the vessel; bless your heart! they'll get rid of'em in no time.”

“What, murder them in cold blood!”

“Ay, any way: why their rule is, never to give away a chance: depend upon it there's not one of the crew left alive at this moment.”

“What! nor the old major neither!” exclaimed the corporal, his professional sympathies excited for the fate of an officer; “will they kill the major, think you?”

“Have killed him,” said the constable; “they have killed him, I'll be bound. You're new in the colony, corporal, and don't know the ways of these fellows: they make short work of it when it serves their plan to do so. Do you think they would keep a witness alive to hang them?”

“But the young ladies!” interposed Jeremiah; “the poor major's daughters! They would never kill them! They couldn't be such brutes as to kill two young girls!”

“Are they pretty?—though that would not


  ― 83 ―
matter much with bushrangers: — but are they pretty?”

“Both,” replied Jeremiah, “very beautiful; the elder one — that's Helen — she's about eighteen; she is very handsome: and Louisa — she's about sixteen; she's very beautiful: I don't know which is the handsomest of the two; but Helen is the spirited one.”

“Then Mark will take her, and the rest will cast lots for the other; so they will be saved — likely. The spirited gal would be just Mark's taste.”

“Better be both dead than suffer that fate,” said the kind-hearted Jeremiah. “I'm sure Louisa would die, and Helen would kill herself, at the thoughts of it! But I say, corporal, you will never let those rascals murder and go on that way without making an effort to save them! I'm sure those ill-looking sneaking ruffians would never fight if it came hand to hand.”

“That's the difficulty,” said the corporal: “if it was hand to hand we could manage them, because we could fire three times to their once; besides our being steady and used to handle our arms.”




  ― 84 ―

“There will be no fight hand to hand, or any way,” said the constable, as a violent blast from the southward nearly overset the boat, “if it comes on to blow, as it looks likely, I think our best plan is to get under shelter in some creak somewhere, for I think we are going to have a regular hurricane from the south by the look of those clouds rising up yonder like blocks of black wool.”

The attention of all in the boat was now peremptorily directed to their own safety, as the wind rose and the storm increased to fury. The same squall was observed to assail the brig, now dimly seen through the murky atmosphere. In a short time the sky was enveloped in darkness, as the gathering winds prepared from the thick curtains of the clouds to expend their rage on the agitated waters.

previous
next