Chapter I. The Arrival.

IT was on a fine spring morning in the month of September that a vessel was seen to thread her way through D'Entrecasteaux' channel, at the mouth of the river Derwent, on the southern side of Van Diemen's Land. The sky was clear and bright, its usual aspect in the early spring in those salubrious regions, and there was scarcely wind sufficient to fill the sails, so that the vessel was able to do little more than make headway against the tide, tantalizing those on board with the sight of the land on either side, while the vessel remained provokingly stationary in mid-stream.

The passengers in the vessel, which was a small brig of not more than a hundred and twenty tons'

  ― 4 ―
burthen, were a gentleman, with his two daughters. Major Horton had resolved to mend his broken fortunes in a new world, where there was verge and scope enough for enterprise and exertion. It was the hardihood, perhaps, of his previous career as a military man, that had prompted him to dare in his humble bark, with a scanty crew, the dangers of the seas for a distance comprehending the half of the globe, and to approach fearlessly the coasts of a new country, of the points of which no seaman on board possessed any previous knowledge. His daughters were young girls of remarkable beauty, and with all the delicacy of appearance which, it might be supposed, would be impressed on them from a former life of ease and elegance, and from the habit of frequenting the high society in which they were born to move. They both partook of their father's adventurous spirit and of his courage, though their outward exhibition of those soldierly qualities was modified by their respective dispositions.

Helen, the elder of the two, was tall and slight; strikingly handsome; of a mind bold and prompt

  ― 5 ―
to execute her resolves; full of ardour and enterprise; a fit heroine for a romance; fearless of danger, and confident in her own resources. Louisa, on the contrary, was mild and retiring; possessing almost the ideal perfection of that amiable softness of woman which poets love to fancy, and lovers fondly doat upon with affection the most abiding. Being only in her sixteenth year, and two years younger than her sister, the gentle Louisa had learned to look up to the more energetic Helen for advice and assistance on all matters relating to the difficulties to which their present course exposed them; and the love which the high-spirited Helen bore to the affectionate girl was increased by the feeling of the protection which her more masculine mind afforded to her less intrepid sister.

The only other passenger on board was a personage of a very different grade; and how he had come among them, and with what imaginable object he had set forth to brave an adventurous life in the Australian colonies, had more than once puzzled himself, as well as those with whom he had become accidentally associated. This aspiring

  ― 6 ―
emigrant rejoiced in the name of Silliman, which singularly accorded with the character of the man, so that the name of Jeremiah Silliman seemed to have become attached to the individual by some mysterious process of elective attraction, exhibiting in his person an illustration of the harmonious principle of nature which ever strives to amalgamate together things congenial.

This young gentleman had first seen the light, or rather the smoke, in Ironmonger Lane in the City; which fortunate circumstance, as he was sometimes inclined to boast, conferred on him by birth the rank and dignity of a citizen of London, invested with various privileges and immunities, and with the inchoate right of exercising regal sway over that imperium in imperio; all of which advantages, however, he had sacrificed in his insatiable thirst of romantic adventures. Having already made frequent dangerous voyages to Putney, Richmond, and Gravesend, and on one occasion as far as Margate, he considered himself a finished sailor; and when he first appeared in a blue jacket and white trousers, and with an exceedingly diminutive round straw hat aboard the

  ― 7 ―
Nautilus before she set sail from the port of London, he quite imposed on the unsophisticated natures of the young ladies, who flattered themselves that they had the advantage of being accompanied by an accomplished mariner whose skill and daring would form a valuable addition to the small crew which had been engaged to navigate the vessel.

It was true that the mate regarded him with an extraordinary and significant grimace when he appeared on deck at Gravesend in his sailor's rig; but it was not until the vessel had reached the Downs that the false pretensions of the cockney were made manifest by his most urgent vociferations for the “steward.” This little imperfection was overlooked, however, during the voyage, as he had immediately fallen in love with both the sisters, and as his services were found convenient by the ladies, in performing many little offices, which he did with invariable good nature, and with an intelligence, as Helen remarked to her sister, of a lap-dog who had been taught to fetch and carry.

The major, who had in his youth been a member

  ― 8 ―
of the yacht club, considered himself quite competent to take the general charge of the vessel of which he was the owner, and over which he presided as captain, trusting to the mate, an excellent seaman, for the management of the vessel and for assistance in its navigation. One boy for steward, and another as “the” boy, whose prescribed duty was to be perpetually in motion with an immense swab in his arms to sop up the water which the little vessel was continually taking in, from the proximity of its deck to the surface of the water, and nine sailors, one of whom acted as the carpenter, formed the whole of the crew; but thus slenderly equipped the good little ship had arrived in safety over fifteen thousand miles of the ocean, to the entrance of the channel which led to the promised land.

There was just sufficient wind to fill the sails and enable the vessel to stem the rapid current of the channel. The mate examined the chart; scrutinized the shore; heaved the lead; sounded the bottom; looked over the side, and took a sight at an object on land to ascertain if they made any the least progress. But the vessel seemed

  ― 9 ―
riveted to the spot, and presented the appearance of active motion without making the slightest advance.

“We shall have to anchor at last,” said he to the major, who, with his daughters and the assiduous Mr. Silliman, were assembled on the deck, surveying the new country of their adoption with eager interest; “there is seldom much wind, Horsman says, in this season in these parts—except when it comes in squalls and gales—and what there is seems to be dying away. We had better hold our ground, and wait for the turn of the tide.”

“We do hold our ground for the present,” observed the major; “how far are we from the shore to the left here?”

“Larboard;—why, I should say about couple of miles, not more.”

“It is my opinion,” said Mr. Silliman, who, on nautical matters, considered himself an authority, in virtue of his sailor's jacket and trousers, and supported in his assumptions by his little round hat, which had grown excessively tarry during the voyage; “it is my opinion that we had better send

  ― 10 ―
the boat on shore and examine the country; we may perhaps make some discoveries, or meet with some of the natives, or something. How I wish I could see a kangaroo!”

“I can see smoke,” said Helen, who was looking through the ship's glass, obsequiously held by Mr. Silliman, “just under that low hill yonder.”

“Some of the natives, perhaps,” said her father; “there are no settlers, I understand, so low down as this. I see;—I can see a curl of smoke quite plainly; but now it grows less; and now I can see no more of it. It seems to have been extinguished suddenly.”

“We are making lee-way now,” said the mate, “that's certain; the wind has quite gone down, and the sails stick to the masts. Shall we let go the anchor?”

“You know best, Mr. Northland; it is very annoying not to be able to get up before dark; but I suppose there's no danger in these parts; we are quite out of the way of pirates; and the natives don't know the use of boats, the books say.”

“Pirates and natives! major; no fear of them;

  ― 11 ―
I wish there was nothing else to fear in this channel; you see it is very intricate, full of shoals and headlands; and if it was to come on to blow, it might be an awkward matter, weakly manned as we are.”

Presently the grating of the cable against the davits informed all on board of the resolution that had been formed, and in a brief space the little vessel lay quietly at anchor in the stream.