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Chapter XIII. An Extempore Native.

WHATEVER inclination the unfortunate Jerry might have had to indulge in exclamation or remonstrance was effectually checked by the proximity of the horse-pistol; nor could he fail to observe that it was on the full-cock, and that the finger of the bushranger was on the trigger!

If the reflections which he hastily made during his transit from the deck of the brig were grave, those that he made on the present occasion were of a cast still more serious, inasmuch as the danger was greater and more imminent; for he felt that the slightest movement or shock, either on his own part or on that of his enemy, would cause the contents of the pistol to be discharged into the innermost recesses of his brain.

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He took especial care, therefore, to keep perfectly still, with his eyes wide open and fixed in extended horror on the bushranger, but mentally vowing, with all his might, that if ever it should be his infinite good fortune again to get within sound of the bells in Cheapside, he would take most particular care to keep within hearing of them for ever afterwards!

“Hold up your arms,” said the bushranger, after he had contemplated for a brief space the excessive terror of his victim.

Jerry held up his arms.

“If I take the pistol from your mouth will you promise to be quiet?”

Jerry made the best sign he could to signify his entire concurrence with that proposition.

“Be still then,” said the bushranger, “while I empty your pockets.”

The operation was completed to the bushranger's satisfaction, but nothing appeared to cause particular observation.

“Now,” said Mark, who had suddenly conceived what he thought a novel and bright idea, “strip!”

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“Strip!” said Jerry; “what, take my clothes off?”

“All,” said the bushranger.

“I shall be so cold,” Jerry ventured to remonstrate.

“Strip!” repeated the bushranger, re-cocking the pistol.

Jerry looked behind him, and before him, and around him; but there was no help nigh; he was entirely in the bushranger's power.—He took off his blue jacket; and then his waistcoat; and then he paused.

“Breeches next,” said Mark, with a fierce air.

“What are you going to do with me?” said Jerry, in a lamentable tone; for he began to apprehend that the bushranger had a design to turn him naked into the bush, and visions of snakes, and scorpions, and tarantula spiders rose before him!

“Off with them!”

“I shall be bit to death,” said Jerry.

“Quick,” said the bushranger, presenting the pistol.

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“Well, you needn't be in such a hurry; there —I suppose that will do now.”

“Stockings and shoes off.”

“But my feet will be cut to pieces on these horrid rocks; and I shall catch cold. Gracious heaven! was ever man so treated before? There —I hope that's all,” said poor Jerry, as his shirt fluttered in the breeze.

“For the present; now pack up your clothes in a bundle.”

Jerry did as he was bid.

“Now march on to that little pool of water that you see yonder.”

What, in the name of all that's extraordinary, is the man going to do with me? thought Jerry, as he marched on before with his bundle, with the bushranger behind, his eternal pistol touching his back occasionally, as if to remind him to be on his good behaviour. They found, as the bushranger expected, a particular sort of black mud, which he considered would be well suited to his purpose; on his way he had picked up several pieces of soft red ochre, which he placed to soak at the edge of the pool.

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What's the meaning of all this? thought Jerry; is the bushranger a madman after all?

“You see that nice black mud,” said Mark.

“Yes, I see it,” said Jerry.

“Now let me see how soon you can make a native of yourself; you will smear yourself all over with that paint; and be quick about it; for I am rather in a hurry, and if I can't finish the business this way,” he added, “I shall be obliged to finish it in another,” tapping the barrel of his pistol with his finger.

“This is downright brutality to make me dirty myself all over in that way! Heavens! what a figure I am making myself!”

“You mistake,” said the bushranger, sarcastically, and with a Mephistophelian smile; “unencumbered and undisguised with artificial vestments you have now recovered the natural dignity of man; and, by plastering your body all over with that mud, you will defend it from the attacks of numerous insects which would otherwise annoy you. Stay, I will just finish you up a bit, and then I think you will do.”

Saying this, he hastily made him a wig of long

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grass, which he stuck on his head, and availing himself of the red ochre, which was now in the condition of a convenient pigment, he flourished two round red patches on either cheek, and made sundry daubs with it on Jerry's chest and legs.

“And now,” he said, “you look really like a child of nature, and the natives themselves would take you for a brother; there is only one other little thing to do; excuse me, but it must be done, because, you are aware, we never give away a chance;—yes—I must gag you, I must indeed; but I won't hurt you, if you will be quiet. There, that will do nicely, and now you may come along and finish the next part of your performance.”

The bushranger looked about, and presently, spying what he wanted, he cut from the other side of the pool three long slender sticks resembling the spears of the natives, which he placed in Jerry's hands, and desired him to shake them menacingly when he gave directions, threatening him with instant death if he disobeyed his injunctions in the slightest point. In this way he led him by a convenient route, carefully avoiding the

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place where he had left the mate, to a spot in view of the vessel, where he desired him to remain, for the greater security, binding his hands together; and then he sought the mate with all expedition, and led him back to the vessel.

“Well,” said the mate, “what have you seen? any natives?”

“Three hundred at the very least; the most ferocious mob I ever set eyes on! They are aware, I am sure, that the vessel has been driven into the bay yonder, and that we are few in number, for the women are preparing their weapons, and the men are dancing their war-dance; we shall have them down upon us before night. We must lose no time in regaining the brig and putting her in a state of defence.”

“The devil! Then we must make a fight of it. What's that?” said the seaman, after they had proceeded some distance, when he turned round to see what was in his wake; “what's that?” pointing to the spot where the bushranger had left Jerry, who had now become visible.

“That's one of their scouts; they have sent him on, I have no doubt, to watch us; but I'll be

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bound they are placed all round us, only their bodies being black, you can't distinguish them from the charred stumps of the trees.”

“Are those spears that he has got in his hands, shaking that way?”

“Yes; spears curiously tipped with sharp pieces of flint; they can hurl them to a great distance, and when the natives are in numbers they become formidable weapons, to say nothing of their waddies and their womeras.”

“Waddies! What are they?”

“They are short thick clubs about four feet long, made of hard wood, with which they batter in your skull by repeated blows; but the womera is the worst weapon.”

“What's a womera?”

“It's a semi-circular piece of hard wood shaped in the form of an elongated crescent, with a sharp edge inside; the natives have the knack of throwing it with a peculiar sleight of hand difficult to be described, and they can bring down with it an emu or a kangaroo, or a man in their fights; and the curiosity of the weapon is, that if it misses the object at which it is cast, its revolving motion

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in the air causes it to return to the same spot nearly from whence it was thrown. I have stood by a Sydney native who was hurled it at an angle of about forty-five degrees almost out of sight, and I have had to jump aside pretty quickly to avoid being struck with it on its return to the spot it was thrown from.”

“Very curious, indeed! but here's the vessel, thank Heaven! And now we will put her in fighting trim. If we must have a bout with these natives, we'll teach 'em a thing or two before we have done with 'em.”

Expectation was eager on board to hear the information of the explorers, but the sight of the supposed native had so taken possession of the mate's mind, and he was so full of his plans for the coming fight, that he relieved the bushranger of all trouble to coin more lies to deceive the major and the rest of the crew as to the hostile intentions of the savages. And the ship's glass having been directed to the spot in the distance where Jerry had been judiciously posted by Mark Brandon to serve as a conspicuous object to corroborate his story of the natives, they beheld

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that much-abused individual in all the glory of black mud and red ochre, performing the part of a native to the bushranger's admiration, and brandishing his spears and stamping about in the cold with a vigour and a ferocity of manner calculated to inspire awe in the beholders!

But there was one thing which Mark, astute as he was, had overlooked in his proceedings. He had forgotten that in the same way that the person of Jerry disguised as a native was visible to those on board, so was the brig visible to Jerry. Indeed, no sooner did Jerry catch sight of the vessel in the bay than he almost jumped out of his skin in the excess of his delight, and in his endeavour to give intimation to those on board of his own identity; but as he did not know how near the dreaded bushranger might be to him, he was afraid for a long time to move from his position. But he endeavoured to make up for that self-denial by the most frantic antics and gestures, which served only to confirm those on board the vessel, who were watching him through the ship's glass, in their opinion of the ferocious

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and cannibalistic intentions of him and his blood-thirsty companions.

Mark Brandon, however, was presently struck with the fault which he had committed in making known to Jerry the fact of the safety and of the position of the vessel. He announced, therefore, to those on board, who were industriously putting the brig in a state of defence, that he would go on shore again and endeavour to ascertain further information of the movements of the natives, an offer which was highly applauded by the mate, and cordially approved by the major, who were almost led to forget the bushranger's duplicity and violence in his laudable anxiety to preserve the women from the threatened attack. Besides, the honest mate's heart had been quite won by the bushranger's confidence in placing his gun in his hands:—

“Let by-gones be by-gones,” he said; “after all, it was natural for the man to wish to escape from the country where he was a convict and a slave; and if he is ready now to stand by us, and fight against the natives like an honest man, why his help is as good as another's.”

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It was not without some anxiety, however, that Mark proceeded in the direction of the spot where he had left his prisoner; and when he arrived there he found his fears confirmed, for nothing was left of Jerry and his accoutrements but two of the spears, and the cord with which the bushranger had bound him.