― 148 ―

Chapter XIV. A Surprise.

JERRY'S first impulse was to rush down to the vessel, and take his chance of the reception he might meet with, as anything was better than to be stuck up on a height, and made to perform a pantomime in which he was the chief and only performer; but the fear of encountering the bushranger and his associates, with a lively remembrance of the very unceremonious manner in which he had been pitched overboard on a former occasion, added to his modest disinclination to appear before the young ladies in a character as novel as it was unbecoming, decided him against that course, and he determined, bound as he was, to endeavour to find his way back to his companions in the boat.

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By dint of great exertion, and of convulsions of wriggling, he contrived to extricate his arms from their confinement, and was about to resume his clothes, which lay in a bundle at his feet; but catching sight of the bushranger at that moment in the hollow, who was hastening to rectify the blunder which he had made in allowing his prisoner to get sight of the vessel, he snatched up his bundle, and, with a celerity which would have done credit to a real native, he darted off in the direction o the hill, which he had marked as overtopping the spot where the soldiers and constables, with the boat, had taken shelter.

Mark had no sooner ascertained the flight of his prisoner than he guessed his course, and felt all the danger which would result from the information which he would give of the safety of the vessel, and of its position in the bay. Without hesitating a moment, he followed in the direction which he judged Jerry would take: and as he was more used to keep a straight line among the undulating hills than the pursued, it was not long before he caught sight of Jerry, with his shirt tails streaming in the wind, making vigorous attempts to surmount

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the hill which overhung the inlet where the boat of his companions lay sheltered.

The bushranger was strongly tempted to put an end to the embarrassment in a summary manner. He put his piece to his shoulder, and covered the unfortunate Jerry with a deadly aim; but at this moment the form of another person uprose over the crest of the hill, who, although visible to the bushranger, was unseen by Jerry.

The man came over the top of the hill in the direction in which Jerry was advancing; when, to his amazement, beholding the figure of what he supposed to be a native in a state of active aggression rushing on him with a spear in his hand, he hastily fired off his musket, and, immediately turning tail, made the best of his way back, followed by Jerry, who, out of breath and unable to articulate connected words, screeched and screamed unearthly sounds, which only made the terrified man scramble on the faster.

In this way they dashed into the constable's temporary encampment; when Jerry, overjoyed and exhausted, threw himself on the ground, where he was immediately seized and held fast.

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The soldiers, meanwhile, held their muskets ready to repel what they conjectured to be an attack from the natives, although the mode of its commencement seemed contrary to all the rules of war, native or foreign. But by this time Jerry had been raised up: joining his hands together, and looking up towards the sky, he uttered a pious ejaculation:—

“Thank God!”

“Why, man, what has happened to you?” said the constable, who, notwithstanding the black mud and red ochre, had no difficulty in recognising the podgy person of the corpulent Mr. Silliman; “what on earth has induced you to disguise yourself this fashion?”

“It wasn't me,” sighed out Jerry, “it was the bushranger!”

“The bushranger!—What, Mark Brandon?”

“The very same! He's here, and there, and everywhere!—I was trying to catch a kangaroo, when somehow the plaguy beast caught hold of me, and I tumbled down the hill, and when I got to the bottom, who should there be waiting for me but that confounded bushranger, and the moment

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I opened my mouth to speak, he clapped a pistol in it, and there I was hard and fast.”

“How is this?” said the corporal; “Mark Brandon was on board the vessel, and now you say he is on shore—are you quite sure it is the same man?”

“Sure!—There can be no mistake about that; whoever has been in his clutches once will be sure to know him again!—He set me on the top of a height, and there I saw the brig safe and sound in a little bay, surrounded by hills just like a basin.”

“The brig near us!” exclaimed the constable in surprise; “well, that's a bit of luck I didn't expect. We must look about us, corporal, and be alive;—we shall have work to do before night now.”

“Yes,” continued Jerry, “there was the brig; and with the glass they could have seen me, if they had looked that way; and that rascal, Mark, made me jump and caper about like a native—but what for, I'm sure, I don't know; I only know it was extremely disagreeable.”

“I have it,” said the constable, after a few moments'

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reflection. “Mark never does anything without a reason. Depend upon it that, by some means or other, Mark has discovered that we are here; and his object has been to keep the crew close, and to persuade them that the natives will attack them; and he made this little gentleman paint himself up for that very purpose, and placed him in view of the vessel to make those on board believe that the natives really were near them.—Now, corporal, we have no time to lose; we must get on board that vessel somehow, before a change of wind will allow it to leave the bay and put to sea. What is your sentry making motions at, and pointing up channel as if he saw something? Go, and see,” he said to the other constable. “It can't be the bushrangers coming down on us; look to your arms, my men—let us be ready. Corporal, you had better take the command when it comes to fighting: I am used to the bush, and to the ways of the bushrangers; but, when it comes to the scratch, I am under your orders, you know.—Every man to his trade, say I.”

The constable's messenger quickly returned with the tidings that another boat was coming down

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the channel along the coast, and would presently be near the entrance of the creek.

He had scarcely delivered his message, when a large boat shot round and entered the inlet, containing a serjeant's guard, under the command of an ensign, who had been despatched by the government authorities, in consequence of the suspicious movements of the brig, which had been telegraphed to head-quarters. They brought the information, also, that a large body of convicts, supposed to be thirty in number, had escaped in the same direction as Mark Brandon; and it was feared that if they were able to join him they would become, under his leadership, a formidable body, and requiring the additional aid which was sent to the constable's assistance.

The ensign, on whom now devolved the command of the party, proceeded to make the necessary inquiries for his guidance, in which Mr. Silliman became an important person, as he alone had been a witness of the acts of the bushrangers. The ensign proceeded to interrogate him with military precision:—

“How many of the bushrangers are there?”

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“Six,” replied Mr. Silliman, “besides Mark Brandon; but he is as good as a dozen himself.”

“That's seven. Now, how many are the crew and passengers on board the brig?”

“There are nine sailors,” replied Mr. Silliman, “and the mate, and me—no, I'm here—that's ten men; and the steward and the boy—that's twelve; and the major and his two daughters—that's fifteen in all. If I was there it would be sixteen.”

“The major!—major who?”

“Oh! I forgot—Major Horton and his two daughters.”

“Major Horton!”

“Yes, Major Horton.”

“And his two daughters, did you say?”

“Yes. Helen is the elder one, and Louisa the other.”

“Helen Horton!” exclaimed the ensign, not able to restrain his surprise; “how very extraordinary!—And pray,” said he, in a tone in which might be observed a little vexation, “have you come in the same vessel with them the whole way from England?”

“To be sure I did. I gave the major a hundred

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guineas for my passage, and paid the money down before I left the river; and the only thing I bargained for was, that there should be lots of bottled porter;—the cigars I found myself.”

“Major Horton—with Helen and Louisa!” repeated the ensign; “what a singular circumstance! Those rascals have not ill-treated them?” he asked, suddenly turning to Mr. Silliman; “if they have insulted them by word or look I will show them no mercy, so far as depends on me.”

“Oh! Mr. Brandon is quite the gentleman,” replied Jerry: “He just chucks you into the sea, or knocks you down with the butt-end of a musket, or makes a native of you, but it's all done in the politest way in the world! It's impossible to complain of him! and I wish I had him, with his neck just under my two thumbs; if I didn't give him such a squeeze as he would remember all the days of his life, my name's not Jeremiah Silliman, that's all!”

Mr. Trevor, who held a commission in the regiment a division of which had lately arrived in Van Diemen's Land, was a young man about two-and-twenty years of age, who had entered the

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army from an enthusiastic predilection for a military life. He had eagerly embraced the opportunity of going out to Australia, as he considered that those new and unexplored regions presented a new field of adventure, untrodden by the foot of the vulgar traveller, and likely to furnish scenes of romantic adventure, in which his spirit of enterprise might find opportunity for exercise. He had met Helen Horton about two years before at a foreign watering-place, where he had been captivated by her beauty, and had been powerfully struck with a character of mind which, in its courage and independence, was similar to his own. Circumstances had separated them at the time; but the impression which Helen had made on him was too powerful to be forgotten, and he had taken much pains to trace out the place of her abode, in England and abroad, but without success.

To meet with her again, after his vain search for her in Europe, struck him as the most romantic coincidence in his life; and it added not a little to his zeal in recovering the vessel, and in capturing the marauders, to think that he should at the same time do a most important service to one whom he

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now regarded as reserved, by a propitious destiny, to enable him to show to the world a gallantry and courage, for the exercise of which he had never yet found an appropriate occasion. Full of ardour, therefore, for the enterprise, and bearing in mind the possibility of the thirty additional prisoners having joined Mark Brandon's party, he lost no time in consulting with the constable, who was an experienced hand in the bush, as to the best means of regaining possession of the vessel.

The shades of evening were now fast drawing in, but as the nature of the business was pressing, and as it was possible for the brig, by a sudden turn of wind, to be carried out of the bay by the bush-rangers who were supposed to have possession of her, he decided on making an immediate attempt to recover her, and at any rate to establish his party in a position commanding the outlet of the bay.

As the wind and sea were too rough and high to allow of their making progress in the boats, it was resolved that a sufficient guard should be left for their protection, and that the ensign, with the soldiers under his command, with the addition of the

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constables as guides and assistants, should proceed at once to a convenient spot in the vicinity of the bay, and then to act according to circumstances.

They moved on accordingly, guided by Jerry and one of the constables; but as the darkness increased, and as the country was difficult, interspersed with loose rocks, and intersected continually with deep ravines embarrassing to cross, and as they were obliged to be cautious to avoid a disgraceful surprise, their progress was necessarily slow.

In the mean time Mark Brandon had not been idle. He had viewed, from a convenient ambush, the whole proceedings of the pursuing party—the arrival of the reinforcement, and the arrangements which he partly saw and partly guessed for the advance of the military. But as night was approaching, he judged that no attempt would be made in the dark to recover possession of the brig; and he calculated, therefore, that he had eight hours before him to form his own plans, and make his own preparations.

But at this point his ingenuity was for a time at a loss. He had fully succeeded in impressing on

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the fears of the crew, that an attack from the natives was to be apprehended—a delusion in which he had been materially assisted by the admirable acting, unconscious though that individual was of his pantomimic talents, of the excited Jerry; but the time was now come when some other scheme must be contrived, either to put off the threatened attack of the soldiers, or to repel it successfully when made. Any attempt to persuade the major and the mate that it was an attack of bushrangers he felt would be idle, as, at the first appearance of the rescuing body, and especially of the red coats of the soldiers, they would be aware that it was a party sent to their succour, and they would be prepared to assist in their own liberation. Could he contrive to get the mate and the major again in his power with the crew, and then, by keeping the vessel in the middle of the bay, which was of an oval shape, and about two miles across in its broadest part, fight it out with the parties on shore, and trust to chance for the favourable opportunity of a change of wind to run the vessel out to sea?

That was a bold thought; but it was the best plan if it could be done. But how to do it, with

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the major and his chief officer on their guard, and the crew ready to resist? Still it was his only chance of escape from the colony, and a life in the bush was both hazardous and unprofitable. Such an opportunity might never occur again; the vessel was small and handy; he had possession of her; she was ready for sea, for under the directions of the mate her deck had been already disencumbered of the main-top-mast which had been shattered in the gale, and the vessel had been put in as good trim as circumstances allowed. If he could once get to sea he could repair damages, he considered, at his leisure; and as to any boats which might be sent in pursuit, he had no fear of being able either to distance them, or to beat them off.

He determined, therefore, on the bold plan; and he immediately bent his thoughts to effect its execution before daylight and the knowledge of the proximity of their friends should give the major and his party the advantage. As he revolved these thoughts he arrived at the edge of the bank to which the vessel was moored, and stepping on board, hastily gave directions for moving the vessel into the centre of the bay.

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“I have been watching the natives,” he said, “and they are preparing for a night attack; our best plan therefore is to remove the vessel out of the reach of their spears and arrows.”

“I have no great fear of their spears and arrows, said the mate; “there are enough of us, I think, to stand any attack that the natives can make on us; but there's no harm in moving the brig to the middle of the bay, if you can keep her there. You see there are little eddies and currents of wind flying all round us under these hills, and there's no knowing where a puff may come from; and it's getting darkish, and we don't know what rock or shoal we may light on in this outlandish place.—But do as you please, there's no harm in being safe at any rate. I only wish the wind would change, and then we might get out of this trap; though it has proved a lucky trap for us for the matter of that: I thought it was all over with the poor brig just before she shot into that opening yonder! But let us thank God for our luck, and keep our eyes open for what's to come next. Your friends there don't look very sociable,” he continued, pointing to the six bushrangers, who,

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with their muskets in their hands, stood ranged in a line on the larboard side of the quarter-deck, while the sailors unarmed were congregated together in the fore-part of the vessel: “is this to be the game all night?”

“Sorry to hurt your feelings,” said Mark Brandon, “but you know it's a truce at present; but my people feel more easy in their minds that way; no offence meant, however.”

“Well,” replied the mate; “but that's not the way to make other people feel easy in their minds, to have loaded muskets cocked at them that fashion all night; it's not very polite to the ladies—Mister—Mister pilot!”

“Perhaps the ladies might prefer to go on shore,” replied Mark.

“But who are to protect them from the natives?”

“Take your own crew to protect them, if you will, while I take care of the ship.”

“But our sailors have no arms.”

“Let them take arms,” said Mark; “you see, Mr. Northland, I am inclined to trust you, though you will not trust me.”

“Eh!” exclaimed the mate, a sudden, and, as

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he flattered himself, a brilliant thought occurring to him, “and you say you will let us take arms on shore with us?”

“To be sure I will, to protect the ladies.”

The mate immediately dived down to the major, who was in the cabin with his daughters, and proposed to him to accept the bushranger's offer.

“But that would be abandoning the vessel to the bushrangers,” suggested the major.

“No matter,” said the mate; “they cannot get the vessel through the narrow entrance of the bay without our help; those fellows could never do it, so that we should have them at our mercy; besides, what can we do on board? They have possession of the arms, and if it came to a struggle, although we might make a fight of it, we could scarcely expect to get the better of them. But with arms in our hands, although outside of the vessel, we might do something; besides, we should fight together and without being embarrassed with the fear of the women being hurt. Only let us get arms in our hands, and trust to fortune for the rest.”

“But the natives?”

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“We must do as well as we can with them; besides, I can't help having a suspicion that there is some sham about this threatened attack of the natives. I never read nor heard of such a large body of natives collecting together, and this is the first I have heard of their bows and arrows.”

“But we saw one of their scouts on the height,” said the major, “shaking his spears at us; he was a most ferocious-looking monster, though it struck me he was shorter and fatter than the natives are represented to be in the books which I have read about them.”

“It's a great point,” said the mate, “to get ourselves out of the immediate power of this man and his fellows. It is not easy to fathom his plans, but it seems to me we can't be worse off than we are, and with arms in our hands we may be better. What do the young ladies say to it?”

Helen and Louisa, who were lying exhausted on their couches, rose up at this appeal, and added their entreaties that their father would take advantage of the bushranger's offer and take them on shore. It was not without some difficulty, however, that the major could bring himself to

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leave the vessel which contained nearly the whole of his property:—

“Why,” he remonstrated with the mate, “I should have thought you the last man in the world to quit the ship, and abandon it to the bushrangers!”

“Will you fight it out now then,” said the mate, “and take our chance of the result?”

“We are unarmed,” replied the major; “we can have no chance against men with fire-arms, fighting too with halters round their necks.”

“That's just it,” replied the mate; “we are unarmed, and what can we do? That Mark Brandon can drive us all below when he pleases, and put to sea if his men can work the vessel, and what are we the better for that? Better have our liberty on shore, than be bound hand and foot here, to be heaved overboard whenever it may suit him to do so. If it came to that, I would rather trust to the natives than to rascally convicts.”

“Agreed then,” said the major; “we will go on shore, and trust to chance for the rest.”

The mate lost no time in communicating the

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major's acceptance of the offer to Mark Brandon, who, on his side, seemed quite ready to perform his part of the treaty with good faith and sincerity. But first he desired to have an interview with Major Horton.