previous
next



  ― 12 ―

Chapter II. The Plot.

THE detention of the vessel, which gave rise to so much mortification on board, excited very different feelings in the minds of a party who were watching their proceedings from the land.

This party consisted of seven men, of whom six were clothed in the government dress of convicts suits of yellow; but the seventh appeared in the ordinary garb of a gentleman, or rather of a merchant or storekeeper; for there were too few idle gentlemen in those times to allow of the latter distinctive appellation. They sat round the remains of a fire which had been hastily kindled and as hastily extinguished, as if in fear that the smoke from the burning wood might betray their resting-place. The cause of their appearance in a


  ― 13 ―
spot so remote from the dwellings of the colonists may be best collected from the following conversation:—

“I wish we had some grub,” said one of the yellow jackets; “it's poor fun being in the bush without anything to eat; suppose we go aboard that brig and ask for some provisions? we can say we are shipwrecked seamen.”

“And get grabbed and strung up,” interposed another; “as if they would be taken in with that gammon! Haven't we got our canary-bird feathers on us, and won't that let 'em know what we are?”

“Curse on this livery!” said a third; “it doesn't give a man a chance. If one does give the overseer the slip, these confounded rags, that brand a man wherever he goes, betray us. I wish I could go about like a native, without clothes. By-the-by, they say there are lots of natives down this way. What shall we do if we fall in with them? We have not so much as a pistol among us.”

“We must use our clubs; one white man is enough for half a dozen natives, any time.”




  ― 14 ―

“But their spears, man? Why, they will riddle you through in no time! What can you do against long shots? And then, as to trying to come to close quarters, why, you might as well look for a needle in a hay stack as hunt for a native in the bush.”

“You can't tell the devils from the black stumps of the trees; but, for my part, I don't see what we are to do, now that we have got off, without arms, and without provisions—”

“But we have a boat,” said a strong deep voice, which had not hitherto joined in the conversation.

“And what's the use of that? What's the use of a boat like that to go to sea in? We can't get back to England in a boat. I begin to think we have not got much by our venture?”

“We have liberty,” said the same voice which had checked the complainings of the men; “we have liberty; that's worth all!”

“But what can we do with our liberty, Mark? We can't live on gum and opossums like the natives! And we can't eat the natives, neither; though they say they eat the white people when they can catch 'em; and that's not such a pleasant


  ― 15 ―
thing to look forward to.—I say, Mark, what's to be the next move? As you're our captain, it is for you to give us a lift out of the mess you have brought us into; and we want it bad enough; for my very inside seems stuck together with that lot of gum that I tucked in just now.”

“I've heard say,” said one of the party, “that the grubs of the blue gum-tree are very good eating. I know the natives eat 'em. They take them up by one end, and let them fall down their throat, as we do oysters. A nice dinner for a gentleman—gum and caterpillars! But I can't stand this! we must do something. I say, Mark, what's to be done?”

The man thus addressed said nothing, but pointed to the little brig riding quietly at anchor in the channel.

“Ah, yes; I see that craft plain enough; but what's the use of it to us, unless they would give us something to eat, and, better than that, something to drink?”

“Suppose we asked them?” said their leader.

“Ah! and get some handcuffs for answer.”

“Suppose we entreated them to give us food?”




  ― 16 ―

“And suppose they wouldn't?”

“Suppose we took it?” quietly replied their leader.

“Eh!” said several voices at once; “suppose we took it! why, you don't mean by force?”

“Why not?”

“Why! what could seven unarmed men do against an armed vessel?”

“Nothing,” said their leader, “by open force; but, when force cannot be used, we can use stratagem.”

“I tell you what, Mark, you are a clever chap, no doubt of that; and you have a tongue that would almost carny a jailor out of his keys—that's the truth—or you never would have talked us over to make our escape without arms or provisions. But if you will show us how to get some rum out of that vessel yonder, you will deserve to be captain of the island.”

“I will do more than that.”

“More!” cried out all, excited by their leader's air of calm and fixed determination.

“I will get possession of that vessel,” said the leader, in a firm and resolute voice; “and in that


  ― 17 ―
vessel we will make our escape from this accursed place of shame and punishment.”

“Well, that beats all! And how will you get possession of that tight little brig, captain? Talk 'em over, and persuade them to make us a present of it?”

“May be so; and if you are the man that I take you to be, and have coolness and courage, and will follow my directions implicitly, I will show you how to set about it.”

“What, without arms?”

“Yes, without arms.”

“And without fighting?”

“Perhaps.”

“Mark, you're a regular trump! Don't let us lose any time. Depend upon it that craft is as full of rum as an opossum of peppermint leaves; settlers always think it the best investment they can bring out to pay their men with. Now, captain, what are we to do?”

“You see,” said the man who, by the common consent of his companions and by the force of hi superior intellect, had been unanimously raised to the bad eminence of their leader, “that the brig


  ― 18 ―
is now lying at anchor, becalmed, with the tide against her, and with little chance of wind till the sea-breeze sets in, in the afternoon. She will not venture to float up with the tide in this dangerous channel; so that she will be there, safe, for some hours. Now, she would, no doubt, be glad of a pilot, and I dare say is now looking out for one.”

“What's the use of that to us?”

“This use: I will be the pilot. Two of you shall go with me—only two, to avoid suspicion; those two will pass for my government men; that will account for their yellow dress. Fortunately, you see, my own dress may serve for a pilot's; and in this way I will get on board the vessel and look about me.”

“And what's to become of us who remain behind?”

“We shall return for you, on the pretence that more hands are wanted to work the vessel. My first visit will have disarmed suspicion of our real object. Besides, I can say that the governor has established a settlement on the other side of the hill, where the look-out is towards the sea, for the purpose of lending assistance to


  ― 19 ―
strange vessels; and—in short—leave the rest to me.”

The band of desperadoes looked inquiringly at one another; each man tried to read in his fellow's countenance his secret thoughts; for on such occasions distrust, and suspicion, and jealousy, soon sow the seeds of disunion among them. Every man is in fear of the treachery of his neighbour; and, being conscious of his own individual selfishness and knavery, he naturally suspects their existence in others.

“Who are to be the two to go first?” asked one of them, with a doubtful air.

“You may cast lots for that,” said their leader; “but they must be careful to act up to their characters, because it is likely I shall have occasion to call them thieves and rascals, and perhaps worse. You will not mind that, I hope?”

“Not a bit; we're used to it: besides, hard words break no bones. But it's a bold scheme, Mark; if they suspect you, you're done.”

“It is our only chance,” replied Mark; “and fortunate it is for us that luck has thrown this


  ― 20 ―
opportunity in our way. Did I not tell you that brave men are sure to succeed when they stand by one another?”

“Hurrah!” cried the men, their courage and expectations raised by the animating words of their leader. “We will stand by one another to the death! Now, captain, get on with the work. Here are six rushes; the two that draw the shortest go first; the rest remain.”

The choice fell upon the grumbler of the party and another man who had not taken much part in the conversation, and who was of a meek and quiet look.

“Now, Jemmy,” said the former, “let us see which can make himself look most like a government man.”

“I could not compare with you, Roger, no way,” replied Jem; “your father and mother have given you such a gallows hang-dog look, there would be no mistaking you in the best long-tail's toggery that ever came out of store.”

“Now,” summoned Mark, “if you are ready, come along. And remember your characters.”

“Ay, ay, your honour,” said Jemmy, touching


  ― 21 ―
his hat with mock humility; “we will do the dodge as if we were convicts in earnest.”

Roger laughed at this sally, and, the two worthies getting into the boat, Mark Brandon took his seat in the stern, and they left the shore.

In the mean time the party on board, when they caught sight of the boat on the smooth surface of the water proceeding heavily towards the brig, indulged in various speculations as to the character and intentions of their approaching visitors.

previous
next