― 270 ―

Chapter XXII. Mr. Silliman Makes a Declaration.

THE sisters in the cave suffered the deepest anxiety during the events which have been related; but as their father and Mr. Trevor had exacted from them the promise that they would not on any account quit the protection of their covert, but wait with patience the issue of the conflict, they were precluded from attempting to ascertain what was going forward in the bay; and their ignorance of the posture of affairs between the bushrangers and their own friends added to the painfulness of their apprehensions.

“Could not you climb that tree,” asked Louisa of Mr. Silliman, who was assiduously keeping guard at the entrance behind the bulwark of dead

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timber, which had been erected for their defence, “and see what they are doing?”

“I've had enough of climbing,” replied their sentinel, with a rueful countenance, at the remembrance of his reception by the opossums; “but to oblige you I would do it with pleasure, only, as I have been left here by the officer, as a sort of sentry, you see, Miss, I am doing military duty, as it were, and a soldier must not quit his post.”

“I thought you prided yourself more on being a sailor,” said Louisa, with that sweet smile which the sex are always ready to exhibit when they want anything to be done for them; “and sailors are always such good climbers.”

“I could climb,” replied Jeremiah, with enthusiasm, “anything for you, Miss Louisa, if it was the biggest tree on all the island! But …”

“Mr. Silliman is right,” said Helen; “he must not leave his post; as soldier's daughters, we know that; but this state of uncertainty is really very painful. I will try to explore the inside of the cave.”

“Don't be so foolish, Helen,” said her sister; “it

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is too dark for you to see where you are going; and perhaps there may be savage animals, or snakes, or something.”

“I will take care of myself; I cannot bear standing still, doing nothing; perhaps this place has an outlet at the back.”

Jeremiah and Louisa were left alone.

Jerry's heart had been excessively touched by the amiable manner in which the major's youngest daughter had recently been pleased to address him; and her preferring to remain with him to accompanying her sister on her exploring expedition seemed to him a favourable sign. His heart beat with great bumps, and he experienced, as he afterwards described it, a feeling of alloverishness, which convinced him that it was to Louisa, and not to Helen, that his heart was entirely devoted; a fact which he had doubted before, never having been able to make up his mind as to which of the lovely sisters he preferred. But his present symptoms decided him as to his predilection. Oppressed, however, with the pleasing sensation, he heaved a prodigious sigh!

“What's that?” said Louisa, ready to take

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alarm at the slightest sound, and coming closer to Jeremiah. Jeremiah's heart beat quicker than ever! As he characteristically explained the emotion, “it went up and down just like the steam-engine in the Margate packet!”

“It's me!” said Jerry, pumping up another sigh, and looking at the young lady with eyes squeezed into the extremest point of tenderness.

“You, Mr. Silliman? Heavens! what's the matter?”

“Ah! Miss Louisa!”

“Are you in pain?” asked Louisa; for she was a kind and gentle girl, and she spoke with the sweetest commiseration.

“Ah, Miss Louisa! the wounds which you have inflicted on ….”

“You mean the opossums?” said Louisa.

“No, Miss; it is not the opossums. Sharp as their bites and scratches were, the wounds that I feel are sharper still!”

“Good gracious! Mr. Silliman, what do you mean?”

“Do you not feel,” said Jerry, “the genial influence of this beautiful morning? The bright

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rays of the sun, and the notes of that melodious bird, which the ensign said was the native magpie, although for the life of me I can't make out how that can be—but I suppose it is so .....”

“I hear nothing at present,” replied Louisa, “but the curious cry of the bird that Mr. Trevor calls the laughing jackass.”

“Think only of the agreeables,” resumed Jerry. “I have been thinking how happy two people might live together, in a beautiful cave like this—loving one another! and listening to the birds, and gazing at the cockatoos as they fly about; eating the wild fruits of the earth, and drinking the water from the spring …. all love!” …

“What! without any bottled porter, Mr. Silliman?”

“All love, Miss, and a little bottled porter! This is a beautiful country—Isn't it?”

“You have not had a very beautiful reception in it,” observed Louisa, looking round for her sister, and rather desirous to avoid a declaration, which, with the instinctive prescience of her sex, she felt was on the point of exploding; “it was hard to make your first acquaintance with the

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land, by being thrown into the sea by those wicked bushrangers!”

“It was hard, that! but it was for the best; for my being chucked into the sea was the means of making known to the constables and soldiers that the bushrangers had got possession of the brig.”

“Was not the coming to life again, after being drowned almost as you were, a very curious sensation?”

“Not so curious as the sensation I now feel, Miss Louisa, nor nearly so delightful! I ….”

“Dear me! I should have thought it was rather a painful one! And did you not say,” she continued, wishing to force the conversation from the point that Mr. Silliman was obviously seeking, “that you were bitten by a great tarantula spider as big as a cheeseplate?”

“It might have bitten me, perhaps, but I killed the nasty thing; — but do you not think that two ….”

“And the scorpions! Didn't they sting you?”

“No; I escaped them; but I was very near

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sitting down on a whole nest of the little wretches. I was going to say, Miss Louisa ….”

“How horrible it must have been when you found yourself again in the hands of that dreadful man!—Mark Brandon, isn't he called? and when the kangaroo had hold of you—gracious! were you not frightened?”

“A man, Miss Louisa, is not easily frightened,” said Jeremiah, assuming an heroic air. “I was not aware that kangaroos have such long sharp claws, or I should have killed the plaguy beast at once.”

“And when the bushranger put his pistol into your mouth—heavens! what a mercy it was that it did n't go off! Were you not frightened then?”

“I was astonished, Miss, but not frightened. A man to whom lovely woman looks up as her protector,” said Jerry, putting his hand to his heart, “must have courage. How could I ask you to depend on me, if ….”

“But how did you feel when Mr. Northland caught hold of your leg? The mate said that you did n't cry out, but stood as firm as—I forget what ….”

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“No, Miss Louisa, it does not become a man to cry out in danger like a woman: of course a woman cries out naturally when she is in a fright, because that is all she can do; but I fired off my musket, as was my duty, to give the alarm. But, dear Miss Louisa, this is not what I want to talk to you about. If you could see into my heart ..”

“Oh I have no doubt I should see a great many curious things! but I want you to tell me about the opossums ….”

“You would see in it your image,” continued the impassioned Jerry; “and your beautiful face engraved. …”

“Dear me! that would be comparing it to a wooden one! But I wonder what is become of Helen?”

“She is not wanted at this moment, She is very pretty; but you, dear Miss Louisa,” said Jerry, growing dangerously energetic, “are prettier still! You are indeed! And I always thought so—all the way out—though I never told you so! I never did, because I feared I should offend you ….”

“Where can Helen be?—Helen!”

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“Don't call her, dear Miss Louisa; let me tell you how I ….”

“Really, Mr. Silliman, I'm quite frightened that Helen does not come. I must go and see after her, while you keep watch here. Stay; look there! Is not that smoke rising, a long way off, over those low rocks?”

“What is the matter?” asked her sister, returning hastily from the interior of the cave.

“The smoke, Helen! Do you see the smoke? there ….”

“I do; and, listen! Was not that the sound of muskets firing?” said Helen, excited.

“The sound of firing?” said Louisa, trembling.

“Yes, the sound of firing. There, again! I am sure it is; but it is a long way off: it comes from a point to the right of the smoke.”

“O Heavens!” exclaimed Louisa, “then they are fighting at this very moment, and dear papa perhaps is killed!”

“I hope George will not be rash!” unconsciously uttered Helen.

“It must be the boats attacking the brig,” said Mr. Silliman.

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“What can the smoke mean?” said Helen, anxiously.

“I know that something dreadful is happening,” said the timid Louisa, bursting into tears, and sinking on to the log of a tree, which had been placed in the cave for their accommodation.

“Go,” said Helen, to Mr. Silliman, “and try to see what is going on.”

“But Miss Helen,” he remonstrated, “remember that I promised not to leave my post.”

“Then I will go myself,” said Helen. “Do n't be frightened, Louisa; Mr. Silliman shall remain with you, and I will go to the edge of the bay, and try to find out what is going on. There can be no doubt of our party getting the better; but, perhaps..... But the shortest way is to go and see.” So saying, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Jerry, who was sorely perplexed between his notions of gallantry, which prompted him to accompany Helen, and his sense of duty, and his inclination also to remain with Louisa, the spirited girl issued forth from the cave with a ship's cutlass in her hand, and was presently lost to their sight behind the rocks and bushes.

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“The smoke grows thicker, but the firing is more faint,” observed Jerry.

“I hope nothing will happen to Helen!”

“There is no danger, Miss; the bushrangers are far away, to judge from the sounds; and they say there is no fear of meeting with natives in this part of the island.”

“But natives perhaps might come?”

“I wish your sister had not gone,” said Jerry; “but she will soon be back.”

There was a pause in the conversation for some time. Louisa was anxious and nervous, and Jerry was endeavouring to contrive some means of renewing the declaration which the return of Helen had interrupted.

“I wish you would have the kindness to stand up on these pieces of wood, and try if you can see Helen,” said Louisa.

Jerry mounted on the wood.

“I can't see anything of her,” he said.

“Don't you think she has been gone longer than was necessary?”

“She has been gone a little longer than I expected,” replied Jerry, doubtingly.

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“Had you not better go and see after her?” said Louisa, anxiously.

“And leave you alone, Miss Louisa?”

“If you wish to oblige me,” said Louisa, hesitating and crimsoning slightly, “you will do what I wish.”

“I will go directly,” said Jerry, dismounting from the pile of timber. “But I don't like to leave you alone.”

“It will be only for a minute; just go to the other side of that rock and look about you.”

“I will run there and back, then, as fast as I can,” said Jerry. “Take this pistol; you are not afraid to fire off a pistol? See, it's quite a little thing, compared to my musket; and if you hear any sound to alarm you, let it off. Not that it will be necessary, for I shall not be away more than a minute or two, and you will scarcely lose sight of me all the time. Now I'll run as quick as I can; and when I come back, perhaps you will allow me to ….”

“Run—and run quick,” said Louisa.

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Jerry girded up his loins, and ran enthusiastically.

Louisa remained at the entrance of the cave behind the woodwork for some time listening attentively, and straining her eyes to discover her sister or Mr. Silliman coming back; but to her surprise the latter did not return as she expected. She held her breath and listened, but she could hear nothing; and neither her sister nor Jerry came. She had her right arm extended, holding the pistol as far from her as possible, and in no inconsiderable fear lest it should go off with a terrible shock, of its own head.

In this posture she remained for many minutes, which seemed to be as many hours, waiting, and listening, and trembling with apprehension. She cast her eyes back into the interior of the cave; but on that side all was dark, and the obscurity of its uncertain recesses chilled and frightened her. She began to experience the fear which is apt to overtake the timid, and especially those of the gentler sex, when they find themselves alone and exposed to unknown danger. She tried to fire off the pistol; but in her state of alarm, not

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understanding how to set the lock, she pulled at the trigger with her soft and feeble finger in vain; and every now and then she endeavoured with anxious eyes to penetrate the depths of the cavern, whose darkness filled her with vague fears of some native, or something, on the point of emerging from its recesses!

At last, her fear altogether mastering her, and feeling it less terrible to seek for her sister in the bush than remain where she was, with the courage of desperation she clambered over the fortification of logs, and with her pistol in her hand, which she feared alike to hold or to relinquish, she rushed towards the bay, in the direction taken by Helen.

She looked around her, but she saw nothing. She listened, but she could hear nothing. There was a high ridge of rocks between her and the bay: remembering that it had been planned that a party of soldiers should be stationed to the right, she ran forward in that direction. She wandered for some minutes, lost, and confused, and frightened at meeting with no one, when on a sudden a sight met her eyes which stopped the

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current of her blood, and froze her heart within her!

She could not scream; she could not move! She sank down behind some rocks, and with eyes glazed with terror, stared through a cleft at the appalling scene before her!