Volume 2.

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Chapter I. Deception.

NOTWITHSTANDING the habitual caution of Mark Brandon, and his maxim of always sacrificing minor objects to his grand aim of escaping from bondage, it is impossible to say how far the temptation of the presence of the beautiful girl, who was utterly in his power might have overcome his resolution, had not Helen herself conceived some misgivings of the prudence of being alone with a man of his dangerous character. The fears which assailed her caused her, before they were out of sight of his companions, to refuse to proceed farther.

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“It will be better for you to go on,” said Mark.

“I will not go farther,” said Helen, stopping with a determined air.

“Then Grough will take the matter in hand,” said Brandon.

“You may put me to death, if you will, but I will not go on with you to the cave.”

“And the money?” said Mark.

“The money you will find behind the rock, at the back of the recess.”

“You did not say this at first.”

“I did not, because I forgot at the moment that the bags were removed from the first place in order to hide them better.”

“I will try again, then,” said Mark, “trusting entirely to your word: but I fear my comrades are growing savage.”

“Could you not untie my hands first?” said Helen, throwing into her appeal just that slight tinge of earnest and confident supplication which has ever so powerful an effect on men, however brutal, when uttered by a woman in winning tones.

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“Certainly!” said Mark, readily. “But no,” he added, reluctantly, and almost sorrowfully—“their eyes are upon me, and it might cost you your life. I assure you, Miss Horton, I will free your hands and yourself too the moment I can find the opportunity; but at present it would be dangerous, for those men naturally consider that their safety depends on your being secured. And now let me particularly request you not to make a noise, nor move a step, for I could not answer for that man Grough, nor Swindell neither, they are so very passionate and violent. They would shoot that poor Mr. Silliman dead on the instant, and then they would not scruple to use you as they pleased. For your own sake, therefore, be still and silent.”

Having thus cautioned her, and it being impossible for her to escape in his absence, bound as she was, and within sight of his confederates, he repaired with all speed to the cave, and, to his great joy, found the money behind the stone. Judging from the weight of the gold, he guessed that the smaller bag

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did not contain less than a thousand or more sovereigns; and the bag of dollars was almost as much as he could lift.

With respect to the gold, it was far from his intention to share such precious stuff between his two associates; he therefore looked about for a convenient spot to make a plant of his treasure. Spying at a little distance the hollow tree in which Jerry had made acquaintance with the opossum family the night before, he quickly examined it, and judging it to be a safe place for hiding the treasure, he gently dropped it to the bottom of the hollow, and the clink of the coin as it fell to the ground inside assuring him that it was safely stowed, he immediately returned with the bag of dollars to his companions.

The eyes of Jemmy and Roger eagerly devoured the money, which amounted, as they guessed, to about a thousand dollars a-piece; and at the suggestion of Brandon, having taken as many as each could conveniently carry, the bag was forthwith buried by Brandon and Swindell under a stone at some

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distance, Grough keeping guard the while over their two prisoners; and it was solemnly sworn between the three that it should be divided between them at some future time in equal shares.

This matter having been arranged, they turned their attention to their prisoners. As they had no time to lose, they resolved to proceed immediately to the cave, and take from the stores deposited there whatever they might want for their use in the bush—trusting to the chance of being able to surprise some boat on the coast, and of making their escape by such means from the colony. Committing Jeremiah to the charge of Jemmy and Roger, and taking Helen under his own care, Brandon at once led the way to the cave.

Their first care was to remove, as quickly as possible, all the stores which they thought would be useful to them hereafter to a considerable distance, and to bury them and hide them in proper places, taking careful note of the various “plants.” All this they did most diligently and rapidly. Their next step was

  ― 6 ―
to load themselves with the various provisions and stores, including an ample supply of spirits: but here a difficulty arose; the articles were so numerous as to be extremely cumbersome to carry; and of all desirable things in the bush, one of the most desirable is to be lightly laden.

“What a pity it is,” said Jemmy, “that we have no donkeys in the island; one of the long-ears just now would be the very thing for us. As to carrying these loads ourselves, I can never do it; the toil is more than the pleasure.”

“The brandy is worth carrying, at any rate,” said the more industrious Roger; “and remember the bottles are sure to get lighter as we go.”

“It will never do,” returned Jemmy. “What to do I don't know! I can't carry them; but it goes against my heart to leave them behind. I say, Mark, what shall we do? It's a sin to leave such a lot of lush behind us for those rascals of soldiers and constables to tipple! What do you say?”

  ― 7 ―

“Perhaps this gentleman,” suggested Mark, pointing to Mr. Silliman, “would have the goodness to carry our provisions for us. And as he will not have to carry arms and ammunition, the load would not be an inconvenience to him?”

“By George! a capital thought! he will be almost as good as a donkey!” exclaimed Jemmy in the enthusiasm of his approbation. “But I say, Mark, won't there be danger in that? He may betray us, eh?”

“Not he,” replied Brandon; “besides, as I mean to take the young lady with me, he will be useful as a servant.”

“No, Master Brandon,” said Grough, “that won't do. We are all one in the bush; and if we are to have the gal with us, we must draw lots, as I said at first. I don't see why one of us is to have her more than another.”

“Suppose we leave it to the young lady herself,” said Mark, “to choose one of us; and the other two must abide by her decision?”

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“That is fair,” said Jemmy; “that gives us all an equal chance.”

“I don't know that,” said Grough. “Mark has been carnying her over already. However, I don't want to make words;—I agree.”

“Who shall propose it?” asked Jemmy.

“I will,” said Mark.

“No, no!” said the suspicious Grough, “let's have it all fair and above-board—all three together.”

“Then it will be better to postpone this question,” said Brandon, “till we make our halt for the night. I don't expect that we shall have the Major's people nor the soldiers on us before we have plenty of time to make a long stretch in-land. The Major is busy about his vessel—we gave him something to do there; and the young officer is after the main body of our fellows out by the hill, that I pointed out as the place of our meeting.”

“You don't mean to go there?” said Jemmy.

“I think,” replied Brandon, “that, under the circumstances, it will be best for us to keep together by ourselves: too many at a

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time in the bush is inconvenient. And now, my boys, let us make a start.”

When Mr. Brandon communicated to Mr. Silliman the decision of the bushrangers, that he should accompany them in their retreat in the capacity of a pack-horse, and promised him good treatment if he behaved well in his employment, that wretched individual was rather rejoiced than otherwise at his promotion; for anything was better than to have the disagreeable musket of the careless Jemmy Swindell everlastingly set at his head: and while there was life, he sagely argued, there was hope; and the intention of the bushrangers to make him their slave showed that they had no present design of taking away his life.

He acquiesced, therefore, with great submission, and his hands being released and the gag in his mouth a little relaxed, he proceeded to assist Jemmy and Roger in loading himself with much alacrity, and with a readiness to oblige, which was both prudent and philosophical on the occasion. But when Mark

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Brandon intimated to Helen that it was their intention to take her with them, she at once refused, and declared she would rather suffer death than allow herself to be removed from the cave.

“You may be quite sure, Miss Horton,” said Mark, in his most insinuating way, “that I strenuously opposed this plan; but I found my men so obstinate and determined, that it was impossible for me to persuade them to forego their resolution. They said, that if you were left behind, you would give information to your pursuers of our numbers and our plans, which would lead to our destruction. All that I could do was to prevail on them to consent that you should return with your friend Mr. Silliman after we had reached a sufficient distance from this place to render pursuit of us hopeless.”

“Is it possible that I can believe that you speak truth?” said Helen.

“The alternative,” quickly replied Mark, “is too dreadful for me to dare to mention to you; but the loss of your life, I fear, with such

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desperate men, would be the least of the evils that you would have to suffer. Observe that Mr. Silliman will accompany you.”

“And we are to be released when you have reached a place of safety?”

“Certainly,” replied Mark; “your own sense must tell you that a lady in the bush would be a most inconvenient addition. But to satisfy the apprehensions of my companions it is absolutely necessary that you should go with us for a certain distance, in order to prevent your giving information of our proceedings to those who might be inclined to follow us.”

“But am I to be taken away with my hands bound in this painful way?” said Helen, a wild hope flashing on her mind, that if her hands were free she might find an opportunity to escape.

“The moment we have passed from the vicinity of these rocks,” replied Mark Brandon, “my companions consent to your being unbound; but for a short distance, however painful it may be for me, Miss Horton, to see you

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in such a state, we must submit to a force that is stronger than ours.”

These words the bushranger spoke in a tone so tender and yet so respectful, that Helen could not help fancying that she possessed a power over him which she might use advantageously for herself and her fellow-prisoner. Mark Brandon, with his usual art, had succeeded in infusing into her the idea that his actions were controlled by his two associates, and that the rigour with which she had been treated was their act and not his; and that, on the contrary, he would willingly aid her escape if he were not bound by ties of fellowship to his comrades, and, indeed, overmatched by them in strength, insomuch as they were two to one against him.

Possessed with this flattering hope, and little aware of the extent of the diabolical deceit of the man whom she had to deal with, she suffered herself to be persuaded to accompany them without resistance,—thus justifying Mark's observation to his associates:—

“You see, my mates, that ‘softly’ does it.”

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Helen was so afraid that the bushrangers would commence a search after Louisa that she forebore to mention her name, trusting that her sister had made good her escape in the direction where the burning vessel pointed out the presence, most likely, of her father and the ship's crew; and Brandon, considering that the girl had wandered into the bush, and being bent on securing Helen, and of getting away before it was too late, did not trouble himself to look after her: but satisfied with his booty, and with his still dearer prize, whom he had resolved to appropriate to himself, though at the sacrifice of the lives of his two comrades, and Jeremiah being driven before them like a beast of burden, he made the best of his way into the thickest recesses of the bush.

It is easy to be supposed that, while much of the scenes which have been described were passing, the terrified Louisa was a prey to the most dismal apprehensions.

At first she supposed that her sister and poor Mr. Silliman were instantly to be put to death; and she feared that in such case her own life

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would be the next sacrifice, for she felt that it would be impossible for her to avoid screaming out! But when she found that it was not the intention of their captors, as it seemed, to take away their lives, and that Mark Brandon addressed her sister, as she observed, in the most respectful manner, she recovered herself sufficiently to note accurately the whole of the proceedings that met her view.

When the bushrangers, taking with them their prisoners, departed for the cave, she lay close in her hiding-place; but as she had the advantage of being able to see without being seen, she watched them till they were out of sight.

Now was the time, she thought, to get away, and to endeavour to find her father or the soldiers. If she kept near the banks of the bay she judged that she must fall in with one or other of the party; though she was sadly in fear lest she should meet either bushrangers or natives on her way. Stimulated, however, by the danger which was close to her, and urged by the desire to save her sister from the hands

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of the desperate men who held her captive, and not without an amiable wish to save the harmless and good-natured Jeremiah from the fate with which he was threatened, she mustered up courage to set out.

Once in motion, she never looked behind her, but, taking advantage of the rocks and bushes which were scattered about, to screen herself from the observation of her enemies, she fled on the wings of fear towards the spot where she doubted not she should meet with friends with whom she would be safe, and who would promptly hasten to her sister's rescue.

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Chapter II. Hopes.

IN the mean time the Major, assisted by his active officer, and ably supported by the crew of the vessel and the government sailors, was vigorously engaged in battling with the fire which had been kindled in the principal cabin of the brig by Mark Brandon, who had perpetrated that most diabolical act in order to occupy the attention of his antagonists, and to prevent them from turning their thoughts to him and to the inmates of the cave.

In this he had fully succeeded; for so busy were the sailors, with their commanders, in extinguishing the flames, and in repairing the damage that had been done to the vessel,

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as well by the fire as by her striking on the shoal, that they could think of nothing else but the urgent work on which they were employed.

The extinguishing of the fire proved a less difficult matter than they had hoped, although the parts which had been ignited continued to send forth smoke for some time after the flames had been overcome.

This being effected, however, and all danger on that score over, the sailors began to recollect that it was near eight bells—that is to say, that it was about mid-day;—and that they had been able to procure no refreshment, since the night before, more than a bite at some hard ship's biscuit, which was by no means sufficient to satisfy seamen's appetites when “better grub,” as they nautically expressed it, was to be got.

With one accord, therefore, they signified to the mate that they would take it as a particular favour if the skipper would be pleased to make it twelve o'clock; it being the peculiar function of that omnipotent person

  ― 18 ―
on board-ship—the captain—not only to make it twelve o'clock every day at his will and pleasure, but on the extraordinary occasion of a voyage eastward round the globe to make either an extra Sunday or an extraworking day on some one week of the circumnavigation, according to expediency, and to his own particular convenience.

As the Major well knew that one most important means of keeping sailors in good humour is to feed them and grog them well, he forthwith gave orders for striking eight bells, according to the request conveyed to him; and as the brig's cabouse was found to be sadly out of order from the effects of the storm, which Mark Brandon's people had neither the time nor the skill to remedy, he gave directions for making up a huge fire of wood on the beach; and it was the smoke from this extempore ship's kitchen that the party at the cave mistook for the burning of the vessel.

The dinner from the ample stores of the brig's beef and pork went on favourably, while

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a judicious distribution of rum completed the general satisfaction; and the jovial sailors, refreshed with rest and food, rushed joyously to their work, which was to get the brig off from the shoal.

Fortunately for the bottom of the gallant vessel, the part of the shoal where she struck was entirely of sand, so that there were hopes that so far she had escaped uninjured. The mate, also, did not fail to take advantage of the rising tide, by carrying out an anchor seaward, and putting a strain on the cable from the bow of the vessel. The position of the brig, however, was an awkward one, and it required all the skill and exertions of their united strength to warp her off on the rising of the tide with the assistance of both boats, and with the strain of two cables attached to the anchors besides.

This, however, by the perseverance and encouragement of the mate, who bent his whole soul to the work, and by the liberal promises of the Major, was at last effected, and the little vessel was once more afloat on the

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bosom of the waters. The wind had gone down again; but there was a broken swell which caused the vessed to toss about like a maimed and crippled thing, filling the worthy mate with a poignant pain which almost counterbalanced his joy at seeing the mistress of his affections swimming with a melancholy flauntiness on her native element.

Ah! poor thing! he said, as he stood on the shore and surveyed her changed appearance, you see what has happened to you, you hussey, by letting yourself get into bad hands! But it wasn't her fault neither, he said; but mine, for listening to the blarney of that cursed pilot, with his sea-lawyer's jaw and his damn'd long-tailed coat! I ought to have known better—I ought—and that's the truth of it. I mistrusted those long tails from the first; it wasn't seaman-like, to say the least of it—it was indecent! and I deserve to be flogged, I do, for being so flummoxed by such a lubberly-looking rascal! But I'll make you all right again, my beauty! I will. There's a lovely foresail in the mainhold, and I'll spread it

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on her, and she shall look as saucy as a new bride!

“But her mainmast is gone,” said the Major, interrupting his officer's self-accusatory and affectionate exclamations; “how shall we manage for that?”

“It's a bad job, I confess,” replied the mate. “But look at that grove of trees, yonder, with their tall straight stems; those are the stringybark trees, I take it. There's a new mast ready-made to our hand; and it is but a light bit of timber that we want for our little boat, God bless her! and we'll ship it in no time, that is, if it wouldn't be better to rig out a jury-mast enough to carry us into port in the Derwent; and then we can do it at our leisure, and more ship-shape.”

“Bear-a-hand, my sons,” he sang out to the sailors, “and clear away this gear,” pointing to the shattered mainmast which had been cut away from the vessel, and was lying half in the water on the shoal.

“I think,” he continued, turning to the Major, “that we had better trust to a jury-mast

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to take us round the headland and through the channel: we shall not make so good a job of it here, and it's best to be in port as soon as we can. There's no knowing how soon we might have another visit from these confounded bushrangers—the devil burn them! the place seems to grow bushrangers! And the sooner, perhaps, we get the young ladies on board the better: to my mind it's safer for them to be on board than on shore any time. When one is on board ship we know where we are, which we never do ashore; for the streets run in and out, and the houses are all alike—and there's no getting a sight of the sun, so that you never know your bearings; and as to your latitude and longitude, it's all a guess! But on boardship you know what to look out for and what to prepare against; there's the wind and the sea—and a lee-shore, may-be, and that's all: but on the land you never know what the danger is, for it is never over! What with land-sharks and fireships of all sorts—let alone the difficulty of keeping steady on one's legs

  ― 23 ―
when there's no motion to help one, and not one in a hundred knows starboard from larboard, or how to put up their helms when you're bearing up, may-be in Cheapside, against a wind!—for my part, I say the sea for me: and all the use of the land, so far as I can see, is to grow vegetables on!”

“And now, Major, if you will take my advice, you will let me tow the brig opposite your camp, over the water, yonder, so that the young ladies can come easy on board; and I should like to see the bushranger that would attempt to take them out again!”

From this long and characteristic harangue, it may be seen that the worthy mate was in excessively high spirits; and as the Major expressed his immediate approval of his suggestion, all the materials belonging to the vessel were collected without delay, and the two boats being manned, they were on the point of giving way, when a shout from the top of the hill overlooking the shore attracted their attention, and the ensign with three soldiers, was seen coming down in all haste towards the vessel.

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The Major desired the boats to rest on their oars, and presently Trevor reached the beach:—the vessel being beyond convenient hail, he made the most energetic signs to make the Major understand that he wished to communicate with those on board. One of the boats being detached, the Major stepped into it and proceeded to the shore.

“Are you aware,” were the first words uttered by Trevor, “that Mark Brandon, with two of his comrades, have escaped?”

A sudden fear came over the father as he thought of his daughters.

Trevor then communicated to him, in as few words as possible, that his party of soldiers had hemmed the bushrangers into a corner, and that all who were not killed in the conflict were captured, but that Brandon and two others were not among them. He said further, that some of the convicts had informed him that Brandon had promised to meet them at the foot of a certain hill, about a dozen miles off, but that it was the opinion of the head constable, who was a most intelligent fellow,

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that this was only a feint on the part of Brandon, and that he would most likely visit the cave where the Major's daughters had been left, and where many of the Major's valuables had been deposited.

The Major changed countenance at this communication, and for a few moments was at a loss how to act; for he could not make up his mind which was the best way of reaching the side of the bay near which the cave was situate, whether by land or water.

Trevor saw that his mind was troubled as if with a presentiment of some disaster, and he immediately offered to go round by land with his men while the Major proceeded by sea. The Major, without speaking a word, but with lips pale and his teeth clenched, immediately agreed to this arrangement, and stepping back into his boat, nodded his head to the men to take to their oars; when a new apparition arrested his sight, and gave rise to sudden hopes and fears, which took from him the power of speech, and it was only by a sign that he

  ― 26 ―
could intimate to the boat's crew to remain still.

On the summit of a low green bank he beheld a female, whom the father's eye instantly recognised as his daughter Louisa, descending with precipitate but staggering haste. Extending his arm to the object, he pointed it out to Trevor, who, in a moment, started off to meet her, followed by his men.

The Major could not move; he saw his daughter, but he saw only one! Where was the other? Where was Helen? It might be, that, exhausted with her flight, she had sunk down on the way;—but was that likely?—It was Louisa that was likely to be exhausted, not the strong-minded and intrepid. Helen! The courage of the old soldier was destroyed by the apprehensions of the father! He awaited the arrival of Louisa, and the tidings which she brought in gloomy silence.

She was not long in coming, or rather she was carried by Trevor down the slope and placed in her father's arms. Frantically embracing him with convulsive joy, she sank

  ― 27 ―
down, faint, exhausted, and collapsed, and burst into an hysterical flood of tears!

Hitherto she had not spoken a word; but her flight, her exhausted state, with terror still imprinted on her countenance—all gave evidence that she had been witness of some shocking catastrophe, and was the bearer of terrible tidings. The Major, for some moments, could not interrogate her; the sight of her, and the fears which that sight suggested, unmanned him, and for some minutes he mingled his tears with those of his recovered daughter.

The hardy boat's crew, who were acquainted with all the circumstances attending the seizure of the brig by the bushrangers, and the perils to which the Major's daughters had been exposed, and who, with the true feeling of British sailors where the safety of a woman was concerned, were generously alive to everything that affected her and those to whom she was dear, regarded the sorrow-stricken father with sympathising looks, and one or two of them laid their hands on the ship's cutlasses which

  ― 28 ―
were in the boat, as if eager to revenge any wrong that had been committed on a female whom they considered especially under their protection.

When the first burst of Louisa's emotion had subsided the Major removed her from the boat, and taking her apart to some little distance on the beach—for he was fearful that she had some dreadful disclosure to make which it would shock her delicacy to speak of except to himself,—he asked her the reason of her sudden appearance, and of her flight from the place of their retreat, and desired her to tell him without disguise all that she could of what had occurred since he had left her and her sister with Mr. Silliman at the cave.

The poor girl, who was well aware of the necessity of being prompt in affording succour to Helen, stifled her sobs; and by a great effort was able to recover her voice sufficiently to narrate to her father, that they had seen the smoke, and that Helen had heard the sound of firing in the distance; and that, unable to control her curiosity, she had ventured from

  ― 29 ―
the cave to endeavour to see what was going forward, but, alarmed at her not returning, she had prevailed on Mr. Silliman to leave the cave to seek for her; and that when Mr. Silliman did not return, she being frightened at the continued absence of him and of her sister, went out to look for them.

She then described the scene of her sister and Mr. Silliman in the hands of the bushrangers; and she said, that when she saw Mark Brandon she gave up all for lost!—herself also!—but fortunately, they had not perceived her, she was so well hidden among a confused heap of rocks. She told, also, the conversation which she had overheard between Mark Brandon and her sister about the money which had been taken from the brig and deposited in the cave, and that Helen had been prevailed on by Brandon to tell him where it was concealed; that the three bushrangers—that is, Mark Brandon and two other men whom she recollected as having been on board the brig, from the remarkable fierceness of their countenances—went away to the cave,

  ― 30 ―
taking Mr. Silliman and Helen with them, and that when they were out of sight she ran off by the shore of the bay to the spot where she saw the smoke.

She added, though with some hesitation, that before the bushrangers went away to the cave they talked of casting lots for her sister, which she supposed meant that one of them was to take Helen away into the bush.

When she had concluded her narrative the Major beckoned to Trevor, who was within sight, and made Louisa repeat all the circumstances which she had related to him, which Louisa did, nearly in the same words, but omitting that part of it where the bushrangers talked of casting lots for her sister, but stating that she feared from their talk that it was their intention to take Helen away with them.

It is impossible to describe the agony which overwhelmed the father and the lover at this dreadful communication. The loss of his money was as nothing compared with the horrible fate of his daughter. The Major sat

  ― 31 ―
for a few minutes in silence, stunned with the blow, and unable to exert himself in thought or action. But Trevor, wild and mad with grief and rage, stamped frantically on the beach, and called out to his soldiers to advance and get ready to follow him instantly in pursuit. He ran to the boat, and with vehement declamations told the story to the crew.

The sturdy sons of the sea, albeit they could not understand how the male guardian of the women had allowed the bushrangers to maltreat a girl without first sacrificing his own life in her defence, were roused to the highest pitch of indignation at the idea of the rascally pilot who had played such a trick on themselves, having carried away a nice girl into the bush, and—climax of villany and cruelty!—with her hands tied behind her! “It wasn't,” they said, “giving the gal a chance, and was altogether contrary to all manliness, and unfair to the last degree; and none but a rascally convict would be guilty of such an abominable action.”

  ― 32 ―

They demanded eagerly to be led in pursuit; and Trevor took advantage of their enthusiasm so far as to urge them to pull with all their might to the opposite shore of the bay towards the right, as he thought that would be the quickest way of reaching the scene of Helen's adventures. The Major also, having recovered from the first effects of the shock, was desirous of losing no time in taking measures for the recovery of his daughter, alive or dead; for his knowledge of her character convinced him that the high-minded Helen would not survive any indignity offered to her by the miscreants who had her in their power. But there was a sadness, and a solemnity, and a quiet sternness in his manner, which contrasted remarkably with the wild restlessness and the extravagant gestures and impetuosity of Trevor.

Hastily making known to the mate, as they passed the brig, the reason of their hurried passage across the bay, and putting Louisa on board under his care, the Major bidding him make all speed in taking the brig to the place

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of her destination, the excited sailors made the blades of their oars bend and quiver as they propelled the boat rapidly through the water, Trevor standing up and urging them by voice and action to put forth all their strength to arrive as quickly as possible to the shore before the bushrangers had time to make good their retreat, or to consummate their premeditated villany on the poor girl in their possession.

Urged by such lusty arms and such willing hearts, the boat soon touched the sandy beach abreast of the lofty rock at which the Major had established his encampment on the previous night, and without waiting for the Major, Trevor leaped on shore, followed by his soldiers, and made his way to the cave. The sight of the remains of the ransacked trunks and packages told him in a moment that the bushrangers had done their work, and had doubtless escaped with their plunder.

While he was still gazing at the wreck of the property, the Major arrived with four armed sailors, among whom was the carpenter, who

  ― 34 ―
had acted as second mate of the vessel, leaving the rest of the crew to guard the boat. Paying little attention to the loss of his goods, he directed his sailors to light torches from the branches of a peppermint-tree which grew close by, and to explore the interior of the cave, while two of the soldiers were directed to use their best endeavours to discover the track of the bushrangers and their captives.

In the mean time Trevor with the corporal made a circuit round the place, with the hope of meeting with some object which might serve as a hint for their future proceedings.

He readily recognised the spot amongst the rocks where Louisa had hid herself, and the relative positions of the parties during that agonising scene. Then ascending a high mass of rock, he took a view of the surrounding country, but he could not see far, owing to the intervention of low scrubby hills and occasional clumps of trees; he saw enough, however, to impress him with the feeling that it was a most romantic part of the country,

  ― 35 ―
though of a rugged and savage character, and affording opportunities, as he judged, for successful concealment of a most embarrassing nature.

But considering the “lie,” as it is colonially called, of the country in a cooler and more attentive manner, it became clear to him that the fugitives could have taken their flight through one particular segment only of the semicircle which extended from the end of the lake on his right to the sea-coast on his left. Mark Brandon, he argued, would not dare to proceed northwards in the direction of Hobart Town; nor was it likely that he would attempt to keep along the sea-shore to the left, from the high and precipitous cliffs which he was aware bounded much of the coast on that side; nor would he try to skirt the coast, from the extreme difficulty of making progess over a line of country so unfavourable for pursuing the rapid flight which was necessary for his safety.

There was only one direction, therefore, left open for him, which was comprised within a small angle; but still there was room and scope

  ― 36 ―
enough for them to baffle their pursuers, unless the most prompt and energetic means were adopted for getting on their track.

Carefully noting all the points which might serve him for marks of distance, Trevor descended from the rock, and keeping the direction in his mind's eye, he immediately started off, accompanied by the corporal, on the line which he judged would be the probable course of the bushrangers, and proceeded without stopping several miles.

He then made a halt; and, after surveying the scenery narrowly on all sides, he made excursions from right to left, like a sportsman beating for game, inspecting the ground narrowly to discover some indication of the track of feet. This toil he continued for some time in vain; but at last his exertions were suddenly rewarded with success.

Passing near a low rock he saw, to his surprise, something lying on it which he was sure could be neither leaf nor twig, and eagerly running up to examine it, to his excessive joy he found that it was a woman's glove!

  ― 37 ―

In a moment he felt sure that at such a time and in such a place the glove could be no other than Helen's; and it was partly with the gladness with which it inspired him from this discovery of the track, and partly with the rapture of a lover at beholding an article of dress which had been worn by his mistress, that he was about to snatch it up and carry it to his lips, when it struck him that its position as it lay was remarkable, and, as it presently occurred to him, was intentional.

Three of the fingers and the thumb, he observed, were bent together as if with a hasty compression, while the fore-finger was, as it seemed to him, purposely left free and pointing in a particular direction. He followed with his eyes this direction, and saw that it pointed to an opening between two hills at a considerable distance.

Taking into consideration all these circumstances, which, howsoever trivial they might be thought at other times, were now most important signs for his guidance, he felt sure that Helen had contrived to leave one of her gloves

  ― 38 ―
on the rock, and that she had bent the fingers into the shape in which he found them as a sign to her friends, should they be so fortunate as to light on it in their search. The corporal also, whom Trevor consulted was of the same opinion, remarking “that it was evidence also of the young lady's hands having been set at liberty.”

This was a fresh source of satisfaction to Trevor, who argued from it also that Helen had hopes of being succoured, and that her mind was cool and ready enough to devise this means of indicating the direction of their retreat.

The shades of evening were now beginning to encompass them, and the corporal counselled his officer that he should return to the cave for the other two soldiers, and for such materials and provisions as would be necessary for them to take with them in their pursuit.

But Trevor, who had now become warmed and excited, would not listen to any such proposal, as it involved a certain loss of time,—and time was everything; besides, it was, for many very powerful reasons, extremely important that

  ― 39 ―
they should come up with the bushrangers before night. Trevor had his own motives for this, but from some secret feeling which perhaps it would have been difficult for him to explain in words, he did not communicate them to the corporal.

He contented himself with asking him, whether he could depend on him to stand by him in the conflict which would be certain to take place on their coming up with the enemy.

The corporal, who was a cool and brave old soldier, although he had not a lover's enthusiasm to excite him on the present occasion to a dangerous enterprise, slapped the butt-end of his firelock with his hand, and assured Trevor with energy that he would stand by his officer to the last drop of his blood, and wherever his ensign would lead, he would follow him!

Thus encouraged and supported, Trevor wrote on a leaf which he tore from his pocket-book, his intention to pursue the bushrangers accompanied by the corporal only, and directing any friend who might see the writing to

  ― 40 ―
take the direction of the opening between the two high hills in the distance which was nearly west-north-west. Having written this, he stuck it on a small stick, which he secured to the rock with a heavy stone; and having set up a pole from a neighbouring clump of thin trees, known in the colony by the name of the tea-tree, used by the natives for their spears, and to which he affixed a tuft of native grass to attract attention, with the corporal for his companion, he set out rapidly in the direction indicated by Helen's glove, which, loverlike, he had deposited in his bosom.

As they had now got on the track, which was occasionally visible, they kept their arms in readiness, in the hope of coming suddenly on the freebooters, to whom the corporal secretly vowed he would grant no quarter, and on whom the ensign was determined to take summary vengeance.

  ― 41 ―

Chapter III. Perils.

TREVOR had conjectured rightly when he supposed that the glove which he had found on the rock had been left there purposely by Helen to indicate the direction in which her captors were conveying her.

It was at this spot that Mark Brandon had released her from her bonds on her obstinate refusal to proceed further without such liberty being granted to her; and she insisted also on the performance of Brandon's promise to permit her to return to the cave, now that they had reached a distance which placed them beyond the risk of immediate surprisal from pursuers, should any be on their track.

  ― 42 ―

But to this the other two men were vehemently opposed. Having succeeded in “planting” the bag of dollars, and in rifling the Major's effects with impunity, and having got the girl so far along with them, the ruffians were unwilling to let go their prize; and as their obstinacy favoured Mark's scheme, he took care, when not in Helen's hearing, to throw out such suggestions as would irritate and confirm them in their determination.

But he kept the merit to himself of releasing Helen's hands, which he did with apparent gladness and great gentleness, taking care to drop some expressions in a low tone of his extreme sorrow that his companions would not consent to her release, and giving her reason, though ambiguously, to understand that on the first opportunity he would favour her escape.

At the same time, the bushrangers untied Jerry's hands, as he had already made several awkward falls, and as the restraint of his being so fettered impeded the celerity of their march. They also ungagged his mouth in order that he might breath more freely, and be able better

  ― 43 ―
to bear the task of being the pack-horse of the company. In order to prevent any attempt on his part to escape, and to insure his good behaviour on the journey, the ill-featured Grough preceded him at a little distance with his loaded weapon, while the hang-dog looking Jemmy kept close to him behind with the bayonet of his musket fixed, and handy to act as an incentive to the unfortunate Jerry to be active in his motions. This was the order of march prescribed by Brandon, who continued to retain his supremacy as the leader of the party, although he was well aware that the roughness and hardships of the bush would soon endanger his present insecure authority. For his own share he took on himself the charge of Helen, endeavouring by all possible means to ingratiate himself in her favour by the way, and assiduously offering to her all those little attentions for which it may be easily imagined there was abundance of opportunity in their rapid and uneven path.

Although Helen refused his assistance, and would not allow herself to be touched by him,

  ― 44 ―
it was impossible for her to avoid hearing the artful discourse which he poured into her ear with a skill and tact which he had found so effectual with women on other occasions.

Fully aware that all the ordinary forms of flattery were inappropriate with a high-spirited girl like Helen, of whose character he had been able to form an accurate estimate during her trials on board of the brig, he confined himself to the idea which he well knew must be uppermost in her mind, and adroitly insinuated his willingness to promote her escape if it could be done without exciting the suspicion of his comrades, whom he described as two desperadoes of malignity so atrocious and violence so furious, that it would be in vain for him to endeavour to contend against the open force; besides, as he affected to say with much regret, he was bound to them by those ties of honour which forbade him to make any attempts on their lives, even for her sake.

By this consummate duplicity the arch-hypocrite contrived to make his captive regard him as an unexpected friend;—the more

  ― 45 ―
valuable under the circumstances, as without him she felt she should be entirely at the mercy of his unscrupulous comrades; and with this feeling she was glad to have him by her side, considering him as a sort of protection against coarser villains.

Mark, with his usual quickness of discernment, penetrated her thoughts, and inwardly congratulated himself on his progress so far in her good graces; as he had succeeded in causing her to look on him not as an object of repugnance, but as one whom, as he held favourable intentions towards her, she was inclined to regard with reciprocal good feeling. In this way they journeyed on, at a rapid rate, till both the overburthened Jerry and the anxious Helen showed symptoms of exhaustion.

It was now nearly dark, and they had travelled many miles from the cave. The bushrangers were desirous of continuing their march for some distance farther, in order that their track might be lost in the dark; but as Helen now sank to the ground, it was found impossible to proceed without adopting some

  ― 46 ―
contrivance for assisting her steps. Helen prayed them, earnestly and imploringly, to allow her to remain where she was, and to continue their course without her; but as this by no means squared with the intentions of the two bushrangers, although Mark Brandon pretended to be inclined to consent, they were determined to urge her forward. Seeing that such was the determination of his comrades, as Mark whispered to Helen, he proposed that they should cut a convenient branch from a tree, and by placing it under her arms, two of them would be able to carry her forward while he took charge of Jerry in the rear.

This arrangement he proposed, in order that, according to his plan, he should not bring himself into a personal collision with Helen, which, he was aware, could not fail to be most unfavourable to his designs; and he trusted also that the savage countenances and rude language of his coarse and brutal mates would make his own mildness and silky tongue appear afterwards in favourable contrast for himself, and that the young lady would be glad

  ― 47 ―
to seek refuge in his protection against the horrible insults of ruffians so revolting: with such devilish art did this most consummate villain turn every circumstance to his own advantage, and wind his way, like a serpent, into the confidence and comparative good opinion of his destined victim.

With all their endeavours, however, the bearers of Helen were unable to proceed far on their way over the rough country which they were traversing, encumbered as they were with a burthen so embarrassing to their steps; but, fully alive to the importance of cutting off their track, by the dark, from any one in pursuit, they persevered in their laborious course till the sun went down, and the gloominess of the night approached. They continued their course for about a mile further, till they felt sure that all trace of them must be lost.

A low valley, at some little distance out of their direct course, in which mimosa trees were growing abundantly, forming a convenient place to spend the night, they came to a

  ― 48 ―
halt; and first unloading Jerry, and then binding his hands and feet together, notwithstanding his most energetic protestations and promises that he would make no attempt to run away, they prepared to make their supper, in which they set forth a liberal allowance of rum, as a principal part of the entertainment.

There was light enough for them to see what they were about, although not sufficient to enable a pursuer to distinguish their footsteps, which indeed was a difficult matter even in open day; and they sat down, notwithstanding their fatigue, in very good humour, promising Jerry when they had finished their meal, that they would give him a turn; “for it would be a pity,” they said, “that so able and willing a pack-carrier should be knocked up for want of grub.”

As to Helen, they left her to the care of Mark, first taking the precaution, however, to tie her hands behind her back, which they assured her with many jocular phrases, was always their custom when they took young ladies into the bush till they got used to their

  ― 49 ―
ways, which, they said, they had no doubt she would soon be, after she had had the benefit of a little experience.

But before they confined her hands, Mark Brandon offered her food and drink, which she at first refused; on consideration, however, she determined to support her strength in order to facilitate her escape; but she refused to taste the rum, which the two men were inclined to force on her had they not been remonstrated with by Brandon.

Brandon had the consideration also to cut down with his axe, which he carried with him, a quantity of the bushy boughs of the mimosa, with which he formed a sort of hut for her accommodation; and leaving her there to await her fate, but keeping a wary watch over her at the same time, the three set-to at the provisions and liquors before them, and the raw rum presently getting into the heads of Swindell and Grough, they were soon ripe for any deed of brutal atrocity.

Mark Brandon now found that his refined scheme of setting his two associates to do the

  ― 50 ―
work which could not fail to render the aggressors still more hateful to the lady, operated against himself, for Grough and Swindell having borne the burthen of the girl for some miles unassisted by Mark, they considered that their right to her was thereby so far increased as to give them a prior claim on the captive.

This they urged with impudent confidence, and being inflamed with liquor, they determined to carry their claims into effect without further delay, and almost, without caring to consult Brandon's mind in the matter; for in the madness of their drunken excitement they lost all respect for the superior intellect of which at other times they felt themselves under the invincible control.

“What do you say, Roger?” said he who among his companions was familiarly called Jemmy, to which the epithet of hang-dog was occasionally added, taking one of the Major's dollars from his pocket, “shall it be a toss-up?”

“There's not light enough for that,” replied

  ― 51 ―
his mate; “let us put a lot of dollars in a hat, and guess odd or even.”

“And who is to be the umpire?” said Jemmy; “a fair toss up is the best way; the moon gives light enough to see whether it comes down man or pillars.”

“You forgot, my mates,” said Brandon, interposing, “that I have a vote in this affair; the girl is as much mine as yours.”

“And who was it that carried her the last four miles?” said the pair both at once.

“We have worked for her,” added Jemmy.

“We have brought her here,” said Roger, “and we will have her.—Who says nay?”

“But I have an equal right, surely,” said Brandon: “who was it that persuaded her to come on so quietly?”

“Oh! we all know that you have a devil of a tongue for the girls, Mark; but those that do the hard work ought to have the first chance,—that's what I say.”

“Come,” said Brandon, “don't let us quarrel about a girl when we are running for our lives, as I may say; and when our only chance of

  ― 52 ―
escaping from the colony is to agree together; with the money that we have got safely planted we may have half the women in the colony.”

“I tell you what, Jemmy,” said Roger Grough, “fair play is fair play all the world over.—Share and share alike—that's bush law.—Let us all three cast lots, and he who wins has her.”

“Agreed,” said Brandon, who trusted that his own sober state would be more than a match for the united wit of his two drunken companions; “I will prepare the lots.”

“What shall they be?”

“Here are three sticks,” said Brandon; “come closer. See, they are all of the same thickness. Two shall be short and one shall be long; he who draws the longest wins.”

“And who is to hold them?”

“You, Jemmy, if you like.”

“And who is to have the first draw?”

“I and Roger will toss for that.”

“Agreed,” said Roger.

The sticks were prepared, Brandon making a dent on the longest with his thumb-nail, so

  ― 53 ―
as easily to be able to distinguish it from the rest. Then taking a dollar from his pocket he offered it to Grough to toss.

“Do you toss?” said Grough.

“No!” said Brandon, whose game was to deprive the other two of the right to accuse him of foul play; “you shall toss, Roger, then you will be sure you have had a fair chance.”

Roger tossed: Brandon won.

“Now for the sticks,” said Roger, a little dissatisfied.

“You have still an equal chance with me,” said Brandon, wishing to sooth him.—“For my own part, I don't much care which way it goes.”

“Gammon!” said Jemmy Swindell.

“Now!” said the holder of the sticks, “try your luck, Mark.”

“Hold!” said a voice which startled the three.

“What the devil is that?” cried Grough, starting up.

Brandon immediately went to the hut of boughs in which Helen was placed. He listened

  ― 54 ―
attentively. She was sleeping. Happily for her she had not heard the conversation between the wretches who, like wild beasts, were contending for her as their prey.

“Hold!” said the voice again.

“It is our pack-horse!” said Jemmy, with a gruff laugh.

“Pack-horse, or what you please,” said Jeremiah, his good-natured sympathy excited by the horrible fate impending over the sister of Louisa; “I say hold!”

“Hold your jaw,” said Roger, “or I'll put a ball through your soft head.”

“You may put a dozen, if you like,” said Jeremiah; “but, I say, Mark Brandon—listen to me.”

“You had better hold your tongue,” said Brandon.

“But I won't hold my tongue. Listen to me, I say. I have a thousand pounds in dollars to my credit at Hobart Town. Now listen to me; let the young lady go free, and those thousand pounds I will divide among you.”

“Go to the devil with your dollars!” said

  ― 55 ―
Swindell; “what's the use of dollars to us here—and now? It's the gal we want, and the gal we will have. Now, Mark, draw your lot.”

“For God's sake don't commit such a horrible outrage on a poor defenceless girl; such a deed as this would be sure to hang you and damn you too past all redemption,” cried out Jeremiah, excited by the imminency and the terrible nature of the peril to the poor resistless girl.

“Gag him,” said Brandon, quietly, “his noise may do mischief.”

Such practised hands were not long in carrying this recommendation into effect; and as Jeremiah was bound hand and foot and incapable of resistance, the brutal Grough had no difficulty in preventing him from giving them further molestation by his cries.

“Now,” said Swindell, “time's going on; it is for you to draw first, Mark; here are the lots.”

Brandon stretched out his hand; but during Jeremiah's generous expostulation, the sticks

  ― 56 ―
had become mixed and turned in his hand, and Brandon could no longer distinguish the longest of them by the furtive mark which he had made before he had delivered them to the holder.

“Draw,” said Swindell, impatiently; “what are you fiddling about? draw and have done with it; the longest wins.”

Brandon still hesitated, and endeavoured to devise some expedient for confusing the operator.

“Draw, I say,” repeated Swindell; “there's light enough from the moon to see the sticks, isn't there? There—look at them; and now take your chance, or let Roger draw first.”

“Let me see,” said Brandon, “that the sticks are broken right, two short, and one long; that was to be the way.”

“No, no, none of your gammon with me, Mark; I'm as good a man as you any day of the year, or night either. Why you broke the sticks yourself! Do you suppose I'm so green as to let you feel which is the longest before you choose? That would be

  ― 57 ―
making a precious fool of me, wouldn't it, Roger?”

“Now, Mark,” said Grough, getting impatient and suspicious as well as the other; “fair play in the bush, Mark. Don't keep the lady waiting; let one of us win; and an equal chance for all. Well, if you won't draw, I will, and if I win, by —— I'll have her.” So saying, he stretched out his hand to the stakes.

Brandon, thus urged, and seeing that his companions were not in a temper to be made fools of, hastily drew a stick.

“Now, Roger,” said the holder.

Roger Grough drew.

“Lost, all of you, by ——,” vociferated Swindell, measuring his own lot against the other two.

“Jem,” said Brandon, in a low deep voice, “you can't have that girl.”

“Why not? I've won her!”

“Give her up,” said Brandon, “and I will give up my share to the bag of dollars at the cave.”

  ― 58 ―

“No!—keep your dollars and be ——; I'll have the girl.”

“She is tired and ill,” said Brandon.

“Oh, I'll soon rouse her up!”

It was at this moment that the raised voices of the disputants awakened Helen from her feverish slumber, and she overheard the rest of the parley; but exhausted with fatigue, and with her hands bound behind her, she had neither the spirits nor the strength to attempt to fly.

“I won't have her touched to-night, at any rate,” resumed Brandon; “it would be cruelty.”

“Gammon! Mark; that blarney won't do for me.”

“He has won her,” said Grough, sturdily, “and he has a right to her: that's bush law.”

“I say again,” said Brandon, coolly and firmly, “you shall not molest that girl tonight.”

“And who is to hinder me?”

“I will,” said Brandon.

  ― 59 ―

“Nay,” said Grough, “we are two to one, Mark, anyhow; and I stand by Jemmy; there has been a fair draw, and Jemmy has won the gal fairly; and what he has won he must have; that's the rule of the bush, Mark; and I'll stand by our rules; and Jemmy shall have her!”

“Wretched fools!” said Brandon, in a voice thick with passion, “what would you be without me in the bush, or anywhere? and how are you to save yourselves except by my head? Sit down, I say, and give up. I have said the word; the girl shall not be touched this night.”

“And I have said the word,” said the obstinate Swindell, excited by the double stimulus of lust and liquor; “and if there were ten thousand Brandons in the way, I will have the girl; I have won her, and she is mine.”

“Once more, I say, leave her alone,” said Brandon, taking a step back.

“We are two to one,” repeated Grough, sulkily; “it's you who must give way, Mark; we are one too many.”

  ― 60 ―

“Then thus I make the odds even,” said Mark, discharging one of the barrels of his fowling-piece through the exulting Jemmy's head, and instantly levelling the other barrel at Roger; “and now, mate,” he said, before the other had time to recover his musket, which was lying on the ground, “you see you are at my mercy; but you are a man whose courage and faithfulness I respect: say—is it to be peace or war?”

  ― 61 ―

Chapter IV. A Discovery.

TREVOR and the corporal made good way as long as the daylight lasted: but when darkness began to encompass them, they were obliged to pause; and the corporal, whose spirits were not sustained by the same feelings which animated his officer, ventured to suggest, that trying to discover a track in the dark was not likely to be successful.

But the ensign reminding him that the young lady's glove pointed out that their course was the opening between the high hills which loomed in the distance, encouraged him to proceed, not forgetting to be liberal in his promises

  ― 62 ―
of personal reward,—a motive, however, which the corporal indignantly repudiated, avering that it was stimulus sufficient for him to save the poor young lady from the clutches of “those blackguards,” and “to have a slap at the rascals who had run off with a girl against her will!”

They kept on, therefore, till they reached the entrance of the opening and began to climb the ascent between the hills.

But Trevor was not long in experiencing the difficulty of going over unknown ground at night, obstructed at every step by dead timber and loose stones; and although the moon lent its light, it was not sufficient to help them much in their difficult way; and when they came to the entrance of the gorge, which was thickly covered with trees, even that light was obscured, and they were soon compelled to come to a stand-still.

“I am inclined to think that the bushrangers must be somewhere hereabouts,” said Trevor, sitting down on the ground, in which he was followed by his companion, “for they must

  ― 63 ―
have had the same difficulty as we have, in making their way through this pass.”

“That is, if they came this way,” remarked the corporal, with much sagacity.

“They must have come this way,” replied Trevor, “if it was their intention to pass this tier of hills, for there is no other opening. But, as I say, their difficulty must have been the same as our own, and more—for they had a lady with them, and she could not walk like a man.”

“What shall I do?” asked the corporal, who, although it was too dark to distinguish objects, himself included, clearly, did not neglect to make the usual military salute, as he stood before his officer, waiting for orders.

“That's just what I am at a loss about,” replied the ensign, who was apprised by the sound of the “present,” more than by the sight of it, that his one soldier was standing in the accustomed respectful attitude. “But, my good fellow, sit down and rest yourself; you must be tired with this long march. You are used to the bush, I understand; what do you think is best to be done?”

  ― 64 ―

“I cannot pretend to know so well as your Honour,” replied the corporal, speaking deferentially; “but, in my opinion, the best thing to be done would be to light a fire, and try to get something to eat.”

“I am not at all hungry,” said the ensign.

“Of course, if your Honour is not hungry,” replied the corporal, “it would not be proper for me to be so; but a good fire would warm us, and make us feel more comfortable; not that I feel cold, unless your Honour feels so too.”

“The light of the fire may discover us,” observed the ensign.

“Never fear, your Honour; those blackguards will be thinking more of our discovering them, than of their discovering us. Besides, I will mount guard while your Honour sits by the fire; and, who knows?—perhaps the young lady may see the light, and give us a screech, and then we can be down upon 'em in no time.”

“You are a clever fellow, corporal: I could not have a better friend to second me, I see;

  ― 65 ―
for I must allow our attempt is somewhat venturesome.”

“Oh! we shall do very well; only it's awkward to have nothing to eat in the bush;—though, as to drink, there is water; and that's the best drink, after all, when you can't get any better.—And now to look for a bit of punk .….”

“Punk! what's that?”

“Oh! it's a—a sort of big wart, that grows on the trees; and it's the handiest thing in nature to catch fire; better than rag-tinder, any day. All that you want is a little fire to set it a-going.”

“But it strikes me,” observed the ensign, “that if you have the fire already, you don't want the punk, as you call it, to make it.—By-the-by, corporal, you are an Irishman, are you not?”

“Not exactly, your Honour.—I am neither English nor Irish, quite; because I was born, by mistake, on the sea between England and Ireland; so that the land of my birth was the Irish Channel, your Honour. But my father

  ― 66 ―
and mother were Irishmen, and they always said I was as good as English; and that no one, let him be English or Irish, or both, could be so mean as to take advantage of an accident like that. And I didn't stay long in Ireland neither; for, before I could walk, I was marched with my father and mother, and the rest of the regiment, over the sea to America.”

“It must be in the air!” said Trevor, musingly to himself.

“Just so; the air, as your Honour says, is very cold; and it's that makes us chilly.—But you'll have a beautiful fire in a minute,” said the corporal, snapping his flint on a slip of decayed punk, which he had removed with his nail, and placed in the pan of his firelock.

“Stop,” said the ensign, “your piece will go off, and that will give the alarm.”

“Go off! your Honour: how can it go off, when it's not loaded?”

“How is that? I thought your piece was loaded—ready for work.”

“Oh! she is always ready for work, your

  ― 67 ―
Honour; but there's no use dirtying her without occasion. I gave her a scour out at the cave yonder, and made her as bright as a new pin inside. Why! I can load my firelock before one of those bushranging rascals could get his piece up to his shoulder.”

“How are you off for ammunition?” asked the ensign, a little anxiously.

“Box full; I emptied two of the men's, who were hit, into my own, before I came away from the creek.—I hope your Honour is well provided?”

“I have a large horn full of powder,” replied the ensign, “a shotbelt full of small shot, and a bag of balls to fit the fowling-piece which the Major lent to me before we went after the brig.”

“All right!” said the corporal. “Nothing like ammunition! Why we two, back to back, if your Honour would permit me to take that liberty, could stand against all the natives in the island!—And now for some more wood; there's plenty lying about, luckily.—There, sir, don't you think that looks cheery? If we

  ― 68 ―
could only get something to eat, we should do very well. A kangaroo steak would be no bad thing; and I'll be bound there are plenty of them hopping about, if we could only see 'em; and if your Honour would not mind my banging my piece off at a boomah, that would be worth a cartridge!”

“Better not; it is of importance that we should come upon those villains by surprise; and we can do very well for one night without supper. But we are losing time, corporal, we are losing time,” said Trevor fretfully.

“Perhaps your Honour would like to have a sleep? Then your Honour wouldn't be losing time. I remember, when we were in America, our old colonel used always to bid us go to sleep when he had nothing else for us to do; so that at last we got used to taking it anyhow, like our grub, when we could get it; and when we couldn't we went without. A long march and night air, as we used to say, are the best things in the world to make a man sleep sound: not that I would take the liberty to feel tired or sleepy, unless it was your

  ― 69 ―
Honour's pleasure. Our old colonel used to say in America ……”

“There must be no sleep to-night for either of us,” interrupted the ensign abruptly, and starting up, as if stung with some sudden and painful thought. “God knows what atrocity those ruffians may be committing at this very moment. Corporal, are you strong enough to move forward?”

“Always ready to obey orders,” replied the corporal, bringing his firelock to the “present;” “but, if I may be so bold as to ask, which way is it your Honour's pleasure to go; and how shall we find our way in the dark?”

The ensign cast his eyes in the direction of the opening. The light of the fire, which illuminated the spot where he was standing, made the country in the distance look more gloomy and dark; and he could not disguise from himself the truth, that to wander about at night without a certain path to travel on, and a fixed point to go to, was a vain and fruitless labour.

He had no doubt, from the significant pointing

  ― 70 ―
of Helen's glove, that she had become acquainted with the bushranger's intention to make their way to the opening at which he had arrived; but whether Mark Brandon would continue his course through the pass, or turn to the left towards the sea, or skirt the base of the tier of hills to his right, and penetrate into the interior in that direction, was a question which he found it impossible satisfactorily to resolve; and he was fully alive to the folly and uselessness of exhausting themselves in a pursuit on a wrong track.

While he was anxiously pondering these thoughts, on the one side stimulated to action by the horrible thought of Helen being that night at the mercy of the bushrangers, and, on the other, restrained by the consideration that to move without some reasonable certainty of moving in the right direction was a loss of time and a waste of strength, the corporal had stepped to some little distance from the light, in order that his view into the distance for some other watchfire, which might perchance be burning, might not

  ― 71 ―
be confused by an illumination under his eyes.

As he tried to pierce the gloom, he observed a white appearance on the trunk of a tree, resembling the “mark” which explorers in the bush make for the purpose of finding their way back, as well as to assist them to keep in a straight line in their progress forward. Surprised at seeing such a sign in a part of the country which was generally supposed to be unexplored by white people, he advanced to the tree, and then he ascertained that the mark was indeed made by the white man's axe, but that it was not a mere “blaze;” it was the white surface of the tree exposed, from the cutting off, intentionally, of a branch; neither was there a similar “blaze” on the opposite side of the tree, as is always the case when a tree is “marked” as a post of direction.

Guessing at once that it was the work of the parties of whom they were in pursuit, he made his way back without noise to his officer, and in a few words communicated the fact, taking

  ― 72 ―
the opportunity at the same time to hold the pan of his firelock towards the light of the fire, to see that it was free, and clearing the touch-hole with his pricker, lest any atom of punk should have insinuated itself into the orifice.

Trevor immediately accompanied him to the tree, and was at once convinced that the branch had been but recently lopped off, and that it had been done by the bushrangers. He agreed with the corporal, that this seemed to argue that the bushrangers had made up their encampment for the night in their immediate vicinity; but in that case they had surely taken the alarm at the fire, and had no doubt reconnoitred him and the corporal while they were standing near it.

On examining the ground further, however, they perceived the marks of the bough having been cut at both ends, and of having been pruned and fitted for some purpose. On investigating more minutely the part of the tree from which the bough had been cut, they calculated, from the thickness of the base of the excised

  ― 73 ―
part, that it must have been a piece of timber some twelve or fifteen feet long; and measuring the two ends which had been cut off from the top and the bottom of the bough, they found that it had been shortened to a length of four or five feet. But they were at a loss to conjecture the purpose for which such a stake had been fashioned.

However, it seemed quite clear that the axe of the white man had been at work within a few hours; and there was every reason to conclude that it was the bushrangers who had been there before them. But although they made a most diligent search for a considerable distance round the spot, they were for some time unable to discover any further trace of the enemy; and it was not until they had proceeded more than half a mile from the fire that their perseverance was rewarded with success.

On looking forward in the direction of the opening, Trevor fancied he saw something gently agitated by the wind, like a piece of ribbon. It was not far from him; and the moon having now risen high, there was a dim sort of

  ― 74 ―
light spread over the ground, sufficient for distinguishing the outlines of objects.

He hastened to the spot, and found on a forked branch of dead wood, projecting across the only path that was available at that point, a strip of a woman's dress. It seemed to have been torn off by accident, not design; but, whether by accident or design, it served the purpose of pointing out to him the direction of the bushrangers.

Taking into consideration that he had now proceeded some distance through the opening, and regarding the towering hills on either side, which forbade advance to the right or to the left, he now felt assured that the bushrangers had determined to get through the pass without delay; for it was not to be supposed that they would stop in their flight in the only path that was open for their retreat through the tier, and thereby render themselves liable to be discovered by a pursuing enemy. That would be, as they say, “giving away a chance;” an act of folly which Mark Brandon, by all accounts, was the last man in the world to be guilty of.

  ― 75 ―

Encouraged, therefore, by this discovery, which showed that they were on the right scent, the spirits of the corporal were considerably raised, and those of the ensign proportionably excited; and Trevor determined to endeavour to make his way through the opening, as on the other side the rays of the moon would assist them in their progress, and enable them perhaps to discover some other sign of the retreating bushrangers, or of their captive; and the corporal leading the way, as the one most experienced in bush-travelling, and their hopes raised by the good luck of the discovery which they had already made, they pushed on as rapidly as the obscurity, the difficulty of the way, and the ascent which they had still to contend against, would allow.

As Trevor had youth and love to animate him, and the corporal brought to the task the steady power of endurance possessed by an old soldier, neither of them would allow an expression of fretfulness or fatigue to escape him; but they kept on their way resolutely till they had descended the slope on the opposite side, and

  ― 76 ―
reached the level ground, when the corporal halted:—

“May I make so bold as to speak?”

“Speak on,” said the ensign, “what is it?”

“It's this, your Honour. It strikes me that any one going up that hill which we have left behind us would feel a little bit tired.”

“What then?”

“Why then, you see, after being tired at the top of the hill, they wouldn't stop there, especially if they were making a run of it, but they would bowl down hill like a spent cannon-ball, easy-like, till they came to the bottom.”

“Good; and what then?”

“Why, when they came to the bottom, do you see, they would find themselves pretty well knocked up.”

“Are you knocked up then, corporal?”

“That's just as your Honour pleases. But to my thinking, those fellows, as they have the young lady with them, must be knocked up some time, whether she walks or they carry her.….”

“You are right, corporal.”

  ― 77 ―

“And then, as they would want some handy hiding-place to pass the night in, they would naturally look out for some hollow or sheltered spot …”

“You are quite right, corporal, and I was thinking so myself. And now we will do this; suppose yourself to be a bushranger.…”

“Certainly your Honour, if your Honour wishes it,” said the corporal hesitatingly; but I had rather not; it doesn't become.…”

“We will suppose ourselves to be bushrangers—both of us,”—continued the ensign..

“If your Honour is pleased to be one—of course your Honour knows the rules of the service better than I do—it would not be proper for me to object.…”

“Well, then, suppose we were bushrangers, standing here, and looking out for a place of shelter to hide in for the night;—what spot within range should we fix on?”

“Are we to have a gal with us,” asked the corporal.

Trevor winced at this question, which the corporal asked in all innocence, and entirely

  ― 78 ―
with a view to make himself as much like the bushrangers as possible, in order that he might be in a better condition to reply seriatim to the question propounded by his officer.

“Observe that hollow to our right,” said the ensign, “thick with trees. …”

“They look like mimosa trees,” said the corporal.

“Does it not strike you that it is just the spot for the bushrangers to choose?”

“I can't say what the bushrangers would do, because I never have been a bushranger myself,” replied the corporal; “but if I had a party under my command, and wanted a snug place to pass the night in, that's just the corner I should pitch on.”

Trevor looked behind him, up the slope of the hill which he had descended, and then threw his eyes towards the hollow, and endeavoured to divine the route which the bushrangers would choose, if they had it in their minds to make that spot the place of their retreat; and he thought he could trace, by the light of the moon, a clear path which

  ― 79 ―
it was likely they would take under such circumstances.

He pointed it out to the corporal, and directed him to observe the bearings as well as he could by the moonlight. Then placing himself in the stated direction, and desiring the corporal to keep a good look out for the enemy, while he concentrated his attention on the keeping of the “line,” the two advanced steadily and warily into the hollow.

Trevor kept on till he reached a point which he judged was about the centre of the mimosa trees, when he espied an object which resembled neither tree nor shrub, and which he at first supposed was some hut built by the natives. He whispered his suspicion to the corporal. But that experienced person, in a similar whisper, informed the ensign that the natives never formed their break-winds of branches of trees, but always of slips of bark, which they contrived to strip from any trees convenient.

“It must be the bushrangers, then,” said the ensign.

  ― 80 ―

“That's what I think,” returned the corporal, cautiously running down a cartridge.

“Follow me, silently,” said Trevor.

Then, with their weapons in readiness, stepping with the greatest caution, and prepared for immediate conflict, but desirous of surprising their enemies, who they knew were resolute men; and lending their ears to the slightest sound that arose in the stillness of the night, they advanced silently to the bush-hut which had excited their suspicion.

The corporal forgot his fatigue and his appetite, in his hope of a “brush” with the bushrangers; and Trevor felt his heart beat with excitement so as almost to give audible sound, as he thought of Helen and her desperate position in the power of relentless ruffians.

Possessed with these characteristic feelings, they made their way, as they supposed, without giving any alarm, to the back of the hut of boughs, where Trevor listened for a few moments in breathless excitement.

  ― 81 ―

Chapter V. The Natives.

The Major, in the mean time, was not a little surprised at Trevor's continued absence, and at the simultaneous disappearance of the corporal.

He was desirous of consulting with him, as the commander of the military, in respect of their future proceedings; and it was in the most fretful state of suspense, therefore, that he looked out for his return. But when the evening wore away, without any tidings of the young officer or his subaltern, the Major's embarrassment was changed to alarm, and his mind became troubled with all sorts of painful apprehensions.

  ― 82 ―

This new cause of alarm coming on him in addition to his absorbing anxiety for the safety of his daughter Helen, whose probable fate in the hands of remorseless ruffians was too dreadful for the father to contemplate without the most violent agitation of grief and rage, was almost too much for him to bear, and totally upset for the time the usual equanimity which it was his pride and boast under all circumstances to preserve.

The mind of the Major was the more disturbed at Trevor's absence, as it was most important that no time should be lost in adopting measures for the recapture of Helen; and being at a loss to conjecture what had happened to his future son-in-law, or what had become of the corporal, he was unable to decide on his plan of action. In this state of perplexity he remained until the dark had set in; and then it was too late to move about in the bush without knowing the country, and without having any fixed point towards which to direct his steps.

But the habits of the old soldier prompting him not to neglect any means of assisting his

  ― 83 ―
friends, or of discovering his enemies, he despatched scouts in various directions, with orders to proceed warily and to listen for the sound of voices; he directed them also to ascend any convenient eminence, and to look out for the appearance of a fire in the distance.

There was some moonlight, but not enough to be of much service; and the men being unacquainted with the country, and unaccustomed to the bush, were not able to penetrate far into the wilds beyond the cave; and they all returned with the same account, that they could neither see nor hear anything of their absent friends nor of the bushrangers. One of them reported, however, that at a particular spot, which he described as abounding in masses of irregular stones and rocks, he had heard noises that resembled the barking and whining of a dog.

But this information afforded no assistance, as the Major was aware that there existed a sort of native dog on the island, of a species between that of a hyena and a jackall; and neither

  ― 84 ―
Trevor nor the bushrangers, he knew, had a dog with them.

Thus the night passed away very uneasily; for the party at the cave, seeing that Trevor and the corporal did not return, were led to fear that they had fallen into the hands of the bushrangers; and such a circumstance argued that the enemy was in greater force than the party of Mark Brandon only and his two associates. It was possible, therefore, that they themselves might be attacked; and the Major sent a message to his mate on board the brig to keep a sharp look out, while the party on shore kept watch diligently to guard against surprise.

The Major, however, knew too well the value of time to allow the hours of the night to elapse without making arrangements for starting at the earliest dawn of day in pursuit of his captive daughter.

In this expedition he decided on taking with him the two soldiers who formed part of the detachment under the command of the ensign, and who, being aware of the Major's former rank in the army, though now no longer in the service,

  ― 85 ―
readily agreed to obey his orders, and were scarcely less eager to rescue their officer, who, it was to be feared, had been taken by the convicts, than the Major was to save his daughter.

He then summoned his trusty mate to the council; and in the first place he gave him written instructions, placing him in command of the vessel in his absence, “which,” he said, “might be for some days, or longer.”

He enjoined him to be particularly cautious of the approach of strangers, whether in boats or on rafts, and to keep the brig as much as possible in the centre of the bay.”

He was at first inclined to send the brig up the Derwent to Hobart Town, in order to convey Louisa to a place of greater security than the vessel under the circumstances afforded; but, on further consideration, he thought, as he was not acquainted with any family at Hobart Town, that she would be better in the brig under the care of the trusty mate. Besides, it was desirable that the vessel should remain where it was, near at hand, not only as a place of retreat on an emergency, but for the purpose

  ― 86 ―
also of furnishing assistance and supplies, should the occasion demand them.

Neither did the Major neglect, in his arrangements, the captured and wounded convicts, whom Trevor had left under the charge of the constable at the creek beyond the hills; but as it would have been dangerous to leave the brig without the means of communicating with the shore, he was able to send only one of the boats for the removal of the wounded to the town.

This boat he despatched at once, as the night was fair; and he wrote a letter by the conveyance to the authorities at Hobart Town, communicating the events which had taken place, and stating his fears that the ensign and the corporal had by some means been entrapped by Mark Brandon; and that it was his intention to set off at daybreak for the purpose of rescuing his daughter from the bushrangers who had got possession of her, and of gaining intelligence of the ensign, who had disappeared so mysteriously.

Having settled all these matters in a business-like

  ― 87 ―
manner, as became an experienced officer, and having paid personal attention to all the details necessary for their convenient travel in the bush, the Major endeavoured to snatch a few minutes of repose; but, although he closed his eyes, he could not sleep. The image of his daughter in the hands of merciless ruffians was constantly present to his mind—sometimes, to his disturbed fancy, extending her hands to him for help in her extremity; and sometimes, preferring death to dishonour, in the agonies of a death inflicted by her own heroic hand.

The dawn of the morning, therefore, came to him as a friend, to cheer him with its light, and to brace him up with its cooling freshness for the coming fatigues of the day.

He instantly summoned his companions, for in the wilds of the bush subordinate followers soon come to be viewed in that light, as joint-sharers in privations and dangers; and all having been prepared over-night for their departure, and having taken leave of Louisa, as soon as there was sufficient daylight to enable

  ― 88 ―
them to distinguish any track left by the bushrangers, they plunged into the intricacies of the pathless bush.

But the outset of his expedition was by no means propitious; and a less cool and determined character than the Major might have been daunted in encountering the dangers to which it seemed he was to be beset in the very beginning of his pursuit.

The unusual circumstance of the appearance of a vessel in that unfrequented bay had excited the curiosity of a body of natives, who, unseen, and at a distance, near the sea-shore to the westward, watched the manœuvres of the brig and the boats on the water. They were able to understand that there were two parties engaged, but their object was beyond the simple understandings of the natives to comprehend. However, as they had felt the mischievous effects of the interference of the white people with their hunting-grounds in other parts of the island, they were fully alive to the evil effects of the strangers taking possession of this district, and they regarded their proceedings

  ― 89 ―
therefore with the deepest interest.

When they observed that a party from the “big canoe” had landed and established themselves on the shore at the cave by the margin of the bay, they began to fear that it was the intention of the white people to take possession of this part of their country also, and to drive them towards the barren wastes of the western coast, where the kangaroo and the opossum were scarce, and where the sweet gum-trees were seldom to be met with.

It was with much alarm, therefore, that they regarded the overt act of aggression, as manifested by the Major and his sailors on the morning after their landing from the brig, when Mark Brandon, in pursuance of his schemes, had allowed them to go at liberty.

They watched the white people closely; and they observed a small party, consisting of four men and one woman, depart from the cave and make their way into the interior. This they regarded as an exploring expedition for the purpose of surveying the country, and of

  ― 90 ―
examining into the condition of the game, and of the most favourable spots for building houses.

Now it is to be borne in mind, that the natives of Van Diemen's Land had been gradually expelled, by the immigration of the white people, from some of the most fertile spots on the island; that is to say, where the grass land was favourable to the increase of the kangaroo, and the peppermint trees to the opossum. These successive usurpations compelled the tribes of natives who were dispossessed of their hunting-grounds to fall back on the hunting-grounds of other tribes; and the disputes to which these collisions gave rise were the cause of constant fights between the conflicting parties.

The natives, therefore, regarded the white people as most unjust and cruel oppressors; and there was a mischief attendant on the encroachments of the Europeans in this country, greater than usually attends their usurpation of the lands of savage regions.

The native of Van Diemen's Land, the

  ― 91 ―
lowest in the scale of human beings, unlike the rudest of the most ignorant of other savages, had no fixed place of residence: he neither planted, nor sowed, nor built a dwelling.

The country being destitute of indigenous fruits or roots on which man could subsist, his only resource for food were the few wild animals which the island afforded, and the gum of the trees similar to those from which the well-known gum-arabic is produced. To these aliments were added snakes, occasionally locusts, large caterpillars found in the resinous blue-gum-tree, and a few other delicacies of a like nature; which, however, were considered rather in the light of a relish than as a substantial food.

Their principal sustenance, therefore, being wild game, it was necessary for them to have a wide range of country at their command, in order to afford them the means of subsistence; and this led to the division of the country into different districts, in each of which a particular tribe reigned paramount, jealously resisting the intrusion of neighbouring tribes; which was in

  ― 92 ―
fact doing no more than defending the circuit of country from which they derived their means of living, from the invasion of parties who had no right to trespass on them.

It may be said that the necessity of traversing over a large space of country to procure subsistence, and the remarkable absence of anything like a permanent dwelling-house, had a reciprocal action on the habits of the native of Van Diemen's Land. Having no house, he had no home; and he had no tie to bind him to a particular spot; and having the habit of roaming over the country for food, he felt the less necessity for a fixed dwelling-place, and therefore was less solicitous about erecting one.

Thus he had ever remained, so far as his history can be ascertained, the only being in the human form without a roof of some sort wherewith to shelter himself from the inclemencies of the weather.

It is to be observed also, in explanation of the peculiar habits of those aboriginals, that the country produces no wild seed similar to

  ― 93 ―
any grain, such as wheat, barley, or Indian corn: they had no bulbous root, nothing like the yam, or the banana, or the bread-fruit. Neither have they any nutritive fruit in the whole of Australia.

This singular denial of Nature in these countries of the food necessary for the sustenance of man in the shape of grain, fruit, herbs, or vegetables, is of a piece with the other singularities of those primitive regions. There the trees are all evergreens, and shed not their leaves annually, but their bark; almost all that grows there is, in some respects, different from all that grows in the rest of the known globe; and all the animals, and even some of the fishes, possess an organic peculiarity of formation, in the false belly, or pouch, which is different from that of the animals in all other countries.

It is to be observed that the natives of Van Diemen's Land are now to be spoken of in the past tense, for none exist at present in the colony; the remnants of the surviving tribes having been removed to an island, which they

  ― 94 ―
have to themselves, under the care of the government; but these records of their customs and habits refer also, mainly, to all the known existing tribes of the continental island of Australia still existing, but fast disappearing before the exterminating approaches of the white people.

The absence of any grain indigenous to the country, deprived the native of Van Diemen's Land of the opportunity of cultivating the arts of agriculture even in their rudest form; for there was no material on which he could exercise his industry, or which could be the means of developing his ingenuity.

Neither was there any animal which could be domesticated. The kangaroo is the only animal fit for food, so far as has yet been discovered, in all Australia; and this creature is peculiarly unfitted for domestication; and all the arts of the settlers in the various Australian colonies have failed to do more than to tame it in a certain degree; and in that semi-domesticated state it seldom lives long; for such is the fondness of this strange and uncouth

  ― 95 ―
animal for liberty, or such is its necessity, that it soon pines away and dies when deprived of its free range of forest pasture.

Thus the native of Van Diemen's Land was compelled by necessity to be what he was, and what he is in other parts of Australia, a mere wandering savage, without a home, and without those arts, contrivances, and tendency to intellectual development and progress, which the possession and the love of home engender.

It is remarkable also, that the native of Van Diemen's Land had not arrived even at that degree of human progress, which consists of feeling the necessity of some sort of clothing, for decency's sake, or even for the purpose of warmth in the cold season of the year, which in that latitude is sometimes, in the early morning, very severe.

Thus they were mere savages, having only one thought, that of obtaining the day's subsistence, for they never provided for the morrow; and of preserving for their own use—that is, each tribe its own district—the

  ― 96 ―
extent of country which formed their hunting-ground.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that they regarded the white people, from the first, with suspicion and distrust, and that having been already driven from the lands of which they had from time immemorial retained possession, they were exceedingly jealous of the intrusion of strangers on the portions which remained to them; and that they were ready to resist such aggressions by all the means in their power.

It was with such dispositions that the body of natives already referred to in this narrative regarded the landing and the proceedings of the Major and his sailors; and it was from the circumstance of his companions being divided, first into the party of five, under Mark Brandon,—then into the party of two, being that of the ensign and the corporal,—and afterwards into the party of three, consisting of the Major and the two soldiers,—that they conceived the project of cutting them off in detail, and of destroying the enemies whom they supposed

  ― 97 ―
had come to deprive them forcibly of their own country.

And the natives of this particular tribe were the more exasperated and savage in their feelings, as they had been successively driven from district to district, first by the white people, and then by their fellows, until they had been forced to content themselves with a part of the territory abutting on the sea-coast, which from its sterile character was scarcely sufficient, with their utmost diligence, to afford them the means of supporting life.

It was a few prying scouts of this tribe of angry and revengeful natives, the main body consisting of about forty individuals, men, women, and children, who now watched the motions of the Major and his two companions, as they departed from the camp, the rest of his sailors having returned to the brig, which was shortly afterwards anchored in the middle of the bay.

The Major himself, when he had proceeded about two miles from the cave, first caught sight of a moving body, entirely black and

  ― 98 ―
naked, which he immediately guessed to be a native. His curiosity to see these original possessors of the soil of which he had come to take his share by right of immigration, was so great, that he was rather pleased at the circumstance than otherwise, as he was well armed and accompanied by two men used to discipline and to the management of their weapons; and he had no fear for Louisa's safety, who, being on board the brig, and under the care of the vigilant mate, he considered to be in a perfect state of security.

He pointed out the object to his men; but before they could catch sight of it, the native had disappeared.

The Major expressed his desire to endeavour to come to some parley with the savage; but he found his men by no means of the same inclination; and they were full of stories relating to the treacherous and ferocious character of the natives, of whom, soldiers as they were, they seemed to be possessed with a sort of superstitious dread. The Major made light of their representations; but before the end of

  ― 99 ―
his campaign he had abundance of opportunity of arriving at a better knowledge of the aboriginals whose acquaintance he was so anxious to cultivate.

The further description, however, of the Major's dealings with the savages must form the subject of another chapter, as the course of the narrative demands our attention to the adventures of the lover in pursuit of the more savage captors of his mistress.

  ― 100 ―

Chapter VI. A Token.

TREVOR stood for some time in a crouching attitude behind the hut of boughs, his mind tortured by the most horrible fears for the fate of Helen.

He stood; and he listened; and he held his breath; but he could hear no sound.

Presently he protruded his head cautiously round the hut; but he could see nothing.

The clear moonlight shone on a small open space in front of the hut, but an universal silence prevailed; and the moon seemed to shed her unimpassioned beams on a cold and silent solitude.

Astonished at this stillness, he touched the

  ― 101 ―
corporal on the arm, as an intimation to follow him; and retiring backwards among the bushy mimosa trees, he made a circuit to the right, under the concealment of their shadows, till he came in front of the hut.

Still there was no sign of living thing; but he saw between him and the hut a dark mass lying on the ground, which excited his attention.

There were no dead trees encumbering the park-like space where he was standing, and the dark mass looked strange in that place, and incongruous with its general appearance.—He directed the corporal to move forward and examine it.

The corporal made the usual salute, and obeyed with military promptitude; not neglecting to look about him, however, as he advanced from the protective shade of the trees to the open piece of grass.

But he had no sooner reached the appearance which had excited his officer's suspicion, than he stopped suddenly, and cocking his musket, which he directed towards the object,

  ― 102 ―
stood in an attitude prepared to fire or charge.

In this position he continued to advance by short steps nearer and nearer, until he got close to it, when he disengaged his right arm from his firelock and beckoned to the ensign to join him.

His officer was quickly at his side; and then he saw that the mass was a man lying with his face to the ground, and apparently asleep.

The corporal made signs that they should pounce upon the man and bind him, to which Trevor assented by a nod.

Laying his musket, therefore, softly on the grass, the corporal sprung at the supposed sleeping man, and seizing his two arms, wrenched them behind his back, at the same time putting his knee on his body to keep him down; but the man made no resistance, and gave no sign of being aroused from his slumbers, and it struck the corporal that his hands were particularly cold. He turned him over on his back, and then the aspect of that fixed

  ― 103 ―
cold face, and those half-opened eyes, on which the rays of the moon shed their faint light, revealed at once that the man was dead.

“He is dead,” said the corporal, in a low voice.

“Are you sure?” said the ensign, holding his piece prepared, and looking around him with an uneasy glance; for he was well aware, that as they stood exposed in that open space, they were an easy mark for an enemy lurking behind the trees.

“Dead!”—repeated the corporal;—“there is no doubt of that. I have seen death too often to mistake it. Now, who is this? One of the bushrangers?”

“Let us examine the hut,” said Trevor; “it is possible that our enemies are there.”

Saying this, and impressed with an idea that he should either find Helen within it, or some trace of her having occupied it, he proceeded to the front accompanied by the corporal; and while Trevor, in his eagerness, pulled down the leafy branches which obstructed his view,

  ― 104 ―
the corporal stood ready to defend his officer from any sudden attack.

But a very brief survey convinced Trevor that the hut was empty. He nevertheless proceeded to examine it thoroughly; and he presently discovered the other glove of Helen, and the fellow one to that which he already had in his possession.

This token he in a moment comprehended was intended to convey to him that the poor girl, although still in the power of the bushrangers, had not met with any violent treatment at their hands; although the dead body of the man on the grass seemed to signify that there had been a quarrel among them, very likely for the possession of their victim.

But the finding of the glove was on the whole satisfactory, as it assured him of the existence of Helen; and he felt within him a strong conviction that the heroic girl would not be dishonoured and alive.

As he gazed on the token, agitated with these thoughts, he opened the glove, that he might kiss the inanimate substance which had

  ― 105 ―
been in contact with her hand, when he perceived, he thought, something unusual within.

Turning the inside to the light of the moon, he saw written in dark thin red lines the letter “N,” and the word “West.” He fancied that the thin red lines were not quite dry.

The corporal, seeing that his officer was agitated with some strong emotion, asked eagerly:—

“If he had learned any news of the young lady?”

The ensign showing to him the writing on the glove, which was of leather, and of a light colour.

“That's blood!” said the corporal, at once, and without ceremony. “And this I presume, sir, is the other glove belonging to the young lady; and the poor thing has written this with the only ink she could get—with her own blood—to assist us in our search after her. Well—she has a spirit has that girl! I'll be bound she would snap off a firelock like a regular!”

“Her blood!” repeated Trevor, shuddering; “this is her blood! This is her love-token,

  ― 106 ―
addressed to me! My God! what will be the end of this fearful tragedy! Yes, Helen, I understand it! You will shed your own blood rather than yield yourself to the commands of those remorseless villains! If they have no mercy on their own comrades, they will have none on you, poor girl! But, thank God, I am so far on their track; and, at any rate, I have only two to contend against, for their own passions have doubtless slain the third, who lies here food for the eagles and jackalls! It's a pity, though, that the gallows has been robbed of its legitimate prey.”

The corporal, who had not the slightest idea of Miss Horton and his officer having been previously acquainted, was utterly at a loss to imagine the reason for the ensign indulging in this lover-like rhapsody; but being aware of the exposure of their condition, he thought himself warranted, as he was almost three times the age of his officer, to recall his attention to actual circumstances. Performing the usual salute, therefore, with his hand to his cap, he ventured to say:—

  ― 107 ―

“Your Honour is a pretty mark for any rascal wanting to have a shot at you; what shall we do with this dead body?—I suppose your Honour has no objection to my examining him to see what he has got about him?”

“Do so; it may give us some information.”

Having this permission, the corporal, who had not the slightest fastidiousness about the body being dead or alive, immediately proceeded to turn it about and to examine it for effects. Wrapped round the body he found a stout handkerchief, in which was enclosed a quantity of dollars.

The corporal was by no means of a greedy disposition—but dollars were dollars; and some vague ideas of their being legitimate plunder, for he looked on the dead convict in the light of an enemy killed by the chances of war, involuntarily took possession of his mind. He regarded the silver affectionately; weighed some of them in his hand; and, looking up to the ensign with a dubious air, inquired:—

“What shall I do with these?”

  ― 108 ―

“If you like to take the trouble of carrying them, you may keep them for yourself.”

“Trouble! your Honour; no trouble at all: they are as light as a feather,” said the corporal, tying them with alacrity round his own waist. “But how did this rascal come by them, I wonder?”—a scruple of conscience suddenly seizing on the old soldier.

“I have no doubt,” replied the ensign, “that they are part of those stolen from the Major.”

“Then they belong to the Major,” said the corporal with a disappointed air; “and in that case they can't be considered fair plunder; and they are heavy as lead! I don't think they will make me walk lighter in the bush; and so, with your leave, your Honour,” continued the corporal, untying the handkerchief from his waist, with a deep sigh, “I will plant them where somebody may find them again, and see whether this rogue has anything else that might be useful.”

Nothing more was to be found, except about half a pound of tobacco and a short wooden pipe,

  ― 109 ―
which the corporal took possession of without the slightest hesitation.

“This is a something,” he said, when he had concluded his search, and had offered the tobacco and the pipe to the ensign, who desired him to keep them;—but I wish the rascal had carried some prog with him. Shall I bury this chap, or leave him where he is? He would lie more comfortable if he had a sod over him; and though no doubt he was a big rascal, your Honour, he is dead now, and that makes an end of all.”

“You are quite right, my good fellow,” returned the ensign, who was as much pleased with his subaltern's right-feeling, as he was amused occasionally by his absurdities; “but without tools we should have a difficulty in making a grave for him;—besides, we have other things to think of. It is clear to me that the bushrangers have made off from this place; but as it is impossible for them to travel rapidly in the night, I am inclined to think they cannot be many miles distant; and we have the clue to their course; it is to the north-west. We must

  ― 110 ―
make out as well as we can which way that is, and try to come up with them before the morning.”

“Will your Honour look at your watch and see what the time is?”

The ensign found that his watch had stopped, from not having been wound up. He uttered some pettish expressions at his own forgetfulness.

“Sure it's only counting from the time your Honour's watch stopped,” said the corporal, “and that will give us the true time exactly.”

But Trevor, albeit that he admired the extraordinary confusion of ideas which had suggested to his subaltern so novel a mode of ascertaining the hour, had recourse to other means for satisfying his mind on that important point; and, regarding the aspect of the heavens, he judged that the night was near its close. But the corporal formed his opinion from less scientific data.

“The morning can't be far off,” he said, “for the cold is always greatest just before sun-rise, and it nips my fingers just now so that I can

  ― 111 ―
hardly handle my fire-lock; and I fancy I see a difference in the light yonder.”

“Now,” said the ensign, “we have rested ourselves long enough. Let us make another effort, and endeavour to surprise these rascals before the morning breaks.”

“I am ready, your Honour, to go to the end of the island, if it is your Honour's pleasure. I will just throw these loose boughs over the body, with your Honour's leave, so that I may feel that I have done as I would be done by. No knowing whose turn it may be next,” he added, as he cast some branches over the body—“there, my man, that's all we can do for you, and be thankful for that. You have been a bad one in your time, I reckon: however, it's all over now; so better luck to you in another world.”

With this valedictory address, the corporal oined his officer, who was waiting for him at a few paces' distance with a little impatience. The two then proceeded onwards at a brisk pace.

But Trevor soon found that to make progress

  ― 112 ―
in the bush at night, without any prominent point for direction, was a more difficult task than he had anticipated. He had made his way through the opening pretty well, but then he had the two sides of the hills to keep him right. Now that he was on level ground, amidst trees which prevented his view, and obliged to turn aside frequently to avoid the obstructions in the way, he found that to make progress in the right direction under such circumstances was an impossible task.

Besides, after about an hour's toil, the moon's light failed him, and they were left in almost complete darkness. Fearing, therefore, that he might be wandering from the very point which he desired to pursue, and that their attempt in the dark was only so much labour lost, he came to a halt, and, wearied out with his night's march, threw himself on the grass.

The corporal gladly followed his example; and for some time neither spoke, Trevor being occupied with the most anxious fears for the safety of Helen, and the corporal being engaged in an abstruse mental problem as

  ― 113 ―
to how the victualling department was to be carried on.

This interesting question, which always occupies so much of a soldier's thoughts on active service, was the more pressing on the present occasion, as the corporal, from long habits of observation, and from certain admo nitions of the inward man, became aware that it was a practical one the solution of which could by no means be indefinitely postponed. And indeed Trevor, lover and enthusiast as he was, began to feel those symptoms of incipient craving for food which reminded him that, although mental resolution may do much in supporting fatigue, it is necessary to support the corporeal faculties by something more solid than such ethereal aliment.

It was with heartfelt sympathy, therefore, that he responded to an involuntary ejaculation which, in a moment of uncontrollable emotion at the idea of a beefsteak, escaped from the corporal, who had fallen into a dozing reverie:—

“By the powers, wouldn't I give one of those

  ― 114 ―
dollars for a mouthful? We must look out for some game.—A cockatoo or a parrot would be better than nothing,” continued the corporal, becoming more excited.

“This sort of travelling,” said the ensign, “is no easy matter. I wish we had a compass with us; we shall get puzzled in the bush, I fear, without some guide to direct us.”

“Your Honour never was out on a bush campaign before?”

“Never: I have always had an inclination to explore the country, but I fear we are not well provided.”

“Ah! it's all very well to explore a country where there are plenty of farm-houses, and villages with inns and public-houses handy; but exploring in this country, your Honour, is quite a different thing. It's all a waste, and there is nothing to be got but what you bring down with powder and shot; and that's a sad waste of ammunition when you have natives and savages to provide against. But will your Honour allow me to ask if it is your intention to seek for these bushrangers all

  ― 115 ―
over the island? It's hard to find a man in the bush when he is determined to hide himself!”

“I will not stop till I have rescued the young lady,” replied Trevor with determination. “But we must hope that we shall come upon their track as soon as we have daylight to help us; and four persons cannot move about even in the bush without leaving some marks of their steps behind them.”

“If we only had one of the natives to help us!” said the corporal. “It's wonderful to see how those black fellows can track in the bush, where a white man can see nothing!”

“We must hope that we shall have no occasion for that,” replied the ensign. “I am strongly of opinion that these rascals are not far off. And see—the daylight is coming. Do you observe the faint glow in the sky yonder? That is the east; now we have a guide to the north-west. It was lucky that we stopped where we did. We were going quite out of our way.—Now to find the track.”

“If your Honour would allow me to give

  ― 116 ―
my advice,” said the corporal, “it would be to find our way back to the place that we started from; I mean where the dead man lies by the hut of boughs. There we shall find the track, if there is any track to be found; and when we are once on it, we can keep it. But if we go towards the north-west from the spot where we are, we may travel on all our lives and never come up with the enemy; for you see, sir, we may be going to the north-west, and the enemy too, and yet we may never hit on them, because we are marching side by side all the time.”

“In parallel lines,” said the ensign: “I understand.”

“The best line,” continued the corporal, “is to be in the same line as they are, and then we may stand a chance to come up to them, which we might never do by the lines that your Honour speaks of.”

The ensign thought that his subaltern's advice was good; and as the light of the morning was now increased sufficiently to enable them to look about them, he lost no

  ― 117 ―
time in regaining the spot from which they had wandered.

The corporal was not a little delighted, on casting his eyes around him, to observe on the ground on which the unfortunate Jeremiah had been temporarily located the night before, a something which his foraging eye quickly detected to be, as he emphatically pronounced it, “prog:” and although it was in the form of two humble ship's biscuits, a supply of which formed part of Jerry's load, it was a prize under the circumstances of which both he and the ensign eagerly availed themselves.

To add to their present good fortune, the corporal in a few minutes was able to make out clearly the point from which the bush-rangers had started when they left the place; which was in a different direction from that adopted by Trevor.

Animated by the feeling of certainty of direction, which has such an astonishing effect on the spirits in the bush,—while the contrary fear produces an oppression of the mind, and a confusion of ideas, against which it is most

  ― 118 ―
difficult for the strongest mind to struggle;—and refreshed by the modicum of food which they had found so opportunely, the corporal led the way, keeping his eye steadily fixed on the track, which was here and there visible; while the ensign followed at a short distance in his rear, with his attention directed to the general aspect of the country, and eagerly listening for the slightest sound which might betray the vicinity of the enemy.

In this way they proceeded rapidly for some miles without meeting with anything in their course, until they reached the borders of a wide and sterile-looking plain, entirely bare of trees, which stretched out to the base of a high hill beyond.

They looked to the right and to the left, but they could see nothing.

The track, however, evidently pointed to the opposite hill; and the corporal and his officer, girding up their loins, prepared to traverse the dreary expanse, well aware that in their passage they would form conspicuous moving objects to the view of any one on the eminence beyond;

  ― 119 ―
and that, if the bushrangers were not too far advanced to catch sight of them, they would become aware of pursuers being on their track.

“It can't be helped,” said the corporal: “that cunning rascal, Mark Brandon, seems to have chosen this way on purpose that he might have the opportunity of seeing what was behind him. I'll be bound he is on the hill yonder, watching us all the time. If we were standing on that height we should be able to see ourselves on this bare place as plain as can be!”

“Let us make haste then,” said Trevor; “that hill cannot be more than a mile off. We may come up with him yet.”

“Distances deceive in the bush,” quietly replied the corporal. “But I will not fail, your Honour, depend on it, now or any time. But that Mark Brandon is not easily to be outwitted. We must be cautious not to lose the track. I must ask your Honour to keep at a little distance behind; for nothing distracts more than two going abreast. If your Honour will try to

  ― 120 ―
keep a straight line to the hill yonder, while I look for maks, we shall have the better chance between us of keeping the track, so as not to lose time; and time is everything now.”

“Stop,” exclaimed the ensign; “stand still: there they are! but we were going wrong. Look there—to the right. Now, by George! we have them in sight, and it's a fair run for it.”

“Where?” said the corporal, looking round, and handling his fire-lock.

“There!—to the right. Run your eyes along the ground in the direction of my fowling-piece.”

“I see!” said the corporal; “but .….”

“How many of them do you see? I fancy I can see only two.”

“There are only two,” said the corporal, with his eyes attentively fixed on the object;—“but ….. I thought so—they are moving now.”

“Which way?”

“It matters little to us,” replied the corporal,

  ― 121 ―
grounding his fire-lock, “which way they are moving; but I should like to get within shot; for it is said that their fat is the best thing in the world to heal wounds.”

“Their fat! whose fat?”

“Emu fat, your Honour. Those are two emus that you see yonder. They deceive one at first, in the distance; but when they begin to move, their long legs tell what they are. They say a plume of emu's feathers is worth something in England. I don't know whether they are good eating; though I have heard, I think, that their flesh is something like beef. At any rate, broiled emu would be better than nothing just now.”

“We must not think of eating or drinking till we have come up with the bushrangers. But if you could near one of them, and could knock him down with the butt end of your musket without losing any time, I see no objection to that.”

“Get near them! your Honour: why, they are the shyest birds in nature, and it's a hard matter to run them down on horseback. And

  ― 122 ―
they always take to the mountains when they are chased. It's of no use thinking of them; so now for another march across this plain. There's one good thing about it—there's no dead timber, and no big loose stones lying about, that worry one so in many places. We must keep a sharp look-out, your Honour, when we near the foot of the hill, for it will be easy for those blackguards, if they are there, to pick us off as we are coming up. The sooner we are over this plain the better.”

“Go on, then,” said Trevor, “and put your best leg foremost, corporal, for something tells me that before long we shall come up with the rascals.”

“If we do come up with them,” said the corporal, handling his musket viciously, “it shall be a bad day for them or for me! They shan't say that I have had this march for nothing.”

After this professional exclamation the corporal kept silence, being busily engaged in following the track; and the two wayfarers continued their march over the plain at a pace

  ― 123 ―
which showed that, notwithstanding their previous fatigue and scanty refreshment, neither their courage nor their strength flagged in their spirited enterprise.

  ― 124 ―

Chapter VII. The Precipice.

THE corporal guessed right when he conjectured that Mark Brandon was on the look out on the high hill in the distance; but he was far from divining the ulterior object of the wily bushranger in taking a route which he had chosen for the purpose of better baffling his pursuers.

When he had committed that decisive act, the night before, and with his fowling-piece presented at his remaining associate, with his finger on the trigger of the second barrel, had offered him, in a tone determined but conciliatory, “peace or war,” the fellow-ruffian, taken by surprise, and without the possibility of effectual

  ― 125 ―
resistance, could do nothing but submit. Mark, however, modulated the tones of his voice so as to convey his own desire for peace; and as it was in his power, by a slight motion of his finger, to render it a matter of indifference which way he was answered, his comrade could not but consider that he was in some degree beholden to him for the life which it was in Brandon's power to take without parley on the instant.

Besides, the coarse and brutal Grough, who had nothing but his animal strength to rely on, was by no means inclined to quarrel with one on whose wit and contrivance he depended for escape from the colony. It was with undisguised satisfaction, therefore, that he received this earnest of his comrade's especial good will towards him in particular; and he expressed his acquiescence in Brandon's little arrangement in respect to the defunct Swindell with characteristic disregard as to there being one more or less in the world, so long as the latter part of the hypothesis did not regard himself:—

“D——n the fool!” he said, “it was no more

  ― 126 ―
than he deserved; what was the use of quarrelling, when they ought to hang together, and stand by one another, and as to the gal, he was ready, he said, if Mark would only say the word, to cut her windpipe, and have done with her, for she was only an encumbrance in the bush, and that would be the best way of settling the matter; for he had always remarked, he emphatically averred, that wherever there was a woman there was sure to be mischief, and especially where there was only one among three, which was always certain to give rise to words, even among the best friends; and so that the shortest way was to get rid of her;” and saying this, he made a step or two towards the hut, looking at Brandon, and with the same sort of air as a man would have about to kill a sheep.

But Mark, with a confidential wink, took him aside, and in a whisper explained to him that it was important that Helen's life should be spared, in order that she might be made use of as a hostage to be played off in their operations against the Major.

  ― 127 ―

He said that fathers sometimes had the most extraordinary affection for their daughters; and that no doubt, in the present case, the Major would offer them a large sum to restore the girl; but that his intention was to insist on his placing a boat at their disposal, well provided and stored, in which they could make their escape, as the condition for the restoration of his daughter.

To this project, which struck him as a remarkably clever one, and altogether worthy of the reputation of Mark, as being up to more dodges than any government-man in the colony, Grough at once assented, with enthusiastic expressions of approbation. “But he thought,” he said, and this opinion he expressed aloud, in order that the party concerned might have the full comfort of its suggestion, “that there was no use at all in keeping ‘that fat little man,’ meaning Jeremiah, any longer, for he only ate their grub, and tired them to look after; and that a stick with his knife—for it was a pity to waste powder and shot in the bush—would put an end to that trouble, in a way,” as he expressed

  ― 128 ―
it, “comfortable to the gentleman and to themselves.”

To this Mark said he had no objection, and that his comrade might gratify himself in that trifling matter according to his own fancy; but he recommended him to postpone the pleasure until the gentleman had done his work, and had carried the stores with which he was laden to the place of their concealment.

The unhappy Jeremiah, who, although bound and gagged, was not deaf, and who had the satisfaction of overhearing the amiable conversation of the two bushrangers concerning himself, expressed his personal disinclination to the arrangement by deep deprecatory groans, and by various convulsive rollings and tumblings on the grass, expressive of the emotions to which he was unable to give vent in speech, and which the facetious Grough, softened by his conference with Brandon, good-humouredly checked by a little knock on Jerry's head with the butt-end of his musket, bidding him “be quiet, and thank his stars that he had gentlemen to deal

  ― 129 ―
with, and not to frighten the kangaroos with his noises.

But Helen's mind was strangely disturbed with the recent catastrophe, and by the words uttered by Mark Brandon at the close of the altercation with the murdered Swindell, which more strongly than ever confirmed her in the opinion that she possessed a power over the bushranger, which she might be able to use to the advantage of herself and her helpless companion in distress.

It seemed clear to her that Brandon, in order to save her from the violence of the ruffian whom he had slain, had not scrupled to add murder to his other crimes in her defence, and for her sake! And this desperate act she considered could not but argue that Brandon's—what should she call it?—“desire to stand favourably in her opinion” had led him to sacrifice one of his comrades; thereby reducing his strength, and lessening his chances of success against the attack of his pursuers, who she had no doubt were on their track. It was also breaking faith with his comrades, rendering

  ― 130 ―
himself, as she hoped, suspected by the other, and liable to suffer by the same treachery which he had practised.

Still it was clearly in her defence that he had exposed himself to these risks—as she flattered herself; and she beguiled herself with the hope that, having this clue to the bushranger's motives, and this hold, as she thought, on his actions, she should be able to turn him to her own purposes, and persuade him to set her free. She also set her wits to work to engage him to set free Mr. Silliman, with whose aid she trusted she could not only offer more effectual resistance to violence, if violence should be offered, but perhaps even be enabled to overpower the two bushrangers at some unguarded moment, and so escape!

Such were the rapid thoughts which passed through her mind, as Mark approached her, after his brief conference with his unskilled but sturdy comrade.

Before Mark addressed her, he waited to hear her speak, in order that he might judge, either by the words that fell from her, or the tone in

  ― 131 ―
which they were uttered, of the mind and temper of the speaker. But in this expectation he was disappointed. Helen waited for him to begin.

He was obliged, therefore, to say something; and he commenced with what lawyers call a “fishing” observation:

“This is a rough deed for a lady to witness, Miss Horton.”

Helen, having in her mind her own plans, made answer with as much composure as she could assume:—

“It is a dreadful deed!—But at least I have to thank you for preventing the insult which that wretch contemplated.”

“All right,” said Brandon to himself. Then, as if penetrated with the extent of the risk which he had run for her sake, he continued:

“It was a dreadful deed, Miss Horton, and a desperate one; but there was no other way of saving you.—Had I been thinking of myself more than others,” he continued, “I should not have given my enemies the opportunity of adding that which might be construed into the

  ― 132 ―
crime of murder to the other excesses of which necessity has made me guilty. Might I hope that Miss Horton would bear favourable testimony to my motives, should this act be at any time brought against me?”

“It is of little use to talk to me of my testimony, while I am a prisoner in your power, with my hands bound thus,” said Helen, making an impatient movement with her arms.

“I am now able to fulfil my promise, and to release them,” said Mark, cutting the cords with his knife; “and I sincerely wish, Miss Horton, it was in my power to liberate you entirely, as easily as I now cut these painful bonds—not less painful for me to witness than for you to bear.”

“But what prevents you?” said Helen, hope glowing in her heart, and already contemplating flight; “you would be sure of the gratitude of my father and of myself; and if any intercession with the Government, on his part, could avail in obtaining your pardon—I am sure it would be strenuously exercised in return for your protection of me.”

  ― 133 ―

She used the word “protection” designedly, with the hope that it would stir up and aliment the desire which she felt the bushranger had, to be well thought of by her. But she was overmatched in her feminine cunning on this point by the masculine duplicity of her antagonist.

It was Brandon's object to carry her far into the interior, to some spot where he should be secure from pursuit; and under such circumstances, he had little doubt that he should be able to master her to his wishes: but he was well aware that, without her own consent, it would be impossible to force her much further forward, as the labour and the delay of carrying her on a litter through the bush would allow time for any pursuers on his track to come up with them.

It was necessary therefore that she should be deluded into accompanying them; and with this view he thought he could not do better than deceive her by the same tale with which he had cajoled the brute Grough, which indeed was a plausible one enough, and adapted to

  ― 134 ―
the enticing of her to accompany him in his progress onwards without opposition. For he could not disguise from himself, that with a girl of Helen's turn of mind, high spirited, as she was, any suspicion of his own ulterior designs might tempt her to resist on the spot, and to sacrifice her own life, rather than allow herself to be removed to a greater distance from the chance of succour.

He told her the same tale, therefore, which he had invented for his undiscerning comrade, not without some remote and vague idea of carrying it at some future time into effect, after he had accomplished his other purposes. And this plan seemed the more sincere to Helen, as it squared with the known desire of Brandon to escape from the island; and in the innocence of her mind she was far from having any idea of the extent of duplicity and villainy of which such a man was capable.

But with a view of testing his sincerity still further, and with the design to furnish help for her own escape, as well as that of her companion in misfortune, she proposed to the

  ― 135 ―
bushranger to unbind Mr. Silliman's hands, and to release him from the gag in his mouth.

To this also Brandon assented, as he had already determined to do so in order to enable Jerry to travel with his load the faster; although he took care to pretend that it was entirely in deference to Miss Horton's wishes that he consented to make the concession.

“It is necessary, now,” said Mark, “that we should seek for some place of securer retreat than this, from which we can treat with safety with your father: and if, as you assure me, there is no doubt of his complying with my conditions, your captivity will not be long. And, indeed, I begin to be ashamed that it has taken place at all: but if Miss Horton will condescend to reflect on the condition of my wretched bondage in this country, innocent as I am of all crime, except such as I have committed with her own knowledge,—if it can be considered a crime for a man unjustly condemned to endeavour to recover his liberty,—she will allow some excuse, perhaps, for the

  ― 136 ―
offence which I have involuntarily committed against herself, and of which necessity alone has been the unhappy cause.”

“What will happen,” asked Helen, “if I determine to remain here?”

“My comrade Grough, I fear, and indeed I have no doubt, would force you to go forward, by means which you could not resist—unless,” he said, “you would have me add another death to this night's account.”

Helen shuddered at this suggestion of further slaughter: besides, she trusted that she should have more opportunities of escape in motion than in resting where she was, and especially with a friend devoted to her interests and liberty in the person of Mr. Silliman; and seeing that it would be vain to desist, and that her best course was to feign an indifference as to her being taken further which she did not feel, she signified her consent, asking only for a few minutes' longer repose, in order the better to recruit her strength by travel.

This interval she employed in tracing with her blood, by means of a pin, those words on

  ― 137 ―
the glove which was fortunately discovered by Trevor.

The previous talk of the two men who had borne her for some miles on the way before they reached the scene of these transactions, had made her acquainted with the intention of the bushranger to retreat north-west into the interior, a part of the country with which the settlers were entirely unacquainted. She would not divest her mind of the conviction that her friends, when they discovered her abduction, would take immediate measures to follow to her rescue; and it was this hope that enabled her to support herself, and to preserve the equilibrium of her mind, under circumstances so trying and fearful to a young and delicate girl, on whom harm or insult had never before fallen.

In the mean time Brandon talked with Grough, taking care to instil into him the vital importance of preventing the girl's escape, and of the necessity of taking her along with them unharmed, and, as he endeavoured to make the insensible brute understand, without insult, in

  ― 138 ―
order to insure the compliance of her father with the conditions of her release; at the same time impressing on him the necessity of his so comporting himself, without proceeding to actual violence, as to strike a terror into the girl, in order to urge her forward as fast as possible, and to intimidate her from attempting to escape.

With all these instructions the obedient Grough expressed his utmost willingness to comply, being not only congenial with his own tastes and habits, but necessary for the success of the ultimate design of Mark, which Grough felicitated himself on seeing through with an acuteness which almost equalled Mark's own prolific invention in plots and stratagems.

In good humour, therefore, with himself and the state of their affairs, he gave Helen to understand that the musket which he carried was loaded with two balls, which it was his intention, he said, instantly to discharge through her head if she did not immediately “stir her stumps” and give no trouble.

Mark Brandon, in the mean time, having

  ― 139 ―
released Jeremiah from his fetters, and having intimated to him, though in more polite terms, his own determination to the same effect, that humiliated gentleman, somewhat reanimated by the release of his hands and mouth, reloaded himself with his burdens with a most pains-taking alacrity, and stood ready, as submissive as the beast of burden to which Grough compared him.

As they were about to start, Grough hailed Brandon:

“I say, Mark, where are the dollars which that fool Swindell had with him? Why, we are almost as big fools as he to go away without 'em.”

“No, no!” said Mark, who, as he used to boast, never “gave away a chance.” “If we take his dollars, it will be said that we killed him to rob him. Now I call this young lady and this worthy gentleman to witness that he met with his death by his own fault, in attempting a most atrocious violence; and, in short, that he was killed in self-defence.”

“Well,” said Grough, “just as you like.

  ― 140 ―
No matter how he was killed, to my mind: he is dead, sure enough. But I must do you the justice to say, Mark, that a cleaner shot I never saw! Why he died, as one may see, all in a hurry, without having time to say, good-by to any one! More fool he for tempting it!”

With this valedictory epigraph on his deceased companion, the ruffian gave a hint with the end of his musket to his prisoner to move on; and the bushranger gently propelling Jerry with a similar intimation, the party resumed their flight into the bush.

Their progress, at night, was unavoidably slow; and Brandon was careful not to hurry Helen too fast, as he wished to reserve her strength until the daylight when it would be more available, and when he should be able by a survey of the country to choose the course that seemed best for penetrating into that part of the interior. He did not care much for the delay; as he knew very well that the advance of a pursuing enemy, if there was any party on their footsteps, which he had little fear of,

  ― 141 ―
must inevitably be slower than his own, inasmuch as they would be obliged to walk more leisurely, in order to preserve the track, should they chance to find it, and to pause also occasionally to recover it when lost.

After he had proceeded a few miles, therefore, he halted, and waited for the dawn of day, to continue their flight. In this also he had the advantage of pursuers; for the faint light which is sufficient to allow a party to run away, is not enough for those who follow; as it is necessary for the latter to be able to see, not only the general face of the country, but the particular marks of the passage of those whom they are pursuing.

But Mark Brandon was not at all uneasy on that point. He was well acquainted with the difficulty of tracking travellers in the bush, in dry weather especially; and he had no suspicion of the clue which the ready-witted Helen had the ingenuity to devise for directing the course of her friends in pursuit.

In this the bushranger, with all his subtilty, failed to be a match for a feeble girl, who,

  ― 142 ―
relying on the promptitude of her father and her lover, was able to bear her present fate with a firmness which deceived the bushranger, and which he ascribed to a sort of indifference on her part, which sometimes pleased and sometimes puzzled him; but which was, in fact, owing to her strong reliance on her own courage and her own resources, and the speedy succour which she expected from those who she was sure would sacrifice their lives if necessary to save her.

As soon, therefore, as the first dawn of day spread sufficient light over the ground to enable them to pick their steps, the bushranger announced that it was necessary that they should proceed; and Helen, trusting that some lucky chance, now that her hands were free, would enable her to effect her escape, and desirous of blinding her persecutors by the semblance of a ready aquiescence in their commands, at once obeyed.

As to poor Jeremiah, he had nothing to do but to comply at once with the hint of the brutal Grough, who, poking him up with his

  ― 143 ―
musket, signified to him that it was time for him to rise from the grass and take up his load again. As to any resistance on his part, the horrible sight of the ruffian's loaded musket, and the vividness of Jerry's fears, which made him fancy that he could actually see the cartridge with the ball at the top of it ready to be shot out at the bottom of the barrel, put any such attempt entirely out of the question!

But as he stole a doleful glance at Helen, whom Brandon sedulously kept at some distance from him, she gave him a look which seemed to imply that she was not without hope in the midst of their difficulties.

In what that hope consisted he did not know; but there was a something in Helen's eye which indicated resolution and a sort of triumph, and which so elated him in his misery, that, in the exuberance of his sudden joy, he gave a sort of caper, much to the astonishment of Grough, who declared, that as the man was so fresh, he could carry a little more, and immediately added to Jerry's

  ― 144 ―
load his own knapsack, which, from the fear of overloading their package-horse, he had hitherto carried on his own shoulders. Thus admonished to conceal in future any outward exhibition of his feelings, the luckless Jerry trudged dolorously forward, preceded by Grough and Helen, and followed by Brandon, who from time to time incited him to move on faster by well-timed hints of his comrade's unscrupulous ferocity, and now and then throwing a little encouragement into his words, by protesting that the term of Jerry's labours was fast approaching, and that then he would have nothing to do but to enjoy himself and study the botany of the country.

In this order they made their way through a dense forest, from which they emerged into an open plain.

Had Brandon been aware that pursuers were so close behind him, he would not have risked discovery by venturing over a space on which he would be sure to be seen by any one in his rear. But depending on having so taken his course as to have baffled his enemies, he went

  ― 145 ―
boldly on, making, as his point, for a high hill on the other side of the plain, from the summit of which he calculated he should be able to obtain an extensive view of the country beyond.

In their passage over the flat and monotonous waste, Helen watched for an opportunity to make some mark, or to leave some trace of their road, to those who might be in pursuit; but in vain; she saw that she was so closely followed by Grough, and she felt that Brandon had his eye so constantly upon her, that she could contrive no expedient without betraying her purpose, of indicating her route.

But on arriving at the base of the hill, which was thinly covered with stunted-looking trees, known by the name of the she-oak, she pretended to stumble with fatigue, and catching hold of a fragile branch, she broke it off in her fall. Mark Brandon was quickly at her side, with many expressions of concern at her accident, which she ascribed to her excessive fatigue, which made her feel faint.

Mark immediately promised that they should rest as soon as they had proceeded a short distance

  ― 146 ―
up the ascent, and resuming his place near Jerry, left her to the superintendence of his fellow, adhering in this respect to the system which he had laid down for himself, never to appear near Helen in a position which implied his personal coercion of her, and which therefore could not fail to be offensive, and to disgust her with his presence.

Thus compelled and urged by the unceremonious promptings of the unpitiable Grough, she continued her weary course, holding the stick which she had snapped from the tree carelessly in her hand, and contriving to break off small pieces as she went on, which she dropped on the ground.

In this way they slowly climbed the hill, until at last they gained the summit, when, at the command of Brandon, her conductor stopped; and, to the infinite satisfaction of Jerry, the bushranger announced that it was his pleasure that they should rest there for some time, in order that Miss Horton might recover from her fatigue.

In pursuance of this intention, Mark immediately

  ― 147 ―
proceeded to cut down, with an axe which he carried, some of the boughs of the few trees which were scattered here and there near the top of the hill, and with which he rapidly and skilfully constructed a temporary hut, in which he invited Helen to repose herself. He next made a selection from the provisions carried by Jerry, which he offered for her refreshment, and which Helen, who was intent on escape, willingly accepted.

Brandon then began to examine carefully the appearance of the surrounding country, which his elevated position enabled him to do with advantage; and he noted especially all conspicuous objects towards the north-west, observing by the compass, with which he had taken care to provide himself from the Major's cabin in the brig, their relative points and bearings, as it was in that direction that he intended to bend his steps; not only because it was the interior of the island, but because it was a part of the country untravelled, and unknown to any but a few of the prisoners of the crown, who imparted the secret of their information to the select only

  ― 148 ―
among their friends, for the purpose of availing themselves of their knowledge of its localities on occasions such as the present.

The aspect of the country which the bushranger surveyed was, indeed, romantic in the extreme. Diversified by low undulating hills and plains, and interspersed with clumps of trees, the scene resembled an extensive park; while the height, from which he looked down on it, concealed its roughness and general character of solitude and desolation.

But it was not the beauties of nature, or the romance of landscape, which it was the present business of Brandon to study. His only desire was to ascertain what tiers of hills lay beyond him, and the openings which appeared in them for the passage of his party to the districts on their other side. Having ascertained this point to his satisfaction, he next turned his attention to the examination of the difficulties and obstacles which intervened.

He observed, stretching to the north, and losing itself in a circuitous course to the south-by-west, a narrow glistening line, which he was

  ― 149 ―
aware indicated water, and which he judged must be a rather considerable river. This river lay between him and the distant tier of hills, through an opening in which it was his object to penetrate; but as he could not see how to avoid it, he was obliged to trust to his own ingenuity to cross it safely, taking care only to choose as his line of route, a way as far to the northward as possible, without interfering too much with his direct course; as he knew that the nearer he went to the river's source, the narrower would be the stream, and the more easy to be passed over; while towards the coast, to the south, it would naturally become broader and broader, till it emptied itself into the sea.

Having completed his survey to his satisfaction, and formed the plan of his future route distinctly in his mind, he threw himself on the ground.

The wearied Jeremiah, exhausted with the weight of his afflictions, and of the heavy load of stores and provisions which he had borne so far, had sunk into a profound sleep, in which he had been quickly followed by the other bushranger;

  ― 150 ―
but Brandon, notwithstanding that fatigue and the necessity of constant watchfulness weighed heavily on him, did not dare to close his eyes.

But finding, after some little time, that the desire of sleep was beginning to overcome his senses, he suddenly and with an effort arose, and commenced pacing up and down at some distance, but within view of Helen's temporary habitation; sometimes taking a view of the country in the distance, and sometimes scanning the plain over which he had lately passed. Although he had no fear of being tracked and followed, not having any suspicion of Helen's significant hints for the information of her friends, he did not fail to keep a look-out in his rear, in pursuance of his favourite maxim.

On a sudden, as he threw his glance over the bare plain behind him, he saw, or thought he saw, some moving objects; but whether they were emus, or whether they were natives, he could not at that distance distinguish; but he kept his eyes fixed on them steadily.

Helen also, who was on the alert, had already

  ― 151 ―
observed through the boughs of her hut two specks moving on the plain beneath the hill, and which her heart at once told her were friends coming to her rescue. In the eagerness of her joy, she ran out of her hut to the edge of the hill, which in that direction was nearly perpendicular, and with clasped hands and strained eyes gazed on the living atoms on the earth's surface, which by almost inperceptible degrees continued to advance.

At that moment the bushranger caught the expression of wild joy which was visible in her looks; and there was a something in her eye which conveyed to him the idea that there was some secret intelligence, though by what means he was utterly at a loss to imagine, between his captive and the living creatures which he now made out to be human beings, who were following in his track.

Seizing Helen by the arm with his left hand, and pointing to the suspicious objects with his fowling-piece, which he held extended in his right, he asked in a tone of strong but restrained passion:—

  ― 152 ―

“Miss Horton, what do you know of those two men whom I see on our track? Have you betrayed me? Speak, girl! As you value your life, do you know them?”

As he pronounced these words, he shook Helen with convulsive passion, as he held her in his powerful grasp tottering on the edge of the precipice.

  ― 153 ―

Chapter VIII. The Ambush.

THE loud tones of Mark Brandon's voice, as, in a paroxysm of excitement, he shook Helen over the edge of the precipice, quickly roused his comrade and the other prisoner from their slumbers.

Grough was the first to wake; and seeing that Brandon, as he immediately conjectured, was about to cast the girl headlong from the height—why or wherefore he cared not—he cocked his musket, and, as a matter of business, presented it at Jerry's head, as that astonished individual raised it in a state of dreamy confusion from a little hillock of turf on which it had been blissfully reposing.

Happy had been that sleep! for the wearied

  ― 154 ―
Jeremiah had lain unconscious of bushrangers, or of guns and bullets; and the Fairy Queen of Dreams, as if to recompense him for the sufferings of his wakeful state, had transported him in fancy to the peaceful precincts of Ironmonger Lane, where, it seemed to him, he sat at a luxurious City Feast, amidst the pomp and circumstances of glorious meat and drink, and in all the dignity of his own right as a Liveryman of London!

Joyous was that mock festivity! Rich and rare were the costly dishes, where real turtle competed with fat venison! Bright and sparkling was that ideal champagne! and loud were the shouts of the imaginary hurrahs of three-times-three when the health of the Master was drunk with all the enthusiasm which wine inspires on such magnificent occasions!

But this ecstatic state lasted not long.—A change came o'er the spirit of his dream! Suddenly, it seemed to the sleeping Jerry that the person of the respected and corpulent Master who presided over the board dilated to supernatural proportions! his features assumed the

  ― 155 ―
likeness of the dreadful Bushranger! The roll of paper containing the list of toasts, which he held in his hand, became changed to a prodigious blunderbuss! an awful voice rang in Jerry's ears, which sounded terribly like that which never failed to fill him with fearful emotions; and, roused by the terrible vision, he awoke!

It was indeed the voice of the Bushranger! and as he opened his eyes he beheld the eternal musket of the inexorable Grough pointed at his head; and he became aware that the sound which in his sleep seemed to be the tinkling of the “cheerful glass” was that “click,” so disagreeable to the threatened party, which was caused by the cocking of his enemy's abominable gun! Unhappy was that waking! In the agony of his fear Jeremiah gave vent to a dismal groan!

Grough cast his eyes askance at his chief to see if he made any sign to signify that it was his pleasure that Jeremiah's waking should be changed for an eternal sleep, or, as he mentally expressed it, “should have his brains blown out,” when Helen, catching sight of this little

  ― 156 ―
by-play, pointed it out to Brandon, and, desirous of saving the life of her fellow-prisoner, asked, in a tone of scornful reproach:—

“Would you murder a man in cold blood?”

“Hold off!” said Brandon; “no need to take life without a cause: you can put a ball through his head at any time, if he kicks. Hold off, mate, I say; but be ready, for there's danger abroad.”

The obedient Grough, albeit that he was reluctant to be baulked a second time, acquiesced; but he bestowed a look on his prisoner somewhat like that which a byena casts on the prey which he is baffled at pouncing upon by the bars of his cage, and which made poor Jerry ache to the very marrow of his bones.

“What's in the wind, Mark?”

“There is mischief brooding: but do you attend to your prisoner, and make him pack up ready for a start.” Then turning to Helen, who, trembling more with hope than fear, kept her eyes fixed on the specks moving on the plain below, he said, in a low deep voice:—

  ― 157 ―

“Miss Horton, you know something of yonder men. Nay,—do not deny it; I see it in your eye:—but I will tell you that there is more danger to yourself in any attempt at rescue than in your remaining in my power unknown and undiscovered. They must be better and cleverer men than I have yet seen who could find Mark Brandon in the bush when he would be concealed, or who could take him when they found him.”

Helen did not answer, but continued to observe with breathless anxiety the objects whom she felt sure were following in her track: and as they advanced nearer and nearer it soon became evident that they were not natives but white men, and that they carried in their hands what seemed to be fowling-pieces or muskets. The Bushranger no sooner became convinced of this fact than he called out to Grough to be ready to march.

“What's the use of running away?” responded Grough, who had now become aware of the sort of danger announced by Brandon, as the forms of the two men were visible from the

  ― 158 ―
spot where he stood sentinel over Jerry; “What's the use of running away from it? There are only two, and we can easily manage them; and then we can go on comfortably.”

“No, no,” replied Mark; “this place is too much exposed. But I see a post on the other side of yonder stream, with trees growing down to the water's edge, where we can deal with them as we please. Now, Miss Horton, you must move on.”

“Where is it,” said Helen, endeavouring to gain time, “that you wish to take me?”

“No matter where,” replied Brandon,—“you must move on.”

“But this is against our bargain,” replied Helen, still trying to gain time. “You promised that you would release me if my father would engage to perform the part you mentioned. And now you have an opportunity to make your terms known to those who are coming.”

“You know them, then?” said Brandon, clenching his teeth, and grasping his weapon with a threatening gesture. “But let them

  ― 159 ―
be who they may, I will communicate with them when and how I please. Miss Horton, I should be sorry to use violence towards you; but this is not a position for me to negotiate in.—You must move on.”

“Suppose,” said Helen, “it should be my father—and—and another friend?—Let me go to them; and I undertake on my word of honour that he shall do what you require of him. You may trust to my word of honour.”

“Excuse me, Miss Horton, but your father and your other friend might not have the same idea of honour as yourself. In the bush it is better to trust to our loaded muskets than to empty honour. But time goes, and we must be moving. Miss Horton,” he added, seizing her arm, the hold of which he had relinquished during this brief colloquy, “I say again, you must go on.”

“And what if I will not go on?” said Helen.

“Then,” said Brandon, “I fear that my companion there will make short work of it.

  ― 160 ―
Life, Miss Horton, is dear; and no notions of honour will induce him to prefer yours to his own. His musket is loaded; his finger is on the trigger; and his will is ready.”

This he said so that Grough could hear: and that obliging person, taking the hint more quickly than his dull nature promised, immediately advanced, with Jerry, whom he ordered to kneel down on the grass, threatening him with instant death if he dared to move or speak; and then deliberately taking aim at Helen, he had the unusual politeness to inquire, as it was a lady:—

“Now, ma'am, are you ready?”

Helen must have been something more than mortal, if she could have withstood unmoved this terrible threat, as she saw the ferocious eye of the miscreant fixed on her with a sort of malicious glee.—She turned deadly pale, her knees bent under her, and she would have sunk down on the ground, had not Brandon supported her with his powerful arm; at the same time that he made a sign to his companion to turn aside his musket, which Grough

  ― 161 ―
did with much unconcern: but as it seemed to that industrious person that it was a pity that it should not have some object to point at, he directed it in the interim towards Jerry, who, although by this time he ought to have been used to it, had not yet arrived at that state of happy disregard possessed by the skinned eels in the fable, and evinced his emotions by a most piteous supplication!

The time occupied in this little manœuvre, however, was sufficient to enable Helen to recover her presence of mind. All her efforts were directed to gain time:—

“You forget,” she said, “that the report of your musket would be the surest way to make known to those who are in pursuit of you who and where you are.”

“By ——,” said Grough, recovering his musket, and uncocking it, “the wench is right! Mark, what shall we do?”

Mark could not help admiring the quick wit of the girl, which had such an instantaneous effect even on the dull intellects of his comrade; but he perceived that she was studying pretexts

  ― 162 ―
to gain time, so as to allow her friends to come up, and he felt that already too much time had been wasted.

In a peremptory tone, therefore, he again desired her to proceed, saying that all resistance was useless, and that, if she wished to preserve her life, she must move on instantly to the other side of the hill:—

“Miss Horton,” he said, “it is a question of life or death with us. You see, my comrade is a desperate man: in a moment more he will discharge the contents of that gun through your heart; and no effort of mine could prevent him.”

Helen cast her eyes down on the plain: the figures were coming nearer and nearer.

“He durst not!” she said, advancing to the edge of the precipice, and pointing to the moving objects below; “the smoke and the report would at once betray you.”

“Then die another death!” cried Mark, in a transport of rage, and again seizing Helen with a powerful grasp: “Look down, foolish girl, into that depth below your feet! Do you

  ― 163 ―
see the rocks on which you would be dashed to pieces if I were to let go my hold? This hand that now clutches you once relaxed, and in a few moments more your body would be a shapeless mass, for the native dogs to feast on! Once more, I say, beware how you tempt me!”

“Don't let the girl hang over the precipice that way,” cried out Grough, moved for once with an odd sort of compassionate feeling:—“let her go, and have done with her. No need to torment her, Mark! Let her go—she will have time enough to say her prayers before she gets to the bottom.”

“Stop—you brute—you beast—you murdering villain!” screamed out Jerry; “you'll be hanged, you will—and doubly hanged; and you deserve it for this brutality.”

“Heyday!” said Grough, as he knocked down Jerry, who had essayed to rise from his knees, with the butt-end of his musket; “here's a precious jaw! We must have the gag. What! trying to get up again! Then you must have another tap!”

  ― 164 ―

“Come on with us, Miss,” continued Jerry, struggling on the ground with his enemy; “better come on with us than be murdered. While there's life, Miss, there's hope; but when one is dead ….”

What further aphorism the excited Mr. Silliman might have added, it is impossible to say, for at this point the exasperated Mr. Grough dealt him such a blow on the face with his fist, that it put an end for the time to the further expression of his opinions; and Mark at the same time withdrawing Helen from her perilous situation, his expostulations as to that point were rendered unnecessary.

“Bind his hands behind his back,” said Mark.

Grough performed that operation with great skill and dexterity.

“Now,” resumed Mark, with an inclination of his head towards Helen—“hers.”

Grough did this with equal readiness.

Helen said nothing.

“Will you come with us, or shall Grough drag you?” said Mark to Helen.

  ― 165 ―

Helen remained silent.

“Take her in hand!” he said to Grough.

“Now, my pretty dear,” said that most uninviting person, “I think you might give me a kiss for all the trouble I have taken about you.”

Helen shuddered: her hands were bound behind her back; she could do nothing. Grough put his rough beard close to her face.

“I will walk,” she said.

“There's a beauty: and you can give me the kiss when we stop for the night. Now, Mark, it's all right; the lady says she will be agreeable. A little faster, if you please, ma'am. It will be all down-hill presently. Which is our point, Mark? Had you not better go first?”

“Keep that big tree in the bottom straight before you and in a line with the hill beyond.”

“Ay, ay. Now, my lady, stir your stumps.”

Helen stopped.

“If you will release my hands,” she said, turning round to Mark Brandon, “I promise

  ― 166 ―
you I will make no more resistance; but if not, you may kill me if you will: but from this spot I will not move.”

Mark hesitated for a moment; and then, without saying a word, untied the cord which bound her, and put it in his pocket.

Helen immediately moved forward at a quick pace; but as she walked she contrived to tear strips from her dress, which she let fall on the ground. But she was not aware that the bushranger, whose quick eye caughtsight of the manœuvre, rapidly but carefully picked them up, as he followed, with not less diligence than that with which she distributed them.

“Hah, hah!” he said to himself, “this has been the dodge, has it? But an old bushranger, my beauty, knows a trick worth two of that. I don't know, though,” he muttered to himself, “whether it would not be best. Her friends are on our track,—that's certain; and this is the way it has been done. There are only two of them: they can travel faster than we can, encumbered as we are with a woman.

  ― 167 ―
Yes, better get rid of them; and this clue, which she is taking such pains to give to her friends, shall be the lure to their destruction. And so there let them lie. And now for a good place of concealment, where we may return dodge for dodge.”

With these thoughts he urged his comrade to mend his pace; to which Helen, confident in the success of her stratagem, made no objection, and they quickly cleared the space between the base of the hill from which they had descended and a shallow stream which was now before them.

“What will she do now?” said Mark. “Ah! she has something in her shoe! and she thinks I do not see her stick that little twig into the ground on the margin of the water! That Grough is the dullest ass I ever saw! but the brute has strength, and a sort of courage. Capital! See how she picks her way daintily over the water, stepping from stone to stone; and now she has got to the other side, something wrong with the shoe again! Another twig stuck in! I thought so! Very cleverly

  ― 168 ―
done, my pretty one! But you don't think that you are setting springes for the decoyed ducks that are coming after you! Keep on, mate,” he said, aloud; “straight ahead! Get into the scrub, and then we will have a ‘corrobbery,’ as the natives say.”

They now advanced among the thick bushes which fringed the banks of the rapid and shallow stream, and beyond which was a thick wood. The mass of bushes was so dense that it was impossible to see far beyond them, and the covert seemed well adapted for the concealment which was desirable. But they had not proceeded many yards, when the bushranger called a halt.

“Lie down there,” he said to Jeremiah, in a stern voice; “and look to it that you neither move nor speak, or you shall have your brains knocked out without further warning. And do you, Miss Horton, be pleased to sit down there,” pointing to a space between himself and his comrade. “Mate,” he said, “keep your eye on them both, and leave the rest to me.”

  ― 169 ―

Saying this, he examined the primings of his double-barrel fowling-piece, passed his ramrod down both barrels to make sure their charges had not become displaced or loosened in the journey, a precaution which was imitated by his companion; then he cleared away a small part of the leafy boughs of the bush behind which they were all concealed, and arranged a convenient fork of the tree on which to rest his barrels, which he tried, and was satisfied with. Having completed these preparations, and whispered apart with his companion, who nodded his head and slapped his thigh with exultation at the cleverness of Mark's “dodge,” he returned to his post, and waited for some time quietly on the ground, employed, as it seemed, in calculating the time. After musing for a while, he abruptly approached Miss Horton, and with much politeness requested a small portion of her dress:—

“As a pattern,” he said. “You see, Miss Horton,” he added, with a sneer, “it is already torn, so that a small abstraction more cannot materially damage its appearance.”

  ― 170 ―

Helen, colouring up, made no resistance, as he gently tore off a small portion, while Grough and Jerry looked on with extreme surprise. Their surprise was greater, while Helen's heart sank within her, when they saw him, through the interstices of the bushes, tearing the piece of stuff into small shreds, which he carefully strewed on the ground in a direct line from the part of the stream's bank which they had passed over, towards the bush where Brandon had tried his fowling-piece on the forked branch.

It then became evident to Helen that her own device had been penetrated, and its object discovered, and that it now was being made use of against her to the imminent danger of the friends who were hastening to her rescue.

The wondering Grough, when he was made acquainted with the object of this manœuvre by Brandon, after having given vent to his admiration by sundry whispered oaths and exclamations, concluded by declaring, with an awful asseveration, “that it was one of the out-and-outerest dodges that ever man contrived, and

  ― 171 ―
that no one but Mark or the devil himself could have had the cunning to invent it!

“Why,” he added, in Mark's ear, “it's for all the world like strewing grain for a lot of sparrows to peck at in a farm-yard, so that you have 'em all in a line, and can nick a score of 'em with one shot.”

This gleeful exclamation was unheard by Helen, but she saw too clearly by the preparations that it was the bushranger's design to entice her friends on to the other side of the covert behind which he was ensconced, and then taking deliberate and certain aim to shoot them both before they had any suspicion of the presence of an enemy. Her colour went and came, and her heart beat quick as she strove to summon up her energies and to rally her thoughts so as to hit on some scheme for defeating this deliberate plot of cowardly and diabolical assassination.

  ― 172 ―

Chapter IX. The Feet on the Sand.

WHILE the bushranger was making these polite preparations for the reception of Helen's friends, Trevor and the corporal continued their course over the lengthened plain, whose wide expanse seemed to the eager desires of the lover almost interminable.

Even the tough and seasoned corporal felt the wearisomeness of the way, the more especially as he missed his accustomed rations, without which the bravest and the sturdiest are apt to find their spirits and their courage diminish at the time of trial. It was with more than military promptitude, therefore, that he came to a halt at the intimation of his officer.

  ― 173 ―

“Are you sure you are on the track?” asked Trevor, making use of the inquiry as an excuse for a short rest.

“Quite sure, your Honour. If you will stoop down a bit, you will see that the blades of grass bend forward slightly, which must have been caused by the tread of feet not long since. And look at this,” continued the coporal, kneeling down and pointing to a tiny ant-hill; “some weight has been set upon this, that's certain! and, to my mind, here's the round mark of the heel of a man's boot as plain as can be! We are all right, your Honour, so far as the track goes; depend upon that.”

“How many of them are there, do you think?” asked Trevor.

“Impossible to say, sir; but, to my thinking, there can't be many. I should say, not more than three or four at most. If we could come on a bare place now, where there is no grass, we should be able to see the prints of their feet, and then we could tell better; but the young lady, I guess, would not leave much mark behind her: they generally tread light, do those

  ― 174 ―
young gals. I remember when I was in the States” …

“Step on,” said Trevor, quickly, the image which the corporal had unconsciously conjured up exciting him with fresh ardour in the pursuit; “step on, corporal; if we are tired, those who are before us must be tired also; and it's hard if two men like us cannot run them down.”

The corporal made no reply to this more than the usual salute, by bringing the edge of his right hand to the peak of his military cap; and then, throwing his musket over his arm, he marched on with renewed alacrity.

They arrived at last at the base of the hill. The retreating party having separated a little at this point, their track had been less concentrated, and the corporal found himself at fault. He looked about diligently; but whether it was that the fatigue of his long march, and the unremitted exercise of his eyes had wearied his sight, or that the marks were too faint to be perceived, the veteran was puzzled:—

“If your Honour will stay there,” he said, “so as to mark the point which we struck, I

  ― 175 ―
will make half circles up the hill till I hit on the track again.”

“Break off a twig from that low tree before you,” said Trevor, “and stick it in the ground on the spot, and then we shall be both at liberty.”

The corporal did as he was ordered, and advanced towards the tree, which was small and low, and of a gnarled and knotted appearance; but as he was about to break off a small branch he stopped, and beckoned to the ensign:—

“Look at that, your Honour; there has been some one here before us. A branch has been snapped off here not long ago. See, it is a dead branch, easily broken.”

Trevor examined it attentively; and, first, he directed the corporal to stick into the ground which he had left, another branch, which he broke off, in order that they might be able to recognise the precise spot at which they had arrived at the base of the hill. He then continued his investigations.

It struck him that it was not likely that a retreating party would willingly encounter the

  ― 176 ―
laborious task of climbing that hill, which, he observed, rose precipitately to a great height at a short distance up the ascent. “It was easier to go round the hill than to go over it,” he remarked to the corporal, in which opinion that worthy sub acquiesced, observing, however, “that there was never any calculating on what Mark Brandon would do; and that perhaps he had gone over the hill for the very reason that it would appear to his pursuers that it was unlikely for him to do so.”

While he was speaking the ensign had proceeded a few paces up the ascent, which at the beginning was gentle, and was throwing his eyes over the grass to discover some indication of footsteps, when he thought he saw a little piece of stick lying on the ground in a place at too great a distance from any tree to allow of its having been dropped from the parent trunk.

He picked it up, and compared it with the broken branch of the tree which he had quitted, and found that it corresponded in colour and sort exactly; moreover, it was of the same

  ― 177 ―
dead wood which the remaining portion of the branch exhibited.

Convinced that this branch had been broken off with some design, he returned to the spot where he had found it, and, pursuing his search, he soon lighted on another bit of the same wood; and presently he found another and another, leading on the left in a winding direction towards the top of the hill. Having thus again found the track of the fugitives, he sat down for a brief space, in order that he might resolve on the most judicious course of action.

He considered, that as the bushranger had thought fit to ascend a steep hill, which there was no necessity for his delaying his flight by surmounting, it must have been done with some design. What was that design? It was possible that he and the corporal had been observed all the time, and that the bushranger with his comrade, one or more, was waiting for him in ambush, in an advantageous position on the top. In that case it was advisable to proceed with great caution; at the

  ― 178 ―
same time that the utmost diligence was necessary, in order to overtake them and prevent violence to Helen.

He mentioned his thoughts to the corporal and asked him his opinion; upon which that experienced subaltern rested his two hands on the muzzle of his firelock, from habit, however, leaving the orifice of the barrel clear, and reposing his chin upon his hands, he set himself to work to resolve the enigma of the wily bushranger's intentions.

“Sir,” said the corporal, after a short pause,—and after having taken into account the particular shape and bulk of the sugar-loaf hill, on the inclined base of which his officer was resting; “I think our best plan will be to go round the foot of the hill and see if the enemy has made his way over down the other side. If he has not, we shall know that we have him safe somewhere on the top of it, and then we can take him in the rear, where he will not expect us; and if he has passed over it, why then, all we have to do is to follow on. But it seems to me, your Honour, that if

  ― 179 ―
we go blindly after them up this hill, we shall expose ourselves to their fire, without having a chance of returning it, as they can lie down on their bellies, as the sharpshooters did in the States, and pick us off without our being able to see 'em, or to help ourselves. Depend upon it, that if Mark has been up this hill, as it seems he has, he has had a reason for it, and that reason is to take us at a disadvantage, and our business is to outwit him, by coming upon him before he thinks of it. But if your Honour likes to try the hill, of course I'm ready;—it's all the same to me; only I can't help thinking that we ought to see clear before us, or else in firing at the enemy we might hit the poor young lady, and that would be a pity, for by all accounts she is an uncommon pretty one, and a spirited one too, and just the girl for a soldier.”

The latter part of the corporal's oration had the strongest effect upon Trevor, who rightly judged that it was especially important to guard against such a disaster as that pointed out by the corporal; and the consideration was of the

  ― 180 ―
greater value, as it served to temper his courage and his ardour with more coolness and circumspection than he would have otherwise displayed.

He agreed, therefore, to the corporal's proposal, and they began to skirt round the base of the hill, on the level space beneath, taking care to inspect the ground with the utmost minuteness, lest their crafty antagonist should have adopted the plan of doubling on his own steps, in order to throw his pursuers off the scent.

In this way they continued their survey round the base of the hill to the left, until they came to a space bare of grass, from which they were able to note the character of the country beyond, which they perceived consisted of dense scrub, backed by thick and dark forests. As they were walking side by side, they both perceived at the same time the fresh traces of human feet on the sandy soil. They stopped simultaneously.

“We have come on them at last,” said Trevor, “and it was lucky that we adopted

  ― 181 ―
this plan instead of going over the hill direct, for that way we should have missed them;—but they must have taken off their shoes, corporal; what is the meaning of this?”

The corporal said nothing, but continued to survey the traces of feet with much earnestness and with some anxiety.

“By George!” exclaimed Trevor suddenly, “can it be? I say, corporal, these marks must be the traces of natives' feet!”

“That's sure enough,” replied the corporal gravely, and continuing his scrutiny.

“Do you think they have passed this way recently?”

“I think they have,” replied the corporal.

“And many of them?”

“Here are the marks of many feet; and they generally go about in mobs of thirty or forty.”

“You don't seem to like the looks of them, corporal,” said Trevor gaily.

“I don't indeed,” replied the corporal seriously. “It's no joke to meet with the natives in the bush.”

  ― 182 ―

“Why, man, suppose there are thirty or forty of them, they are not all fighting men—half of them must be women.”

“No doubt, as your Honour says, half of the men must be women; but the women can throw spears as well as the men, and they are not a bit less savage; for when a woman is savage at all, she is always worse than a man, and she spits and claws like a tiger-cat;—I suppose it's in their natures to be so — I remember there was Biddy M'Scratchem of our regiment in the States……”

“But as to these natives, corporal; you have been stationed here several years, and I am quite new to the place. What sort of weapons have they besides these spears that you speak of. They have no bows and arrows?”

“No, your Honour; and it's well for the white people that they haven't got them; and it shows what wretched ignorant savages they must be, not to have invented them. For there is plenty of tough wood like the English yew, fit for bows, and there's the sinews of the

  ― 183 ―
kangaroo ready to their hand to make strings of, and the same wood that they make their spears of would do for arrows.”

“But they can't do much execution with their spears—how long are they?”

“About ten feet long, or a little more. You can't say they make them, for they grow all about, and they have only to cut them down and point them, and then they are fit for use. The native women char the points in the fire, till they are so hard that they will go through a deal board; and they can throw them fifty or sixty yards, pretty sure. But it's the numbers which they throw that worry you. I remember seeing the body of a stock-keeper that the natives had killed, and it was pierced all over with little holes from their spears like a sieve, it was so riddled. Then they have their waddies.”

“Those are a sort of clubs?”

“They are not very big; but they are made of some hard sort of wood, and when they come to close quarters a lot of them will rattle them on your head till they beat in your skull and smash

  ― 184 ―
it to a jelly. It's the numbers you see, sir,—that is the difficulty; they rush upon a single man like a swarm of hornets, and he has no chance against such odds, unless he is lucky enough to get with his back to a tree and has plenty of ammunition; and then they weary him out at last. And, besides that, they have got the womera, which they can hurl to a great distance, and although it doesn't kill, it cripples, and that's almost as bad in the bush.”

“I have heard of the womera,” said the Ensign; “and it is remarked as a most curious accident that the wild and ignorant natives of these countries have hit on the exact mathematical curve which is most effective for their purpose in the formation of that singular weapon.”

“Indeed, sir! it certainly is a very curious weapon, as you say, and a most curious sharp clip they can give with it, as a man in our company can testify, for he had his ankle-bone broken by the brutes; but the Sydney natives are far more clever in the use of the spear and the womera than those in Van Diemen's Land.

  ― 185 ―
The Sydney blacks throw the spear with another short stick, with which they are able to cast it with greater force than by the hand; but I should not like to have half a dozen spears sticking in my body from the Van Diemen natives, throw them as they may; not that I mind being hit, but they are nasty outlandish things to be stuck into one, and the wounds of 'em do no credit to a man. But I hope we shall not fall in with them after all; they are ugly things to run against, are those natives, any way.”

“You have no love for the natives, that's clear,” said the ensign.

“Nor they for the white people. They always kill us whenever they can catch us alone, or without arms, and I don't see why we should be sacrificed to such murdering devils. They don't deserve quarter.”

“You forget,” said Trevor, “that they have some cause to complain of us, inasmuch as we have dispossessed them of their hunting-grounds, and driven them into the interior away from their usual haunts.”

  ― 186 ―

“There may be something in that,” replied the corporal; “but I don't see, your Honour, what right any set of men have, let them be black or white, to prevent others from cultivating the lands which they don't use themselves. It's like the dog in the manger to my mind.”

“But they can't understand that,” said Trevor. “They see strangers arrive from the sea, and, either by fraud or force, get possession of their country, and they resist it;—besides, hunting-grounds to them are as valuable as pastures and corn-fields to us.”

“I cannot pretend to argue with your Honour,” replied the corporal; “but it seems to me that neither savages nor white people have any right to take to themselves for their hunting or their pleasures the land which others of God's creatures require for the raising of their food. Why, your Honour, it takes hundreds of acres of land in an uncultivated state, to support a few wild animals, which are not much worth the having when you catch them; whereas tons on tons weight of potatoes and corn

  ― 187 ―
might be grown on the same land if it was ploughed and sown as the white people know how to do it. No disrespect to your Honour, but I never can believe that it is fair for savages to rule over lands which they don't make use of, and which in their power are only wasted and lost.”

“What you say may be all very true, corporal, but the difficulty is to persuade the natives of the justice of it.”

“Why, your Honour, you are never going to compare the natives of this country to us white people! Savage and brutal wretches as they are! black, naked cannibals! who kill every white man they can catch hold of. Why, your Honour, they can hardly be called humans; they are more like the animals that eat the grass or devour one another.”

“The more reason for civilising and educating them,” replied Trevor; “but this is a vexatious question.”

“It's very vexatious to be attacked and eat up by them,” said the corporal, “or to have your body drilled full of holes with their spears,

  ― 188 ―
or your skull smashed in by their waddies; but it is not of ourselves that I am thinking; it's the poor young lady that I am fearing about; between the bushrangers and the natives she will stand a poor chance!”

“True,” said Trevor, whom that idea at once rendered not less serious than the corporal at their sudden discovery of the propinquity of the natives. “Corporal,” he continued in a grave tone, “we must prepare ourselves for a struggle perhaps; but, at all events, we must lose no time in trying to discover the tracks of the bushranger; that is, supposing he has descended the hill.”

“I can't help thinking,” said the corporal, “that things are very curious! Here are the natives close to us, perhaps, and watching for an opportunity to attack us, and we are looking out to attack the bushrangers, so that we have two parties to guard against; and the bushranger is expecting to be attacked by us, perhaps, and by the natives as well, so that he has two parties to fight with too; and it looks as if we should presently be all fighting ourselves

  ― 189 ―
and one another. By the powers! there will be a pretty confusion if it comes to that! We shall be obliged to fire two ways at once, and stand back and front at the same time! I wish the poor young lady was well out of it, that's all I can say:—bushrangers or natives, I don't know which is the worst for her!”

“Do you happen to know,” asked Trevor, “from your own experience, if the natives of this country are cannibals?”

“I don't know for certain; all I know is, that they never eat me; but some of the old hands do say that the natives eat human flesh sometimes; but whether it is some part of their religion, or that they do it out of relish, nobody seems to know. However if they have any inclination for it, it is not to be supposed that they would resist the temptation of a nice white tender young lady, as Miss Helen Horton is by all accounts; and, for my part, I don't know which would be worst for the poor lady—to be eaten up by the natives, or to be ….”

“Let us move on,” said Trevor, stamping

  ― 190 ―
his foot on the ground; “and whether we have to encounter bushrangers, or natives, or devils themselves, we must stand by each other, and fight to the last gasp.”

“I'm your man for that,” said the corporal; “I've been getting rusty for this many a day for want of a scrimmage; and, dead or alive, I'll stand by your Honour to my last cartridge; and when that's gone, we'll try the cold steel on them:—but those black wretches will never let you get up to them; they haven't the sense to wait for the bayonet, like Christians.”

“I think they show their sense by avoiding it; but hush! stop! What is that on the ground? By Heaven! it is part of a woman's dress!”

“Here is more of it,” said the corporal, proceeding in the direction of the stream.

“Halt there,” said the ensign; “let us examine the country a little; the business seems to be getting serious.”

Trevor found that they had arrived at a spot opposite the point which they had left, as

  ― 191 ―
he judged by the bearings, on the other side of the hill; and they were now in a line with the route of the bushranger, which led to a shallow bubbling stream at a little distance. Confident that they were now on the track, they made their way without delay to the margin of the water, Trevor and the corporal having picked up several additional pieces of a woman's dress, which the former did not doubt had formed part of that worn by Helen.

On their arrival at the stream, Trevor remarked the twig which Helen had stuck into the ground as a guide to her pursuers, and casting his eyes to the opposite bank, he observed a similar little stick set up on the other side. Besides these evident hints, the marks of men's boots were visible on the moist ground close by the water, and among the marks Trevor distinguished, with a thrill of hope and fear, the little foot of Helen!

He marvelled at the want of caution displayed by so acute and wary a character as Mark Brandon, in leaving behind him such

  ― 192 ―
tell-tale evidences of his route; but he attributed it to the confidence which he guessed the bushranger had of being safe from discovery; and he congratulated himself that this imprudent reliance on the part of Brandon would be one of the means of ensuring his capture, and of effecting the deliverance of Helen.

When he had crossed to the other side of the stream, the first thing that met his eye was a shred of the same dress which he had already observed, and at short intervals, other scraps, in a line pointing to some thick bushes, beyond which was a dense wood of innumerable trunks of tall trees.

He pointed out these circumstances to the corporal, remarking that they had the good fortune to be able, under the cover of the scrub, to advance without detection. Side by side, therefore, and with their arms in readiness, they approached the covert, Trevor full of hope and confidence, and the corporal possessed with the cool determination of an old soldier.

  ― 193 ―

Little did either of them think that they were offering themselves up an easy prey to the human tiger that was crouching in his lair!

  ― 194 ―

Chapter X. A Native Village.

IT is necessary now to return to the adventures of the Major, who had set out in search of his lost daughter on the morning after the departure of Trevor and the corporal from the cave.

He was well equipped for the bush with all the stores and appliances which the two soldiers who accompanied him could conveniently carry: but he had forgotten the bush-traveller's companion, a “compass;” neither had his worthy mate, little thinking that so important a part of a ship's furniture could be wanted on shore, thought of reminding him to provide himself with that indispensable article. As the Major

  ― 195 ―
as well as the two soldiers were totally inexperienced in the bush, it will presently be seen to what grave inconveniences the want of that most useful instrument exposed him.

But in the mean time the party strode on confidently, till they espied the native of whom mention has been already made. The apparition of the black man caused the Major to make a halt for a few minutes, to consider of the best course to be pursued under the circumstances.

Bearing in mind that it was the object of the bushranger to escape from the island, which he could only effect by prevailing on some vessel to take him on board, or by seizing on some boat fit for his purpose, the Major had concluded in his own mind that Brandon would keep near the sea; and it was in that direction, therefore, that he had bent his steps; keeping a good look-out, however, and bidding his soldiers to do the same, for any tracks or signs which might indicate the course of the fugitives.

The appearance of the native was an unexpected

  ― 196 ―
incident, but it did not deter him from persevering in his original intention of making his way towards the sea coast.

In coming to this resolution, the Major was little aware of the difficulties which would beset his path, as the sea coast on that part of the island, exposed as it is to the whole force of the Southern Ocean, is rocky and precipitous, and travelling is rendered so difficult as to be almost impossible near the shore. But there was another difficulty to contend against of a more formidable nature; and that was, the hostile tribe of natives, who had fixed on that district as their present locality, seeking it as a place of refuge from the attacks of the tribes by which they had been driven from their own hunting-grounds in the interior.

Of the presence of this tribe the Major soon became sensible, for he had not proceeded far before he came upon a native encampment, which was formed in a little grove of Mimosa trees, and near a spring of water flowing from the crevice of a rock. But although

  ― 197 ―
the fires were still burning, the camp was deserted.

This refusal of the natives to communicate with strangers was a circumstance, as the Major was aware, from the descriptions which he had read of them, that indicated danger. He proceeded therefore to examine these, the most rude of all temporary dwelling-places, with much curiosity, not unmixed with anxiety. The two soldiers who accompanied him did not conceal their apprehension, which they stated respectfully, of an immediate attack, and they kept vigilant watch therefore while their commander pursued his investigations.

The wretched make-shifts which the Major viewed were mere receptacles for the creatures to lie down under, for they could not be called huts, inasmuch as the largest of them was not more than four feet high. He counted nine of them nearly in a row, and almost close together. They were formed of bark in huge slices, with their smooth sides inwards, and fronting the fires which were burning about nine or ten feet from them. The slices of bark had been peeled

  ― 198 ―
in lengths of four to six feet, and from a foot to eighteen inches wide, and were set on their edges and rudely fastened together. It was under the shelter of these breakwinds that the natives crouched themselves at night, and sometimes in the day, without any covering to their bodies, or any shelter from the rain, more than the scanty bark walls afforded. There was no appearance of food or of weapons about the place; a circumstance which led him to conclude that the possessors of this native village, if village it could be called, had retired leisurely, and had taken away with them all their goods and chattels.

He discovered some heads of fishes, however, and some bones of animals, which were mostly small, and which he conjectured had belonged to the opossums and bandicoots, on which the natives are glad to feed when they cannot kill a kangaroo; and indeed of the opossum they are very fond, as they admire the high flavour of that strongly seasoned animal, which, as it feeds principally on the leaves of the peppermint tree, is always ready stuffed for table, although

  ― 199 ―
neither its taste nor its odour is by any means pleasing to strangers.

But the Major was not permitted to continue his scientific observations unmolested. As he shook one of the planks of bark to ascertain its solidity and texture, a spear from a neighbouring thicket, about sixty yards distant, warned him that he was intruding on the domestic arrangements of the proprietors. The soldiers immediately pointed their guns in the direction of the aggression, and made ready to fire. But the Major restrained them mildly but firmly:—

“Stop,” he said, “we do not come to kill the poor natives of this country with our superior weapons. We are intruders here; and it is not surprising that we have excited their suspicions. Let us endeavour to leave this place without shedding blood, it is our duty to endeavour to conciliate the native inhabitants of the country by kind treatment, and by showing that we are come to do them good, and not harm. We will retire.”

Saying this, he hastily sought for some article about his person which he might leave behind

  ― 200 ―
him as a sign of his amicable intentions; and fortunately finding that he had two knives, one of which was provided with a strong hack blade and a saw, he raised it aloft, and then placing it in a conspicuous place on the top of one of the break-winds, slowly retired.

When he had got to a little distance he stopped, and by gestures invited the natives, whom he could not see, but who, he had no doubt, saw him, to advance; but no one appeared. Another spear, however, which was projected from the same thicket and which fell short, was a very significant expression on their part of their desire to decline the pleasure of his company. He retired therefore to a still further distance, and then faced about again.

But the natives, who viewed his retreat as an evidence of fear, and who were emboldened by his seeming desire to avoid their spears, now issued in a black swarm from behind the bushes and rocks; the men, with waddies in their hands, heading the advance: some of the women closely following them with spears, while a few of the same sex remained further in the

  ― 201 ―
rear, one or two carrying infants, while various little black faces might be seen here and there peeping from behind the rocks and bushes.

Seeing this general assemblage, the Major made a few steps in advance towards them, being desirous of cultivating amicable relations with the natives, not only for general politic reasons, but for the purpose also of availing himself of their assistance in tracking the bushrangers and recovering his daughter; but he was assailed with a universal yell of men, women, and children, which would have appalled a heart less stout than the old soldier's; and at the same time a flight of spears came whistling towards him, one or two of which nearly reached his feet.

He endeavoured by all sorts of signs to make them understand that he wished to speak with them; but as every advance on his part only increased their frightful shrieks, and as the men continued to hurl the spears with which the women assiduously supplied them, and to brandish their waddies with frantic leapings and contortions at the strangers, he thought it most

  ― 202 ―
prudent to abandon his design for the present, as it seemed plain that further attempts would only lead to an exasperation of the savages, which would most likely end in the bloodshed he was so desirous to avoid.

His two soldiers, although they were both of them brave men and stout fellows, were by no means disinclined to retire from the scene, and they were soon out of sight of the savages; but it was some time before they ceased to hear their yells and screechings, which, as one of the men remarked, “was more like the howling of wild beasts than anything human;” and the Major again paused to consider which way to direct his course in pursuit of his daughter.

It seemed clear to him that the bushranger could not have fled in that direction. He made a considerable detour, therefore, to avoid coming into collision with the natives, and again endeavoured to penetrate the country towards the coast. But he found his path so obstructed by rocks and ravines that he began to despair at last of making any profitable progress, the more especially as he had no

  ― 203 ―
clue to the course of the bushrangers; and he determined, therefore, to return to his cave, and endeavour to find the track of the fugitives, if track there was, from that starting point. But the Major had now to learn how easy it was for a stranger to the country to be lost in the intricate mazes of the bush.

In endeavouring to find his way back, he soon became confused by the hills, mounds, rocks, and trees, all so much alike, that he found it impossible to recognise those which he had before passed; and this difficulty is partly to be accounted for by the circumstance that the traveller in the bush, in going, views objects on one of their sides, and in coming back views them on their reverse sides, which are usually very unlike the appearance which they present on their first aspect.

So it was with the Major; and his followers, though very good soldiers at drill or in the field, were quite incompetent to assist him in finding his way through an unknown country. In this way he crossed the bushranger's track without being aware of it, for he neither

  ― 204 ―
knew where he was nor which way he was going.

He endeavoured to guide his course by the sun, and frequently thought he had hit on the right direction; but unforeseen obstacles rose in his way, and unknown and unexpected objects puzzled and baffled him; so that at last, bewildered and weary, he sat down under a shady blue gum tree, utterly at a loss which way to direct his steps.

As they were well supplied with provisions, the two soldiers, at a hint from their superior, quickly produced their stores; and if the anxiety of the Major had affected his appetite, it was clear, from the alarming inroads which his followers made in their stock of provisions, that they were not restrained in satisfying their bodily wants by their mental sensibilities.

But towards the close of their refection, they came to a sudden pause; for as they were pretty well stuffed to their throats, they found themselves in urgent want of some fluid to clear their passages for a fresh supply. They intimated their distressing state to their commander,

  ― 205 ―
who, feeling the same want, rose from the grass and accompanied them in their search for water.

But, as is frequently the case with that important article—whose value is never estimated properly until the want of it is felt, as in the present instance—the water which they looked for was not so easy to be found; and although they descended, at the cost of much time and labour, into several promising dells and hollows, they could discover no indication of a spring.

Exhausted with fatigue, and parched with thirst, which the sup of brandy which they had had recourse to heightened to a painful degree, the party again sat down among some rocks between two hills which nearly met, and while the soldiers stretched themselves on the ground uneasily, the Major, borne down by the fatigue of travelling in the bush, and by the weight of affliction which preyed upon him at the uncertain fate of his daughter, rested his head on his arm, and became plunged in melancholy thought.

  ― 206 ―

In this position they remained for a considerable time, when the stillness of their solitude was interrupted by a sight which powerfully excited their curiosity.

  ― 207 ―

Chapter XI. Oionoo.

IT was one of the men who first observed a figure moving up the ravine in which they were lying; he pointed it out to his comrade, who touched the Major's foot with a dead branch which lay ready to his hand, and the three remained without moving, their eyes fixed on the object.

The Major at once perceived that it was a native, who was advancing cautiously towards them, and who seemed anxiously looking out on every side, as if in search of something.

“It is a spy of those black devils, looking out for us,” said one of the soldiers.

  ― 208 ―

“It's a woman, by George,” said the other, as the native continued her advance.

“I wish it had been a man,” continued the first, who had levelled his piece sharp-shooter fashion towards the native; “it goes against one's feeling to fire at a woman.”

“She is tall and straight,” remarked the second, “and if it wasn't for her being black, she wouldn't be amiss.”

“She looks like a young girl,” said the other, as the native advanced nearer.

But it seems that the sound of his voice had struck her ear; for she stopped, listened; snuffed the air like a pointer scenting game; looked about on all sides; and turning her head half round behind, remained for a brief space in an attitude of fixed attention.

The Major regarded the native girl with much attention; and the men seeing that she was alone, were only curious to observe her motions.

She remained for some time fixed and motionless as a statue, her black body shining like polished ebony. She was entirely naked;

  ― 209 ―
there was no mark of paint or of tattooing visible on her sleek and glossy skin; and her hair was not woolly, but hung from her head some inches behind in frizzy curls.

Presently, suspecting, as it seemed, that some danger was nigh, she resumed her walk, but with more caution even than at first. With a timid and frightened look, she turned her large eyes, which were singularly black and bright, towards the spot where the Major and his men were hidden, and tried to pierce into the space before her, which the shades of the evening had begun to render obscure, treading lightly, and lifting up her feet in that peculiar manner characteristic of the natives, who walk like a high-stepping horse, in order to clear the dead wood with which their path in the woods is encumbered.

To judge from the supple movements of her well-formed limbs, the Major guessed that she was possessed of great agility; but there was a something in her manner which convinced him that she was not abroad with any hostile intentions. Indeed, her countenance, when she

  ― 210 ―
was close enough for them to observe it, expressed suspicion and fear, rather than any other feeling.

As she approached the spot where they lay concealed amidst loose rocks and stones, she suddenly stopped again, and snuffed the air with her broad flat nose, and made a step back, as if with the intention of flying from some unusual danger.—But after a few moments of anxious scrutiny of the point which she had left, she again advanced a few steps with a quick motion, as if she thought it better to encounter the new danger that was before than that which was behind; and again she stopped and snuffed the air, and seemed surprised and alarmed at some unexpected discovery.

The Major whispered as low as possible to his men:—

“We must take this woman.”

Low as his whisper was, however, it was heard by the quick-eared native. She gave a frightened look towards the spot where they lay concealed, and at that moment the two soldiers starting up, the girl uttered a loud scream of

  ― 211 ―
fear, and darted up the steep ascent before them.

The men followed; but they would have had little chance in pursuing a native in the bush, had not the girl, in looking back to see if her pursuers were nigh, stumbled over a loose stone and fallen to the ground. Paralysed as she was with fear, before she could recover herself, and uncertain perhaps which way to fly, for it seemed to her that there was danger on every side, the men seized her by the arms. She made no struggle, but, doubling herself up, she sat on her hams and bent down her head in terror, expecting doubtless, that she was to be put to death.

In this state the Major approached the native with the intention of calming her fears; but for some time she remained in such an agony of terror as to be insensible, seemingly, to all that was going on around her, and her whole body shook and shivered with fear.

The Major directed his men to release her arms. They did so, but the native showed no

  ― 212 ―
sign of being sensible of the restraint having been withdrawn.

He spoke to her kindly and soothingly; but the girl's teeth continued to chatter with terror.

He extended his hand and patted her on the shoulder as jockeys do horses when they desire to calm them; but the native, supposing, perhaps, that this was done in order to ascertain if she was fat enough to be eaten, only shuddered the more, and shrunk herself up from the touch of the strange creatures, the like of whom she had never beheld before!

The poor Major was puzzled to know how to communicate with her, or what to do, now he had got her, with the young lady whom he had so violently taken under his protection. But as he was desirous of making use of the native to guide him back to his cave, he determined to persevere in his attempt to bring about a mutual good understanding.

He desired one of his men to give him a bit of “damper,” which he offered to the native, but she would not take it. He then ate a bit himself, and invited her by signs to do the

  ― 213 ―
same. She looked wistfully at it for a moment; there was hunger in her looks, the Major thought.

He put the bit of damper down on the ground. She raised her head up timidly, and looked at the two soldiers, and then at the bread. At last she took it in her hand, and smelt it, tasted it, and ate it up greedily. The men, as she opened her mouth, could not refrain from an involuntary exclamation:—

“What grinders!”

Seeing that she liked it, the Major threw her another piece. The native ate that also.

“Try her with some brandy,” said one of the soldiers.

He poured out a small quantity into a metal mug which they had brought with them, and the Major, after having taken a little sip to show the lady how the liquor was to be disposed of, handed her the vessel with his arm outstretched, much in the same manner as a visitor hands a morsel to a wild animal in a cage in the Zoological Gardens. She took it, and having smelled at it, let it drop.

  ― 214 ―

“D—— her,” said one of the soldiers, “the black brute has wasted the brandy!”

The tone of the soldier's voice as he uttered this exclamation, excusable perhaps in the bush, where brandy is scarce, seemed to renew the fright of the native. She looked round her timidly, as if meditating escape.

“Give me some sugar,” said the Major; “we will try her with that.”

The man unpacked his parcel in a twinkling, and brought it to the Major, who, grasping a small handful of it, placed it on a piece of the bark of a tree, and putting some of it in his mouth, passed the bark plate to the lady, who took it without hesitation.

She smelled at it as before, and poked it with her finger, which she carried to her mouth. Seeming satisfied with the taste, she poked her finger into it again, and then diligently licked it with much apparent satisfaction. Then, being unable to resist the temptation of its sweetness, she bore the piece of bark on which the sugar was deposited to her mouth, and ate it all up in a moment, cleaning the bark with

  ― 215 ―
her tongue of any remaining crumbs as a dog does a plate.

This last mark of attention on the part of her entertainer seemed to re-assure her considerably; her trembling ceased; and she sat on her hams more composedly than before. The Major now tried by signs to make her understand what he wanted.

He pretended to drink, and looked all about as if he was trying to find water. The native understood him, and pointing in the direction of the path by which she had come, shook her black poll, and made signs of being frightened at something from which she had fled. Then pointing in a direction forwards she nodded her head, and rising from her sitting position began to move forward.

Had the Major been a younger man, he would not perhaps have minded the total absence of dress on the lady's person, which, as she stood on her hind legs, was more conspicuous and striking than it had been in her sitting posture; but, as he was the father of a family, he would have preferred that she should have

  ― 216 ―
been clothed with some sort of covering however trifling.

Desirous of remedying the deficiency in some way, he drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and presented it to the black lady, not being able to express his meaning by words, nor even by signs, but hoping that what is called the natural modesty of her sex would prompt her to make a proper application of the gift. The native girl accepted the handkerchief readily, and turning round on the strange white man, whom she rewarded with a smile which exhibited to view her formidable row of teeth, tied the handkerchief round her head, and continued her way.

“She knows no better,” said the Major to himself; “and, after all, our civilised habits are only conventional; but certainly if a lady of any colour was to appear at court in the old country in that state of primitive simplicity, it would produce no slight sensation.”

The further philosophical reflections which he might have made on this point of etiquette were put a stop to by the native suddenly

  ― 217 ―
pointing to a tiny stream of water which trickled from the side of the declivity. The Major and his men drank of it eagerly, and the native drank some also, the sugar having made her thirsty; and when the party had satisfied themselves with the pure element, which the men remarked would mix admirably with any sort of spirit, but to which hint the Major paid no attention, the question was, what was to be done next?

The young lady showed no disposition to escape, and seemed to wait quietly to know how she was to be disposed of; but as the evening was advancing, and as it was nearly dark, the excellent Major was somewhat puzzled to know what to do with his new acquisition during a night bivouac. If it was possible, he thought it would be best to endeavour to reach the cave that night, but as he calculated that he must be at a great distance from it, he despaired of being able to accomplish the journey, fatigued as he was with his day's march.

He essayed, however, to communicate his

  ― 218 ―
desire by signs. He pointed to the water of the spring, and endeavoured to make her comprehend the idea of a large quantity of water spread over a wide surface. It seemed that the native comprehended him, for she stretched out her arm towards the right and shook her head, exhibiting signs of great fear from that quarter;—what the cause of her fear was it was impossible for them to make out;—but they could make her understand nothing further.

The Major was inclined to regard her as a fugitive from her tribe, or perhaps a prisoner who had escaped, for he could not otherwise account for her being alone, and for the expression of alarm which she had displayed in her demeanour before they had secured her.

His men took the liberty to represent to him, that the natives were a savage and treacherous race, and that it was very likely that this young girl had been sent out as a decoy, in order to throw them off their guard; and they related many instances, which they had heard in camp, of the cunning of the blacks, and

  ― 219 ―
of their insuperable animosity to the white people.

This view of the case, however, the Major repudiated, for the girl's countenance, black as it was, had something in it of that softness which is never entirely absent from the youthful of her sex; and her manner indicated besides, as it struck him, that she was in want of protection, and was inclined to accept it even from the white people rather than again encounter the dangers from which she had recently escaped.

He pursued his inquiries, therefore, and made another attempt to communicate with the native by the universal language of signs, although the coming darkness scarcely allowed him sufficient light for his operations.

He directed one of the men to scoop out a hollow basin in the course of the rill, which soon filled the excavation with water. He then took a piece of the bark of a tree, and stuck a couple of sticks in it to represent miniature masts, clothing them with pieces of paper to represent sails. He then, by signs and gestures, contrived

  ― 220 ―
to make the black girl understand that he wanted to go to a great thing like that.

The girl looked at it attentively for some time, gazing alternately at the mimic ship and at the Major, as if striving to comprehend his meaning. Suddenly she broke out into a wild laugh, and clasped her hands, and pointed with her finger in a direction over a high tier of hills.

The Major made signs to her to go forward in the direction in which she pointed, but she showed much reluctance to move, for the night was setting in, and the natives have a great dread of travelling in the dark, fearing to fall into the power of an evil spirit. The Major was not aware of the cause of her fear, but it was clear that she was afraid of something, and he showed to her the guns of himself and the soldiers to re-assure her; but it was evident, from her manner, that she did not comprehend the use of such weapons.

He then directed his men to unsheath their bayonets. She retreated at the sight of these strange instruments, but the Major, taking one of them in his hand, offered it to her. She took

  ― 221 ―
hold of it, but let it drop immediately, alarmed at its coldness, and at the unusual feel of metal.

But as, in falling on its point, it stuck in the ground, the circumstance seemed to strike her with much admiration; and when the Major picked it up and offered it to her again she took it, and continued to hold it in her hand, though a little frightened. As it did not move, however, and as she felt no harm, she touched the point gently with her finger and was surprised at its sharpness.

The Major then made signs to her to hold the weapon in her hand and move forward; and the native, after a little hesitation, and seeing that the white strangers showed no signs of fear in the dark, and supposing perhaps that the curious cold spear which they had given to her was a protection against the evil spirit, set out at a tolerably rapid pace in the direction to which she had pointed as the place where the great moving thing that resembled the little bark ship lay in the wide water.

Her new friends followed, keeping a sharp eye on her to guard against an escape; but of

  ― 222 ―
this it afterwards proved the poor girl was not thinking; and after a brisk walk of about three miles, after passing over some high hills, the Major suddenly found himself on the margin of the bay; and, as he presently perceived, not far from the cave which he desired to reach.

He now became aware that he had been wandering nearly the whole of the day in a part of the country abounding in high and low hills, and at a comparatively small distance from the place of his destination, confused as he had been by the intricacies of the bush. Determining to profit by this lesson, he led the way at a rapid pace to his old encampment, having previously relieved the girl from her bayonet for fear of accidents, and having invited her by signs to accompany him.

The native now, in her turn, followed her conductor with great willingness; a circumstance which rather surprised the Major, as it betokened a confidence which he had been given to understand was altogether contrary to the disposition and the habits of the aborigines; but the reason was afterwards explained when

  ― 223 ―
she had been taught sufficient words in the English language to enable her to express her meaning.

The Major now thought that he might do an acceptable service to the colony and to the government by taming the wild creature which had thus been placed in his power, and who seemed well contented to abide with him and to receive his commands.

He determined therefore to make the attempt, not a little pleased to have the opportunity of studying closely a specimen of the singular people who inhabited a country unlike any other part of the known world.

With this view, he made up his mind at once to send her on board the brig, and to place her under the care of his daughter Louisa, to whom she might be taught perhaps to perform the part of a female attendant.

He immediately made the signal to the brig which had been agreed on, by lighting three fires on the beach at particular distances; and the distant sound of oars on the water soon proclaimed that his signal had been understood and

  ― 224 ―
attended to. The mate was not in the boat, and the Major immediately despatched it back for clothes of some sort for their visitor; not liking, although it was night, that his new acquaintance should make her appearance in her present unsophisticated condition before his daughter.

The boat returned promptly; and the Major, with much delicacy, showed the young lady how to put on a pair of sailor's trousers, which he tied on with a bit of rope yarn round her middle. Over this was placed a petticoat to give her a proper feminine appearance; and a faded light blue spencer, which hooked on behind, “put her bows in decent trim,” as a sailor expressed it.

Her head was left bare, and shoes and stockings were dispensed with; and thus elegantly dressed, the young lady was politely assisted into the boat by the sailors, where she squatted down on her hams, preserving an extraordinarily grave countenance all the time, the poor creature being in truth utterly lost in astonishment as to what had been done and what was to happen next. Thus freighted, with the addition

  ― 225 ―
of the Major and the two soldiers, the boat was rapidly rowed to the vessel.

The affectionate Louisa was overjoyed to see her father again; a delight, however, which was presently damped by the thought of his ill success in search after her sister Helen, and by his informing her that it was his intention to recommence his journey at the dawn of day. With respect to the novel sort of lady's maid which her father had brought for her, she felt a little repugnance at first to allow the black girl to remain in close proximity to her person.

But that feeling presently wore off, and she soon ceased to regard the colour of her skin; while the gentle aspect of the kind-hearted Louisa and the soft and silvery tones of her voice so won on the simple heart of the native, who was not long in learning that the beautiful creature, who she at first supposed had come from the skies, was of the same sex as herself, that she threw herself on the floor of the cabin, uttering sounds which were unintelligible; and then raising her head, laughed, and addressed

  ― 226 ―
to Louisa some words which, although spoken in an unknown and barbarous tongue, were evidently meant for the expression of her gratitude, and obedience, and devotion.

The personal appearance of the native was so grotesque, that Louisa could not forbear some little laughter at the incongruous nature of her habiliments. Her laughter seemed to please the girl. She coiled herself up at Louisa's feet, and although her wild bright eyes glanced rapidly at every motion or sound that occurred, she seemed quite resigned, and pleased with her new position.

Louisa made attempts to talk with her, but that was impossible. She tried to find out the name of her new acquaintance, but it was some time before the native could be brought to comprehend what she wanted. At last, by frequently repeating her own name and pointing to herself, she made the girl understand her meaning. The native repeated the name of, “Louisa,” with a readiness and correctness which was quite startling: and then pointing to herself, said, “Oionoo.”

  ― 227 ―

“Oionoo,” repeated Louisa.

The young native girl, at the sound of her own name thus pronounced, showed the most extravagant signs of joy. She again threw herself on the ground before Louisa, and kissed her feet, while great tears ran from her bright fierce eyes down her black face, and she seemed convulsed with the most violent emotion.

The Major regarded this scene with extreme surprise, and his daughter was much affected by it. They could not conjecture the reason of the violent emotion of the black girl; and they were not aware that she was in fact the last of her tribe, and had escaped, when she was encountered by the Major, from those who were about to put her to a cruel death.

How amply the kindness which was bestowed by the fair and gentle Louisa on the forlorn native girl was afterwards repaid by services the most important, will be seen in the sequel of this narration.

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Chapter XII. A Fight with the Natives.

IT is impossible to describe in words the intensity of the terror of Helen, as she sat on the ground a helpless spectator of the deadly preparations made by the bushranger for the destruction of those whom she doubted not were her lover and her father!

And if Trevor was foremost in her thoughts in that time of mortal agony, it was from no lack of filial affection towards her parent, but it was in accordance with that powerful principle of our nature which prompts a woman's heart—in its absorbing love for that one being whom it has selected from all other men in whom to confide her virgin trust—to consider him as

  ― 229 ―
all in all to her—and of all things on earth the most precious and the dearest!

It was in vain that she racked her brain to find some expedient either to divert the bushranger from his object, or to frustrate his design. She thought that she would scream out, in the hope that her voice might be heard in the stillness of the bush, so that Trevor might be warned of his danger.—But then she considered, that, if she made use of such means of giving him notice prematurely, it would only cause her own instant death without benefiting him.

It occurred to her also that she should have the means of ascertaining her lover's and her father's near approach from the looks and gestures of the bushranger, and that it would be best for her to reserve her caution until they were near enough to profit by it; then—what might be her own fate—he being safe—signified nothing!

Neither was poor Jeremiah Siliman insensible to the peril which hung over the friends advancing to their rescue; but the fatigue of

  ― 230 ―
his long march, encumbered as he was with a heavy load, and the frequent rebuffs and threats which he had experienced from Mark Brandon, and the blows which he had suffered from the brutal Grough, without his being able to defend himself or to retaliate, had so broken down his spirit, that he had become almost like an impassive piece of mechanism at the will of his captors.

He could not, however, survey unmoved the cool and impenetrable Mark Brandon with his fowling-piece directed in the line leading from the side of the stream to the thicket; and his good feeling predominating over his fears, he ventured to begin a remonstrance with Brandon on the cruelty of his proceeding:—

“Mr. Mark Brandon,” he began, “I have a thousand pounds in dollars ….”

But before he could proceed further he felt the butt-end of Grough's musket on his head, which stretched him prostrate on the ground. Grough was about to repeat the hint to be quiet by a second blow, which would have silenced for ever poor Jerry's tongue, when he was

  ― 231 ―
stopped by a sign from Brandon, who, making a significant gesture, and pointing towards the line on which their pursuers were expected, said in a low firm voice:—

“Be ready.”

Grough immediately brought his musket to his shoulder, covering obliquely the point at which Brandon's weapon was directed.

The bushranger cocked his fowling-piece;— Grough did the same.

The sound of those two “clicks,” in the awful silence of the bush, rang in Helen's ears like the tolling bell of her lover's doom!—She felt that the decisive moment was come!

The bushranger ran his eye down the hollow between the barrels of his piece—for it was his habit to fire with his left barrel first—and edged the sight a little to the right of his victim;—it was a deadly aim.

Helen now tried to scream out:—but excess of terror paralysed her! She opened her mouth;—but her voice stuck in her throat! She could utter no sound! The moments

  ― 232 ―
were fleeting away! In another her lover would be slain!…..

“Fire!” said Brandon.

But at the instant when he pronounced the word, a shower of spears from behind came whistling through the bushes. One of them struck Brandon's right shoulder, and another stuck in Grough's huge back, which caused the discharge of both to be ineffectual.

Helen and Jeremiah being on the ground, the spears passed harmlessly over them; but the report of the guns, and the sudden appearance of the native spears acting as a sudden shock on Helen, she gave vent to her pent-up shrieks, which apprised Trevor—who, not heeding the shots, that missed him, was advancing with the corporal at the charge—that his mistress was nigh, and in danger!

At the same time a yell arose from the body of natives, who had, as they thought, surprised the white people at a disadvantage, which, responding to Helen's shrieks, made the bushes and woods resound with discordant cries.

  ― 233 ―

Nor did the natives delay in following up their first discharge of spears by a bodily attack on those whom they considered as the spoliators of their country. They knew but little of the nature of fire-arms, but some of them had learned that after the first noise of the thunder, an interval must elapse before it could be made again. The white men, Brandon and Grough, therefore, having done their thunder, the natives in a mob made a rush, with frightful yells, on their enemies, and Helen and Jerry found themselves in the midst of the blacks, who fell on the two bushrangers with inconceivable fury.

Brandon, being unable to resist the impetuosity of this first onset, called out to Grough to come to his side, and retreated on the right hand side of the thicket, while Trevor and the corporal charged to the left, where they were encountered by the natives, who had driven away the other two, and who, flushed with success, immediately attacked the newcomers with their waddies.

Trevor fired, and shot one and wounded

  ― 234 ―
another of the natives with his double-barrel, but as they did not cease from their attack, the corporal was obliged to fire before Trevor had time to load again. He killed one of the savages on the spot, but the natives, heated with the combat, and confiding in their numbers, and emboldened besides by the flight of the other two white men, continued to press forward; and Trevor and the corporal were obliged to retreat, in order to get free from the crowd which assailed them, and to load their weapons. When they emerged from the thicket, they beheld on their right the two bushrangers.

The natives, on their retreat, which was almost simultaneous with that of Brandon and Grough, set up a shout of triumph, and pursued them closely. The four white men—two and two, and at the distance of about a hundred yards from each other—retired in the same direction, till they reached the stream which they had previously crossed.

But short as was the time which it took them in this quick flight, the steady and

  ― 235 ―
practised corporal was enabled to insert a cartridge into the barrel of his musket, which he instantly rammed down, and then faced about.

“Load, sir,” he said to the ensign, “as quick as you can.” At the same time he fired at the mob of natives yelling after them, and checked their advance. Before the ensign had loaded the corporal had fired again, and had brought down another native.

There was a short pause; and the cries of the natives for a few moments ceased.

Trevor took advantage of the opportunity, and, raising his voice, called out to the men on his left:

“If you are Mark Brandon, as I suppose you are, I promise you a free pardon if you will join us against the natives? Where is the young lady?”

Brandon, who had retained the most perfect coolness during the sharp and sudden conflict with the savages who were still in considerable numbers before him, replied immediately, and with a voice seemingly of entire unconcern at the danger of his position:—

  ― 236 ―

“What authority have you for promising a pardon; and what assurance can you give me that I may trust you?”

“My word of honour as a soldier and a gentleman,” replied the ensign. “I will promise you good treatment, and I will use my best endeavours with the governor for your pardon.”

“Is that all?” returned the bushranger, with a sneering laugh;—but at that moment a threatening movement on the part of the natives stopped his reply:

“Don't fire on the natives,” he said to his comrade—“let the others do it. See! the soldier has fired.”

The fire of the corporal disabled another native, and checked the rest, among whom there appeared some hesitation.

“If that is all,” resumed the bushranger, calling out to Trevor, “I had rather remain as I am.”

“Let us shoot them both,” said Grough; “we can deal with the natives afterwards.”

“We can do better than that,” replied

  ― 237 ―
Brandon:—“besides—never commit murder if you can help it. It is our being here I think that keeps the natives off from the soldiers. They don't like to make a rush on four white men armed with guns. I can see they are wavering at this moment.”

Saying this, he retired with his comrade beyond the stream, and took his station at the foot of the hill.

The natives, seeing this retreat, gathered courage again; and they began to assail their two remaining enemies with spears.

“That rascally bushranger,” said the corporal, “has got some devilry in his head; you see he has got behind us, so that we are between two fires, and his going off makes those black villains more confident. We must shoot some more of them before they will leave us alone.”

“We must make our way through them,” replied the ensign. “I heard the voice of Miss Horton in yonder thicket, and we must rescue her or die in the attempt.”

“Your Honour has only to say the word,” said the corporal.

  ― 238 ―

“Come on then,” exclaimed Trevor, darting forwards.

The corporal fixed his bayonet and advanced side by side with his officer against the natives, who were collected together in a dense body of fifty or sixty, and were jabbering to one another with excessive vehemence.

“Shall I fire?” asked the corporal.

“Reserve your fire,” said the ensign; “perhaps they will retire without shedding more blood.”

But the natives received the charge firmly, and met their enemies with a shower of spears, which, as the distance was not more than twenty yards, told dangerously on the two soldiers. The ensign received one in his left breast, and the corporal had three for his share. They fired simultaneously.

“I have brought one down,” cried the corporal.

“And I another,” responded the ensign.

“Stand firm,” said the corporal, “they are going to make another rush.”

The natives discharged another shower of

  ― 239 ―
spears, which hit both the ensign and the corporal.

Trevor fired, and in a second afterwards the corporal banged at them, which checked the savages again.

“Load, sir, quick,” said the corporal, “they have not had enough yet. But you are bleeding fast, sir; those two last spears have done mischief.”

“And you are bleeding too, corporal. We must increase our distance, so as to get out of the reach of their spears while we can command them with our long shots; or shall we make another charge at them?”

“They are too many,” replied the corporal. “It is as much as we can do to defend ourselves; and if we get off with our lives we shall do very well. This mob is one of the most determined that I have heard of on the island.”

“We MUST advance and rescue Miss Horton,” exclaimed Trevor.

“I am ready, your Honour,” repeated the corporal, “to try a charge again; but they are too many, sir, to be got over that way; we must

  ― 240 ―
ply them with long shots—and, come what may, the young lady must be saved from their clutches. The black wretches shan't eat her if I can help it.”

“Fire again,” said Trevor, stamping his foot on the turf—“fire.”

“There goes down another,” said the corporal, as he obeyed his officer with the most cheerful readiness, and promptly recharged his musket; “if we keep up a steady fire, your Honour, we must break them up at last. Only don't be without a shot in one of your barrels. It is the rush of the savages that is the danger, and we ought always to have a reserve fire to check it. They don't seem to like it,” continued the corporal, as he fired away as fast as possible.

“They are off, sir, our bullets are too hard for them.”

“Don't fire if they run,” said the ensign, in a faint voice.

“Your Honour is bleeding very fast,” exclaimed the corporal, grounding his musket, and regarding his officer with much concern.

“Never mind! see, the natives are retreating;

  ― 241 ―
now we will follow up and charge—but don't fire unless they attack us—now, charge!”

But as Trevor spoke, his voice grew fainter and fainter; he made a step or two forward—he staggered, and presently fell to the ground. Loss of blood from the wounds of the natives' spears had exhausted him; he made an effort to rise, but he sunk down again on the grass, and fainted.

  ― 242 ―

Chapter XIII. A Bush Supper.

THE corporal was not a man to lose his presence of mind at a faint. He had seen too much service, and had been in too many fights to be scared at the sight of a dying man. But he could not refrain from giving utterance to his indignation at his officer being wounded—and slain it might be—by “those black rascals,” he muttered, “and with such tools as these,” as he contemptuously kicked a spear on one side with his foot.

“Such murdering wretches,” said he, as he shook his musket towards the spot where the retreating natives had disappeared among the

  ― 243 ―
bushes, “don't deserve quarter. And now I suppose they are going to make a feast of that poor young lady!—a delicate morsel she will be for them—the blackguard cannibals!”

It was well that Trevor's condition did not allow him to hear the last exclamation of the angry corporal, who, promptly fetching some water in his cap from the adjacent stream, threw it over his officer's face. Then observing that the blood flowed most from one particular spot under his right shoulder, he opened Trevor's coat, and applying a suitable bandage, soon had the satisfaction to see that the flowing of the blood ceased. He fetched another capful of water from the stream, and dashed it plentifully over Trevor's face, and wishing mentally that he had ever so little a drop of brandy, he endeavoured to pour some water down his throat. Trevor seemed to revive at this, and the corporal continued his attempts, till at last, to his great joy, he saw his officer open his eyes.

He urged him to take a good drink. Trevor drank some of the water, which refreshed him; for he was faint as well from want of food and

  ― 244 ―
drink as from loss of blood. Presently he was able to stand up; and although weak and tottering, he insisted on proceeding into the thicket in search of Helen.

The corporal endeavoured to dissuade him from so rash a proceeding, and offered to go alone; but to this the ensign would not consent, urging that he was strong enough to pull a trigger, and as his double barrel had been reloaded by the corporal, they could fire three times without loading, if there should be occasion for more fighting.

Leaning on the corporal's arm, therefore, he made his way into the thicket, behind which Brandon had been hidden, and from which had proceeded the shriek which Trevor did not doubt had been wrung from Helen in her double fear of the bushrangers and the natives.

But when they arrived at the spot they could see nothing of her, for whom alone Trevor was at that moment solicitous. There were several bodies of the natives lying about, and the marks of much trampling on the grass:—but no living thing was to be seen.

  ― 245 ―

The corporal having cast his eye about for a convenient object, supported the ensign to the foot of a dense thicket at no great distance, and requesting him to sit up and lean against the matted branches, so that he might be protected from a sudden attack from behind, offered, “with his permission,” to make a survey round about to endeavour to discover some trace of the young lady.

To this the ensign assented; and the corporal immediately proceeded to make rapid circles around, keeping a sharp eye on every bush which might conceal an enemy; but without success. He continued his search for some time, and even penetrated for some distance into the wood beyond;—but he could see nothing of Miss Horton nor of the natives: they had disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and he feared that they had taken the young lady away to make a feast of her; a suspicion which he communicated freely to Trevor on his return, with many supplemental embellishments of that horrible surmise.

Trevor could only reply by a faint groan of

  ― 246 ―
anguish. He attempted to rise, but was unable from weakness.

The corporal again made a diligent investigation of every square yard of ground, as well as the dusk which was now coming on would allow him, on the spot where the fight had begun. But he could find no trace of the poor girl, living or dead; nor of the other prisoner—the gentleman—Mr. Silliman—whose body was no where to be found.

The corporal, having made his report to the ensign, requested his “further orders;” and receiving his request to do as well as he could under the circumstances—for Trevor was too weak to walk—he immediately set himself about making such preparations for passing the night as the place afforded.

He gathered some of the soft and flowering branches of a Mimosa tree which stood close by, and made of them a tolerably soft bed; and by cutting some stout stakes with his clasp knife from a grove of straight-stemmed shrubs which grew by the margin of the water, he contrived to prop up other boughs which

  ― 247 ―
he gathered, so as to make a tolerable bush hut for Trevor, and sufficient at that season of the year to shelter him from the weather.

Having accomplished this to his satisfaction, he began to resolve the serious question of “how the garrison was to be victualled?”

There was drink enough, for the stream of fresh and sparkling water at hand ran close by, and the corporal knew very well that so long as a soldier can get a good drink of clear water, although he might grumble a little for want of spirits, he could not come to any great harm; but food was indispensable. While the old soldier was “rummaging his head,” as he expressed it, for remembrances of expedients under a similar difficulty in his various campaigns, and regretting the non-existence of villages and farm-houses in those desolate regions, he beheld to his infinite delight an immense kangaroo hopping leisurely towards the water on the other side of the stream.

The animal advanced at a slow pace; some times hopping and sometimes moving on all-fours, as he was enticed to stop on his way by

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some patch of sweet grass which particularly tempted him. Now and then the animal raised himself up to his full height, as he rested on the inferior joints of his hind legs, with his long tail serving as a part of his triangular support behind; and then the corporal guessed that he stood at least six feet high, and his heart leaped within him as he surveyed the magnificent piece of game, for he had made up his mind that “on that kangaroo he and his officer should sup that night.”

The kangaroo hopped on straight to the water; and putting down his head, prepared to drink; but suddenly raising it up again, snuffed the air, and looked fearfully about.

So exquisitely delibrat are the senses of those timid animals, that the noise made by the corporal in the cocking of his musket, and the separating of the bushes on the other side of the stream, which was not more than a dozen yards across, alarmed the creature, and it was about to take to flight; but at that critical moment the report of the corporal's musket rang in the air and the poor kangaroo, making a

  ― 249 ―
mighty spring from the ground, fell dead; for the ball had passed through its small and deer-like head, and life was gone in an instant.

The sound of the corporal's piece put Trevor on the alert, and he looked anxiously about for the new enemy which the alarm betokened. He was not a little relieved when he saw his faithful subaltern staggering under the load of the hind-quarters of a kangaroo on his shoulders which he held there by the hind-legs, and which seemed as much as he could carry, while the ponderous tail of the animal hung down the corporal's back behind, and bumped him as he walked along, keeping time, as it were, with the corporal's movements.

“There,” said the corporal, as he cast his burthen heavily on the ground; “there's supper for us, at any rate;—and now, to cook it!”

The old campaigner was not long in lighting a fire with the dead brushwood which lay about; and while the embers were burning clear he occupied himself in cutting some tender steaks, artistically, from the loins, the most delicate

  ― 250 ―
part of the animal, and which he had taken care to include in the portion of the carcass which he had brought with him.

He then looked about for two convenient stakes, two feet and a half long, with a fork at the end of each, which he laid on the ground ready for use. He had taken out the kidneys and liver of the animal; the latter of which he placed to bake in a convenient receptacle of hot ashes; as the liver of the kangaroo, from its extreme dryness, is used by the old traveller in the bush as a substitute for bread to eat with the other part of the flesh.

From the kidneys, which is the only part of the animal on which, except in very rare cases, any grease is to be found, for the kangaroo is almost all lean and sinew, the corporal carefully separated all the fat he could find. Then taking his iron ramrod,—first carefully ramming down a cartridge, having previously primed, into the barrel of his musket, he slipped it through the pieces of flesh and fat which he had cut, after the manner of more ancient heroes—taking a layer of flesh and a layer of fat alternately.

  ― 251 ―

Matters being thus in progress, and the corporal in a state of considerable excitement, he scraped away with a stake as much of the burning wood as he did not want for his cooking, and reserved the clear glowing embers of the hot charcoal for his kitchen fire. Then driving in his short stakes, one on each side of the live coals, with their forked ends uppermost, he laid his ramrod, which performed the part of a spit, on the upright supports, the two ends resting on the two forks, with the fire in the middle. This being arranged, he set himself to turn his ramrod round and round with great assiduity, so that the pieces of flesh might be equally roasted. He kept his eye also on the liver, which was baking, as he declared, “beautifully.”

A sudden thought, however, striking him, he took the liberty to ask the ensign if he felt himself strong enough to turn the ramrod while he manufactured some plates, and procured some water, to which Trevor cheerfully assented.

The corporal then cast his eyes about, and spying a tree, which seemed to his mind, about a hundred yards to the left, and not far from

  ― 252 ―
the water, he proceeded to the spot, and cut through the bark with his knife, though not without much difficulty, and peeled a long strip, which he broke into two pieces—one for a plate for his officer, and the other for himself.

Thus provided, and with his cap full of water for their drink, he returned to the fire, and finding the meat cooked, he slid off a couple of slices, which he presented to the ensign on his bark-plate, waiting, with much deference, for his officer to finish his meal before he began his own.

“Eat, my good fellow,” said Trevor: “this is neither a time nor place for ceremony; we are comrades now.”

The corporal swung his open hand up to his forehead, but missing the peak of his military cap, was baulked in the military obeisance which he intended; perhaps he would have completed his salute by touching the peak of the cap as it stood on the grass like a jug full of water, for habit is strong,—but at this moment a gentle air from the north-west wafted the fragrance of the crisped venison to the corporal's nose! It was too

  ― 253 ―
much! military etiquette is strong, but nature is stronger still! The corporal's bowels yearned for the meat, and, without further ceremony, he plumped himself down by the fire; and as he stuffed himself with the exquisite morsels his appetite did really seem to grow on what it fed on, and he declared, with moistened eyes and greasy chops, that never, no—never, had he feasted on such delicious prog before!

The ensign, albeit that his heart was sorely troubled at the uncertain fate of Helen, acquiesced by a nod in the eulogium of the corporal.

“And to think,”—said the corporal, sympathisingly, as he took in another huge mouthful of the dainty viand,—“to think that, at this moment perhaps—those black savages are doing just the same as we are doing with this kangaroo,” he continued, speaking with difficulty through the mass of meat which he was discussing,—“just the same with that poor young lady!”

Trevor dropped his meat and his bark-plate at this horrid and most ill-timed suggestion, and made an effort to rise; but he was too weak,

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and his wounds had begun to stiffen: he sank down again, and putting his hands before his face he groaned aloud.

The poor corporal, excessively abashed at the effect of his remark, which he had intended as amusing conversation wherewith to enliven the repast, suspended his diligent mastication, and pondered for a few moments within himself. Not knowing what else to do, he proffered his capful of water to his officer, who declined it courteously.

Having refreshed himself, and invigorated his appetite by a copious draught of the pure element, the corporal finished his meal in silence; and, having eaten up all the meat from the ramrod, which he carefully wiped and returned to its proper place, he proceeded to attack the liver, which he devoured leisurely, amusing himself with it to pass away the time. But, thinking that the ensign showed signs of drowsiness, he assisted him to his bed of leaves and blossoms, and covered him with boughs so as to guard him from the night air as well as possible.

  ― 255 ―

Having attended to this duty, and having so arranged the fire that it should communicate its warmth to his sleeping officer without danger of its blaze reaching the temporary habitation, the corporal dissected from the hind quarter of the game one of the legs, which he arranged to cook gradually near the fire on three small stones, which he set under the meat to keep it in a convenient position. This he did in order to provide refreshment ready for the next morning.

The dirty condition of his firelock after the work of the day now grieved him sorely; but he did not think it safe to attempt the cleaning of the inside, as he might want to dispose of its contents on the sudden against an enemy; and he considered also that the discharge of his piece, besides disturbing his officer, involved the waste of another cartridge. He remedied the evil, however, as well as he could so far as the outside went, and fixed his bayonet as an additional means of defence against surprise, although he trusted more to the butt-end of it as a cudgel in an affray, than to its point as a scientific weapon.

  ― 256 ―

Thus prepared, he mounted guard over his officer's quarters, pacing up and down regularly, after the manner of sentinels, and resting occasionally in a standing posture, with his hands reposing on the muzzle of his firelock. After an hour or two of this watching, the poor fellow found himself so overpowered by fatigue that he was obliged from mere exhaustion to sit down on the ground; but he kept diligent watch on all sides, nevertheless.

He sat gazing at the fire, and listening to catch the slightest sound; but all was still, and the vast bush seemed buried in universal repose. The stars above his head, and the moon which gradually rose, shed their quiet light over the tranquil scene; but there was no stir of any living thing. The corporal gazed at the sky, and the kangaroo's leg which was roasting, alternately. He looked at the fire, and thought of his night bivouacs in former campaigns, and of his old comrades whom disease or the shot of the enemy had long since sent to their last homes. At last his eyes began to blink—and wink—at the fire;

  ― 257 ―
—and the light of the moon—and the twinkling of the stars—faded from his sight;—he thought he was still awake—but even as he determined not … to give way … to the drowsy … oppression … which … mastered him … his eyes closed — and the wearied soldier slept.

  ― 258 ―

Chapter XIV. Conscience.

THE veteran slept soundly;—but there was one who watched; and who on that night first began to feel, in the remorse of conscience, that sharp and corroding pain which “murders sleep.” The watcher was Mark Brandon.

Stung to the soul to find himself deprived of the girl — his cherished scheme destroyed—his chance of making Helen his victim or his hostage lost — he ground his teeth, and clenched his hands—furious as a wild beast that has lost its prey—with mortification and rage!

He had been a witness to the fall of Trevor,

  ― 259 ―
and to his retirement into the dense mass of thicket at a short distance from the river, after the retreat of the natives; but he was unable to tell what had passed within the scrub afterwards, as the bushes were so thick as to screen from view all within their recesses. But he had observed the corporal in his search, as he passed over a clear space between the scrub and the wood; and he judged from his manner, that he was looking for traces of the Major's daughter and her companion in misfortune. From this he had drawn the conclusion, that the girl and Mr. Silliman had not been found by the soldiers, amongst the bushes where he had been suddenly parted from them on the first attack of the natives.

Having made this discovery, it struck him that the natives had carried the white man and woman away as prisoners—to feast upon them perhaps at their leisure; for he could not bring himself to believe that they had left the white people unharmed, after their own losses in dead and wounded.

Prompted by a strong passion for the girl, and

  ― 260 ―
urged on besides by the consideration of her importance as a prize which he might be able to render useful in his dealings with her father for her ransom, he determined to follow on the track of the natives, with the hope that some lucky chance—some panic fear on the part of the natives perhaps—might again place her in his power.—He communicated his intention to his associate.

“Ten thousand devils take the girl!” exclaimed Grough; “if it hadn't been for her, we should not have been in this mess—without prog and without liquor!—Wherever there's a woman, there's sure to be mischief!”

“But you would not have the poor girl left to the fury of those savages?” said Brandon, somewhat offended at his associate's callousness.

“D—— her!” replied that unamiable individual; “let them scarify her—or eat her—or do what they like with her:—it's all the same to me!”

Mark felt that he was on a wrong tack; he shifted his helm dexterously:—“It's not the

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girl that I was thinking of,” said he; “but it's the gentleman — our packhorse — our bush-donkey, mate.”

“D—— him too. Let the black fellows roast him too—he's fat enough!”

“Why, Grough, how is it you don't understand me? it's neither the one nor the other that I care for; but it's the brandy, man, and the provisions, and the tobacco.”

“And d—— him too again,” exclaimed Grough; “he has got my dollars!”

“To be sure! Not that they would be of much use to us in the bush; but it's the brandy and the prog! A sup of brandy, now, is just what we want to keep up our spirits.”

“Come along,” said Grough; “let us go after them! That little fat fellow will be pitching into it most gloriously, now that he has got it all to himself—that is, if the natives don't pitch into him first. When you talked of the gal, you see, Mark—why, that wasn't worth while;—but the liquor! that's quite another thing! So I'm your man, if there were a thousand natives to fight for it.”

  ― 262 ―

Mark took him at his word; and without further delay, they put themselves on the track of the natives, which they easily found, and continued their course until the dark prevented further progress. But after they had remained lying on the grass for a short time, to the great discomfiture of Grough, who, from having nothing to eat and nothing to drink, was in an excessively surly humour, Brandon began to have misgivings as to whether he was on the right scent for the girl.

He considered that it was a most unlikely thing for the natives to leave any one of their white enemies alive during such a skirmish; and it was altogether contrary to their practice, so far as he had heard, to encumber themselves with such prisoners. After all, he thought, either Helen and Silliman had been killed, or if they had been able to avoid that fate, they had escaped in another direction; and in that case, he calculated, they would make right for the cave on the shore of the Bay, from which they had been taken.

Impressed with this idea, he determined to

  ― 263 ―
retrace his steps and endeavour to overtake them; for, as he guessed, they would not be able to make rapid progress in the Bush, even if they should be able to find their way at all through a strange country over which they had only once passed. He communicated his suspicion to Grough, who at once acquiesced; and after cursing himself, with sundry energetic oaths, for being such a fool as to suppose that the natives would trouble themselves with white people as prisoners, he uplifted his huge carcass from the ground, and prepared to follow Brandon:—

“To be sure,” said he—“more fools we, for thinking anything else! The natives would smash in their skulls with their waddies—and that was too good for the like of them! The cave's our mark—and there we shall find the liquor that we buried, if we find nothing else. My mouth just now hankers after a glass of rum, as a black fellow after a roasted piccaninny! Rum for ever!”

As Brandon had been careful, according to the practice of experienced travellers in the Bush, to take bearings of the principal objects

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in his line of march, he had no difficulty, although in the night, in finding his way back to the sugar-loaf hill from the neighbourhood of which he had started, and near which the fight with the natives had taken place. In this course it was necessary for him to pass by the place where the ensign and the corporal were reposing for the night; but he had another and a powerful reason for wishing to visit again the spot where he had left Helen.

Brandon's passion for the girl was most powerful and absorbing:—she was a girl after his own heart—bold, brave, ready-witted in difficulty and in danger, and resolute in her determination. She was handsome withal—lofty in her bearing, tall and commanding in her figure, and with the air of a heroine of romance. If his lot, he thought, had been cast in happier circumstances, the companionship of such a woman might have spurred him on to noble enterprises, and have saved him from the commission of many a deed of crime! He had even flattered himself with the idea, that, even as he was—sunk, degraded, proscribed—a felon,

  ― 265 ―
and a murderer—the girl had been inclined to regard him favourably; and he had indulged in the hope that, possibly, she might be reconciled to a life in the wilderness with him, by whom she would have been worshipped as the goddess of his idolatry!

When, therefore, he discovered, as he did in their passage from the hill across the river, that she had been deceiving him all the time;—and that, in fact, she, a girl, had outwitted him, the wily bushranger—it was with mingled feelings of disappointment, of wounded pride, and of deep mortification and pain, that he became convinced that Helen regarded him with abhorrence, and had found out some secret means of directing the pursuit of her friends to her rescue.

Nor did the sight of one of the two whose death he had resolved on, tend to lessen his resentment; for that one was young, handsome, an officer, and doubtless had been actuated by more than ordinary zeal in hazarding himself in the bush with only one companion, in so desperate a service as the capture of the man

  ― 266 ―
the most dreaded in Van Diemen's Land. That young man, then, his jealousy whispered to him, was the favourite admirer of the girl; and it was for him, and for his sake, that she had contrived to give a clue to the path of her retreat.

This thought stung him so sharply, that he stopped in his walk; started! and stamped his foot with signs of the most violent emotion! His excitement moved even the insensible Grough to ask him, with as much concern as he could throw into the brutal tones of his coarse thick voice:—

“If a black snake had bit him?”

“Worse than that, man!”

“Crush it, then,” said Grough, “under your foot; if a cretur has bit you, and no help for it, have your revenge!”

“I will!” replied Brandon.

They both now moved on more rapidly. As they drew near to the dense scrub, Brandon enjoined strict silence to his companion, and advanced with his usual caution.

It was easy to ascertain, by the light of the

  ― 267 ―
fire, which the corporal had kindled close to his officer's sleeping place, the precise spot where the two soldiers had established their bivouac; and the thickness of the bushes served as an effectual screen to prevent either party from seeing the other, until they came almost face to face. Brandon whispered to his fellow not to make the slightest noise, and to follow him.

The bushranger then crept stealthily forward till he reached a thick bush fronting the fire, on the other side of which the corporal was sitting, with his firelock lying by his side. The bushranger regarded him attentively and saw that he slept—or seemed to sleep; for, as Brandon's own habits taught him, it might only be a feint to throw enemies off their guard. Grough had already put his musket to his shoulder with a deliberate aim; but Brandon, by a sign, checked him.

By the light of the moon he saw a rough sort of bush-hut at a little distance from the fire, which fronted its entrance. He guessed that the wounded officer was there—perhaps not

  ― 268 ―
alone? The girl might be with him! Brandon was seized with a feeling of condensed hatred and spite, which mastered all other considerations. “The snake,” he muttered to himself, “has bitten me with its poison—and I will have my revenge!”

Retreating from his position to some little distance, he made a circuit through the bushes, and got behind the officer's hut. He observed through the partial openings, here and there, as he went, that the sleeping soldier retained the same position.

“If it's a sham,” he thought to himself, “it is well done!” Grough made signs to shoot him; but Brandon, by a determined gesture, forbade it.

They arrived close to the bush-hut. The bushranger peered about, and presently found a small opening, through which he could see the occupant's face. It was that of the officer; it was very pale, and had a youthful and delicate appearance. He was sleeping, and he was alone.

By the light of the fire which shone directly

  ― 269 ―
upon him, partially obscured only by the body of the corporal, Brandon observed in the young officer's hand, which was placed on his breast, a woman's glove!—The truth was revealed at once! Here was the lover of the girl—the favoured lover—with the love-token in his grasp!

Again the same sharp pang shot through the bushranger's frame, and he felt stung as if by a corporal and substantive dagger stabbed into his entrails! All the rage of the demon was roused within him! Slowly and silently he raised his fowling-piece to his shoulder, and covered the sleeping man's brain with the murderous barrel! His finger was on the trigger! He was about to give the fatal touch—when the sleeping officer turned, and said something in his sleep.

It seemed that he was suffering under the painful excitement of some feverish dream.

Clasping the glove to his heart, he murmured:—


  ― 270 ―

Chapter XV. Professional Practice.

THE bushranger suspended his touch;—the name of Helen so pronounced, agitated him in an extraordinary manner. His hand trembled; his weapon shook; for once he felt that his aim was uncertain, for his eyes also were blinded with a sort of mist.—The sleeping man spoke again.—The bushranger listened:—

“Dead!” murmured Trevor; “dead! murdered in cold blood! murdered! murdered!”

Brandon recovered his piece—meditated for a moment. Some thought seemed to convulse him; a deep flush came over his face:—he levelled his piece again:—

  ― 271 ―

Again the sleeping officer murmured—


Brandon drew back his piece with a hasty movement, much to the astonishment of Grough, who was at a loss to understand what these pantomimic actions signified; and without speaking, turned away and retreated to some little distance among the bushes. His companion followed him obediently. When Brandon stopped, Grough took the opportunity to ask him:—“Why he did not shoot the red-coat as he slept?”

Brandon made no reply for some time.—At last he said, “It is best as it is:—let him be left alone.”

He then remained plunged for some time in gloomy silence, without giving any intimation to stir from the spot.

But his companion, who was entirely ignorant of the motives which led his chief to spare the sleeping man's life, and who was equally unable to penetrate the feelings of Brandon in respect to the relations of the officer with the girl, was by no means inclined to remain inactive, or to

  ― 272 ―
delay their journey towards the Major's cave, where a store of rum had been deposited, in a secret place denominated in colonial phraseology a “plant.” Besides, this was a neglect of business, to the matter-of-fact marauder, altogether incompatible with his habits of dealing.

Here were two of their enemies at their mercy, and Mark was losing the opportunity of taking both their lives at a time when they could make no resistance, for they were both asleep; and what better chance could they have of shooting them comfortably through the head without danger to themselves? To let such a chance slip by, was monstrous!—He conveyed his opinion, in a gruff whisper, to Brandon:—

“If you don't like to shoot the young 'un,” he said, “there can be no harm in my shooting the old fellow! Besides, we want powder and shot, and his musket would be no bad grab!”

To this Brandon made no reply!—he was a prey to the most painful and conflicting sensations. On the one hand, his passion for the girl had so far touched that part of his better nature which was within him, as to cause him

  ― 273 ―
to recoil from murdering, in cold blood, even her favoured lover! And on the other hand, he was stimulated by jealousy, by anger, and by the desire of revenge for the injury which the Officer had done him in forestalling him in the girl's affections, to take the life of the hated rival who was in his power. Absorbed by these thoughts, he either did not hear, or did not allow himself to be disturbed by his companion's suggestion, but continued plunged in moody contemplation.

Grough, taking his silence for consent, moved quickly off, determined that the night should not pass away, as he mentally affirmed, “without some pleasure;”—so he resolved to shoot the corporal.

On such amiable thoughts intent, he edged away a little to the right, in order that he might take the poor soldier sideways, which would obviate the inconvenience of the glare of the fire, and allow him to take a better aim. He stationed himself, accordingly, in a convenient position, and, resting on one knee, was about to have a deliberate shot, when a slight

  ― 274 ―
air which caused the embers of the fire to sparkle more brilliantly, conveyed to his senses the smell of roasted meat!

Now Mr. Grough was, as he expressed it, more than usually “peckish,” having not only walked very far, but fasted very long; and the appetizing odour of the kangaroo's leg, which had begun to burn a little, altogether overcame his animal sensibilities! His bowels yearned, and the water rose to his mouth! For a moment he forgot his anticipated gratification of putting a ball through the corporal's head, in the present and more immediate temptation which irresistibly assailed him! He even feared to disturb the sleeper, lest his waking should delay the promised feast.

Taking advantage, therefore, of his early habits, and his ability in prigging, which even in his youth had conferred on him the title of a most accomplished thief, he bent his whole soul to the getting possession of the savoury “grub.”

It was astonishing to see with what lightness and softness the legs which supported that huge

  ― 275 ―
body could tread! Nothing but long practice in stealing and in housebreaking, could have taught the bulky brute to manage his steps so mincingly! And the feat too was so daring! To subtract the delicious morsel from under the corporal's very nose! There was fun in the exploit! What would be the old soldier's thoughts on waking? How piercing his disappointment! What a glorious “dodge” to put on him! Positively it was better than putting him to death! The Thief was in the pursuit of his vocation, and he was happy!

He stretched out his hand for the venison, and clutched the protruding bone; but it was almost red-hot, and he let it drop again. The noise, however, seemed to disturb the soldier.—Grough was ready to shoot him dead if he awoke; but he only gave a loud snort, and slept on.

On a sudden, a bright idea struck the thief. He spied the corporal's musket lying by his side, with the bayonet fixed—a supplemental weapon with which his own piece was unsupplied. It was also a better one than his own,

  ― 276 ―
and in cleaner condition, as he perceived at a glance. Dexterously removing the soldier's musket, he softly placed his own in its place, after removing the flint, which he deposited in his pocket.

The change, however, was not made so silently as to avoid disturbing the sleeping sentinel. The corporal suddenly opened his eyes, looked vacantly at the fire, placed his hand on the substituted musket, nodded his head—and slept again.

Grough waited quietly behind him till his snores announced that the soldier was fast asleep. He then directed the bayonetted weapon to the leg of the kangaroo, and carefully inserting its point into the fleshy part of the thigh, bore it triumphantly aloft, and marched away to rejoin his comrade.

In a few words he communicated to Brandon the exploit which he had achieved, and, as he eagerly devoured the venison, offered him the best portions. But Brandon refused to eat; and after his associate had satisfied his first hunger, he led the way back towards the

  ― 277 ―
cave in the hope of finding there, or on the way, some trace of the girl whom he had lost.

In the mean time, the hours of the night wore away; but it was not before the dawn that the corporal awoke from his weary slumbers. Surprised at the appearance of the morning light, the old soldier began to have some vague suspicion, either that the sun had taken it into its head, in that strange country, to rise in the middle of the night, or that he—the corporal—had been asleep!

As the one case was hardly less unintelligible than the other—for to sleep on his post was a breach of a sentinel's duty which it did not enter the worthy corporal's head that it was possible for him to be guilty of—he set himself seriously about resolving the enigma.

He remembered shutting his eyes to avoid the uneasy glare of the fire; but he remembered nothing more. It must be, then, that he had forgotten to open them again! Well, there was not much harm in that! That was not like going to sleep! A man, as the corporal argued, might forget himself occasionally,

  ― 278 ―
and be forgiven; but to sleep on his post—that was unpardonable! The corporal was sure that he had not done that!

Having come to this satisfactory conclusion—and the more so as it happened that there was no one at hand to question its correctness—the corporal opened his eyes wider; and then he remembered the kangaroo's leg, which he had set to roast previous to his oblivion: but no leg was there! The corporal opened his eyes wider than ever at this extraordinary circumstance, and immediately rose to investigate the affair.

In rising, he mechanically lifted up his firelock; for he followed the good old rule in a campaign, that “your arms,” as he said, “are always safest in your own hands.” “By the powers,” he involuntarily exclaimed, “I could have sworn that I fixed my bayonet last night! and by all that's holy, it's not in the sheath! And the firelock, too! what has come to the hussy? And there's no flint in the hammer! There must be Irish fairies here too! This is not my firelock! By the powers, it's like the

  ― 279 ―
child that was changed at nurse! And I'm changed too, perhaps, for anything I know! But I haven't been asleep — that I'll swear to!”

“Corporal,” called out the ensign from the bush hut, in a faint tone.

“Here, your Honour,” said the corporal, promptly, not a little relieved to hear the ensign's voice, for he began to think that he might be changed also. He was about to salute his reclining officer with a “present;” but a look at his musket put him so out of conceit with the tool, that he could not bring himself to perform the evolution with “such a thing.” He contented himself, therefore, with the minor military obeisance of bringing his open hand, as he expected, to the peak of his cap. But here again he was balked; for his cap, at that moment, was performing the office of a water-jug on the grass. The ensign did not observe his confusion, but in weak accents expressed his desire to move forward without delay in search of Miss Horton:—

“Lend me your hand,” he said, “and I will

  ― 280 ―
get up from this bed. I am afraid, corporal, you have had a weary night of it while I have been sleeping.”

The corporal said nothing, but handling his officer as tenderly as if he had been a child, he raised him from his Mimosa bed; but Trevor could not stand.

The corporal shook his head:—

“It will never do, your Honour, to be marching if you can't stand! Better be still a bit, and see what the sun will do for you when he comes out warm.”

“These spear wounds,” said Trevor, “are very stiff and painful.—Do you know if the natives poison their spears?”

“I never heard so, your Honour; but these are nasty wounds. You see, sir, the spear doesn't go in smooth and clear like the point of a bayonet—though a bayonet wound is ugly enough; — but the ends of them being of charred wood, and bluntish, they make a greater rend; it's curious, though, that they don't bleed so much as bayonet wounds; but they are apt to fester, I have heard say, and become

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very unpleasant to a gentleman that isn't used to being wounded. If we could contrive to make some water hot, and bathe them, it would do them good, and take some of the smart off. And now I think of it, I know a way that a Spanish friar contrived to make water hot without a pot to boil it in:—I'll do it for your Honour in a minute.”

So saying, the corporal helped his officer to lie gently down again on his bush bed; and having recourse to his cap, from which almost all the water had oozed away during the night, he made haste to the neighbouring stream to refill it; and when he got there he remembered the remainder of the kangaroo which he had shot the evening before, and which he had left the other side of the stream.

He found it just as he had left it, and with no slight joy did he amputate the other leg; taking care, after the amputation, to throw the remainder, consisting of the fore-quarters of the animal, over the branch of an adjacent tree. Thus laden, he returned to the fire; and first setting some meat to cook on the embers, he

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busied himself in preparing a warm embrocation for the ensign.

To effect this, he provided himself with his officer's handkerchief, and then taking the hot stones, on which he had set the vanished kangaroo's leg of the night before, he blew the ashes from them and dropped a couple of them into his capful of water. The stones hissed, and the water simmered, and presently became hot; and the worthy fellow then performed the office of a hospital-nurse, and tenderly fomented his officer's wounds with the warmed water.

The application of this simple remedy afforded Trevor so much relief, that he expressed his satisfaction, and his admiration also of the corporal's ingenuity, in the most glowing terms; and the strength of his officer's grateful expressions gave the corporal courage to relate his misadventure of the night.

“This is very strange!” repeated the ensign. “Your firelock has actually been changed without your being aware of it!”

“Not exactly so, your Honour, for I was

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aware of the change directly I missed the bayonet, and saw the rusty thing that somebody put in the place of it. But who can it be, your Honour?—not the natives? They never would have the gumption to do such a trick as that!”

“It must be the bushranger's work,” replied Trevor; “and he has done it, I have no doubt, to show at once his cleverness and his daring. But why he spared our lives when we were sleeping—”

“I wasn't sleeping,” interrupted the corporal, deprecatingly; “the fire blinded my eyes so, that I closed them only for a moment; and when I opened them again, the thing was done!”

“Why he spared our lives,” repeated the ensign without taking notice of the corporal's explanation, “is a mystery to me!”

“Why, your Honour,” replied the corporal, “the devil is never so black as he is painted; and these convicts, bad as they are, are not so bad as some people say. They don't want to kill, your Honour, for killing's sake. Let them

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alone, and they'll leave you alone—except when they want to rob you, or that, and then, in course, they must stand the scrimmage as well as they can.”

“There is something about this Mark Brandon,” resumed Trevor, meditating, “that is very remarkable.”

“He is the most remarkable big rascal,” replied the corporal, “in all the colony! That's what he is. But he was a gentleman once, people say, and if any one ever had the gift of the gab, they say it is he; and he is an uncommon favourite, by all accounts, among the women.”

“Indeed!” said Trevor, “and he has been a gentleman, has he?—Corporal, we must lose no time in looking for that poor girl! There certainly is something extraordinary about that bushranger!—I have seen him only once—when we were fighting the natives;—but it struck me that I had seen that face before. It was a countenance that seemed to have haunted me in my dreams. We must march, corporal, we must march!”

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But poor Trevor was so weak, that when he attempted to rise, he fell down again on his couch. The corporal pitied his young officer most sincerely. He “rummaged his head” every way, to contrive some means of remedying this new difficulty. But as there were neither wild nor tame horses to be had in those desolate regions, the poor fellow was at his wit's end to know what to do? For here was his officer wounded and unable to walk, and there was neither hospital staff nor commissariat to help them! And as to foraging—what was the use of foraging where there was no farm, or house, or cottage to forage on?

At last it occurred to him that as his officer was weak, the best thing was to nourish him; and as he had often heard the succulent virtues o kangaroo-tail soup extolled as the most nourishing thing in nature, he determined to try the efficacy of it in the present case. Fortunately he had secured the enormous tail of the late kangaroo, and he immediately proceeded to cook it in the best manner that he could; and as he could not make soup

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of it in his cap, he essayed that which appeared to him the next best way of transferring its virtues to the person of his officer, by broiling it most delicately on the embers.

The result of his experiment in the culinary pharmacopœia, however, was not such as to answer his expectations. Trevor had no appetite, and could not partake of the Australian luxury. He began to be hot and feverish; and the corporal beheld with alarm the beginning of a disorder, which, from his experience in wounds, he was aware was the forerunner of danger.

In spite of all the corporal's assiduities, Trevor's fever increased; and the poor corporal, almost abandoning all hope, in their distress and desolation, would sooner have encountered a whole regiment with bayonets fixed, then such an enemy as fever with no doctor to combat the insidious foe.—In addition to this, they were in hourly apprehension of being attacked by the natives.

In this wretched state, while the corporal almost abandoned himself to despair, the unhappy

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Trevor, in the intervals of his delirium of fever, was a prey to the far greater torture of the thought of Helen in the power of the bushrangers or the natives, while he was lying helpless on that which it seemed to him was the bed of death!