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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

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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?”

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“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.