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  ― 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


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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,


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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


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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,


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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


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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,


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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:—




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“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?”




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“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,


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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;


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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


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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,


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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


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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


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

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