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Chapter IV. Danger.

THE appearance of so many yellow jackets, some of them in a condition of considerable dilapidation, and their wearers, for the most part, of most villainous aspect, rather surprised the people on board; but the persuasive pilot lost no time in making the major and his officer understand that their condition was the result of their exposure to the hardships and labours incident to a new location in the bush; where it was necessary to cut out roads, build huts, and clear away timber, without regard to the devastations or habits of roughness which such employments produced in the habiliments or manners of the working portion of the projectors. The present men, he assured them, “had been carefully selected by

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the commandant from nearly a hundred and fifty government servants working on their probation, and that seeing the great peril to which the brig was likely to be exposed, he would not allow the men to change their clothes, but had sent them off as they were, thinking the safety of the vessel and the security of those on board (whose skill and courage, he said, had filled the commandant with admiration) of much more importance than the appearance of the party despatched to assist them.”

It would seem as if fortune favoured the conspirators in this subtle plot; for at the moment of their coming on board, a gentle play of wind came down the channel, slightly rippling the surface of the water, thus justifying the cautionary forebodings of the supposed pilot; at the same time that a gathering of light clouds was seen on the lofty summit of Mount Wellington in the distance. The whole of the scanty crew were gathered together in a body, curious to look at the new comers, so that their leader judged it would be too hazardous to attempt a surprise at a time when all the male protectors of the vessel

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were on deck, and ready to defend themselves. He waited, therefore, for a more fitting occasion. The opportunity presently presented itself. The mate, after exchanging a word of approval with the major, without waiting for the authority of the pilot, went forward with the crew to weigh the anchor; for the tide was beginning to flow, and with wind enough to give the vessel steerageway, it was desirable that not a moment should be lost in working the ship out of the dangerous channel in which they were confined.

The leader of the band at once seized the opportunity:—

“Here, my lads,” he cried out to his yellow-jackets, “take the capstan-bars in your hands, and work away cheerily; show the boys on board what you can do. These capstan-bars,” he observed significantly, “would form good weapons in case of need.”

His followers took the hint. They possessed themselves of the bars instantly, and looked to their leader. But Mark saw that it was not yet the time; the sailors were all on deck, as well as the major and the steward, who were in the stern

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of the vessel, and within reach of the hatchway of the cabin in the lockers of which the arms were deposited. Besides, it was an important object with them to get the vessel speedily under weigh, and to contrive to put out to sea, for he calculated that the authorities at Hobart Town would not be long in ascertaining their escape from the barracks; and the boat, which would soon be missed, would make them aware of the object of the absconders. With these thoughts, he urged his men to put their strength to the work, and in a few minutes the anchor was apeak, and the vessel under sail.

“We shall be able to beat up now,” said the mate, cheerfully, and rubbing his hands; “the wind is getting up, and soon we shall have a stiffish breeze if it holds on.”

“We shall never be able to work up with the wind dead against us,” said the pilot; revolving in his mind some expedient to get the vessel's head put the other way; “you have come in by the wrong passage; you ought to have gone round, and made your way up by Storm Bay.”

“An ominous name,” observed the major, “for an entrance into a new country!”

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“You have plenty of sea-room there,” said the pilot; “and if it does blow, you can keep off the land; but in these narrow channels, what with the juttings out of land, and the shoals, and currents running in all sorts of directions where you least expect them, it is difficult to get through them with a fair wind—much less with a wind right in your teeth as this is.”

“Perhaps it would save time to go back,” said the major, “and make the other passage?”

“The tide would be against us,” said the mate.

“But the wind is against you now,” observed the pilot; “and that's worse, if it should come on to blow hard, and there's every appearance of it. You see Mount Wellington has put on his nightcap, and that's always a sign of a gale. But you are too good a seaman,” he added to the mate, “not to know the advantage of having sea-room in a gale of wind. And it would be a sad thing,” he continued, turning to the major, “for this little vessel to be lost after having come safely all the distance from the other side of the globe.”

The major was struck with the apparent candour and justice of these observations, and looked at

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his officer inquiringly. But that clear-headed and plain-dealing son of the sea could not be made to understand that the nearest way to a port was to sail away from it. He sturdily resisted the proposition.

“If the worst comes to the worst,” he said, “we can let go the anchor again, and that will hold us on; even though it should blow great guns, which, upon my word, looks likely, for the breeze is freshening up every minute, and I don't like the look of those mares' tails to windward yonder.”

“And how will you get your anchor to hold?” pursued the pilot. “It's all very well there-abouts,” pointing towards the spot from which the vessel was flying at a rapid rate; “but this channel has scarcely any anchorage ground, as every one knows; why, most parts of it are paved with rocks as regular as the Strand in London! You would never get your anchor to bite—much less hold!”

“We might gain time, after all,” said the major to the mate, “by trying the broader passage; this wind would soon take us out of this strait; and we should be at the same distance from

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Hobart Town as we are now, in a few hours, with a better chance of beating up. How long does the wind last in this quarter,” he asked the pilot, “when it blows fresh?”

“Three days; always three days; it's as regular as a clock. Every inhabitant of the colony knows it; it's a sort of proverb among the towns-people to say, that a thing will last as long as a three days' spell from Mount Wellington.”

“I think we had better take the pilot's advice,” said the major; “he must know best.”

“I can't gainsay that he ought to know best in these parts, which he understands the ways of, and I don't,” replied the officer; “but I can never agree that the shortest way to a port is to go away from it; and as to this wind—why, it's nothing to what we have gone through before!” But at this moment, as if to belie the honest seaman's judgment, and to aid the iniquitous designs of the conspirators, a furious blast from the north called the attention of all on duty to the care of the vessel; and the pilot, profiting by the opportunity, immediately put her before the squall with her head towards the entrance of the channel. The squall

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passed over as quickly as it came, but the pilot still continued his outward course, though not without the expression of considerable dissatisfaction on the part of the mate, whose suspicions of the ignorance of the pilot became strengthened by a course of proceeding so contrary to the worthy officer's experience in the practice of navigation. But as his employer, the owner of the vessel, was an assenting party, he submitted, though with a very ill-grace, giving vent to his displeasure in a succession of grumblings much resembling the sound of the north wind, which was roaring and increasing behind them.

Nor were the crew of the vessel better pleased with the proceedings of the Australian pilot, who, they were not long in detecting, with that almost instinctive knowledge possessed by sailors of their brothers of the ocean, had very small pretensions to the name of a seaman. But as they were only humble subordinates on board, they had nothing to do but to obey, though the pilot saw by their looks that they were not in a humour to submit tamely to any overt aggression. He waited, therefore, patiently, till an opportunity should

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occur to put his plan in execution; for it was not until the crew were below, and his own men conveniently disposed about the hatchway of the passengers' cabin, that he could hope to get possession of the ship's arms, and be in a position to command success.

The retrograde course of the vessel, however, inspired a general gloom over all on board, except those interested in its execution, and who were anxiously waiting for the signal of their leader to adopt measures more open and decisive. The sisters felt a vague presentiment of evil arising from the disappointment of being obliged to recede from the long-desired haven of their hopes and fears, the encompassing hills of which were in tantalizing sight; nor could the major divest himself of a certain feeling of dissatisfaction with himself for having yielded to the authority of the pilot in opposition to the opinion of his officer.

But the storm, which rapidly increased, seemed to justify the pilot's apprehensions, and the major felt ashamed to suspect the judgment of a man who had so clearly warned him of its coming. The mate, also, was almost shaken in his opinion;

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but as the gale increased, he had no thoughts for anything but the safety of the ship, which, urged by the furious north wind, made her way rapidly back to the entrance of the channel, and stood out towards the open sea.