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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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:—

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“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

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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.

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“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

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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

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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;

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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.