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Chapter V. The Pursuit.

IN the mean time the flight of the prisoners had not escaped the vigilance of the authorities at head-quarters; but it was not until the discovery of the abstraction of the boat which had been left unguarded at the further end of Sandy Bay, which lies to the right as you look from Hobart Town towards the sea, that the party made ready for the pursuit of the runaways could be put on the right scent.

Thus guided in their search, the pursuing party, consisting of two constables and a corporal's party of soldiers, embarked in a light boat made of the aromatic white pine, a wood of peculiar lightness, which is obtained chiefly by the labours of the convicts at Macquarie Harbour to the west of the island of Van Diemen, and which is admirably

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adapted, from its lightness, elasticity, and toughness, for the construction of whale-boats. They had four sailors from the government armed brig to use the oars, and the whole party was well armed, as well to guard against any attack on the part of the natives, as to be in an efficient state to contend with the bushrangers, should they have been able to supply themselves with arms. It seemed that their business was considered in no ordinary degree of a serious nature, as the wife of one of the constables accompanied him to the jetty where the party was to embark, where she took leave of him with much appearance of affection:—

“You will be making a widow of me, one of these days,” said she, “if you go on these dangerous expeditions; and Mark Brandon is not a man to be taken alive without a scrimmage.”

“Never fear,” said her considerate helpmate; “there's plenty of husbands to be got in Van Diemen's Land; that's some comfort for all of you. I'll be bound before the end of the week you'll have another.”

“A week! you brute! Do you think I don't

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know what's decent for a respectable woman to conform to? A year, you mean; that's the regular mourning; or, at the least, six months, as it's not a regular country, and only a colony. To be sure, Kitty Flurriman did marry again one month after her poor man met with his misfortune;—it was a shame to hang such a good-looking man as he was;—but to think that I would do such a thing at the end of a month, or even two months!” … What definite time the lady might have fixed as the ne plus ultra term of widowhood it is impossible to say, as the boat was now out of hearing. The conversation, however, on Mark Brandon was continued in the boat.

“Who is this Mark Brandon?” asked the corporal, who was a sub-officer in the “Buffs,” a battalion of which had recently arrived in the colony.

“Don't you know Mark Brandon?” said the constable with some surprise; “why, he's as well known here as Dick Turpin in the old country. He is the most famous bushranger that ever went out. He was pardoned by the governor only last year, when he was cast for death; but you see,”

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said the constable, winking his eye, “there was a lady in the case.”

“Oh, ho! handsome fellow, eh?”

“As clean-made and good-looking a fellow as ever you set eyes on. Here's a description of him in this paper.” The constable read from the list:—

“ ‘Mark Brandon, five feet eleven inches in height; broad-shouldered; waist slim; foot small; brown hair; blue eyes; fair complexion; his hands rather white and delicate.’ Then here's the description of the others: ‘Roger Grough, James Swindell——’ ”

“Never mind them just now,” said the corporal; “tell us about this Mark Brandon: what was he lagged for?”

“Smuggling;—at least so they say; but of course you can never get the truth of what they are sent out for from the prisoners; but I believe it's the truth in his case.”

“That was nothing very bad,” remarked the corporal.

“Bad! no: nobody thinks anything of it here. It's only when a fellow has done anything at

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home that's unfair and mean, such as murders and robberies, and such like, that he's looked down on. But as for smuggling! bless your heart, nobody thinks much the worse of a man here for that, nor at home neither, so far as I know. What is it? It's only giving the go-by to the government: Lord love you! what's the harm of that?”

“How was it, then, that they treated this Mark so bad as to drive him to take to the bush? Has he been doing anything wrong here?”

“Why, you see, he was assigned when he came over, to a master up the country; and some of the settlers treat their government men dreadfully severe, and Mark couldn't stand it; and when his master threatened him with his cattle-whip one day, he knocked his master down. He might have got off if he had suffered himself to be taken before the magistrate, for the settlers are not allowed to strike their men. But Mark's blood was up, and he took to the bush—that was more than two year ago—and of course he robbed the settlers' houses of tea, sugar, and ammunition, and things; but he never shed blood; only tied

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people neck and heels together, and things of that sort—very wrong of course—but not near so bad as some.”

“Bad enough, to my thinking.”

“Well; he was taken at last, as they all are, sooner or later, and cast for death; but somehow interest was made with the governor—and they do say a certain lady had taken a fancy to him—but that's no business of mine; and so the best was made of his case, how it was, through the tyranny of his master, that he was driven to take to the bush; and how civil and polite he was to the settlers that he robbed, especially the ladies, and so he got off. But they made him work in chains, and that's what galled him, I dare say. He was not the chap to stand that any ways.”

“And what sort of a man is he?” asked the corporal; “a lady's man?”

“When he has a mind to it, they say, he is the most carnying devil that ever came over a woman. But he is a most determined fellow for all that. He will not be taken alive, you may depend upon it; for he must know he has nothing to expect but to scrag for this last break-out.”

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“Of course not: then I suppose we may look out for a tussle.” The soldiers at this mechanically handled their firelocks.

“Are the bushrangers armed?”

“We don't know; but it stands to reason that they never would start for the bush this way without arms and ammunition; for it's not like the interior where they might get arms from the settlers; there are no inhabitants down the river but the natives.”

“There goes the signal up!” said the corporal; “some vessel in sight.”

“I see,” said the constable; “we may fall in with her, perhaps, when we get further down the river. But where to look for these fellows? that's the point! We think they made away with the boat last night, just after dark, so that they have a good start; but they can hardly do anything with such a boat at sea, for she was but a small one, and had nothing in her but her oars. If they are after going round the coast, they will take the western side, so as to avoid the track of vessels between this and Sydney; and so we will keep away to the right towards the channel, and keepand a sharp look-out as we go by.”

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With this view they hugged the shore on the west, and a breeze soon after springing up, with the assistance of their sail they made rapid progress down the river without seeing anything suspicious in their way. The constable, who had the direction of the party, as the most experienced among them, was inclined to make a stop after they had proceeded some way down the channel; but at this moment, in turning round a projecting point of land, the steersman caught sight of a vessel in the distance, which was standing across the channel, and beating her way up under a stiff breeze on the larboard tack; when suddenly the vessel, which was made out to be a brig, and of small burthen, was seen to change her course, and under a press of sail, make her way down the channel.

This strange manœuvre roused the suspicion of the pursuers of the runaways, and as their boat was light and fast, they determined to endeavour to overtake the brig, not without some misgivings that the cleverness and the daring of the celebrated Mark Brandon had enabled him to get possession of the vessel.