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Chapter I. The Proclamation.

THE Bushranger travelled during the whole of the night with almost unabated speed towards the Bay, on the margin of which the cave was situate, where he hoped to learn tidings of Helen. Sturdy as his companion was, he more than once hinted to Brandon the expediency of a halt; for notwithstanding the frequent attacks which he made on the leg of the kangaroo, which he had suspended from his neck

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like a guitar so as to be handy to his jaws, he began to sink under the fatigue of long-protracted exertion.

As to Brandon, he ate nothing, and spoke little; scarcely replying to the questions and observations of his follower! but drinking copiously at every brook and spring that he passed by; for that fever of the soul had already seized him which consumes its victim like living fire!

Stopping only to allow his companion the rest needful for his further progress, Brandon pursued his way, hoping every moment that he should light on some indication of Helen's track, and earnestly wishing that she might adopt the same expedient in her present flight as she had practised when she had been forced to travel with himself. But he could see no trace of her steps; and although he was sometimes tempted to diverge from the direct course, in the hope that she might have chosen some tempting but delusive opening between the hills in her progress homewards, his researches

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ended only in disappointment, and uselessly consumed his time and strength.

The delay which these failures caused only added to his gloomy anger, and augmented his eagerness to arrive at the place of his destination. At last he reached the vicinity of the Bay; and then some caution became necessary lest he should fall into the hands of the emissaries of the Government.

Using great circumspection in his approach to the cave, keeping a good look-out on all sides, and carefully examining the ground for foot-marks, he drew near to the spot. As soon as he had a clear view of the Bay, he looked about for the vessel; but the brig was gone.

He then remained for some hours watching the parts in the vicinity of the cave; but he could see no sign of danger. Accustomed, however, to make use of all sorts of stratagems, in order to delude his enemies, he was distrustful of the quiet and calm which seemed to prevail in a place where recently all was life and commotion.

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In this mood he approached the front of the cave; but still he saw no sign of its being occupied. But on one side of the entrance, at its mouth, he saw a piece of paper attached in a recess sheltered from wet. Grough saw it also; and at the sight they stopped and looked at each other.

“Let us go on,” at last said Brandon, “death is better than this suspense.”

“Come on,” responded Grough; “life is not worth having without liquor. Let us try our plant.”

They approached the mouth of the cave, where the paper was affixed; and both read, at the same time, its significant heading:—


“Let us first search the cave,” said Brandon, “we shall have time enough to read that gammoning paper afterwards.” His eye, however, had rapidly caught part of its contents, and he felt a queer sort of uneasiness about it.

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They searched the cave; but they found no sign of inhabitants.

“There is no one here,” said Grough, chuckling.

“So it seems,” said Brandon, despondingly.

“What does the paper say?” asked Grough.

“Just what they all say—a bribe for treachery.”

“A bribe!” exclaimed Grough. “I suppose you mean a reward. Much good may it do them—the tyrants! as if one man in the bush would betray another! But how much is it?”

The qualification which the words “how much is it?” implied of the nature of Mr. Grough's virtuous resolve not to be tempted by the proclamation of the Government, grated on Brandon's ears disagreeably.

“You had better read it,” he said, “and see.”

Grough spelled it out, not without difficulty, commenting on the manifesto as he went on:—

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“ ‘Whereas one Mark Brandon, a prisoner of the Crown, has made his escape from Hobart Town, and has committed a piracy on the high seas, besides being guilty of various other high crimes and misdemeanors .….

“(I say, Mark, they lay it on thick.)

“…. ‘Crimes and misdemeanors; and is charged also with having forcibly abducted a young lady of the name of Helen Horton, lately arrived in the colony; and is suspected also of the murder of, or of some other foul dealing with, George Trevor, an ensign in his Majesty's service, …

“(That's the young chap, I suppose, that the natives speared.—Well, they are wrong there, at any rate.—But those beaks and constables will swear through a brick wall to any lie that suits them against a poor prisoner.)

“…. ‘Majesty's service;—This is to give notice that a reward of five hundred dollars …

“(Five hundred dollars! I say, Mark, five hundred dollars!)

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“… ‘Five hundred dollars will be given to any one who shall afford such information as may be the means of apprehending the said Mark Brandon …

“(Mark, you're worth five hundred dollars! That's something!)

“ ‘The said Mark Brandon; together with a free pardon …

“(A free pardon! I say, Mark, do you see that? A free pardon!—It's a dead set against you, Mark!—But do they think that any one would be such a blackguard as to inform against you? They don't know us, Mark!—Five hundred dollars and a free pardon! As if any body would trust to their promises! But there is something more!)

“ ‘——A free pardon, and a free passage to England.

“(By——, Mark,” exclaimed Grough again, “the Governor lays it on fat! Five hundred dollars—a free pardon—and a free passage to England! That's tempting! Isn't it? But I wouldn't trust the scoundrels! It's only a

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trap!—Don't you think so, Mark? And as to any one betraying you!.…)”

“Read on,” said Mark.

“ ‘And whereas a prisoner of the Crown, named James Swindell, and a prisoner of the Crown named Roger Grough, are also missing, and are supposed to have joined the said Mark Brandon in the bush;—This is to give notice, that a reward of one hundred dollars will be given for the apprehension of the said James Swindell, and of the said Roger Grough, or for such information as may lead to their conviction.

  “ ‘Signed, &c. &c.


“One hundred dollars for me!” exclaimed Grough, after a slight pause, as he concluded aloud the perusal of the proclamation. “A hundred dollars for me! Well—that's kind, isn't it? And another hundred for hang-dog Jemmy! Well—Jemmy's done for, so there's a hundred dollars lost for somebody.—But there's no free pardon for taking me;—you're the

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great man, Mark.—This is what comes of being a nob!—It would be worth somebody's while to take you, Mark, eh?—Wouldn't it?”

“Yours, perhaps,” replied Brandon, turning suddenly round, and confronting his associate with an eye and a look which few could stand under without quailing.—“Yours, perhaps,” repeated Brandon:—“but no;—you would not betray me;—I have no fear of that. First, because you are not such a rascal as to do it; and secondly, because you would certainly be hanged, my hearty, for the murder of the old woman and the child at Sandy Bay before you started.—No, my boy; you and I must escape or swing together.”

“To be sure, Mark; to be sure:—you and I, as you say, must get away or be strung up together. Not that there was any harm in killing the old woman—they would never hang a man for that!—and the child would shriek out! But how shall we get a boat or a vessel? We shan't have such another chance as we had with that brig in a hurry!”

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“We must trust to our luck, man. Leave me to find the way to do it. But we must not hang about here; there may be spies where we least think of. We must get away into the interior, where they can't follow us, or can't find us if they do.”

“Wherever you go, Mark, I'm the man to stick to you! And now for the stuff! Let us see if the plant is all right.”

To his infinite satisfaction, Grough found his beloved rum safe and untouched. He immediately proceeded to disinter it, taking several hearty pulls at the liquor by the way; and so afraid was he of losing sight of it again, that he determined to load himself with as much as he could carry. As most of it was contained in one-gallon stone bottles, which had been done for convenience' sake on board-ship, and to guard against the danger of drawing off spirit from the cask by candle-light in the hold; although the weight was heavy, it was so divided as to enable the freebooter to dispose of much of it about his person. He did not neglect to

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carry away also as large a supply as he could bear of ship's biscuit, and of tea and sugar. He took care to provide himself also with a large tin pannikin, and a small tea-kettle, which was among the stores which the marauders had stowed away previous to their first departure from the cave.

He also visited the spot where he had buried his share of the dollars despoiled from the Major; and after a little hesitation, caused by his desire to have them on the one hand, and the inconvenience of their weight on the other, he took them out of the hole, and deposited them in a canvass bag, which he suspended from his shoulders. Thus freighted, like a huge Dutch trader, had it not been for his vast bulk and prodigious strength, he would have been unable to stand under the weight of such a cargo; and, as it was, he found his motions seriously impeded by his cumbrous load. But his covetousness was stronger than his laziness.

Mark Brandon, while his companion was thus busily employed, and gloating over his

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dollars and his rum, removed his own share of the money, and quietly made his way to the hollow tree where he had secretly deposited the gold, which he had previously contrived to abstract from the participation of his comrades. Having made sure that Grough was entirely and intensely occupied with his stone bottle, he threw some handfuls of earth and stones into the hollow trunk, to disperse any opossums which might have made it their abode; then, hiding his fowling-piece under a neighbouring rock which shelved outwards, he nimbly climbed the tree, and dropped down within the ample cavity.

As soon as his feet touched the bottom, he became aware by the jingling of the coin, that his treasure was safe. He found it rather difficult to get out again; but, by applying his two hands to the sides of the opening above, which he could only just reach, by a vigorous effort he raised himself up, and descended the trunk.

Satisfied by this inspection, that it was a safe place for a “plant,” he dropped into it the large

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bag of dollars which he had removed from the hole in the ground. This he did in order to hide the money from his companion, fearing that his avarice might be too powerfully stimulated by a knowledge of such an amount of dollars at his command, and which would form so pleasing an addition to a “free pardon” and “a passage to England.”

For he had already begun to be suspicious of the rascal with whom he was temporarily associated; and he bore in mind the accent and the manner of his “friend,” as he read and dwelt on the tempting offer of reward promised by the Government for Brandon's capture. He immediately rejoined him, however, with a countenance entirely divested of all appearance of distrust; and he took advantage of his comrade's occupation, to revolve in his mind the expediency of shooting him through the head on the spot, and of thereby removing all danger of betrayal from that quarter.

But on further thought, he considered that the brute would be useful to him, as the lost

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Mr. Silliman had been, in carrying the load of spirit and other articles of comfort, with which he was doing him—Mark Brandon—the favour to load himself. He resolved, therefore, to abide with him until the fellow had served his purpose; the more particularly as he would be an useful auxiliary in the event of being attacked by the natives. He had no doubt, that, after he had decided upon his place of refuge—and had possession of the girl, perhaps—he should easily be able to dispose of his thick-headed associate when expedient; and in the mean time, that he could make use of him;—reserving to himself the right, however, of instantly dispatching him, should he discover any strong symptoms of treachery, which, he relied, the animal was too stupid entirely to conceal.

Having come to this cool determination, he accepted his friend's offer to partake of about a pint of rum; and grasping his comrade's hand with an expression of most hearty good-will and confidence, they both swore over the liquor an eternal attachment—Brandon having already

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resolved to slaughter the huge oaf to whom he was vowing friendship, whenever the fit occasion should arrive; and Grough having determined in his own mind to deliver up his chum to the gallows, and claim the reward, on the first convenient opportunity.

These two worthies, having thus transacted the business which they had to do in that part of the country, and Brandon having made a last search for Helen, departed lovingly together, with lies on their lips, and treachery in their hearts, in the direction which Brandon had planned, towards the Western Coast; for although there was very little chance of a vessel or a boat nearing that side of the island, he was not without a hope, which he could not avoid cherishing, of meeting by some lucky accident with the beautiful girl whom he had lost, and for whose possession he longed with all the ardour of his sanguine and impassioned nature.

The social community of the outlaws, however, was presently interrupted by other alarms, which, while they stimulated the inclination of

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Grough to betray his companion, were the means of aggravating the suspicions of Brandon, who redoubled his precautions to guard against surprise and treachery.