― 144 ―

Chapter X. Another “Dodge.”

THE constable who had charge of Brandon did not think it at all beneath his dignity to talk familiarly with his prisoner as he walked beside him. Indeed, it is questionable if those officers, many of whom had been themselves transported for various crimes, considered it as a personal degradation for a man to be in custody. It was a “misfortune;” he had tried his luck; he had thrown his chance, and had lost—that was all: and now he was going to be hanged; that was merely consequential; and they were so accustomed to see people hanged that they had ceased to regard it as

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anything more than a little episode in their career, which did not much matter either way. It was in the natural and regular order of events that the result should be so; and it was as idle for the hanged to complain of it as it was useless for the hangers to pity them.

The functionary, therefore, who in this instance happened to be on the right side of the hedge, opened the conversation in a cheerful way, not supposing that his prisoner could harbour any malice against him for conveying him to gaol in order to be executed in the regular way:—

“Clever dodge, that, Mark, wasn't it, of that blackguard!—Glad you pitched him into the water:—too good for him, though:—but he didn't deserve to be hanged in a gentleman's company.—Old chum of yours?”

“I scarcely ever spoke to him,” replied Mark, who was aware of the importance of seeming resigned to his fate, and of the expediency of adopting the free and easy style with his new friends; “he was a course, rough

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brute—no particular harm in him; but it would never have done to have let him get off scot free after betraying a comrade that way!”

“Certainly not; that is, of course it was wrong to do it; but it served him right—the dirty dog!—only its murder; but of course you're booked without that, so one more or less is no odds; and there's one less rascal in the world, at any rate—and that's something.—Had fine weather since you were out?”

“Remarkably so, lately; but life in the bush is weary work any way. For my part, I began to be heartily sick of it before you took me.”

“I dare say; I never tried it; but it must be a wretched life to be hunted about like a wild animal, and never to be able to rest night or day!—Met with any natives?”

“Yes; we had a tussle with some of them I got hit with a spear in this shoulder; but they can do nothing against our fire-arms.”

“The Governor wants to civilise them, as

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he says; but, Lord! that will never do. Of course they will take all the blankets, and bread, and tea, and sugar that you give them; but what's the use of it? You can never make anything but savages of them; and the end will be that they will all be shot down, one after another, till there are none left. The Major that you took the brig from brought one of the native girls into camp the other day; and a fine fuss they are making with her! By-the-by, Mark, what is become of the Major's daughter that you marched off with? I say—that was a bold lark! How did the young lady like the bush, eh? Hope you wasn't rough with her?”

“Is the Major in camp now?” asked the Bushranger, who had a disinclination to talk about the girl, and who wished to parry the question.

“He had left before we came out. He is seeking for his daughter; but it's not easy to find people in the bush, Mark, as you know; lucky hit we made in lighting on you, wasn't it?”

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“Perhaps it was; for the sooner an end comes to this sort of life the better.”

“You're right, Mark. I never knew a man that took to the bush that wasn't tired of it at last, and that didn't say that hanging was a relief to him. For you see when a man takes to the bush, what with lying out at nights, and all sorts of hardships—with every man's hand against him—now in fear of the natives, and then in fear of the soldiers; and worst of all with the chance of being betrayed by his comrade as you have been; why, you see, he is always dying by inches, as one may say. But when his fate is once settled his mind is easy, and it's only a jump and a kick, and then all's over!—and he gets rest at last. I heard the parson say to the sheriff, just before the last three were turned off, that they all felt very comfortable!”

Mark's ideas did not exactly coincide with those of the constable in respect to the comfort of being hanged, but he did not care to contest the point at that moment; but he thought that

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he might venture to try how far his custodian was cajoleable. Holding up his hands, he said in a peevish tone:—

“These things fret me a good deal.”

“Darbies worry you? Sorry for that; but they are always complained of;—it's unpleasant to have the hands confined, I know.”

“What's the use of them,” said Mark, in a careless way. “You are three to one—and I am without arms.”

“It saves trouble, Mark; I would oblige you if I could, with all my heart: but you know, it's regular, and it wouldn't do to take 'em off—especially with you, Mark.”

“What! are you afraid of me?” said the Bushranger tauntingly; “three to one, and afraid of an unarmed man!”

“Suppose we are? it's paying you a compliment. It's not every day in the week that we meet with such an out-and-out file as you! Excuse me, Mark; but duty's duty.”

“Surely! but your first duty is to yourself;

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that's common sense all over the world,” said Mark.

“What do you mean by that?”

“A hundred golden sovereigns are not to be earned easily!”

“What is that to me?”

“It may be a hundred pounds to you, if you like?”

“No go, Mark; duty's duty.”

“I've got a plant,” said Mark; “perhaps two hundred of the yellow boys could be found there at a pinch.”


“In a secret place.”

“But where is the secret place,” asked the constable:—“Excuse me for asking.”

“Excuse me,” replied Brandon, “but if I was to tell you, don't you see that the place would no longer be secret.”

“It doesn't concern me; duty is duty.—Did you say that the two hundred pounds are all in gold?”

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“All sovereigns; and they may be yours if you like.”

“Can't, Mark—can't indeed; but if loosening them a little, just to ease you, out of humanity as the saying is, why, I don't care if I go as far as that. But money first, you know, Mark; business is business as the saying is; and there's nothing like the ready.”

“What sort of fellows are the soldiers who are with you?” asked Brandon.

“Stupid as hounds; no use trying them. It's the Major this, and the Major that, all the way along; they have no idea but just obeying orders; they would slap at me as soon as you if they thought I was playing them false.”

“You agree then; two hundred and the darbies off.”

“I thought you said three hundred?”

“No: two hundred.”

“I couldn't—I couldn't indeed; I have my duty to do, and if I was to lose my situation….”

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“Come,” said Brandon, who did not like to lose the opportunity of taking the constable in the mind: “I will deal on the square with you. The truth is there are three hundred sovereigns, and in one word they shall be yours.”

“I mustn't take the darbies off, that would be against duty; but I will loosen them for you if they are too tight, and hurt you;—I may do that. But it's all very well, Mark, to talk of three hundred sovereigns! Where are they? That's the question!”

“Loosen the cuffs, and I promise you to leave them at a certain spot by a certain day, where you can take them.”

“Don't doubt your word, Mark; every one says that you are a perfect gentleman and, except murder and robbery and that, which I allow a gentleman is sometimes forced to do, that you never harmed a soul, and always were a man of your word. But duty's duty; and, as you say, Mark, the first duty of a man is to himself; and so the long and the short of it is

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—no offence to you—but it must be money down.”

“Agreed: you have no objection to go round by the Bay to the Sound?”

“The Bay! where the brig was that you got possession of so cleverly?”

“The same.”

“What's that for?”

“Because the money lies that way.”

The constable objected that it was a long way round, and that such a departure from their direct way to camp would excite suspicion, and the two soldiers, he thought, might turn rusty. But Brandon invented an excuse, which was sufficient to blind them as to the real object. He pretended to give information of the Major's daughter who, he said, had been confined by him in a cave near the southern coast of the island.

As the soldiers had received orders to look out for Miss Horton in their search for the Bushranger, they readily assented to the proposal for her release; and the more cheerfully,

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as they were aware that Mr. Trevor, who was one of their officers, was exceedingly anxious to recover the young lady.

They diverged from the straight course accordingly, keeping to the right, passing round the Sugar Loaf Hill, and by the gorge, through the tier of hills, till they reached the border of the Bay.

The constable was exceedingly assiduous in endéavouring to worm out from his prisoner where the treasure was “planted;” and it was not difficult for Brandon to penetrate that the official rogue would have no more scruple in betraying him than his late associate. He saw, therefore, that it was necessary for him to contrive some counterplot to out-manœuvre his pretended ally. Manacled, however, as he was, the difficulties against which he would have to contend, he was aware, were almost insurmountable. However, he trusted to the fertility of his invention, and to his promptitude, to take advantage of all circumstances in his favour to recover his liberty.