|Chapter Title||ANOTHER NIGHT IN A TASMANIAN WOOD.-- BUSHRANGERS' VENGEANCE.|
|Newspaper Title||Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)|
|Trove Title||The Maxwells of Bremgarten|
THE MAXWELLS OF BREMGARTEN. A STORY OF TASMANIA. [Founded on Facts.] (ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.) (Continued from Saturday, March 14.) CHAPTER XL. ANOTHER NIGHT IN A TASMANIAN WOOD.— BUSHRANGERS' VENGEANCE. The sun was far down in the west when Edwin and his nondescript guide, after breathless toil and surmounting difficulties innumerable, gained the summit of the moun- tain and found themselves on the table land on a part of which the station of the road gang was situated. The rugged nature of the ground over which he had travelled caused our hero the most excruciating pain in every limb : his feet were covered with blisters, and his clothing which he had had no oppor- tunity of changing since the day of the ship- wreck, now hung in tatters, and having been saturated with salt water greatly irritated the surface of his skin in various places. Still he endeavored to keep up his spirits in fact buoyed himself up for some time with the certainty that he would soon be safe and comparatively comfortable in the quarters of his acquaintance, Mr. Buffer, in whose hos- pitable dwelling he intended to remain for a few days, until his strength should be re- stored and his numerous bruises and blisters healed. But when after painfully following his guide for some time, and seeing no sign of any habitation,—nothing in fact but the same interminable dismal forest before him, through the countless pillars of which the shades of twilight grew darker and darker, he became alarmed, and asked his repulsive companion how soon would they be likely to arrive at the station ? " Not to-night, nor to-morrow night neither," answered the man laconically. " You do not mean to say," said Edwin in great perturbation, " that you are not going to the station, after all your promises and oaths, to acquaint the Superintendent with the constable's situation and getting assist- ance sent to him ?" " Have no intention of no think of the kind," replied the truthful Jack. " People at station is'nt my friends—constable got a long head, and can help himself--goin' to 'tother side of the country, this place got too hot for me, leastways I'm beginning to think so, howsever you may think to the contrairy," and here the unaccountable being burst into a fit of laughter. " Can you not direct me to it ?" asked Edwin ; " I am not afraid to go there ; there is no occasion for you to show yourself. Only direct me to it, and I will reward you hand- somely if we should meet again, and it should ever be in my power. I have got nothing now except the clothes on my back, which are in rags. Take me within sight of it, for God's sake, and I will remember you in my prayers." He said this imploringly, feeling his mind becoming crowded with despairing thoughts and emotions impossible to describe ; but his guide answered indifferently— " Station's over there, but I b'lieve you'll get lost if you go. As to prayers, don't b'lieve in 'em no how ; don't b'lieve in God or devil. B'lieve the world's a game at pitch an' toss ; some fellers gets the heads and more chaps gets the tails, lucky and onlucky, and they'll all die like dogs, high and low, rich and poor, big and little. What odds, —so long as the belly's full who cares ? No use in frettin', and he what don't like his cheese is welkim for Jack to lump it ?" " Good God !" exclaimed Edwin, in despair- ing accents, " I am not used to this. Help me or destroy me. Guide me to some settler's house, for Heaven's sake, Jack, and I'll surely reward you at some future time." " Can't do it," replied Jack, " mustn't do it no how ; 'twill be dark soon. Don't b'lieve in God or devil I tell you. Will put you on the track to Fingal in the mornin'. You can go on your knees to old Ersy and spin yer yarn ; give him Jack Spunkey's compliments, and tell him that I'm gone to George Town to get a confidential situation in the water poliss ; would send a lock of hair, but am afear'd he wouldn't set no high vally on it," and here again the speaker allowed a strange laugh to escape him. Daylight had now nearly disappeared, and the pale glimmering of the moon, which would in a few nights more be at its full, tinged the sombre sky with a feeble grey light, which served but to increase the gloom of the forest, and make the trees appear of double height and denser foliage. Edwin's heart sank lower than ever, and it was with a feeling akin to madness that he contem- plated passing the long hours of a winter's night in such a place and in such companion- ship. There was sufficient light to enable him to watch the motions of the crooked-brained wretch, and that was all. He was determined to be on his guard, and in case his guide attempted to do him any in- jury to defend himself to the last. Seating himself on a stone Jack drew from his pocket a huge piece of half cooked beef which he began to devour. He was even con- siderate enough to offer Edwin a piece, but the kind offer was refused. The latter stretched himself on the flinty ground at some distance and resigned himself to his meditations. The long, cold, and miserable night came to an end at last. Edwin, who was nearly perished to death, had changed his position several times in the course of the night, and in order to help the blood to circulate in his benumbed veins, had more than once resorted to the expedient of walking up and down like a sentinel. It was decidedly the most wretched night he had ever spent, and most devoutly did he pray that to spend such another might never be his lot. His companion slept, or seemed to sleep, as
soundly as if he occupied a corner near some hospitable fireplace. He heeded not the noises made by Edwin when he kicked the loose stones from his solitary promenade, or the hoarse booming of the distant bittern— a welcome sound to the silent watcher, for it reminded him of evenings spent at Brem- garten, when he and Griselda expressed their wonder to each other how so small a bird could make so loud a noise. The morning came damp and foggy, barren and hungry, no fire, no bread, no pot of steaming tea ; nothing but repulsive rocks and pathless woods. The guide rose up and shook himself to make sure, perhaps, that his feet and hands were without fetters, of which he had pro- bably been dreaming, and prepared for marching. Edwin again attempted to per- suade him to direct him to the station, that he might not only find the much desired rest, but send the requisite assistance to the constable ; but his persuasions were vain ; Jack was determined not to go near the station, and would give no reason for his conduct except that the people there were not his friends. He reiterated his promise, however, to put Edwin on the track to Fingal, and he might then please himself whether he would go back to the station, or take the information to Earlsley himself. As they pursued their way, Edwin who set a fair higher value on the immense and glorious prospect of an eternal life than on the fleeting concerns of this perishable world, took it upon himself to preach it kind of ser- mon to the wild and reckless savage whom he followed ; but his exhortation was not listened to attentively. The sprightly Jack ever seemed impatient during its continuance. He replied to it by a few incoherent grunts quite unintelligible to his companion, who, satisfied at length concerning the nature of the animal before whom his pearls had been cast, followed in silence and at a painfully rapid pace. After toiling along for some hours the forest became less dense, the ground was less rocky, and better clothed with grass, and he could see at a distance portions of grassy plains, which he thought he had seen before. At last, joy of joys, he suddenly beheld the familiar though still distant hills that overshadowed the dwelling of the lady of his love, with the craggy tiers of Ben Lomond towering far above them. His heart bounded as he reached the brow of a hill, looked over the valley of the Break-o'-Day Plains, and recognised objects that he thought he should never see again ; but his guide loitered not ; he descended the hill, and had commenced to cross the plain, when a sudden shower of hail forced him to take shelter under a tree, the thick branches of which spread themselves invitingly over the ground. Edwin followed his example, and sat down on the grass tired, foot-sore, and hungry. They had not been there ten minutes, when just as the hail shower was clearing away two strange men stood before them as suddenly as if they had risen from the earth. Their aspect was stern and threatening, and they had guns firmly grasped ready for immediate use. The taller of the two was the first to speak, and he said with a peculiar shake of his hand, which intimated plainly that disobedience would be followed by sum- mary punishment:—" Come this way, mates." The two wayfarers obeyed ; as he rose from the ground Edwin looked at his guide and observed that his lips had grown livid, and his countenance assumed a singular ex- pression, as if fear and defiance had both taken possession of his heart at the same time. Whether he knew the strangers or not, Edwin had no means of knowing, for he spoke not a word, but walked quietly in the direction in- dicated, he and his companion together, the armed men placing themselves on either side so as to guard against any attempt at escape. A march of five minutes brought them to a thicket of wattle trees, on entering which the two prisoners were dismayed on finding themselves in the presence of nine or ten well-armed ferocious looking men, some sitting on their knapsacks, others lying on the ground. There stood a large tree in the centre of the thicket, and on a low branch sat a stout-looking man with a greasy black hat on his head smoking in silence ; while beside him stood a tall, well built, and stern-featured individual whom Edwin instantly recognised to be Brady, the formidable bushranger. Our hero instinc- tively turned to observe what effect this rencontre had upon the informer ; his lips were still livid, but they had curled into a kind of dare-devil smile. He saw probably by the expression of Brady's countenance that to appeal to him for mercy was vain, and thought it better no doubt—since to judge by appearances he was doomed to suffer death for his late treachery—to ' die game,' as the phrase is. He looked at Brady, and Brady looked at him, the one with calm if not stupid indifference, the other with the glare of a wild cat about to leap upon its prey. Edwin looked from one to the other, and his humane heart recoiled from contem- plating the too probable result. " I told you you were a villain, Jack," said Brady in a terrible voice, " and that you'd die the death of a dog, but by my im- mortal soul I did not expect to have the pleasure of carrying out my own prophecy so soon. Have the goodness to say your prayers, for your time is come." " Don't want to say prayers," said Jack, " don't believe in 'em no how." " Let him have a fair trial, Brady," said the stout man knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and rising to his feet. " A fair trial !" said Brady contemptuously ; " he has had all the trial he deserves, and if you, Jem Crawford, don't know how to act with vigor and decision in a case like this, give up your place to one who does. It's a good work to rid the world of a ruffian. Five minutes more to say his prayers, and his doom is sealed." Crawford made no reply, being quite
aware of his own incapacity to oppose the strong determination of his imperious lieu- tenant ; but Edwin, horrified at the idea of a summary and bloody execution, felt it his duty to interpose, and said— " Brady, you are not reported a cruel or bloodthirsty man, do not blacken your repu- tution with murder in cold blood ; reflect on the crime of sending a sinful creature un- prepared into the presence of his Creator : be merciful, let him go with his life, and you will be saved many a bitter pang hereafter." " Have you done ?" said Brady, his face red with suppressed anger. " If my words have no effect upon you I will say in more," replied Edwin. "I have seen you," said the outlaw, " in company with Baxter the carrier, but I do not know who you are, and I do not care ; but if you are not above taking advice, be satisfied with attending to your own affairs, and on no account meddle with me or my concerns." "Nevertheless—" " Be silent, Sir;" said the bushranger savagely ; " your opinion is neither asked for nor wanted." The rest of the gang gathered round listen- ing attentively to every word. All of them regarded Brady with awe, but some seemed disposed to intercede for the wretch's life. " Give him a hundred lashes and let him go," said one. " Tie him to the tree and let him take his chance," said another : but Brady looked round quickly, saying—" Back all of you ! And you, you secret stabbing, detest- able villain, walk to that tree ; if the con- stable who took me was now in your place I would not hurt a hair of his head, because he was my open enemy, but you—false, hang-dog wretch—walk to that tree." Jack calmly obeyed, and placed his head against the trunk : it was the same tree on a low branch of which Crawford had been seated, and from which that illustrious commander now pre- cipitately retreated. " Are you ready ?" said Brady, cocking his piece. " Aye, ready's the word," answered Jack, and reversing the final word of command of the fire-eating husband of Caroline Bonaparte (we hope his mighty shade will pardon the invidious comparison), he continued—"Aim at my head and leave me a sound heart— present—fire." Thus fell the crack'd-brained Jack—no more to ramble with light footstep and gay spirit over the forest clad moun- tains.* Having perpetrated this bloody act of ven- geance, Brady coolly re-loaded his gun, while Crawford ordered two of his men to bury the body. As they had no spade wherewith to perform that last office for the dead, they col- lected a quantity of boughs and covered up the unfortunate Jack where he fell. This done the gang began to prepare for their de- parture by strapping on their knapsacks. Edwin naturally supposed that he, being an inoffensive stranger, from whom they could gain nothing by robbery, would be allowed to depart in peace ; but in this he was mistaken, for one of the party, an Irishman to judge by his accent, flung a heavy knapsack at his feet, and roughly ordered him to carry it. Not choosing to obey immediately, the fellow began to curse and blaspheme frightfully, and swore that he would send him to hell along with Jack if he did not do as he was told. Edwin looked round in the hope of finding at least one friend amongst these savage men, but he saw by their faces that they were fully determined to support their comrade ; and the Irishman beginning again to make use of the vilest threats in the most shocking language, he took up the load and placed it on his back. But his persecutor was not satisfied with this compliance ; he took another knapsack from one of the men, and deliberately strapped it on top of the first. At this unreasonable usage Edwin's spirit of resistance was aroused, he flung down both, and then sat down himself, declaring that he would not carry anything, and they might shoot him, too, if they liked. The Irishman, who was destined to make the name of McCabe famous or infamous in after-years for more than one deed of wanton barbarity, lowered his gun as if it was his real intention to put his murderous threats into execution ; but Brady, who was also an Irishman, promptly came forward and com- manded him to leave the prisoner alone. By this timely interference in his behalf, Edwin perceived that a spark of sympathy for the fallen still burned, however feebly, in the lieutenant's rugged breast. He was imme- diately abandoned by McCabe, who retired without replying, and Brady, taking his own knapsack from his shoulders and buckling it on to those of Edwin, thus addressed him— " You seem to possess a high spirit, my friend, but you must consent to become my fag for awhile. I'll not overload you, nor ill- use you, provided you are quiet and obedient ; but don't attempt to escape until I dismiss you, or you may possibly feel the weight of a bushrangcr's resentment. " Why am I detained ?" Edwin asked. " If you cannot be silent," returned Brady, " your friend McCabe only wants the ghost of a word to drive his bayonet up to the hilt in your heart. We're all ready, Crawford." " Forward—quick march," said Crawford. " Make soldiers of us at once," murmured Brady, " rank us up two deep, and bellow, ' rear rank take close order,' ' prime and load,' and the rest of it. ' Fix bayonets' will be the next, though we have only one, and that's McCabe's—a fellow who knows how to use it. Right, left—right, left ; keep the step, lads, or Crawford will go mad. By the hawk's eye of my grandmother, if I ever get hanged and see a red-coat in the crowd, I shall die, like a turkey cock, of rage, and not of the hanging." * This fact is related by West, Bonwick, and other writers, though they differ a little in the details. In the above account I have not departed widely from historical accuracy.
While the reckless Brady spoke these words the men got under arms and com- menced their march, Crawford as captain leading the van, and Brady with his prisoner in the rear. They walked in single file for the sake of conveniently getting over the numerous impediments of the bush, and ob- served a strict silence, no man venturing to speak above a whisper. Instead of taking the road towards Fingal they struck off in a northerly direction, and soon came to the banks of a river, where a short pause took place, and the men sat down to rest and re- fresh. Portions of bread and meat were drawn from the respective knapsacks, and the half-starved Herbart was glad to receive from Brady's hands a mo- derate allowance of both. Washing his meal down with a draught of water he began to feel more comfortable, though his mind was constantly on the rack and nearly over- whelmed with the complicated nature of his misfortunes. Once he ventured to ask Brady what were the intentions of the gang towards him, but that individual intimated for the second time that it was better for him to ask no questions at present. Thus in hopeless despondency and unutterable misery he ac- companied them in silence, and did as he was ordered without being able to think of any remedy except what a voluntary death might afford ; but he shrank with horror from the idea of so great a crime. They crossed the river, which was neither very broad nor deep, and made their way up the steep rocky hills on the opposite side. Edwin saw that they were making for the Ben Lomond Tier, in the inaccessible ravines of which he thought it was possible they might have a secure retreat. It was a thorny path for our poor friend, and a dismal march over those flinty hills where nothing but a thick jungle of trees stretched far away as far as the eye could reach. When the first belt of hills was crossed they had to scramble down into a deep gully, where there was no inviting pasture, nothing in- deed but trees, scrubby bushes, and rocks ; and emerging from that they were obliged to mount another hill more rugged if possible than the one they had just passed. More than once Edwin thought of throwing down his burden and making a desperate attempt to escape ; but the nature of the ground, the number of his enemies, and above all the hopelessness of finding his way amongst the woody hills, and the probability of his dying of hunger deterred him. Again, he thought of laying his head on a stone and inviting his protector Brady to put an end to his wretched life out of kindness ; but the love of home came strong upon him, and the be- lief that he would outlive all these troubles and be happy yet infused a little courage into his soul, and bade him bear up with patience. It requires a large stock of pati- ence to take us through the world even when things go smoothly with us ; how much more when our path is beset with difficulties, and when thorns are scattered profusely in our way ? As they advanced deeper into the recesses of the gloomy mountains the motions of the bushrangers became more free and unrestrained. They talked and joked with each other and laughed as merrily as if they were a party of jovial laborers re- turning home after earning full wages for the day. Some of them even broke out into jolly songs, and their uproarious mirth, which neither Crawford nor Brady attempted to check, startled the birds from their favorite perches, and gave our hero an abundant supply of food for mental digestion. He wondered how men leading such a wayward and doubly outcast existence could be happy or even seem to be so. They were abandoned and shunned, by all classes except those who were in pursuit of them, and a few solitary shepherds whoin they compelled to find them rum and provisions when required. They traversed the bush at the imminent danger of being shot, and if taken they were contain of being hanged. And yet these fellows who had broken the laws both of God and man could be jovial and lighthearted, while their prisoner, the beau-ideal as he flattered himself of honesty and truth, was so utterly miserable as to pray earnestly that death might soon put an end to his sufferings. The shades of night were now settling down rapidly. They had entered a narrow gorge, and traversed with haste a rough and difficult path along one of its steep sides ; for at the bottom a stream of water tumbled in its rocky bed overhung by dog-wood scrub, and thick masses of prickly bushes. The path, if such it could be called, lay at some distance above the stream ; but the tops of the precipices higher up were not visible to the eye. Perfectly well acquainted with the track, the bushrangers scrambled on without any apparent difficulty, now up a nearly perpendicular ascent to pass one pro- jecting crag, now down an equally steep descent to wind round the base of another. Edwin, unaccustomed to such work, had several narrow escapes of being precipitated with Brady's knapsack down to the bottom of the glen ; often the loose stones rolled from under his feet, and he was obliged to catch hold of anything he could to save him- self from falling. Brady kept close behind him and encouraged him from time to time in his rough way to keep on his pins and not think for a moment of 'jibbing.' The increasing darkness was by no means favorable to safe or speedy progression in such a place, and, indeed, if it had not been for the faint light of the moon Edwin was convinced that he could not have followed his conductors over such a dangerous track without breaking his bones, or perhaps losing his life. At length they ap- peared to arrive at the head of the gorge, over which the gushing stream fell from rock to rock in three or four diminutive cascades. The ascent became steeper and more difficult, for even the hardy outlaws themselves in clambering up the loose shingle often slid
back for yards, though kept their footing tolerably well. One fellow, however, was less fortunate than his companions. It was McCabe, the ferocious proprietor of the bayonet. In attempting to jump upwards to a point of rock, by which he thought to gain on the rest by several yards, he lost his foot- ing and rolled down, muttering savage oaths, until his progress was arrested by a tree—the trees being nearly as thick in that barren wilderness as they might be upon a rich plain. His comrades seeing him get up rubbing his shins and elbows, assailed him with a shout of laughter, and resumed their march. A. few more paces and they stood on the top, and clambered over a rough stone wall—the curtain of the fortress, built to defend an open space between two formidable bastions which human hands had not placed there. Looking down on the other side Edwin perceived by the moonlight that they had reached an elevated plateau, on which grew a scanty supply of grass ; and nearly in the centre of this the rivulet expanded into a small lake, the superabundant waters of which flung themselves into the glen whence the outlaws had just emerged. Around the plateau two or three rude huts had been erected, and made weather-proof by sheets of stringy bark placed.against the sloping or projecting crags that nearly surrounded it ; and supported on stakes driven into the ground. This was the bushrangers' fortress ; if by any possibility it could be taken by storm, they had evidently other places still more inaccessible to which to retreat, for Edwin could see the lofty cliffs of Ben Lomond towering far above his head like the turrets of a gigantic castle. (To be continued.)