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much dread, Swayne, the robber who had carried her away, standing with his arms folded and leaning against an oak tree, watching her most attentively. For some time he kept silence; at last, drawing nearer to where she was, and looking eagerly round to assure himself of being unobserved, he inquired in a low voice, “Is the pretty maid afraid of rough Robert Swayne ?"
“No, Master Swayne,” replied Annie, with something like cheerfulness and thankfulness ; "you saved me from being killed, and since then, from being beaten; you have been good and kind to me; why should I be afraid of you?"
“ Was I always kind to you, little one ?"
“No; you were once, like all the rest, hard and cruel. You blasphemed God and beat me when I sang my hymns; but you are changed now. Oh! Master Swayne, you are so changed, so different from the rest."
“What has changed me, little one ? What has taken away the heart of a beast that was in me but a little while agone, and restored me the heart of a child ? What has made me, the wildest fiercest robber once, now as tender hearted as a woman, hating my old life and every thing about it? What has made me look up at the blue sky over my head with a feeling that something is calling me out of it and up to it, as if my home was there ?"
“Oh! Master Swayne,” joyfully cried Annie ; "it is God-it is God. He is calling you. He is going to make you feel and pray and sing like me. Somebody must be praying for you at a distance as they do for me. Perhaps it is your mother too--"
At the mention of this word “mother,” something seemed to strike all at once the chords of the man's heart. He covered his face with his hands and burst into tears; then turned to the tree against which
he had been leaning and sobbed aloud. In a moment Annie had glided quietly to his side, and, taking his rough hand in her's, watched him with most affectionate interest. With her bright looks and heavenly bearing, she might well have been taken for the man's guardian angel rejoicing over his repentance. At their feet murmured a silvery stream, picturing the waters of life, ever flowing in the Church for penitents and saints alike. Suddenly collecting himself, and looking all around, with a half frightened expression, for fear he might be watched, he said in a hurried, eager whisper, “Listen to me, Annie. I cannot say much now; there is so much to do.
must know how changed I am. It is God Who has done it. He has called me to save me. It is my mother's prayer either on earth or in heaven. And yet it is all through you. When you talked of your mother it made me think of mine, and all she taught me when I was a little boy. For oh ! little one, she did teach me; just like your's, the same lessons, the same prayers, the same hymns; I heard you singing one just now. I used to give no attention to her, or very little, for I was selfish and wilful. So I was soon tempted to despise and laugh at what she told me. Oh, Annie ! I ran away from home; I got into bad company; I became a robber; I did every thing bad except murder. And now my eyes are open. All my poor mother's words come back upon me. I can bear it no longer. Every day passed amidst such scenes and companions as those is like a day in hell. We must escape at once."
“Ah!" interrupted Annie, with a melancholy smile, those wicked men are always watching me. I could not escape, and you would certainly be killed, if they caught you." “Hush ; not so loud, or they will hear you. This is
what I propose to do, even though it may endanger my life. To-night every hand will be required, if I mistake
for see that ship now tacking for the third time in the channel, with the flag of England waving from her mast, is not a chance cruiser, but clearly has some particular work in view. She is on the watch for a prize; and that prize may be our long looked for buccaneering barque. Our men know it. Do
you not see how eagerly they are grouping together, and yet cautiously keeping under concealment of the wood ? Hark! the captain is ordering silence and sending out for the men. We must be brief. Be ready to join me at yonder creek, under the rock, when the word passes to muster to-night. It will be an hour before moon-rise, about the same after sunset. I have concealed a boat under the rushes and drifted seaweed. Once started, with the tide in my favour, and I know they will follow in vain. Besides, they dare not betray their whereabouts by firing. Four miles
up the river is a village or town called Beaulieu, where we shall find shelter at any rate. But remember, little
one, I cannot wait an instant, for they will miss me at the evening muster, and my doom will be fixed.”
“ God Almighty help us ! Master Swayne. I will find time to pray Him to save and protect us.”
“There, now go away, quick-you are called, and I am the only one missed.”
The sun was already in the west, and evening's many voices stirring in the air; birds of every note, and insects of every tribe; the sheep-bell tinkling on the distant hills ; the faintly-heard “halloo” of some far off woodman or fisherman to his fellow; the plashing of the fish in some stilly bay of the river amidst the woods; the rippling of the rising tide, mingled ever and anon with a voice from the ship still keeping its mysterious watch in the channel. So quiet were the men, as they lay watching in the long grass the whole afternoon, that Annie had time and opportunity to observe all this, and her beating anxious heart poured out a prayer to God for help in the coming trial. Then, the sun, throwing a golden splendour over the unruffled sea, sank slowly in the west. Twilight brought deeper stillness and more anxious watching amongst the “ red-handed men.” The very song of the blackbird overhead became a burden to them. The sea-mew's wild scream, heralding the rising night wind and the advancing tide, exasperated their minds to cursing. For meanwhile that one ship had turned once again, just in time to observe a strange sail, faintly discernible in the deepening twilight, already in the channel. Then for the first me arose a buzz and a stir amongst the men, and all eyes were turned to the captain.
Comrades," he exclaimed, in a low but excited tone, “it is as I expected. Yonder sloop bears the bloodhounds of government on the track of our brave fellows, now unsuspectingly passing Lymington Harbour. There has been treachery somewhere, and to-night will bring a struggle for our very lives. We must be ready. Three of our boats lie hidden along the shore : only one is missing, probably drifted away with the tide. With these we can give Queen Bess's servants some trouble. So now, since it must be at least two hours before we shall be wanted at sea, now the man-of-war is lying to off Cowes, let us to the woods and make merry till our night muster. And hark ye, men of the red hand, that man dies, be he who he inay, who is not found at his place after my third whistle. Comrade Swayne,-a word with you apart." Without a look or sign of suspicion, still less of fear,
Swayne started to his chief's side. Annie found herself trembling so violently that she could hardly stand.
“Wbat of Master Grimman, of Clairton ?" abruptly inquired the stern robber captain. “Was he at home when you last sought him, comrade ?”
“Ah, Captain," replied Swayne, with eagerness catching at a good opportunity for throwing suspicion in another quarter," where we most trust, we may be most deceived. I always warned you against Master Grimman. He was a hollow friend from the first. Now that he has served bis ends by us, he is tired of us. I did not find him at Clairton. He had been away some days, and rumours were afloat of soldiers and constables in the neighbourhood, on the look out for suspected characters. I have been ever since expecting a visit from some such craft as that now waiting our buccaneering party in Cowes roads. No wonder, Captain, a man looks downcast and moody, when such treachery is at work." “ Thanks, Swayne,” replied the captain ; “methinks I
, see it all now. Your changed looks and moody ways are accounted for. We must be revenged on Grimman. Keep a vigilant eye on the girl yonder. He thinks her dead; but, if we can only bring this home to him, she shall trouble his dreams some fine night at Clairton again.” So they parted.
In about an hour after this, when twilight was fast deepening into night, albeit not dark, for it was that sweet summer season when it may almost be said that darkness never
covers the earth, a prolonged shrill whistle was heard far and wide through the woods ; and the robbers, who were drinking together in groups here and there, started to their feet in silence and proceeded to the beach. Annie, who had not expected the signal so soon, and was engaged in clearing away the remains