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The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont

Part 2 out of 5

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sunlit sea. "I can paddle my catamaran against both wind and tide;
why cannot you do the same?" he would say. He did not understand
the advantage or uses of sails. He had lost his own paddles in the
storm, otherwise he would in all probability have left the island
on his own account. He was like a fish out of water when the
novelty of his situation wore off. On the other hand, I thought of
water, provisions, and other equally vital necessaries. So Gunda
had to rest content for a time, and he grew, if possible, more
morose and sullen than ever.

During this period of impatient waiting, we made many experimental
voyages out to sea, and generally got the boat into capital trim
for the great and eventful journey. I saw to it that she was
thoroughly well provisioned with tinned stuffs--long put on one
side for the purpose; and I may say here that at the last moment
before starting I placed on board three large live turtles, which
supplied us with meat until we reached the Australian main. I also
took a plentiful supply of water, in bags made from the intestines
of birds and fishes; also a small cask containing about ten gallons
of the precious fluid, which was placed near the mast. In short,
as far I was able, I provided everything that was necessary for
this most important journey. But consider for a moment the
horrible doubts and fears that racked me. I FANCIED the mainland
was not very far away, but you must remember I was not at all
certain how long it would take us to reach it; nor could I be sure,
therefore, whether I had taken a sufficient supply of food and
water. Our provisions, which included tinned meats, corn in the
cob and loose, turtles' flesh and intestines, flour, rice, beans,
&c., would, however, on a fairly liberal allowance, last a little
over three weeks. We also carried some blankets, nails, tar, and
other requisites. Of my books I only took my Bible with me. This
I wrapped up in parchment made from pelican skin, together with
four photographs of a certain young lady which I carried about with
me throughout the whole of my wanderings. The propulsive power
was, of course, the big lug-sail, which was always held loosely in
the hand, and never made fast, for fear of a sudden capsize.

Six months had passed away since the advent of my visitors, when
one morning we all marched out from the hut and down to the beach;
the two boys fairly yelling with joy, and waving bunches of green
corn plucked from my garden. Their mother skipped gaily hither and
thither, and I myself was hardly able to control my transports of
excitement and exhilaration. Even Gunda beamed upon the
preparations for our release. I did not demolish my hut of pearl
shells, but left it standing exactly as it had been during the past
two and a half years. Nor must I omit to mention that I buried my
treasure of pearls deep in the sand at one end of the island, and
in all human probability it is there at this moment, for I have
never returned for them, as I fondly hoped to be able to do so at
some future date. It is, of course, possible that the precious box
has been washed away in a storm, but more probably the contrary is
the case, and still deeper layers of sand have been silted over
this great treasure. I dared not carry anything oversea that was
not vitally necessary, and what good were pearls to me on my
fearful journey, convoying four other people out into the unknown
in a crazy, home-made boat? Even masses of virgin gold were of
very little use to me in the years that followed; but of this more
anon. My condition, by the way, at this time was one of robust
health; indeed, I was getting quite stout owing to the quantity of
turtle I had been eating, whilst Yamba's husband was positively
corpulent from the same reason.

That glorious morning in the last week of May 1866 will ever be
graven in my memory. As I cast off from that saving but cruel
shore, I thanked my Maker for having preserved me so long and
brought me through such awful perils, as well as for the good
health I had always enjoyed. As the boat began to ripple through
the inclosed waters of the lagoon, the spirits of the four blacks
rose so high that I was afraid they would capsize the little craft
in their excitement.

There was a strong, warm breeze blowing in our favour, and soon my
island home was receding swiftly from our view. The last thing to
remain in sight was the shell hut, but this, too, disappeared
before we had covered three miles. It would have been visible from
a big ship at a much greater distance, but no one would ever
imagine what it really was. Yamba sat near me in the stern, but
her husband curled himself up at the opposite end of the boat; and
from the time we reached the open sea practically until we gained
the main, he did not relax his attitude of reserve and dogged
silence. He ate and drank enormously, however. You would have
thought we were in a land flowing with milk and honey, instead of
an open boat with limited provisions and an unknown journey in
front of us. He did exert himself sufficiently on one occasion,
however, to dive overboard and capture a turtle. He was sitting
moodily in the prow of the boat as usual one afternoon, when
suddenly he jumped up, and with a yell took a header overboard,
almost capsizing our heavily laden boat. At first I thought he
must have gone mad, but on heaving to, I saw him some little
distance away in the water struggling with a turtle. He managed to
get it on its back after a time, and though I felt annoyed at his
recklessness, I could not help laughing at his antics and the
comical efforts made by the turtle to escape. The turtle was duly
hauled aboard, and we then continued our voyage without delay. I
was dreadfully afraid of being caught in a storm. Our boat must
inevitably have foundered had the seas been at all rough.

Fortunately never once did the wind change, so that we were able to
sail on steadily and safely night and day, without deviating in the
least from our course. We travelled fully four knots an hour, the
wind and current being nearly always in our favour. It was,
however, a painfully monotonous and trying experience to sit thus
in the boat, cramped up as we were, day after day and night after
night. About the fifth day we sighted a small island--probably
Barker Island, in the vicinity of Admiralty Gulf--and landed upon
it at once solely for the purpose of stretching our aching limbs.
This little island was uninhabited, and covered to the very water's
edge with dense tropical vegetation. It was a perfectly
exhilarating experience to walk about on real earth once more. We
cooked some turtle meat and stayed a few hours on the island, after
which we entered the boat and put off on our journey again. Just
before leaving I stored a quantity of corn, cobs, seeds, &c., in a
little cairn in case we might be compelled to return. I always
steered, keeping east by north, but Yamba relieved me for a few
hours each evening--generally between six and nine o'clock, when I
enjoyed a brief but sound sleep. Gunda never offered to take a
spell, and I did not think it worth while to trouble him.

Thus night and day we sailed steadily on, occasionally sighting
sharks and even whales. We passed a great number of islands, some
of them wooded and covered with beautiful jungle growths, whilst
others were nothing but rock and sand. None of them seemed to be
inhabited. The sea was smooth all the time, but occasionally the
currents carried us out of our course among the islands, and then
we had to land and wait till the tide turned. No matter how the
wind was, if the tide was not also in our favour we had to land.
We cruised in and out among the islands for ten days or more, when
we rounded Cape Londonderry and then steered S. by E. The current,
however, carried us straight for Cambridge Gulf. One little island
I sighted between Cambridge Gulf and Queen's Channel had a curious
house-like structure built in one of the trees on the coast. The
trunk of this tree was very large and tapering, and the platform
arrangement was built amongst the branches at the top, after the
manner adopted by the natives of New Guinea.

You may imagine my feelings when, early one morning, Yamba suddenly
gripped my arm and murmured, "We are nearing my home at last." I
leaped to my feet, and a few minutes afterwards the mainland came
hazily into view. Instead of heading straight for it, however, we
made for a beautiful island that stood in the mouth of a large bay,
and here we landed to recuperate for a day or so. Immediately on
our arrival, Yamba and her husband lit some fires, and made what
were apparently smoke-signals to their friends on the main. They
first cut down a quantity of green wood with my tomahawk and
arranged it in the form of a pyramid. Next they obtained fire by
rubbing together two pieces of a certain kind of wood; and as the
smoke ascended we saw answering smoke-signals from the opposite
shore. The smoke was allowed to ascend in puffs which were
regulated by the manipulation of boughs. Not long after this
curious exchange of signals (and the practice is virtually
universal throughout the whole of aboriginal Australia), we saw
three catamarans, or floats, each carrying a man, shooting across
towards our island. These catamarans merely consisted of a broad
plank with a stick placed transversely at the prow, on which the
black placed his feet. He squatted down on the plank and then
paddled forward. I viewed their approach with mixed sensations of
alarm and hope. I was in the power of these people, I thought.
They could tear me limb from limb, torture me, kill and eat me, if
they so pleased; I was absolutely helpless. These fears, however,
were but momentary, and back upon my mind rushed the calm
assurances I had obtained from my clear-eyed mentor, Yamba, to say
nothing about the mysterious message of hope and consolation that
had startled the solemn stillness of that tropical night. I knew
these people to be cannibals, for, during the long talks we used to
have on the island, Yamba had described to me their horrid feasts
after a successful war. Nevertheless, I awaited the arrival of the
little flotilla with all the complacency I could muster, but at the
same time I was careful to let Yamba's husband be the first to
receive them.

And he advanced to meet them. The newcomers, having landed,
squatted down some little distance away from the man they had come
to meet, and then Gunda and they gradually edged forwards towards
one another, until at length each placed his nose upon the other's
shoulder. This was apparently the native method of embracing.
Later Gunda brought his friends to be introduced to me, and to the
best of my ability I went through the same ridiculous ceremony. I
must say my new friends evinced an almost uncontrollable terror at
the sight of me. Gunda, however, made it clear that I was NOT a
returned spirit, but a man like themselves--a great man certainly,
and a mysterious man, but a man all the same. Although by this
time my skin had become tanned and dark, there was seemingly no end
to the amazement it caused the blacks. They timidly touched and
felt my body, legs, and arms, and were vastly anxious to know what
the covering was I had round my body. In due time, however, the
excitement subsided somewhat, and then the newcomers prepared more
smoke-signals to their friends on the mainland--this time building
five separate fires in the form of a circle.

It was interesting to watch this remarkable method of
communication. Each fire was set smoking fiercely a few seconds
after its neighbour had started. Finally, the columns of smoke
united, and ascended together in the form of a huge pyramid, going
up a tremendous height into the still, hot air. The meaning of
these signals was explained to me. They indicated to the people on
the mainland that the advance guard had found Gunda and his family;
that they had a great man with them; and that, furthermore, they
might expect us to return all together almost immediately. By this
time, thanks to Yamba's able and intelligent lessons, I was able to
speak the queer language of the blacks with some show of fluency,
and I could understand them well enough when they did not jabber
too quickly.

The next phase of our arrival was that "smokes" were ascending in
all directions on the mainland, evidently calling the tribes from
far and near. How these smoke-signals gave an idea of the white
man and his wonders I am utterly at a loss to imagine. In the
meantime Yamba had prepared a great feast for the visitors, the
principal dish being our remaining big turtle, of which the blacks
ate a prodigious quantity. I afterwards told them that I was in
need of a prolonged rest, my long journey having wearied me, and
after this explanation I retired, and slung my hammock in a shady
nook, where I slept undisturbed from shortly before noon until late
in the day, when my ever-faithful Yamba, who had been keeping a
careful watch, woke me and said that the festivities prior to our
departure were about to take place.

Much refreshed, I rejoined the blacks, and, to their unbounded
delight and amazement, entertained them for a few minutes with some
of my acrobatic tricks and contortions. Some of the more emulous
among them tried to imitate my feats of agility, but always came
dismally to grief--a performance that created even more frantic
merriment than my own. After a little while the blacks
disappeared, only to come forth a few minutes later with their
bodies gorgeously decorated with stripes of yellow ochre and red
and white pigments. These startling preparations preceded a great
CORROBOREE in honour of my arrival, and in this embarrassing
function I was, of course, expected to join. The ceremony was kept
up with extraordinary vigour the whole night long, but all I was
required to do was to sit beating sticks together, and join in the
general uproar. This was all very well for a little while, but the
monotony of the affair was terrible, and I withdrew to my hammock
before midnight.

In the morning I saw a great fleet of catamarans putting off from
the mainland, and in a very short time between fifty and sixty
natives joined our party on the island. Then followed the usual
greetings and comical expressions of amazement--of course, at the
sight of me, my boat, and everything in it. A few hours later the
whole crowd left the island, led by me in the big boat--which, by
the way, attracted as much interest as I did myself. The natives
forced their catamarans through the water at great speed, using
only one paddle, which was dipped first on one side and then on the
other in rapid succession, without, however, causing the apparently
frail craft to swerve in the slightest degree.

As we approached the new country, I beheld a vast surging crowd of
excited blacks--men, women, and children, all perfectly naked--
standing on the beach. The moment we landed there was a most
extraordinary rush for my boat, and everything on board her was
there and then subjected to the closest scrutiny.

The people seemed to be divided into clans, and when one clan was
busy inspecting my implements and utensils, another was patiently
waiting its turn to examine the white man's wonders. I sat in the
boat for some time, fairly bewildered and deafened by the
uproarious jabberings and shrill, excited cries of amazement and
wonder that filled the air all round me. At last, however, the
blacks who had come out to meet us on the island came to my rescue,
and escorted me through the crowd, with visible pride, to an
eminence overlooking the native camping-ground. I then learnt that
the news of my coming had been smoke-signalled in every direction
for many miles; hence the enormous gathering of clans on the beach.

The camping-ground I now found myself upon consisted of about
thirty primitive shelters, built of boughs in the most flimsy
manner, and only intended to break the force of the wind. These
shelters, or "break-winds," were crescent-shaped, had ho roof, and
were not in any way closed in in front. There were, however, two
or three grass huts of beehive shape, about seven feet high and ten
feet in diameter, with a queer little hole at the base through
which the occupier had to crawl. The inside was perfectly dark.

I was told I could have either a break-wind of boughs or a beehive
hut, and on consideration I chose the latter. It would, I
reflected, ensure something approaching privacy. My indefatigable
Yamba and a few of her women friends set to work then and there,
and positively in less than an hour the grass hut was ready for
occupation! I did not, however, stay to witness the completion of
the building operations, but went off with some self-appointed
cicerones to see the different camps; everywhere I was received
with the greatest enthusiasm and manifestations of respect and
friendship. My simple loin-cloth of crimson Japanese silk
occasioned much astonishment among the blacks, but curiously enough
the men were far more astonished at my FOOTPRINTS than any other
attribute I possessed. It seems that when they themselves walk
they turn their feet sideways, so that they only make a half
impression, so to speak, instead of a full footprint. On the other
hand, I of course planted my feet squarely down, and this imprint
in the sand was followed by a crowd of blacks, who gravely peered
at every footprint, slapping themselves and clicking in amazement
at the wonderful thing!

CHAPTER V

Some queer dishes--Water wizards--A mysterious deputation--I
protest against cannibalism--My marriage ceremony--A startling
proposition--Daily routine--A diet of worms--I proceed cautiously--
The cannibal poet sells his wares--Fishing extraordinary--How emus
were caught--Eternal fires--A coming horror--The first cannibal
feast.

I saw very little of Gunda from the moment of landing. I feel sure
that the fact of his having seen so much of the world, and
travelled such a long distance--to say nothing about bringing back
so wonderful a creature as myself--had rendered him a very great
man indeed in the estimation of his friends; and in consequence of
this so much honour was paid him that he became puffed up with
pride, and neglected his faithful wife.

Everywhere I went the natives were absolutely overwhelming in their
hospitality, and presents of food of all kinds were fairly showered
upon me, including such delicacies as kangaroo and opossum meat,
rats, snakes, tree-worms, fish, &c., which were always left outside
my hut. Baked snake, I ought to mention, was a very pleasant dish
indeed, but as there was no salt forthcoming, and the flesh was
very tasteless, I cannot say I enjoyed this particular native
dainty. The snakes were invariably baked whole in their skins, and
the meat was very tender and juicy, though a little insipid as to
flavour. The native method of cooking is to scoop out a hole in
the sand with the hands, and then place the article to be cooked at
the bottom. Some loose stones would then be thrown over the
"joint." Next would come a layer of sand, and the fire was built
on the top of all. Rats were always plentiful--often so much so as
to become a serious nuisance. They were of the large brown
variety, and were not at all bad eating. I may say here that the
women-folk were responsible for the catching of the rats, the
method usually adopted being to poke in their holes with sticks,
and then kill them as they rushed out. The women, by the way, were
responsible for a good many things. They were their masters'
dressers, so to speak, in that they were required to carry supplies
of the greasy clay or earth with which the blacks anoint their
bodies to ward off the sun's rays and insect bites; and beside
this, woe betide the wives if corroboree time found them without an
ample supply of coloured pigments for the decoration of their
masters' bodies. One of the principal duties of the women-folk,
however, was the provision of roots for the family's dinner. The
most important among these necessaries--besides fine yams--were the
root and bud of a kind of water-lily, which when roasted tasted not
unlike a sweet potato.

There was usually a good water supply in the neighbourhood of these
camps, and if it failed (as it very frequently did), the whole
tribe simply moved its quarters elsewhere--perhaps a hundred miles
off.

The instinct of these people for finding water, however, was
nothing short of miraculous. No one would think of going down to
the seashore to look for fresh water, yet they often showed me the
purest and most refreshing of liquids oozing up out of the sand on
the beach after the tide had receded.

All this time, and for many months afterwards, my boat and
everything it contained were saved from molestation and theft by a
curious device on the part of Yamba. She simply placed a couple of
crossed sticks on the sand near the bows, this being evidently a
kind of Masonic sign to all beholders that they were to respect the
property of the stranger among them; and I verily believe that the
boat and its contents might have remained there until they fell to
pieces before any one of those cannibal blacks would have dreamed
of touching anything that belonged to me.

After a time the natives began pointedly to suggest that I should
stay with them. They had probably heard from Yamba about the
strange things I possessed, and the occult powers I was supposed to
be gifted with. A day or two after my landing, a curious thing
happened--nothing more or less than the celebration of my marriage!
I was standing near my boat, still full of thoughts of escape, when
two magnificent naked chiefs, decked with gaudy pigments and
feather head-dresses, advanced towards me, leading between them a
young, dusky maiden of comparatively pleasing appearance.

The three were followed by an immense crowd of natives, and were
within a few feet of me, when they halted suddenly. One of the
chiefs then stepped out and offered me a murderous-looking club,
with a big knob at one end, which ugly weapon was known as a
"waddy." As he presented this club the chief made signs that I was
to knock the maiden on the head with it. Now, on this I confess I
was struck with horror and dismay at my position, for, instantly
recalling what Yamba had told me, I concluded THAT A CANNIBAL FEAST
WAS ABOUT TO BE GIVEN IN MY HONOUR, and that--worst horror of all--
I might have to lead off with the first mouthful of that smiling
girl. Of course, I reflected they had brought the helpless victim
to me, the distinguished stranger, to kill with my own hands. At
that critical moment, however, I resolved to be absolutely firm,
even if it cost me my life.

While I hesitated, the chief remained absolutely motionless,
holding out the murderous-looking club, and looking at me
interrogatively, as though unable to understand why I did not avail
myself of his offer. Still more extraordinary, the crowd behind
observed a solemn and disconcerting silence. I looked at the girl;
to my amazement she appeared delighted with things generally--a
poor, merry little creature, not more than fifteen or sixteen years
of age. I decided to harangue the chiefs, and as a preliminary I
gave them the universal sign to sit down and parley. They did so,
but did not seem pleased at what they doubtless considered an
unlooked-for hitch in an interesting ceremony.

Then in hesitating signs, slaps, clicks, and guttural utterances, I
gave them to understand that it was against my faith to have
anything whatever to do with the horrid orgy they contemplated.
The Great Spirit they dreaded so much yet so vaguely, I went on to
say, had revealed to me that it was wrong to kill any one in cold
blood, and still more loathsome and horrible to eat the flesh of a
murdered fellow-creature. I was very much in earnest, and I waited
with nervous trepidation to see the effect of my peroration. Under
the circumstances, you may judge of my astonishment when not only
the chiefs, but the whole "nation" assembled, suddenly burst into
roars of eerie laughter.

Then came Yamba to the rescue. Ah! noble and devoted creature!
The bare mention of her name stirs every fibre of my being with
love and wonder. Greater love than hers no creature ever knew, and
not once but a thousand times did she save my wretched life at the
risk of her own.

Well, Yamba, I say, came up and whispered to me. She had been
studying my face quietly and eagerly, and had gradually come to see
what was passing in my mind. She whispered that the chiefs, far
from desiring me to kill the girl for a cannibal feast, were
OFFERING HER TO ME AS A WIFE, and that I was merely expected to tap
her on the head with the stick, in token of her subjection to her
new spouse! In short, this blow on the head was the legal marriage
ceremony tout simple. I maintained my dignity as far as possible,
and proceeded to carry out my part of the curious ceremony.

I tapped the bright-eyed girl on the head, and she immediately fell
prostrate at my feet, in token of her wifely submission. I then
raised her up gently, and all the people came dancing round us,
uttering weird cries of satisfaction and delight. Oddly enough,
Yamba, far from manifesting any jealousy, seemed to take as much
interest as any one in the proceedings, and after everything was
over she led my new wife away to the little "humpy," or hut, that
had been built for me by the women. That night an indescribably
weird corroboree was held in my honour, and I thought it advisable,
since so much was being made of me, to remain there all night and
acknowledge the impromptu songs that were composed and sung in my
honour by the native bards. I am afraid I felt utterly lost
without Yamba, who was, in the most literal sense, my right hand.

By this time she could speak a little English, and was so
marvellously intelligent that she seemed to discover things by
sheer intuition or instinct. I think she never let a day go by
without favourably impressing the chiefs concerning me, my prowess
and my powers; and without her help I simply could not have lived
through the long and weary years, nor should I ever have returned
to civilisation.

The very next day after my "marriage," having been still further
enlightened as to the manners and customs of the natives, I waited
upon Gunda, and calmly made to him the proposition that we should
exchange wives. This suggestion he received with a kind of subdued
satisfaction, or holy joy, and very few further negotiations were
needed to make the transaction complete; and, be it said, it was an
every-day transaction, perfectly legal and recognised by all the
clans. Yamba was full of vigour and resource, while the only
phrase that fitly describes her bush lore is absolutely miraculous.
This will be evinced in a hundred extraordinary instances in this
narrative.

But you may be asking, What of my dog, Bruno? Well, I am thankful
to say, he was still with me, but it took him a long time to
accustom himself to his new surroundings; he particularly objected
to associating with the miserable pariah curs that prowled about
the encampment. They would take sly bites out of him when he was
not looking, but on the whole, he was well able to hold his own,
being much more powerful than they.

I settled down to my new life in the course of a few days, but I
need hardly remark I did not propose staying in that forlorn spot
longer than I could help. This was my plan. I would, first of
all, make myself acquainted with the habits and customs of the
blacks, and pick up as much bushmanship and knowledge of the
country as it was possible to acquire, in case I should have to
travel inland in search of civilisation instead of oversea. I knew
that it would be folly on my part to attempt to leave those
hospitable regions without knowing more of the geography of the
country and its people. There was always, however, the hope that
some day I might be able either to get away by sea in my boat, or
else hail some passing vessel. The blacks told me they had seen
many pass at a distance.

Every morning I was astir by sunrise, and--hope springing eternal--
at once searched for the faintest indication of a passing sail.
Next I would bathe in a lagoon protected from sharks, drying myself
by a run on the beach. Meanwhile Yamba would have gone out
searching for roots for breakfast, and she seldom returned without
a supply of my favourite water-lily buds already mentioned. Often,
in the years that followed, did that heroic creature TRAMP ON FOOT
A HUNDRED MILES to get me a few sprigs of saline herbs. She had
heard me say I wanted salt, which commodity, strange to say, was
never used by the natives; and even when I gave them some as an
experiment they did not seem to care about it. She would also
bring in, by way of seasoning, a kind of small onion, known as the
NELGA, which, when roasted, made a very acceptable addition to our
limited fare. The natives themselves had but two meals a day--
breakfast, between eight and nine o'clock, and then an enormous
feast in the late afternoon. Their ordinary food consisted of
kangaroo, emu, snakes, rats, and fish; an especial dainty being a
worm found in the black ava tree, or in any decaying trunk.

These worms were generally grilled on hot stones, and eaten several
at a time like small whitebait. I often ate them myself, and found
them most palatable. After breakfast the women of the tribe would
go out hunting roots and snaring small game for the afternoon meal,
while the men went off on their war and hunting expeditions, or
amused themselves with feats of arms. The children were generally
left to their own devices in the camp, and the principal amusement
of the boys appeared to be the hurling of reed spears at one
another. The women brought home the roots (which they dug up with
yam sticks, generally about four feet long) in nets made out of the
stringy parts of the grass tree; stringy bark, or strong pliable
reeds, slung on their all-enduring backs. They generally returned
heavily laden between two and three in the afternoon. I always
knew the time pretty accurately by the sun, but I lost count of the
days. The months, however, I always reckoned by the moon, and for
each year I made a notch on the inside of my bow.

My own food was usually wrapped in palm leaves before being placed
in the sand oven. Of course the leaves always burned, but they
kept the meat free from sand; and my indefatigable wife was always
exercising her ingenuity to provide me with fresh dainties. In
addition to the ordinary fare of the natives, I frequently had wild
ducks and turkeys, and--what was perhaps the greatest luxury of
all--eggs, which the natives sent for specially on my account to
distant parts of the surrounding country, and also to the islands
of the coast where white cockatoos reared their young in rocky
cliffs.

At the time of my shipwreck I had little or no knowledge of
Australian geography, so that I was utterly at a loss as to my
position. I afterwards learnt, however, that Yamba's home was on
Cambridge Gulf, on the NNW. coast of the Australian continent, and
that the central point of our camping ground at this time was near
the mouth of the Victoria River, which flows into Queen's Channel.

Almost every evening the blacks would hold a stately corroboree,
singing and chanting; the burden of their song being almost
invariably myself, my belongings, and my prowess--which latter, I
fear, was magnified in the most extravagant manner. Besides the
corroboree they also would assemble for what might not inaptly be
termed evening prayers, which consisted of a poetical recital of
the events of the day. I ought to mention that at first I did not
accompany the men on their excursions abroad, because I was far
from perfect in their language; and furthermore, I was not skilled
in hunting or in bush lore. Therefore, fearful of exciting
ridicule, I decided to remain behind in the camp until I was
thoroughly grounded in everything there was to be learned.
Supposing, for example, I had gone out with the blacks, and had to
confess myself tired after tramping several miles. Well, this kind
of thing would certainly have engendered contempt; and once the
mysterious white stranger was found to be full of the frailties of
the ordinary man, his prestige would be gone, and then life would
probably become intolerable.

Thus everything I did I had to excel in, and it was absolutely
necessary that I should be perpetually "astonishing the natives,"
in the most literal sense of the phrase. Accordingly, for the next
few weeks, I used to accompany the women on their root-hunting and
rat-catching expeditions, and from them I picked up much valuable
information.

The corroboree was, perhaps, the greatest institution known to the
blacks, who, obliged to do no real work, as we understand it,
simply had to pass the time somehow; and there can be no doubt
that, were it not for the constant feuds and consequent incessant
wars, the race would greatly deteriorate. The corroboree after a
successful battle commenced with a cannibal feast off the bodies of
fallen foes, and it would be kept up for several days on end, the
braves lying down to sleep near the fire towards morning, and
renewing the festivities about noon next day. The chiefs on these
occasions decked themselves with gorgeous cockatoo feathers, and
painted their bodies with red and yellow ochre and other glaring
pigments, each tribe having its own distinguishing marks. A couple
of hours were generally spent in dressing and preparing for the
ceremony, and then the gaily-decorated fighting-men would dance or
squat round the fires and chant monotonous songs, telling of all
their own achievements and valour, and the extraordinary sights
they had seen in their travels.

The words of the songs were usually composed by the clan's own
poet, who made a living solely by his profession, and even sold his
effusions to other tribes. As there was no written language the
purchaser would simply be coached orally by the vendor poet; and as
the blacks were gifted with most marvellous memories, they would
transmit and resell the songs throughout vast stretches of country.
These men of the north-west were of magnificent stature, and
possessed great personal strength. They were able to walk
extraordinary distances, and their carriage was the most graceful I
have ever seen. Many of them were over six feet high, well made in
proportion and with high broad foreheads--altogether a very
different race from the inhabitants of Central Australia. One of
their favourite tests of strength was to take a short stick of very
hard wood and bend it in their hands, using the thumbs as levers,
till it snapped. Strange to say, I failed to bend the stick more
than a quarter of an inch. The women are not very prepossessing,
and not nearly so graceful in their bearing and gait as the men.
Poor creatures! they did all the hard work of the camp-building,
food-hunting, waiting, and serving. Occasionally, however, the men
did condescend to go out fishing, and they would also organise
BATTUES when a big supply of food was wanted. These great hunting-
parties, by the way, were arranged on an immense scale, and fire
figured largely in them. The usual routine was to set fire to the
bush, and then as the terrified animals and reptiles rushed out in
thousands into the open, each party of blacks speared every living
thing that came its way within a certain sphere. The roar of the
fast-spreading fire, the thousands of kangaroos, opossums, rats,
snakes, iguanas, and birds that dashed hither and thither, to the
accompaniment of bewildering shouts from the men and shrill
screeches from the women, who occasionally assisted, flitting
hither and thither like eerie witches amidst the dense pall of
black smoke--all these made up a picture which is indelibly
imprinted on my mind.

As a rule, hosts of hawks and eagles are to be seen flying over the
black man's camp, but on the occasion of a bush fire they follow
its train, well knowing that they will obtain prey in abundance.
With regard to the fishing parties, these went out either early in
the morning, soon after sunrise, or in the evening, when it was
quite dark. On the latter occasions, the men carried big torches,
which they held high in the air with one hand, while they waded out
into the water with their spears poised, in readiness to impale the
first big fish they came across.

When the spearmen DID strike, their aim was unerring, and the
struggling fish would be hurled on to the beach to the patient
women-folk, who were there waiting for them, with their big nets of
grass slung over their backs. Sometimes a hundred men would be in
the shallow water at once, all carrying blazing torches, and the
effect as the fishermen plunged and splashed this way and that,
with shouts of triumph or disappointment, may be better imagined
than described. In the daytime a rather different method was
adopted. Some acres of the shallow lagoon would be staked out at
low water in the shape of an inverted V, an opening being left for
the fish to pass through.

The high tide brought the fish in vast shoals, and then the opening
would be closed. When the tide receded, the staked enclosure
became, in effect, a gigantic net, filled with floundering fish,
big and little. The natives then waded into the inclosure, and
leisurely despatched the fish with their spears.

Nothing was more interesting than to watch one of these children of
the bush stalking a kangaroo. The man made not the slightest noise
in walking, and he would stealthily follow the kangaroo's track for
miles (the tracks were absolutely invisible to the uninitiated).
Should at length the kangaroo sniff a tainted wind, or be startled
by an incautious movement, his pursuer would suddenly become as
rigid as a bronze figure, and he could remain in this position for
hours. Finally, when within thirty or forty yards of the animal,
he launched his spear, and in all the years I was among these
people I never knew a man to miss his aim. Two distinct kinds of
spears were used by the natives, one for hunting and the other for
war purposes. The former averaged from eight to ten feet, whilst
the latter varied from ten to fourteen feet in length; the blade in
each case, however, consisting either of bone or stone, with a
shaft of some light hard wood. Metals were, of course, perfectly
unknown as workable materials. The war-spear was not hurled
javelin-fashion like the hunting-spear, but propelled by means of a
wommerah, which, in reality, was a kind of sling, perhaps twenty-
four inches long, with a hook at one end to fix on the shaft of the
spear. In camp the men mainly occupied their time in making spears
and mending their weapons. They hacked a tree down and split it
into long sections by means of wedges, in order to get suitable
wood for their spear-shafts.

To catch emus the hunters would construct little shelters of grass
at a spot overlooking the water-hole frequented by these birds, and
they were then speared as they came down for water. The largest
emu I ever saw, by the way, was more than six feet high, whilst the
biggest kangaroo I came across was even taller than this. Snakes
were always killed with sticks, whilst birds were brought down with
the wonderful boomerang.

As a rule, only sufficient food was obtained to last from day to
day; but on the occasion of one of the big battues I have described
there would be food in abundance for a week or more, when there
would be a horrid orgy of gorging and one long continuous
corroboree, until supplies gave out.

The sport which I myself took up was dugong hunting; for I ought to
have mentioned that I brought a harpoon with me in the boat, and
this most useful article attracted as much attention as anything I
had. The natives would occasionally put their hands on my tomahawk
or harpoon, and never ceased to wonder why the metal was so cold.

Whenever I went out after dugong, accompanied by Yamba (she was
ever with me), the blacks invariably came down in crowds to watch
the operation from the beach.

But, you will ask, what did I want with dugong, when I had so much
other food at hand? Well my idea was to lay in a great store of
dried provisions against the time when I should be ready to start
for civilisation in my boat. I built a special shed of boughs, in
which I conducted my curing operations; my own living-place being
only a few yards away. It was built quite in European fashion,
with a sloping roof. The interior was perhaps twenty feet square
and ten feet high, with a small porch in which my fire was kept
constantly burning. When we had captured a dugong the blacks would
come rushing into the sea to meet us and drag our craft ashore,
delighted at the prospect of a great feast. The only part of the
dugong I preserved was the belly, which I cut up into strips and
dried.

The blacks never allowed their fires to go out, and whenever they
moved their camping-ground, the women-folk always took with them
their smouldering fire-sticks, with which they can kindle a blaze
in a few minutes. Very rarely, indeed, did the women allow their
fire-sticks to go out altogether, for this would entail a cruel and
severe punishment. A fire-stick would keep alight in a smouldering
state for days. All that the women did when they wanted to make it
glow was to whirl it round in the air. The wives bore ill-usage
with the most extraordinary equanimity, and never attempted to
parry even the most savage blow. They would remain meek and
motionless under a shower of brutal blows from a thick stick, and
would then walk quietly away and treat their bleeding wounds with a
kind of earth. No matter how cruelly the women might be treated by
their husbands, they hated sympathy, so their women friends always
left them alone. It often surprised me how quickly the blacks'
most terrible wounds healed; and yet they were only treated with a
kind of clay and leaves of the wild rose.

I am here reminded of the native doctor. This functionary was
called a RUI, and he effected most of his cures with a little
shell, with which he rubbed assiduously upon the affected part.
Thus it will be seen that the medical treatment was a form of
massage, the rubbing being done first in a downward direction and
then crosswise. I must say, however, that the blacks were very
rarely troubled with illness, their most frequent disorder being
usually the result of excessive gorging when a particularly ample
supply of food was forthcoming--say, after a big battue over a
tribal preserve.

In an ordinary case of overfeeding, the medicine man would rub his
patient's stomach with such vigour as often to draw blood. He
would also give the sufferer a kind of grass to eat, and this herb,
besides clearing the system, also acted as a most marvellous
appetiser. The capacity of some of my blacks was almost beyond
belief. One giant I have in my mind ate a whole kangaroo by
himself. I saw him do it. Certainly it was not an excessively big
animal, but, still, it was a meal large enough for three or four
stalwart men.

In a case of fever the natives resorted to charms to drive away the
evil spirit that was supposed to be troubling the patient. The
universal superstition about all maladies is that they are caused
by the "evil eye," directed against the sufferer by some enemy.
Should one member of a tribe be stricken down with a disease, his
friends at once come to the conclusion that he has been "pointed
at" by a member of another tribe who owed him a grudge; he has, in
short, been bewitched, and an expedition is promptly organised to
seek out and punish the individual in question and all his tribe.
From this it is obvious that war is of pretty frequent occurrence.
And not only so, but every death is likewise the signal for a
tribal war. There is no verdict of "Death from natural causes."
Punitive expeditions are not organised in the event of slight
fevers or even serious illness--only when the patient dies. A
tribe I once came across some miles inland were visited by a plague
of what I now feel sure must have been smallpox. The disease, they
said, had been brought down from the coast, and although numbers of
the blacks died, war was not declared against any particular tribe.
As a rule, the body of the dead brave is placed upon a platform
erected in the forks of trees, and his weapons neatly arranged
below. Then, as decay set in, and the body began to crumble away,
the friends and chiefs would come and observe certain mystic signs,
which were supposed to give information as to what tribe or
individual had caused the death of the deceased.

It must have been within a month of my landing on Yamba's country,
in Cambridge Gulf, that I witnessed my first cannibal feast. One
of the fighting-men had died in our camp, and after the usual
observations had been taken, it was decided that he had been
pointed at, and his death brought about, by a member of another
tribe living some distance away. An expedition of some hundreds of
warriors was at once fitted out. The enemy was apparently only too
ready for the fray, because the armies promptly met in an open
plain, and I had an opportunity of witnessing the extraordinary
method by which the Australian blacks wage war. One of the most
redoubtable of our chiefs stepped forward, and explained the reason
of his people's visit in comparatively calm tones. An opposing
chief replied to him, and gradually a heated altercation arose, the
abuse rising on a crescendo scale for ten or fifteen minutes.
These two then retired, and another couple of champion abusers
stepped forward to "discuss" the matter. This kind of thing went
on for a considerable time, the abuse being of the most appalling
description, and directed mainly against the organs of the enemy's
body (heart, liver, &c.), his ancestors, "his ox, his ass, and
everything that was his." At length, when every conceivable thing
had been said that it was possible to say, the warriors drew near,
and at last some one threw a spear. This, of course, was the
signal for real action, and in a few minutes the engagement became
general. There was no strategy or tactics of any kind, every man
fighting single-handed.

But to return to the battle I was describing. After a very few
minutes' fighting the enemy were utterly routed, and promptly
turned tail and fled from the scene of the encounter, leaving
behind them--after all the uproar and the flood of vilification--
only three of their warriors, and these not dead, but only more or
less badly wounded. Quarter being neither given nor expected in
these battles, the three prostrate blacks were promptly despatched
by the leader of my tribe, the coup de grace being given with a
waddy, or knobbed stick. The three bodies were then placed on
litters made out of spears and grass, and in due time carried into
our own camp.

There were so many unmistakable signs to presage what was coming
that I KNEW a cannibal feast was about to take place. But for
obvious reasons I did not protest against it, nor did I take any
notice whatever. The women (who do all the real work) fell on
their knees, and with their fingers scraped three long trenches in
the sand, each about seven feet long and three deep. Into each of
these ovens was placed one of the bodies of the fallen warriors,
and then the trench was filled up--firstly with stones, and then
with sand. On top of all a huge fire was built, and maintained
with great fierceness for about two hours. There was great
rejoicing during this period of cooking, and apparently much
pleasurable anticipation among the triumphant blacks. In due time
the signal was given, and the ovens laid open once more. I looked
in and saw that the bodies were very much burnt. The skin was
cracked in places and liquid fat was issuing forth. . . . But,
perhaps, the less said about this horrible spectacle the better.
With a yell, several warriors leaped into each trench and stuck
spears through the big "joints." And the moment the roasted
carcasses were taken out of the trenches the whole tribe literally
fell upon them and tore them limb from limb. I saw mothers with a
leg or an arm surrounded by plaintive children, who were crying for
their portion of the fearsome dainty.

Others, who were considered to have taken more than their share,
were likewise fallen upon and their "joint" subdivided and hacked
to pieces with knives made from shells. The bodies were not cooked
all through, so that the condition of some of the revellers, both
during and after the orgy, may best be left to the imagination. A
more appalling, more ghastly, or more truly sickening spectacle it
is impossible for the mind of man to conceive. A great corroboree
was held after the feast, but, with my gorge rising and my brain
reeling, I crept to my own humpy and tried to shut out from my mind
the shocking inferno I had just been compelled to witness.

But let us leave so fearful a subject and consider something more
interesting and amusing.

CHAPTER VI

A weird duel--The tragedy of the baby whale--My boat is destroyed--
A ten miles' swim--Gigantic prizes--Swimming in the whale's head--I
make use of the visitors--A fight with an alligator--The old
craving--Bitter disappointment--My mysterious "flying spears"--Dog-
like fidelity--I present my "card"--The desert of red sand.

The women of the tribe lived amicably enough together as a rule,
but of course they had their differences. They would quarrel about
the merits and demerits of their own families and countries; but
the greatest source of heartburning and trouble was the importation
of a new wife--especially if she chanced to be better looking than
the others. In such cases, woe to the comparatively pretty wife.
The women certainly had a novel way of settling their differences.
The two combatants would retire to some little distance, armed with
ONE STICK BETWEEN THEM. They would then stand face to face, and
one would bend forward meekly, whilst the other dealt her a truly
terrific blow between the shoulders or on the head--not with a cane
or a light stick, be it remembered, but a really formidable club.
The blow (which would be enough to kill an ordinary white woman)
would be borne with wonderful fortitude, and then the aggressor
would hand the club to the woman she had just struck.

The latter would then take a turn; and so it would go on, turn and
turn about, until one of the unfortunate, stoical creatures fell
bleeding and half-senseless to the earth. The thing was
magnificently simple. The woman who kept her senses longest, and
remained on her legs to the end, was the victor. There was no kind
of ill-feeling after these extraordinary combats, and the women
would even dress one another's wounds.

I now come to an event of very great importance in my life.
Elsewhere I have spoken of my penchant for dugong hunting. Well,
one day this sport effectually put an end to all my prospects of
reaching civilisation across the sea. I went forth one morning,
accompanied by my ever-faithful Yamba and the usual admiring crowd
of blacks. In a few minutes we two were speeding over the sunlit
waters, my only weapon being the steel harpoon I had brought with
me from the island, and about forty or fifty feet of manilla rope.
When we were some miles from land I noticed a dark-looking object
on the surface of the water a little way ahead. Feeling certain it
was a dugong feeding on the well-known "grass," I rose and hurled
my harpoon at it with all the force I could muster. Next moment,
to my amazement, the head of a calf whale was thrust agonisingly
into the air, and not until then did I realise what manner of
creature it was I had struck. This baby whale was about fifteen
feet long, and it "sounded" immediately on receiving my harpoon.
As I had enough rope, or what I considered enough, I did not cut
him adrift. He came up again presently, lashing the water with his
tail, and creating a tremendous uproar, considering his size. He
then darted off madly, dashing through the water like an arrow, and
dragging our boat at such a tremendous pace as almost to swamp us
in the foaming wash, the bow wave forming a kind of wall on each
side.

Up to this time I had no thought of danger, but just as the baby
whale halted I looked round, and saw to my horror that its colossal
mother had joined her offspring, and was swimming round and round
it like lightning, apparently greatly disturbed by its sufferings.
Before I could even cut the line or attempt to get out of the way,
the enormous creature caught sight of our little craft, and bore
down upon us like a fair-sized island rushing through the sea with
the speed of an express train. I shouted to Yamba, and we both
threw ourselves over the side into the now raging waters, and
commenced to swim away with long strokes, in order to get as far as
possible from the boat before the catastrophe came which we knew
was at hand. We had not got many yards before I heard a terrific
crash, and, looking back, I saw the enormous tail of the great
whale towering high out of the water, and my precious boat
descending in fragments upon it from a height of from fifteen feet
to twenty feet above the agitated waters. Oddly enough, the fore-
part of the boat remained fixed to the rope of the harpoon in the
calf. My first thought, even at so terrible a moment, and in so
serious a situation, was one of bitter regret for the loss of what
I considered the only means of reaching civilisation. Like a flash
it came back to me how many weary months of toil and hope and
expectancy I had spent over that darling craft; and I remembered,
too, the delirious joy of launching it, and the appalling dismay
that struck me when I realised that it was worse than useless to me
in the inclosed lagoon. These thoughts passed through my mind in a
few seconds.

At this time we had a swim of some TEN MILES before us, but
fortunately our predicament was observed from the land, and a crowd
of blacks put out in their catamarans to help us. Some of the
blacks, as I hinted before, always accompanied me down to the shore
on these trips. They never tired, I think, of seeing me handle my
giant "catamaran" and the (to them) mysterious harpoon.

After the mother whale had wreaked its vengeance upon my
unfortunate boat it rejoined its little one, and still continued to
swim round and round it at prodigious speed, evidently in a perfect
agony of concern. Fortunately the tide was in our favour, and we
were rapidly swept inshore, even when we floated listlessly on the
surface of the water. The sea was quite calm, and we had no fear
of sharks, being well aware that we would keep them away by
splashing in the water.

Before long, the catamarans came up with us, but although deeply
grateful for Yamba's and my own safety, I was still greatly
distressed at the loss of my boat. Never once did this thought
leave my mind. I remembered, too, with a pang, that I had now no
tools with which to build another; and to venture out into the open
sea on a catamaran, probably for weeks, simply meant courting
certain destruction. I was a greater prisoner than ever.

My harpoon had evidently inflicted a mortal wound on the calf
whale, because as we looked we saw it lying exhausted on the
surface of the water, and being gradually swept nearer and nearer
the shore by the swift-flowing tide. The mother refused to leave
her little one however, and still continued to wheel round it
continuously, even when it had reached dangerously shallow water.

The result was that when the tide turned, both the mother and her
calf were left stranded high and dry on the beach, to the unbounded
delight and amazement of the natives, who swarmed round the
leviathans, and set up such a terrific uproar, that I verily
believe they frightened the mother to death. In her dying struggle
she lashed the water into a perfect fury with her tail, and even
made attempts to lift herself bodily up. Furious smoke-signals
were at once sent up to summon all the tribes in the surrounding
country--enemies as well as friends. Next day the carcasses were
washed farther still inshore--a thing for which the blacks gave me
additional credit.

I ought to mention here that the loss of my boat was in some
measure compensated for by the enormous amount of prestige which
accrued to me through this whale episode. To cut a long story
short, the natives fully believed that I HAD KILLED SINGLE-HANDED
AND BROUGHT ASHORE BOTH WHALES! And in the corroborees that
ensued, the poets almost went delirious in trying to find suitable
eulogiums to bestow upon the mighty white hunter. The mother whale
surpassed in size any I had ever seen or read about. I measured
her length by pacing, and I judged it to be nearly 150 feet. My
measurements may not have been absolutely accurate, but still the
whale was, I imagine, of record size. As she lay there on the
beach her head towered above me to a height of nearly fifteen feet.
Never can I forget the scene that followed, when the blacks from
the surrounding country responded to the smoke-signals announcing
the capture of the "great fish." From hundreds of miles south came
the natives, literally in their thousands--every man provided with
his stone tomahawk and a whole armoury of shell knives. They
simply swarmed over the carcasses like vermin, and I saw many of
them staggering away under solid lumps of flesh weighing between
thirty and forty pounds. The children also took part in the
general feasting, and they too swarmed about the whales like a
plague of ants.

A particularly enterprising party of blacks cut an enormous hole in
the head of the big whale, and in the bath of oil that was inside
they simply wallowed for hours at a time, only to emerge in a
condition that filled me with disgust. There was no question of
priority or disputing as to whom the tit-bits of the whale should
go. Even the visitors were quite at liberty to take whatever
portion they could secure. For about a fortnight this cutting-up
and gorging went on, but long before this the stench from the
decomposing carcasses was so horrible as to be painfully noticeable
at my camp, over a mile away. Some of the flesh was cooked, but
most of it was eaten absolutely raw. The spectacle witnessed on
the beach would have been intensely comical were it not so
revolting. Many of the savages, both men and women, had gorged
themselves to such an extent as to be absolutely unable to walk;
and they rolled about on the sand, tearing at the ground in agony,
their stomachs distended in the most extraordinary and disgusting
manner. It may amuse you to know that smoke-signals were at once
sent up for all the "doctors" in the country, and these ministering
angels could presently be seen with their massage shells, rubbing
the distended stomachs of the sufferers as they lay on the beach.
I saw some men fairly howling with agony, but yet still devouring
enormous quantities of oil and blubber! Besides the massage
treatment (with the thumbs as well as shells), the "doctors"
administered a kind of pill, or pellet, of some green leaf, which
they first chewed in their own mouth and then placed in that of the
patient. So magical was this potent herb in its action, that I
feel sure it would make the fortune of an enterprising syndicate.
Other patients, who had obtained temporary relief through the kind
offices of the medicine-men, returned to the whales again, and had
another enormous gorge. In fact, the blacks behaved more like wild
beasts of the lowest order than men, and in a very short time--
considering the enormous bulk of the whales--nothing remained
except the immense bones.

On the other hand, the orgie had its uses from my point of view,
because I took advantage of the arrival of so many strange tribes
to make myself acquainted with their chiefs, their languages, and
their manners and customs, in the hope that these people might be
useful to me some day when I commenced my journey overland to
civilisation. For, of course, all hope of escape by sea had now to
be abandoned, since my boat was destroyed. Several days elapsed,
however, before I was able to remain in their presence without a
feeling of utter disgust. To be precise, I could not talk to them
before they ate, because they were so anxious to get at the food;
and after the feast they were too gorged with fat to be able to
talk rationally. In all my wanderings amongst the blacks I never
came across anything that interested them so much as a whale.

Soon after the loss of the boat, Yamba made me a small bark canoe
about fifteen feet long, but not more than fourteen inches wide,
and in this we undertook various little excursions together to the
various islands that studded the bay. The construction of this
little canoe was very interesting. Yamba, first of all, heated the
bark, and then turned the rough part underneath in order that the
interior might be perfectly smooth. She then SEWED up the ends,
finally giving the little craft a coat of resin, obtained by making
incisions in the gum-trees. Of course, I missed my own substantial
boat, and it was some little time before I grew accustomed to the
frail canoe, which necessitated the greatest possible care in
handling, and also on the part of the passengers generally.

One day I decided to go and explore one of the islands that studded
Cambridge Gulf, in search of a kind of shell mud-fish which I was
very partial to. I also wanted to make the acquaintance of the
bats or flying foxes I had seen rising in clouds every evening at
sunset. I required the skins of these curious creatures for
sandals. This would perhaps be a year after my advent amongst the
blacks. As usual, Yamba was my only companion, and we soon reached
a likely island. As I could find no suitable place for landing, I
turned the canoe up a small creek. From this course, however, my
companion strongly dissuaded me. Into the creek, nevertheless, we
went, and when I saw it was a hopeless impasse, I scrambled ashore
and waded through five inches or six inches of mud. The little
island was densely covered with luxuriant tropical vegetation, the
mangroves coming right down to the water's edge; so that I had
actually to force my way through them to gain the top of the bank.
I then entered a very narrow track through the forest, the bush on
both sides being so dense as to resemble an impenetrable wall or
dense hedge. It is necessary to bear this in mind to realise what
followed. I had not gone many yards along this track, when I was
horrified to see, right in front of me, an enormous alligator!
This great reptile was shuffling along down the path towards me,
evidently making for the water, and it not only blocked my advance,
but also necessitated my immediate retreat. The moment the brute
caught sight of me he stopped, and began snapping his jaws
viciously. I confess I was quite nonplussed for the moment as to
how best to commence the attack upon this unexpected visitor. It
was impossible for me to get round him in any way, on account of
the dense bush on either side of the narrow forest track. I
decided, however, to make a bold dash for victory, having always in
mind the prestige that was so necessary to my existence among the
blacks. I therefore walked straight up to the evil-looking
monster; then, taking a short run, I leaped high into the air, shot
over his head, and landed on his scaly back, at the same time
giving a tremendous yell in order to attract Yamba, whom I had left
in charge of the boat.

The moment I landed on his back I struck the alligator with all my
force with my tomahawk, on what I considered the most vulnerable
part of his head. So powerful was my stroke, that I found to my
dismay that I could not get the weapon out of his head again.
While I was in this extraordinary situation--standing on the back
of an enormous alligator, and tugging at my tomahawk, embedded in
its head--Yamba came rushing up the path, carrying one of the
paddles, which, without a moment's hesitation, she thrust down the
alligator's throat as he turned to snap at her. She immediately
let go her hold and retreated. The alligator tried to follow her,
but the shaft of the paddle caught among some tree trunks and
stuck. In this way the monster was prevented from moving his head,
either backwards or forwards, and then, drawing my stiletto, I
blinded him in both eyes, afterwards finishing him leisurely with
my tomahawk, when at length I managed to release it. Yamba was
immensely proud of me after this achievement, and when we returned
to the mainland she gave her tribesmen a graphic account of my
gallantry and bravery. But she always did this. She was my
advance agent and bill-poster, so to say. I found in going into a
new country that my fame had preceded me; and I must say this was
most convenient and useful in obtaining hospitality, concessions,
and assistance generally. The part I had played in connection with
the death of the two whales had already earned for me the
admiration of the blacks--not only in my own tribe, but all over
the adjacent country. And after this encounter with the alligator
they looked upon me as a very great and powerful personage indeed.
We did not bring the dead monster back with us, but next day a
number of the blacks went over with their catamarans, and towed the
reptile back to the mainland, where it was viewed with open-mouthed
amazement by crowds of admiring natives. So great was the
estimation in which my prowess was held, that little scraps of the
dead alligator were distributed (as relics, presumably) among the
tribes throughout the whole of the surrounding country. Singularly
enough this last achievement of mine was considered much more
commendable than the killing of the whale, for the simple reason
that it sometimes happened they caught a whale themselves stranded
on the beach; whereas the killing of an alligator with their
primitive weapons was a feat never attempted. They chanted praises
in my honour at night, and wherever I moved, my performances with
the whales and alligator were always the first things to be sung.
Nor did I attempt to depreciate my achievements; on the contrary, I
exaggerated the facts as much as I possibly could. I described to
them how I had fought and killed the whale with my stiletto in
spite of the fact that the monster had smashed my boat. I told
them that I was not afraid of facing anything single-handed, and I
even went so far as to allege that I was good enough to go out
against a nation! My whole object was to impress these people with
my imaginary greatness, and I constantly made them marvel at my
prowess with the bow and arrow. The fact of my being able to bring
down a bird on the wing was nothing more nor less than a miracle to
them. I was given the name of "Winnimah" by these people, because
my arrows sped like lightning. Six of the alligator's teeth I took
for myself, and made them into a circlet which I wore round my
head.

Some little time after this incident I decided to remove my
dwelling-place to the top of a headland on the other side of the
bay, some twenty miles away, where I thought I could more readily
discern any sail passing by out at sea. The blacks themselves, who
were well aware of my hopes of getting back to my own people, had
themselves suggested that I might find this a more likely place for
the purpose than the low-lying coast on which their tribe was then
encamped. They also pointed out to me, however, that I should find
it cold living in so exposed a position. But the hope of seeing
passing sails decided me, and one morning I took my departure, the
whole nation of blacks coming out in full force to bid us adieu. I
think the last thing they impressed upon me, in their peculiar
native way, was that they would always be delighted and honoured to
welcome me back among them. Yamba, of course, accompanied me, as
also did my dog, and we were escorted across the bay by a host of
my native friends in their catamarans. I pitched upon a fine bold
spot for our dwelling-place, but the blacks assured me that we
would find it uncomfortably cold and windy, to say nothing about
the loneliness, which I could not but feel after so much
intercourse with the friendly natives. I persisted, however, and
we at length pitched our encampment, on the bleak headland, which I
now know to be Cape Londonderry, the highest northern point of
Western Australia. Occasionally some of our black friends would
pay us a visit, but we could never induce them to locate their
village near us.

Day after day, day after day, I gazed wistfully over the sea for
hours at a time, without ever seeing a sail, and at last I began to
grow somewhat despondent, and sighed for the companionship of my
black friends once more. Yamba was unremitting in her endeavours
to make life pleasant for me and keep me well supplied with the
best of food; but I could see that she, too, did not like living on
this exposed and desolate spot. So, after a few weeks' experience
of life there, I decided to return to my bay home, and later on
make preparations for a journey overland to a point on the
Australian coast, where I learned ships quite frequently passed.
The point in question was Somerset Point, at the extreme north of
the Cape York peninsula; and I had learnt of its existence from
Jensen when we were pearl-fishing. The blacks were delighted to
see me on my return, and I remained with them several months before
attempting my next journey. They were keenly anxious that I should
join them in their fighting expeditions, but I always declined, on
the ground that I was not a fighting man. The fact of the matter
was, that I could never hope to throw a spear with anything like
the dexterity they themselves possessed; and as spears were the
principal weapons used in warfare, I was afraid I would not show up
well at a critical moment. Moreover, the warriors defended
themselves so dexterously with shields as to be all but
invulnerable, whereas I had not the slightest idea of how to handle
a shield. And for the sake of my ever-indispensable prestige, I
could not afford to make myself ridiculous in their eyes. I always
took good care to let the blacks see me performing only those feats
which I felt morally certain I could accomplish, and accomplish to
their amazement.

So far I had won laurels enough with my mysterious arrows or
"flying spears," as the natives considered them, and my prowess
with the harpoon and tomahawk was sung in many tribes. And not the
least awkward thing about my position was that I dared not even
attempt a little quiet practice in spear-throwing, for fear the
blacks should come upon me suddenly, when I would most certainly
lose caste. I had several narrow escapes from this serious
calamity, but most of them cannot be published here. I must tell
you, though, that the blacks, when drinking at a river or water-
hole, invariably scoop up the water with their hands, and never put
their mouths right down close to the surface of the water. Well,
one day I was guilty of this solecism. I had been out on a hunting
expedition, and reached the water-hole with an intense burning
thirst. My mentor was not with me. I fell on my knees and fairly
buried my face in the life-giving fluid. Suddenly I heard murmurs
behind me. I turned presently and saw a party of my blacks
regarding me with horror. They said I drank like a kangaroo. But
Yamba soon came to the rescue, and explained away the dreadful
breach of etiquette, by telling them that I was not drinking, but
simply cooling my face; when we were alone she solemnly cautioned
me never to do it again.

The months passed slowly away, and I was still living the same
monotonous life among my blacks--accompanying them upon their
hunting expeditions, joining in their sports, and making periodical
trips inland with Yamba, in preparation for the great journey I
proposed to make overland to Cape York. When I spoke to my devoted
companion about my plans, she told me she was ready to accompany me
wherever I went--to leave her people and to be for ever by my side.
Right well I knew that she would unhesitatingly do these things.
Her dog-like fidelity to me never wavered, and I know she would
have laid down her life for me at any time.

Often I told her of my own home beyond the seas, and when I asked
her whether she would come with me, she would reply, "Your people
are my people, and your God (spirit) my God. I will go with you
wherever you take me."

At length everything was ready, and I paid a final farewell, as I
thought, to my black friends in Cambridge Gulf, after a little over
eighteen months' residence among them. They knew I was venturing
on a long journey overland to another part of the country many
moons distant, in the hope of being able to get into touch with my
own people; and though they realised they should never see me
again, they thought my departure a very natural thing. The night
before we left, a great corroboree was held in my honour. We had a
very affectionate leave-taking, and a body of the natives escorted
us for the first 100 miles or so of our trip. At last, however,
Yamba, myself, and the faithful dog were left to continue our
wanderings alone. The reliance I placed upon this woman by the way
was absolute and unquestioning. I knew that alone I could not live
a day in the awful wilderness through which we were to pass; nor
could any solitary white man. By this time, however, I had had
innumerable demonstrations of Yamba's almost miraculous powers in
the way of providing food and water when, to the ordinary eye,
neither was forthcoming. I should have mentioned that before
leaving my black people I had provided myself with what I may term
a native passport--a kind of Masonic mystic stick, inscribed with
certain cabalistic characters. Every chief carried one of these
sticks. I carried mine in my long, luxuriant hair, which I wore
"bun" fashion, held in a net of opossum hair. This passport stick
proved invaluable as a means of putting us on good terms with the
different tribes we encountered. The chiefs of the blacks never
ventured out of their own country without one of these mysterious
sticks, neither did the native message-bearers. I am sure I should
not have been able to travel far without mine.

Whenever I encountered a strange tribe I always asked to be taken
before the chief, and when in his presence I presented my little
stick, he would at once manifest the greatest friendliness, and
offer us food and drink. Then, before I took my departure, he also
would inscribe his sign upon the message stick, handing it back to
me and probably sending me on to another tribe with an escort. It
often happened, however, that I was personally introduced to
another tribe whose "frontier" joined that of my late hosts, and in
such cases my passport was unnecessary.

At first the country through which our wanderings led us was hilly
and well wooded, the trees being particularly fine, many of them
towering up to a height of 150 feet or 200 feet. Our principal
food consisted of roots, rats, snakes, opossum, and kangaroo. The
physical conditions of the country were constantly changing as we
moved farther eastward, and Yamba's ingenuity was often sorely
taxed to detect the whereabouts of the various roots necessary for
food. It was obviously unfair to expect her to be familiar with
the flora and fauna of every part of the great Australian
Continent. Sometimes she was absolutely nonplused, and had to stay
a few days with a tribe until the women initiated her into the best
methods of cooking the roots of the country. And often we could
not understand the language. In such cases, though, when spoken
words were unlike those uttered in Yamba's country, we resorted to
a wonderful sign-language which appears to be general among the
Australian blacks. All that Yamba carried was a basket made of
bark, slung over her shoulder, and containing a variety of useful
things, including some needles made out of the bones of birds and
fish; a couple of light grinding-stones for crushing out of its
shell a very sustaining kind of nut found on the palm trees, &c.
Day after day we walked steadily on in an easterly direction,
guiding ourselves in the daytime by the sun, and in the evening by
opossum scratches on trees and the positions of the ant-hills,
which are always built facing the east. We crossed many creeks and
rivers, sometimes wading and at others time swimming.

Gradually we left the hilly country behind, and after about five or
six weeks' tramping got into an extraordinary desert of red sand,
which gave off a dust from our very tracks that nearly suffocated
us. Each water-hole we came across now began to contain less and
less of the precious liquid, and our daily menu grew more and more
scanty, until at length we were compelled to live on practically
nothing but a few roots and stray rats. Still we plodded on,
finally striking a terrible spinifex country, which was
inconceivably worse than anything we had hitherto encountered. In
order to make our way through this spinifex (the terrible
"porcupine grass" of the Australian interior), we were bound to
follow the tracks made by kangaroos or natives, otherwise we should
have made no progress whatever. These tracks at times wandered
about zigzag fashion, and led us considerable distances out of our
course, but, all the same, we dare not leave them. Not only was
water all but unobtainable here, but our skin was torn with thorns
at almost every step. Yamba was terribly troubled when she found
she could no longer provide for my wants. Fortunately the dew fell
heavily at night, and a sufficient quantity would collect on the
foliage to refresh me somewhat in the morning. How eagerly would I
lick the precious drops from the leaves! Curiously enough, Yamba
herself up to this time did not seem distressed from lack of water;
but nothing about this marvellous woman surprised me. It took us
about ten days to pass through the awful spinifex desert, and for
at least eight days of that period we were virtually without water,
tramping through never-ending tracts of scrub, prickly grass, and
undulating sand-hills of a reddish colour. Often and often I
blamed myself bitterly for ever going into that frightful country
at all. Had I known beforehand that it was totally uninhabited I
certainly should not have ventured into it. We were still going
due east, but in consequence of the lack of water-holes, my heroic
guide thought it advisable to strike a little more north.

CHAPTER VII

The agonies of thirst--A ghastly drink--I ask Yamba to kill me--My
ministering angel--How Yamba caught opossum--The water witch--A
barometer of snakes--The coming deluge--The plunge into the Rapids-
-A waste of waters--A fearful situation--Barking alligators--
English-speaking natives--A ship at last--I abandon hope--The
deserted settlement.

By this time I began to feel quite delirious; I fear I was like a
baby in Yamba's hands. She knew that all I wanted was water, and
became almost distracted when she could not find any for me. Of
herself she never thought. And yet she was full of strange
resources and devices. When I moaned aloud in an agony of thirst,
she would give me some kind of grass to chew; and although this
possessed no real moisture, yet it promoted the flow of saliva, and
thus slightly relieved me.

Things grew worse and worse, however, and the delirium increased.
Hour after hour--through the endless nights would that devoted
creature sit by my side, moistening my lips with the dew that
collected on the grass. On the fifth day without water I suffered
the most shocking agonies, and in my lucid moments gave myself up
for lost. I could neither stand nor walk, speak nor swallow. My
throat seemed to be almost closed up, and when I opened my eyes
everything appeared to be going round and round in the most dizzy
and sickening manner. My heart beat with choking violence, and my
head ached, so that I thought I was going mad. My bloodshot eyes
(so Yamba subsequently told me) projected from their sockets in the
most terrifying manner, and a horrible indescribable longing
possessed me to kill my faithful Bruno, in order to drink his
blood. My poor Bruno! As I write these humble lines, so lacking
in literary grace, I fancy I can see him lying by my side in that
glaring, illimitable wilderness, his poor, dry tongue lolling out,
and his piteous brown eyes fixed upon me with an expression of mute
appeal that added to my agony. The only thing that kept him from
collapsing altogether was the blood of some animal which Yamba
might succeed in killing.

Gradually I grew weaker and weaker, and at last feeling the end was
near, I crawled under the first tree I came across--never for a
moment giving a thought as to its species,--and prepared to meet
the death I now fervently desired. Had Yamba, too, given up, these
lines would never have been written. Amazing to relate, she kept
comparatively well and active, though without water; and in my most
violent paroxysm she would pounce upon a lizard or a rat, and give
me its warm blood to drink, while yet it lived. Then she would
masticate a piece of iguana flesh and give it to me in my mouth,
but I was quite unable to swallow it, greatly to her
disappointment. She must have seen that I was slowly sinking, for
at last she stooped down and whispered earnestly in my ear that she
would leave me for a little while, and go off in search of water.
Like a dream it comes back to me how she explained that she had
seen some birds passing overhead, and that if she followed in the
same direction she was almost certain to reach water sooner or
later.

I could not reply; but I felt it was a truly hopeless enterprise on
her part. And as I did not want her to leave me, I remember I held
out my tomahawk feebly towards her, and signed to her to come and
strike me on the head with it and so put an end to my dreadful
agonies. The heroic creature only smiled and shook her head
emphatically. She took the proffered weapon, however, and after
putting some distinguishing marks on my tree with it, she hurled it
some distance away from me. She then stooped and propped me
against the trunk of the tree; and then leaving my poor suffering
dog to keep me company, she set out on her lonely search with long,
loping strides of amazing vigour.

It was late in the afternoon when she took her departure; and I lay
there hour after hour, sometimes frantically delirious, and at
others in a state of semi-consciousness, fancying she was by my
side with shells brimming over with delicious water. I would rouse
myself with a start from time to time, but, alas! my Yamba was not
near me. During the long and deathly stillness of the night, the
dew came down heavily, and as it enveloped my bed, I fell into a
sound sleep, from which I was awakened some hours later by the same
clear and ringing voice that had addressed me on that still night
on my island sand-spit. Out upon the impressive stillness of the
air rang the earnest words: "Coupe l'arbre! Coupe l'arbre!"

I was quite conscious, and much refreshed by my sleep, but the
message puzzled me a great deal. At first I thought it must have
been Yamba's voice, but I remembered that she did not know a word
of French; and when I looked round there was no one to be seen.
The mysterious message still rang in my ears, but I was far too
weak to attempt to cut the tree myself, I lay there in a state of
inert drowsiness until, rousing myself a little before dawn, I
heard the familiar footsteps of Yamba approaching the spot where I
lay. Her face expressed anxiety, earnestness, and joy.

In her trembling hands she bore a big lily leaf containing two or
three ounces of life-giving water. This I drank with gasping
eagerness, as you may suppose. My delirium had now entirely left
me, although I was still unable to speak. I signed to her to cut
the tree, as the voice in my dream had directed me. Without a word
of question Yamba picked up the tomahawk from where she had hurled
it, and then cut vigorously into the trunk, making a hole three or
four inches deep. It may seem astonishing to you, but it surprised
me in no wise when out from the hole there TRICKLED A CLEAR,
UNCERTAIN STREAM OF WATER, under which Yamba promptly held my
fevered head. This had a wonderfully refreshing effect upon me,
and in a short time I was able to speak feebly but rationally,
greatly to the delight of my faithful companion. As, however, I
was still too weak to move, I indulged in another and far sounder
sleep. I do not know the scientific name of that wonderful
Australian tree which saved my life, but believe it is well known
to naturalists. I have heard it called the "bottle tree," from the
shape of the trunk. All through that terrible night, while Yamba
was far away searching for water, Bruno had never left my side,
looking into my face wistfully, and occasionally licking my body
sympathetically with his poor, parched tongue. Whilst I was asleep
the second time, Yamba went off with the dog in search of food, and
returned with a young opossum, which was soon frizzling in an
appetising way on a tripod of sticks over a blazing fire. I was
able to eat a little of the flesh, and we obtained all the water we
wanted from our wonderful tree. Of course, Yamba was unacquainted
with the fact that water was stored in its interior. As a rule,
her instinct might be depended upon implicitly; and even after
years of her companionship I used to be filled with wonder at the
way in which she would track down game and find honey. She would
glance at a tree casually, and discern on the bark certain minute
scratches, which were quite invisible to me, even when pointed out.
She would then climb up like a monkey, and return to the ground
with a good-sized opossum, which would be roasted in its skin, with
many different varieties of delicious roots.

When I had quite recovered, Yamba told me she had walked many miles
during the night, and had finally discovered a water-hole in a new
country, for which she said we must make as soon as I was
sufficiently strong. Fortunately this did not take very long, and
on reaching the brink of the water-hole we camped beside it for
several days, in order to recuperate. I must say that the water we
found here did not look very inviting--it was, in fact, very slimy
and green in colour; but by the time we took our departure there
was not a drop left. Yamba had a method of filtration which
excited my admiration. She dug another hole alongside the one
containing the water, leaving a few inches of earth between them,
through which the water would percolate, and collect in hole
perfectly filtered.

At other times, when no ordinary human being could detect the
presence of water, she would point out to me a little knob of clay
on the ground in an old dried-up water-hole. This, she told me,
denoted the presence of a frog, and she would at once thrust down a
reed about eighteen inches long, and invite me to suck the upper
end, with the result that I imbibed copious draughts of delicious
water.

At the water-hole just described birds were rather plentiful, and
when they came down to drink, Yamba knocked them over without
difficulty. They made a very welcome addition to our daily bill of
fare. Her mode of capturing the birds was simplicity itself. She
made herself a long covering of grass that completely enveloped
her, and, shrouded in this, waited at the edge of the water-hole
for the birds to come and drink. Then she knocked over with a
stick as many as she required. In this way we had a very pleasant
spell of rest for four or five days. Continuing our journey once
more, we pushed on till in about three weeks we came to a well-
wooded country, where the eucalyptus flourished mightily and water
was plentiful; but yet, strange to say, there was very little game
in this region. Soon after this, I noticed that Yamba grew a
little anxious, and she explained that as we had not come across
any kangaroos lately, nor any blacks, it was evident that the wet
season was coming on. We therefore decided to steer for higher
ground, and accordingly went almost due north for the next few
days, until we reached the banks of a big river--the Roper River,
as I afterwards found out--where we thought it advisable to camp.
This would probably be sometime in the month of December.

One day I saw a number of small snakes swarming round the foot of a
tree, and was just about to knock some of them over with my stick,
when Yamba called out to me excitedly not to molest them. They
then began to climb the tree, and she explained that this clearly
indicated the advent of the wet season. "I did not wish you to
kill the snakes," she said, "because I wanted to see if they would
take refuge in the trees from the coming floods."

Up to this time, however, there had not been the slightest
indication of any great change in the weather. Many months must
have elapsed since rain had fallen in these regions, for the river
was extremely low between its extraordinarily high banks, and the
country all round was dry and parched; but even as we walked, a
remarkable phenomenon occurred, which told of impending changes. I
was oppressed with a sense of coming evil. I listened intently
when Yamba requested me to do so, but at first all I could hear was
a curious rumbling sound, far away in the distance. This noise
gradually increased in volume, and came nearer and nearer, but
still I was utterly unable to account for it. I also noticed that
the river was becoming strangely agitated, and was swirling along
at ever-increasing speed. Suddenly an enormous mass of water came
rushing down with a frightful roar, in one solid wave, and then it
dawned upon me that it must have already commenced raining in the
hills, and the tributaries of the river were now sending down their
floods into the main stream, which was rising with astonishing
rapidity. In the course of a couple of hours it had risen between
thirty and forty feet. Yamba seemed a little anxious, and
suggested that we had better build a hut on some high ground and
remain secure in that locality, without attempting to continue our
march while the rains lasted; and it was evident they were now upon
us.

We therefore set to work to construct a comfortable little shelter
of bark, fastened to a framework of poles by means of creepers and
climbing plants. Thus, by the time the deluge was fairly upon us,
we were quite snugly ensconced. We did not, however, remain in-
doors throughout the whole of the day, but went in and out, hunting
for food and catching game just as usual; the torrential rain which
beat down upon our naked bodies being rather a pleasant experience
than otherwise. At this time we had a welcome addition to our food
in the form of cabbage-palms and wild honey. We also started
building a catamaran, with which to navigate the river when the
floods had subsided. Yamba procured a few trunks of very light
timber, and these we fastened together with long pins of hardwood,
and then bound them still more firmly together with strips of
kangaroo hide. We also collected a stock of provisions to take
with us--kangaroo and opossum meat, of course; but principally wild
honey, cabbage-palm, and roots of various kinds. These
preparations took us several days, and by the time we had arranged
everything for our journey the weather had become settled once
more. Yamba remarked to me that if we simply drifted down the
Roper River we should be carried to the open sea; nor would we be
very long, since the swollen current was now running like a mill-
race. Our catamaran, of course, afforded no shelter of any kind,
but we carried some sheets of bark to form seats for ourselves and
the dog.

At length we pushed off on our eventful voyage, and no sooner had
we got fairly into the current than we were carried along with
prodigious rapidity, and without the least exertion on our part,
except in the matter of steering. This was done by means of
paddles from the side of the craft. We made such rapid progress
that I felt inclined to go on all night, but shortly after dusk
Yamba persuaded me to pull in-shore and camp on the bank until
morning, because of the danger of travelling at night among the
logs and other wreckage that floated about on the surface of the
water.

We passed any number of submerged trees, and on several of these
found snakes coiled among the branches. Some of these reptiles we
caught and ate. About the middle of the second day we heard a
tremendous roar ahead, as though there were rapids in the bed of
the river. It was now impossible to pull the catamaran out of its
course, no matter how hard we might have striven, the current being
absolutely irresistible. The banks narrowed as the rapids were
reached, with the result that the water in the middle actually
became CONVEX, so tremendous was the rush in that narrow gorge.
Yamba cried out to me to lie flat on the catamaran, and hold on as
tightly as I could until we reached smooth water again. This she
did herself, seizing hold of the dog also.

Nearer and nearer we were swept to the great seething caldron of
boiling and foaming waters, and at last, with a tremendous splash
we entered the terrifying commotion. We went right under, and so
great was the force of the water, that had I not been clinging
tenaciously to the catamaran I must infallibly have been swept away
to certain death. Presently, however, we shot into less troubled
waters and then continued our course, very little the worse for
having braved these terrible rapids. Had our craft been a dug-out
boat, as I originally intended it to be, we must inevitably have
been swamped. Again we camped on shore that night, and were off at
an early hour next morning. As we glided swiftly on, I noticed
that the river seemed to be growing tremendously wide. Yamba
explained that we were now getting into very flat country, and
therefore the great stretch of water was a mere flood. She also
prophesied a rather bad time for us, as we should not be able to go
ashore at night and replenish our stock of provisions. Fortunately
we had a sufficient supply with us on the catamaran to last at
least two or three days longer. The last time we landed Yamba had
stocked an additional quantity of edible roots and smoked meats,
and although we lost a considerable portion of these in shooting
the rapids, there still remained enough for a few days' supply.

In consequence of the ever-increasing width of the river, I found
it a difficult matter to keep in the channel where the current was,
so I gave up the steering paddle to Yamba, who seemed instinctively
to know what course to take.

On and on we went, until at length the whole country as far as the
eye could reach was one vast sea, extending virtually to the
horizon; its sluggish surface only broken by the tops of the
submerged trees. One day we sighted a number of little islets some
distance ahead, and then we felt we must be nearing the mouth of
the river. The last day or two had been full of anxiety and
inconvenience for us, for we had been simply drifting aimlessly on,
without being able to land and stretch our cramped limbs or indulge
in a comfortable sleep. Thus the sight of the islands was a great
relief to us, and my ever-faithful and considerate companion
remarked that as we had nothing to fear now, and I was weary with
my vigil of the previous night, I had better try and get a little
sleep. Accordingly I lay down on the catamaran, and had barely
extended my limbs when I fell fast asleep. I awoke two or three
hours later, at mid-day, and was surprised to find that our
catamaran was not moving. I raised myself up, only to find that we
had apparently drifted among the tops of a ring of trees rising
from a submerged island. "Halloa!" I said to Yamba, "are we
stuck?" "No," she replied quietly, "but look round."

You may judge of my horror and amazement when I saw outside the
curious ring of tree-tops, scores of huge alligators peering at us
with horrid stolidity through the branches, some of them snapping
their capacious jaws with a viciousness that left no doubt as to
its meaning. Yamba explained to me that she had been obliged to
take refuge in this peculiar but convenient shelter, because the
alligators seemed to be swarming in vast numbers in that part of
the river. She had easily forced a way for the catamaran through
the branches, and once past, had drawn them together again. The
ferocious monsters could certainly have forced their way into the
inclosure after us, but they didn't seem to realise that such a
thing was possible, apparently being quite content to remain
outside. Judge, then, our position for yourself--with a scanty
food supply, on a frail platform of logs, floating among the tree-
tops, and literally besieged by crowds of loathsome alligators!
Nor did we know how long our imprisonment was likely to last. Our
poor dog, too, was terribly frightened, and sat whining and
trembling in a most pitiable way in spite of reassuring words and
caresses from Yamba and myself. I confess that I was very much
alarmed, for the monsters would occasionally emit a most peculiar
and terrifying sound--not unlike the roar of a lion. Hour after
hour we sat there on the swaying catamaran, praying fervently that
the hideous reptiles might leave us, and let us continue our
journey in peace. As darkness began to descend upon the vast waste
of waters, it occurred to me to make a bold dash through the
serried ranks of our besiegers, but Yamba restrained me, telling me
it meant certain death to attempt to run the gantlet under such
fearsome circumstances.

Night came on. How can I describe its horrors? Even as I write, I
seem to hear the ceaseless roars of those horrible creatures, and
the weird but gentle lappings of the limitless waste that extended
as far as the eye could reach. Often I was tempted to give up in
despair, feeling that there was no hope whatever for us. Towards
morning, however, the alligators apparently got on the scent of
some floating carcasses brought down by the floods, and one and all
left us. Some little time after the last ugly head had gone under,
the catamaran was sweeping swiftly and noiselessly down the stream
again.

We made straight for a little island some distance ahead of us, and
found it uninhabited. Black and white birds, not quite so large as
pigeons, were very plentiful, as also were eggs. Soon my Yamba had
a nice meal ready for me, and then we lay down for a much-needed
rest. After this we steered for a large island some nine or ten
miles distant, and as we approached we could see that this one WAS
inhabited, from the smoke-signals the natives sent up the moment
they caught sight of us.

As we came nearer we could see the blacks assembling on the beach
to meet us, but, far from showing any friendliness, they held their
spears poised threateningly, and would no doubt have thrown them
had I not suddenly jumped to my feet and made signs that I wished
to sit down with them--to parley with them. They then lowered
their spears, and we landed; but to my great disappointment neither
Yamba nor I could understand one word of their language, which was
totally different from the dialect of Yamba's country. Our first
meeting was conducted in the usual way--squatting down on our
haunches, and then drawing nearer and nearer until we were able to
rub noses on one another's shoulders. I then explained by means of
signs that I wanted to stay with them a few days, and I was
inexpressibly relieved to find that my little passport stick (which
never left my possession for a moment), was recognised at once, and
proved most efficacious generally. After this I became more
friendly with my hosts, and told them by signs that I was looking
for white people like myself, whereupon they replied I should have
to go still farther south to find them. They took us to their
camp, and provided us with food, consisting mainly of fish, shell-
fish, and roots. So far as I could ascertain, there were no
kangaroo or opossum on the island. After two or three days, I
thought it time to be continuing our journey; but feeling convinced
that I must be in the vicinity of the Cape York Peninsula--instead
of being on the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria--I decided
not to go south at all, but to strike due north, where I felt
certain Somerset Point lay; and I also resolved to travel by sea
this time, the blacks having presented me with a very unsubstantial
"dug-out" canoe. Leaving behind us the catamaran that had brought
us so many hundreds of miles, we set out on our travels once more--
taking care, however, never to lose sight of the coast-line on
account of our frail craft. We passed several beautiful islands,
big and little, and on one that we landed I came across some native
chalk drawings on the face of the rock. They depicted rude figures
of men--I don't remember any animals--but were not nearly so well
done as the drawings I had seen in caves up in the Cape Londonderry
district.

We also landed from time to time on the mainland, and spoke with
the chiefs of various tribes. They were all hostile at first. On
one occasion we actually met one or two blacks who spoke a few
words of English. They had evidently been out with pearlers at
some time in their lives, but had returned to their native wilds
many years before our visit. I asked them if they knew where white
men were to be found, and they pointed east (Cape York), and also
indicated that the whites were many moons' journey away from us. I
was sorely puzzled. A glance at a map of Australia will enable the
reader to realise my great blunder. Ignorant almost of Australian
geography I fancied, on reaching the western shores of the Gulf of
Carpentaria, that I had struck the Coral Sea, and that all I had to
do was to strike north to reach Somerset, the white settlement I
had heard about from the pearlers. I felt so confident Cape York
lay immediately to the north, that I continued my course in that
direction, paddling all day and running in-shore to camp at night.
We lived mainly on shell-fish and sea-birds' eggs at this time, and
altogether life became terribly wearisome and monotonous. This,
however, was mainly owing to my anxiety.

About a fortnight after leaving the mouth of the Roper River we
came to a place which I now know to be Point Dale. We then steered
south into a beautiful landlocked passage which lies between the
mainland and Elcho Island, and which at the time I took to be the
little strait running between Albany Island and Cape York. I
steered south-west in consequence; and after a time, as I did not
sight the points I was on the look-out for, I felt completely
nonplused. We landed on Elcho Island and spent a day or two there.
Being still under the impression that Cape York was higher up, I
steered west, and soon found myself in a very unpleasant region.
We explored almost every bay and inlet we came across, but of
course always with the same disheartening result. Sometimes we
would come near being stranded on a sandbank, and would have to
jump overboard and push our craft into deeper water. At others,
she would be almost swamped in a rough sea, but still we stuck to
our task, and after passing Goulbourn Island we followed the coast.
Then we struck north until we got among a group of islands, and
came to Croker Island, which goes direct north and south. Day
after day we kept doggedly on, hugging the shore very closely,
going in and out of every bay, and visiting almost every island,
yet never seeing a single human being. We were apparently still
many hundreds of miles away from our destination. To add to the
wretchedness of the situation, my poor Yamba, who had been so
devoted, so hardy, and so contented, at length began to manifest
symptoms of illness, and complained gently of the weariness of it
all. "You are looking," she would say, "for a place that does not
exist. You are looking for friends of whose very existence you are
unaware." I would not give in, however, and persuaded her that all
would be well in time, if only she would continue to bear with me.
Both of us were terribly cramped in the boat; and by way of
exercise one or the other would occasionally jump overboard and
have a long swim. Whenever we could we landed at night.

One morning, shortly after we had begun our usual trip for the day,
and were rounding a headland, I was almost stupefied to behold in
front of me the masts of a boat (which I afterwards found to be a
Malay proa), close in-shore. The situation, in reality, was
between Croker's Island and the main, but at the time I thought
that I had at length reached Somerset. I sprang to my feet in a
state of the greatest excitement. "Thank God! thank God!" I
shouted to Yamba; "we are saved at last!--saved--saved--saved!" As
I shouted, I pulled the canoe round and made for the vessel with
all possible despatch. We very soon came up with her, and found
her almost stranded, in consequence of the lowness of the tide. I
promptly clambered aboard, but failed to find a soul. I thought
this rather strange, but as I could see a hut not very far away,
close to the beach, I steered towards it. This little dwelling,
too, was uninhabited, though I found a number of trays of fish
lying about, which afterwards I found to be beche-de-mer being
dried and smoked. Suddenly, while Yamba and I were investigating
the interior of the hut, a number of Malays unexpectedly appeared
on the scene, and I then realised I had had the good fortune to
come across a Malay beche-de-mer expedition.

The fishermen were exceedingly surprised at seeing Yamba and me;
but when they found I could speak their language a little they
evinced every sign of delight, and forthwith entertained us most
hospitably on board their craft, which was a boat of ten or fifteen
tons. They told me they had come from the Dutch islands south of
Timor, and promptly made me an offer that set my heart beating
wildly. They said they were prepared to take me back to Kopang, if
I wished; and I, on my part, offered to give them all the pearl
shells left on my little island in the Sea of Timor--the latitude
of which I took good care not to divulge--on condition that they
called there. They even offered Yamba a passage along with me;
but, to my amazement and bitter disappointment, she said she did
not wish to go with them. She trembled as though with fear. She
was afraid that when once we were on board, the Malays would kill
me and keep her.

One other reason for this fear I knew, but it in no way mitigated
my acute grief at being obliged to decline what would probably be
my only chance of returning to civilisation. For this I had pined
day and night for four or five years, and now that escape was
within my grasp I was obliged to throw it away. For let me
emphatically state, that even if civilisation had been but a mile
away, I would not have gone a yard towards it without that devoted
creature who had been my salvation, not on one occasion only, but
practically every moment of my existence.

With passionate eagerness I tried to persuade Yamba to change her
mind, but she remained firm in her decision; and so, almost choking
with bitter regret, and in a state of utter collapse, I had to
decline the offer of the Malays. We stayed with them, however, a
few weeks longer, and at length they accompanied me to a camp of
black fellows near some lagoons, a little way farther south of
their own camp. Before they left, they presented me with a
quantity of beche-de-mer, or sea-slugs, which make most excellent
soup. At the place indicated by the Malays, which was in Raffles
Bay, the chief spoke quite excellent English. One of his wives
could even say the Lord's Prayer in English, though, of course, she
did not know what she was talking about. "Captain Jack Davis," as
he called himself, had been for some little time on one of her
Majesty's ships, and he told me that not many marches away there
was an old European settlement; he even offered to guide me there,
if I cared to go. He first led me to an old white settlement in
Raffles Bay, called, I think, Fort Wellington, where I found some
large fruit-trees, including ripe yellow mangoes. There were,
besides, raspberries, strawberries, and Cape gooseberries.
Needless to remark, all this made me very happy and contented, for
I felt I must now be getting near the home of some white men. I
thought that, after all, perhaps Yamba's refusal to go with the
Malays was for the best, and with high hopes I set out with Captain
Davis for another settlement he spoke of. This turned out to be
Port Essington, which we reached in two or three days. Another
cruel blow was dealt me here.

You can perhaps form some idea of my poignant dismay and
disappointment on finding that this dreary-looking place of swamps
and marshes was quite deserted, although there were still a number
of ruined brick houses, gardens, and orchards there. The blacks
told me that at one time it had been one of the most important
penal settlements in Australia, but had to be abandoned on account
of the prevalence of malarial fever arising from the swamps in the
neighbourhood. I came across a number of graves, which were
evidently those of the exiled settlers; and one of the wooden
headstones bore the name of Captain Hill (I think that was the
name). I have an idea that the fence round this old cemetery still
remained. There was food in abundance at this place--raspberries,
bananas, and mangoes grew in profusion; whilst the marshes were
inhabited by vast flocks of geese, ducks, white ibis, and other
wild-fowl. Indeed in the swamps the birds rose in such prodigious
numbers as actually to obscure the face of the sun. Here for the
first time I saw web-footed birds perched in trees.

The blacks had a very peculiar method of catching water-fowl. They
would simply wade through the reeds into the water almost up to
their necks, and then cover their heads with a handful of reeds.
Remaining perfectly still, they would imitate the cry of different
wild-fowl. Then at a convenient opportunity, they would simply
seize a goose or a duck by the leg, and drag it down under the
water until it was drowned. The number of water-fowl caught in
this way by a single black fellow was truly astonishing.

After having remained a fortnight at Port Essington itself, we
returned to Raffles Bay, where Yamba and I made a camp among the
blacks and took up our residence among them; for Captain Davis had
told me that ships called there occasionally, and it was possible
that one might call soon from Port Darwin. The vessels, he added,
came for buffalo meat--of which more hereafter. I had decided to
remain among these people some little time, because they knew so
much about Europeans, and I felt sure of picking up knowledge which
would prove useful to me.

CHAPTER VIII

In the throes of fever--A ghastly discovery--Pitiful relics--A
critical moment--Yamba in danger--A blood bath--A luxury indeed--
Signs of civilisation--The great storm--Drifting, drifting--Yamba's
mysterious glee--A dreadful shock--"Welcome home!"--My official
protectors--Myself as a cannibal war chief--Preparations for
battle--A weird apparition--Generosity to the vanquished--The old
desire.

I had not been established in this camp many days, however, before
I was struck down, for the first time, with a terrible attack of
malarial fever, probably produced by the many hours I had spent
wading in the swamps at Port Essington. There were the usual
symptoms--quick flushings and fever heats, followed by violent fits
of shivering, which no amount of natural warmth could mitigate. My
faithful Yamba was terribly distressed at my condition, and waited
upon me with most tender devotion; but in spite of all that could
be done for me, I grew gradually weaker, until in the course of a
few days I became wildly delirious. The blacks, too, were very
good to me, and doctored me, in their quaint native way, with
certain leaves and powders. All to no purpose, however; and for
several days I was even unable to recognise my Yamba. Then the
fever subsided somewhat, and I was left as weak and helpless as a
little child.

It was some time before I quite recovered from the fever; and I was
frequently seized with distressing fits of shivering. I also
experienced an overwhelming desire for a drink of milk; why, I am
unable to say. Therefore, when some of the blacks told me that
wild buffalo were to be found in the neighbourhood--beasts which
had formerly belonged to settlers, but were now run wild--I
resolved, when sufficiently strong, to try and capture one of the
cows for the sake of its milk. Captain Davis ridiculed the idea,
and assured me that it was only possible to slay one with a rifle;
but I determined to see what I could do.

Yamba, of course, accompanied me on my expedition, and her
bushmanship was altogether quite indispensable. We came upon
buffalo tracks near a large water-hole, and here we each climbed a
gum-tree and awaited the arrival of our prey. We waited a long
time, but were at length rewarded by seeing a big cow buffalo and
her calf wandering leisurely in our direction. My only weapons
were a lasso made out of green kangaroo hide, fixed to the end of a
long pole; and my bow and arrows. I slid down the tree a little
way, and when the calf was near enough, I gently slipped the noose
over its neck, and promptly made it a prisoner under the very nose
of its astonished mother, who bellowed mournfully. My success so
elated Yamba that she, too, slid down from her hiding-place, and
was making her way over to me and the calf, when suddenly an
enormous bull, which we had not previously seen, rushed at her at
full speed. Yamba instantly realised her danger, and swarmed up a
tree again like lightning, just as the great brute was upon her. I
called out to her to attract the attention of the old bull whilst I
attended to the mother and calf. I dropped my pole to which the
lasso was attached, and allowed the little one to walk quickly away
with it; but, as I anticipated, the trailing shaft soon caught
between the stumps of some trees, and made the calf a more secure
prisoner than ever. It was a curious repetition of the story of
the two whales. The mother walked round and round, and appeared to
be in the greatest distress. She never left her little one's side,
but continued to bellow loudly, and lick the calf to coax it away.
Quietly sliding down my tree, I made my way to where Yamba was
still holding the attention of the bull--a fiery brute who was
pawing the ground with rage at the foot of her tree. I had fitted
an arrow to my bow, and was preparing to shoot, when,
unfortunately, the bull detected the noise of my approach, and
rushed straight at me. I confess it was rather a trying moment,
but I never lost my head, feeling confident of my skill with the
bow--which I had practised off and on ever since I had left school
at Montreux. I actually waited until the charging monster was
within a few paces, and then I let fly. So close was he that not
much credit is due to me for accurate aim. The arrow fairly
transfixed his right eye, causing him to pull up on his haunches,
and roar with pain.

Yamba, full of anxiety, hurried down her tree; but she had scarcely
reached the ground when the baffled bull wheeled and charged her,
with more fury than ever. She simply glided behind a tree, and
then I showed myself and induced the bull to charge me once more.
Again I waited until he was almost upon me, and then I sent another
arrow into his other eye, blinding him completely. On this, the
poor brute brought up sharp, and commenced to back in an uncertain
way, bellowing with pain. I forgot all my fever in the excitement,
and rushing upon the beast with my tomahawk, I dealt him a blow on
the side of the head that made him stagger. I brought him to the
earth with two or three more blows, and a few minutes later had
administered the coup-de-grace. No sooner was the big bull dead
than I determined to test the efficacy of a very popular native
remedy for fever--for shivering fits still continued to come upon
me at most awkward times, usually late in the day. No matter how
much grass poor Yamba brought me as covering, I never could get
warm, and so now I thought I would try some animal heat.

Scarce had life left the body of the prostrate bull before I ripped
open the carcass between the fore and hind legs; and after

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