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The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont

Part 3 out of 5

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remarking to Yamba, "I am going to have heat this time," I crawled
into the interior. My head, however, was protruding from the
buffalo's chest. Yamba understood perfectly well what I was doing;
and when I told her I was going to indulge in a long sleep in my
curious resting-place, she said she would keep watch and see that I
was not disturbed. I remained buried in the bull's interior for
the rest of the day and all through the night. Next morning, to my
amazement, I found I was a prisoner, the carcass having got cold
and rigid, so that I had literally to be dug out. As I emerged I
presented a most ghastly and horrifying spectacle. My body was
covered with congealed blood, and even my long hair was all matted
and stiffened with it. But never can I forget the feeling of
exhilaration and strength that took possession of me as I stood
there looking at my faithful companion. I WAS ABSOLUTELY CURED--a
new man, a giant of strength! I make a present of the cure to the
medical profession.

Without delay I made my way down to the lagoon and washed myself
thoroughly, scrubbing myself with a kind of soapy clay, and
afterwards taking a run in order to get dry. This extraordinary
system of applying the carcass of a freshly killed animal is
invariably resorted to by the natives in case of serious illness,
and they look upon it as an all but infallible cure. Certainly it
was surprisingly efficacious in my own case.

Next day we directed our attention to the capture of the cow, which
was still wandering around her imprisoned little one, and only
leaving it for a few minutes at a time in order to get food. I
constructed a small fence or inclosure of sticks, and into this we
managed to drive the cow. We then kept her for two days without
food and water, in order to tame her, and did not even let her
little calf come near her. We then approached her, and found her
perfectly subdued, and willing to take food and water from us
precisely as though she were the gentlest Alderney.

I found I was even able to milk her; and I can assure you that I
never tasted anything more delicious in my life than the copious
droughts of fresh milk I indulged in on that eventful morning. In
fact, I practically lived on nothing else for the next few days,
and it pulled me round in a most surprising way. The flesh of the
dead buffalo I did not touch myself, but handed it over to the
blacks, who were vastly impressed by my prowess as a mighty hunter.
They themselves had often tried to kill buffalo with their spears,
but had never succeeded. I removed the bull's hide, and made a big
rug out of it, which I found very serviceable indeed in subsequent
wet seasons. It was as hard as a board, and nearly half an inch
thick.

When I returned to "Captain Davis" and the rest of my friends at
Raffles Bay, I was quite well and strong once more, and I stayed
with them three or four months, hunting almost every day (there
were even wild ponies and English cattle--of course, relics of the
old settlement), and picking up all the information I could. I had
many conversations with Davis himself, and he told me that I should
probably find white men at Port Darwin, which he said was between
three and four hundred miles away. The tribe at Port Essington, I
may mention, only numbered about fifty souls. This was about the
year 1868. Captain Davis--who was passionately fond of tobacco,
and would travel almost any distance to obtain an ounce or two from
the Malay beche-de-mer fishers--pointed out to me a blazed tree
near his camp on which the following inscription was cut:-

LUDWIG LEICHHARDT,
Overland from Sydney,
1847.

It was therefore evident that this district had already been
visited by a white man; and the fact that he had come overland
filled me with hopes that some day I, too, might return to
civilisation in the same way. The English-speaking black chief
assured me that his father had acted as guide to Leichhardt, but
whether the latter got back safely to Sydney again he never knew.
The white traveller, he said, left Port Essington in a ship.

Having considered all things, I decided to attempt to reach Port
Darwin by boat, in the hope of finding Europeans living there. At
first, I thought of going overland, but in discussing my plans with
"Captain Davis," he told me that I would have to cross swamps,
fords, creeks, and rivers, some of which were alive with
alligators. He advised me to go by water, and also told me to be
careful not to be drawn into a certain large bay I should come
across, because of the alligators that swarmed on its shores. The
bay that he warned me against was, I think, Van Dieman's Gulf. He
told me to keep straight across the bay, and then pass between
Melville Island and the main. He fitted me out with a good stock
of provisions, including a quantity of beche-de-mer, cabbage-palm,
fruit, &c. I arranged my buffalo skin over my provisions as a
protection, turtle-back fashion. Our preparations completed, Yamba
and I and the dog pushed out into the unknown sea in our frail
canoe, which was only about fifteen feet long and fourteen inches
wide. Of course, we kept close in-shore all the time, and made
pretty good progress until we passed Apsley Strait, avoiding the
huge Van Dieman's Gulf, with its alligator-infested rivers and
creeks. We must have been close to Port Darwin when, with little
or no warning, a terrific storm arose, and quickly carried us out
to sea in a south-westerly direction. In a moment our frail little
craft was partially swamped, and Yamba and I were compelled to jump
overboard and hang on to the gunwale on either side to prevent it
from being overwhelmed altogether. This was about a fortnight
after I left Captain Davis. We knew that if we were swamped, all
our belongings, including my poor Bruno, my live geese, water, and
other provisions, would be lost in the raging sea. The night that
followed was perhaps one of the most appalling experiences that
ever befell me; but I had by this time become so inured to terrible
trials that I merely took it as a matter of course.

Imagine for yourself the scene. The giant waves are rolling
mountains high; the darkness of night is gathering round us fast,
and I and my heroic wife are immersed in the tremendous sea,
hanging on for dear life to a little dug-out canoe only fourteen
inches wide. Although we were soon thoroughly exhausted with our
immersion in the water, we dared not climb aboard. Will it be
believed that ALL NIGHT LONG we were compelled to remain in the
sea, clinging to the canoe, half drowned, and tossed about like the
insignificant atoms we were in the midst of the stupendous waves,
which were literally ablaze with phosphorescent light? Often as
those terrible hours crawled by, I would have let go my hold and
given up altogether were it not for Yamba's cheery and encouraging
voice, which I heard above the terrific roar of the storm, pointing
out to me how much we had been through already, and how many
fearful dangers we had safely encountered together. It seemed to
me like the end of everything. I thought of a certain poem
relating to a man in a desperate situation, written, I believe, by
an American, whose name I could not remember. It described the
heart-breaking efforts made by a slave to obtain his freedom. How
bloodhounds were put upon his track; how he is at last cornered in
a swamp, and as he looks helplessly up at the stars he asks
himself, "Is it life, or is it death?" As I hung on to the little
dug-out, chilled to the very marrow, and more than half drowned by
the enormous seas, I recalled the whole poem and applied the
slave's remarks to myself. "Can it be possible," I said, "after
all the struggles I have made against varying fortune, that I am to
meet death now?" I was in absolute despair. Towards the early
hours of the morning Yamba advised me to get into the canoe for a
spell, but she herself remained hanging on to the gunwale, trying
to keep the head of the little canoe before the immense waves that
were still running. I was very cold and stiff, and found it
difficult to climb aboard. As the morning advanced, the sea began
to abate somewhat, and presently Yamba joined me in the canoe. We
were, however, unable to shape our course for any set quarter,
since by this time we were out of sight of land altogether, and had
not even the slightest idea as to our position.

All that day we drifted aimlessly about, and then, towards evening,
a perfect calm settled on the sea. When we were somewhat rested we
paddled on in a direction where we concluded land must lie (we
steered south-east for the main); and in the course of a few hours
we had the satisfaction of seeing a little rocky island, which we
promptly made for and landed upon. Here we obtained food in plenty
in the form of birds; but drinking-water was not to be found
anywhere, so we had to fall back on the small stock we always
carried in skins. Judging from the appearance of the rocks, and
the smell that pervaded the place, I imagined that this must be a
guano island. I now knew that we were near Port Darwin, BUT AS A
FACT WE HAD PASSED IT IN THE GREAT STORM, WHILE WE WERE FIGHTING
FOR OUR LIVES. We slept on the island that night, and felt very
much better next morning when we started out on our voyage once
more, visiting every bay and inlet. Hope, too, began to reassert
itself, and I thought that after all we might be able to reach Port
Darwin in spite of the distance we must have been driven out of our
course. Several islands studded the sea through which we were now
steadily threading our way, and that evening we landed on one of
these and camped for the night. Next day we were off again, and as
the weather continued beautifully fine we made splendid progress.

One evening a few days after the storm, as we were placidly
paddling away, I saw Yamba's face suddenly brighten with a look I
had never seen on it before, and I felt sure this presaged some
extraordinary announcement. She would gaze up into the heavens
with a quick, sudden motion, and then her intelligent eyes would
sparkle like the stars above. I questioned her, but she maintained
an unusual reserve, and, as I concluded that she knew instinctively
we were approaching Port Darwin, I, too, felt full of joy and
pleasure that the object of our great journey was at length about
to be achieved. Alas! what awaited me was only the greatest of all
the astounding series of disappointments--one indeed so stunning as
to plunge me into the very blackest depths of despair.

Yamba still continued to gaze up at the stars, and when at length
she had apparently satisfied herself upon a certain point, she
turned to me with a shout of excited laughter and delight, pointing
frantically at a certain glowing star. Seeing that I was still
puzzled by her merriment, she cried, "That star is one you remember
well." I reflected for a moment, and then the whole thing came to
me like a flash of lightning. YAMBA WAS APPROACHING HER OWN HOME
ONCE MORE--THE VERY POINT FROM WHICH WE HAD BOTH STARTED EIGHTEEN
MONTHS PREVIOUSLY! In the storm, as I have already said, we had
passed Port Darwin altogether, having been driven out to sea.

I tell you, my heart nearly burst when I recalled the awful
privations and hardships we had both experienced so recently; and
when I realised that all these things had been absolutely in vain,
and that once more my trembling hopes were to be dashed to the
ground in the most appalling manner, I fell back into the canoe,
utterly crushed with horror and impotent disappointment. Was there
ever so terrible an experience? Take a map of Australia, and see
for yourself my frightful blunder--mistaking the west coast of the
Gulf of Carpentaria for the eastern waters of the Cape York
Peninsula, and then blindly groping northward and westward in
search of the settlement of Somerset, which in reality lay hundreds
of miles north-east of me. I was unaware of the very existence of
the great Gulf of Carpentaria. But were it not for having had to
steer north to get out of the waterless plains, I might possibly
have reached the north-eastern coast of the continent in due time,
avoiding the Roper River altogether.

Yamba knelt by my side and tried to comfort me in her own sweet,
quaint way, and she pictured to me--scant consolation--how glad her
people would be to have us both back amongst them once more. She
also urged what a great man I might be among her people if only I
would stay and make my home with them. Even her voice, however,
fell dully on my ears, for I was fairly mad with rage and despair--
with myself, for not having gone overland to Port Darwin from Port
Essington, as, indeed, I should most certainly have done were it
not that Davis had assured me the greater part of the journey lay
through deadly swamps and creeks, and great waters swarming with
alligators. I had even had in my mind the idea of attempting to
REACH SYDNEY OVERLAND! but thought I would first of all see what
facilities in the way of reaching civilisation Port Darwin had to
offer. Now, however, I was back again in Cambridge Gulf,--in the
very spot I had left a year and a half ago, and where I had landed
with my four blacks from the island sand-spit. But you, my
readers, shall judge of my feelings.

We landed on an island at the mouth of the gulf, and Yamba made
smoke-signals to her friends on the mainland, telling them of our
return. We resolved it would never do to confess we had been
DRIVEN BACK. No, we had roamed about and had come back to our dear
friends of our own free-will, feeling there was no place like home!
just think what a role this was for me to play,--with my whole
being thrilling with an agony of helpless rage and bitter
disappointment.

This time, however, we did not wait for the blacks to come out and
meet us, but paddled straight for the beach, where the chiefs and
all the tribe were assembled in readiness to receive us. The first
poignant anguish being passed, and the warmth of welcome being so
cordial and excessive (they cried with joy), I began to feel a
little easier in my mind and more resigned to inexorable fate. The
usual ceremony of nose-rubbing on shoulders was gone through, and
almost every native present expressed his or her individual delight
at seeing us again. Then they besieged us with questions, for we
were now great travellers. A spacious "humpy" or hut was built
without delay, and the blacks vied with one another in bringing me
things which I sorely needed, such as fish, turtles, roots, and
eggs.

That evening a corroboree on a gigantic scale was held in my
honour; and on every side the blacks manifested great rejoicing at
my return, which, of course, they never dreamed was involuntary.
Human nature is, as I found, the same the world over, and one
reason for my warm welcome was, that my blacks had just been
severely thrashed by a neighbouring tribe, and were convinced that
if I would help them to retaliate, they could not fail to inflict
tremendous punishment upon their enemies. By this time, having
become, as I said before, somewhat resigned to my fate, I consented
to lead them in their next battle, on condition that two shield-
bearers were provided to protect me from the enemy's spears. This
being the first time I had ever undertaken war operations with my
friends, I determined that the experiment should run no risk of
failure, and that my dignity should in no way suffer. I declared,
first of all, that I would choose as my shield-bearers the two most
expert men in the tribe. There was much competition for these
honoured posts, and many warriors demonstrated their skill before
me.

At length I chose two stalwart fellows, named respectively Warriga
and Bommera, and every day for a week they conducted some trial
manoeuvres with their friends. There would be a kind of ambush
prepared, and flights of spears would be hurled at me, only to be
warded off with astonishing dexterity by my alert attendants. All
I was provided with was my steel tomahawk and bow and arrows. I
never really became expert with the spear and shield, and I knew
only too well that if I handled these clumsily I should immediately
lose prestige among the blacks.

After a week or two of practice and sham combats, I felt myself
pretty safe with my two protectors, and I then began organising an
army to lead against the enemy. Altogether I collected about 100
fighting men, each armed with a bundle of throwing spears, a shield
made of light wood, and a short, heavy waddy or club for use at
close quarters. When everything was in readiness, I marched off at
the head of my "army" and invaded the enemy's country. We were
followed by the usual crowd of women-folk, who saw to the
commissariat department and did the transport themselves. On the
first day out, we had to ford a large stream--a branch of the
Victoria River, I think --and at length reached a suitable place in
which to engage the enemy. It is difficult for me to fix the exact
locality, but I should judge it to be between Murchison and
Newcastle ranges. The country in which the operations took place
was a fine open grassy plain, thinly skirted with trees and with
mountains almost encircling it in the distance.

I ought here to describe my personal appearance on this important
day, when, for the first time, I posed as a great chief, and led my
people into battle, filled with the same enthusiasm that animated
them. My hair was built up on strips of whalebone to a height of
nearly two feet from my head, and was decorated with black and
white cockatoo feathers. My face, which had now become very dark
from exposure to the sun, was decorated in four colours--yellow,
white, black, and red.

There were two black-and-white arched stripes across the forehead,
and a yellow curving line across each cheek under the eye. I also
wore a fairly long beard, moustache, and side-whiskers. There were
four different-coloured stripes on each arm, whilst on the body
were four vari-coloured stripes, two on each side; and a long,
yellow, curving stripe extended across the stomach, belt-wise.
Around my middle I wore a kind of double apron of emu skin, with
feathers. There were other stripes of different-coloured ochres on
my legs, so that altogether you may imagine I presented a
terrifying appearance. Of this, however, I soon grew quite
oblivious--a fact which I afterwards had occasion bitterly to
regret. It were, indeed, well for me that I had on subsequent
occasions realised better the bizarre nature of my appearance, for
had I done so I would probably have reached civilisation years
before I did.

At this period, then, you find me a fully equipped war chief of the
cannibal blacks, leading them on to battle attired as one of their
own chiefs in every respect, and with nearly all their tribal marks
on my body. When we reached the battle-ground, my men sent up
smoke-signals of defiance, announcing the fact of our invasion, and
challenging the enemy to come down from the mountains and fight us.
This challenge was promptly responded to by other smoke-signals,
but as at least a day must elapse before our antagonists could
arrive I spent the interval in devising a plan of battle--oddly
enough, on the lines of a famous historic Swiss encounter at
Grandson five or six centuries ago.

I arranged that fifty or sixty men, under the leadership of a
chief, should occupy some high ground in our rear, to form a kind
of ambush.

They were also to act as a reserve, and were instructed to come
rushing to our assistance when I signalled for them, yelling out
their weird war-cry of "Warra-hoo-oo,--warra-hoo-oo!" I concluded
that this in itself would strike terror into the hearts of our
opponents, who were accustomed to see the whole force engaged at
one time, and knew nothing about troops held in reserve, or tactics
of any kind whatsoever. The native method of procedure, as, I
think, I have already remarked, was usually to dash pell-mell at
one another after the abuse and fight, until one side or the other
drew blood, without which no victory could be gained.

Just before the battle commenced I had a real inspiration which
practically decided the affair without any fighting at all. It
occurred to me that if I mounted myself on stilts, some eighteen
inches high, and shot an arrow or two from my bow, the enemy would
turn tail and bolt. And so it turned out. As the armies
approached one another in full battle array they presented quite an
imposing appearance, and when a suitable distance separated them
they halted for the inevitable abusive parley. Into the
undignified abuse, needless to remark, I did not enter, but kept
well in the background. The spokesman of my tribe accused the
enemy of being without pluck--said that they were cowards, and
would soon have their livers eaten by the invaders. There was any
amount of spear-brandishing, yelling, and gesticulating. For these
blacks apparently find it impossible to come up to actual fighting
pitch without first being worked up to an extraordinary degree of
excitement.

When at length the abuse had got perfectly delirious, and the first
spear was about to be thrown, I dashed to the front on my stilts.
Several spears were launched at me, but my shield-bearers turned
them on one side. I then shot half-a-dozen arrows into the enemy's
ranks in almost as many seconds. The consternation produced by
this flight of "invisible spears" was perfectly indescribable.
With a series of appalling yells the enemy turned and fled pell-
mell. My men gave chase, and wounded many of them. In the midst
of the rout (the ruling thought being always uppermost), it
occurred to me that it might be a useful stroke of business to make
friends with this vanquished tribe, since they might possibly be of
service to me in that journey to civilisation, the idea of which I
never really abandoned from the day I was cast upon my little sand-
spit. Furthermore, it flashed across my mind that if I made these
nomadic tribes interested in me and my powers, news of my isolation
might travel enormous distances inland--perhaps even to the borders
of civilisation itself.

I communicated my ideas to my men, and they promptly entered into
my views. They consented to help me with great readiness. While I
was speaking with them, the vanquished warriors had re-formed into
position some three or four hundred yards away, and were watching
our movements with much curiosity. I now abandoned my stilts and
my bow and arrows, and marched off with my chiefs in the direction
of our late opponents.

As we approached, with branches in our hands as flags of truce, I
signed to the startled men that we wished to be friendly; and when
we halted, several chiefs came forward unarmed from the ranks of
the enemy to confer with us. At first they were much surprised at
my overtures, but I soon convinced them of my sincerity, and they
at length consented to accept my offers of friendship. They
acknowledged at once my superiority and that of my men, and
presently all the chiefs came forward voluntarily and squatted at
my feet in token of subjection. The two armies then united, and we
all returned to a great encampment, where the women prepared a
truly colossal feast for conquerors and conquered alike, and the
greatest harmony prevailed. It was magnificent, but I am sure it
was not war. The braves of both sides decorated themselves with
many pigments in the evening, and the two tribes united in one
gigantic corroboree, which was kept up all night, and for several
days afterwards. We remained encamped in this district for about a
week, holding continuous corroboree, and each day becoming more and
more friendly with our late enemies. The country abounded in game,
and as the rivers were also well stocked with fish the supply of
food was abundant. At the end of the week, however, we retired to
our respective homes, but, strangely enough, I felt I could no
longer settle down to the old life among my friendly blacks.

The old desire for wandering came over me, and I resolved that some
day in the near future I would make yet another attempt to reach
civilisation, this time striking directly south. For a time,
however, I forced myself to remain content, accompanying the men on
their hunting expeditions and going out fishing with my devoted
Yamba.

CHAPTER IX

The children's sports--A terrible ordeal--Queer notions of beauty--
How little girls are taught--Domestic quarrels--Telltale
footprints--I grow weary--Off on a long cruise--Astounding news--A
foreign tongue--Yamba has seen the girls--A remarkable "letter"--A
queer notion of decoration--Yamba as "advance agent"--I meet the
girls--A distressing interview--Jealousy of the native women.

I was much interested in the children of the blacks, and observed
all their interesting ways. It is not too much to say in the case
of both boys and girls that they can swim as soon as they can walk.
There is no squeamishness whatever on the part of the mothers, who
leave their little ones to tumble into rivers, and remain out naked
in torrential rains, and generally shift for themselves. From the
time the boys are three years old they commence throwing toy spears
at one another as a pastime. For this purpose, long dry reeds,
obtained from the swamps, are used, and the little fellows practise
throwing them at one another from various distances, the only
shields allowed being the palms of their own little hands. They
never seem to tire of the sport, and acquire amazing dexterity at
it. At the age of nine or ten they abandon the reeds and adopt a
heavier spear, with a wooden shaft and a point of hard wood or
bone. All kinds of interesting competitions are constantly
organised to test the boys' skill, the most valued prizes being the
approbation of parents and elders.

A small ring of hide, or creeper, is suspended from the branch of a
tree, and the competitors have to throw their spears clean through
it at a distance of twenty paces. All the chiefs and fighting men
of the tribe assemble to witness these competitions, and
occasionally some little award is made in the shape of anklets and
bangles of small shells, strung together with human hair. The boys
are initiated into the ranks of the "men and warriors" when they
reach the age of about seventeen.

This initiation ceremony, by the way, is of a very extraordinary
character. Many of the details cannot be published here. As a
rule, it takes place in the spring, when the mimosa is in bloom,
and other tribes come from all parts to eat the nuts and gum. We
will say that there are, perhaps, twenty youths to undergo the
ordeal, which is conducted far from all camps and quite out of the
sight of women and children. The candidate prepares himself by
much fasting, giving up meat altogether for at least a week before
the initiation ceremony commences. In some cases candidates are
despatched on a tramp extending over many days; and such implicit
faith is placed in their honour that judges are not even sent with
them to see that everything is carried out fairly. They must
accomplish this task within a given period, and without partaking
of either food or water during the whole time. No matter how great
the temptation may be on the route, they conform strictly to the
rules of the test, and would as soon think of running themselves
through with a spear, as of seeking a water-hole. The inspectors
who judge at this amazing examination are, of course, the old and
experienced chiefs.

After the fasting comes the ordeal proper. The unfortunate
candidate presents himself before one of the examiners, and settles
his face into a perfectly stoical expression. He is then stabbed
repeatedly on the outside of the thighs and in the arms (never once
is an artery cut); and if he remains absolutely statuesque at each
stab, he comes through the most trying part of the ordeal with
flying colours. A motion of the lips, however, or a mutter--these
are altogether fatal. Not even a toe must move in mute agony; nor
may even a muscle of the eyelid give an uneasy and involuntary
twitch. If the candidate fails in a minor degree, he is promptly
put back, to come up again for the next examination; but in the
event of his being unable to stand the torture, he is
contemptuously told to go and herd with the women--than which there
is no more humiliating expression.

While yet the candidate's wounds are streaming with blood, he is
required to run with lightning speed for two or three miles and
fetch back from a given spot a kind of toy lance planted in the
ground. Then, having successfully passed the triple ordeals of
fasting, stabbing, and running against time, and without food and
water, the candidate, under the eyes of his admiring father, is at
length received into the ranks of the bravest warriors, and is
allowed to take a wife. At the close of the ceremony, the flow of
blood from the candidate's really serious flesh-wounds is stopped
by means of spiders' webs, powdered charcoal, and dry clay powder.

With regard to the girls, I am afraid they received but scant
consideration.

Judged by our standard, the women were far from handsome. They had
very bright eyes, broad, flat noses, low, narrow foreheads, and
heavy chins. But there are comely exceptions. And yet at big
corroborees on the occasion of a marriage, the men always chanted
praises to the virtue and beauty of the bride!

The girl who possessed an exceptionally large and flat nose was
considered a great beauty. Talking about noses, it was to me a
remarkable fact, that the blacks consider a warrior with a big nose
and large distended nostrils a man possessed of great staying
power. For one thing, they consider his breathing apparatus
exceptionally perfect.

As a general rule (there are exceptions in the case of a very
"beautiful" woman), when a woman dies she is not even buried; she
simply lies where she has fallen dead, and the camp moves on to
another place and never returns to the unholy spot. And it may be
mentioned here that the blacks never allude to a dead person by
name, as they have a great horror of departed spirits. And so
childish and suspicious are they, that they sometimes even cut off
the feet of a dead man to prevent his running about and frightening
them at inconvenient moments. I used to play upon their fears,
going out into the bush after dark, and pretending to commune with
the evil spirits. The voice of these latter was produced by means
of reed whistles. Once I made myself a huge, hideous mask out of a
kangaroo skin, with holes slit in it for the nose, mouth, and eyes.
I would don this strange garb in the evenings, and prowl about the
vicinity of the camp, holding blazing torches behind the mask, and
emitting strange noises--sometimes howling like a wolf and at
others shouting aloud in my natural voice. On these occasions the
blacks thought I was in my natural element as a spirit. But they
never ventured to follow me or attempted to satisfy themselves that
I was not fooling them all the while. Yamba, of course, knew the
joke, and as a rule helped me to dress for the farce, but she took
good care never to tell any one the secret. No doubt had the
blacks ever learned that it was all done for effect on my part, the
result would have been very serious; but I knew I was pretty secure
because of the abnormal superstition prevalent among them.

The women, as I have before hinted, are treated in a horribly cruel
manner, judged from our standpoint; but in reality they know not
what cruelty is, because they are absolutely ignorant of kindness.
They are the beasts of burden, to be felled to the earth with a
bludgeon when they err in some trivial respect; and when camp is
moved each woman carries virtually the whole household and the
entire worldly belongings of the family. Thus it is a common sight
to see a woman carrying a load consisting of one or two children
and a quantity of miscellaneous implements, such as heavy
grindstones, stone hatchets, sewing-bones, yam-sticks, &c. During
the shifting of the camp the braves themselves stalk along
practically unencumbered, save only for their elaborate shield,
three spears (never more), and a stone tomahawk stuck in their belt
of woven opossum hair. The men do not smoke, knowing nothing of
tobacco, but their principal recreation and relaxation from the
incessant hunting consists in the making of their war weapons,
which is a very important part of their daily life. They will even
fell a whole tree, as has already been explained, to make a single
spear shaft. As to the shield, the elaborate carving upon it
corresponds closely with the prowess of the owner; and the more
laurels he gains, the more intricate and elaborate becomes the
carving on his shield. Honour prevents undue pretence.

But we have wandered away from the consideration of the girl-
children. The baby girls play with their brothers and participate
in their fights until they are perhaps ten years of age. They are
then expected to accompany their mothers on the daily excursions in
search of roots. When the little girls are first taken out by
their mothers they are instructed in the use of the yam-stick, with
which the roots are dug up out of the earth. The stick used by the
women is generally three feet or four feet long, but the girl
novices use a short one about fifteen inches in length. Each
woman, as I have said elsewhere, is also provided with a reed
basket or net, in which to hold the roots, this being usually woven
out of strings of prepared bark; or, failing that, native flax or
palm straw.

But the unfortunate wife occasionally makes the acquaintance of the
heavy yam-stick in a very unpleasant, not to say serious, manner.
Of course, there are domestic rows. We will suppose that the
husband has lately paid a great amount of attention to one of his
younger wives--a circumstance which naturally gives great offence
to one of the older women. This wife, when she has an opportunity
and is alone with her husband, commences to sing or chant a plaint-
-a little thing of quite her own composing.

Into this song she weaves all the abuse which long experience tells
her will lash her husband up to boiling-point. The later stanzas
complain that the singer has been taken from her own home among a
nation of real warriors to live among a gang of skulking cowards,
whose hearts, livers, and other vital organs are not at all up to
the standard of her people.

The epithets are carefully arranged up a scale until they reach
BANDY-LEGGED--an utterly unpardonable insult. But there is, beyond
this, one other unpublishable remark, which causes the husband to
take up the yam-stick and fell the singer with one tremendous blow,
which is frequently so serious as to disable her for many days.
The other women at once see to their sister, who has incurred the
wrath of her lord, and rub her wounds with weird medicaments. The
whole shocking business is regarded as quite an ordinary affair;
and after the sufferer is able to get about again she bears her
husband not the slightest ill-feeling. You see, she has had her
say and paid for it.

The girls, as they grow up, are taught to cook according to the
native fashion, and are also required to build ovens in the earth
or sand; make the fires, build "break-winds," and generally help
their mothers in preparing meals. When at length the meal is
cooked, the manner of eating it is very peculiar. First of all,
the women retire into the background. The lord and master goes and
picks out the tit-bits for himself, and then sits down to eat them
off a small sheet of bark. More often, however, he simply tears
the meat in pieces with his hands. During his meal, the wives and
children are collected behind at a respectful distance, awaiting
their own share. Then, as the warrior eats, he literally hurls
certain oddments over his shoulder, which are promptly pounced upon
by the wives and children in waiting. It sometimes happens,
however, that a favourite child--a boy invariably, never a girl (it
is the girls who are eaten by the parents whenever there are any
superfluous children to be got rid of)--will approach his father
and be fed with choice morsels from the great man's "plate."

Each tribe has its own particular country over which it roams at
pleasure, and the boundaries are defined by trees, hillocks,
mountains, rocks, creeks, and water-holes. And from these natural
features the tribes occasionally get their names. Outside the
tribal boundary--which often incloses a vast area--the blacks never
go, except on a friendly visit to a neighbouring camp. Poaching is
one of the things punishable with death, and even if any woman is
caught hunting for food in another country she is seized and
punished. I will tell you later on how even Yamba "put her foot"
in it in this way.

The blacks are marvellously clever at tracking a man by his
footprints, and a poacher from a neighbouring tribe never escapes
their vigilance, even though he succeeds in returning to his own
people without being actually captured. So assiduously do these
blacks study the footprints of people they know and are friendly
with, that they can tell at once whether the trespasser is an enemy
or not; and if it be a stranger, a punitive expedition is at once
organised against his tribe.

Gradually I came to think that each man's track must have an
individuality about it quite as remarkable as the finger-prints
investigated by Galton and Bertillon. The blacks could even tell a
man's name and many other things about him, solely from his tracks-
-how, it is of course impossible for me to say. I have often known
my blacks to follow a man's track OVER HARD ROCKS, where even a
disturbed leaf proved an infallible clue, yielding a perfectly
miraculous amount of information. They will know whether a leaf
has been turned over by the wind or by human agency!

But to continue my narrative. Yamba was very anxious that I should
stay and make my home among her people, and so, with the assistance
of other women, she built me a substantial beehive-shaped hut,
fully twenty feet in diameter and ten feet high. She pointed out
to me earnestly that I had everything I could possibly wish for,
and that I might be a very great man indeed in the country if only
I would take a prominent part in the affairs of the tribe. She
also mentioned that so great was my prowess and prestige, that if I
wished I might take unto myself a whole army of wives!--the number
of wives being the sole token of greatness among these people. You
see they had to be fed, and that implied many great attributes of
skill and strength. Nevertheless, I pined for civilisation, and
never let a day go by without scanning the bay and the open sea for
a passing sail. The natives told me they had seen ships at various
times, and that attempts had even been made to reach them in
catamarans, but without success, so far out at sea were the vessels
passing.

Gradually, about nine months after my strange return to my
Cambridge Gulf home, there came a time when life became so
monotonous that I felt I MUST have a change of some sort, or else
go mad. I was on the very best of terms with all my blacks, but
their mode of living was repulsive to me. I began to loathe the
food, and the horrible cruelty to the women frequently sickened me.
Whenever I saw one of these poor patient creatures felled,
bleeding, to the earth, I felt myself being worked up into a state
of dangerous nervous excitement, and I longed to challenge the
brutal assailant as a murderous enemy. Each time, however, I
sternly compelled myself to restrain my feelings. At length the
spirit of unrest grew so strong that I determined to try a short
trip inland in a direction I had never hitherto attempted. I
intended to cross the big bay in my dug-out, round Cape
Londonderry, and then go south among the beautiful islands down
past Admiralty Gulf, which I had previously explored during my
residence on the Cape, and where I had found food and water
abundant; numerous caves, with mural paintings; quiet seas, and
gorgeous vegetation. Yamba willingly consented to accompany me,
and one day I set off on the sea once more, my faithful wife by my
side, carrying her net full of odds and ends, and I with my bow and
arrows, tomahawk, and stiletto; the two latter carried in my belt.
I hoped to come across a ship down among the islands, for my
natives told me that several had passed while I was away.

At length we started off in our dug-out, the sea being perfectly
calm--more particularly in the early morning, when the tide was
generally with us. After several days' paddling we got into a
narrow passage between a long elevated island and the main, and
from there found our way into an inlet, at the head of which
appeared masses of wild and rugged rocks. These rocks were, in
many places, decorated with a number of crude but striking mural
paintings, which were protected from the weather. The drawings I
found represented men chiefly. My own contributions consisted of
life-size sketches of my wife, myself, and Bruno. I emphasised my
long hair, and also reproduced my bow and arrow. This queer "art
gallery" was well lighted, and the rock smooth. We found the spot
a very suitable one for camping; in fact, there were indications on
all sides that the place was frequently used by the natives as a
camping-ground. A considerable quantity of bark lay strewn about
the ground in sheets, which material my wife told me was used by
the natives as bedding. This was the first time I had known the
black-fellows to use any material in this way. I also came across
traces of a feast--such as empty oyster shells in very large heaps,
bones of animals, &c. The waters of the inlet were exceedingly
well stocked with fish; and here I saw large crayfish for the first
time. I caught and roasted some, and found them very good eating.
This inlet might possibly be in the vicinity of Montague Sound, a
little to the south of Admiralty Gulf.

We stayed a couple of days in this beautiful spot, and then pushed
down south again, always keeping close under shelter of the islands
on account of our frail craft. The seas through which we paddled
were studded with innumerable islands, some rocky and barren,
others covered with magnificent foliage and grass. We landed on
several of these, and on one--it might have been Bigges Island--I
discovered a high cairn or mound of stones erected on the most
prominent point. Yamba told me that this structure was not the
work of a native. She explained that the stones were laid too
regularly. A closer examination convinced me that the cairn had
been built by some European--possibly a castaway--and that at one
time it had probably been surmounted by a flag-staff as a signal to
passing ships. Food was very plentiful on this island, roots and
yams being obtainable in great abundance. Rock wallabies were also
plentiful. After leaving this island we continued our journey
south, paddling only during the day, and always with the tide, and
spending the night on land. By the way, whilst among the islands,
I came across, at various times, many sad signs of civilisation, in
the form of a lower mast of a ship, and a deck-house, a wicker-
basket, empty brandy cases, and other flotsam and jetsam, which, I
supposed, had come from various wrecks. After having been absent
from my home in Cambridge Gulf, two or three months, I found myself
in a large bay, which I now know to be King's Sound. I had come
across many tribes of natives on my way down. Some I met were on
the islands on which we landed, and others on the mainland. Most
of these black-fellows knew me both personally and by repute, many
having been present at the great whale feast. The natives at
King's Sound recognised me, and gave me a hearty invitation to stay
with them at their camp. This I consented to do, and my friends
then promised to set all the other tribes along the coast on the
look-out for passing vessels, so that I might immediately be
informed by smoke-signals when one was in sight. Not long after
this came an item of news which thrilled me through and through.

One of the chiefs told me quite casually that at another tribe,
some days' journey away, the chief had TWO WHITE WIVES. They had,
he went on to explain, a skin and hair exactly like my own; but in
spite of even this assurance, after the first shock of amazement I
felt confident that the captives were Malays. The news of their
presence among the tribe in question was a well-known fact all
along the coast of King's Sound. My informant had never actually
SEEN the white women, but he was absolutely certain of their
existence. He added that the captives had been seized after a
fight with some white men, who had come to that coast in a "big
catamaran." However, I decided to go and see for myself what
manner of women they were. The canoe was beached well above the
reach of the tides at Cone Bay, and then, accompanied by Yamba
only, I set off overland on my quest. The region of the encampment
towards which I now directed my steps lies between the Lennard
River and the Fitzroy. The exact spot, as near as I can fix it on
the chart, is a place called Derby, at the head of King's Sound.
As we advanced the country became very rugged and broken, with
numerous creeks intersecting it in every direction. Farther on,
however, it developed into a rich, low-lying, park-like region,
with water in abundance. To the north-west appeared elevated
ranges. I came across many fine specimens of the bottle tree. The
blacks encamped at Derby were aware of my coming visit, having had
the news forwarded to them by means of the universal smoke-signals.

The camp described by my informant I found to be a mere collection
of gunyahs, or break-winds, made of boughs, and I at once presented
my "card"--the ubiquite passport stick; which never left me for a
moment in all my wanderings. This stick was sent to the chief, who
immediately manifested tokens of friendship towards me.

Unfortunately, however, he spoke an entirely different dialect from
Yamba's; but by means of the sign language I explained to him that
I wished to stay with him for a few "sleeps" (hand held to the side
of the head, with fingers for numbers), and partake of his
hospitality. To this he readily consented.

Now, I knew enough of the customs of the blacks to realise that,
being a stranger among them, they would on request provide me with
additional wives during my stay,--entirely as a matter of
ceremonial etiquette; and it suddenly occurred to me that I might
make very good use of this custom by putting in an immediate demand
for the two white women--if they existed. You see, I wanted an
interview with them, in the first place, to arrange the best means
of getting them away. I confess I was consumed with an intense
curiosity to learn their history--even to see them. I wondered if
they could tell me anything of the great world now so remote in my
mind. As a matter of courtesy, however, I spent the greater part
of the day with the chief, for any man who manifests a desire for
women's society loses caste immediately; and in the evening, when
the fact of my presence among the tribe had become more extensively
known, and their curiosity aroused by the stories that Yamba had
taken care to circulate, I attended a great corroboree, which
lasted nearly the whole of the night. As I was sitting near a big
fire, joining in the chanting and festivities, Yamba noiselessly
stole to my side, and whispered in my ear that SHE HAD FOUND THE
TWO WHITE WOMEN.

I remember I trembled with excitement at the prospect of meeting
them. They were very young, Yamba added, and spoke "my" language--
I never said "English," because this word would have conveyed
nothing to her; and she also told me that the prisoners were in a
dreadful state of misery. It was next explained to me that the
girls, according to native custom, were the absolute property of
the chief. He was seated not very far away from me, and was
certainly one of the most ferocious and repulsive-looking creatures
I have ever come across,--even among the blacks. He was over six
feet high, and of rather a lighter complexion than his fellows,--
almost like a Malay. The top of his head receded in a very curious
manner, whilst the mouth and lower part of the face generally
protruded like an alligator's, and gave him a truly diabolical
appearance. I confess a thrill of horror passed through me, as I
realised that two doubtless tenderly reared English girls were in
the clutches of this monster. Once I thought I must have been
dreaming, and that the memories of some old story-book I had read
years ago were filling my mind with some fantastic delusion. For a
moment I pictured to myself the feelings of their prosaic British
relatives, could they only have known what had become of the long-
lost loved ones--a fate more shocking and more fearful than any
ever conceived by the writer of fiction. Of course, my readers
will understand that much detail about the fate of these poor
creatures must be suppressed for obvious reasons. But should any
existing relatives turn up, I shall be only too happy to place at
their disposal all the information I possess.

Presently, I grasped the whole terrible affair, and realised it as
absolute fact! My first impulse was to leap from the corroboree
and go and reassure the unhappy victims in person, telling them at
the same time that they might count on my assistance to the last.
It was not advisable, however, to withdraw suddenly from the
festivities, for fear my absence might arouse suspicion.

The only alternative that presented itself was to send a note or
message of some kind to them, and so I asked Yamba to bring me a
large fleshy leaf of a water-lily, and then, with one of her bone
needles, I pricked, in printed English characters, "A FRIEND IS
NEAR; FEAR NOT." Handing this original letter to Yamba, I
instructed her to give it to the girls and tell them to hold it up
before the fire and read the perforations. This done, I returned
to the corroboree, still displaying a feigned enthusiasm for the
proceedings, but determined upon a bold and resolute course of
action. I must say though, that at that particular moment I was
not very sanguine of getting the girls away out of the power of
this savage, who had doubtless won them from some of his fellows by
more or less fair fighting.

I made my way over to where the chief was squatting, and gazed at
him long and steadily. I remember his appearance as though it were
but yesterday that we met. I think I have already said he was the
most repulsive-looking savage I have ever come across, even among
the Australian blacks. The curious raised scars were upon this
particular chief both large and numerous. This curious form of
decoration, by the way, is a very painful business. The general
practice is to make transverse cuts with a sharp shell, or stone
knife, on the chest, thighs, and sometimes on the back and
shoulders. Ashes and earth are then rubbed into each cut, and the
wound is left to close. Next comes an extremely painful gathering
and swelling, and a little later the earth that is inside is
gradually removed--sometimes with a feather. When the wounds
finally heal up, each cicatrice stands out like a raised weal, and
of these extraordinary marks the blacks are inordinately proud.

But to return to the chief who owned the girls. I must say that,
apart from his awful and obviously stubborn face, he was a
magnificently formed savage.

I commenced the conversation with him by saying, I presumed the
usual courtesy of providing a wife would be extended to me during
my stay. As I anticipated, he readily acquiesced, and I instantly
followed up the concession by calmly remarking that I should like
to have the two white women who were in the camp sent over to my
"little place." To this suggestion he gave a point-blank refusal.
I persisted, however, and taunted him with deliberately breaking
the inviolable rules of courtesy; and at length he gave me to
understand he would think the matter over.

All this time Yamba had been as busy as a showman out West. She
had followed with unusual vigour her customary role of "advance
agent," and had spread most ridiculously exaggerated reports of my
supernatural prowess and magical attributes. I controlled the
denizens of Spiritland, and could call them up in thousands to
torment the blacks. I controlled the elements; and was in short
all-powerful.

I must admit that this energetic and systematic "puffing" did a
great deal of good, and wherever we went I was looked upon as a
sort of wizard, entitled to very great respect, and the best of
everything that was going.

For a long time the tribal chief persisted in his opposition to my
request for the girls; but as most of his warriors were in my
favour (I had given many appalling demonstrations in the bush at
night), I knew he would submit sooner or later. The big corroboree
lasted all night, and at length, before we separated on the second
day, the great man gave way--with exceedingly bad grace. Of
course, I did not disturb the girls at that hour, but next day I
told Yamba to go and see them and arrange for an interview. She
came back pretty soon, and then undertook to guide me to their
"abode." The prospect of meeting white people once more--even
these two poor unfortunates--threw me into a strange excitement, in
the midst of which I quite forgot my own astonishing appearance,
which was far more like that of a gaily decorated and gorgeously
painted native chief than a civilised European. For it must be
remembered that by this time I had long ago discarded all clothing,
except an apron of emu feathers, whilst my skin was extremely dark
and my hair hung down my back fully three feet, and was built up in
a surprising way in times of war and corroboree.

I followed Yamba through the camp, getting more and more excited as
we approached the girls' domicile. At length she stopped at the
back of a crescent-shaped break-wind of boughs, and a moment later-
-eager, trembling, and almost speechless--I stood before the two
English girls. Looking back now, I remember they presented a truly
pitiable spectacle. They were huddled together on the sandy
ground, naked, and locked in one another's arms. Before them
burned a fire, which was tended by the women. Both looked
frightfully emaciated and terrified--so much so, that as I write
these words my heart beats faster with horror as I recall the
terrible impression they made upon me. As they caught sight of me,
they screamed aloud in terror. I retired a little way discomfited,
remembering suddenly my own fantastic appearance. Of course, they
thought I was another black fellow coming to torture them. All
kinds of extraordinary reflections flashed through my mind at that
moment. What would people in my beloved France, I wondered--or
among my Swiss mountains, or in stately England--think of the fate
that had overtaken these girls--a fate that would infallibly read
more like extravagant and even offensive fiction than real, heart-
rending fact?

I went back and stood before the girls, saying, reassuringly,
"Ladies, I am a white man and a friend; and if you will only trust
in me I think I can save you."

Their amazement at this little speech knew no bounds, and one of
the girls became quite hysterical. I called Yamba, and introduced
her as my wife, and they then came forward and clasped me by the
hand, crying, shudderingly, "Oh, save us! Take us away from that
fearful brute."

I hastily explained to them that it was solely because I had
resolved to save them that I had ventured into the camp; but they
would have to wait patiently until circumstances favoured my plans
for their escape. I did not conceal from them that my being able
to take them away at all was extremely problematical; for I could
see that to have raised false hopes would have ended in real
disaster. Gradually they became quieter and more reasonable--and
my position obviously more embarrassing. I quickly told them that,
at any rate, so long as I remained in the camp, they need not fear
any further visits from the giant chief they dreaded so much, and
with this reassurance I walked swiftly away, followed by Yamba.

The laws of native hospitality absolutely forbade any one to
interfere with the girls during my stay, so, easy in my mind, I
made straight for the extensive swamps which I knew lay a few miles
from the camp. In this wild and picturesque place I brought down,
with Yamba's assistance, a great number of cockatoos, turkeys, and
other wild fowl, which birds were promptly skinned, my wife and I
having in view a little amateur tailoring which should render my
future interviews with the girls a little less embarrassing. As a
matter of fact, I handed over the bird-skins to Yamba, and she,
with her bone needles and threads of kangaroo sinews, soon made a
couple of extraordinary but most serviceable garments, which we
immediately took back to the poor girls, who were shivering with
cold and neglect. I at once saw the reason of most of their
suffering.

Their own clothing had apparently been lost or destroyed, and the
native women, jealous of the attention which the chief was
bestowing upon the newcomers, gave them little or no food. Nor did
the jealous wives instruct the interlopers in the anointing of
their bodies with that peculiar kind of clay which forms so
effective a protection alike against the burning heat of the sun,
the treacherous cold of the night-winds, and the painful attacks of
insects. All the information I could elicit from the girls that
evening was the fact that they had been shipwrecked, and had
already been captive among the blacks for three and a half months.
The elder girl further said that they were not allowed their
liberty, because they had on several occasions tried to put an end
to their indescribable sufferings by committing suicide. Anything
more extraordinary than the costumes we made for the girls you
never saw. They were not of elaborate design, being of the shape
of a long sack, with holes for the arms and neck; and they
afterwards shrank in the most absurd way.

CHAPTER X

Miss Rogers begins her story--An interview on the high seas--
Drifting to destruction--The ship disappears--Tortured by thirst--A
fearful sight--Cannibals on the watch--The blacks quarrel over the
girls--Courting starvation--Yamba goes for help--A startling
announcement--Preparations for the fight--Anxious moments--A weird
situation--"Victory, victory"--A melodramatic attitude--The girls
get sore feet.

At our next interview, thanks to Yamba's good offices, both girls
were looking very much better than when I first saw them; and then,
consumed with natural curiosity and a great desire to learn
something of the outside world, I begged them to tell me their
story.

The first thing I learnt was that they were two sisters, named
Blanche and Gladys Rogers, their respective ages being nineteen and
seventeen years. Both girls were extremely pretty, the particular
attraction about Gladys being her lovely violet eyes. It was
Blanche who, with much hysterical emotion, told me the story of
their painful experience, Gladys occasionally prompting her sister
with a few interpolated words.

Here, then, is Blanche Rogers's story, told as nearly as possible
in her own words. Of course it is absurd to suppose that I can
reproduce verbatim the fearful story told by the unfortunate girl.

"My sister and I are the daughters of Captain Rogers, who commanded
a 700-ton barque owned by our uncle." [I am not absolutely certain
whether the girls were the daughters of the captain or the owner.--
L. de R.] "We were always very anxious, even as children, to
accompany our dear father on one of his long trips, and at length
we induced him to take us with him when he set sail from Sunderland
[not certain, this] in the year 1868 [or 1869], with a
miscellaneous cargo bound for Batavia [or Singapore]. The voyage
out was a very pleasant one, but practically without incident--
although, of course, full of interest to us. The ship delivered
her freight in due course, but our father failed to obtain a return
cargo to take back with him to England. Now, as a cargo of some
kind was necessary to clear the expenses of the voyage, father
decided to make for Port Louis, in Mauritius, to see what he could
do among the sugar-exporters there.

"On the way to Port Louis, we suddenly sighted a ship flying
signals of distress. We at once hove to and asked what assistance
we could render. A boat presently put off from the distressed
vessel, and the captain, who came aboard, explained that he had run
short of provisions and wanted a fresh supply--no matter how small-
-to tide him over his difficulty. He further stated that his
vessel was laden with guano, and was also en route for Port Louis.
The two captains had a long conversation together, in the course of
which an arrangement was arrived at between them.

"We said we were in ballast, searching for freight, whereupon our
visitor said: 'Why don't you make for the Lacepede Islands, off
the north-west Australian coast, and load guano, which you can get
there for nothing?' We said we did not possess the necessary
requisites in the shape of shovels, sacks, punts, wheel-barrows,
and the like. These were promptly supplied by the other captain in
part payment for the provisions we let him have. Thus things were
eventually arranged to the entire satisfaction of both parties, and
then the Alexandria (I think that was the name of the ship)
proceeded on her way to Port Louis, whilst we directed our course
to the Lacepede Islands.

"In due time we reached a guano islet, and the crew quickly got to
work, with the result that in a very short time we had a
substantial cargo on board. A day or two before we were due to
leave, we went to father and told him we wanted very much to spend
an evening on the island to visit the turtle-breeding ground. Poor
father, indulgent always, allowed us to go ashore in a boat, under
the care of eight men, who were to do a little clearing-up whilst
they were waiting for us. We found, as you may suppose, a great
deal to interest us on the island, and the time passed all too
quickly. The big turtles came up with the full tide, and at once
made nests for themselves on the beach by scraping out with their
hind-flippers a hole about ten inches deep and five inches in
diameter. The creatures then simply lay over these holes and
dropped their eggs into them. We learned that the number of eggs
laid at one sitting varies from twelve up to forty. We had great
fun in collecting the eggs and generally playing with the turtles.
I am afraid we got out of sight of the men, and did not notice that
the weather showed decided signs of a sudden change. When at
length the crew found us it was past midnight--though not very
dark; and though we ought to have been making preparations for
returning to the ship, it was blowing hard. On account of this,
the crew said they did not consider it advisable to launch the
boat; and as we had our big cloaks with us, it was decided to
remain on the island all night to see if the weather improved by
the morning. Our ship was anchored fully three miles away, outside
the reefs, and it would have been impossible, in the sea that was
running, to pull out to her. There was only one white man among
our protectors, and he was a Scotchman. The men made a fire in a
more or less sheltered spot, and round this we squatted, the men
outside us, so as to afford us greater protection from the storm.

In this way the whole night passed, principally in telling stories
of adventure by sea and land. We all hoped that by morning at any
rate the wind would have abated; but at daybreak, as we looked
anxiously out over the tempestuous sea, it was blowing as hard as
ever; and by ten o'clock the storm had increased to a terrific
gale. Our men unanimously declared they dared not attempt to reach
the ship in their small boat, although we could see the vessel
plainly riding at her old anchorage. What followed Gladys and I
gathered afterwards, just before the dreadful thing happened. We
were all safe enough on land, but, it became evident to the sailors
with us that the ship could not weather the storm unless she
weighed anchor and stood out to sea. The crew watched with eager
eyes to see what my father would do. Manifestly he was in too much
distress of mind about us to go right away, and I suppose he
preferred to trust to the strength of his cables:

"Shortly after ten o'clock in the morning, however, the ship began
to drag her anchors, and in spite of all that could be done by my
father and his officers, the shapely little vessel gradually
drifted on to the coral reefs. All this time Gladys and I, quite
ignorant of seamanship and everything pertaining to it, were
watching the doomed ship, and from time to time asked anxiously
what was the meaning of all the excitement. The men returned us
evasive answers, like the kind-hearted fellows they were, and
cheered us up in every possible way. Presently we heard signals of
distress (only we didn't know they were signals of distress then),
and our companions saw that the captain realised only too well his
terribly dangerous position. It was, however, utterly impossible
for them to have rendered him any assistance. The rain was now
descending in sheets, lashing the giant waves with a curious
hissing sound. The sky was gloomy and overcast, and altogether the
outlook was about as terrible as it could well be. Presently we
became dreadfully anxious about our father; but when the sailors
saw that the ship was apparently going to pieces, they induced us
to return to the camp fire and sit there till the end was past. By
this time the barque was being helplessly buffeted about amongst
the reefs, a little less than a mile and a half from shore.

"Suddenly, as we afterwards learnt, she gave a lurch and completely
disappeared beneath the turbulent waters, without even her
mastheads being left standing to show where she had gone down. She
had evidently torn a huge hole in her side in one of her collisions
with the jagged reefs, for she sank with such rapidity that not one
of the boats could be launched, and not a single member of the crew
escaped--so far as we knew--save only those who were with us on the
island. The loss of the ship was, of course, a terrible blow to
our valiant protectors, who were now left absolutely dependent on
their own resources to provide food and means of escape. Thus
passed a dreadful day and night, the men always keeping us ignorant
of what had happened. They resolved to make for Port Darwin, on
the mainland of Australia, which was believed to be quite near; for
we had no water, there being none on the guano island. The
interval was spent in collecting turtles' eggs and sea-fowl, which
were intended as provisions for the journey. Next morning the
storm had quite abated, and gradually the stupefying news was
communicated to us that our father and his ship had gone down with
all hands in the night. Indeed, these kind and gentle men told us
the whole story of their hopes and doubts and fears, together with
every detail of the terrible tragedy of the sea that had left us in
such a fearful situation. No one needs to be told our feelings.

"Shortly before noon next day the sail was hoisted; we took our
places in the boat, and soon were rippling pleasantly through the
now placid waters, leaving the guano island far behind. The wind
being in our favour, very satisfactory progress was made for many
hours; but at length, tortured by thirst, it was decided to land on
the mainland or the first island we sighted, and lay in a stock of
water--if it was obtainable. Gladys and I welcomed the idea of
landing, because by this time we were in quite a disreputable
condition, not having washed for several days. It was our
intention, while the crews were getting water and food, to retire
to the other side of the island, behind the rocks, and there have a
nice bath. The boat was safely beached, and there being no signs
of natives anywhere in the vicinity, the men soon laid in a stock
of water without troubling to go very far inland for it. My sister
and I at once retired several hundred yards away, and there
undressed and went into the water.

"We had scarcely waded out past our waists when, to our unspeakable
horror, a crowd of naked blacks, hideously painted and armed with
spears, came rushing down the cliffs towards us, yelling and
whooping in a way I am never likely to forget. They seemed to rise
out of the very rocks themselves; and I really think we imagined we
were going mad, and that the whole appalling vision was a fearful
dream, induced by the dreadful state of our nerves. My own heart
seemed to stand still with terror, and the only description I can
give of my sensations was that I felt absolutely paralysed. At
length, when the yelling monsters were quite close to us, we
realised the actual horror of it all, and screaming frantically,
tried to dash out of the water towards the spot where we had left
our clothes. But some of the blacks intercepted us, and we saw one
man deliberately making off with the whole of our wearing apparel.

"Of course, when the boat's crew heard the uproar they rushed to
our assistance, but when they were about twenty yards from our
assailants, the blacks sent a volley of spears among them with such
amazing effect that every one of the sailors fell prostrate to the
earth. The aim of the blacks was wonderfully accurate.

"Some of our men, however, managed to struggle to their feet again,
in a heroic but vain endeavour to reach our side; but these poor
fellows were at once butchered in the most shocking manner by the
natives, who wielded their big waddies or clubs with the most
sickening effect. Indeed, so heart-rending and horrible was the
tragedy enacted before our eyes, that for a long time afterwards we
scarcely knew what was happening to us, so dazed with horror were
we. For myself, I have a faint recollection of being dragged
across the island by the natives, headed by the hideous and
gigantic chief who afterwards claimed us as his 'wives.' We were
next put on board a large catamaran, our hands and feet having been
previously tied with hair cords; and we were then rowed over to the
mainland, which was only a few miles away. We kept on asking by
signs that our clothing might be returned to us, but the blacks
tore the various garments into long strips before our eyes, and
wrapped the rags about their heads by way of ornament. We reached
the encampment of the black-fellows late that same evening, and
were at once handed over to the charge of the women, who kept us
close prisoners and--so far as we could judge--abused us in the
most violent manner. Of course, I don't know exactly what their
language meant, but I do know that they treated us shamefully, and
struck us from time to time. I gathered that they were jealous of
the attention shown to us by the big chief.

"We afterwards learnt that the island on which the terrible tragedy
took place was not really inhabited, but the blacks on the coast
had, it appeared, seen our boat far out at sea, and watched it
until we landed for water. They waited a little while in order to
lull the crew into a sense of fancied security, and then, without
another moment's delay, crossed over to the island and descended
upon us.

"We passed a most wretched night. Never--never can I hope to
describe our awful feelings. We suffered intensely from the cold,
being perfectly naked. We were not, however, molested by any of
our captors. But horror was to be piled on horror's head, for the
next day a party of the blacks returned to the island and brought
back the dead bodies of all the murdered sailors. At first we
wondered why they went to this trouble; and when, at length, it
dawned upon us that a great cannibal feast was in preparation, I
think we fainted away.

"We did not actually see the cooking operations, but the odour of
burning flesh was positively intolerable; and we saw women pass our
little grass shelters carrying some human arms and legs, which were
doubtless their own families' portions. I thought we should both
have gone mad, but notwithstanding this, we did keep our reason.
Our position, however, was so revolting and so ghastly, that we
tried to put an end to our lives by strangling ourselves with a
rope made of plaited grass. But we were prevented from carrying
out our purpose by the women-folk, who thereafter kept a strict
watch over us. It seemed to me, so embarrassing were the
attentions of the women, that these pitiable but cruel creatures
were warned by the chief that, if anything befell us, they
themselves would get into dire trouble. All this time, I could not
seem to think or concentrate my mind on the events that had
happened. I acted mechanically, and I am absolutely certain that
neither Gladys nor myself realised our appalling position.

"In the meantime, it seems, a most sanguinary fight had taken place
among four of the principal blacks who had assisted in the attack
upon our sailors, the object of the fight being to decide who
should take possession of us.

"One night we managed to slip out of the camp without attracting
the notice of the women, and at once rushed down to the beach,
intending to throw ourselves into the water, and so end a life
which was far worse than death. We were, unfortunately, missed,
and just as we were getting beyond our depth a party of furious
blacks rushed down to the shore, waded out into the water and
brought as out.

"After this incident our liberty was curtailed altogether, and we
were moved away. The women were plainly told--so we gathered--that
if anything happened to us, death, and nothing less, would be their
portion. Now that we could no longer leave the little break-wind
that sheltered us, we spent the whole of our time in prayer--mainly
for death to release us from our agonies. I was surprised to see
that the women themselves, though nude, were not much affected by
the intense cold that prevailed at times, but we afterwards learnt
that they anointed their naked bodies with a kind of greasy clay,
which formed a complete coating all over their bodies. During the
ensuing three months the tribe constantly moved their camp, and we
were always taken about by our owner and treated with the most
shocking brutality. The native food, which consisted of roots,
kangaroo flesh, snakes, caterpillars, and the like, was utterly
loathsome to us, and for several days we absolutely refused to
touch it, in the hope that we might die of starvation.

"Finally, however, the blacks compelled us to swallow some
mysterious-looking meat, under threats of torture from those
dreadful fire-sticks. You will not be surprised to learn that,
though life became an intolerable burden to us, yet, for the most
part, we obeyed our captors submissively. At the same time, I
ought to tell you that now and again we disobeyed deliberately, and
did our best to lash the savages into a fury, hoping that they
would spear us or kill us with their clubs. Our sole shelter was a
break-wind of boughs with a fire in front. The days passed
agonisingly by; and when I tell you that every hour--nay, every
moment--was a crushing torture, you will understand what that
phrase means. We grew weaker and weaker, and, I believe, more
emaciated. We became delirious and hysterical, and more and more
insensible to the cold and hunger. No doubt death would soon have
come to our relief had you not arrived in time to save us."

This, then, was the fearful story which the unfortunate Misses
Rogers had to tell. The more I thought it over, the more I
realised that no Englishwomen had ever lived to tell so dreadful an
experience. I compared their story with mine, and felt how
different it was. I was a man, and a power in the land from the
very first--treated with the greatest consideration and respect by
all the tribes. And, poor things, they were terribly despondent
when I explained to them that it was impossible for me to take them
right away at once. Had I attempted to do so surreptitiously, I
should have outraged the sacred laws of hospitality, and brought
the whole tribe about my ears and theirs. Besides, I had fixed
upon a plan of my own; and, as the very fact of my presence in the
camp was sufficient protection for the girls, I implored them to
wait patiently and trust in me.

That very night I called Yamba to me and despatched her to a
friendly tribe we had encountered in the King Leopold Ranges--
perhaps three days' journey away. I instructed her to tell these
blacks that I was in great danger, and, therefore, stood in need of
a body of warriors, who ought to be sent off immediately to my
assistance. They knew me much better than I did them. They had
feasted on the whale. As I concluded my message, I looked into
Yamba's eyes and told her the case was desperate. Her dear eyes
glowed in the firelight, and I saw that she was determined to do or
die. I trusted implicitly in her fertility of resource and her
extraordinary intelligence.

In a few days she returned, and told me that everything had been
arranged, and a body of armed warriors would presently arrive in
the vicinity of the camp, ready to place themselves absolutely at
my service.

And sure enough, a few days later twenty stalwart warriors made
their appearance at the spot indicated by Yamba; but as I did not
consider the force quite large enough for my purpose, I sent some
of them back with another message asking for reinforcements, and
saying that the great white chief was in danger. Finally, when I
felt pretty confident of my position, I marched boldly forward into
the camp with my warriors, to the unbounded amazement of the whole
tribe with whose chief I was sojourning. He taxed me with having
deceived him when I said I was alone, and he also accused me of
outraging the laws of hospitality by bringing a party of warriors,
obviously hostile, into his presence.

I wilfully ignored all these points, and calmly told him I had been
thinking over the way in which he had acquired the two white girls,
and had come to the conclusion that he had no right to them at all.
Therefore, I continued airily, it was my intention to take them
away forthwith. I pointed out to the repulsive giant that he had
not obtained the girls by fair means, and if he objected to my
taking them away, it was open to him, according to custom, to
sustain his claim to ownership by fighting me for the "property."

Now, these blacks are neither demonstrative nor intelligent, but I
think I never saw any human being so astonished in the whole of my
life. It dawned upon him presently, however, that I was not
joking, and then his amazement gave place to the most furious
anger. He promptly accepted my challenge, greatly to the delight
of all the warriors in his own tribe, with whom he was by no means
popular. But, of course, the anticipation of coming sport had
something to do with their glee at the acceptance of the challenge.
The big man was as powerful in build as he was ugly, and the moment
he opened his mouth I realised that for once Yamba had gone too far
in proclaiming my prodigious valour. He said he had heard about my
wonderful "flying-spears," and declined to fight me if I used such
preternatural weapons. It was therefore arranged THAT WE SHOULD
WRESTLE--the one who overthrew the other twice out of three times
to be declared the victor. I may say that this was entirely my
suggestion, as I had always loved trick wrestling when at school,
and even had a special tutor for that purpose--M. Viginet, an agile
little Parisian, living in Geneva. He was a Crimean veteran. The
rank-and-file of the warriors, however, did not look upon this
suggestion with much favour, as they thought it was not paying
proper respect to my wonderful powers. I assured them I was
perfectly satisfied, and begged them to let the contest proceed.

Then followed one of the most extraordinary combats on record.
Picture to yourself, if you can, the agony of mind of poor little
Blanche and Gladys Rogers during the progress of the fight; and
also imagine the painful anxiety with which I went in to win.

A piece of ground about twenty feet square was lightly marked out
by the blacks with their waddies, and the idea was that, to
accomplish a throw, the wrestler had to hurl his opponent clean
outside the boundary. We prepared for the combat by covering our
bodies with grease; and I had my long hair securely tied up into a
kind of "chignon" at the back of my head. My opponent was a far
bigger man than myself, but I felt pretty confident in my ability
as a trick wrestler, and did not fear meeting him. What I did
fear, however, was that he would dispute the findings of the
umpires if they were in my favour, in which case there might be
trouble. I had a shrewd suspicion that the chief was something of
a coward at heart. He seemed nervous and anxious, and I saw him
talking eagerly with his principal supporter. As for myself, I
constantly dwelt upon the ghastly plight of the two poor girls. I
resolved that, with God's help, I would vanquish my huge enemy and
rescue them from their dreadful position. I was in splendid
condition, with muscles like steel from incessant walking. At
length the warriors squatted down upon the ground in the form of a
crescent, the chiefs in the foreground, and every detail of the
struggle that followed was observed with the keenest interest.

I was anxious not to lose a single moment. I felt that if I
thought the matter over I might lose heart, so I suddenly bounded
into the arena. My opponent was there already--looking, I must
say, a little undecided.

In a moment his huge arms were about my waist and shoulders. It
did not take me very long to find out that the big chief was going
to depend more upon his weight than upon any technical skill in
wrestling. He possessed none. He first made a great attempt to
force me upon my knees and then backwards; but I wriggled out of
his grasp, and a few minutes later an opening presented itself for
trying the "cross-buttock" throw. There was not a moment to be
lost. Seizing the big man round the thigh I drew him forward,
pulled him over on my back, and in the twinkling of an eye--
certainly before I myself had time to realise what had happened--he
was hurled right over my head outside the enclosure. The
spectators--sportsmen all--frantically slapped their thighs, and I
knew then that I had gained their sympathies. My opponent, who had
alighted on his head and nearly broken his neck, rose to his feet,
looking dazed and furious that he should have been so easily
thrown. When he faced me for the second time in the square he was
much more cautious, and we struggled silently, but forcefully, for
some minutes without either gaining any decided advantage. Oddly
enough, at the time I was not struck by the dramatic element of the
situation; but now that I have returned to civilisation I DO see
the extraordinary nature of the combat as I look back upon those
dreadful days.

Just picture the scene for yourself. The weird, unexplored land
stretches away on every side, though one could not see much of it
on account of the grassy hillocks. I, a white man, was alone among
the blacks in the terrible land of "Never Never,"--as the
Australians call their terra incognita; and I was wrestling with a
gigantic cannibal chief for the possession of two delicately-reared
English girls, who were in his power. Scores of other savages
squatted before us, their repulsive faces aglow with interest and
excitement. Very fortunately Bruno was not on the spot. I knew
what he was of old, and how he made my quarrels his with a
strenuous energy and eagerness that frequently got himself as well
as his master into serious trouble. Knowing this, I had instructed
Yamba to keep him carefully away, and on no account let him run
loose.

Fully aware that delays were dangerous, I gripped my opponent once
more and tried to throw him over my back, but this time he was too
wary, and broke away from me. When we closed again he commenced
his old tactics of trying to crush me to the ground by sheer
weight, but in this he was not successful. Frankly, I knew his
strength was much greater than mine, and that the longer we
wrestled the less chance I would have. Therefore, forcing him
suddenly sideways, so that he stood on one leg, I tripped him,
hurling him violently from me sideways; and his huge form went
rolling outside the square, to the accompaniment of delighted yells
from his own people.

I cannot describe my own sensations, for I believe I was half mad
with triumph and excitement. I must not forget to mention that I,
too, fell to the ground, but fortunately well within the square. I
was greatly astonished to behold the glee of the spectators--but,
then, the keynote of their character is an intense love of deeds of
prowess, especially such deeds as provide exciting entertainment.

The vanquished chief sprang to his feet before I did, and ere I
could realise what was happening, he dashed at me as I was rising
and dealt me a terrible blow in the mouth with his clenched fist.
As he was a magnificently muscular savage, the blow broke several
of my teeth and filled my mouth with blood. My lips, too, were
very badly cut, and altogether I felt half stunned. The effect
upon the audience was astounding. The warriors leaped to their
feet, highly incensed at the cowardly act, and some of them would
actually have speared their chief then and there had I not
forestalled them. I was furiously angry, and dexterously drawing
my stiletto from its sheath so as not to attract attention, I
struck at my opponent with all my force, burying the short, keen
blade in his heart. He fell dead at my feet with a low, gurgling
groan. As I withdrew the knife, I held it so that the blade
extended up my forearm and was quite hidden. This, combined with
the fact that the fatal wound bled mainly internally, caused the
natives to believe I had struck my enemy dead by some supernatural
means. The act was inevitable.

You will observe that by this time I would seize every opportunity
of impressing the blacks by an almost intuitive instinct; and as
the huge savage lay dead on the ground, I placed my foot over the
wound, folded my arms, and looked round triumphantly upon the
enthusiastic crowd, like a gladiator of old.

According to law and etiquette, however, the nearest relatives of
the dead man had a perfect right to challenge me, but they did not
do so, probably because they were disgusted at the unfair act of my
opponent. I put the usual question, but no champion came forward;
on the contrary, I was overwhelmed with congratulations, and even
offers of the chieftainship. I am certain, so great was the love
of fair-play among these natives, that had I not killed the chief
with my stiletto, his own people would promptly have speared him.
The whole of this strange tragedy passed with surprising swiftness;
and I may mention here that, as I saw the chief rushing at me, I
thought he simply wanted to commence another round. His death was
actually an occasion for rejoicing in the tribe. The festivities
were quickly ended, however, when I told the warriors that I
intended leaving the camp with the two girls in the course of
another day or so, to return to my friends in the King Leopold
Ranges. In reality it was my intention to make for my own home in
the Cambridge Gulf district. The body of the chief was not eaten
(most likely on account of the cowardice he displayed), but it was
disposed of according to native rites. The corpse was first of all
half-roasted in front of a huge fire, and then, when properly
shrivelled, it was wrapped in bark and laid on a kind of platform
built in the fork of a tree.

The girls were kept in ignorance of the fatal termination of the
wrestling match, as I was afraid it might give them an unnecessary
shock. After twelve or fourteen days in the camp, we quietly took
our departure. Our party consisted of the two girls, who were
nearly frantic with excitement over their escape; Yamba, and
myself--together with the friendly warriors who had so opportunely
come to my assistance.

We had not gone far, however, before the girls complained of sore
feet. This was not surprising, considering the burning hot sand
and the rough country we were traversing, which was quite the worst
I had yet seen--at any rate, for the first few days' march after we
got out of the level country in the King's Sound region. I,
therefore, had to rig up a kind of hammock made of woven grass, and
this, slung between two poles, served to carry the girls by turns,
the natives acting as bearers. But being totally unused to
carrying anything but their own weapons, they proved deplorably
inefficient as porters, and after a time, so intolerable to them
did the labour become, the work of carrying the girls devolved upon
Yamba and myself. Gladys, the younger girl, suffered most, but
both were weak and footsore and generally incapable of much
exertion. Perhaps a reaction had set in after the terrible
excitement of the previous days. Soon our escort left us, to
return to their own homes; and then Yamba and I had to work
extremely hard to get the girls over the terribly rough country.
Fortunately there was no need for hurry, and so we proceeded in the
most leisurely manner possible, camping frequently and erecting
grass shelters for our delicate charges. Food was abundant, and
the natives friendly.

CHAPTER XI

Easier travel--The girls improve--How the blacks received them--A
large hut--A dainty dish--What might have been--The girls decorate
their home--Bruno as a performer--"A teacher of swimming"--How we
fought depression--Castles in the air--A strange concert--Trapping
wild-cats--The girls' terror of solitude--Fervent prayer--A goose-
skin football--How I made drums.

At length we came to a stately stream that flowed in a NNE.
direction to Cambridge Gulf. This, I believe, is the Ord River.
Here we constructed a catamaran, and were able to travel easily and
luxuriously upon it, always spending the night ashore. This
catamaran was exceptionally large, and long enough to admit of our
standing upright on it with perfect safety. After crossing the
King Leopold Ranges we struck a level country, covered with rich,
tall grass, and well though not thickly wooded. The rough granite
ranges, by the way, we found rich in alluvial and reef tin.
Gradually the girls grew stronger and brighter. At this time they
were, as you know, clad in their strange "sack" garments of bird-
skins; but even before we reached the Ord River these began to
shrink to such an extent that the wearers were eventually wrapped
as in a vice, and were scarcely able to walk. Yamba then made some
make-shift garments out of opossum skins.

As the girls' spirits rose higher and higher I was assailed by
other misgivings. I do not know quite how the idea arose, but
somehow they imagined that their protector's home was a more or
less civilised settlement, with regular houses, furnished with
pianos and other appurtenances of civilised life! So great was
their exuberance that I could not find it in my heart to tell them
that they were merely going among my own friendly natives, whose
admiration and affection for myself only differentiated them from
the other cannibal blacks of unknown Australia.

When first I saw these poor girls, in the glow of the firelight,
and in their rude shelter of boughs, they looked like old women, so
haggard and emaciated were they; but now, as the spacious catamaran
glided down the stately Ord, they gradually resumed their youthful
looks, and were very comely indeed. The awful look of intolerable
anguish that haunted their faces had gone, and they laughed and
chatted with perfect freedom. They were like birds just set at
liberty. They loved Bruno from the very first; and he loved them.
He showed his love, too, in a very practical manner, by going
hunting on his own account and bringing home little ducks to his
new mistresses. Quite of his own accord, also, he would go through
his whole repertoire of tumbling tricks; and whenever the girls
returned to camp from their little wanderings, with bare legs
bleeding from the prickles, Bruno would lick their wounds and
manifest every token of sympathy and affection.

Of course, after leaving the native encampment, it was several
weeks before we made the Ord River, and then we glided down that
fine stream for many days, spearing fish in the little creeks, and
generally amusing ourselves, time being no object. I have, by the
way, seen enormous shoals of fish in this river--mainly mullet--
which can only be compared to the vast swarms of salmon seen in the
rivers of British Columbia.

We came across many isolated hills on our way to the river, and
these delayed us very considerably, because we had to go round
them. Here, again, there was an abundance of food, but the girls
did not take very kindly to the various meats, greatly preferring
the roots which Yamba collected. We came upon fields of wild rice,
which, apart from any other consideration, lent great beauty to the
landscape, covering the country with a pinkish-white blossom. We
forced ourselves to get used to the rice, although it was very
insipid without either salt or sugar.

Sometimes, during our down-river journey, we were obliged to camp
for days and nights without making any progress. This, however,
was only after the river became tidal and swept up against us.

When at length we would put off again in a homeward direction, I
sang many little chansons to my fair companions. The one that
pleased them most, having regard to our position, commenced -

"Filez, filez, mon beau navire,
Car la bonheur m'attend la bas."

Whenever the girls appeared to be brooding over the terrible
misfortunes they had undergone, I would tell them my own story,
which deeply affected them. They would often weep with tender
sympathy over the series of catastrophes that had befallen me.
They sang to me, too--chiefly hymns, however--such as "Rock of
Ages," "Nearer, my God, to Thee," "There is a Happy Land," and many
others. We were constantly meeting new tribes of natives, and for
the most part were very well received. Bruno, however, always
evinced an unconquerable aversion for the blacks. He was ever kind
to the children, though mostly in disgrace with the men--until they
knew him.

When at length we reached my own home in Cambridge Gulf, the
natives gave us a welcome so warm that in some measure at least it
mitigated the girls' disappointment at the absence of civilisation.

You see my people were delighted when they saw me bringing home, as
they thought, two white wives; "for now," they said, "the great
white chief will certainly remain among us for ever." There were
no wars going on just then, and so the whole tribe gave themselves
up to festivities.

The blacks were also delighted to see the girls, though of course
they did not condescend to greet them, they being mere women, and
therefore beneath direct notice.

I ought to mention here, that long before we reached my home we
were constantly provided with escorts of natives from the various
tribes we met. These people walked along the high banks or
disported themselves in the water like amphibians, greatly to the
delight of the girls. We found the banks of the Ord very thickly
populated, and frequently camped at night with different parties of
natives. Among these we actually came across some I had fought
against many months previously.

As we neared my home, some of our escort sent up smoke-signals to
announce our approach--the old and wonderful "Morse code" of long
puffs, short puffs, spiral puffs, and the rest; the variations
being produced by damping down the fire or fires with green boughs.
Yamba also sent up signals. The result was that crowds of my own
people came out in their catamarans to meet us. My reception, in
fact, was like that accorded a successful Roman General. Needless
to say, there was a series of huge corroborees held in our honour.
The first thing I was told was that my hut had been burnt down in
my absence (fires are of quite common occurrence); and so, for the
first few days after our arrival, the girls were housed in a
temporary grass shelter, pending the construction of a substantial
hut built of logs. Now, as logs were very unusual building
material, a word of explanation is necessary.

The girls never conquered their fear of the blacks--even MY blacks;
and therefore, in order that they might feel secure from night
attack (a purely fanciful idea, of course), I resolved to build a
hut which should be thoroughly spear-proof. Bark was also used
extensively, and there was a thatch of grass. When finished, our
new residence consisted of three fair-sized rooms--one for the
girls to sleep in, one for Yamba and myself, and a third as a
general "living room,"--though, of course, we lived mainly en plain
air. I also arranged a kind of veranda in front of the door, and
here we frequently sat in the evening, singing, chatting about
distant friends; the times that were, and the times that were to
be.

Let the truth be told. When these poor young ladies came to my hut
their faces expressed their bitter disappointment, and we all wept
together the greater part of the night. Afterwards they said how
sorry they were thus to have given way; and they begged me not to
think them ungrateful. However, they soon resigned themselves to
the inevitable, buoyed up by the inexhaustible optimism of youth;
and they settled down to live as comfortably as possible among the
blacks until some fortuitous occurrence should enable us all to
leave these weird and remote regions. The girls were in constant
terror of being left alone--of being stolen, in fact. They had
been told how the natives got wives by stealing them; and they
would wake up in the dead of the night screaming in the most heart-
rending manner, with a vague, nameless terror. Knowing that the
ordinary food must be repulsive to my new and delightful
companions, I went back to a certain island, where, during my
journey from the little sand-spit to the main, I had hidden a
quantity of corn beneath a cairn.

This corn I now brought back to my Gulf home, and planted for the
use of the girls. They always ate the corn green in the cob, with
a kind of vegetable "milk" that exudes from one of the palm-trees.
When they became a little more reconciled to their new
surroundings, they took a great interest in their home, and would
watch me for hours as I tried to fashion rude tables and chairs and
other articles of furniture. Yamba acted as cook and waitress, but
after a time the work was more than she could cope with unaided.
You see, she had to FIND the food as well as cook it. The girls,
who were, of course, looked upon as my wives by the tribe (this was
their greatest protection), knew nothing about root-hunting, and
therefore they did not attempt to accompany Yamba on her daily
expeditions. I was in something of a dilemma. If I engaged other
native women to help Yamba, they also would be recognised as my
wives. Finally, I decided there was nothing left for me but to
acquire five more helpmates, who were of the greatest assistance to
Yamba.

Of course, the constant topic of conversation was our ultimate
escape overland; and to this end we made little expeditions to test
the girls' powers of endurance. I suggested, during one of our
conversations, that we should either make for Port Essington, or
else go overland in search of Port Darwin; but the girls were
averse to this, owing to their terror of the natives.

Little did I dream, however, that at a place called Cossack, on the
coast of the North-West Division of Western Australia, there was a
settlement of pearl-fishers; so that, had I only known it,
civilisation--more or less--was comparatively near. Cossack, it
appears, was the pearling rendezvous on the western side of the
continent, much as Somerset was on the north-east, at the extremity
of the Cape York Peninsula.

My tongue or pen can never tell what those young ladies were to me
in my terrible exile. They would recite passages from Sir Walter
Scott's works--the "Tales of a Grandfather" I remember in
particular; and so excellent was their memory that they were also
able to give me many beautiful passages from Byron and Shakespeare.
I had always had a great admiration for Shakespeare, and the girls
and myself would frequently act little scenes from "The Tempest,"
as being the most appropriate to our circumstances. The girls'
favourite play, however, was Pericles, "Prince of Tyre." I took
the part of the King, and when I called for my robes Yamba would
bring some indescribable garments of emu skin, with a gravity that
was comical in the extreme. I, on my part, recited passages from
the French classics--particularly the Fables of La Fontaine, in
French; which language the girls knew fairly well.

And we had other amusements. I made some fiddles out of that
peculiar Australian wood which splits into thin strips. The
strings of the bow we made out of my own hair; whilst those for the
instrument itself were obtained from the dried intestines of the
native wild-cat.

We lined the hut with the bark of the paper-tree, which had the
appearance of a reddish-brown drapery.

The native women made us mats out of the wild flax; and the girls
themselves decorated their room daily with beautiful flowers,
chiefly lilies. They also busied themselves in making garments of
various kinds from opossum skins. They even made some sort of
costume for me, but I could not wear it on account of the
irritation it caused.

The natives would go miles to get fruit for the girls--wild figs,
and a kind of nut about the size of a walnut, which, when ripe, was
filled with a delicious substance looking and tasting like
raspberry jam. There was also a queer kind of apple which grew
upon creepers in the sand, and of which we ate only the outer part
raw, cooking the large kernel which is found inside. I do not know
the scientific name of any of these things.

I often asked the girls whether they had altogether despaired in
the clutches of the cannibal chief; and they told me that although
they often attempted to take their own lives, yet they had
intervals of bright hope--so strong is the optimism of youth. My
apparition, they told me, seemed like a dream to them.

The natives, of course, were constantly moving their camp from
place to place, leaving us alone for weeks at a time; but we kept
pretty stationary, and were visited by other friendly tribes, whom
we entertained (in accordance with my consistent policy) with
songs, plays, recitations, and acrobatic performances.

In these latter Bruno took a great part, and nothing delighted the
blacks more than to see him put his nose on the ground and go head
over heels time after time with great gravity and persistency. But
the effect of Bruno's many tricks faded into the veriest
insignificance beside that produced by his bark. You must
understand that the native dogs do not bark at all, but simply give
vent to a melancholy howl, not unlike that of the hyena, I believe.
Bruno's bark, be it said, has even turned the tide of battle, for
he was always in the wars in the most literal sense of the phrase.
These things, combined with his great abilities as a hunter, often
prompted the blacks to put in a demand that Bruno should be made
over to them altogether. Now, this request was both awkward and
inconvenient to answer; but I got out of it by telling them--since
they believed in a curious kind of metempsychosis--that Bruno was
MY BROTHER, whose soul and being he possessed! His bark, I
pretended, was a perfectly intelligible language, and this they
believed the more readily when they saw me speak to the dog and ask
him to do various things, such as fetching and carrying; tumbling,
walking on his hind-legs, &c. &c. But even this argument did not
suffice to overcome the covetousness of some tribes, and I was then
obliged to assure them confidentially that he was a relative of the
Sun, and therefore if I parted with him he would bring all manner
of most dreadful curses down upon his new owner or owners.
Whenever we went rambling I had to keep Bruno as near me as
possible, because we sometimes came across natives whose first
impulse, not knowing that he was a dog, was to spear him. Without
doubt the many cross-breeds between Bruno and the native dogs will
yet be found by Australian explorers.

Our hut was about three-quarters of a mile away from the sea, and
in the morning the very first thing the girls and I did was to go
down to the beach arm-in-arm and have a delicious swim.

They very soon became expert swimmers, by the way, under my
tuition. Frequently I would go out spearing and netting fish, my
principal captures being mullet. We nearly always had fish of some
sort for breakfast, including shell-fish; and we would send the
women long distances for wild honey. Water was the only liquid we
drank at breakfast, and with it Yamba served a very appetising dish
of lily-buds and roots. We used to steam the wild rice--which I
found growing almost everywhere, but never more than two feet high-
-in primitive ovens, which were merely adapted ants' nests. The
material that formed these nests, we utilised as flooring for our
house. We occasionally received quantities of wild figs from the
inland natives in exchange for shell and other ornaments which they
did not possess. I also discovered a cereal very like barley,
which I ground up and made into cakes. The girls never attempted
to cook anything, there being no civilised appliances of any kind.
Food was never boiled.

From all this you would gather that we were as happy as civilised
beings could possibly be under the circumstances. Nevertheless--
and my heart aches as I recall those times--we had periodical fits
of despondency, which filled us with acute and intolerable agony.

These periods came with curious regularity almost once a week. At
such times I at once instituted sports, such as swimming matches,
races on the beach, swings, and acrobatic performances on the
horizontal bars. Also Shakespearian plays, songs (the girls taught
me most of Moore's melodies), and recitations both grave and gay.
The fits of despondency were usually most severe when we had been
watching the everlasting sea for hours, and had perhaps at last
caught sight of a distant sail without being able to attract the
attention of those on board. The girls, too, suffered from fits of
nervous apprehension lest I should go away from them for any length
of time. They never had complete confidence even in my friendly
natives. Naturally we were inseparable, we three. We went for
long rambles together, and daily inspected our quaint little corn-
garden. At first my charming companions evinced the most
embarrassing gratitude for what I had done, but I earnestly begged
of them never even to mention the word to me. The little I had
done, I told them, was my bare and obvious duty, and was no more
than any other man worthy of the name, would have done.

In our more hopeful moments we would speak of the future, and these
poor girls would dwell upon the thrill of excitement that would go
all through the civilised world, when their story and mine should
first be made known to the public.

For they felt certain their adventures were quite unique in the
annals of civilisation, and they loved to think they would have an
opportunity of "lionising" me when we should return to Europe.
They would not hear me when I protested that such a course would,
from my point of view, be extremely unpleasant and undignified--
even painful.

Every day we kept a good look-out for passing ships; and from
twenty to forty catamarans were always stationed on the beach in
readiness to take us out to sea should there be any hope of a
rescue. As my knowledge of English was at this time not very
perfect, the girls took it upon themselves to improve me, and I
made rapid progress under their vivacious tuition. They would
promptly correct me in the pronunciation of certain vowels when I
read aloud from the only book I possessed--the Anglo-French
Testament I have already mentioned. They were, by the way,
exceedingly interested in the records of my daily life, sensations,
&c., which I had written in BLOOD in the margins of my little Bible
whilst on the island in Timor Sea. About this time I tried to make
some ink, having quill pens in plenty from the bodies of the wild
geese; but the experiment was a failure.

Both girls, as I have already hinted, had wonderful memories, and
could recite numberless passages which they had learnt at school.
Blanche, the elder girl, would give her sister and myself lessons
in elocution; and I should like to say a word to teachers and
children on the enormous utility of COMMITTING SOMETHING TO MEMORY-
-whether poems, songs, or passages from historical or classical
works. It is, of course, very unlikely that any one who reads
these lines will be cast away as we were, but still one never knows
what the future has in store; and I have known pioneers and
prospectors who have ventured into the remoter wilds, and emerged
therefrom years after, to give striking testimony as to the
usefulness of being able to sing or recite in a loud voice.

Sometimes we would have an improvised concert, each of us singing
whatever best suited the voice; or we would all join together in a
rollicking glee. One day, I remember, I started off with -

"A notre heureux sejour,"

but almost immediately I realised how ridiculously inappropriate
the words were. Still, I struggled on through the first verse, but
to my amazement, before I could start the second, the girls joined
in with "God Save the Queen," which has exactly the same air. The
incident is one that should appeal to all British people, including
even her Most Gracious Majesty herself. As the girls' voices rose,
half sobbingly, in the old familiar air, beloved of every English-
speaking person, tears fairly ran down their fair but sad young
faces, and I could not help being struck with the pathos of the
scene.

But all things considered, these were really happy days for all of
us, at any rate in comparison with those we had previously
experienced. We had by this time quite an orchestra of reed flutes
and the fiddles aforesaid, whose strings were of gut procured from
the native wild-cat--a very little fellow, by the way, about the
size of a fair-sized rat; I found him everywhere. These cats were
great thieves, and only roamed about at night. I trapped them in
great numbers by means of an ingenious native arrangement of
pointed sticks of wood, which, while providing an easy entrance,
yet confronted the outgoing cat with a formidable chevaux-de-frise.
The bait I used was meat in an almost putrid condition.

I could not handle the prisoners in the morning, because they
scratched and bit quite savagely; I therefore forked them out with
a spear. As regards their own prey, they waged perpetual warfare
against the native rats. The skin of these cats was beautifully
soft, and altogether they were quite leopards in miniature. Best
of all, they made excellent eating, the more so in that their flesh
was almost the only meat dish that had not the eternal flavour of
the eucalyptus leaf, which all our other "joints" possessed. The
girls never knew that they were eating cats, to say nothing about
rats. In order to save their feelings, I told them that both
"dishes" were squirrels!

My hair at this time was even longer than the girls' own, so it is
no wonder that it provided bows for the fiddles. My companions
took great delight in dressing my absurdly long tresses, using
combs which I had made out of porcupines' quills.

Our contentment was a great source of joy to Yamba, who was now
fully convinced that I would settle down among her people for ever.

The blacks were strangely affected by our singing. Any kind of
civilised music or singing was to them anathema. What they liked
best was the harsh uproar made by pieces of wood beaten together,
or the weird jabbering and chanting that accompanied a big feast.
Our singing they likened to the howling of the dingoes! They were
sincere, hardly complimentary.

Elsewhere I have alluded to the horror the girls had of being left
alone. Whenever I went off with the men on a hunting expedition I
left them in charge of my other women-folk, who were thoroughly
capable of looking after them. I also persuaded the natives to
keep some distance away from our dwelling, particularly when they
were about to hold a cannibal feast, so that the girls were never
shocked by such a fearful sight. Certainly they had known of
cannibalism in their old camp, but I told them that my own people
were a superior race of natives, who were not addicted to this
loathsome practice.

Although we had long since lost count of the days, we always set
aside one day in every seven and recognised it as Sunday, when we
held a kind of service in our spacious hut. Besides the girls,
Yamba, and myself, only our own women-folk were admitted, because I
was careful never to attempt to proselytise any of the natives, or
wean them from their ancient beliefs. The girls were religious in
the very best sense of the term, and they knew the Old and New
Testaments almost by heart. They read the Lessons, and I confess

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