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The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont

Part 4 out of 5

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they taught me a good deal about religion which I had not known
previously. Blanche would read aloud the most touching and
beautiful passages from the Bible; and even as I write I can recall
her pale, earnest face, with its pathetic expression and her low,
musical voice, as she dwelt upon passages likely to console and
strengthen us in our terrible position. The quiet little
discussions we had together on theological subjects settled, once
and for all, many questions that had previously vexed me a great
deal.

Both girls were devoted adherents of the Church of England, and
could repeat most of the Church services entirely from memory.
They wanted to do a little missionary work among the blacks, but I
gently told them I thought this inadvisable, as any rupture in our
friendly relations with the natives would have been quite fatal--if
not to our lives, at least to our chances of reaching civilisation.
Moreover, my people were not by any means without a kind of
religion of their own. They believed in the omnipotence of a Great
Spirit in whose hands their destinies rested; and him they
worshipped with much the same adoration which Christians give to
God. The fundamental difference was that the sentiment animating
them was not LOVE, but FEAR: propitiation rather than adoration.

We sang the usual old hymns at our Sunday services, and I soon
learned to sing them myself. On my part, I taught the girls such
simple hymns as the one commencing "Une nacelle en silence," which
I had learnt at Sunday-school in Switzerland. It is interesting to
note that this was Bruno's favourite air. Poor Bruno! he took more
or less kindly to all songs--except the Swiss jodellings, which he
simply detested. When I started one of these plaintive ditties
Bruno would first protest by barking his loudest, and if I
persisted, he would simply go away in disgust to some place where
he could not hear the hated sounds. On Sunday evening we generally
held a prayer-service in the hut, and at such times offered up most
fervent supplications for delivery.

Often I have seen these poor girls lifting up their whole souls in
prayer, quite oblivious for the moment of their surroundings, until
recalled to a sense of their awful positions by the crash of an
unusually large wave on the rocks.

The girls knew no more of Australian geography than I did; and when
I mention that I merely had a vague idea that the great cities of
the continent--Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and Melbourne--all lay in a
southerly direction, you may imagine how dense was my ignorance of
the great island. I am now the strongest possible advocate of a
sound geographical training in schools.

On ordinary days we indulged in a variety of games, the principal
one being a form of "rounders." I made a ball out of opossum skin,
stuffed with the light soft bark of the paper-tree, and stitched
with gut. We used a yam-stick to strike it with. My native women
attendants often joined in the fun, and our antics provided a vast
amount of amusement for the rest of the tribe. The girls taught me
cricket, and in due time I tried to induce the blacks to play the
British national game, but with little success. We made the
necessary bats and stumps out of hard acacia, which I cut down with
my tomahawk. The natives themselves, however, made bats much
better than mine, simply by whittling flat their waddies; and they
soon became expert batsmen. But unfortunately they failed to see
why they should run after the ball, especially when they had
knocked it a very great distance away. Running about in this
manner, they said, was only fit work for women, and was quite
beneath their dignity. Yamba and I fielded, but soon found
ourselves unequal to the task, owing to the enormous distances we
had to travel in search of the ball. Therefore we soon abandoned
the cricket, and took up football, which was very much more
successful.

We had a nice large football made of soft goose-skin stuffed with
the paper bark; and in considering our game you must always bear in
mind that boots or footgear of any kind were quite unknown. The
great drawback of football, from the native point of view, was that
it entailed so much exertion, which could be otherwise expended in
a far more profitable and practical manner. They argued that if
they put the exertion requisite for a game of football into a hunt
for food, they would have enough meat to last them for many days.
It was, of course, utterly impossible to bring them round to my
view of sports and games. With regard to the abandoned cricket,
they delighted in hitting the ball and in catching it--oh! they
were wonderfully expert at this--but as to running after the ball,
this was quite impossible.

About this time the girls showed me the steps of an Irish jig,
which I quickly picked up and soon became quite an adept, much to
the delight of the natives, who never tired of watching my
gyrations. I kept them in a constant state of wonderment, so that
even my very hair--now about three feet long--commanded their
respect and admiration!

Sometimes I would waltz with the younger girl, whilst her sister
whistled an old familiar air. When I danced, the blacks would
squat in a huge circle around me; those in the front rank keeping
time by beating drums that I had made and presented to them. The
bodies of the drums were made from sections of trees which I found
already hollowed out by the ants. These wonderful little insects
would bore through and through the core of the trunk, leaving only
the outer shell, which soon became light and dry. I then scraped
out with my tomahawk any of the rough inner part that remained, and
stretched over the ends of each section a pair of the thinnest
wallaby skins I could find; these skins were held taut by sinews
from the tail of a kangaroo. I tried emu-skins for the drum-heads,
but found they were no good, as they soon became perforated when I
scraped them.

Never a day passed but we eagerly scanned the glistening sea in the
hope of sighting a passing sail. One vessel actually came right
into our bay from the north, but she suddenly turned right back on
the course she had come. She was a cutter-rigged vessel, painted a
greyish-white, and of about fifty tons burden. She was probably a
Government vessel--possibly the Claud Hamilton, a South Australian
revenue boat stationed at Port Darwin--as she flew the British
ensign at the mast-head; whereas a pearler would have flown it at
the peak. The moment we caught sight of that ship I am afraid we
lost our heads. We screamed aloud with excitement, and ran like
mad people up and down the beach, waving branches and yelling like
maniacs. I even waved wildly my long, luxuriant hair.
Unfortunately, the wind was against us, blowing from the WSW. We
were assisted in our frantic demonstration by quite a crowd of
natives with branches; and I think it possible that, even if we had
been seen, the people on the ship would have mistaken our efforts
for a more hostile demonstration.

When it was too late, and the ship almost out of sight, I suddenly
realised that I had made another fatal mistake in having the blacks
with me. Had I and the two girls been alone on the beach I feel
sure the officers of the ship would have detected our white skins
through their glasses. But, indeed, we may well have escaped
notice altogether.

There was a terrible scene when the supposed Government vessel
turned back on her course and passed swiftly out of sight. The
girls threw themselves face downwards on the beach, and wept wildly
and hysterically in the very depths of violent despair. I can
never hope to tell you what a bitter and agonising experience it
was--the abrupt change from delirious excitement at seeing a ship
steering right into our bay, to the despairing shock of beholding
it turn away from us even quicker than it came.

CHAPTER XII

The girls in sun-bonnets--I advise the blacks--Fatal excitement--
Last moments--The catastrophe--I cannot realise it--A fearful
contrast--"Only a withered flower"--Bruno's grief--Steering by the
ant-hills--Avoiding the forests--Myriads of rats--The flowing of
the tide--Rats and the native children--Clouds of locusts--Fish
from the clouds.

The weeks gradually grew into months, and still we were apparently
no nearer civilisation than ever. Again and again we made
expeditions to see whether it were possible for the girls to reach
Port Darwin overland; but, unfortunately, I had painted for them in
such vivid colours the tortures of thirst which I had undergone on
my journey towards Cape York, that they were always afraid to leave
what was now their home to go forth unprovided into the unknown.
Sometimes a fit of depression so acute would come over them, that
they would shut themselves up in their room and not show themselves
for a whole day.

We had a very plentiful supply of food, but one thing the girls
missed very much was milk,--which of course, was an unheard-of
luxury in these regions. We had a fairly good substitute, however,
in a certain creamy and bitter-tasting juice which we obtained from
a palm-tree. This "milk," when we got used to it, we found
excellent when used with the green corn. The corn-patch was
carefully fenced in from kangaroos, and otherwise taken care of;
and I may here remark that I made forks and plates of wood for my
fair companions, and also built them a proper elevated bed, with
fragrant eucalyptus leaves and grass for bedding. For the cold
nights there was a covering of skin rugs, with an overall quilt
made from the wild flax.

The girls made themselves sun-bonnets out of palm-leaves; while
their most fashionable costume was composed of the skins of birds
and marsupials, cunningly stitched together by Yamba. During the
cold winter months of July and August we camped at a more sheltered
spot, a little to the north, where there was a range of mountains,
whose principal peak was shaped like a sugar-loaf.

I frequently accompanied the warriors on their fighting
expeditions, but did not use my stilts, mainly because we never
again met so powerful an enemy as we had battled with on that
memorable occasion. My people were often victorious, but once or
twice we got beaten by reason of the other side having drawn first
blood. My natives took their reverses with a very good grace, and
were never very depressed or inclined to view me with less favour
because of their want of success. We were always the best of
friends, and I even ventured gradually to wean them from
cannibalism.

I knew they ate human flesh, not because they felt hungry, but
because they hoped to acquire the additional valour of the warrior
they were eating. I therefore diplomatically pointed out to them
that, in the first place, all kinds of dreadful diseases which the
dead man might have had would certainly be communicated to them,
and in this I was providentially borne out by a strange epidemic.
The second consideration I mentioned was that by making anklets,
bracelets, and other ornaments out of the dead braves' hair, they
could acquire for themselves in a much more efficacious manner the
valour and other estimable qualities of the departed warrior.

Whilst I was on this subject I also advised them strongly and
impressively never wantonly to attack white men, but rather to make
friendly advances towards them. I often wonder now whether
explorers who follow in my track will notice the absence of
cannibalism and the friendly overtures of the natives.

Two half painful, half merry years, passed by. We had seen several
ships passing out at sea, and on more than one occasion Yamba and
I, taught by previous lessons, had jumped into our canoe and pulled
for many miles in the direction of the sail, leaving the girls
watching us eagerly from the shore. But it was always useless, and
we were compelled to return without having accomplished our
purpose; we merely inflicted additional pain on ourselves.

I now come to what is possibly the most painful episode of my
career, and one which I find it impossible to discuss, or write
about, without very real pain. Even at this distance of time I
cannot recall that tragic day without bitter tears coming into my
eyes, and being afflicted with a gnawing remorse which can never
completely die in my heart. Do not, I beg of you, in considering
my actions, ask me why I did not do this, or that, or the other.
In terrible crises I believe we become almost mechanical, and are
not responsible for what we do. I have often thought that, apart
from our own volition, each set of nerves and fibres in our being
has a will of its own.

Well, one gloriously fine day we sighted a ship going very slowly
across the gulf, several miles away. Would to God we had never
seen her! We were thrown, as usual, into a perfect frenzy of wild
excitement, and the girls dashed here and there like people
possessed. Of course, I determined to intercept the vessel if
possible, and the girls at once expressed their intention of coming
with me. I attempted earnestly to dissuade them from this, but
they wept pitifully and implored me to let them come. They were
filled with an ungovernable longing to get away--the same longing,
perhaps, that animates a caged bird who, although well fed and
kindly treated, soars away without a moment's hesitation when an
opportunity occurs. Quite against my better judgment, I let them
come. Every second was precious and every argument futile. While
Yamba was getting ready the canoe I rushed from one group of
natives to the other, coaxing, promising, imploring. I pointed out
to them that they could propel their catamarans faster than I could
paddle my canoe; and I promised them that if I reached the ship I
would send them presents from the white man's land of tomahawks and
knives; gaily coloured cloths and gorgeous jewellery. But they
were only too ready to help me without any of these inducements;
and in an incredibly short time at least twenty catamarans, each
containing one or two men, put off from the shore in my wake and
made directly towards the ship, whilst I struck off at a tangent so
as to head her off. I now see that without doubt we must have
presented a very formidable appearance to the people on the vessel
as we paddled over the sunlit seas, racing one another, yelling,
and gesticulating like madmen. Of course, the people on board
quite naturally thought they were being attacked by a savage
flotilla. But in the excitement of the moment I never gave this a
thought. Had I only left my faithful natives behind all might have
been well. Yamba and I kept the canoe well ahead, and we reached
the neighbourhood of the ship first.

As we approached, the excitement of the girls was painful to
witness. They could scarcely contain themselves for joy; and as I
forcibly prevented them from standing up in the frail canoe, they
contented themselves with frantically waving their hands and
screaming themselves hoarse.

Nearing the vessel I was surprised to see the top-sail being
hoisted, but, strange to say, the crew kept well out of sight.
This was easy to do, considering the spread of canvas. She was not
a Malay vessel, being decidedly of European rig. She was only a
small craft, of perhaps ten or fifteen tons, with one mast carrying
a main-sail and stay-sail, in addition to the top-sail that had
been hoisted as we approached. To us, however, she was a "ship."
We were now about one hundred and fifty yards away, and I suddenly
leapt to my feet and coo-eed several times. Still no one showed
himself, and not a soul was visible on board. My own joyful
excitement speedily turned to heart-sickness, alarm, and even
terror. By this time the flotilla of catamarans was close behind
me; and just as I was about to sit down and take to my paddle
again, so as to advance still closer to the vessel, the loud report
of a gun was heard; and then--well, what followed next is
exceedingly difficult for me to describe accurately. Whether I was
wounded by the shot, or whether the girls suddenly stood up,
causing me to lose my balance and fall on the side of the canoe and
cut my thigh, I do not know.

At any rate, I crashed heavily overboard in spite of Yamba's
desperate attempt to save me. The next moment I had forgotten all
about the ship, and was only conscious of Yamba swimming close by
my side, and occasionally gripping my long hair when she thought I
was going under. We righted the canoe and climbed in as quickly as
we could. I think I was dazed and incapable of any coherent
thought. As I collapsed in the bottom of the canoe, I suddenly
realised that Yamba and I were alone; and sitting up, I gasped,
"The girls, the girls! Where are they? Oh, where are they? We
must save them!"

Alas! they had sunk beneath the smiling waves, and they never rose
again. True, they were expert swimmers, but I suppose the terrible
excitement, followed by the sudden shock, was too much for them,
and as they sank for the first time they probably clung to each
other in the embrace of death. God knows best. Perhaps it was
better that He should take my loved ones from me than that they
should be dragged through the terrible years that followed.

But for a long time I utterly refused to believe that my darlings
were lost--they were truly as sisters to me; and Yamba and I and
the natives dived for them time after time, searching the sea in
every direction. But at length, seeing that I was exhausted, Yamba
forcibly detained me, and told me that I myself would inevitably
drown if I went into the water again. The wound in my thigh (I am
uncertain to this day whether it was the result of the gun-shot or
mere collision with the rough gunwale of the canoe) was bleeding
freely; and as it was also pointed out to me that there was a very
strong and swift current at this spot, I allowed myself to be taken
away without any further opposition.

I simply COULD not realise my bereavement. It seemed too terrible
and stunning to think, that when God had provided me with these two
charming companions, who were all in all to me every moment of my
existence, as a consolation for the horrors I had gone through--it
seemed impossible, I say, that they should be snatched from me just
at the very moment when salvation seemed within our reach. Every
detail of the incident passed before my mental vision, but I could
not grasp it--I could not seem to think it real. I can never
explain it. These poor girls were more to me than loving sisters.
They turned the black night of my desolate existence into sunshine,
and they were perpetually devising some sweet little surprise--some
little thing which would please me and add additional brightness to
our daily lives. This dreadful thing happened many years ago, but
to this day, and to the day of my death, I feel sure I shall suffer
agonies of grief and remorse (I blame myself for not having
forbidden them to go in the canoe) for this terrible catastrophe.

After we returned to the land, I haunted the sea-shore for hours,
hoping to see the bodies rise to the surface; but I watched in
vain. When at length the full magnitude of the disaster dawned
upon me, despair--the utter abandonment of despair--filled my soul
for the first time. Never again would my sweet companions cheer my
solitary moments. Never again would I see their loved forms, or
hear their low, musical voices. Never again would we play together
like children on the sand. Never again would we build aerial
castles about the bright and happy future that was in store for us,
looking back from the bourne of civilisation on our fantastic
adventures. Never again should we compare our lot with that of
Robinson Crusoe or the Swiss Family Robinson.

My bright dream had passed away, and with a sudden revulsion of
feeling I realised that the people around me were repulsive
cannibals, among whom I was apparently doomed to pass the remainder
of my hideous days--a fate infinitely more terrible than that of
joining my darlings beneath the restless waves, that beat for ever
on that lonely shore. I was a long time before I could even bring
myself to be thankful for Yamba's escape, which was no doubt
dreadfully ungrateful of me. I can only ask your pity and sympathy
in my terrible affliction. What made my sorrow and remorse the
more poignant, was the reflection that if I had retained one atom
of my self-possession I would never have dreamed of approaching the
little European vessel at the head of a whole flotilla of
catamarans, filled with yelling and gesticulating savages. As to
the people on board the vessel, I exonerated them then, and I
exonerate them now, from all blame. Had you or I been on board, we
should probably have done exactly the same thing under the
circumstances.

Clearly the only reasonable plan of action was to have gone alone;
but then, at critical times, even the wisest among us is apt to
lose his head. God knows I paid dearly enough for my lack of
judgment on this melancholy occasion.

My wound was not at all serious, and, thanks to Yamba's care, it
quickly healed, and I was able to get about once more.

But I ought to tell you that when we returned I could not bear to
go into our hut, where every little bunch of withered flowers,
every garment of skin, and every implement, proclaimed aloud the
stunning loss I had sustained. No, I went back direct to the camp
of the natives, and remained among them until the moment came for
my departure. I think it was in the soft, still nights that I felt
it most. I wept till I was as weak as a baby. Oh the torments of
remorse I endured--the fierce resentment against an all-wise
Providence! "Alone! alone! alone!" I would shriek in an agony of
wretchedness; "Gone! gone! gone! Oh, come back to me, come back to
me, I cannot live here now."

And I soon realised that it was impossible for me to remain there
any longer. There was much weeping and lamentation among the
native women, but I guessed it was not so much on account of the
poor girls, as out of sympathy for the loss the great white chief
had sustained. I think Yamba went among them, and pointed out the
magnitude of the disaster; otherwise they would have failed to
grasp it. What was the loss of a woman or two to them? I felt, I
say, that I could not settle down in my hut again, and I was
consumed with an intense longing to go away into the wilderness and
there hide my grief. In making an attempt to reach civilisation, I
thought this time of going due south, so that perhaps I might
ultimately reach Sydney, or Melbourne, or Adelaide. I argued thus
casually to myself, little dreaming of the vast distances--mountain
ranges and waterless deserts--that separated me from these great
cities. For all I knew, I might have come upon them in a few
weeks! All I was certain of was that they lay somewhere to the
south. Time was no object to me, and I might as well be walking in
the direction of civilisation as remaining in idle misery in my bay
home, brooding over the disaster that had clouded my life and made
it infinitely more intolerable than it was before the girls came.

Yamba instantly agreed to accompany me, and a few weeks after the
loss of the girls we started out once more on our wanderings,
accompanied by my ever faithful dog.

Bruno also missed his young mistresses. He would moan and cry
pitifully, and run aimlessly up and down the beach looking out to
sea. Ah! had I only taken Bruno on that fatal day, he would not
have let my dear ones drown!

As I have said, I remained only a few weeks in my bay home, and
then departed. The blacks, too, left the spot, for they never stay
where the shadow of death lies, fearing the unpleasant attentions
of the spirits of the deceased. The parting between me and my
people was a most affecting one, the women fairly howling in
lamentations, which could be heard a great distance away. They had
shown such genuine sympathy with me in my misfortune that our
friendship had very materially increased; but in spite of this good
feeling, I knew I could never be happy among them again.

So we started off into the unknown, with no more provision or
equipment than if we were going for a stroll of a mile or so.
Yamba carried her yam-stick and basket, and I had my usual weapons-
-tomahawk and stiletto in my belt, and bow and arrows in my hand.
I never dreamed when we started that to strike due south would take
us into the unexplored heart of the continent. Day after day,
however, we walked steadily on our course, steering in a very
curious manner. We were guided by the ant-hills, which are always
built facing the east, whilst the top inclines towards the north;
and we knew that the scratches made on trees by the opossums were
invariably on the north side.

We often steered by the habits of insects, wasps' nests, and other
curious auguries, fixing our position at night by the stars and in
the daytime by our own shadows. Yamba always went in front and I
followed. The bush teemed with fruits and roots. After leaving
our own camp in the Cambridge Gulf region we struck a fine elevated
land, excellently well watered; and later on we followed the
Victoria River in a south-easterly direction through part of the
Northern Territories of South Australia. We at length struck a
peculiar country covered with coarse grass ten feet or twelve feet
high--not unlike the sugar-cane which I afterwards saw, but much
more dense.

It was, of course, impossible for us to pursue our course due
south, owing to the forests and ranges which we encountered; we
had, as a matter of fact, to follow native and kangaroo tracks
wherever they took us--east, west, and even north occasionally,
generally to water-holes. The progress of the natives is simply
from one water supply to another. But as far as possible we
pursued our way south. You will understand that this kind of
travelling was very different from that which we experienced on the
Victoria River--which, by the way, traversed a very fine country.
As we ascended it we passed many isolated hills of perhaps a few
hundred feet, and nowhere did I see any scrub or spinifex.

After leaving the Victoria we came upon a more elevated plateau
covered with rather fine but short grass; the trees were scarcer
here, but finer and bigger. There was plenty of water in the
native wells and in the hollows, although we frequently had to
remove a few stones to get at it. There were plenty of kangaroos
and emus about, as well as turkeys; these latter provided us with
an unwonted dish, to say nothing of their delicious eggs.

Another reason for our coming round out of our course when we came
to forests was because but little food was found in them.
Kangaroos and other animals were seldom or never found there: they
abounded usually in the more scrubby country. Our progress was
very leisurely, and, as we met tribe after tribe, we ingratiated
ourselves with them and camped at their wells. Occasionally we
came upon curious rivers and lagoons that ran into the earth and
disappeared in the most mysterious way, only to reappear some
distance farther on. Of course, I may be mistaken in this, but
such at any rate was my impression.

One day as we were marching steadily along, Yamba startled me by
calling out excitedly, "Up a tree,--quick! Up a tree!" And so
saying she scampered up the nearest tree herself. Now, by this
time I had become so accustomed to acting upon her advice
unquestioningly, that without waiting to hear any more I made a
dash for the nearest likely tree and climbed into it as fast as I
could. Had she called out to me, "Leap into the river," I should
have done so without asking a question. When I was safely in the
branches, however, I called out to her (her tree was only a few
yards away), "What is the matter?" She did not reply, but pointed
to a vast stretch of undulating country over which we had just
come; it was fairly well wooded. It lingers in my mind as a region
in which one was able to see a fairly long way in every direction--
a very unusual feature in the land of "Never Never"!

I looked, but at first could see nothing. Presently, however, it
seemed to me that the whole country in the far distance was covered
with a black mantle, WHICH APPEARED TO BE MADE UP OF LIVING
CREATURES.

Steadily and rapidly this great mysterious wave swept along towards
us; and seeing that I was both puzzled and alarmed, Yamba gave me
to understand that WE SHOULD PRESENTLY BE SURROUNDED BY MYRIADS OF
RATS, stretching away in every direction like a living sea. The
phenomenon was evidently known to Yamba, and she went on to explain
that these creatures were migrating from the lowlands to the
mountains, knowing by instinct that the season of the great floods
was at hand. That weird and extraordinary sight will live in my
memory for ever. I question whether a spectacle so fantastic and
awe-inspiring was ever dealt with, even in the pages of quasi-
scientific fiction. It was impossible for me to observe in what
order the rats were advancing, on account of the great stretch of
country which they covered. Soon, however, their shrill squeals
were distinctly heard, and a few minutes later the edge of that
strange tide struck our tree and swept past us with a force
impossible to realise. No living thing was spared. Snakes,
lizards--ay, even the biggest kangaroos--succumbed after an
ineffectual struggle. The rats actually ate those of their fellows
who seemed to hesitate or stumble. The curious thing was that the
great army never seemed to stand still. It appeared to me that
each rat simply took a bite at whatever prey came his way, and then
passed on with the rest.

I am unable to say how long the rats were in passing--it might have
been an hour. Yamba told me that there would have been no help for
us had we been overtaken on foot by these migratory rodents. It is
my opinion that no creature in Nature, from the elephant downwards,
could have lived in that sea of rats. I could not see the ground
between them, so closely were they packed. The only creatures that
escaped them were birds. The incessant squealing and the patter of
their little feet made an extraordinary sound, comparable only to
the sighing of the wind or the beat of a great rain-storm. I ought
to mention, though, that I was unable accurately to determine the
sound made by the advancing rats owing to my partial deafness,
which you will remember was caused by the great wave which dashed
me on to the deck of the Veielland, just before landing on the
sand-spit in the Sea of Timor. I often found this deafness a very
serious drawback, especially when hunting. I was sometimes at a
loss to hear the "coo-ee" or call of my natives. Fortunate men!
THEY did not even understand what deafness meant. Lunacy also was
unknown among them, and such a thing as suicide no native can
possibly grasp or understand. In all my wanderings I only met one
idiot or demented person. He had been struck by a falling tree,
and was worshipped as a demi-god!

When the rats had passed by, we watched them enter a large creek
and swim across, after which they disappeared in the direction of
some ranges which were not very far away. They never seemed to
break their ranks; even when swimming, one beheld the same level
brownish mass on the surface of the water. Yamba told me that this
migration of rats was not at all uncommon, but that the creatures
rarely moved about in such vast armies as the one that had just
passed.

I also learned that isolated parties of migrating rats were
responsible for the horrible deaths of many native children, who
had, perhaps, been left behind in camp by their parents, who had
gone in search of water.

Up to this time we had always found food plentiful. On our
southward journey a particularly pleasant and convenient article of
diet turned up (or fell down) in the form of the MARU, as it is
called, which collects on the leaves of trees during the night.
Both in its appearance and manner of coming, this curious substance
may be likened to the manna that fell in the wilderness for the
benefit of the Israelites. This maru is a whitish substance, not
unlike raw cotton in appearance. The natives make bread of it; it
is rather tasteless, but is very nutritious, and only obtained at
certain times--for example, it never falls at the time of full
moon, and is peculiar to certain districts.

During this great southward journey many strange things happened,
and we saw a host of curious sights. I only wish I could trust my
memory to place these in their proper chronological order.

We had several visitations of locusts; and on one occasion, some
months after leaving home, they settled upon the country around us
so thickly as actually to make a living bridge across a large
creek. On several occasions I have had to dig through a living
crust of these insects, six or eight inches thick, in order to
reach water at a water-hole. These locusts are of a yellowish-
brown colour (many are grey), and they range in length from two to
four inches.

As they rise in the air they make a strange cracking, snapping
sound; and they were often present in such myriads as actually to
hide the face of the sun. I found them excellent eating when
grilled on red-hot stones.

Yamba, of course, did all the cooking, making a fire with her ever-
ready fire-stick, which no native woman is ever without; and while
she looked after the supply of roots and opossum meat, I generally
provided the snakes, emus, and kangaroos. Our shelter at night
consisted merely of a small GUNYAH made of boughs, and we left the
fire burning in front of this when we turned in.

When we had been fully three months out, a very extraordinary thing
happened, which to many people would be incredible were it not
recognised as a well-known Australian phenomenon. We had reached a
very dry and open grass country, where there was not a tree to be
seen for miles and miles. Suddenly, as Yamba and I were squatting
on the ground enjoying a meal, we saw a strange black cloud looming
on the horizon, and hailed its advent with the very greatest
delight, inasmuch as it presaged rain--which is always so vitally
important a visitation in the "Never Never." We waited in
anticipation until the cloud was right over our heads. Then the
deluge commenced, and to my unbounded amazement I found that with
the rain LIVE FISH AS BIG AS WHITEBAIT WERE FALLING FROM THE
CLOUDS! When this wonderful rain-storm had passed, large pools of
water were left on the surface of the ground, and most of these
were fairly alive with fish. This surface-water, however,
evaporated in the course of a few days, and then, as the blazing
sun beat down upon the fish-covered country, we found the region
growing quite intolerable on account of the awful stench.

Talking of storms, I have seen it stated that the Australian
natives are in a state of high glee whenever they hear thunder.
This is perfectly true, but I have never seen any explanation of
this joy. It is simple enough. The natives know that thunder
presages rain, which is always a blessing of great price in that
thirsty country.

I think this was the first time I had actually SEEN it rain fish.
But I had often been surprised, to find water-holes, and even the
pools in grassy plains, literally alive with fish a few days after
a storm. And they grew with astounding rapidity, provided the
water did not evaporate. This was in the vicinity of my Cambridge
Gulf home.

We remained in the neighbourhood for some time, living on a most
welcome fish diet. Very frequently in our wanderings we were
provided with another dainty in the shape of a worm, which, when
broiled over charcoal, had the flavour of a walnut.

These worms we found in the grass trees, which grow to a height of
ten to twenty feet, and have bare trunks surmounted by what looks
at a distance like a big bunch of drooping bulrushes. The worms
were of a whitish colour, and were always found in the interior of
a well-matured or decaying stem; so that all we had to do was to
push the tree over with our feet and help ourselves.

In the course of our wanderings we usually went from tribe to
tribe, staying a little time with some, and with others merely
exchanging greetings. With some tribes we would perhaps travel a
little way south, and only part with them when they were about to
strike northwards; and as their course was simply from water-hole
to water-hole, as I have told you, it was always pretty erratic.

CHAPTER XIII

My usual introduction--A serious entertainment--The power of the
bow--Repulsive blacks--Mysterious spears--Waterless wastes--A
battle with snakes--More prestige--Rubies thrown away--Quarrying
extraordinary.

Occasionally one of the tribes would display hostility towards us
at first sight, but I generally managed to ingratiate myself into
their good graces by the exercise of a little diplomacy--and
acrobatics. Curiously enough, many of these tribes did not display
much surprise at seeing a white man, apparently reserving all their
amazement for Bruno's bark and the white man's wonderful
performances.

I may here remark that, in the event of our coming across a hostile
tribe who fought shy of my friendly advances, I would, without
ceremony, introduce myself by dashing into their midst and turning
a few somersaults or Catherine-wheels such as the London GAMINS
display for the benefit of easily-pleased excursionists. This
queer entertainment usually created roars of laughter, and set
every one at his ease.

I remember once being surprised by the sudden appearance over the
crest of a hillock of about twenty blacks, all well armed and
presenting rather a formidable appearance. The moment they caught
sight of Yamba and myself they halted, whereupon I advanced and
called out to them that I was a friend, at the same time holding
out my passport stick. By the way, the efficacy of this talisman
varied according to the tribes. Yamba could make neither head nor
tail of these people; they jabbered in a language quite
unintelligible to either of us. I then reverted to the inevitable
sign language, giving them to understand that I wished to sleep
with them a night or two; but they still continued to brandish
their spears ominously. Yamba presently whispered in my ear that
we had better not trouble them any further, as they were evidently
inclined to be pugnacious. This was a very exceptional rencontre,
because I usually induced the natives to sit down and parley with
me, and then I would produce my mysterious stick. In the event of
this proving of little account, both I and Bruno would without a
moment's hesitation plunge into our performance. It always began
with a few somersaults. Bruno needed no looking after. He knew
his business, and went through his own repertoire with great energy
and excitement. The accompanying barks were probably involuntary,
but they were a great help in astonishing and impressing the
natives.

Even in this instance I was unwilling to retire defeated; so
suddenly pulling out one of my little reed whistles capable of
producing two notes, I commenced a violent jig to my own "music."
The effect on the scowling and ferocious-looking blacks was quite
magical. They immediately threw down their spears and laughed
uproariously at my vigorous antics. I danced till I was quite
tired, but managed to wind up the entertainment with a few
somersaults, which impressed them vastly.

I had conquered. When I had finished they advanced and greeted me
most heartily, and from that moment we were friends. I had
completely done away with their enmity by my simple efforts to
amuse them. For the most part, this was my invariable experience.
The natives were the easiest people in the world to interest and
amuse, and when once I had succeeded in winning them in this way,
they were our warmest friends. This band of warriors took us back
to their camping-ground, some miles away, and actually gave a great
feast in my honour that evening, chanting the wonderful things they
had seen until far into the night. The place where I met these
blacks was a broken, stony, and hilly country, which, however,
abounded in roots and snakes--especially snakes. My hosts had
evidently had a recent battue, or fire hunt, for they had a most
extraordinary stock of food. So completely had I won them over,
that I actually hung up my bow and arrows along with their spears
before retiring to rest. The expression "hung up" may seem
curious, so I hasten to explain that the natives tied up their
spears in bunches and placed them on the scrub bushes.

Next morning I brought down a few hawks on the wing with my bow and
arrows, and then the amazement of the natives was quite comical to
witness. Shooting arrows in a straight line astonished them
somewhat, but the more bombastic among them would say, "Why I can
do that," and taking his woomerah he would hurl a spear a long
distance. Not one of them, however, was able TO THROW A SPEAR
UPWARDS, so I scored over even the most redoubtable chiefs. It may
be well to explain, that birds are always to be found hovering
about a native camp; they act as scavengers, and their presence in
the sky is always an indication that an encampment is somewhere in
the vicinity. These birds are especially on the spot when the
blacks set fire to the bush and organise a big battue. At such
times the rats and lizards rush out into the open, and the hawks
reap a fine harvest.

My natives are referred to as "blacks," or "black-fellows," but
they are not really BLACK, their hue being rather a brown, ranging
from a very dark brown, indeed, to almost the lightness of a Malay.
I found the coast tribes lightest in hue, while the inland natives
were very much darker. Here I may mention that after having been
on my way south for some months, I began to notice a total
difference between the natives I met and my own people in the
Cambridge Gulf district. The tribes I was now encountering daily
were inferior in physique, and had inferior war implements; I do
not remember that they had any shields.

The blacks I had whistled and jigged before were, perhaps, the
ugliest of all the aborigines I had met, which was saying a very
great deal. The men were very short, averaging little more than
five feet, with low foreheads and hideously repulsive features. I
noticed, however, that the animals they had for food seemed very
much fatter than similar creatures farther north. One thing I was
grateful to these people for was honey, which I urgently required
for medicinal purposes. They were very sorry when we left them,
and a small band of warriors accompanied us on our first day's
march. We were then handed on from tribe to tribe, smoke signals
being sent up to inform the next "nation" that friendly strangers
were coming.

Nevertheless, I gradually became uneasy. We were evidently getting
into a country where the greatest of our wonders could not save us
from the hostility of the natives. We presently encountered
another tribe, who not only at first refused to accept our friendly
overtures, but even threatened to attack us before I had time to
consider another plan. I tried the effect of my whistle, but even
this failed in its effect; and to my alarm, before I could give
them an exhibition of my acrobatic powers they had hurled one or
two war spears, which whizzed by unpleasantly close to my head.
Without further ado, well knowing that vacillation meant death, I
sent half-a-dozen arrows in succession amongst them, taking care,
however, to aim very low, so as not unduly to injure my opponents.

The hostile blacks came to a sudden halt, as they found the
mysterious spears flying round them, and then watching my
opportunity, I dashed forward right among them, and turned over and
over in a series of rapid and breathless somersaults.

I had conquered again. Do not blame the natives, for with them
every stranger is an enemy until he has proved himself a friend.
Hence it is that when white men suddenly appear among these natives
they run imminent risk of being promptly speared, unless they can
make it quite clear that no harm is intended.

Bruno ran the same risk. Incident after incident of this kind
happened almost daily, and although they involved some peril, yet
they came as a welcome break when life on the march grew too
monotonous. Deliberate treachery was very rare among the natives I
came across, but it was by no means altogether absent; and,
notwithstanding all my knowledge, my wife and I were sometimes in
serious danger of our lives.

One day we came upon a tribe as usual, and after the customary
preliminaries were gone through they became apparently quite
friendly. I was careful never unduly to exhibit my steel tomahawk,
which I always kept in a kind of sheath or covering of opossum-
skin, so that it might not arouse envy; a second motive for this
was to prevent its chafing my body. I never used either stiletto
or tomahawk unless absolutely necessary, reserving both for great
emergencies. I knew they could never be replaced, so it behoved me
jealously to guard such precious possessions. I never even used my
stiletto at meal-times, nor even in cutting up animals for food,
lest the blood should rust the blade and eat it away. Many times
already had it come in useful at close quarters--notably in the
case of the fight with the alligator and the killing of the
cannibal chief who owned the white girls.

The chief of the tribe I am discussing saw me using my tomahawk one
day, and eagerly asked me to make over the implement to him as a
gift. I courteously told him that I could not do so. He seemed
somewhat disappointed at my refusal, but did not appear to bear me
any ill-feeling in consequence. The blacks, by the way, seldom cut
down trees except for spears, and the reason for this is very
curious. They imagine the tree to be a thing of life, and when
they are forced to cut one down, quite a religious ceremony is
held, and profuse apologies made to the tree for taking its life.

They never even take a strip of bark right round, knowing that this
will kill the tree; they always leave a little bit of connecting
bark.

As some reason for the refusal of my tomahawk was expected, I told
the chief that it was part of my life--indeed, part of my very
being, which was perfectly true. I also worked on the chief's
superstitions, assuring him earnestly that if I parted with the
weapon it would so anger the spirits as to bring about a terrible
curse in the country. The tomahawk I declared was a direct gift to
me from the Sun itself, so how could I part with it? I had thought
of offering it, curses and all, but the risk of prompt acceptance
was too great.

That night Yamba warned me that trouble was impending. For myself
I never knew, and I suppose she read the signs among the men and
got certain definite information from the women. We therefore
slept some miles away from the encampment in a makeshift gunyah
built of boughs, in front of which the usual fire was made. After
we had retired to rest, Yamba woke me and said that she detected
strange noises. I immediately sprang to my feet and looked all
round our little shelter. It was much too dark for me to see
anything distinctly, but I fancied I heard retreating footsteps.
Utterly at a loss to account for this strange occurrence, and
fearing that some danger threatened us, Yamba and I covered in the
front of the shelter, and then quietly retired into the bush, where
we lay hidden without a fire until morning. When we returned to
our shelter it was broad daylight, and, as we half expected, we
found three formidable spears buried in the sides of our little
hut. Three others were stuck in the ground near the fire, clearly
proving that an attempt had been made upon our lives during the
night. On examining the spears we found they most certainly
belonged to the tribe we had left the previous day. The spear-
heads were of a different kind of flint from anything I had
previously seen, being dark green in colour; and they were
extremely sharp. The individuality of the different tribes is
strongly and decidedly marked in the make of their spears. Our
treacherous hosts had evidently determined to obtain the coveted
tomahawk by force, and when they reached the spot where they
supposed we lay (they could not see into the interior from the
front), they hurled their spears in the hope of killing us, but did
not investigate the result, they being such arrant cowards at
night. Remember, they had actually ventured at night into the bush
in spite of their inveterate fear of "the spirits."

The precaution adopted on this occasion was always followed by us
when we had any real doubt about the natives; that is to say, we
built a "dummy" gunyah of boughs, which we were supposed to sleep
in; and we covered in the front so as our possible assailants could
not easily detect our absence. We would then creep away into the
bush or hide behind a tree, and, of course, would light no fire.

Many times was that same tomahawk coveted. You see, the natives
would watch me cutting boughs with it, or procuring honey by
cutting down branches with an ease that caused them to despise
their own rude stone axes.

The case of treachery I have just described was not an isolated
one, but I am bound to say such occurrences were rare in the
interior--although more or less frequent about the western shores
of the Gulf of Carpentaria. At any rate, this was my experience.

During our journey from my home to the shores of the Gulf, I
remember coming across a flat country from which the natives had
apparently disappeared altogether. When we did come upon them,
however, in the high ground I was probably guilty of some little
breach of etiquette, such as LOOKING at the women--(for many
reasons I always studied the various types in a tribe)--and Yamba
and I were often in peril of our lives on this account. As a rule,
however, safety lay in the fact that the natives are terribly
afraid of darkness, and they believe the spirits of the dead roam
abroad in the midnight hours.

Month after month we continued our progress in a southerly
direction, although, as I have said before, we often turned north-
east and even due west, following the valleys when stopped by the
ranges--where, by the way, we usually found turkeys in great
numbers. We had water-bags made out of the skins of kangaroos and
wallabies, and would camp wherever possible close to a native well,
where we knew food was to be found in plenty.

At this period I noticed that the more easterly I went, the more
ranges I encountered; whilst the somewhat dreary and mostly
waterless lowland lay to the west. We would sometimes fail to
obtain water for a couple of days; but this remark does not apply
to the mountainous regions. Often the wells were quite dry and
food painfully scarce; this would be in a region of sand and
spinifex.

When I beheld an oasis of palms and ti-trees I would make for it,
knowing that if no water existed there, it could easily be got by
digging. The physical conditions of the country would change
suddenly, and my indefatigable wife was frequently at fault in her
root-hunting expeditions. Fortunately, animal life was very seldom
scarce. On the whole, we were extremely fortunate in the matter of
water,--although the natives often told me that the low wastes of
sand and spinifex were frequently so dry, that it was impossible
even for them to cross. What astonished me greatly was that the
line of demarcation between an utter desert and, say, a fine forest
was almost as sharply marked as if it had been drawn with a rule.
A stretch of delightfully wooded country would follow the dreary
wastes, and this in turn would give place to fairly high mountain
ranges.

Once, during a temporary stay among one of the tribes, the chief
showed me some very interesting caves among the low limestone
ranges that were close by. It was altogether a very rugged
country. Always on the look-out for something to interest and
amuse me, and always filled with a strange, vague feeling that
something MIGHT turn up unexpectedly which would enable me to
return to civilisation, I at once determined to explore these
caves; and here I had a very strange and thrilling adventure.

Whilst roaming among the caves I came across a pit measuring
perhaps twenty feet in diameter and eight feet or nine feet in
depth. It had a sandy bottom; and as I saw a curious-looking
depression in one corner, I jumped down to investigate it, leaving
Bruno barking at the edge of the pit, because I knew I should have
some trouble in hoisting him up again if I allowed him to accompany
me. I carried a long stick, much longer than a waddy; perhaps it
was a yam-stick--I cannot remember. At any rate, just as I was
about to probe a mysterious-looking hole, I beheld with alarm and
amazement the ugly head of a large black snake suddenly thrust out
at me from a dark mass, which I presently found was the decayed
stump of a tree. I fell back as far as possible, and then saw that
the reptile had quite uncoiled itself from the stem, and was coming
straight at me. I promptly dealt it a violent blow on the body,
just below that point where it raised its head from the ground. No
sooner had I done this than another dark and hissing head came
charging in my direction. Again I struck at the reptile's body and
overpowered it. Next came a third, and a fourth, and fifth, and
then I realised that the whole of the dead stump was simply one
living mass of coiled snakes, which were probably hibernating. One
after another they came at me; of course, had they all come at
once, no power on earth could have saved me. I wondered how long
this weird contest would be kept up; and again and again between
the attacks I tried to escape, but had scarcely taken an upward
step when another huge reptile was upon me.

I was aware that Bruno was running backwards and forwards at the
edge of the pit all this time, barking frantically in a most
excited state. He knew perfectly well what snakes were, having
frequently been bitten. I owe my life on this occasion solely to
the fact that the snakes were in a torpid state, and came at me one
at a time instead of altogether. It was the cold season, about the
month of June or July. It is impossible at such moments to take
any account of time, so I cannot say how long the battle lasted.
At length, however, I was able to count the slain. I did this
partly out of curiosity and partly because I wanted to impress the
natives--to boast, if you prefer that phrase. Modesty, where
modesty is unknown, would have been absurd, if not fatal to my
prestige. Well, in all there were SIXTY-EIGHT BLACK SNAKES,
AVERAGING ABOUT FOUR FEET SIX INCHES IN LENGTH.

I do not remember that I was fatigued; I think my excitement was
too great for any such feeling to have made itself felt. When at
length I was able to get away, I and Bruno rushed off to the native
camp a few miles away, and brought back the blacks to see what I
had done. The spectacle threw them into a state of great
amazement, and from that time on I was looked upon with the
greatest admiration. The story of how I had killed the snakes soon
spread abroad among the various tribes for miles round, and was
chanted by many tribes, the means of inter-communication being the
universal smoke-signals. One important consequence of this
adventure was that I was everywhere received with the very greatest
respect.

It may be mentioned here that no matter how unfriendly tribes may
be, they always exchange news by means of smoke-signals. I may
also say that at corroborees and such-like festivities a vast
amount of poetic boasting and exaggeration is indulged in, each
"hero" being required to give practical demonstrations of the
things he has seen, the doughty deeds he has done, &c. He warms up
as he goes along, and magnifies its importance in a ridiculous way.
It amuses me to this day to recall my own preposterous songs about
how I killed the two whales WITH MY STILETTO, and other droll
pretensions. But, ah! I was serious enough then!

In the mountainous region where I encountered the snakes, I also
met a native who actually spoke English. He called himself either
Peter or Jacky Jacky--I cannot remember which; but in any case it
was a name given him by pearlers. He had once lived with some
pearlers near the north-west coast of Western Australia--probably
on the De Grey River. His story was quite unprecedented among the
blacks, and he gave me many terrible instances of the perfidy shown
by white adventurers towards the unfortunate natives. The precise
locality where I met this man was probably near Mount Farewell,
close to the border-line of South Australia and Western Australia.
Well, then, Jacky Jacky--to give him the name which lingers most
tenaciously in my mind--was persuaded to join in a pearling
expedition, together with a number of his companions. They all
accepted engagements from the whites, on the distinct understanding
that they were to be away about three moons. Instead, they were
practically kidnapped by force, and treated--or rather ill-treated-
-as slaves for several years.

First of all, the poor creatures were taken to an island in the
vicinity of North-West Cape, off which the pearling fleet lay.
During the voyage to the pearling grounds the water supply on board
ran short, and so great was the suffering among the blacks--they
were kept on the shortest of short commons, as you may suppose--
that they plotted to steal a cask of the precious fluid for their
own use. The vessel was quite a small one, and the water was kept
in the hold. But the two or three whites who formed the crew
forcibly prevented the black-fellows from carrying out their plan.
This gave rise to much discontent, and eventually the blacks, in
desperation, openly rose and mutinied. Arming themselves with
heavy pieces of firewood they proceeded to attack their masters,
and some of them succeeded in getting at the water, in spite of the
whites, by simply knocking the bungs out of the casks. The captain
thereupon went down to parley with them, but was met by a shower of
blows from the heavy sticks I have just mentioned. Half-stunned,
he dashed out of the hold, got his musket, and fired down among the
mutineers, hitting one black-fellow in the throat, and killing him
instantly. Far from infuriating the rest, as would most certainly
have been the case with any other race, this course of action
terrified the blacks, and they barricaded themselves down below.
Eventually the whites again sought them and made peace, the blacks
promising to conduct themselves more obediently in the future. It
may here be said that the ship had called specially at Jacky
Jacky's home on the coast to kidnap the natives.

On arriving at the pearling settlement, the blacks found themselves
among a number of other unfortunate creatures like themselves, and
all were compelled to go out in pearling vessels just as the
exigencies of the industry required. Jacky Jacky himself was kept
at this work for upwards of three years; and he told me many
terrible stories of the white man's indescribable cruelty and
villainy. He and his companions were invariably chained up during
the night and driven about like cattle in the daytime. Many of his
mates at the pearling settlement had been kidnapped from their
homes in a cruel and contemptible manner, and herded off like sheep
by men on horseback armed with formidable weapons.

Their sufferings were very great because, of course, they were
totally unused to work of any kind. The enforced exile from home
and the dreary compulsory labour made the life far worse than death
for these primitive children of Nature. Then, again, they were
exiled from their wives, who would, of course, be appropriated in
their absence--another tormenting thought. They were frequently
beaten with sticks, and when they attempted to run away they were
speared as enemies by other tribes; whilst, in the event of their
escaping altogether, they would not have been recognised even when
they returned to their own homes. One day Jacky Jacky's ship came
into a little bay on the mainland for water, and then my
enterprising friend, watching his opportunity, struck inland for
home and liberty, accompanied by several other companions in
misery. These latter the coast natives promptly speared, but Jacky
Jacky escaped, thanks probably to his knowledge of the white man's
wiles. He soon reached the more friendly mountain tribes in the
interior, where he was received as a man and a brother. You see,
he had stolen a revolver from his late masters, and this mysterious
weapon created great terror among his new friends. Altogether he
posed as quite a great man, particularly when his story became
known. He worked his way from tribe to tribe, until at length he
got to the ranges where I met him--quite a vast distance from the
coast.

Many parts of the extensive country I traversed on my southward
journey, after the death of the girls, were exceedingly rich in
minerals, and particularly in gold, both alluvial and in quartz.
As I was making my way one day through a granite country along the
banks of a creek, I beheld some reddish stones, which I at once
pounced upon and found to be beautiful rubies. Having no means of
carrying them, however, and as they were of no value whatever to
me, I simply threw them away again, and now merely record the fact.
I also came across large quantities of alluvial tin, but this,
again, was not of the slightest use, any more than it had been when
I found it in very large quantities in the King Leopold Ranges.
The test I applied to see whether it really WAS tin was to scratch
it with my knife. Even when large quantities of native gold lay at
my feet, I hardly stooped to pick it up, save as a matter of
curiosity. Why should I? What use was it to me? As I have stated
over and over again in public, I would have given all the gold for
a few ounces of salt, which I needed so sorely. Afterwards,
however, I made use of the precious metal in a very practical
manner, but of this more hereafter. At one place--probably near
the Warburton Ranges in Western Australia--I picked up an immense
piece of quartz, which was so rich that it appeared to be one mass
of virgin gold; and when on showing it to Yamba I told her that in
my country men were prepared to go to any part of the world, and
undergo many terrible hardships to obtain it, she thought at first
I was joking. Indeed, the thing amused her ever after, as it did
the rest of my people. I might also mention that up in the then
little-known Kimberley district, many of the natives weighted their
spears with pure gold. I must not omit to mention that natives
never poison their spear-heads. I only found the nuggets, big and
little, near the creeks during and after heavy rains; and I might
mention that having with some difficulty interested Yamba in the
subject, she was always on the look-out for the tell-tale specks
and gleams. In some of the ranges, too, I found the opal in large
and small quantities, but soon discovered that the material was too
light and brittle for spear-heads, to which curious use I essayed
to put this beautiful stone. Talking about spear-heads, in the
ranges where I met Jacky Jacky there was a quarry of that kind of
stone which was used for the making of war and other implements.
It was very much worked, and as you may suppose was a valuable
possession to the tribe in whose territory it was situated. The
stone was a kind of flint, extremely hard and capable of being made
very sharp, and retaining its edge. Natives from far and near came
to barter for the stone with shells, and ornaments which these
inland tribes did not possess. The method of getting out the stone
was by building fires over it, and then when it had become red-hot
throwing large and small quantities of water upon it in an
amazingly dexterous way. The stone would immediately be split and
riven exactly in the manner required.

My very first discovery of gold was made in some crevices near a
big creek, which had cut its way through deep layers of
conglomerate hundreds of feet thick. This country was an elevated
plateau, intersected by deeply cut creeks, which had left the
various strata quite bare, with curious concave recesses in which
the natives took shelter during the wet season. One of the nuggets
I picked up in the creek I have just mentioned weighed several
pounds, and was three or four inches long; it was rather more than
an inch in thickness. This nugget I placed on a block of wood and
beat out with a stone, until I could twist it easily with my
fingers, when I fashioned it into a fillet as an ornament for
Yamba's hair. This she continued to wear for many years
afterwards, but the rude golden bracelets and anklets I also made
for her she gave away to the first children we met.

In many of the rocky districts the reefs were evidently extremely
rich; but I must confess I rarely troubled to explore them. In
other regions the gold-bearing quartz was actually a curse, our
path being covered with sharp pebbles of quartz and slate, which
made ever step forward a positive agony. Wild ranges adjoined that
conglomerate country, which, as you have probably gathered, is
extremely difficult to traverse. Certainly it would be impossible
for camels.

CHAPTER XIV

An eventful meeting--Civilisation at last--Rage and despair--A
white man's tracks--Yamba's find--Good Samaritans--Bitter
disappointment--Bruno as guardian--A heavy burden--A strange
invitation--The mysterious monster--"Come, and be our chief"--I
discover a half-caste girl--The fate of Leichhardt--"In the valley
of the shadow"--A sane white man--Gibson is dying--Vain efforts--
Unearthly voices.

When we had been on the march southwards about nine months there
came one of the most important incidents in my life, and one which
completely changed my plans. One day we came across a party of
about eight natives--all young fellows--who were on a punitive
expedition; and as they were going in our direction (they overtook
us going south), we walked along with them for the sake of their
company. The country through which we were passing at that time is
a dreary, undulating expanse of spinifex desert, with a few
scattered and weird-looking palms, a little scrub, and scarcely any
signs of animal life. The further east we went, the better grew
the country; but, on the other hand, when we went westward we got
farther and farther into the dreary wastes. At the spot I have in
my mind ranges loomed to the south--a sight which cheered me
considerably, for somehow I thought I should soon strike
civilisation.

Had not the blacks we were with taken us to some wells we would
have fared very badly indeed in this region, as no water could be
found except by digging. I noticed that the blacks looked for a
hollow depression marked by a certain kind of palm, and then dug a
hole in the gravel and sandy soil with their hands and yam-sticks.
They usually came upon water a few feet down, but the distance
often varied very considerably.

We were crossing the summit of a little hill, where we had rested
for a breathing space, when, without the least warning I suddenly
beheld, a few hundred yards away, in the valley beneath, FOUR WHILE
MEN ON HORSEBACK! I think they had a few spare horses with them,
but, of course, all that I saw were the four white men. I
afterwards learned that, according to our respective routes, we
would have crossed their track, but they would not have crossed
ours. They were going west. They wore the regulation dress of the
Australian--broad sombrero hats, flannel shirts, and rather dirty
white trousers, with long riding-boots. I remember they were
moving along at a wretched pace, which showed that their horses
were nearly spent. Once again, notwithstanding all previous bitter
lessons, my uncontrollable excitement was my undoing.
"Civilisation at last!" I screamed to myself, and then, throwing
discretion to the winds, I gave the war-whoop of the blacks and
rushed madly forward, yelling myself hoarse, and supremely
oblivious of the fantastic and savage appearance I must have
presented--with my long hair flowing wildly out behind, and my skin
practically indistinguishable from that of an ordinary black-
fellow. My companions, I afterwards discovered, swept after me as
in a furious charge, FOR THEY THOUGHT I WANTED TO ANNIHILATE THE
WHITE MEN AT SIGHT. Naturally, the spectacle unnerved the
pioneers, and they proceeded to repel the supposed attack by firing
a volley into the midst of us. Their horses were terrified, and
reared and plunged in a dangerous manner, thereby greatly adding to
the excitement of that terrible moment. The roar of the volley and
the whizz of the shots brought me to my senses, however, and
although I was not hit, I promptly dropped to the ground amidst the
long grass, as also did Yamba and the other blacks. Like a flash
my idiotic blunder came home to me, and then I was ready to dash
out again alone to explain; but Yamba forcibly prevented me from
exposing myself to what she considered certain death.

The moment the horsemen saw us all disappear in the long grass they
wheeled round, changing their course a little more to the south--
they had been going west, so far as I can remember--and their
caravan crawled off in a manner that suggested that the horses were
pretty well done for. On our part, we at once made for the ranges
that lay a little to the south. Here we parted with our friends
the blacks, who made off in an east-south-easterly direction.

The dominant feeling within me as I saw the white men ride off was
one of uncontrollable rage and mad despair. I was apparently a
pariah, with the hand of every white man--when I met one--against
me. "Well," I thought, "if civilisation is not prepared to receive
me, I will wait until it is." Disappointment after disappointment,
coupled with the incessant persuasions of Yamba and my people
generally, were gradually reconciling me to savage life; and slowly
but relentlessly the thought crept into my mind that I WAS DOOMED
NEVER TO REACH CIVILISATION AGAIN, and so perhaps it would be
better for me to resign myself to the inevitable, and stay where I
was. I would turn back, I thought, with intense bitterness and
heart-break, and make a home among the tribes in the hills, where
we would be safe from the white man and his murderous weapons. And
I actually DID turn back, accompanied, of course, by Yamba. We did
not strike due north again, as it was our intention to find a
permanent home somewhere among the ranges, at any rate for the
ensuing winter. It was out of the question to camp where we were,
because it was much too cold; and besides Yamba had much difficulty
in finding roots.

Several days later, as we were plodding steadily along, away from
the ranges that I have spoken of as lying to the south, Yamba,
whose eyes were usually everywhere, suddenly gave a cry and stood
still, pointing to some peculiar and unmistakable footprints in the
sandy ground. These, she confidently assured me, were those of a
white man WHO HAD LOST HIS REASON, and was wandering aimlessly
about that fearful country. It was, of course, easy for her to
know the white man's tracks when she saw them, but I was curious
how she could be certain that the wanderer had lost his reason.
She pointed out to me that, in the first place, the tracks had been
made by some one wearing boots, and as the footprints straggled
about in a most erratic manner, it was clearly evident that the
wearer could not be sane.

Even at this time, be it remembered, I was burning with rage
against the whites, and so I decided to follow the tracks and find
the individual who was responsible for them. But do not be under
any misapprehension. My intentions were not philanthropic, but
revengeful. I had become a black-fellow myself now, and was
consumed with a black-fellow's murderous passion. At one time I
thought I would follow the whole party, and kill them in the
darkness with my stiletto when opportunity offered.

The new tracks we had come upon told me plainly that the party had
separated, and were therefore now in my power. I say these things
because I do not want any one to suppose I followed up the tracks
of the lost man with the intention of rendering him any assistance.
For nearly two days Yamba and I followed the tracks, which went in
curious circles always trending to the left. At length we began to
come upon various articles that had apparently been thrown away by
the straggler. First of all, we found part of a letter that was
addressed to some one (I think) in Adelaide; but of this I would
not be absolutely certain. What I do remember was that the
envelope bore the postmark of Ti Tree Gully, S.A.

The writer of that letter was evidently a woman, who, so far as I
can remember, wrote congratulating her correspondent upon the fact
that he was joining an expedition which was about to traverse the
entire continent. I fancy she said she was glad of this for his
own sake, for it would no doubt mean much to him. She wished him
all kinds of glory and prosperity, and wound up by assuring him
that none would be better pleased on his return than she.

The country through which these tracks led us was for the most part
a mere dry, sandy waste, covered with the formidable spinifex or
porcupine grass. Yamba walked in front peering at the tracks.

Presently she gave a little cry, and when she turned to me I saw
that she had in her hand the sombrero hat of an Australian pioneer.
A little farther on we found a shirt, and then a pair of trousers.
We next came upon a belt and a pair of dilapidated boots.

At length, on reaching the crest of a sandy hillock, we suddenly
beheld the form of a naked white man lying face downwards in the
sand below us. As you may suppose, we simply swooped down upon
him; but on reaching him my first impression was that HE WAS DEAD!
His face was slightly turned to the right, his arms outstretched,
and his fingers dug convulsively in the sand. I am amused now when
I remember how great was our emotion on approaching this
unfortunate. My first thought in turning the man over on to his
back, and ascertaining that at last he breathed, was one of great
joy and thankfulness.

"Thank God," I said to myself, "I have at last found a white
companion--one who will put me in touch once more with the great
world outside." The burning rage that consumed me (you know my
object in following the tracks) died away in pity as I thought of
the terrible privations and sufferings this poor fellow must have
undergone before being reduced to this state. My desire for
revenge was forgotten, and my only thought now was to nurse back to
health the unconscious man.

First of all I moistened his mouth with the water which Yamba
always carried with her in a skin bag, and then I rubbed him
vigorously, hoping to restore animation. I soon exhausted the
contents of the bag, however, and immediately Yamba volunteered to
go off and replenish it. She was absent an hour or more, I think,
during which time I persisted in my massage treatment--although so
far I saw no signs of returning consciousness on the part of my
patient.

When Yamba returned with the water, I tried to make the prostrate
man swallow some of it, and I even smeared him with the blood of an
opossum which my thoughtful helpmate had brought back with her.
But for a long time all my efforts were in vain, and then, dragging
him to the foot of a grass-tree, I propped him up slightly against
it, wetted his shirt with water and wound it round his throat.
Meanwhile Yamba threw water on him and rubbed him vigorously.

At last he uttered a sound--half groan, half sigh (it thrilled me
through and through); and I noticed that he was able to swallow a
few drops of water. The gloom of night was now descending on that
strange wilderness of sand and spinifex, so we prepared to stay
there with our helpless charge until morning. Yamba and I took it
in turns to watch over him and keep his mouth moistened. By
morning he had so far revived that he opened his eyes and looked at
me. How eagerly had I anticipated that look, and how bitter was my
disappointment when I found that it was a mere vacant stare in
which was no kind of recognition! Ever hopeful, however, I
attributed the vacant look to the terrible nature of his
sufferings. I was burning to ply him with all manner of questions
as to who he was, where he had come from, and what news he had of
the outside world; but I restrained myself by a great effort, and
merely persevered in my endeavours to restore him to complete
animation. When the morning was pretty well advanced the man was
able to sit up; and in the course of a few days he was even able to
accompany us to a water-hole, where we encamped, and stayed until
he had practically recovered--or, at any rate, was able to get
about.

But, you may be asking, all this time, did the man himself say
nothing? Indeed, he said much, and I hung upon every syllable that
fell from his lips, but, to my indescribable chagrin, it was a mere
voluble jargon of statements, which simply baffled and puzzled me
and caused me pain. Our charge would stare at us stolidly, and
then remark, in a vulgar Cockney voice, that he was quite SURE we
were going the wrong way. By this time, I should mention, we had
re-clothed him in his trousers and shirt, for he had obviously
suffered terribly from the burning sun.

Many days passed away before I would admit to myself that this
unhappy creature was a hopeless imbecile. I was never absent from
his side day or night, hoping and waiting for the first sane
remark. Soon, however, the bitter truth was borne in upon us that,
instead of having found salvation and comfort in the society of a
white man, we were merely saddled with a ghastly encumbrance, and
were far worse off than before.

We now set off in the direction of our old tracks, but were not
able to travel very fast on account of the still feeble condition
of the white stranger. Poor creature! I pitied him from the
bottom of my heart. It seemed so terrible for a man to lapse into
a state of imbecility after having survived the dreadful hardships
and adventures that had befallen him. I tried over and over again
to elicit sensible replies to my questions as to where he came
from; but he simply gibbered and babbled like a happy baby. I
coaxed; I threatened; I persuaded; but it was all in vain. I soon
found he was a regular millstone round my neck--particularly when
we were on the "walk-about." He would suddenly take it into his
head to sit down for hours at a stretch, and nothing would induce
him to move until he did so of his own accord.

Curiously enough, Bruno became very greatly attached to him, and
was his constant companion. Of this I was extremely glad, because
it relieved me of much anxiety. You will understand what I mean
when I tell you that, in spite of all our endeavours, our
mysterious companion would go off by himself away from our track;
and at such times were it not for Bruno--whom he would follow
anywhere--we would often have had much trouble in bringing him back
again. Or he might have been speared before a strange tribe could
have discovered his "sacred" (idiotic) condition.

At length we reached a large lagoon, on the shores of which we
stayed for about two years. This lagoon formed part of a big river
at flood-time, but the connecting stretches of water had long since
dried up for many miles both above and below it. The question may
be asked, Why did I settle down here? The answer is, that our
white companion had become simply an intolerable burden. He
suffered from the most exhausting attacks of dysentery, and was
quite helpless. It was, of course, my intention to have continued
my march northward to my old home in the Cambridge Gulf district,
because by this time I had quite made up my mind that, by living
there quietly, I stood a better chance of escape to civilisation by
means of some vessel than I did by attempting to traverse the
entire continent. This latter idea was now rendered impossible, on
account of the poor, helpless creature I had with me. Indeed, so
great an anxiety was he to me and Yamba, that we decided we could
go nowhere, either north or south, until he had become more robust
in health. Needless to say, I never intrusted him with a weapon.

I had found a sheath-knife belonging to him, but I afterwards gave
it away to a friendly chief, who was immensely proud of it.

In making for the shores of the big lagoon we had to traverse some
extremely difficult country. In the first place, we encountered a
series of very broken ridges, which in parts proved so hard to
travel over that I almost gave up in despair. At times there was
nothing for it but to carry on my back the poor, feeble creature
who, I felt, was now intrusted to my charge and keeping. I
remember that native chiefs frequently suggested that I should
leave him, but I never listened to this advice for a moment.
Perhaps I was not altogether disinterested, because already my
demented companion was looked upon as a kind of minor deity by the
natives. I may here remark that I only knew two idiots during the
whole of my sojourn. One of these had fallen from a tree through a
branch breaking, and he was actually maintained at the expense of
the tribe, revered by all, if not actually worshipped.

But the journey I was just describing was a fearful trial.
Sometimes we had to traverse a wilderness of rocks which stood
straight up and projected at sharp angles, presenting at a distance
the appearance of a series of stony terraces which were all but
impassable. For a long time our charge wore both shirt and
trousers, but eventually we had to discard the latter--or perhaps
it would be more correct to say, that the garment was literally
torn to shreds by the spinifex. At one time I had it in my mind to
make him go naked like myself, but on consideration I thought it
advisable to allow him to retain his shirt, at any rate for a time,
as his skin was not so inured to the burning sun as my own.

We had to provide him with food, which he accepted, of course,
without gratitude. Then Yamba had always to build him a shelter
wherever we camped, so that far from being an invaluable assistance
and a companion he was a burden--so great that, in moments of
depression, I regretted not having left him to die. As it was, he
would often have gone to his death in the great deserts were it not
for the ever-vigilant Bruno. Still, I always thought that some day
I would be able to take the man back to civilisation, and there
find out who he was and whence he had come. And I hoped that
people would think I had been kind to him. At first I thought the
unfortunate man was suffering from sunstroke, and that in course of
time he would regain his reason. I knew I could do very little
towards his recovery except by feeding him well. Fortunately the
natives never called upon him to demonstrate before them the
extraordinary powers which I attributed to him. Indeed his strange
gestures, antics, and babblings were sufficient in themselves to
convince the blacks that he was a creature to be reverenced. The
remarkable thing about him was that he never seemed to take notice
of any one, whether it were myself, Yamba, or a native chief. As a
rule, his glance would "go past me," so to speak, and he was for
ever wandering aimlessly about, chattering and gesticulating.

We placed no restrictions upon him, and supplied all his wants,
giving him Bruno as a guide and protector. I must say that Yamba
did not like the stranger, but for my sake she was wonderfully
patient with him.

It was whilst living on the shores of this lagoon that I received a
very extraordinary commission from a neighbouring tribe. Not long
after my arrival I heard a curious legend, to the effect that away
on the other side of the lagoon there was an "evil spirit"
infesting the waters, which terrified the women when they went down
to fill their skins. Well, naturally enough, the fame of the white
man and his doings soon got abroad in that country, and I was one
day invited by the tribe in question to go and rid them of the evil
spirit. Accordingly, accompanied by Yamba, and leaving Bruno to
look after our helpless companion, we set off in response to the
invitation, and in a few days reached the camp of the blacks who
had sent for me. The lagoon was here surrounded by a finely-wooded
country, slightly mountainous. Perhaps I ought to have stated that
I had already gleaned from the mail-men, or runners, who had been
sent with the message, that the waters of the lagoon in the
vicinity of the camp had long been disturbed by some huge fish or
monster, whose vagaries were a constant source of terror. The
dreaded creature would come quite close inshore, and then endeavour
to "spear" the women with what was described as a long weapon
carried in its mouth. This, then, was the evil spirit of the
lagoon, and I confess it puzzled me greatly. I thought it probable
that it was merely a large fish which had descended in a rain-cloud
among countless millions of others of smaller species. I looked
upon the commission, however, as a good opportunity for displaying
my powers and impressing the natives in that country--I always had
the utmost confidence in myself. Before setting out I had spent
some little time in completing my preparations for the capture of
the strange monster.

The very afternoon I arrived I went down to the shores of the
lagoon with all the natives, and had not long to wait before I
beheld what was apparently a huge fish careering wildly and
erratically hither and thither in the water. On seeing it the
natives appeared tremendously excited, and they danced and yelled,
hoping thereby to drive the creature away. My first move was in
the nature of an experiment--merely with the object of getting a
better view of the monster. I endeavoured to angle for it with a
hook made out of a large piece of sharpened bone. I then produced
large nets made out of strips of green hide and stringy-bark rope.
Placing these on the shores of the lagoon, I directed Yamba to
build a little bark canoe just big enough to hold her and me.

At length we embarked and paddled out a few hundred yards, when we
threw the net overboard. It had previously been weighted, and now
floated so that it promptly expanded to its utmost capacity. No
sooner had we done this than the invisible monster charged down
upon us, making a tremendous commotion in the water. Neither Yamba
nor I waited for the coming impact, but threw ourselves overboard
just as the creature's white sawlike weapon showed itself close to
the surface only a few yards away. We heard a crash, and then,
looking backward as we swam, saw that the long snout of the fish
had actually pierced both sides of the canoe, whilst his body was
evidently entangled in the meshes of the net. So desperate had
been the charge that our little craft was now actually a serious
encumbrance to the monster. It struggled madly to free itself,
leaping almost clear of the water and lashing the placid lagoon
into a perfect maelstrom.

Several times the canoe was lifted high out of the water; and then
the fish would try to drag it underneath, but was prevented by its
great buoyancy. In the meantime Yamba and I swam safely ashore,
and watched the struggles of the "evil spirit" from the shore,
among a crowd of frantic natives.

We waited until the efforts of the fish grew feebler, and then put
off in another bark canoe (the celerity with which Yamba made one
was something amazing), when I easily despatched the now weakened
creature with my tomahawk. I might here mention that this was
actually the first time that these inland savages had seen a canoe
or boat of any description, so that naturally the two I launched
occasioned endless amazement.

Afterwards, by the way, I tried to describe to them what the sea
was like, but had to give it up, because it only confused them, and
was quite beyond their comprehension. When we dragged the monster
ashore, with its elongated snout still embedded in the little
canoe, I saw at a glance that the long-dreaded evil spirit of the
lagoon was a huge sawfish, fully fourteen feet long, its formidable
saw alone measuring nearly five feet. This interesting weapon I
claimed as a trophy, and when I got back to where Bruno and his
human charge were, I exhibited it to crowds of admiring blacks, who
had long heard of the evil spirit. The great fish itself was
cooked and eaten at one of the biggest corroborees I had ever seen.
The blacks had no theory of their own (save the superstitious one),
as to how it got into the lagoon; and the only supposition I can
offer is, that it must have been brought thither, when very small
and young, either by a rain-cloud or at some unusually big flood
time.

So delighted were the blacks at the service I had done them, that
they paid me the greatest compliment in their power by offering me
a chieftainship, and inviting me to stay with them for ever. I
refused the flattering offer, however, as I was quite bent on
getting back to Cambridge Gulf.

On returning to my friends on the other side of the lagoon I
learned for the first time that there was a half-caste girl living
among them; and subsequent inquiries went to prove that her father
was a white man who had penetrated into these regions and lived for
some little time at least among the blacks--much as I myself was
doing. My interest in the matter was first of all roused by the
accidental discovery of a cairn five feet or six feet high, made of
loose flat stones. My experience was such by this time that I saw
at a glance this cairn was not the work of a native. Drawings and
figures, and a variety of curious characters, were faintly
discernible on some of the stones, but were not distinct enough to
be legible.

On one, however, I distinctly traced the initials "L. L.," which
had withstood the ravages of time because the stone containing them
was in a protected place.

Naturally the existence of this structure set me inquiring among
the older natives as to whether they ever remembered seeing a white
man before; and then I learned that perhaps twenty years previously
a man like myself HAD made his appearance in those regions, and had
died a few months afterwards, before the wife who, according to
custom, was allotted to him had given birth to the half-caste baby
girl, who was now a woman before me. They never knew the white
stranger's name, nor where he had come from. The girl, by the way,
was by no means good-looking, and her skin was decidedly more black
than white; I could tell by her hand, however, that she was a half-
caste.

On the strength of our supposed affinity, she was offered to me as
a wife, and I accepted her, more as a help for Yamba than anything
else; she was called Luigi. Yamba, by the way, was anxious that I
should possess at least half-a-dozen wives, partly because this
circumstance would be more in keeping with my rank; but I did not
fall in with the idea. I had quite enough to do already to
maintain my authority among the tribe at large, and did not care to
have to rule in addition half-a-dozen women in my own
establishment. This tribe always lingers in my memory, on account
of the half-caste girl, whom I now believe to have been the
daughter of Ludwig Leichhardt, the lost Australian explorer. Mr.
Giles says: "Ludwig Leichhardt was a surgeon and botanist, who
successfully conducted an expedition from Moreton Bay to Port
Essington, on the northern coast. A military and penal settlement
had been established at Port Essington by the Government of New
South Wales, to which colony the whole territory then belonged. At
this settlement--the only point of relief after eighteen months'
travel--Leichhardt and his exhausted party arrived.

"Of Leichhardt's sad fate, in the interior of Australia, no certain
tidings have ever been heard. I, who have wandered into and
returned alive from the curious regions he attempted and died to
explore, have unfortunately never come across a single record, nor
any remains or traces of the party."

Leichhardt started on his last sad venture with a party of eight,
including one or two native black-boys. They had with them about
twenty head of bullocks broken in to carry pack loads. "My first
and second expeditions," says Giles, "were conducted entirely with
horses, but in all subsequent journeys I was accompanied by
camels." His object, like that of Leichhardt, was to force his way
across the thousand miles of country that lay untrodden and unknown
between the Australian telegraph line and the settlements upon the
Swan River. And Giles remarks that the exploration of 1000 miles
in Australia is equal to at least 10,000 miles on any other part of
the earth's surface--always excepting the Poles.

I continued residing on the shores of the lagoon in the hope that
my patient would eventually get better, when I proposed continuing
my journey north. I was still quite unable to understand his
babblings, although he was for ever mentioning the names of persons
and places unknown to me; and he constantly spoke about some
exploring party. He never asked me questions, nor did he get into
serious trouble with the natives, being privileged. He never
developed any dangerous vices, but was simply childlike and
imbecile.

Gradually I had noticed that, instead of becoming stronger, he was
fading away. He was constantly troubled with a most distressing
complaint, and in addition to this he would be seized with fits of
depression, when he would remain in his hut for days at a time
without venturing out. I always knew what was the matter with him
when he was not to be seen. Sometimes I would go in to try and
cheer him up, but usually it was a hopeless effort on my part.

Of course he had a wife given him, and this young person seemed to
consider him quite an ordinary specimen of the white man. Indeed,
she was vastly flattered, rather than otherwise, by the attentions
lavished upon her husband by her people. One reason for this
treatment was that she was considered a privileged person to be
related in any way to one whom the natives regarded as almost a
demi-god. She looked after him too, and kept his hut as clean as
possible. One morning something happened. The girl came running
for me to go to her hut, and there lay the mysterious stranger
apparently stretched out for dead. I soon realised that he was in
a fit of some kind.

I now approach the momentous time when this unfortunate man
recovered his senses. When he regained consciousness after the fit
Yamba and I were with him, and so was his wife. I had not seen him
for some days, and was much shocked at the change that had taken
place. He was ghastly pale and very much emaciated. I knew that
death was at hand. Just as he regained consciousness--I can see
the picture now; yes, we were all around his fragrant couch of
eucalyptus leaves, waiting for him to open his eyes--he gazed at me
in a way that thrilled me strangely, and I KNEW I WAS LOOKING AT A
SANE WHITE MAN. His first questions were "Where am I? Who are
you?" Eager and trembling I knelt down beside him and told him the
long and strange story of how I had found him, and how he had now
been living with me nearly two years. I pointed out to him our
faithful Bruno, who had often taken him for long walks and brought
him back safely, and who had so frequently driven away from him
deadly snakes, and warned him when it was time to turn back. I
told him he was in the centre of Australia; and then I told in
brief my own extraordinary story. I sent Yamba to our shelter for
the letter I had found in his tracks, and read it aloud to him. He
never told me who the writer of it was. He listened to all I had
to tell him with an expression of amazement, which soon gave place
to one of weariness--the weariness of utter weakness. He asked me
to carry him outside into the sun, and I did so, afterwards
squatting down beside him and opening up another conversation. HE
THEN TOLD ME HIS NAME WAS GIBSON, AND THAT HE HAD BEEN A MEMBER OF
THE GILES EXPEDITION OF 1874. From that moment I never left him
night or day. He told me much about that expedition which I can
never reveal, for I do not know whether he was lying or raving.
Poor, vulgar, Cockney Gibson! He seemed to know full well that he
was dying, and the thought seemed to please him rather than
otherwise. He appeared to me to be too tired, too weary to live--
that was the predominant symptom.

I introduced Yamba to him, and we did everything we possibly could
to cheer him, but he gradually sank lower and lower. I would say,
"Cheer up, Gibson. Why, when you are able to walk we will make
tracks straightway for civilisation. I am sure you know the way,
for now you are as right as I am." But nothing interested the
dying man. Shortly before the end his eyes assumed a strained
look, and I could see he was rapidly going. The thought of his
approaching end was to me a relief; it would be untrue if I were to
say otherwise. For weeks past I had seen that the man could not
live, and considering that every day brought its battle for life,
you will readily understand that this poor helpless creature was a
terrible burden to me. He had such a tender skin that at all times
I was obliged to keep him clothed. For some little time his old
shirt and trousers did duty, but at length I was compelled to make
him a suit of skins. Of course, we had no soap with which to wash
his garments, but we used to clean them after a fashion by dumping
them down into a kind of greasy mud and then trampling on them,
afterwards rinsing them out in water. Moreover, his feet were so
tender that I always had to keep him shod with skin sandals.

His deathbed was a dramatic scene--especially under the
circumstances. Poor Gibson! To think that he should have escaped
death after those fearful waterless days and nights in the desert,
to live for two years with a white protector, and yet then die of a
wasting and distressing disease!

He spent the whole day in the open air, for he was very much better
when in the sun. At night I carried him back into his hut, and
laid him in the hammock which I had long ago slung for him. Yamba
knew he was dying even before I did, but she could do nothing.

We tried the effect of the curious herb called "pitchori," but it
did not revive him. "Pitchori," by the way, is a kind of leaf
which the natives chew in moments of depression; it has an
exhilarating effect upon them.

On the last day I once more made up a bed of eucalyptus leaves and
rugs on the floor of Gibson's hut. Surrounding him at the last
were his wife--a very good and faithful girl--Yamba, myself, and
Bruno--who, by the way, knew perfectly well that his friend was
dying. He kept licking poor Gibson's hand and chest, and then
finding no response would nestle up close to him for half-an-hour
at a time. Then the affectionate creature would retire outside and
set up a series of low, melancholy howls, only to run in again with
hope renewed.

Poor Gibson! The women-folk were particularly attached to him
because he never went out with the men, or with me, on my various
excursions, but remained behind in their charge. Sometimes,
however, he would follow at our heels as faithfully and
instinctively as Bruno himself. For the past two years Bruno and
Gibson had been inseparable, sleeping together at night, and never
parting for a moment the whole day long. Indeed, I am sure Bruno
became more attached to Gibson than he was to me. And so Gibson
did not, as I at one time feared he would, pass away into the Great
Beyond, carrying with him the secret of his identity. Looking at
him as he lay back among the eucalyptus leaves, pale and emaciated,
I knew the end was now very near.

I knelt beside him holding his hand, and at length, with a great
effort, he turned towards me and said feebly, "Can you hear
anything?" I listened intently, and at last was compelled to reply
that I did not. "Well," he said, "I hear some one talking. I
think the voices of my friends are calling me." I fancied that the
poor fellow was wandering in his mind again, but still his eyes did
not seem to have that vacant gaze I had previously noticed in them.
He was looking steadily at me, and seemed to divine my thoughts,
for he smiled sadly and said, "No, I know what I am saying. I can
hear them singing, and they are calling me away. They have come
for me at last!" His thin face brightened up with a slow, sad
smile, which soon faded away, and then, giving my hand a slight
pressure, he whispered almost in my ear, as I bent over him, "Good-
bye, comrade, I'm off. You will come too, some day." A slight
shiver, and Gibson passed peacefully away.

CHAPTER XV

Lost in the desert--Gibson's dying advice--Giles meets Gibson--A
fountain in the desert--A terrible fix--Giles regains his camp--
Gibson's effects--Mysterious tracks--A treasured possession--A
perfect paradise--Grape vines a failure--A trained cockatoo--An
extraordinary festival--My theory of the "ghosts."

After the funeral his wife followed out the usual native
conventions. She covered herself with pipeclay for about one
month. She also mourned and howled for the prescribed three days,
and gashed her head with stone knives, until the blood poured down
her face. Gibson's body was not buried in the earth, but embalmed
with clay and leaves, and laid on a rock-shelf in a cave.

The general belief was that Gibson had merely gone back to the
Spirit Land from whence he had come, and that, as he was a great
and good man, he would return to earth in the form of a bird--
perhaps an ibis, which was very high indeed. I must say I never
attached very much importance to what he said, even in his sane
moments, because he was obviously a man of low intelligence and no
culture. If I remember rightly, he told me that the expedition to
which he was attached left Adelaide with the object of going
overland to Fremantle. It was thoroughly well equipped, and for a
long time everything went well with the party. One day, whilst
some of them were off exploring on their own account, he lost
himself.

He rather thought that the sun must have affected his brain even
then, because he didn't try to find his companions that night, but
went to sleep quite contentedly under a tree. He realised the
horror of his position keenly enough the next morning, however, and
rode mile after mile without halting for food or water, in the hope
of quickly regaining his friends at the chief camp. But night
stole down upon him once more, and he was still a lonely wanderer,
half delirious with thirst; the supply he had carried with him had
long since given out.

Next morning, when he roused himself, he found that his horse had
wandered away and got lost. After this he had only a vague
recollection of what happened. Prompted by some strange,
unaccountable impulse, he set out on a hopeless search for water,
and went walking on and on until all recollection faded away, and
he remembered no more. How long he had been lost when I found him
he could not say, because he knew absolutely nothing whatever about
his rescue. So far as I remember, he was a typical specimen of the
Australian pioneer--a man of fine physique, with a full beard and a
frank, but unintelligent, countenance. He was perhaps five feet
nine inches in height, and about thirty years of age. When I told
him the story of my adventures he was full of earnest sympathy for
me, and told me that if ever I intended leaving those regions for
civilisation again, my best plan would be to steer more south-east,
as it was in that direction that Adelaide lay.

He also informed me that the great trans-Continental telegraph wire
was being constructed from north to south. This he advised me to
strike and follow to civilisation.

I may be permitted a little digression here to give a few extracts
from Giles's book, "Australia Twice Traversed" (Sampson Low &
Company), for this contains the version of the leader of the
expedition himself as to the circumstances under which Gibson was
lost. In all, it seems, Giles made five exploring expeditions into
and through Central South Australia and Western Australia from 1872
to 1876. Speaking of his second expedition, Mr. Giles says: "I
had informed my friend, Baron Von Mueller, by wire from the
Charlotte Waters Telegraph station, of the failure and break-up of
my first expedition, and he set to work and obtained new funds for
me to continue my labours. I reached Adelaide late in January
1873, and got my party together. We left early in March of 1873,
and journeyed leisurely up-country to Beltana, then past the Finnis
Springs to the Gregory. We then journeyed up to the Peake, where
we were welcomed by Messrs. Bagot at the Cattle Station, and Mr.
Blood of the Telegraph Department. Here we fixed up all our packs,
sold Bagot the waggon, and bought horses and other things. We now
had twenty pack-horses and four riding-horses."

We next come to the introduction of Gibson. "Here a short young
man accosted me, and asked me if I didn't remember him. He said he
was 'Alf.' I thought I knew his face, but I thought it was at the
Peake that I had seen him; but he said, 'Oh, no! Don't you
remember Alf, with Bagot's sheep at the north-west bend of the
Murray? My name's Alf Gibson, and I want to go out with you.' I
said, 'Well, can you shoe? Can you ride? Can you starve? Can you
go without water? And how would you like to be speared by the
blacks?' He said he could do everything I had mentioned, and he
wasn't afraid of the blacks. He was not a man I would have picked
out of a mob, but men were scarce, and he seemed so anxious to
come, so I agreed to take him.

"Thus, the expedition consisted of four persons--myself (Ernest
Giles), Mr. William Henry Tietkins, Alf Gibson, and James Andrews;
with twenty-four horses and two little dogs. On Monday, 4th
August, we finally left the encampment."

Now here is the passage in which Mr. Giles describes his dramatic
parting with Gibson. It will be found in the chapter marked "20th
April to 21st May 1874": "Gibson and I departed for the West. I
rode the 'Fair Maid of Perth.' I gave Gibson the big ambling
horse, 'Badger,' and we packed the big cob with a pair of water-
bags that contained twenty gallons. As we rode away, I was telling
Gibson about various exploring expeditions and their fate, and he
said, 'How is it that, in all these exploring expeditions, a lot of
people go and die?' He said, 'I shouldn't like to die in this part
of the country, anyhow.'

"We presently had a meal of smoked horse. It was late when we
encamped, and the horses were much in want of water,--especially
the big cob, who kept coming up to the camp all night and trying to
get at our water-bags. We had one small water-bag hung in a tree.

"I didn't think of that until my mare came straight up to it and
took it in her teeth, forcing out the cork, and sending the water
up, which we were both dying to drink, in a beautiful jet. Gibson
was now very sorry he had exchanged 'Badger' for the cob, as he
found the latter very dull and heavy to get along. There had been
a hot wind from the north all day, and the following morning (the
23rd of April), there was a most strange dampness in the air, and I
had a vague feeling, such as must have been felt by augurs and
seers of old, who trembled as they told events to come; FOR THIS
WAS THE LAST DAY ON WHICH I EVER SAW GIBSON.

"As Gibson came along after me, he called out that his horse was
going to die. The hills to the west were twenty-five to thirty
miles away, and I had to give up trying to reach them. How I
longed for a camel! Gibson's horse was now so bad as to place both
of us in a great dilemma. We turned back in our tracks, when the
cob refused to carry his rider any farther, and tried to lie down.
We drove him another mile on foot, and down he fell to die. My
mare, the 'Fair Maid of Perth,' was only too willing to return, but
she had now to carry Gibson's saddle and things, and away we went,
walking and riding in turns of one half-hour each.

"When we got back to about thirty miles from a place which I had
named 'The Kegs,' I shouted to Gibson, who was riding, to stop
until I walked up to him. By this time we had hardly a pint of
water left between us.

"We here finished the supply, and I then said, as I could not speak
before, 'Look here, Gibson, you see we are in a most terrible fix,
with only one horse. Only one can ride, and one must remain
behind. I shall remain; and now listen to me. If the mare does
not get water soon, she will die; therefore, ride right on; get to
the Kegs, if possible, to-night, and give her water. Now that the
cob is dead, there'll be all the more water for her. Early to-
morrow you will sight the Rawlinson, at twenty-five miles from the
Kegs. Stick to the tracks and never leave them. Leave as much
water in one keg for me as you can afford, after watering the mare
and filling up your own bags; and, remember, I depend upon you to
bring me relief.'

"Gibson said if he had a compass he thought he could go better by
night. I knew he didn't understand anything about compasses, as I
had often tried to explain them to him. The one I had was a
Gregory's Patent, of a totally different construction from ordinary
instruments of the kind, and I was loth to part with it, as it was
the only one I had. However, as he was so anxious for it, I gave
it to him, and away he went. I sent one final shout after him to
stick to the tracks, and he said, 'All right' and the mare carried
him out of sight almost instantly.

"Gibson had left me with a little over two gallons of water, which
I could have drunk in half-an-hour. All the food I had was eleven
sticks of dirty, sandy, smoked horse, averaging about an ounce and
a half each.

"On the first of May, as I afterwards found out, at one o'clock in
the morning, I staggered into the camp, and awoke Mr. Tietkins at
daylight. He glared at me as if I had been one risen from the
dead. I asked him if he had seen Gibson. It was nine days since I
last saw him. The next thing was to find Gibson's remains. It was
the 6th of May when we got back to where he had left the right
line. As long as he had remained on the other horses' tracks it
was practicable enough to follow him, but the wretched man had left
them and gone away in a far more southerly direction, having the
most difficult sand-hills to cross at right angles. We found he
had burnt a patch of spinifex where he had left the other horses'
tracks.

"Whether he had made any mistake in steering by the compass or not
it is impossible to say; but instead of going east, as he should
have done, he actually went south, or very near it.

"I was sorry to think that the unfortunate man's last sensible
moments must have been embittered by the thought that, as he had
lost himself in the capacity of messenger for my relief, I, too,
must necessarily fall a victim to his mishap.

"I called this terrible region, lying between the Rawlinson Range
and the next permanent water that may eventually be found to the
north, 'Gibson's Desert,'--after this first white victim to its
horrors.

"In looking over Gibson's few effects, Mr. Tietkins and I found an
old pocket-book, a drinking-song, and a certificate of his
marriage. He had never told us he was married."

And now to resume my own narrative. You will remember that I had
settled down for a considerable time on the shores of the lagoon,
where I had made everything around me as comfortable as possible.
Yamba had no difficulty whatever in keeping us well supplied with
roots and vegetables; and as kangaroos, opossums, snakes, and rats
abounded, we had an ample supply of meat, and the lagoon could
always be relied upon to provide us with excellent fish. The
country itself was beautiful in the extreme, with stately
mountains, broad, fertile valleys, extensive forests,--and, above
all, plenty of water. The general mode of living among the natives
was much the same as that prevailing among the blacks in my own
home at Cambridge Gulf,--although these latter were a vastly

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