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The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont

Part 5 out of 5

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superior race in point of physique, war weapons, and general
intelligence. The people I now found myself among were of somewhat
small stature, with very low foreheads, protruding chins, high
cheek-bones, and large mouths. Their most noteworthy
characteristic was their extreme childishness, which was especially
displayed on those occasions when I gave an acrobatic performance.
My skill with the bow and arrow was, as usual, a never-ending
source of astonishment. I was, in fact, credited with such
remarkable powers that all my ingenuity had sometimes to be brought
into play to accomplish, or to pretend to accomplish, the things
expected of me. I knew that I must never fail in anything I
undertook.

In the interior the natives never seemed to grow very plump, but
had a more or less spare, not to say emaciated, appearance compared
with the tribes near the coast. For one thing, food is not so
easily obtainable, nor is it so nourishing. Moreover, the natives
had to go very long distances to procure it.

Besides the low, receding forehead and protruding chin I have
already hinted at as characteristic of the inland tribes, I also
noticed that these people had abnormally large feet. Also, the
beards of the men were not nearly so full or luxuriant as those of
the blacks at Cambridge Gulf. The average height of the lagoon
tribe was little more than five feet. For myself, I am about five
feet seven and a half inches in height, and therefore I stalked
about among them like a giant.

Now that Gibson was dead I decided to move my home farther north,
and eventually settled down with my family (two children--a boy and
a girl--had been born to me during my residence on the shores of
the lagoon) in a beautiful mountainous and tropical region 200 or
300 miles to the north. It was my intention only to have made a
temporary stay here, but other ties came, and my little ones were
by no means strong enough to undertake any such formidable journey
as I had in contemplation. I also made the fatal mistake of trying
to bring my offspring up differently from the other savage
children. But I must relate here an incident that happened on our
journey north. Yamba came to me one day positively quivering with
excitement and terror, and said she had found some strange tracks,
apparently of some enormous beast--a monster so fearful as to be
quite beyond her knowledge.

She took me to the spot and pointed out the mysterious tracks,
which I saw at once were those of camels. I do not know why I
decided to follow them, because they must have been some months
old. Probably, I reflected, I might be able to pick up something
on the tracks which would be of use to me. At any rate, we did
follow the tracks for several days--perhaps a fortnight--and found
on the way many old meat-tins, which afterwards came in useful as
water vessels. One day, however, I pounced upon an illustrated
newspaper--a copy of the Sydney TOWN AND COUNTRY JOURNAL, bearing
some date, I think in 1875 or 1876. It was a complete copy with
the outer cover. I remember it contained some pictures of horse-
racing--I believe at Paramatta; but the "Long Lost Relative" column
interested me most, for the very moment I found the paper I sat
down in the bush and began to read this part with great eagerness.
I could read English fairly well by this time, and as Yamba was
also tolerably familiar with the language, I read the paper aloud
to her. I cannot say she altogether understood what she heard, but
she saw that I was intensely interested and delighted, and so she
was quite content to stay there and listen. You will observe that
in all cases, the very fact that I was pleased was enough for
Yamba, who never once wavered in her fidelity and affection.
Altogether we spent some weeks following up these tracks, but, of
course, never came up with the caravan of camels, which must have
been some months ahead of us. Yamba at length appeared to be a
good deal wearied at my persistency in following up the tracks in
this way; but after all, was it not merely killing time?--a mild
sort of sensation which served to break the eternal monotony that
sometimes threatened to crush me.

How I treasured that soiled copy of the Town and Country--as it is
familiarly called in Sydney! I read and re-read it, and then read
it all over again until I think I could have repeated every line of
it by heart, even to the advertisements. Among the latter, by the
way, was one inserted apparently by an anxious mother seeking
information concerning a long-lost son; and this pathetic paragraph
set me wondering about my own mother. "Well," I thought, "she at
least has no need to advertise, and I have the satisfaction of
knowing that she must by this time be quite reconciled to my loss,
and have given me up as dead long ago." Strangely enough, this
thought quite reconciled me to my exile. In fact, I thanked
Providence that my disappearance had been so complete and so
prolonged as to leave not the slightest cause for doubt or hope on
the part of any of my relatives. Had I for a moment imagined that
my mother was still cherishing hopes of seeing me again some day,
and that she was undergoing agonies of mental suspense and worry on
my behalf, I think I would have risked everything to reach her.
But I knew quite well that she must have heard of the loss of the
Veielland, and long ago resigned herself to the certainty of my
death. I can never hope to describe the curious delight with which
I perused my precious newspaper. I showed the pictures in it to my
children and the natives, and they were more than delighted,--
especially with the pictures of horses in the race at Paramatta.
In the course of time the sheets of paper began to get torn, and
then I made a pretty durable cover out of kangaroo hide. Thus the
whole of my library consisted of my Anglo-French Testament, and the
copy of the Town and Country Journal.

But I have purposely kept until the end the most important thing in
connection with this strangely-found periodical. The very first
eager and feverish reading gave me an extraordinary shock, which
actually threatened my reason! In a prominent place in the journal
I came across the following passage: "THE DEPUTIES OF ALSACE AND
LORRAINE HAVE REFUSED TO VOTE IN THE GERMAN REICHSTAG."

Now, knowing nothing whatever of the sanguinary war of 1870, or of
the alterations in the map of Europe which it entailed, this
passage filled me with startled amazement. I read it over and over
again, getting more bewildered each time. "The Deputies of Alsace
and Lorraine have refused to vote in the German Reichstag!" "But--
good heavens!" I almost screamed to myself, "WHAT were the Alsace
and Lorraine Deputies doing in the German Parliament at all?" I
turned the matter over and over in my mind, and at last, finding
that I was getting worked up into a state of dangerous excitement,
I threw the paper from me and walked away. I thought over the
matter again, and so utterly incomprehensible did it appear to me
that I thought I must be mistaken--that my eyes must have deceived
me. Accordingly I ran back and picked the paper up a second time,
and there, sure enough, was the same passage. In vain did I seek
for any sane explanation, and at last I somehow got it into my head
that the appearance of the printed characters must be due to a kind
of mental obliquity, and that I must be rapidly going mad! Even
Yamba could not sympathise with me, because the matter was one
which I never could have made her understand. I tried to put this
strange puzzle out of my head, but again and again the accursed and
torturing passage would ring in my ears until I nearly went crazy.
But I presently put the thing firmly from me, and resolved to think
no more about it.

It is not an exaggeration to describe my mountain home in the
centre of the continent as a perfect paradise. The grasses and
ferns there grew to a prodigious height, and there were magnificent
forests of white gum and eucalyptus. Down in the valley I built a
spacious house--the largest the natives had ever seen. It was
perhaps twenty feet long, sixteen feet to eighteen feet wide, and
about ten feet high. The interior was decorated with ferns, war
implements, the skins of various animals, and last--but by no means
least--the "sword" of the great sawfish I had killed in the haunted
lagoon. This house contained no fireplace, because all the cooking
was done in the open air. The walls were built of rough logs, the
crevices being filled in with earth taken from ant-hills. I have
just said that I built the house. This is, perhaps, not strictly
correct. It was Yamba and the other women-folk who actually
carried out the work, under my supervision. Here it is necessary
to explain that I did not dare to do much manual labour, because it
would have been considered undignified on my part. I really did
not want the house; but, strangely enough, I felt much more
comfortable when it was built and furnished, because, after all, it
was a source of infinite satisfaction to me to feel that I had a
HOME I could call my own. I had grown very weary of living like an
animal in the bush, and lying down to sleep at night on the bare
ground. It was this same consideration of "home" that induced me
to build a little hut for poor Gibson.

The floor of my house was two or three feet above the ground in
order to escape the ravages of the rats. There was only one
storey, of course, and the whole was divided into two rooms--one as
a kind of sitting-room and the other as a bedroom. The former I
fitted out with home-made tables and chairs (I had become pretty
expert from my experience with the girls); and each day fresh
eucalyptus leaves were strewed about, partly for cleanliness, and
partly because the odour kept away the mosquitoes. I also built
another house about two days' tramp up the mountains, and to this
we usually resorted in the very hot weather.

Now here I have a curious confession to make. As the months glided
into years, and I reviewed the whole of my strange life since the
days when I went pearling with Jensen, the thought began gradually
to steal into my mind, "Why not wait until civilisation COMES TO
YOU--as it must do in time? Why weary yourself any more with
incessant struggles to get back to the world--especially when you
are so comfortable here?" Gradually, then, I settled down and was
made absolute chief over a tribe of perhaps five hundred souls.
Besides this, my fame spread abroad into the surrounding country,
and at every new moon I held a sort of informal reception, which
was attended by deputations of tribesmen for hundreds of miles
around. My own tribe already possessed a chieftain of their own
but my position was one of even greater influence than his.
Moreover, I was appointed to it without having to undergo the
painful ceremonies that initiation entails. My immunity in this
respect was of course owing to my supposed great powers, and the
belief that I was a returned spirit. I was always present at
tribal and war councils, and also had some authority over other
tribes.

I adopted every device I could think of to make my dwelling home-
like, and I even journeyed many miles in a NNE. direction, to
procure cuttings of grape vines I had seen; but I must say that
this at any rate was labour in vain, because I never improved upon
the quality of the wild grapes, which had a sharp, acid flavour,
that affected the throat somewhat unpleasantly until one got used
to them.

When I speak of my "mountain home," it must not be supposed that I
remained in one place. As a matter of fact, in accordance with my
usual practice, I took long excursions in different directions
extending over weeks and even months at a time. On these occasions
I always took with me a kind of nut, which, when eaten, endowed one
with remarkable powers of vitality and endurance. Since my return
to civilisation I have heard of the Kola nut, but cannot say
whether the substance used by the Australian aboriginal is the same
or not. I remember we generally roasted ours, and ate it as we
tramped along. In the course of my numerous journeys abroad I
blazed or marked a great number of trees; my usual mark being an
oval, in or underneath which I generally carved the letter "L." I
seldom met with hostile natives in this region, but when I did my
mysterious bow and arrows generally sufficed to impress them. By
the way, I never introduced the bow as a weapon among the blacks,
and they, on their part, never tried to imitate me. They are a
conservative race, and are perfectly satisfied with their own time-
honoured weapons.

Wild geese and ducks were plentiful in those regions, and there was
an infinite variety of game. From this you will gather that our
daily fare was both ample and luxurious.

And we had pets; I remember I once caught a live cockatoo, and
trained him to help me in my hunting expeditions. I taught him a
few English phrases, such as "Good-morning," and "How are you?";
and he would perch himself on a tree and attract great numbers of
his kind around him by his incessant chattering. I would then
knock over as many as I wanted by means of my bow and arrows. At
this time, indeed, I had quite a menagerie of animals, including a
tame kangaroo. Naturally enough, I had ample leisure to study the
ethnology of my people. I soon made the discovery that my blacks
were intensely spiritualistic; and once a year they held a festival
which, when described, will, I am afraid, tax the credulity of my
readers. The festival I refer to was held "when the sun was born
again,"--I.E., soon after the shortest day of the year, which would
be sometime in June. On these occasions the adult warriors from
far and near assembled at a certain spot, and after a course of
festivities, sat down to an extraordinary SEANCE conducted by
women--very old, wizened witches--who apparently possessed occult
powers, and were held in great veneration. These witches are
usually maintained at the expense of the tribe. The office,
however, does not necessarily descend from mother to daughter, it
being only women credited with supernatural powers who can claim
the position.

After the great corroboree the people would squat on the ground,
the old men and warriors in front, the women behind, and the
children behind them. The whole congregation was arranged in the
form of a crescent, in the centre of which a large fire would be
set burning. Some of the warriors would then start chanting, and
their monotonous sing-song would presently be taken up by the rest
of the gathering, to the accompaniment of much swaying of heads and
beating of hands and thighs. The young warriors then went out into
the open and commenced to dance.

I may as well describe in detail the first of these extraordinary
festivals which I witnessed. The men chanted and danced themselves
into a perfect frenzy, which was still further increased by the
appearance of three or four witches who suddenly rose up before the
fire. They were very old and haggard-looking creatures, with skins
like shrivelled parchment; they had scanty, dishevelled hair, and
piercing, beady eyes. They were not ornamented in any way, and
seemed more like skeletons from a tomb than human beings. After
they had gyrated wildly round the fire for a short time, the chant
suddenly ceased, and the witches fell prostrate upon the ground,
calling out as they did so the names of some departed chiefs. A
deathly silence then fell on the assembled gathering, and all eyes
were turned towards the wreaths of smoke that were ascending into
the evening sky. The witches presently renewed their plaintive
cries and exhortations, and at length I was amazed to see strange
shadowy forms shaping themselves in the smoke. At first they were
not very distinct, but gradually they assumed the form of human
beings, and then the blacks readily recognised them as one or other
of their long-departed chiefs--estimable men always and great
fighters. The baser sort never put in an appearance.

Now the first two or three times I saw this weird and fantastic
ceremony, I thought the apparitions were the result of mere
trickery.

But when I saw them year after year, I came to the conclusion that
they must be placed in the category of those things which are
beyond the ken of our philosophy. I might say that no one was
allowed to approach sufficiently close to touch the "ghosts,"--if
such they can be termed; and probably even if permission had been
granted, the blacks would have been in too great a state of terror
to have availed themselves of it.

Each of these seances lasted twenty minutes or half-an-hour, and
were mainly conducted in silence. While the apparitions were
visible, the witches remained prostrate, and the people looked on
quite spellbound. Gradually the phantoms would melt away again in
the smoke, and vanish from sight, after which the assembly would
disperse in silence. By next morning all the invited blacks would
have gone off to their respective homes. The witches, as I
afterwards learnt, lived alone in caves; and that they possessed
wonderful powers of prophecy was evidenced in my own case, because
they told me when I came among them that I would still be many
years with their people, but I would eventually return to my own
kind. The warriors, too, invariably consulted these oracles before
departing on hunting or fighting expeditions, and religiously
followed their advice.

CHAPTER XVI

A teacher of English--Myself as a black-fellow--I rest content--An
unknown terror--Manufacture of gunpowder--A curious find--The fiery
raft--In the lair of snakes--A dangerous enemy--An exciting scene--
A queer sport--Respect for the victor --A vain hope--Sore
disappointment--Yamba in danger--A strange duel--My opponent greets
me.

My two children were a source of great delight to me at this time,-
-although of course they were half-castes, the colour of their skin
being very little different from that of their mother. The
whiteness of their hands and finger-nails, however, clearly
indicated their origin. They were not christened in the Christian
way, neither were they brought up exactly in the same way as the
native children.

I taught them English. I loved them very dearly, and used to make
for them a variety of gold ornaments, such as bangles and armlets.
They did not participate in all the rough games of the black
children, yet they were very popular, having winning manners, and
being very quick to learn. I often told them about my life in
other parts of the world; but whenever I spoke of civilisation, I
classed all the nations of the universe together, and referred to
them as "my home," or "my country." I did not attempt to
distinguish between France and Switzerland, England and America.
Curiously enough, the subject that interested them most was the
animal kingdom, and when I told them that I hoped some day to take
them away with me to see my great country and the animals it
contained, they were immensely delighted. Particularly they wanted
to see the horse, the lion, and the elephant. Taking a yam-stick
as pointer, I would often draw roughly in the sand almost every
animal in Nature. But even when these rough designs were made for
my admiring audience, I found it extremely difficult to convey an
idea of the part in the economy of Nature which each creature
played. I would tell them, however, that the horse was used for
fighting purposes and for travel; that the cow yielded food and
drink, and that the dogs drew sledges. It was absolutely necessary
to dwell only on the utilitarian side of things. Beasts of burden
would be incomprehensible. Both of my children were very proud of
my position among and influence over the blacks.

And really I looked like a black-fellow myself at this time--not so
much on account of exposure, as because my body was constantly
coated with the charcoal and grease which serves as a protection
from the weather and from insects. My children, you may be
interested to learn, never grasped the fact that my exile was other
than quite voluntary on my part.

The children of the blacks continued to interest me as much as ever
(I was always fond of children); and I never grew tired of watching
them at their quaint little games. I think they all loved me as
much as I did them, and I was glad to see that their lives were one
long dream of happiness. They had no school to attend, no work to
perform, and no punishment to suffer. There are no children like
the children of the bush for perfect contentment. They seldom or
never quarrelled, and were all day long playing happily about the
camp, practising throwing their reed spears; climbing the trees
after the honey-pods, and indulging in a thousand and one merry
pranks. Often and often I looked at those robust little rascals,
and compared them sadly with my own children, who were delicate
almost from birth, and who caused me so much anxiety and heartache.

When the combination of circumstances, which is now well known to
my readers, caused me to settle in my mountain home, two or three
hundred miles to the north of Gibson's Desert, I had no idea that I
should remain there for many years.

But strangely enough, as year after year slipped by, the desire to
return to civilisation seemed to leave me, and I grew quite content
with my lot. Gradually I began to feel that if civilisation--
represented, say, by a large caravan--were to come to me, and its
leader was willing not merely to take me away, but my wife and
children also, then indeed I would consent to go; but for no other
consideration could I be induced to leave those who were now so
near and dear to me. I may as well mention here that I had many
chances of returning ALONE to civilisation, but never availed
myself of them. As I spent the greater part of twenty years in my
mountain home, it stands to reason that it is this part of my
career which I consult for curious and remarkable incidents.

One day a great darkness suddenly came over the face of Nature.
The sombre gloom was relieved only by a strange lurid glare, which
hung on the distant horizon far away across that weird land. The
air was soon filled with fine ashes, which descended in such
quantities as to cover all vegetation, and completely hide exposed
water-holes and lagoons. Even at the time I attributed the
phenomenon to volcanic disturbance, and I have since found that it
was most likely due to an eruption of the volcano of Krakatoa.
This visitation occasioned very great consternation among the
superstitious blacks, who concluded that the spirits had been
angered by some of their own misdeeds, and were manifesting their
wrath in this unpleasant way. I did not attempt to enlighten them
as to its true cause, but gave them to understand vaguely that I
had something to do with it. I also told them that the great
spirit, whose representative I was, was burning up the land.

Another phenomenon that caused much mystification and terror was an
eclipse of the sun. Never have I seen my blacks in such a state of
excitement and terror as when that intense darkness came suddenly
over the world at midday. They came crowding instinctively to me,
and I stood silent among the cowering creatures, not thinking it
politic for a moment to break the strange and appalling stillness
that prevailed on every hand--and which extended even to the animal
world. The trembling blacks were convinced that night had suddenly
descended upon them, but they had no explanation whatever to offer.
They seemed quite unfamiliar with the phenomenon, and it was
apparently not one of those many things which their forefathers
wove superstitious stories around, to hand down to their children.
As the great darkness continued, the natives retired to rest,
without even holding the usual evening chant. I did not attempt to
explain the real reason of the phenomenon, but as I had no
particular end to serve, I did not tell them that it was due to my
power.

Never once, you see, did I lose an opportunity of impressing the
savages among whom I dwelt. On several occasions, having all the
ingredients at my disposal, I attempted to make gunpowder, but
truth to tell, my experiments were not attended with very great
success. I had charcoal, saltpetre, and sulphur ready to my hand,-
-all obtainable from natural sources close by; but the result of
all my efforts (and I tried mixing the ingredients in every
conceivable way) was a very coarse kind of powder with practically
no explosive force, but which would go off with an absurd "puff."

Now I was very anxious to make an EXPLOSIVE powder, not merely
because it would assist me in impressing the blacks, but also
because I proposed carrying out certain blasting operations in
order to obtain minerals and stones which I thought would be
useful. The net result was that although I could not manufacture
any potent explosive, yet I did succeed in arousing the intense
curiosity of the blacks. My powder burnt without noise, and the
natives could never quite make out where the flame came from.

As there seemed to be a never-ending eagerness on the part of the
blacks to witness the wonders of the white man, I even tried my
hand at making ice--a commodity which is, of course, absolutely
unknown in Central Australia. The idea came to me one day when I
found myself in a very cool cave, in which there was a well of
surprisingly cold water. Accordingly, I filled some opossum skins
with the refreshing fluid, placed them in the coolest part of the
cave, and then covered them with saltpetre, of which there was an
abundance. When I tell you that the experiment was quite
fruitless, you will readily understand that I did not always
succeed in my role of wonder-worker. But whenever I was defeated,
it only had the effect of making me set my wits to work to devise
something still more wonderful--something which I was certain would
be an assured success.

Whilst taking, a stroll in the region of my mountain home one day,
my eyes--which were by this time almost as highly trained as those
of the blacks themselves--suddenly fastened upon a thin stream of
some greenish fluid which was apparently oozing out of the rocky
ground. Closer investigation proved that this was not water. I
collected a quantity of it in a kangaroo skin, but this took a
considerable time, because the liquid oozed very slowly.

I would not have taken this trouble were it not that I was pretty
certain I HAD DISCOVERED A SPRING OF CRUDE PETROLEUM. Immediately,
and by a kind of instinct, it occurred to me that I might make use
of this oil as yet another means of impressing the blacks with my
magical powers. I told no one of my discovery--not even Yamba.
First of all I constructed a sort of raft from the branches of
trees, thoroughly saturating each branch with the oil. I also
placed a shallow skin reservoir of oil on the upper end of the
raft, and concealed it with twigs and leaves. This done, I
launched my interesting craft on the waters of the lagoon, having
so far carried out all my preparations in the strictest secrecy.
When everything was ready I sent out invitations by mail-men, smoke
signals, and message sticks to tribes both far and near, to come
and see me SET FIRE TO THE WATER! In parentheses, I may remark,
that with regard to smoke-signals, white smoke only is allowed to
ascend in wreaths and curls; while black smoke is sent up in one
great volume. As by this time my fame was pretty well established,
the wonder-loving children of Nature lost no time in responding to
the summons; and at length, when the mystic glow of a Central
Australian evening had settled over the scene, a great gathering
established itself on the shores of the lagoon. On such occasions,
however, I always saw to it that my audience were not too near.
But anyhow there was little chance of failure, because the blacks
had long since grown to believe in me blindly and implicitly.

With much ceremony I set fire to the raft, hoisted a little bark
sail upon it, and pushed it off. It lay very low in the water, and
as the amazed onlookers saw it gliding across the placid waters of
the lagoon enveloped in smoke and flames, they did actually believe
that I had set fire to the water itself--particularly when the
blazing oil was seen in lurid patches on the placid surface. They
remained watching till the fire died down, when they retired to
their own homes, more convinced than ever that the white man among
them was indeed a great and powerful spirit.

But, human nature being fundamentally the same all the world over,
it was natural enough--and, indeed, the wonder is how I escaped so
long--that one or other of the tribal medicine-men should get
jealous of my power and seek to overthrow me. Now, the medicine-
man belonging to the tribe in my mountain home presently found
himself (or fancied himself) under a cloud,--the reason, of course,
being that my display of wonders far transcended anything which he
himself could do. So my rival commenced an insidious campaign
against me, trying to explain away every wonderful thing that I
did, and assuring the blacks that if I were a spirit at all it was
certainly a spirit of evil. He never once lost an opportunity of
throwing discredit and ridicule upon me and my powers; and at
length I discerned symptoms in the tribe which rendered it
imperatively necessary that I should take immediate and drastic
steps to overthrow my enemy, who, by the way, had commenced trying
to duplicate every one of my tricks or feats. I gave the matter
some little thought, and one day, whilst out on one of my solitary
rambles, I came across a curious natural feature of the landscape,
which suggested to me a novel and, I venture to say, remarkable
solution of a very serious situation.

I suddenly found myself on the brink of a peculiar basin-like
depression, which, from its obvious dampness and profusion of bush
and cover, I at once recognised as the ideal abode of innumerable
snakes. I marked the spot in my mind, and returned home, pondering
the details of the dramatic victory I hoped to win. Day by day I
returned to this depression and caught numerous black and carpet
snakes. From each of these dangerous and poisonous reptiles I
removed the poison fangs only; and then, after scoring it with a
cross by means of my stiletto, I let it go, knowing that it would
never leave a spot so ideal--from a snake's point of view. I
operated on a great number of the deadly reptiles in this way, but,
of course there remained many who were not so treated; whilst
several of my queer patients died outright under the operation.
Needless to say, I might have met my own death in this
extraordinary business had I not been assisted by my devoted wife.
When we had finished our work, there was absolutely nothing in the
appearance of the place to indicate that it was any different from
its state when I first cast my eyes upon it.

Then, all being ready, I chose a specially dramatic moment at a
corroboree to challenge my rival in a war song, this challenge
being substantially as follows: "You tell the people that you are
as great as I--the all-powerful white spirit-man. Well, now, I
offer you a formal challenge to perform the feat which I shall
perform on a certain day and at a certain spot." The day was the
very next day, and the spot, the scene of my strange surgical
operations upon the snakes. The effect of my challenge was
magical.

The jealous medicine-man, boldly and openly challenged before the
whole tribe, had no time to make up an evasive reply, and he
accepted then and there. Urgent messages were despatched, by the
fun-loving blacks, to all the tribes, so that we were pretty sure
of a large and attentive audience. It was about midday when the
ridge round the depression was crowded with expectant blacks, every
one of whom dearly loved a contest, or competition, of whatever
kind. I lost no time--for in love or war shilly-shallying is
unknown among the blacks--but boldly leaped down into the hollow
armed only with a reed whistle, which I had made for myself solely
with the view of enticing the snakes from their holes. I cast a
triumphant glance at my impassive rival, who, up to this moment,
had not the faintest idea what the proposed ordeal was. I
commenced to play as lively a tune as the limited number of notes
in the whistle would allow, and before I had been playing many
minutes the snakes came gliding out, swinging their heads backwards
and forwards and from side to side as though they were under a
spell. Selecting a huge black snake, who bore unobtrusively my
safety mark, I pounced down upon him and presented my bare arm.
After teasing the reptile two or three times I allowed him to
strike his teeth deep into my flesh, and immediately the blood
began to run. I also permitted several other fangless snakes to
bite me until my arms and legs, breast and back, were covered with
blood. Personally, I did not feel much the worse, as the bites
were mere punctures, and I knew the selected reptiles to be quite
innocuous. Several "unmarked" snakes, however, manifested an eager
desire to join in the fun, and I had some difficulty in escaping
their deadly attentions. I had to wave them aside with a stick.

All this time the blacks above me were yelling with excitement, and
I am under the impression that several were lamenting my madness,
whilst others were turning angrily upon my rival, and accusing him
of having brought about my death. At a favourable moment I rushed
up the ridge of the hollow and stood before the horrified medicine-
man, who, in response to my triumphant demand to go and do
likewise, returned a feeble and tremulous negative. Even he, I
think, was now sincerely convinced that I possessed superhuman
powers; but it would have been awkward had he come along when I was
laboriously and surreptitiously extracting the poison fangs from
the snakes, and placing my "hall mark" upon them.

His refusal cost him his prestige, and he was forthwith driven from
the tribe as a fraud, whilst my fame rose higher than ever. The
blacks now wished me to take over the office of medicine-man, but I
declined to do so, and nominated instead a youth I had trained for
the position. It may be necessary here to remark that the blacks,
under no circumstances, kill a medicine-man. My defeated rival was
a man of very considerable power, and I knew quite well that if I
did not get the best of him he would have ME driven out of the
tribe and perhaps speared.

Mention of the snake incident reminds me of a very peculiar and
interesting sport which the blacks indulge in. I refer to fights
between snakes and iguanas. These combats certainly afford very
fine sport. The two creatures are always at mortal enmity with one
another, but as a rule the iguana commences the attack, no matter
how much bigger the snake may be than himself; or whether it is
poisonous or not. I have seen iguanas attack black snakes from six
feet to ten feet in length, whilst they themselves rarely measured
more than three or four feet. As a rule the iguana makes a
snapping bite at the snake a few inches below its head, and the
latter instantly retaliates by striking its enemy with its
poisonous fangs. Then an extraordinary thing happens. The iguana
will let go his hold and straightway make for a kind of fern, which
he eats in considerable quantities, the object of this being to
counteract the effects of the poison. When he thinks he has had
enough of the antidote he rushes back to the scene of the encounter
and resumes the attack; THE SNAKE ALWAYS WAITS THERE FOR HIM.
Again and again the snake bites the iguana, and as often the latter
has recourse to the counteracting influences of the antidote. The
fight may last for upwards of an hour, but eventually the iguana
conquers. The final struggle is most exciting. The iguana seizes
hold of the snake five or six inches below the head, and this time
refuses to let go his hold, no matter how much the snake may
struggle and enwrap him in its coils. Over and over roll the
combatants, but the grip of the iguana is relentless; and the
struggles of the snake grow weaker, until at length he is stretched
out dead. Then the triumphant iguana steals slowly away.

The spectators would never dream of killing him,--partly on account
of their admiration for his prowess, but more particularly because
his flesh is tainted with poison from the repeated snake bites.
These curious fights generally take place near water-holes.

I have also seen remarkable combats between snakes of various
species and sizes. A small snake will always respond to the
challenge of a much larger one, this challenge taking the form of
rearing up and hissing. The little snake will then advance slowly
towards its opponent and attempt to strike, but, as a rule, the big
one crushes it before it can do any harm. I had often heard of the
joke about two snakes of equal size trying to swallow one another,
and was, therefore, the more interested when I came across this
identical situation in real life. One day, right in my track, lay
two very large snakes which had evidently been engaged in a very
serious encounter; and the victor had commenced swallowing his
exhausted adversary. He had disposed of some three or four feet of
that adversary's length when I arrived on the scene, and was
evidently resting before taking in the rest. I easily made
prisoners of both.

Not long after this incident a delusive hope was held out to me
that I might be able to return to civilisation. News was brought
one day that the tracks of some strange and hitherto unknown
animals had been found to the north, and, accompanied by Yamba, I
went off to inspect them. I found that they were camel tracks--for
the second time; and as Yamba informed me that, from the appearance
of the trail, there was no one with them, I concluded that in all
probability the creatures were wild, having long ago belonged to
some exploring party which had come to grief.

"Here at length," I thought, "is the means of returning to
civilisation. If I can only reach these creatures--and why should
I not with so much assistance at my disposal?--I will break them
in, and then strike south across the deserts with my wife and
family." I returned to the camp, and taking with me a party of the
most intelligent tribesmen, set off after the wild camels. When we
had been several days continuously tracking we came up with the
beasts. There were four of them altogether, and right wild and
vicious-looking brutes they were. They marched close together in a
band, and never parted company. The moment I and my men tried to
separate and head them off, the leader would swoop down upon us
with open mouth, and the result of this appalling apparition was
that my black assistants fled precipitately. Alone I followed the
camels for several days in the hope of being able ultimately to
drive them into some ravine, where I thought I might possibly bring
them into a state of subjection by systematic starvation. But it
was a vain effort on my part. They kept in the track of water-
holes, and wandered on from one to the other at considerable speed.

At length I abandoned hope altogether, though not without a feeling
of sore disappointment, as I watched the curious, ungainly
creatures disappearing over the ridge of a sand-hill. Of course I
took good care not to tell any of the natives the real reason of my
desire to possess a camel,--though I did try to explain to them
some of the uses to which people in other parts of the world put
these wonderful animals.

I never lost an opportunity of leaving records wherever I could.
As I have said before, I was constantly blazing trees and even
making drawings upon them; and I would have left records in cairns
had I been able to make any writing material. Talking about this,
I was for a long time possessed with the desire to make myself a
kind of paper, and I frequently experimented with the fibres of a
certain kind of tree. This material I reduced to a pulp, and then
endeavoured to roll into sheets. Here again, however, I had to
confess failure. I found the ordinary sheets of bark much more
suitable for my purpose.

Pens I had in thousands from the quills of the wild swan and goose;
and I made ink from the juice of a certain dark-coloured berry,
mixed with soot, which I collected on the bottom of my gold
cooking-kettle. I also thought it advisable to make myself plates
from which to eat my food--not because of any fastidiousness on my
part, but from that ever-present desire to impress the blacks,
which was now my strongest instinct. In the course of my ramblings
in the northern regions I came across quantities of silver-lead,
which I smelted with the object of obtaining lead to beat out into
plates. I also went some hundreds of miles for the sake of getting
copper, and found great quantities of ores of different kinds in
the Kimberley district.

A very strange experience befell Yamba not long after I had settled
down among the blacks in my mountain home; and it serves to
illustrate the strictness with which the laws against poaching are
observed. The incident I am about to relate concerned me very
nearly, and might have cost me my life as well as my wife. Well,
it happened that Yamba and I were one day returning from one of the
many "walkabouts" which we were constantly undertaking alone and
with natives, and which sometimes extended over several weeks and
even months. We had pitched our camp for the afternoon, and Yamba
went off, as usual, in search of roots and game for the evening
meal. She had been gone some little time when I suddenly heard her
well-known "coo-eey" and knowing that she must be in trouble of
some kind, I immediately grasped my weapons and went off to her
rescue, guiding myself by her tracks.

A quarter of a mile away I came upon a scene that filled me with
amazement. There was Yamba--surely the most devoted wife a man,
civilised or savage, ever had--struggling in the midst of quite a
crowd of blacks, who were yelling and trying forcibly to drag her
away. At once I saw what had happened. Yamba had been hunting for
roots over the boundary of territory belonging to a tribe with whom
we had not yet made friends; and as she had plainly been guilty of
the great crime of trespass, she was, according to inviolable
native law, confiscated by those who had detected her. I rushed up
to the blacks and began to remonstrate with them in their own
tongue, but they were both truculent and obstinate, and refused to
release my now weeping and terrified Yamba. At last we effected a
compromise,--I agreeing to accompany the party, with their captive,
back to their encampment, and there have the matter settled by the
chief. Fortunately we had not many miles to march, but, as I
anticipated, the chief took the side of his own warriors, and
promptly declared that he would appropriate Yamba for himself. I
explained to him, but in vain, that my wife's trespass was
committed all unknowingly, and that had I known his tribe were
encamped in the district, I would have come immediately and stayed
with them a few nights.

As showing what a remarkable person I was, I went through part of
my acrobatic repertoire; and even my poor eager Bruno, who
evidently scented trouble, began on his own account to give a
hurried and imperfect show. He stood on his head and tumbled
backwards and forwards in a lamentably loose and unscientific
manner, barking and yelling all the time.

I do not know whether the wily chief had made up his mind to see
more of us or not; but at any rate he looked at me very fiercely as
though determined to carry his point, and then replied that there
was but one law--which was that Yamba should be confiscated for
poaching, whether the crime was intentional on her part or not. So
emphatically was this said that I began to think I had really lost
my faithful companion for ever. As this awful thought grew upon
me, and I pondered over the terrible past, I made up my mind that
if necessary I would lose my own life in her defence, and to this
end I adopted a very haughty attitude, which caused the chief
suddenly to discover a kind of by-law to the effect that in such
cases as this one the nearest relative of the prisoner might win
her back by fighting for her. This, of course, was what I wanted,
above all things--particularly as the old chief had not as yet seen
me use my wonderful weapons. And as I felt certain he would choose
throwing spears, I knew that victory was mine. He selected, with a
critical eye, three well-made spears, whilst I chose three arrows,
which I purposely brandished aloft, so as to give my opponent the
impression that they were actually small spears, and were to be
thrown, as such, javelin-fashion. The old chief and his blacks
laughed heartily and pityingly at this exhibition, and ridiculed
the idea that I could do any damage with such toy weapons.

The demeanour of the chief himself was eloquent of the good-
humoured contempt in which he held me as an antagonist; and a
distance of twenty paces having been measured out, we took our
places and prepared for the dramatic encounter, upon which depended
something more precious to me than even my own life. Although
outwardly cool and even haughty, I was really in a state of most
terrible anxiety. I fixed my eyes intently upon the spare but
sinewy chief, and without moving a muscle allowed him to throw his
spears first. The formidable weapons came whizzing through the air
with extraordinary rapidity one after the other; but long
experience of the weapon and my own nimbleness enabled me to avoid
them. But no sooner had I stepped back into position for the third
time than, with lightning dexterity, I unslung my bow and let fly
an arrow at my antagonist which I had purposely made heavier than
usual by weighting it with fully an ounce of gold. Naturally he
failed to see the little feathered shaft approach, and it pierced
him right in the fleshy part of the left thigh--exactly where I
intended. The chief leaped from the ground more in surprise than
pain, as though suddenly possessed by an evil spirit. His
warriors, too, were vastly impressed. As blood was drawn in this
way, honour and the law were alike supposed to be satisfied, so
Yamba was immediately restored to me, trembling and half afraid to
credit her own joyful senses.

My readers will, perhaps, wonder why these cannibal savages did not
go back on their bargain and refuse to give her up, even after I
had vanquished their chief in fair fight; but the honourable course
they adopted is attributable solely to their own innate sense of
fair-play, and their admiration for superior prowess and skill.

Why, when the chief had recovered from his astonishment he came up
to me, and greeted me warmly, without even taking the trouble to
remove my arrow from his bleeding thigh! We became the very best
of friends; and Yamba and I stayed with him for some days as his
guests. When at length we were obliged to leave, he gave me quite
an imposing escort, as though I were a powerful friendly chief who
had done him a great service!

CHAPTER XVII

Mosquitoes and leeches--I explain pictures--An awkward admission--
My great portrait--The stomach as a deity--The portrait a success--
A colossal statue of "H. R. H."--Fish without eyes--A sad
reflection--A strange illusion--A grave danger--I sink a well --
"Universal provider"--A significant phenomenon--Bruno as
accomplice--I find Bruno dead.

I must say I was not very much troubled with mosquitoes in my
mountain home, and as I had endured dreadful torments from these
insects whilst at Port Essington and other swampy places, I had
good reason to congratulate myself. Whilst crossing some low
country on one occasion I was attacked by these wretched pests,
whose bite penetrated even the clay covering that protected my
skin. Even the blacks suffered terribly, particularly about the
eyes. I, however, had taken the precaution to protect my eyes by
means of leaves and twigs. At Port Essington the mosquitoes were
remarkably large, and of a greyish colour. They flew about
literally in clouds, and it was practically impossible to keep
clear of them.

The natives treated the bites with an ointment made from a kind of
penny-royal herb and powdered charcoal. Talking about pests, in
some parts the ants were even more terrible than the mosquitoes,
and I have known one variety--a reddish-brown monster, an inch
long--to swarm over and actually kill children by stinging them.
Another pest was the leech. It was rather dangerous to bathe in
some of the lagoons on account of the leeches that infested the
waters. Often in crossing a swamp I would feel a slight tickling
sensation about the legs, and on looking down would find my nether
limbs simply coated with these loathsome creatures. The remarkable
thing was, that whilst the blacks readily knew when leeches
attacked them, I would be ignorant for quite a long time, until I
had grown positively faint from loss of blood. Furthermore, the
blacks seemed to think nothing of their attacks, but would simply
crush them on their persons in the most nonchalant manner.
Sometimes they scorch them off their bodies by means of a lighted
stick--a kind office which Yamba performed for me. The blacks had
very few real cures for ailments, and such as they had were
distinctly curious. One cure for rheumatism was to roll in the
black, odourless mud at the edge of a lagoon, and then bask in the
blazing sun until the mud became quite caked upon the person.

The question may be asked whether I ever tried to tell my cannibals
about the outside world. My answer is, that I only told them just
so much as I thought their childish imaginations would grasp. Had
I told them more, I would simply have puzzled them, and what they
do not understand they are apt to suspect.

Thus, when I showed them pictures of horse-races and sheep farms in
the copy of the Sydney Town and Country Journal which I had picked
up, I was obliged to tell them that horses were used only in
warfare, whilst sheep were used only as food. Had I spoken about
horses as beasts of burden, and told them what was done with the
wool of the sheep, they would have been quite unable to grasp my
meaning, and so I should have done myself more harm than good.
They had ideas of their own about astronomy; the fundamental "fact"
being that the earth was perfectly flat, the sky being propped up
by poles placed at the edges, and kept upright by the spirits of
the departed--who, so the medicine-man said, were constantly being
sent offerings of food and drink. The Milky Way was a kind of
Paradise of souls; whilst the sun was the centre of the whole
creation.

I had often puzzled my brain for some method whereby I could convey
to these savages some idea of the magnitude of the British Empire.
I always had the BRITISH Empire in my mind, not only because my
sympathies inclined that way, but also because I knew that the
first friends to receive me on my return to civilisation must
necessarily be British. Over and over again did I tell the
childish savages grouped around me what a mighty ruler was the
Sovereign of the British Empire, which covered the whole world.
Also how that Sovereign HAD SENT ME AS a SPECIAL AMBASSADOR, to
describe to them the greatness of the nation of which they formed
part. Thus you will observe I never let my blacks suspect I was a
mere unfortunate, cast into their midst by a series of strange
chances. I mentioned the whole world because nothing less than
this would have done. Had I endeavoured to distinguish between the
British Empire and, say, the German, I should have again got beyond
my hearers' depth, so to speak, and involved myself in
difficulties.

Half instinctively, but without motive, I refrained from mentioning
that the ruler of the British Empire was A WOMAN, but this
admission dropped from me accidentally one day, and then--what a
falling off was there! I instantly recognised the mistake I had
made from the contemptuous glances of my blacks. And although I
hastened to say that she was a mighty chieftainess, upon whose
dominions the sun never set; and that she was actually the direct
ruler of the blacks themselves, they repudiated her with scorn, and
contemned me for singing the praises of a mere woman. I had to let
this unfortunate matter drop for a time, but the subject was ever
present in my mind, and I wondered how I could retrieve my position
(and her Majesty's) without eating my words. At length one day
Yamba and I came across a curious rugged limestone region, which
was full of caves. Whilst exploring these we came upon a huge,
flat, precipitous surface of rock, and then--how or why, I know
not--the idea suddenly occurred to me to DRAW A GIGANTIC PORTRAIT
OF HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA! At this period, I
should mention, I was a recognised chief, and periodically--once
every new moon--I gave a kind of reception to my people, and also
to the neighbouring tribes. At this interesting function I would
always contrive to have some new wonder to unfold. My visitors
never outstayed their welcome, and I always managed to have an
abundance of food for them.

Well, I came upon the cave region a few weeks after my unfortunate
blunder about the Queen; and I determined to have my great portrait
ready for the next reception day. Taking some blocks of stone of
handy size, I first wetted the surface of the rock and then
commenced to rub it, until I had a pretty smooth face to work upon.
This took some time, but whilst I was doing it Yamba got ready the
necessary charcoal sticks and pigments such as the blacks decorate
themselves with at corroborees. I had a slight knowledge of
drawing, and climbing up on some projecting stones I commenced to
draw in bold, sweeping outline, what I venture to describe as the
most extraordinary portrait of Queen Victoria on record. The
figure, which was in profile, was perhaps seven feet or eight feet
high, and of more than equally extravagant proportions in other
respects. Of course, the figure had to be represented entirely
without clothing, otherwise the blacks would simply have been
puzzled. Now to describe the portrait as much in detail as I dare.
The crown was composed of rare feathers such as only a redoubtable
and cunning hunter could obtain; and it included feathers of the
lyre-bird and emu. The sceptre was a stupendous gnarled waddy or
club, such as could be used with fearful execution amongst one's
enemies. The nose was very large, because this among the blacks
indicates great endurance; whilst the biceps were abnormally
developed. In fact, I gave her Majesty as much muscle as would
serve for half-a-dozen professional pugilists or "strong men." The
stomach was much distended, and when I state this fact I am sure it
will excite much curiosity as to the reason why.

Well, as the stomach is practically the greatest deity these
savages know, and as food is often very hard to obtain, they argue
that a person with a very full stomach must necessarily be a daring
and skilful hunter, otherwise he would not be able to get much food
to put into it.

This extraordinary portrait was finally daubed and decorated with
brilliant pigments and glaring splashes of yellow, red, and blue.
I also used a kind of vivid red dye obtained from the sap of a
certain creeper which was bruised between heavy stones. I spent
perhaps a week or a fortnight on this drawing (I could not give all
day to it, of course); and the only persons who knew of its
existence were my own children and women-folk. After the
completion of the great portrait, I went away, and waited
impatiently for my next reception day. When the wonder-loving
blacks were again before me I told them that I had a remarkable
picture of the great British Queen to show them, and then, full of
anticipation and childish delight, they trooped after me to the
spot where I had drawn the great picture on the rocks. It is no
exaggeration to say that the crowd of cannibals stood and squatted
in front of my handiwork simply speechless with amazement.
Eventually they burst out into cries of wonderment, making curious
guttural sounds with their lips, and smacking their thighs in token
of their appreciation. I pointed out every detail--the immense
size of the great Queen, and the various emblems of her power; and
at last, stepping back from the rock, I sang "God save the Queen,"
the beautiful national hymn of Great Britain, which I had learned
from the two ill-fated girls, and which, you will remember, has the
same air as that of a Swiss song.

The general effect not merely removed any bad impression that might
have been created with regard to my damaging admission about the
sex of the great ruler; it more than re-established me in my old
position, and I followed up my success by assuring them that her
Majesty included in her retinue of servants a greater number of
persons than was represented in the whole tribe before me.
Furthermore, I assured them that whilst the mountain home I had
built was very large (judged by their standard), the house of Queen
Victoria was big enough to hold a whole nation of blacks.

In order to give you some idea of the nervous horror I had of
losing prestige, I may tell you that, far from being satisfied with
what I had done to vindicate the great Sovereign whose special
ambassador I was supposed to be, I soon decided to give yet another
demonstration which should impress even those who were inclined to
cavil--if any such existed. I pointed out that whilst the Queen,
great and powerful and beloved ruler though she was, could not lead
her warriors into battle in person, yet she was represented in war
time by her eldest son, who was a most redoubtable warrior and
spear-thrower, and acted on behalf of his illustrious mother on all
occasions when she could not appear. But as mention of the Prince
of Wales called for a demonstration of HIS personality also, I
determined to make another experiment in portraiture,--this time in
the direction of sculpture. I think it was having come across a
very damp country, abounding in plastic clay, that put this idea
into my head. First of all, then, I cut down a stout young
sapling, which, propped up in the ground, served as the mainstay of
my statue; and from it I fastened projecting branches for the arms
and legs.

Round this framework I built up my figure with blocks of clay; and
at length, after, perhaps, three or four weeks' industrious
modelling, I completed a statue of his Royal Highness which
measured about seven feet six inches in height. The body and limbs
were of abnormal development, much on the lines of my
representation of his august mother. Fuller details would be
interesting, but hardly edifying. This statue I "unveiled" at
another of my monthly receptions, and, judged by its effect, it was
even a greater success than the colossal portrait of the Queen. A
monster corroboree was held alongside the Prince of Wales's statue,
but, unfortunately, he went to pieces in a day or two, when the
fierce sun beat down upon the clay, and cracked it. This gradual
disintegration of the great ruler's deputy vastly amused the
blacks, and I eventually had to hasten the Prince's end, lest their
mirth should compromise my dignity.

You will hardly be surprised when I tell you that the blacks looked
to me for everything. I was judge, wonder-worker, and arbitrator.
Often they would pick up one of my possessions, and, whilst not
exactly coveting it, they would ask for one like it.

Take, for example, the reed flutes which, when played by me, were
such a source of joy to the blacks and their children. Well, I was
soon called upon to make flutes for the natives, which I did out of
long reeds; but these instruments only had two holes in them at
first, as the blacks could not play them when other holes were
added. The great drawback to these flutes was that the reed dried
very quickly and became useless for musical purposes; so I was kept
pretty busy, more especially as I did not want to create jealousy
by refusing some and gratifying others.

Although the immediate country in which I established my home was
fertile and extremely rich in tropical vegetation, the adjoining
ranges were in striking contrast to it; many districts being rugged
and slaty and painfully difficult to traverse on foot. There were,
however, many interesting natural curiosities which beguiled the
time in travelling.

Once I came across a certain kind of spider, whose web was so
strong and thick that it only broke under considerable pressure
from the finger. The spider itself was fully two inches or three
inches long, and had formidable claws. Inland fishing, too, I
found extremely interesting. Of course, the inland blacks have a
very different method of fishing from that adopted by the coast
tribes. Often the inland people would build a fire on the banks of
the lagoon, and throw something into the water to attract the fish
to the surface. When the fish rose they would promptly be speared.
Some of them weighed as much as ten pounds, and proved excellent
eating. The blacks themselves never inquired how the fish came
into these inland holes; it was enough for them to know they were
there and were good eating. The usual fish-hooks were of bone; and
although I experimented with hooks of gold and copper I found them
practically useless, and, in the long run, reverted to articles of
native manufacture. In a certain limestone country, which I struck
in the course of my wanderings, I discovered some extraordinary
caves with water-holes, in which blind fish existed. They
certainly had indications of eyes, but these were hidden beneath a
kind of permanent skin covering. In any case they would have had
no use for eyes, because the water-holes were situated in the most
profound darkness. In other caves I discovered quantities of
extraordinary animal-bones, probably of prehistoric origin.

If I have omitted to mention Bruno in connection with every
incident related in these pages, it must not be supposed that my
faithful companion did not play an important part in my daily life.

He was always with me; but it must be remembered that he was now
growing old, and the natives around me were by no means so keen to
possess him as the tribes of Carpentaria had been in the days gone
by.

All kinds of extraordinary incidents befell me whilst on the "walk-
about." Many a time have I been deceived by mirage. One most
complete deception befell me one day whilst Yamba and I were
tramping over a stretch of low, sandy country. Suddenly I fancied
I descried the boundless ocean in the distance, and with my usual
impetuosity rushed frantically forward in the firm belief that at
last we had reached the coast. Yamba explained that it was only a
mirage, but I would not stay to listen, and must have gone miles
before I gave up in disgust and returned to my patient wife. This
brings me to another and perhaps still more extraordinary illusion.
One day whilst Yamba and I were passing through one of those
eternal regions of sand-hills and spinifex which are the despair of
the Australian explorer, I suddenly saw in the distance what I was
certain was A FLOCK OF SHEEP. There they were apparently--scores
of them, browsing calmly in a depression in a fertile patch where
most probably water existed.

In an instant the old desire to return to civilisation, which I had
thought buried long ago, reasserted itself, and I dashed forward at
full speed yelling back to Yamba, "Sheep, sheep--where sheep are,
men are. Civilisation at last!" When at length I had got near
enough for the creatures to notice me, you may imagine my disgust
and disappointment when quite a little forest of tall heads went
high into the air, and A FLOCK OF EMUS raced off across the country
at full speed. These huge birds had had their heads down feeding,
and not unnaturally, in the distance, I had mistaken them for
sheep.

I think every one is aware that prolonged droughts are of very
common occurrence in Central Australia, and are mainly responsible
for the migratory habits of the aborigines--particularly those of
the remote deserts in the interior. The most terrible drought I
myself experienced whilst in my mountain home was one that extended
over three years, when even the lagoon in front of my dwelling,
which I had thought practically inexhaustible, dried up, with the
most appalling results. Just think--never a drop of rain falling
for over three long years, with a scorching sun darting down its
rays almost every day! During this terrible period the only
moisture the parched earth received was in the form of the heavy
dews that descended in the night. Even these, however, only
benefited the vegetation where any continued to exist, and did not
contribute in the slightest degree to the natural water supply so
necessary for the sustenance of human and animal life. The results
were terrible to witness. Kangaroos and snakes; emus and
cockatoos; lizards and rats--all lay about either dead or dying;
and in the case of animals who had survived, they seemed no longer
to fear their natural enemy, man.

Day by day as I saw my lagoon grow gradually smaller, I felt that
unless I took some steps to ensure a more permanent supply, my
people must inevitably perish, and I with them. Naturally enough,
they looked to me to do something for them, and provide some relief
from the effects of the most terrible drought which even they had
ever experienced. Almost daily discouraging reports were brought
to me regarding the drying up of all the better-known water-holes
all round the country, and I was at length obliged to invite all
and sundry to use my own all but exhausted lagoon. At length
things became so threatening that I decided to sink a well.
Choosing a likely spot near the foot of a precipitous hill, I set
to work with only Yamba as my assistant. Confidently anticipating
the best results, I erected a crude kind of windlass, and fitted it
with a green-hide rope and a bucket made by scooping out a section
of a tree. My digging implements consisted solely of a home-made
wooden spade and a stone pick. Yamba manipulated the windlass,
lowering and raising the bucket and disposing of the gravel which I
sent to the surface, with the dexterity of a practised navvy. What
with the heat, the scarcity of water, and the fact that not one of
the natives could be relied upon to do an hour's work, it was a
terribly slow and wearying business; but Yamba and I stuck to it
doggedly day after day.

At the end of a week I had sunk a narrow shaft to a depth of twelve
or fourteen feet, and then to my infinite satisfaction saw every
indication that water was to be found a little lower down. In the
course of the following week I hit upon a spring, and then I felt
amply rewarded for all the trouble I had taken. Even when the
lagoon was perfectly dry, and only its parched sandy bed to be
seen, the supply from our little well continued undiminished; and
it proved more than enough for our wants during the whole of the
drought. I even ventured to provide the distressed birds and
animals with some means of quenching their insupportable thirst. A
few yards from the well I constructed a large wooden trough, which
I kept filled with water; and each day it was visited by the most
extraordinary flocks of birds of every size and variety of plumage-
-from emus down to what looked like humming-birds. Huge snakes,
ten and fifteen feet long, bustled the kangaroos away from the
life-giving trough; and occasionally the crowd would be so
excessive that some of the poor creatures would have to wait hours
before their thirst was satisfied,--and even die on the outer
fringe of the waiting throng. I remember that even at the time the
scene struck me as an amazing and unprecedented one, for there was
I doing my best to regulate the traffic, so to speak, sending away
the birds and animals and reptiles whose wants had been satisfied,
and bringing skins full of water to those who had fallen down from
exhaustion, and were in a fair way to die. As a rule, the
creatures took no notice whatever of me, but seemed to realise in
some instinctive way that I was their benefactor. Of course I had
to cover over the top of the well itself, otherwise it would have
been simply swamped with the carcasses of eager animals and birds.

But, it may be asked, why did I take the trouble to supply
everything that walked and flew and crawled with water when water
was so precious? A moment's thought will furnish the answer. If I
suffered all the animals, birds, and reptiles to die, I myself
would be without food, and then my last state would be considerably
worse than the first.

I think the snakes were the most ungrateful creatures of all.
Sometimes they would deliberately coil themselves up in the trough
itself, and so prevent the birds from approaching. I always knew
when something of this kind had happened, because of the frightful
screeching and general uproar set up by the indignant birds--that
is to say, such as had the power to screech left. I would hurry to
the spot and drag out the cause of the trouble with a forked stick.
I never killed him, because there were already enough of his kind
dead on every side. The very trees and grass died; and in this
originated another almost equally terrible peril--the bush fires,
of which more hereafter. Talking about snakes, one day I had a
narrow escape from one of these ungrateful reptiles. A number of
baby snakes had swarmed into the trough, and I was in the very act
of angrily removing them when I heard a shout of horror from Yamba.
I swung round, instinctively leaping sideways as I did so, and
there, rearing itself high in the air, was an enormous snake, fully
twenty feet long. Yamba, without a moment's hesitation, aimed a
tremendous blow at it and smashed its head.

The drought was productive of all kinds of curious and remarkable
incidents. The emus came in great flocks to the drinking-trough,
and some of them were so far gone that they fell dead only a few
yards from the fount of life. I picked up a great number of these
huge birds, and made their skins into useful bed coverings, rugs,
and even articles of clothing. When this terrible visitation was
at its height Yamba made a curious suggestion to me. Addressing me
gravely one night she said, "You have often told me of the Great
Spirit whom your people worship; He can do all things and grant all
prayers. Can you not appeal to Him now to send us water?" It was
a little bit awkward for me, but as I had often chatted to my wife
about the Deity, and told her of His omnipotence and His great
goodness to mankind, I was more or less obliged to adopt this
suggestion. Accordingly she and I knelt down together one night in
our dwelling, and offered up an earnest prayer to God that He would
send water to the afflicted country. Next morning that which
seemed to me a miracle had been wrought. Incredible though it may
appear, all the creeks, which until the previous night had been
mere dry watercourses for an untold number of months, were rippling
and running with the much-needed water, and we were saved all
further anxiety, at any rate for the time. There may be, however,
some scientific explanation of this extraordinary occurrence.

No sooner had we recovered from the delight caused by this
phenomenally sudden change than the rain came--such rain! and the
tremendous tropical downpour lasted for several weeks. The country
soon reverted to something like its normal appearance.

The bush fires were extinguished, and even my lagoon came into
existence again.

Talking about bush fires, we often saw them raging madly and
sublimely in the mountains. They would burn for weeks at a
stretch, and devastate hundreds of miles of country. For
ourselves, we always prepared for such emergencies by "ringing" our
dwelling --that is to say, laying bare a certain stretch of country
in a perfect circle around us. Often we were almost choked by the
intense heat which the wind occasionally wafted to us, and which,
combined with the blazing sun and scarcity of water, rendered life
positively intolerable.

I now wish to say a few words about Bruno--a few last sorrowful
words--because at this period he was growing feeble, and, indeed,
had never been the same since the death of Gibson. Still, I was
constantly making use of his sagacity to impress the blacks. My
usual custom was to hide some article (such as my tomahawk), near
the house in Bruno's presence, and then start off on a tramp
accompanied by the blacks.

After we had gone a few miles I would suddenly call a halt, and
pretend to my companions that I had forgotten something. Then I
would order Bruno to go back and fetch it, with many mysterious
whisperings. The dear, sagacious brute always understood what I
wanted him to do, and in the course of perhaps an hour or two he
would come and lay the article at my feet, and accept the
flattering adulation of my black companions with the utmost
calmness and indifference. Bruno never forgot what was required of
him when we encountered a new tribe of blacks. He would always
look to me for his cue, and when he saw me commence my acrobatic
feats, he too would go through his little repertoire, barking and
tumbling and rolling about with wonderful energy.

His quaint little ways had so endeared him to me that I could not
bear to think of anything happening to him. On one occasion, when
going through a burning, sandy desert, both he and I suffered
terribly from the hot, loose sand which poured between our toes and
caused us great suffering. Poor Bruno protested in the only way he
could, which was by stopping from time to time and giving vent to
the most mournful howls. Besides, I could tell from the gingerly
way he put his feet down that the burning sand would soon make it
impossible for him to go any farther. I therefore made him a set
of moccasins out of kangaroo skin, and tied them on his feet.
These he always wore afterwards when traversing similar deserts,
and eventually he became so accustomed to them that as soon as we
reached the sand he would come to me and put up his paws
appealingly to have his "boots" put on!

But now age began to tell upon him; he was getting stiff in his
limbs, and seldom accompanied me on hunting expeditions. He seemed
only to want to sleep and drowse away the day. He had been a
splendid kangaroo hunter, and took quite an extraordinary amount of
pleasure in this pursuit. He would run down the biggest kangaroo
and "bail him up" unerringly under a tree; and whenever the doomed
animal tried to get away Bruno would immediately go for his tail,
and compel him to stand at bay once more until I came up to give
the coup de grace. Of course, Bruno received a nasty kick
sometimes and occasionally a bite from a snake, poisonous and
otherwise. He was not a young dog when I had him first; and I had
now made up my mind that he could not live much longer. He paid
but little attention in these days to either Yamba or myself, and
in this condition he lingered on for a year or more.

One morning I went into the second hut--which we still called
Gibson's, by the way, although he had never lived there--when to my
dismay and horror (notwithstanding that I was prepared for the
event), I beheld my poor Bruno laid out stiff and stark on the
little skin rug that Gibson had originally made for him. I do not
think I knew how much I loved him until he was gone. As I stood
there, with the tears coursing down my cheeks, all the strange
events of my wondrous career seemed to rise before my mind--events
in which poor dead Bruno always took an active part. He was with
me on the wreck; he was with me on the island; he was with me in
all my wanderings and through all my sufferings and triumphs. He
got me out of many a scrape, and his curious little eccentricities,
likes, and dislikes afforded me never-ending delight. But now he
was gone the way of all flesh; and although I had expected this
blow for many months, I do not think this mitigated my poignant
grief. Yamba, too, was terribly grieved at his death, for she had
become most devotedly attached to him and he to her. I rolled the
body of the faithful creature in a kind of preservative earth and
then in an outer covering of bark. This done I laid him on a shelf
in one of the caves where the wild dogs could not get at him, and
where the body of Gibson, similarly treated, had also been placed.

CHAPTER XVIII

I make a perambulator--Meeting with whites--A dreadful habit--The
miracle of Moses--Preparing a demonstration--An expectant audience-
-Yamba growing feeble--One tie snapped--Yamba's pathetic efforts--
Vain hopes--Yamba dying--Nearing the end--My sole desire--A mass of
gold--I seek trousers and shirt--An interesting greeting--A
startling question--Towards Mount Margaret--The French Consul--I
reach London.

I always felt instinctively that any attempt at missionary
enterprise on my part would be dangerous, and might besides afford
jealous medicine-men and other possible enemies an excellent
opportunity of undermining my influence.

Sometimes, however, when all the tribe was gathered together, I
would bring up the subject of cannibalism, and tell them that the
Great Spirit they feared so much had left with me a written message
forbidding all feasting off the bodies of human beings. The
"written message" I referred to on these occasions was my old
Bible. Of course the blacks failed to understand its purport as a
book, having no written language of their own; but my manner and
words served to impress them.

My natives seemed ever to manifest the keenest interest in the
accounts I gave them of the wonderful resources of civilisation;
but experience showed that I must adapt my descriptions to the
intellect of my hearers. For example, I used to tell them that in
the great cities ("camps" I called them) there was never any real
darkness if men chose, because there were other lights at command
which could be turned off and on at will. The most effective
analogy in this respect was the twinkling of the stars in the
heavens; but my hearers were greatly amazed to think that such
lights could be under the command of man.

The blacks had long since put me down as a great spirit come to
visit them, and they even located by common consent a certain star
in the heavens which they decided was at one time my home, and to
which I should eventually return. Every time I made a false step,
I had to devise some new "miracle" by way of counterblast.

On one occasion I actually made a perambulator for the conveyance
of children! It was the very first time that these primitive
savages had seen the principle of the wheel applied to locomotion,
and it passed their comprehension altogether. With childish
delight and an uproar that baffles all description, both men and
women almost fought with one another for the honour of pushing the
crude little conveyance about. The perambulator was made out of
logs, and was a four-wheeled vehicle; the rims of the wheels being
cut from a hollow tree. My blacks were also much amazed at the
great size of my mountain home; but their wonderment increased
greatly when I explained to them that some of the buildings in the
great "camps" of the white man were as large as the hills, and much
more numerous.

Elsewhere I have spoken of the extraordinary system of telegraphy
that exists among the blacks. Well, in the early eighties news
began to reach me that numbers of white men had appeared in the
north; and in one of my many long tramps I one day came upon a
party of white men engaged in prospecting. I speak of this
remarkable meeting thus abruptly because their tent met my gaze in
the most abrupt manner possible. It is ever so in the Australian
bush.

I found that this party was by no means an isolated one, and I
actually stayed in various camps for a few days, before returning
to my mountain home. I need hardly remark that the white men were
far more astonished to see me than I was at meeting them. Of
course I could have joined them and gone back to civilisation, but
this I would not do without my native wife and family. It was in
the Kimberley district that I met these parties of prospectors; and
I may here remark that I had for some time been aware of the
existence of this auriferous region. I learned afterwards that the
Kimberley was geographically the nearest point I might have made
for in order to reach civilisation.

When I settled down again in my mountain home I soon fell into my
old way of living, which was practically identical with that of the
blacks, save that I did not always accompany them when they shifted
camp. Parties of natives were constantly calling upon me, and
would stay perhaps three or four days at a time. I encouraged
these visits, and invariably prepared some entertainment for my
guests,--even going to the extent of providing them with wives,
according to native custom. But, you will ask, where did I get
wives to hand round in this convenient fashion? A very interesting
question this, and one which requires a somewhat lengthy answer.
Now, the blacks do not look upon the advent of a female child with
any favour; on the contrary, they frequently get rid of it at once
in order to save themselves the trouble of taking it with them when
on the walk-about.

As I was always very fond of children, I decided to try and put a
stop to this dreadful habit of child-murder, so I made it known far
and wide that parents could pass their girl-babies on to me, and I
would rear and look after them. The result of this widely-
advertised offer was that I soon had quite an orphan asylum
established--an institution which was valuable to me in many ways.
Quite apart from the satisfaction I derived from knowing I had
saved these children from a terrible death, I was looked upon as a
kind of prospective father-in-law on a gigantic scale, and young
men came from all parts to treat with me for wives.

As I have said before, my regular reception days were held at the
new moon.

My visitors, as well as my own people, gradually grew to have quite
a reverence for the Bible; but I am afraid it was not on account of
the sacredness of the book, but rather owing to the wonderful
things it contained, and which were interpreted by me in such a way
as would appeal directly to the primitive minds of these people.

Oftentimes I made mistakes. For instance, what seemed to interest
them enormously was the story of how Moses struck the rock and
obtained a miraculous supply of water. Anything in the way of
fresh water procured in the desert interested them keenly. Only,
unfortunately, they floored me by asking me to accomplish a similar
miracle!

Another Bible story which brought me some discomfiture was about
Balaam and his ass. Now, when I decided to tell the story of
Balaam, I knew from experience that if I mentioned an "ass," that
animal would require all kinds of tedious explanation, which would
probably result in needless mystification and consequent suspicion;
so I boldly plunged into the story of BALAAM AND HIS KANGAROO! But
what staggered the blacks altogether was that Balaam's kangaroo
should be able to speak. Now, it seems that a talking animal is
the greatest possible joke known to the blacks, and so my narrative
was greeted with uproarious mirth; and my "impossible" story even
spread from tribe to tribe. I found it was no use telling the
blacks anything they could not readily comprehend.

One day I told them about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by
fire and brimstone, and this again landed me in disaster, for I was
promptly asked how could any one, Great Spirit or other, burn up
THE STONES of which the houses were composed? And, of course, each
instance of this kind would be pounced upon by a tribal medicine-
man or some other jealous enemy, and used to discredit me. A few
days after telling the Sodom and Gomorrah story, I was on a walk-
about with Yamba in my mountain region, when I suddenly discovered
that shale existed in very considerable quantities, and I thereupon
conceived the idea of demonstrating to the blacks that, not only
was the Bible narrative a true one, but that it was quite possible
to ignite stone; AND I WOULD EVEN SHOW THEM HOW IT WAS DONE!

Aided by Yamba and other members of my family, I constructed an
immense shaft-like cairn, mainly composed of loose pieces of shale
intermixed with sandstone. I put in the sandstone and other
stones, partly in order that the blacks might not notice the
uniform construction of the cairn; and partly also because I knew
that when the ordinary stones were heated, they would probably
burst or explode with a loud sound, and so terrify the
superstitious onlookers. The cairn was about fifteen feet high,
with an opening at the summit and other small openings at the sides
in order to ensure a good draught. At the base I left an opening
sufficiently large for me to crawl through. Then I placed inside a
quantity of inflammable material--such as wood and dry bark;--and
as all these preparations went forward in a very leisurely manner,
my monthly reception was quite due when everything was ready.
Wishing to have an exceptionally large gathering, I sent out
invitations to all the surrounding tribes to come and see my
wonderful performance at which I would "set fire to the rocks and
stones."

A perfectly enormous crowd assembled at the time appointed, for my
previous achievements had led the black-fellows to suppose I had
some marvellous manifestation in store for them. Never can I
forget the keenness with which that great assembly anticipated the
entertainment in store for them. And remember, they were growing
pretty blase by this time, having witnessed so many miracles.

In the twilight of the evening, when the murmur of the multitude
was hushed, I crawled cautiously into the cairn (I should have been
buried alive had it collapsed), and at once commenced operations
with the flint and steel and tinder which I had taken care to leave
there. In another minute I had set fire to the wood and dry
material that filled the bottom of the shaft. When I was satisfied
that it was thoroughly alight, I discreetly withdrew and joined the
wondering crowd, which I had forbidden to approach too close.
Dense clouds of smoke were now rolling from the apertures of the
great cairn, and in a short time the shaft was a fierce and raging
furnace, with the ordinary stones red hot and occasionally bursting
with loud explosions, which threw showers of glowing slag high into
the air.

The blacks were almost paralysed with fear, and many of them threw
themselves prostrate on the ground, ignoring the hail of stones
that fell upon their naked bodies. I stalked about majestically
among them, exulting in my power and the success of my
manifestation. The big cairn burnt for many days more fiercely
than even a stack of coal would do; and I never ceased to wonder
that the blacks themselves had not long ago found out the
inflammable nature of the "stone."

By this time Yamba could speak English tolerably well, but we did
not invariably use that language.

Gradually and half unconsciously I fell into the habit of speaking
the native tongue, until I suddenly found that the practice was
obtaining such a firm hold upon me that I was forgetting French
altogether; whilst it was only with difficulty that I could form
grammatical sentences in English. I soon came to the conclusion,
therefore, that it was necessary for me to hold much more converse
in English than I had hitherto done; and from the moment that this
curious "scare" suggested itself to my mind, Yamba and I and our
children spoke nothing but English when we were by ourselves in the
evening. I cultivated my knowledge of English in preference to any
other language, because I knew that if ever we should reach
civilisation, English and not French would be the language spoken.
It may be interesting also to mention that one of the first
indications I had that I was losing my English was an inability to
THINK in that language.

In general appearance I was now absolutely like a black, and wore
only an apron of emu skin as a protection against the scrub I
encountered when on the walk-about. In the ordinary way I never
had any marks upon me with the exception of these scratches. Of
course, on festive occasions, I was gaily painted and decorated,
and no doubt I would have been initiated into manhood, and borne
the tribal and other marks, were it not for the fact that I was a
man when I came among the blacks.

It is obviously impossible for me to record minutely the happenings
of every day, mainly because only the salient incidents stand out
in my mind. Besides, I have already dealt with the daily routine,
and have probably repeated myself in minor details.

A constant source of grief to me was the weakly condition of my two
children, who I knew could never attain mature age. And knowing
they were doomed, I think I loved them all the more.

Yet so incomprehensible is human nature that I often found myself
speculating on what I should do after they--and Yamba--were gone;
because by this time my faithful helpmate was growing ominously
feeble. You must remember that when I first met her on the desert
island she was an oldish woman, judged by the native standard; that
is to say, she was about thirty.

The death-bed of my boy is a scene I can never forget. He called
me to him, and said he was very glad he was dying, because he felt
he would never have been strong enough to fight his way through
life, and endure daily what the other black boys endured.
Therefore, he argued wistfully, and half inquiringly, he would only
be a burden to me. He was a very affectionate and considerate
little fellow, with an intelligence far beyond that of the ordinary
aboriginal child. He spoke in English, because I had taught both
him and his sister that language. At the last I learned--for the
first time--that it was always worrying him, and almost breaking
his little heart, that he could never compete with the black boys
in their games of strength and skill; and no doubt he would have
become an outcast were it not that he was my son.

Almost his last whispered words to me were that he would be able to
assist me more in the Spirit-land than ever he could hope to do in
the flesh. He was perfectly conscious to the last, and as I knelt
down by his couch of fragrant eucalyptus leaves, and stooped low to
catch his whispered message, he told me he seemed to be entering a
beautiful new country, where the birds always sang and the flowers
bloomed for ever. Spirit voices kept calling him, he said, and he
felt himself being irresistibly drawn away from me.

Upon my own feelings I do not wish to dwell. All I will say is I
kissed my boy on the eyes and mouth, and then, with a soft "Good-
bye, they have come for me," he closed his eyes for ever.

I felt it was to be. A few days afterwards the little girl, my
remaining child, was taken ill, and so feeble was she, that she
soon joined her brother in the better land. I seemed to be
overwhelmed with misfortunes, but the greatest of all was yet to
come. I have hinted that Yamba was beginning to show signs of
infirmity through advancing years. I could not help noticing, with
a vague feeling of helpless horror and sickening foreboding, that
she had lost her high spirits and keen perception--to say nothing
about the elasticity of her tread and her wonderful physical
endurance generally. She was no longer able to accompany me on the
long and interesting tramps which we had now taken together for so
many years. Her skin began to wither and wrinkle, and she
gradually took on the appearance of a very old woman. The result
of this was I began to have fits of frightful depression and acute
misery. I stayed at home a good deal now, partly because I knew
the country thoroughly and no longer cared to explore, and partly
also because I missed the companionship and invaluable assistance
of my devoted wife. I constantly buoyed myself up with the hope
that Yamba was only ailing temporarily, and that her enfeebled
condition had been brought on mainly by the misfortunes that had
befallen us of late. But she grew more and more feeble, and both
she and I knew that the end was not far off. Never once, however,
did we allude to such a catastrophe; and whenever I fixed my eyes
earnestly upon her in the vain hope of discerning some more
favourable symptom, she would pretend not to notice me.

I would sometimes take her for a long walk, which was really much
beyond her strength, solely in order that we might delude ourselves
with vain hopes. And she, poor creature, would tax herself far
beyond her strength in order to afford me a happiness which the
real state of things did not justify.

For instance, she would run and leap and jump in order to show that
she was as young as ever; but after these strange and pathetic
demonstrations she would endeavour to conceal her great exhaustion.

Very soon my poor Yamba was obliged to remain at home altogether;
and as she grew more and more infirm, she plucked up courage to
tell me that she knew she was going to die, and was rather glad
than otherwise, because then I would be able to return to
civilisation--that goal for which I had yearned through so many
years. She pointed out to me that it would not be so difficult
now, as I had already been brought into contact with parties of
white men; and, besides, we had long ago had news brought to us
about the construction of the Trans-Continental Telegraph Line from
Adelaide to Port Darwin. No sooner had she spoken of death than I
broke down again altogether. The thought that she should be taken
from me was so cruel that its contemplation was quite
insupportable, and I threw myself down beside her in a perfect
agony of grief and dread.

I told her I did not mind how long I remained among the blacks so
long as she was with me; and I tried to persuade her, with all the
eloquence I could muster, that, far from dying, she would return to
civilisation with me, so that I might spread abroad to the whole
world the story of her devotion and her virtues. As she continued
merely to smile pityingly, I changed my tone and dwelt upon the
past. I went through the whole story of my life, from the time she
was cast upon the desert island in the Sea of Timor, and at the
recital of all the hardships and dangers, joys and troubles, which
we had passed through together, she broke down also, and we wept
long and bitterly in one another's arms.

By this time she had become a convert to Christianity, but this was
entirely a matter of her own seeking. She had such implicit belief
in my wisdom and knowledge, that she begged me to tell her all
about my religion in order that she might adopt it as her own.
Like most converts, she was filled with fiery zeal and enthusiasm,
and tried to soften the approaching terror by telling me she was
quite happy at the thought of going, because she would be able to
look after me even more than in the past. "How different it would
have been with me," she used to say, "had I remained with my old
tribe. I should still be under the belief that when I died my
highest state would be to be turned into an animal; but now I know
that a glorious future awaits us, and that in due time you will
join me in heaven."

Yamba did not suffer any physical pain, nor was she actually
confined to her bed until four days before her death. As the
various tribes knew the love and admiration I had for her, the fact
that she lay dying spread rapidly, and crowds of natives flocked to
my mountain home.

Widespread sympathy was expressed for me; and all kinds of tender
consideration were evinced by these savages. All day long an
incessant stream of women-folk kept coming to the hut and inquiring
after my dying wife.

It seemed to be Yamba's sole anxiety that I should be well equipped
for the journey back to civilisation. She would rehearse with me
for hours the various methods adopted by the black-fellows to find
water; and she reminded me that my course at first was to be in a
southerly direction until I came to a region where the trees were
blazed, and then I was to follow the track that led westward. She
had elicited this information for me from the blacks with
remarkable acuteness.

These last days seemed to pass very quickly, and one night the
dying woman had a serious relapse. Hitherto she had always
addressed me as "Master," but now that she stood in the Valley of
the Shadow she would throw her arms about my neck and whisper
softly, "Good-bye, MY HUSBAND. Good-bye, I am going--going--going.
I will wait for you--there."

For myself I could not seem to realise it. Sometimes I would rise
up with the sole intention of finding out whether this frightful
thing was or was not a ghastly dream. Then my memory would go back
over the long years, and every little instance of unselfishness and
devotion would rise before my mind. As I looked at the prostrate
and attenuated form that lay silent on the couch of eucalyptus
leaves, I felt that life was merely the acutest agony, and that I
must immediately seek oblivion in some form or the other, or lose
my reason. It seemed, I say, impossible that Yamba could cease to
be. It seemed the cruellest and most preposterous thing that she
could be taken from me.

Frantically I put my arms around her and actually tried to lift her
on to her feet, begging of her to show how robust she was as in the
days of yore. I whispered into her ears all the memories of the
past, and the poor creature would endeavour to respond with a
series of feeble efforts, after which she sank back suddenly and
breathed a last pitiful sigh.

Language is utterly futile to describe my horror--my distraction.
I felt as I imagined a man would feel after amputation of all his
members, leaving only the quivering and bleeding trunk. I felt
that life held no more joy, no more hope; and gladly would I have
welcomed death itself as a happy release from the wretchedness of
living. In my delirium of grief I often besought the repulsive
savages about me to spear me where I stood.

Upon this subject I can dwell no more, because of what followed I
have only the vaguest recollection.

For days I seemed to live in a kind of dream, and was not even sure
that the people I met day by day were real beings. As to my awful
loss, I am sure I did not realise it. What I did realise, however,
was the necessity for immediate action. Like a dream to me also is
the memory of the sincere grief of my blacks and their well-meant
endeavours to console me. The women kept up a mournful howl, which
nearly drove me crazy, and only strengthened my resolve to get away
from that frightful place. So dazed did I become, that the blacks
concluded some strange spirit must have entered into me.

They seemed to take it for granted that I left all arrangements for
the funeral to them; the sole idea that possessed me being to
complete my arrangements for the great journey I had before me. I
told the natives frankly of my intention, and immediately forty of
them volunteered to accompany me on my travels as far as I chose to
permit them to come. I readily accepted the kindly offer, partly
because I knew that alone I should have gone mad; and partly also
because I instinctively realised that with such a bodyguard I would
have nothing to fear either from human foes or the tortures of
thirst.

I left everything. I cut off my long hair with my stiletto and
distributed it among the natives to be made into bracelets,
necklaces, and other souvenirs; and then I departed with little
ceremony from the place where I had spent so many years of weird
and strange exile. Most of my belongings I gave away, and I think
I turned my back upon my mountain home with little or no regret.
My dress consisted solely of the usual covering of emu skin; whilst
attached to a belt round my waist were my tomahawk and stiletto.
My bow and arrows were slung over my shoulder. Day after day we
marched steadily on, precisely as though we were on a walk-about.
The conditions of the country were constantly changing, and I came
across many evidences of its natural richness in minerals--more
particularly gold.

One day as we were all resting near the base of a rock, which was a
kind of huge outcrop from the plain, I began idly to chip the stone
with my tomahawk. Suddenly the edge glanced aside, revealing a
bright, shining, yellow metal. I sprang to my feet in
astonishment, and realised in a moment that this great mass of rock
was auriferous to an enormous degree, and there was one gigantic
nugget, spread out tentacle-wise in it, which if removed would, I
am sure, be as much as a couple of men could carry.

Week after week passed by, and still we continued our southward
march. In time, of course, my companions returned to their own
country; but so leisurely had our progress been that I had ample
time thoroughly to ingratiate myself with other tribes,--so that,
as usual, I went from tribe to tribe practically armed only with my
own knowledge of the savages and my invaluable repertoire of
tricks. In the course of months I came upon the blazed or marked
trees, and then struck due west.

Very few incidents worth recording befell me, and I kept steadily
on my way for eight or nine months. At last--at last--I came upon
unmistakable signs of the proximity of "civilisation"; for strewn
along the track we were now following were such things as rusty
meat-tins; old papers; discarded and very much ant-eaten clothing;
tent-pegs; and numerous other evidences of pioneer life. One day,
about noon, I espied an encampment of tents 500 or 600 yards ahead
of me, and I promptly brought my men to a halt whilst I went
forward a little to reconnoitre. Curiously enough, the sight of
these tents did not cause me any great emotion. You see, I had met
prospectors before in the Kimberley region, and besides, I had been
looking for these tents so long from the time I first came across
the evidences of civilisation aforesaid, that my only surprise was
I had not reached them before. Walking about were Europeans in the
usual dress of the Australian prospector. Suddenly a strange
feeling of shyness and hesitancy came over me. Almost stark naked
and darkened as I was--a veritable savage, in fact--I realised I
could not go and introduce myself to these men without proper
clothing. I knew the value of caution in approaching so-called
civilised men, having had bitter experience with the Giles
expedition. Returning to my blacks, I told them that at last I had
come up with my own people, but did not want to join them for some
little time yet. Then I selected a couple of my companions, and
explained to them that I wanted some white man's clothing.

I instructed them to creep quietly into the camp, take a pair of
trousers and shirt that were hanging outside one of the tents, and
bring back these articles to me. They undertook the commission
with evident delight, but when they returned in the course of a few
minutes they brought only the shirt with them; the trousers, it
seemed having been removed no doubt by the owner, a few minutes
before they arrived. My blacks were intensely amused when I donned
the shirt; and considering that this was practically the only
article of wearing apparel I possessed, I have no doubt I did cut a
very ludicrous figure. Then came another difficulty. I reflected
I could not possibly go and show myself among these white men
wearing one of their own shirts. Finally I decided to bid farewell
then and there to my escort, and continue my march alone until I
reached another encampment.

In the course of another day or so I reached a second camp. Into
this I decided to venture and explain who I was. Before taking
this step, however, I rubbed off all the clayey coating on my skin,
trimmed my hair and beard to a respectable length by means of a
firestick, and threw away my bow, which was now my only remaining
weapon; then I marched boldly into the camp. Some five or six
bronzed prospectors were seated at supper round the fire in front
of the tent as I approached; and when they caught sight of me they
stared, astounded for the moment, and then burst into laughter,
under the impression that I was one of their own black servants
playing some joke upon them. When I was but a few yards away,
however, I called out in English -

"Halloa, boys! have you room for me?"

They were too much taken aback to reply immediately, and then one
of them said -

"Oh yes; come and sit down."

As I seated myself among them they asked -

"Have you been out prospecting?"

"Yes," I said quietly, "and I have been away a very long time."

"And where did you leave your mates?" was the next question.

"I had no mates," I told them. "I undertook my wanderings
practically alone."

They looked at one another, winked, and smiled incredulously at
this. Then one of them asked me if I had found any gold.

I said, "Oh yes, plenty of gold," and then the next query--a most
natural one--was, "Well, why have you not brought some of the stuff
back with you? How far have you travelled?"

I told them I had been tramping through the heart of the Continent
for eight or nine months, and that I had no means of carrying
nuggets and quartz about with me. But this explanation only served
to renew their merriment, which reached its climax when, in an
unguarded moment, I put a question which I had been burning to ask
-

"What year is this?"

"This is Bellamy's 'Looking Backward' with a vengeance," cried one
of the prospectors--a sally that was heartily appreciated by the
whole of the company, with the exception of myself. I began to
think that if this was the reception civilisation had for me, it
were better for me to have remained among my faithful savages.

But in a few minutes the men's demeanour changed, and it was
obvious that they looked upon me as a harmless lunatic just emerged
from the bush. I was assured that this conclusion was correct when
I saw the diggers looking at one another significantly and tapping
their foreheads. I resolved to tell them nothing further about
myself, well knowing that the more I told them the more convinced
they would be that I was a wandering lunatic. I learned that these
men were a party of decent young fellows from Coolgardie. They
offered me a meal of tea and damper, and pressed me to stay the
night with them, but I declined their hospitality. I gratefully
accepted a pair of trousers, but declined the offer of a pair of
boots, feeling certain that I could not yet bear these on my feet.
My rough benefactors told me that I should find many other camps to
the south and west; so I wandered off into the bush again and spent
the night alone.

My next move was in the direction of Mount Margaret; and along the
road which I traversed I came across an interesting variety of
picks, shovels, and other mining tools, which had evidently been
discarded by disappointed prospectors. I decided not to enter this
town but to go round it; then I continued my tramp alone towards
Coolgardie and thence to Southern Cross.

After working for some time in the last-named town (my impressions
of "civilisation" would make another whole book), I made my way to
Perth, the capital of Western Australia. In Perth I was advised
that it would be better for me to go to Melbourne, as I would stand
a much better chance there of getting a ship on which I might work
my passage to Europe. Accordingly I proceeded to Melbourne as soon
as I could, and the only noteworthy incident there was my humorous
interview with the French Consul. I addressed that dignified
functionary in execrable French, telling him that I was a French
subject and wanted to be sent back to Europe. I bungled a great
deal, and when my French failed I helped myself out with English.
The Consul waited patiently till I had finished, stroking his beard
the while, and looking at me in the most suspicious manner.

"You claim this because you are a Frenchman?" he said.

"That is so," I replied, involuntarily relapsing into English once
more.

"Well," he said coldly, as he turned away, "the next time you say
you are a Frenchman you had better not use any English at all,
because you speak that language better than I do."

I tried to argue the point with him, and told him I had been
shipwrecked, but when I went on to explain how long ago that
shipwreck was, he smiled in spite of himself, and I came away.
From Melbourne I went to Sydney, and from Sydney to Brisbane.

About May 1897, I found myself in Wellington, New Zealand, where I
was advised I stood an excellent chance of getting a ship to take
me to England. I sailed in the New Zealand Shipping Company's
Waikato, and landed in London in March 1898.

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