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

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

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

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

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

LUDWIG LEICHHARDT,
Overland from Sydney,
1847.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER IX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Filez, filez, mon beau navire,
Car la bonheur m’attend la bas.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A notre heureux sejour,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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