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´╗┐Title: The Adventures of Louis De Rougemont
Author: Rougemont, Louis de, 1847-1921
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ROUGEMONT***



Transcribed from the 1899 George Newnes edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



THE ADVENTURES OF
LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT
As Told by Himself


With Forty-six Illustrations

London
George Newnes, Limited
Southampton Street, Strand
1899

[_All rights reserved_]

Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
At the Ballantyne Press



DEDICATION


_To my Devoted Wife_,

YAMBA,

_The Noblest Work of the Creator_,
A GOOD WOMAN,

_And to her People_, _my True and Streadfast Friends_,
_who never wavered in their confidence or_
_attachment_, _and to whom I owe the_
_Preservation of my Life_,

THIS WORK

_Is gratefully Dedicated_



CHAPTER I


Early life--Leaving home--I meet Jensen--I go pearling--Daily
routine--Submarine beauties--A fortune in pearls--Seized by an
octopus--Shark-killing extraordinary--Trading with the natives--Impending
trouble--Preparing for the attack--Baffling the savages.

I was born in or near Paris, in the year 1844.  My father was a fairly
prosperous man of business--a general merchant, to be precise, who dealt
largely in shoes; but when I was about ten years old, my mother, in
consequence of certain domestic differences, took me to live with her at
Montreux, and other places in Switzerland, where I was educated.  I
visited many of the towns near Montreux, including Lausanne, Geneva,
Neufchatel, &c.  The whole of the time I was at school I mixed
extensively with English boys on account of their language and sports,
both of which attracted me.

Boys soon begin to display their bent, and mine, curiously enough, was in
the direction of geology.  I was constantly bringing home pieces of stone
and minerals picked up in the streets and on the mountains, and asking
questions about their origin and history.  My dear mother encouraged me
in this, and later on I frequently went to Freiburg, in the Black Forest,
to get a practical insight into smelting.  When I was about nineteen,
however, a message arrived from my father, directing me to return to
France and report myself as a conscript; but against this my mother
resolutely set her face.  I fancy my father wanted me to take up the army
as a career, but in deference to my mother's wishes I remained with her
in Switzerland for some time longer.  She and I had many talks about my
future, and she at length advised me to take a trip to the East, and see
what the experience of travel would do for me.  Neither of us had any
definite project in view, but at length my mother gave me about 7000
francs and I set out for Cairo, intending eventually to visit and make
myself acquainted with the French possessions in the Far East.  My idea
was to visit such places as Tonkin, Cochin-China, Madagascar, Mauritius,
Seychelles, &c.  My mother was of the opinion that if I saw a bit of the
world in this way I would be more inclined to settle down at home with
her at the end of my wanderings.  The primary cause of my going away was
a little love episode.  Whilst at Montreux I fell in love with a charming
young lady at a boarding-school near my home.  She was the daughter of
some high personage in the court of Russia--but exactly what position he
held I cannot say.  My mother was quite charmed with the young lady and
viewed our attachment with delight.  But when my father heard of the
matter he raised a decided objection to it, and ordered me to return to
France and join the army.  He had, as I have previously intimated, made
his own plans for my future, even to the point of deciding upon a future
wife for me, as is customary in France; but I resolutely declined to
conform to his wishes in this respect, and my mother quite sided with me.
I never quite knew how he got to hear of my love affair, but I conclude
that my mother must have mentioned it to him.  I only stayed a few days
in the wonderful metropolis of Egypt; its noises, its cosmopolitanism,
its crowds--these, and many other considerations, drove me from the city,
and I set out for Singapore.

I had not been many days in that place when, chancing to make inquiries
at a store kept by a Mr. Shakespeare, I was casually introduced to a
Dutch pearl-fisher named Peter Jensen.  Although I describe him as a
Dutch pearler I am somewhat uncertain as to his exact nationality.  I am
under the impression that he told me he came from Copenhagen, but in
those days the phrase "Dutchman" had a very wide application.  If a man
hailed from Holland, Sweden, Norway, or any neighbouring country, he was
always referred to as a Dutchman.  This was in 1863.  We grew quite
friendly, Jensen and I, and he told me he had a small forty-ton schooner
at Batavia, in which sturdy little craft he used to go on his pearling
expeditions.

"I am now," he said, "about to organise a trip to some untouched pearling
grounds off the south of New Guinea, but have not sufficient capital to
defray the preliminary expenses."

This hint I took, and I offered to join him.  He once agreed, and we
commenced our preparations without delay--in Batavia.  Now when a pearler
engaged a crew of native divers there in those days, he had to deposit
beforehand with the Dutch Government a certain sum for each man entering
his service, this money being a guarantee that the man would get his
wages.  Well, I placed all the money that I had with me at Captain
Jensen's disposal, provided he gave me a share in the venture we were
about to undertake.  "We will not," he said to me in Singapore, "draw up
an agreement here, but will do so at Batavia," and forthwith we set sail
for that place.  Before leaving Singapore, however, Jensen bought some
nautical instruments he could not get at Batavia--including compasses,
quadrant, chronometer, &c.  Strange to say, he did not tell me that his
ship was named the _Veielland_ until we had arrived at Batavia.  Here the
contract was duly drawn up, and the vessel fitted out for the voyage.  I
fancy this was the first time Jensen had embarked on a pearling
expedition on a craft of the size of the _Veielland_, his previous trips
having been undertaken on much smaller vessels, say of about ten tons.
Although the fitting out of the ship was left entirely in his hands, I
insisted upon having a supply of certain stores for myself put
aboard--things he would never have thought about.  These included such
luxuries as tinned and compressed vegetables, condensed milk, &c.  Jensen
did not even think of ship's biscuits until I called his attention to the
oversight.  He demurred at first about buying them, but I told him I
would not go until we had the biscuits aboard.  Jensen was a very bluff,
enigmatic sort of fellow, as I afterwards found out.  He was of a sullen,
morose nature, and I could never get much out of him about his past.  He
would not speak about himself under any circumstances, and at no time of
our acquaintance was he any sort of a sociable companion.  He was very
hard upon the sailors under him, and was much addicted to the use of
strong language.  I admit that I was an absolute "muff" in those days,
and Jensen was quick to grasp the fact.  He was very fond of schnapps,
whilst I hated the smell of the stuff.  Moreover, he was a great smoker,
and here again our tastes differed.

Our preparations in Batavia complete, we next went over to the islands of
the Dutch Archipelago, and engaged forty experienced Malay divers to
accompany us.  Jensen was very particular in selecting the men, each
being required to demonstrate his capabilities before us.  The way he
tested them prior to actually engaging them was to make each dive after a
bright tin object thrown into so many fathoms of water.  Altogether he
spent several weeks choosing his crew.  He had engaged a couple of Malays
at Batavia to help in the work of navigating the ship, but besides being
sailors these men were also good divers.  The majority of the other
Malays were only useful as divers, and took no part in the working of the
ship.  A native _serang_, or "boss," was appointed as chief, or foreman,
over the Malays, and he was permitted to take with him his wife and her
maid.  This "serang" had to be a first-class diver himself, and had also
to be acquainted with the manoeuvring of a small boat.  He was also
required to have a smattering of navigation generally.  Above all, he had
to be able to assert authority over the other divers; and in all these
respects our serang was thoroughly proficient.

I may here explain that shortly after leaving Batavia the captain had the
ship repainted a greyish-white colour all over.  I never troubled to look
for her name, but one day I saw Jensen painting the word _Veielland_ on
her.  There was a totally different name on the lifeboat, but I cannot
remember it.  What Jensen's motive was in sailing the ship under another
name I never understood; certainly it was a very suspicious circumstance.
Perhaps the ship as originally named had a bad name, and if such were the
case--mind you, I don't say that it had--the Malays could never have been
induced to go aboard.  Once out at sea, however, they would be absolutely
at the mercy of the captain, and he could treat them just as he pleased.
The first thing they did before coming aboard was to look at the name for
themselves.  No doubt they knew the reputation of every pearler.  Jensen
did on one occasion exercise his authority to the extent of transferring
some of his own Malay divers to another ship when we were out at sea.

At last everything was ready, and when we sailed for the pearling
grounds, our crew numbered forty-four all told, not including a fine dog
that belonged to the captain.  This dog, which played so important--nay,
so vitally important--a part in my strange afterlife, was given to Jensen
at Batavia by a Captain Cadell, a well-known Australian seaman, who had
gained some notoriety by navigating the Murray River for the first time.
Cadell, who was a great friend of Jensen, was himself a pearler.  But he
met with a sad end.  He was in a pearling expedition in the neighbourhood
of Thursday Island, and among his crew were some of the very Australian
Blacks who in after years proved so friendly to me.  Cadell treated these
men very badly, keeping them at work long after the time for their return
home had expired, and one day they mutinied and murdered him whilst he
was asleep.  The black fellow who called himself "Captain Jack Davies,"
of whom I shall have more to say hereafter, was amongst the crew at the
time.  I obtained this information in Sydney from Captain Tucker, a well-
known Torres Straits pearler.  Bruno, Jensen's dog, was something of a
greyhound in build, only that his hind-quarters were heavier.

As you may suppose, my knowledge of seamanship was very limited indeed,
but Jensen interested himself in me, so that I soon began to pick up a
good deal of useful knowledge.  He taught me how to take the sun, I using
his old instruments; but I could never grasp the taking of the lunars.  On
our voyage out I had no duties to perform on board, but I found much to
interest myself in the beautiful tropical islands among which we threaded
our way; and I took quite a childish delight in everything I saw.  It was
really a grand time for me.  I constantly wrote home to my mother, the
last letter I forwarded to her being from Koopang.  Occasionally we
landed on one of the islands to buy fresh provisions, in the shape of
fowls, pigs, fruit, &c.  We then set sail for the coast of New Guinea.
The voyage thence was accomplished without the slightest hitch, the
divers spending most of their time in singing and playing like little
children,--all in the best of good spirits.  Their favourite form of
amusement was to sit round a large fire, either telling stories of the
girls they had left behind, or singing love melodies.  When the weather
was at all cold, they would make a fire in a rather shallow tub, the
sides of which were lined with a layer of sand.  They were a wonderfully
light-hearted lot of fellows, and I greatly enjoyed listening to their
chants and yarns.  I was more often with them than in Jensen's company,
and it did not take me long to pick up bits of their language.

The _Veielland_ only drew between seven feet and eight feet of water, so
that we were able to venture very close in-shore whenever it was
necessary.  At length, about a month after starting, we reached a likely
spot where the captain thought that the precious shells might be found;
here we anchored, and the divers quickly got to work.  I ought to have
mentioned that we carried a large whale-boat, and about half-a-dozen
frail little "shell" boats for the use of the divers.

The comings and goings of the various pearling expeditions were of course
regulated by the weather and the state of the tide.  The captain himself
went out first of all in the whale-boat, and from it prospected for
shells at the bottom of the crystal sea.  The water was marvellously
transparent, and leaning over the side of the boat, Jensen peered eagerly
into his sea-telescope, which is simply a metal cylinder with a lens of
ordinary glass at the bottom.  Some of the sea-telescopes would even be
without this lens, being simply a metal cylinder open at both ends.
Although they did not bring the objects looked at nearer the vision, yet
they enabled the prospector to see below the ruffled surface of the
water.

The big whale-boat was followed at a respectful distance by the flotilla
of smaller boats, each containing from four to six Malays.  When Jensen
discerned a likely spot through his peculiar telescope, he gave the
signal for a halt, and before you could realise what was going to happen,
the native divers had tumbled out of their boats, and were _swimming_ in
a weird way down to the bottom of the translucent sea.  As a rule, one
man was left in each little boat to follow the movements of the divers as
they returned to the surface.  Not only did these divers wear no
mechanical "dress," but they used no stimulants or palliatives of any
kind to aid them in their work.  All they carried was a small
sheath-knife hung from the waist by a piece of string.  The water for the
most part was only two or three fathoms deep, but sometimes it would be
as much as eight fathoms,--which was the greatest depth to which the men
cared to go.  When he reached the bottom, the diver would grope about for
shells, and generally return to the surface with a couple, held in his
left hand and hugged against his breast; the right hand was kept free and
directed his movements in swimming.  Each diver seldom remained under
water more than one minute, and on coming to the surface he would take a
"spell" of perhaps a quarter of an hour before going down again.

As fast as each man brought his shells into the boat, they were put into
a separate little pile, which was respected absolutely, and always
recognised as belonging to its owner.  The bed of the sea at these
pearling grounds is usually coral, with innumerable holes of different
depths and sizes dotted all over it.  It was in these recesses that the
best shells were mostly found.

The marine vegetation down in these seas was always of extreme beauty;
there were stately "trees" that waved backwards and forwards, as though
under the influence of a gentle breeze; there were high, luxuriant
grasses, and innumerable plants of endless variety and colour.  The coral
rocks, too, were of gorgeous hues--yellow, blue, red, and white; but a
peculiar thing was that the moment you brought a piece of this rock up to
the surface, the lovely colour it possessed whilst in the water gradually
faded away.  Some of the coral I saw had curious little shoots hanging
from its numerous projections bearing a striking resemblance to
bluebells.

The illusion of a submarine forest was further heightened by the droves
of gaily-coloured fish that flitted in and out among the branches.
Perhaps the most beautiful of all were the little dolphins.  The diving
expeditions went away from the ship with the ebb tide, and returned with
the flow.  Sometimes their search would take them long distances away,
and on one occasion they were working fully ten miles from the
_Veielland_.  When the water suddenly became rough, rendering the divers
unable to paddle their own little skiffs back to the ship, they made
their way to the whale-boat, clambered aboard, and returned in her,
trailing their own craft at the stern.  The boats, however, were not
always brought back to the ship at night; as a rule they were buoyed near
the pearling beds, whilst the divers returned to their quarters aboard.  I
might here explain that the sleeping accommodation for the Malays was
both ample and comfortable.  A large room in which the casks of fresh
water were stored was set apart for their use.  These casks were turned
on end and a deck of planks placed over them, on which the Malays laid
their sleeping mats and little wooden pillows.  They ranged themselves
twenty a side.  But you may be asking, what was _I_ doing during these
pearling expeditions?  Well, I was intrusted with the important duty of
receiving the shells from the men, and crediting each with the number he
delivered.  Thus I was nearly always left alone on the ship--save for the
dog; because even the two Malay women frequently went out diving, and
they were credited for work done precisely as the men were.

If I had no shells to open whilst the divers were absent, I filled in my
time by sewing sails, which Jensen himself would cut to the required
shape--and reading, &c.  My library consisted of only five books--a copy
of the Bible, and a four-volume medical work in English by Bell, which I
had purchased at Singapore.  I made quite a study of the contents of this
work, and acquired much valuable information, which I was able to put to
good use in after years, more particularly during my sojourn amongst the
Blacks.  Bruno generally sat by my side on deck when I was alone,--in
fact he was nearly always with me.  He took to me more than to Jensen
from the first.  Jensen rarely tried to bully me, though of course I was
now very much in his power, as he emphatically illustrated one day.  A
Malay diver had very much annoyed him, and in his fury he picked up a
heavy broom with a stick fully four feet long, and felled the poor fellow
senseless to the deck with it.  I was shocked at such awful brutality,
and ventured to protest against it.  "Captain," I said, "don't do
anything like that again whilst I am aboard."  Turning round in a great
passion he ordered me to keep my own counsel, otherwise he would have me
put in irons.  But for all that Jensen never again let his temper get the
better of him to such an extent in my presence.  He was always very gruff
in his manner, and looked upon me as the "darndest fool he had ever met."

These divers, by the way, never seemed to trouble about the value of the
treasure they were constantly bringing to the surface.  They thought
themselves well paid if they were given plenty of rice and fish, turtles'
eggs and fowls, in addition to such luxuries as spices, coffee, and
"Brummagem" jewellery, of a kind which is too well known to need
description.  At the same time it must be admitted that in addition to
their wages, which were paid them when they were discharged from the
ship, the Malays had practically no opportunity of being dishonest, even
though they might have been inclined that way.  They never came into
actual contact with the pearls; they were rewarded according to the
number of shells brought to the surface, and not the value of the pearls
they might contain.  All the shells were opened by me.  A healthy spirit
of rivalry was maintained among the divers, and the man who had the best
record of shells each week was rewarded with an extra allowance of rum or
tobacco; a choice of some article of jewellery, or anything else he
fancied from among the stock we had on board.  A bottle of chutney or
pickles was considered a specially valuable delicacy.  No money was ever
given to the divers as wages whilst at sea, remuneration in kind being
always given instead.  Each expedition would be absent perhaps six hours,
and on its return each diver generally had between twenty and forty
shells to hand over to me.  These I arranged in long rows on the deck,
and allowed them to remain there all night.  Next day I cleaned them by
scraping off the coral from the shells, and then opened them with an
ordinary dinner-knife.  Of course, every oyster did not produce a pearl;
in fact, I have opened as many as a hundred consecutive shells without
finding a single pearl.  The gems are hidden away in the fleshy part of
the oyster, and have to be removed by pressure of the thumb.  The empty
shells are then thrown in a heap on one side, and afterwards carefully
stowed away in the hold, as they constitute a valuable cargo in
themselves, being worth--at that time, at any rate (1864)--from 200 to
250 pounds, and even 350 pounds a ton.  All the pearls I found I placed
in a walnut jewel-case, measuring about fourteen inches by eight inches
by six inches.  The value of the treasure increased day by day, until it
amounted to many thousands of pounds; but of this more hereafter.  I did
not know much of the value of pearls then--how could I, having had no
previous experience?

Captain Jensen, however, assured me at the end of the season that we had
something like 50,000 pounds worth of pearls aboard, to say nothing about
the value of the shells, of which we had about thirty tons.  It must be
clearly understood that this is Captain Jensen's estimate--I am utterly
unable to give one.  The oysters themselves we found very poor eating,
and no one on board cared about them.  Some of the shells contained one
pearl, others two, three, and even four.  One magnificent specimen I came
across produced no fewer than a dozen fine pearls, but that of course was
very exceptional.  The largest gem I ever found was shaped just like a
big cube, more than an inch square.  It was, however, comparatively
worthless.  Actually the finest specimen that passed through my hands was
about the size of a pigeon's egg, and of exquisite colour and shape.  Some
of the pearls were of a beautiful rose colour, others yellow; but most
were pure white.

The greatest enemy the divers had to fear in those waters was the dreaded
octopus, whose presence occasioned far greater panic than the appearance
of a mere shark.

These loathsome monsters--call them squids, or devil-fish, or what you
will--would sometimes come and throw their horrible tentacles over the
side of the frail craft from which the divers were working, and actually
fasten on to the men themselves, dragging them out into the water.  At
other times octopuses have been known to attack the divers down below,
and hold them relentlessly under water until life was extinct.  One of
our own men had a terribly narrow escape from one of these fearful
creatures.  I must explain, however, that occasionally when the divers
returned from pearl-fishing, they used to rope all their little skiffs
together and let them lie astern of the schooner.  Well, one night the
wind rose and rain fell heavily, with the result that next morning all
the little boats were found more or less water-logged.  Some of the
Malays were told off to go and bale them out.  Whilst they were at work
one of the men saw a mysterious-looking black object in the sea, which so
attracted his curiosity that he dived overboard to find out what it was.
He had barely reached the water, however, when an immense octopus rose
into view, and at once made for the terrified man, who instantly saw his
danger, and with great presence of mind promptly turned and scrambled
back into the boat.

The terrible creature was after him, however, and to the horror of the
onlookers it extended its great flexible tentacles, enveloped the entire
boat, man and all, and then dragged the whole down into the clear depths.
The diver's horrified comrades rushed to his assistance, and an attempt
was made to kill the octopus with a harpoon, but without success.  Several
of his more resourceful companions then dived into the water with a big
net made of stout twine, which they took right underneath the octopus,
entangling the creature and its still living prey.  The next step was to
drag up both man and octopus into the whale-boat, and this done, the
unfortunate Malay was at length seized by his legs, and dragged by sheer
force out of the frightful embrace, more dead than alive, as you may
suppose.  However, we soon revived him by putting him into a very hot
bath, the water being at such a temperature as actually to blister his
skin.  It is most remarkable that the man was not altogether drowned, as
he had been held under water by the tentacles of the octopus for rather
more than two minutes.  But, like all the Malays of our party, this man
carried a knife, which he used to very good purpose on the monster's body
when first it dragged him under the water.  These repeated stabs caused
the creature to keep rolling about on the surface, and the unhappy man
was in this way enabled to get an occasional breath of air; otherwise he
must infallibly have been drowned.  It was a horrible-looking creature,
with a slimy body, and a hideous cavity of a mouth.  It is the tentacles
of the creature that are so dreaded, on account of the immense sucking
power which they possess.

After this incident the divers always took a tomahawk with them on their
expeditions, in order to lop off the tentacles of any octopus that might
try to attack them in the boats.  And, by the way, we saw many
extraordinary creatures during our cruise.  I myself had a serious fright
one day whilst indulging in a swim.

We had anchored in about five fathoms, and as I was proceeding leisurely
away from the vessel at a slow breast stroke, a monstrous fish, fully
twenty feet long, with an enormous hairy head and fierce, fantastic
moustaches, suddenly reared up out of the water, high into the air.  I
must say that the sight absolutely unmanned me for the moment, and when
this extraordinary creature opened his enormous mouth in my direction, I
gave myself up for lost.  It did not molest me, however, and I got back
to the ship safely, but it was some little time before I recovered from
the terrible fright.

Occasionally too we were troubled with sharks, but the Malays did not
appear to be very much afraid of them.  Their great dread was the ground
shark, which lay motionless at the bottom of the sea, and gave no
indication of his presence.  The result was that occasionally the divers
would sink down to their work quite unknowingly almost by the side of one
of these fearful creatures, and in such cases the diver rarely escaped
without injury of some kind.  With regard to the ordinary shark, however,
our divers actually sought them.  Their method of capturing them was
almost incredible in its simplicity and daring.  Three or four of our
divers would go out in a boat and allow themselves to drift into a big
school of sharks.  Then one man, possessed of more nerve than the rest,
would bend over the side and smartly prick the first one he came across
with a spear taken out for the purpose.  The moment he had succeeded in
this the other occupants of the boat would commence yelling and howling
at the top of their voices, at the same time beating the water with their
paddles, in order to frighten away the sharks.  This invariably
succeeded, but, amazing to relate, the shark that had been pricked always
came back alone a few minutes later to see what it was that had pricked
him.  Care has to be taken not to inflict a very severe wound, because
the moment the other sharks taste the blood of a wounded companion, they
will immediately turn upon him and eat him.  When the inquisitive shark
is seen coming in the direction of the boat, the Malay who has accosted
him in this way quietly jumps overboard, armed only with his small knife
and a short stick of hard wood, exactly like a butcher's skewer, about
five inches in length, and pointed at each end.

The man floats stationary on the surface of the sea, and, naturally, the
shark makes for him.  As the creature rolls over to bite, the wily Malay
glides out of his way with a few deft strokes of the left hand, whilst
with the right he deliberately plants the pointed skewer in an upright
position between the open jaws of the expectant monster.  The result is
simple, but surprising.  The shark is, of course, unable to close its
mouth, and the water just rushes down his throat and chokes him, in
consequence of the gills being forced back so tightly as to prevent the
escape of water through them in the natural way.  Needless to remark, it
requires the greatest possible coolness and nerve to kill a shark in this
way, but the Malays look upon it as a favourite recreation and an
exciting sport.  When the monster is dead its slayer dexterously climbs
on to its back, and then, digging his knife into the shark's head to
serve as a support and means of balance, the conqueror is towed back to
the ship astride his victim by means of a rope hauled by his companions
in their boats.

After many adventures and much luck in the way of getting pearls, our
food and water supply began to give out.  This induced Captain Jensen to
make for the New Guinea main in order to replenish his stores.  We soon
reached a likely spot on the coast, and obtained all that we wanted from
the natives by means of barter.

We gave them tomahawks, knives, hoop-iron, beads, turtles, and bright-
coloured cloth.  Indeed, so friendly did our intercourse become that
parties of our divers often went ashore and joined the Papuans in their
sports and games.  On one of these occasions I came across a curious
animal that bore a striking resemblance to a kangaroo, and yet was not
more than two feet high.  It could climb trees like an opossum and was of
the marsupial family.  The pigeons, too, which were very plentiful in
these parts, were as large as a big fowl.  The headman, or chief, took
quite an interest in me, and never seemed tired of conversing with me,
and pointing out the beauties of the country.  He even showed me a
certain boundary which he advised us not to pass, as the natives beyond
were not under his control.  One day, however, a party of our Malays,
accompanied by myself, imprudently ventured into the forbidden country,
and soon came to a native village, at which we halted.  The people here
were suspicious of us from the first, and when one of my men indiscreetly
offended a native, half the village rose against us, and we had to beat a
retreat.  We were making the best of our way to the coast again, when the
friendly chief came and met us.  He interceded with the indignant
tribesmen on our behalf, and succeeded in pacifying them.  On reaching
the ship, which was anchored within a mile of the coast, Jensen
complained to me ominously that he was getting fairly swamped with
natives, who persisted in coming on board with fruit and vegetables for
barter.  He said he was getting quite nervous about the crowds that
swarmed over the vessel, the natives going up and down as though they had
a perfect right to do so.

"I don't like it," said the captain, "and shall have to put my foot
down."

Next morning, when the usual batch of native canoes came alongside, we
declined to allow a single man on board.  While we were explaining this
to them, our friend the chief himself arrived, accompanied by
half-a-dozen notables, most of whom I knew, together with the now
friendly dignitary whose wrath we had aroused the previous day.  They
were all full of dignity and anticipation.  Captain Jensen, however, was
obdurate, and refused permission to any one to come aboard.  That was
enough for the chiefs.  They went away in high dudgeon, followed
immediately by all the other canoes and their occupants.  When all had
disappeared, a curious stillness came over the ship, the sea, and the
tropical coast, and a strange sense of impending danger seemed to oppress
all of us.  We knew that we had offended the natives, and as we could not
see a single one of them on the beach, it was pretty evident that they
were brooding over their grievance.  We might have weighed anchor and
made for the open sea, only unfortunately there was a perfect calm, and
our sails, which were set in readiness for a hasty departure, hung limp
and motionless.  Suddenly, as we stood looking out anxiously over the
side in the direction of the shore, we were amazed to see at least twenty
fully-equipped war-canoes, each carrying from thirty to forty warriors,
rounding the headland, some little distance away, and making straight for
our ship.  Now my shrewd Dutch partner had anticipated a possible attack,
and had accordingly armed all the Malays with tomahawks, in readiness for
any attempt that might be made to board the schooner.  We had also taken
off the hatches, and made a sort of fortification with them round the
wheel.

Jensen and I armed ourselves with guns, loaded our little cannon, and
prepared to make a desperate fight for our lives against the overwhelming
odds.  In spite of the danger of our position, I could not help being
struck with the magnificence of the spectacle presented by the great
fleet of boats now fast advancing towards us.  The warriors had all
assumed their fighting decorations, with white stripes painted round
their dusky bodies to strike terror into the beholder.  Their head-dress
consisted of many-coloured feathers projecting from the hair, which they
had matted and caused to stand bolt upright from the head.  Each boat had
a prow about three feet high, surmounted by a grotesquely carved figure-
head.  The war-canoes were propelled by twelve men, paddling on either
side.  When the first came within hailing distance I called out and made
signs that they were not to advance unless their intentions were
peaceful.  By way of reply, they merely brandished their bows and arrows
at us.  There was no mistaking their mission.

It was now quite evident that we should have to make a fight for it, and
the natives were coming to the attack in such numbers as easily to
overwhelm us if they once got on board.  Our position was rendered still
more awkward by the fact that all round the ship ropes were hanging down
to the water, up which our divers used to climb on their return from the
day's pearling.  These ropes were attached to a sort of hawser running
round the outside bulwarks of the ship.  We had not even time to haul
these up, and the enemy would certainly have found them very useful for
boarding purposes had they been allowed to get near enough.  It was
therefore very necessary that some decisive step should be taken at once.
While we were debating what was best to be done, we were suddenly greeted
by a shower of arrows from the leading war-canoe.  Without waiting any
longer I fired at the leader, who was standing in the prow, and bowled
him over.  The bullet went right through his body, and then bored a hole
low down in the side of the canoe.  The amazement of the warriors on
hearing the report and seeing the mysterious damage done is quite beyond
description; and before they could recover from their astonishment,
Jensen sent a charge of grape-shot right into their midst, which
shattered several of the canoes and caused a general halt in the advance.

Again I made signs to them not to come nearer, and they seemed undecided
what to do.  Jabbering consultations were held, but while they were thus
hesitating ten more canoes swung round the headland, and their appearance
seemed to give the advance-guard fresh courage.

Once more they made for our ship, but I was ready for them with the
little cannon we had on board; it had been reloaded with grape after the
first discharge.  With a roar the gun belched forth a second deadly hail
against the advancing savages, and the effect was to demoralise them
completely.  One of the canoes was shattered to pieces, and nearly all
the men in it more or less seriously wounded; whilst the occupants of
several other canoes received injuries.

Quite a panic now ensued, and the fleet of canoes got inextricably mixed.
Several showers of arrows, however, descended on our deck, and some of
them penetrated the sails, but no one was injured.  The natives were too
much afraid to advance any farther, and as a wind had now sprung up we
deemed it time to make a dash for liberty.  We therefore quietly slipped
our anchor and, heading the ship for the open sea, glided swiftly past
the enemy's fleet, whose gaily decked, though sorely bewildered, warriors
greeted us with a Parthian flight of arrows as we raced by.  In another
half-hour we were well out to sea, and able to breathe freely once more.



CHAPTER II


The three black pearls--The fatal morning--Jensen and his flotilla drift
away--Alone on the ship--"Oil on the troubled waters"--A substitute for a
rudder--Smoke signals--The whirlpool--The savages attack--I escape from
the blacks--A strange monster--The _Veielland_ strikes a reef--Stone deaf
through the big wave--I leap into the sea--How Bruno helped me ashore--The
dreary island--My raft--A horrible discovery.

This adventure made our Malay crew very anxious to leave these regions.
They had not forgotten the octopus incident either, and they now
appointed their serang to wait upon the captain--a kind of "one-man"
deputation--to persuade him, if possible, to sail for fresh
fishing-grounds.  At first Jensen tried to persuade them to remain in the
same latitudes, which is not to be wondered at, seeing the harvest he had
secured; but they would not listen to this, and at last he was compelled
to direct his ship towards some other quarter.  Where he took us to I
cannot say, but in the course of another week we dropped anchor in some
practically unexplored pearling grounds, and got to work once more.  Our
luck was still with us, and we continued increasing every day the value
of our already substantial treasure.  In these new grounds we found a
particularly small shell very rich in pearls, which required no diving
for at all.  They were secured by means of a trawl or scoop dragged from
the stern of the lifeboat; and when the tide was low the men jumped into
the shallow water and picked them up at their ease.

One morning, as I was opening the shells as usual, out from one dropped
three magnificent black pearls.  I gazed at them, fascinated--why, I know
not.  Ah! those terrible three black pearls; would to God they had never
been found!  When I showed them to the captain he became very excited,
and said that, as they were worth nearly all the others put together, it
would be well worth our while trying to find more like them.  Now, this
meant stopping at sea longer than was either customary or advisable.  The
pearling season was practically at an end, and the yearly cyclonic
changes were actually due, but the captain had got the "pearl fever" very
badly and flatly refused to leave.  Already we had made an enormous haul,
and in addition to the stock in my charge Jensen had rows of pickle
bottles full of pearls in his cabin, which he would sit and gloat over
for hours like a miser with his gold.  He kept on saying that there
_must_ be more of these black pearls to be obtained; the three we had
found could not possibly be isolated specimens and so on.  Accordingly,
we kept our divers at work day after day as usual.  Of course, I did not
know much about the awful dangers to which we were exposing ourselves by
remaining out in such uncertain seas when the cyclones were due; and I
did not, I confess, see any great reason why we should _not_ continue
pearling.  I was inexperienced, you see.

The pearl-fishing season, as I afterwards learned, extends from November
to May.  Well, May came and went, and we were still hard at work, hoping
that each day would bring another haul of black pearls to our store of
treasure; in this, however, we were disappointed.  And yet the captain
became more determined than ever to find some.  He continued to take
charge of the whale-boat whenever the divers went out to work, and he
personally superintended their operations.  He knew very well that he had
already kept them at work longer than he ought to have done, and it was
only by a judicious distribution of more jewellery, pieces of cloth, &c.,
that he withheld them from openly rebelling against the extended stay.
The serang told him that if the men did once go on strike, nothing would
induce them to resume work, they would simply sulk, he said; and die out
of sheer disappointment and pettishness.  So the captain was compelled to
treat them more amiably than usual.  At the very outside their contract
would only be for nine months.  Sometimes when he showed signs of being
in a cantankerous mood because the haul of shells did not please him, the
serang would say to him defiantly, "Come on; take it out of me if you are
not satisfied."  But Jensen never accepted the challenge.  As the days
passed, I thought the weather showed indications of a change; for one
thing, the aneroid began jumping about in a very uneasy manner.  I called
Jensen's attention to the matter, but he was too much interested in his
hunt for black pearls to listen to me.

And now I pass to the fatal day that made me an outcast from civilisation
for so many weary years.  Early one morning in July 1864, Jensen went off
as usual with the whole of his crew, leaving me absolutely alone in
charge of the ship.  The women had often accompanied the divers on their
expeditions, and did so on this occasion, being rather expert at the
work, which they looked upon as sport.

Whenever I look back upon the events of that dreadful day, I am filled
with astonishment that the captain should have been so mad as to leave
the ship at all.  Only an hour before he left, a tidal wave broke over
the stern, and flooded the cabins with a perfect deluge.  Both Jensen and
I were down below at the time, and came in for an awful drenching.  This
in itself was a clear and ominous indication of atmospheric disturbance;
but all that poor Jensen did was to have the pumps set to work, and after
the cabins were comparatively dry he proceeded once more to the pearl
banks that fascinated him so, and on which he probably sleeps to this
day.  The tide was favourable when he left, and I watched the fleet of
little boats following in the wake of the whale-boat, until they were
some three miles distant from the ship, when they stopped for
preparations to be made for the work of diving.  I had no presentiment
whatever of the catastrophe that awaited them and me.

A cool, refreshing breeze had been blowing up to his time, but the wind
now developed a sudden violence, and the sea was lashed into huge waves
that quickly swamped nearly every one of the little cockle-shell boats.
Fortunately, they could not sink, and as I watched I saw that the Malays
who were thus thrown into the water clung to the sides of the little
boats, and made the best of their way to the big craft in charge of
Captain Jensen.  Every moment the sea became more and more turbulent as
the wind quickened to a hurricane.  When all the Malays had scrambled
into the whale-boat, they attempted to pull back to the ship, but I could
see that they were unable to make the slightest headway against the
tremendous sea that was running, although they worked frantically at the
oars.

On the contrary, I was horrified to see that they were gradually drifting
_away from me_, and being carried farther and farther out across the
illimitable sea.  I was nearly distracted at the sight, and I racked my
brains to devise some means of helping them, but could think of nothing
feasible.  I thought first of all of trying to slip the anchor and let
the ship drift in their direction, but I was by no means sure that she
would actually do this.  Besides, I reflected, she might strike on some
of the insidious coral reefs that abound in those fair but terribly
dangerous seas.  So I came to the conclusion that it would be better to
let her remain where she was--at least, for the time being.  Moreover, I
felt sure that the captain, with his knowledge of those regions, would
know of some island or convenient sandbank, perhaps not very far distant,
on which he might run his boat for safety until the storm had passed.

The boats receded farther and farther from view, until, about nine in the
morning, I lost sight of them altogether.  They had started out soon
after sunrise.  It then occurred to me that I ought to put the ship into
some sort of condition to enable her to weather the storm, which was
increasing instead of abating.  This was not the first storm I had
experienced on board the _Veielland_, so I knew pretty well what to do.
First of all, then, I battened down the hatches; this done, I made every
movable thing on deck as secure as I possibly could.  Fortunately all the
sails were furled at the time, so I had no trouble with them.  By mid-day
it was blowing so hard that I positively could not stand upright, but had
to crawl about on my hands and knees, otherwise I should have been hurled
overboard.  I also attached myself to a long rope, and fastened the other
end to one of the masts, so that in the event of my being washed into the
raging sea, I could pull myself on board again.

Blinding rain had been falling most of the time, and the waves came
dashing over the deck as though longing to engulf the little ship; but
she rode them all in splendid style.  The climax was reached about two
o'clock, when a perfect cyclone was raging, and the end seemed very near
for me.  It made me shudder to listen to the wind screaming and moaning
round the bare poles of the sturdy little vessel, which rose on veritable
mountains of water and crashed as suddenly into seething abysses that
made my heart stand still.  Then the weather suddenly became calm once
more--a change that was as unexpected as the advent of the storm itself.
The sky, however, continued very black and threatening, and the sea was
still somewhat boisterous; but both wind and rain had practically
subsided, and I could now look around me without feeling that if I
stirred I was a doomed man.  I clambered up the lower portion of the main
rigging, but only saw black, turbulent waters, hissing and heaving, and
raging on every side, and seemingly stretching away into infinity.  With
terrible force the utter awfulness and hopelessness of my position dawned
upon me, yet I did not despair.  I next thought it advisable to try and
slip my anchor, and let the ship drift, for I still half-fancied that
perhaps I might come across my companions somewhere.  Before I could free
the vessel, however, the wind veered completely round, and, to my horror
and despair, sent a veritable mountain of water on board, that carried
away nearly all the bulwarks, the galley, the top of the companion-way,
and, worst of all, completely wrenched off the wheel.  Compasses and
charts were all stored in the companion-way, and were therefore lost for
ever.  Then, indeed, I felt the end was near.  Fortunately, I was for'ard
at the time, or I must inevitably have been swept into the appalling
waste of whirling, mountainous waters.  This lashing of myself to the
mast, by the way, was the means of saving my life time after time.  Soon
after the big sea--which I had hoped was a final effort of the terrible
storm--the gale returned and blew in the opposite direction with even
greater fury than before.  I spent an awful time of it the whole night
long, without a soul to speak to or help me, and every moment I thought
the ship must go down, in that fearful sea.  The only living thing on
board beside myself was the captain's dog, which I could occasionally
hear howling dismally in the cabin below, where I had shut him in when
the cyclone first burst upon me.

Among the articles carried overboard by the big sea that smashed the
wheel was a large cask full of oil, made from turtle fat, in which we
always kept a supply of fresh meats, consisting mainly of pork and fowls.
This cask contained perhaps twenty gallons, and when it overturned, the
oil flowed all over the decks and trickled into the sea.  The effect was
simply magical.  Almost immediately the storm-tossed waves in the
vicinity of the ship, which hitherto had been raging mountains high,
quieted down in a way that filled me with astonishment.  This
tranquillity prevailed as long as the oil lasted; but as soon as the
supply was exhausted the giant waves became as turbulent and mountainous
as ever.

All night long the gale blew the ship blindly hither and thither, and it
was not until just before daybreak that the storm showed any signs of
abating.  By six o'clock, however, only a slight wind was blowing, and
the sea no longer threatened to engulf me and my little vessel.  I was
now able to look about me, and see what damage had been done; and you may
imagine my relief when I found that the ship was still sound and water-
tight, although the bulwarks were all gone, and she had all the
appearance of a derelict.  One of the first things I did was to go down
and unloose the dog--poor Bruno.  The delight of the poor creature knew
no bounds, and he rushed madly up on deck, barking frantically for his
absent master.  He seemed very much surprised to find no one aboard
besides myself.

Alas!  I never saw Peter Jensen again, nor the forty Malays and the two
women.  Jensen _may_ have escaped; he may even have lived to read these
lines; God only knows what was the fate of the unfortunate fleet of pearl-
fishers.  Priggish and uncharitable people may ejaculate: "The reward of
cupidity!"  But I say, "judge not, lest ye also be judged."

As the morning had now become beautifully fine, I thought I might attempt
to get out some spare sails.  I obtained what I wanted from the fo'c'sle,
and after a good deal of work managed to "bend" a mainsail and staysail.
Being without compass or chart, however, I knew not where I was, nor
could I decide what course to take in order to reach land.  I had a vague
idea that the seas in those regions were studded with innumerable little
islands and sandbanks known only to the pearl-fishers, and it seemed
inevitable that I must run aground somewhere or get stranded upon a coral
reef after I had slipped the cable.

However, I did not see what advantage was to be gained by remaining where
I was, so I fixed from the stern a couple of long sweeps, or steering
oars, twenty-six feet long, and made them answer the purpose of a rudder.
These arrangements occupied me two or three days, and then, when
everything was completed to my satisfaction, and the ship was in sailing
trim, I gave the _Veielland_ her freedom.  This I managed as follows: The
moment the chain was at its tautest--at its greatest tension--I gave it a
violent blow with a big axe, and it parted.  I steered due west, taking
my observations by the sun and my own shadow at morning, noon, and
evening.  For I had been taught to reckon the degree of latitude from the
number of inches of my shadow.  After a time I altered my course to west
by south, hoping that I might come upon one of the islands of the Dutch
Indies,--Timorland, for instance, but day after day passed without land
coming in sight.

Imagine the situation, if you can: alone on a disabled ship in the
limitless ocean,--tortured with doubts and fears about the fate of my
comrades, and filled with horror and despair at my own miserable
prospects for the future.

I did not sail the ship at night, but got out a sea-anchor (using a float
and a long coir rope), and lay-to while I turned in for a sleep.  I would
be up at day-break next morning, and as the weather continued beautifully
fine, I had no difficulty in getting under way again.  At last the
expected happened.  One afternoon, without any warning whatsoever, the
vessel struck heavily on a reef.  I hurriedly constructed a raft out of
the hatches and spare spars, and put biscuits and water aboard, after
which I landed on the rocks.  When the tide reached its lowest point the
stern of the _Veielland_ was left fully _twenty feet out of water_,
securely jammed between two high pinnacles of coral rock.  The sight was
remarkable in the extreme.  The sails were still set, and the stiff
breeze that was blowing dead against them caused them to belly out just
as though the craft were afloat, and practically helped to keep the
vessel in position.  The bows were much higher than the stern, the line
of the decks being at an angle of about forty-five degrees.  In this
remarkable situation she remained secure until the turning of the tide.
My only hope was that she would not suffer from the tremendous strain to
which she was necessarily being subjected.  It seemed to me every minute
that she would free herself from her singular position between the rocks,
and glide down bows foremost into the sea to disappear for ever.  But the
sails kept her back.  How earnestly I watched the rising of the waters;
and night came on as I waited.  Slowly and surely they crept up the bows,
and the ship gradually assumed her natural level until at length the
stanch little craft floated safe and sound once more, apparently very
little the worse for her strange experience.  And then away I went on my
way--by this time almost schooled to indifference.  Had she gone down I
must inevitably have succumbed on those coral reefs, for the stock of
biscuits and water I had been able to put aboard the raft would only have
lasted a very few days.

For nearly a fortnight after the day of the great storm I kept on the
same course without experiencing any unpleasant incident or check, always
excepting the curious threatened wreck which I have just mentioned.

Just before dusk on the evening of the thirteenth day, I caught sight of
an island in the distance--Melville Island I now know it to be; and I was
greatly puzzled to see smoke floating upwards apparently from many fires
kindled on the beach.  I knew that they were signals of some kind, and at
first I fancied that it must be one of the friendly Malay islands that I
was approaching.  A closer scrutiny of the smoke signals, however, soon
convinced me that I was mistaken.  As I drew nearer, I saw a number of
natives, perfectly nude, running wildly about on the beach and
brandishing their spears in my direction.

I did not like the look of things at all, but when I tried to turn the
head of the ship to skirt the island instead of heading straight on, I
found to my vexation that I was being carried forward by a strong tide or
current straight into what appeared to be a large bay or inlet.  I had no
alternative but to let myself drift, and soon afterwards found myself in
a sort of natural harbour three or four miles wide, with very threatening
coral reefs showing above the surface.  Still the current drew me
helplessly onward, and in a few minutes the ship was caught in a
dangerous whirlpool, round which she was carried several times before I
managed to extricate her.  Next we were drawn close in to some rocks, and
I had to stand resolutely by with an oar in order to keep the vessel's
head from striking.  It was a time of most trying excitement for me, and
I wonder to this day how it was that the _Veielland_ did not strike and
founder then and there, considering, firstly, that she was virtually a
derelict, and secondly, that there was no living creature on board to
navigate her save myself.

I was beginning to despair of ever pulling the vessel through, when we
suddenly entered a narrow strait.  I knew that I was in a waterway
between two islands--Apsley Strait, dividing Melville and Bathurst
Islands, as I have since learned.

The warlike and threatening natives had now been left behind long ago,
and I never thought of meeting any other hostile people, when just as I
had reached the narrowest part of the waterway, I was startled by the
appearance of a great horde of naked blacks--giants, every one of them--on
the rocks above me.

They were tremendously excited, and greeted me first of all with a shower
of spears.  Fortunately, on encountering the first lot of threatening
blacks, I had prepared a shelter for myself on deck by means of the
hatches reared up endwise against the stanchions, and so the spears fell
harmlessly around me.  Next, the natives sent a volley of boomerangs on
board, but without any result.  Some of these curious weapons hit the
sails and fell impotently on the deck, whilst some returned to their
throwers, who were standing on the rocks about fifty yards away, near the
edge of the water.  I afterwards secured the boomerangs that came on
board, and found that they were about twenty-four inches in length,
shaped like the blade of a sickle, and measured three or four inches
across at the widest part.

They were made of extremely hard wood, and were undoubtedly capable of
doing considerable injury when dexterously and accurately thrown.  The
blacks kept up a terrific hubbub on shore, yelling like madmen, and
hurling at me showers of barbed spears.  The fact that they had
boomerangs convinced me that I must be nearing the Australian mainland.
All this time the current was carrying the _Veielland_ rapidly along, and
I had soon left the natives jabbering furiously far behind me.

At last I could see the open sea once more, and at the mouth of the
strait was a little low, wooded island, where I thought I might venture
to land.  As I was approaching it, however, yet another crowd of blacks,
all armed, came rushing down to the beach; they jumped into their
catamarans, or "floats," and paddled out towards me.

After my previous experience I deemed it advisable not to let them get
too near, so I hoisted the mainsail again and stood for the open sea.
There was a good supply of guns and ammunition on board, and it would
have been an easy matter for me to have sunk one or two of the native
catamarans, which are mere primitive rafts or floats, and so cooled their
enthusiasm a bit; but I refrained, on reflecting that I should not gain
anything by this action.

By this time I had abandoned all hope of ever coming up with my friends,
but, of course, I did not despair of reaching land--although I hardly
knew in what direction I ought to shape my course.  Still, I thought that
if I kept due west, I should eventually sight Timor or some other island
of the Dutch Indies, and so, for the next three or four days, I sailed
steadily on without further incident.

About a week after meeting with the hostile blacks, half a gale sprang
up, and I busied myself in putting the ship into trim to weather the
storm, which I knew was inevitable.  I happened to be looking over the
stern watching the clouds gathering in dark, black masses, when a strange
upheaval of the waters took place almost at my feet, and a huge black
fish, like an exaggerated porpoise, leaped into the air close to the
stern of my little vessel.

It was a monstrous, ungainly looking creature, nearly the size of a small
whale.  The strange way it disported itself alongside the ship filled me
with all manner of doubtings, and I was heartily thankful when it
suddenly disappeared from sight.  The weather then became more
boisterous, and as the day advanced I strove my utmost to keep the ship's
head well before the wind; it was very exhausting work.  I was unable to
keep anything like an adequate look-out ahead, and had to trust to
Providence to pull me through safely.

All this time I did not want for food.  Certainly I could not cook
anything, but there was any quantity of tinned provisions.  And I fed
Bruno, too.  I conversed with him almost hourly, and derived much
encouragement and sympathy therefrom.  One morning sometime between the
fifteenth and twentieth day, I was scanning the horizon with my customary
eagerness, when suddenly, on looking ahead, I found the sea white with
the foam of crashing breakers; I knew I must be in the vicinity of a
sunken reef.  I tried to get the ship round, but it was too late.  I
couldn't make the slightest impression upon her, and she forged stolidly
forward to her doom.

A few minutes later her keel came into violent contact with a coral reef,
and as she grated slowly over it, the poor thing seemed to shiver from
stem to stern.  The shock was so severe that I was thrown heavily to the
deck.  Bruno could make nothing whatever of it, so he found relief in
doleful howls.  While the vessel remained stuck on the rocks, I was
looking out anxiously from the rigging, when, without a moment's warning,
a gigantic wave came toppling and crashing overboard from the stern,
overwhelming me in the general destruction that followed.  I was dashed
with tremendous force on to the deck, and when I picked myself up,
bruised and bleeding, the first thing I was conscious of was a deathly
stillness, which filled me with vague amazement, considering that but a
few moments before my ears had been filled with the roar and crash of the
breakers.  And I could see that the storm was still raging with great
fury, although not a sound reached my ears.

Gradually the horrible truth dawned upon me--_I was stone deaf_!  The
blow on the head from the great wave had completely deprived me of all
sense of hearing.  How depressed I felt when I realised this awful fact
no one can imagine.  Nevertheless, things were not altogether hopeless,
for next morning I felt a sudden crack in my left ear, and immediately
afterwards I heard once more the dull roar of the surf, the whistling of
the wind, and the barking of my affectionate dog.  My right ear, however,
was permanently injured, and to this day I am decidedly deaf in that
organ.  I was just beginning to think that we had passed over the most
serious part of the danger, when to my utter despair I again heard that
hideous grating sound, and knew she had struck upon another reef.  She
stuck there for a time, but was again forced on, and presently floated in
deep water.  The pitiless reefs were now plainly visible on all sides,
and some distance away I could see what appeared to be nothing more than
a little sandbank rising a few feet above the waters of the lagoon.

While I was watching and waiting for developments the deck of the vessel
suddenly started, and she began rapidly to settle down by the stern.
Fortunately, however, at that point the water was not excessively deep.
When I saw that nothing could save the ship, and that her deck was all
but flush with the water, I loosened several of the fittings, as well as
some spars, casks, and chests, in the hope that they might drift to land
and perhaps be of service to me afterwards.  I remained on board as long
as I possibly could, trying to build a raft with which to get some things
ashore, but I hadn't time to finish it.

Up and up came the inexorable water, and at last, signalling to Bruno to
follow me, I leaped into the sea and commenced to swim towards the
sandbank.  Of course, all the boats had been lost when the pearling fleet
disappeared.  The sea was still very rough, and as the tide was against
us, I found it extremely exhausting work.  The dog seemed to understand
that I was finding it a dreadful strain, for he swam immediately in front
of me, and kept turning round again and again as though to see if I were
following safely.

By dint of tremendous struggling I managed to get close up to the shore,
but found it utterly impossible to climb up and land.  Every time I
essayed to plant my legs on the beach, the irresistible backwash swept me
down, rolling me head over heels, and in my exhausted condition this
filled me with despair.  On one occasion this backwash sent me spinning
into deep water again, and I am sure I should have been drowned had not
my brave dog come to my rescue and seized me by my hair--which, I should
have explained, I had always worn long from the days of my childhood.
Well, my dog tugged and tugged at me until he had got me half-way through
the breakers, nor did this exertion seem to cause him much trouble in
swimming.

I then exerted myself sufficiently to allow of his letting go my hair,
whilst I took the end of his tail between my teeth, and let him help me
ashore in this peculiar way.  He was a remarkably strong and sagacious
brute--an Australian dog--and he seemed to enjoy the task.  At length I
found myself on my legs upon the beach, though hardly able to move from
exhaustion of mind and body.  When at length I had recovered sufficiently
to walk about, I made a hasty survey of the little island or sandbank
upon which I found myself.  Thank God, I did not realise at that moment
that I was doomed to spend a soul-killing _two and a half years_ on that
desolate, microscopical strip of sand!  Had I done so I must have gone
raving mad.  It was an appalling, dreary-looking spot, without one single
tree or bush growing upon it to relieve the terrible monotony.  I tell
you, words can never describe the horror of the agonising months as they
crawled by.  "My island" was nothing but a little sand-spit, with here
and there a few tufts of grass struggling through its parched surface.  As
a matter of fact the sand was only four or five inches deep in most
places, and underneath was solid coral rock.

Think of it, ye who have envied the fate of the castaway on a gorgeous
and fertile tropical island perhaps miles in extent!  It was _barely a
hundred yards in length_, _ten yards wide_, _and only eight feet above
sea-level at high water_!  There was no sign of animal life upon it, but
birds were plentiful enough--particularly pelicans.  My tour of the
island occupied perhaps ten minutes; and you may perhaps form some
conception of my utter dismay on failing to come across any trace of
fresh water.

With what eager eyes did I look towards the ship then!  So long as she
did not break up I was safe because there were water and provisions in
plenty on board.  And how I thanked my God for the adamant bulwarks of
coral that protected my ark from the fury of the treacherous seas!  As
the weather became calmer, and a brilliant moon had risen, I decided to
swim back to the ship, and bring some food and clothing ashore from her.

I reached the wreck without much trouble, and clambered on board, but
could do very little in the way of saving goods, as the decks were still
below water.  However, I dived, or rather ducked, for the depth of water
was only four or five feet, into the cabin and secured some blankets, but
I could not lay my hands on any food.

After infinite trouble I managed to make some sort of a raft out of
pieces of wood I found lying loose and floating about, and upon this
platform I placed the blankets, an oak chest, and one or two other
articles I proposed taking ashore.  In the oak chest were a number of
flags, some clothing and medicine together with my case of pearls and the
four medical books.  But after I had launched it, I found that the tide
was still running out, and it was impossible for me to get anything
ashore that night.  The weather was beautifully fine, however, and as the
forepart of the ship was well out of water, I decided to remain on board
and get an hour or two's sleep, which I needed badly.  The night passed
without incident, and I was astir a little before dawn.

As the tide was now favourable, I loosed my raft and swam it ashore.  When
I gained the island, I made another survey of it, to find the most
suitable spot for pitching my camp, and in the course of my wanderings I
made a discovery that filled me with horror and the anguish of blackest
despair.  My curiosity was first attracted by a human skull that lay near
a large circular depression in the sand about two feet deep.  I commenced
scratching with my fingers at one side, and had only gone a few inches
down, when I came upon a quantity of human remains.

The sight struck terror to my heart, and filled me with the most dismal
forebodings.  "My own bones," I thought, "will soon be added to the
pile."  So great was my agony of mind that I had to leave the spot, and
interest myself in other things; but some time afterwards, when I had got
over my nervousness, I renewed my digging operations, and in an hour or
so had unearthed no fewer than sixteen complete skeletons--fourteen
adults, and two younger people, possibly women!  They lay alongside one
another, covered by sand that had been blown over them by the wind.



CHAPTER III


On the wreck--Efforts to kindle a fire--My flagstaff--Clothing
impossible--Growing corn in turtles' blood--My house of pearl shells--How
the pelicans fished for me--Stung by a "sting-rae"--My amusements--A
peculiar clock--Threatened madness--I begin to build a boat--An appalling
blunder--Riding on turtles--Preaching to Bruno--Canine sympathy--A
sail--How I got fresh water--Sending messages by the pelicans--A
wonderful almanac--A mysterious voice of hope--Human beings at last.

That morning I made my breakfast off raw sea-gulls' eggs, but was unable
to get anything to drink.  Between nine and ten o'clock, as the tide was
then very low, I was delighted to find that it was possible to reach the
wreck by walking along the rocks.  So, scrambling aboard, I collected as
many things as I could possibly transfer ashore.  I had to take dangerous
headers into the cabin, as the whole ship's interior was now full of
water, but all I could manage to secure were a tomahawk and my bow and
arrows, which had been given me by the Papuans.  I had always taken a
keen interest in archery, by the way, and had made quite a name for
myself in this direction long before I left Switzerland.  I also took out
a cooking-kettle.  All these seemingly unimportant finds were of vital
importance in the most literal sense of the phrase, particularly the
tomahawk and the bow, which were in after years my very salvation time
after time.

I was very delighted when I secured my bow and arrows, for I knew that
with them I could always be certain of killing sea-fowl for food.  There
was a stock of gunpowder on board and a number of rifles and shot-guns,
but as the former was hopelessly spoiled, I did not trouble about either.
With my tomahawk I cut away some of the ship's woodwork, which I threw
overboard and let drift to land to serve as fuel.  When I did eventually
return to my little island, I unravelled a piece of rope, and then tried
to produce fire by rubbing two pieces of wood smartly together amidst the
inflammable material.  It was a hopeless business, however; a full half-
hour's friction only made the sticks hot, and rub as hard as I would I
could not produce the faintest suspicion of a spark.  I sat down
helplessly, and wondered how the savages I had read of ever got fire in
this way.

Up to this time I had not built myself a shelter of any kind.  At night I
simply slept in the open air on the sand, with only my blankets round me.
One morning I was able to get out of the vessel some kegs of precious
water, a small barrel of flour, and a quantity of tinned foods.  All
these, together with some sails, spars, and ropes, I got safely ashore,
and in the afternoon I rigged myself up a sort of canvas awning as a
sleeping-place, using only some sails and spars.

Among the things I brought from the ship on a subsequent visit were a
stiletto that had originally been given to me by my mother.  It was an
old family relic with a black ebony handle and a finely tempered steel
blade four or five inches in length.  I also got a stone tomahawk--a mere
curio, obtained from the Papuans; and a quantity of a special kind of
wood, also taken on board at New Guinea.  This wood possessed the
peculiar property of smouldering for hours when once ignited, without
actually bursting into flame.  We took it on board because it made such
good fuel.

As the most urgent matter was to kindle a fire, I began experiments with
my two weapons, striking the steel tomahawk against the stone one over a
heap of fluffy material made by unravelling and teasing out a piece of
blanket.  Success attended my patient efforts this time, and to my
inexpressible relief and joy I soon had a cheerful fire blazing alongside
my improvised shelter--and, what is more, I took good care _never to let
it go out during the whole lime I remained a prisoner on the island_.  The
fire was always my first thought, and night and day it was kept at least
smouldering by means of the New Guinea wood I have already mentioned, and
of which I found a large stock on board.  The ship itself, I should
mention, provided me with all the fuel that was required in the ordinary
way, and, moreover, I was constantly finding pieces of wreckage along the
shore that had been gathered in by the restless waves.  Often--oh!
often--I reflected with a shudder what my fate would have been had the
ship gone down in deep water, leaving me safe, but deprived of all the
stores she contained.  The long, lingering agony, the starvation, the
madness of thirst, and finally a horrible death on that far-away strip of
sand, and another skeleton added to that grisly pile!

The days passed slowly by.  In what part of the world I was located I had
not the remotest idea.  I felt that I was altogether out of the beaten
track of ships because of the reefs that studded these seas, and
therefore the prospect of my being rescued was very remote indeed--a
thought that often caused me a kind of dull agony, more terrible than any
mere physical pain.

However, I fixed up a flagstaff on the highest point of the island--(poor
"island,"--_that_ was not many inches)--and floated an ensign _upside
down_ from it, in the hope that this signal of distress might be sighted
by some stray vessel, and indicate the presence of a castaway to those on
board.  Every morning I made my way to the flagstaff, and scanned the
horizon for a possible sail, but I always had to come away disappointed.
This became a habit; yet, so eternal is hope, that day by day, week by
week, and month by month the bitter disappointment was always a keen
torture.  By the way, the very reefs that made those seas so dangerous
served completely to protect my little island in stormy weather.  The
fury of the billows lost itself upon them, so that even the surf very
rarely reached me.  I was usually astir about sunrise.  I knew that the
sun rose about 6 A.M. in those tropical seas and set at 6 P.M.; there was
very little variation all the year round.  A heavy dew descended at
night, which made the air delightfully cool; but in the day it was so
frightfully hot that I could not bear the weight of ordinary clothes upon
my person, so I took to wearing a silk shawl instead, hung loosely round
my waist.

Another reason why I abandoned clothes was because I found that when a
rent appeared the sun blazed down through it and raised a painful
blister.  On the other hand, by merely wearing a waist-cloth, and taking
constant sea baths, I suffered scarcely at all from the scorching
tropical sun.  I now devoted all my energies to the wreck of the
_Veielland_, lest anything should happen to it, and worked with feverish
energy to get everything I possibly could out of the ship.  It took me
some months to accomplish this, but eventually I had removed
everything--even the greater part of the cargo of pearl shells.  The work
was rendered particularly arduous in consequence of the decks being so
frequently under water; and I found it was only at the full and new moons
that I could actually _walk_ round on the rocks to the wreck.  In course
of time the ship began to break up, and I materially assisted the
operation with an axe.  I wanted her timbers to build a boat in which to
escape.

The casks of flour I floated ashore were very little the worse for their
immersion; in fact, the water had only soaked through to the depth of a
couple of inches, forming a kind of protecting wet crust, and leaving the
inner part perfectly dry and good.  Much of this flour, however, was
afterwards spoiled by weevils; nor did my spreading out the precious
grain in the sunlight on tarpaulins and sails save it from at least
partial destruction.  I also brought ashore bags of beans, rice, and
maize; cases of preserved milk and vegetables, and innumerable other
articles of food, besides some small casks of oil and rum.  In fact, I
stripped the ship's interior of everything, and at the end of nine months
very little remained of her on the rocks but the bare skeleton of the
hull.  I moved all the things out day by day according to the tides.

In a large chest that came ashore from the captain's cabin I found a
stock of all kinds of seeds, and I resolved to see whether I could grow a
little corn.  Jensen himself had put the seeds aboard in order to plant
them on some of the islands near which we might be compelled to anchor
for some length of time.  Another object was to grow plants on board for
the amusement of the Malays.  The seeds included vegetables, flowers, and
Indian corn, the last named being in the cob.  The Malays are very fond
of flowers, and the captain told them that they might try and cultivate
some in boxes on board; but when he saw that this would mean an
additional drain upon his supply of fresh water he withdrew the
permission.  I knew that salt water would not nourish plants, and I was
equally certain I could not spare fresh water from my own stock for this
purpose.

Nevertheless, I set my wits to work, and at length decided upon an
interesting experiment.  I filled a large turtle shell with sand and a
little clay, and thoroughly wetted the mixture with turtle's blood, then
stirring the mass into a puddle and planting corn in it.

The grain quickly sprouted, and flourished so rapidly, that within a very
short time I was able to transplant it--always, however, nourishing it
with the blood of turtles.  This most satisfactory result induced me to
extend my operation, and I soon had quaint little crops of maize and
wheat growing in huge turtle shells; the wheat-plants, however, did not
reach maturity.

For a long time I was content with the simple awning I have described as
a place of shelter, but when I began to recover the pearl shells from the
ship, it occurred to me that I might use them as material with which to
build some kind of a hut.  Altogether there were about thirty tons of
pearl shells on board, and at first I took to diving for them merely as a
sort of pastime.

I spent many weeks getting enough shells ashore to build a couple of
parallel walls, each about seven feet high, three feet thick, and ten
feet in length.  The breeze blew gratefully through them.  I filled the
interstices of these walls with a puddle of clayey sand and water,
covered in the top with canvas, and made quite a comfortable living-place
out of it.  The walls at any rate had a high commercial value!  When the
wet season set in I built a third wall at one end, and erected a sort of
double awning in front, under which I always kept my fire burning.  I
also put a straw thatch over the hut, proudly using my own straw which I
had grown with blood.

In course of time I made myself crude articles of furniture, including a
table, some chairs, a bed, &c.  My bedding at first consisted of sails,
but afterwards I was able to have a mattress filled with straw from my
corn patch.  The kettle I had saved from the wreck was for a long time my
only cooking utensil, so when I had anything to prepare I generally made
an oven in the sand, after the manner of the natives I had met on the New
Guinea main.  I could always catch plenty of fish--principally mullet;
and as for sea-fowls, all that I had to do was walk over to that part of
the island where they were feeding and breeding, and knock them over with
a stick.  I made dough-cakes from the flour whilst it lasted; and I had
deputies to fish for me--I mean the hundreds of pelicans.  The birds who
had little ones to feed went out in the morning, and returned in the
afternoon, with from three to ten pounds of delicious fresh fish in their
curious pouches.

On alighting on the island they emptied their pouches on the sand--too
often, I must confess, solely for my benefit.  Selfish bachelor birds on
returning with full pouches jerked their catch into the air, and so
swallowed it.  It used to amuse me, however, to watch a robber gull,
perched on their back, cleverly and neatly intercepting the fish as it
ascended.  These fish, with broiled turtle meat and tinned fruits, made
quite a sumptuous repast.

After breakfast I would have a swim when the tide was low and there was
no likelihood of sharks being about.  A run along the beach in the sun
until I was dry followed, and then I returned to my awning and read aloud
to myself in English, from my medical books and my English-French
Testament, simply for the pleasure of hearing my own voice.  I was a very
good linguist in those days, and spoke English particularly well long
before I left Switzerland.  After breakfast, my dog and I would go out to
catch a peculiar sort of fish called the "sting-rae."  These curious
creatures have a sharp bony spike about two inches in length near the
tail and this I found admirably adapted for arrow-heads.  The body of the
fish resembled a huge flounder, but the tail was long and tapering.  They
would come close in-shore, and I would spear them from the rocks with a
Papuan fishing-spear.  The smallest I ever caught weighed fifteen pounds,
and I could never carry home more than a couple of average weight.  They
have the power of stinging, I believe, electrically, hence their name.  At
all events, I was once stung by one of these fish, and it was an
experience I shall never forget.  It fortunately happened at a time when
some friendly blacks were at hand, otherwise I question very much whether
I should be alive to-day.

I was wading slowly along the beach in rather deep water, when I suddenly
felt a most excruciating pain in my left ankle.  It seemed as though I
had just received a paralysing shock from a powerful battery, and down I
fell in a state of absolute collapse, unable to stir a finger to save
myself, although I knew I was rapidly drowning.  Fortunately the blacks
who were with me came and pulled me ashore, where I slowly recovered.
There was only a slight scratch on my ankle, but for a long time my whole
body was racked with pain, and when the natives got to know of the
symptoms they told me that I had been attacked by a "sting-rae."  The
spike or sting measures from two to six inches in length according to the
size of the fish.

But to return to my solitary life on the island.  The flesh of the sting-
rae was not pleasant to eat, being rather tough and tasteless, so I used
it as a bait for sharks.  Turtles visited the island in great numbers,
and deposited their eggs in holes made in the sand above high-water mark.
They only came on land during the night, at high tide; and whenever I
wanted a special delicacy, I turned one over on its back till morning,
when I despatched it leisurely with my tomahawk.  The creatures' shells I
always devoted to the extension of my garden, which became very large,
and eventually covered fully two-thirds of the island.  The maize and cob-
corn flourished remarkably well, and I generally managed to get three
crops in the course of a year.  The straw came in useful for bedding
purposes, but as I found the sand-flies and other insects becoming more
and more troublesome whilst I lay on the ground, I decided to try a
hammock.  I made one out of shark's hide, and slung it in my hut, when I
found that it answered my purpose splendidly.

The great thing was to ward off the dull agony, the killing depression,
and manias generally.  Fortunately I was of a very active disposition,
and as a pastime I took to gymnastics, even as I had at Montreux.  I
became a most proficient tumbler and acrobat, and could turn two or three
somersaults on dashing down from the sloping roof of my pearl-shell hut;
besides, I became a splendid high jumper, with and without the pole.
Another thing I interested myself in was the construction of a sun-dial.

Indeed, I spent many hours devising some means whereby I could fashion a
reliable "clock," and at last I worked out the principle of the sun-dial
on the sand.  I fixed a long stick perfectly upright in the ground, and
then marked off certain spaces round it by means of pegs and pearl
shells.  I calculated the hours according to the length of the shadows
cast by the sun.

But, in spite of all that I could do to interest or amuse myself, I was
frequently overwhelmed with fits of depression and despair, and more than
once I feared I should lose my mental balance and become a maniac.  A
religious craze took possession of me, and, strive as I might, I could
not keep my mind from dwelling upon certain apparent discrepancies in the
various apostles' versions of the Gospel!

I found myself constantly brooding over statements made in one form by
St. Matthew, and in another by St. Luke; and I conjured up endless
theological arguments and theories, until I was driven nearly frantic.
Much as I regretted it, I was compelled at last to give up reading my New
Testament, and by the exercise of a strong will I forced myself to think
about something totally different.

It took me a long time to overcome this religious melancholia, but I
mastered it in the long run, and was greatly delighted when I found I
could once more read without being hypercritical and doubtful of
everything.  Had I been cast on a luxuriant island, growing fruits and
flowers, and inhabited at least by animals--how different would it have
been!  But here there was nothing to save the mind from madness--merely a
tiny strip of sand, invisible a few hundred yards out at sea.

When the fits of depression came upon me I invariably concluded that life
was unbearable, and would actually rush into the sea, with the deliberate
object of putting an end to myself.  At these times my agony of mind was
far more dreadful that any degree of physical suffering could have been,
and death seemed to have a fascination for me that I could not resist.
Yet when I found myself up to my neck in water, a sudden revulsion of
feeling would come over me, and instead of drowning myself I would
indulge in a swim or a ride on a turtle's back by way of diverting my
thoughts into different channels.

Bruno always seemed to understand when I had an attack of melancholia,
and he would watch my every movement.  When he saw me rushing into the
water, he would follow at my side barking and yelling like a mad thing,
until he actually made me forget the dreadful object I had in view.  And
we would perhaps conclude by having a swimming race.  These fits of
depression always came upon me towards evening, and generally about the
same hour.

In spite of the apparent hopelessness of my position, I never
relinquished the idea of escaping from the island some day, and
accordingly I started building a boat within a month of my shipwreck.

Not that I knew anything whatever about boat-building; but I was
convinced that I could at least make a craft of some sort that would
float.  I set to work with a light heart, but later on paid dearly for my
ignorance in bitter, bitter disappointment and impotent regrets.  For one
thing, I made the keel too heavy; then, again, I used planks that were
absurdly thick for the shell, though, of course, I was not aware of these
things at the time.  The wreck, of course, provided me with all the
woodwork I required.  In order to make the staves pliable, I soaked them
in water for a week, and then heated them over a fire, afterwards bending
them to the required shape.  At the end of nine months of unremitting
labour, to which, latterly, considerable anxiety--glorious hopes and
sickening fears--was added, I had built what I considered a substantial
and sea-worthy sailing boat, fully fifteen feet long by four feet wide.
It was a heavy ungainly looking object when finished, and it required
much ingenuity on my part to launch it.  This I eventually managed,
however, by means of rollers and levers; but the boat was frightfully low
in the water at the stern.  It was quite watertight though, having an
outer covering of sharks' green hide, well smeared with Stockholm tar,
and an inside lining of stout canvas.  I also rigged up a mast, and made
a sail.  When my boat floated I fairly screamed aloud with wild delight,
and sympathetic Bruno jumped and yelped in unison.

But when all my preparations were complete, and I had rowed out a little
way, I made a discovery that nearly drove me crazy.  I found I had
launched the boat in a sort of lagoon several miles in extent, barred by
a crescent of coral rocks, over which _I could not possibly drag my craft
into the open sea_.  Although the water covered the reefs at high tide it
was never of sufficient depth to allow me to sail the boat over them.  I
tried every possible opening, but was always arrested at some point or
other.  After the first acute paroxysm of despair--beating my head with
my clenched fists--I consoled myself with the thought that when the high
tides came, they would perhaps lift the boat over that terrible barrier.
I waited, and waited, and waited, but alas! only to be disappointed.  My
nine weary months of arduous travail and half-frantic anticipation were
cruelly wasted.  At no time could I get the boat out into the open sea in
consequence of the rocks, and it was equally impossible for me unaided to
drag her back up the steep slope again and across the island, where she
could be launched opposite an opening in the encircling reefs.  So there
my darling boat lay idly in the lagoon--a useless thing, whose sight
filled me with heartache and despair.  And yet, in this very lagoon I
soon found amusement and pleasure.  When I had in some measure got over
the disappointment about the boat, I took to sailing her about in the
lagoon.  I also played the part of Neptune in the very extraordinary way
I have already indicated.  I used to wade out to where the turtles were,
and on catching a big six-hundred-pounder, I would calmly sit astride on
his back.

Away would swim the startled creature, mostly a foot or so below the
surface.  When he dived deeper I simply sat far back on the shell, and
then he was forced to come up.  I steered my queer steeds in a curious
way.  When I wanted my turtle to turn to the left, I simply thrust my
foot into his right eye, and _vice versa_ for the contrary direction.  My
two big toes placed simultaneously over both his optics caused a halt so
abrupt as almost to unseat me.  Sometimes I would go fully a mile out to
sea on one of these strange steeds.  It always frightened them to have me
astride, and in their terror they swam at a tremendous pace until
compelled to desist through sheer exhaustion.

Before the wet season commenced I put a straw thatch on the roof of my
hut, as before stated, and made my quarters as snug as possible.  And it
was a very necessary precaution, too, for sometimes it rained for days at
a stretch.  The rain never kept me indoors, however, and I took exercise
just the same, as I didn't bother about clothes, and rather enjoyed the
shower bath.  I was always devising means of making life more tolerable,
and amongst other things I made a sort of swing, which I found extremely
useful in beguiling time.  I would also practise jumping with long poles.
One day I captured a young pelican, and trained him to accompany me in my
walks and assist me in my fishing operations.  He also acted as a decoy.
Frequently I would hide myself in some grass, whilst my pet bird walked a
few yards away to attract his fellows.  Presently he would be joined by a
whole flock, many of which I lassoed, or shot with my bow and arrows.

But for my dog--my almost human Bruno--I think I must have died.  I used
to talk to him precisely as though he were a human being.  We were
absolutely inseparable.  I preached long sermons to him from Gospel
texts.  I told him in a loud voice all about my early life and school-
days at Montreux; I recounted to him all my adventures, from the fatal
meeting with poor Peter Jensen in Singapore, right up to the present; I
sang little _chansons_ to him, and among these he had his favourites as
well as those he disliked cordially.  If he did not care for a song, he
would set up a pitiful howl.  I feel convinced that this constant
communing aloud with my dog saved my reason.  Bruno seemed always to be
in such good spirits that I never dreamed of anything happening to him;
and his quiet, sympathetic companionship was one of the greatest
blessings I knew throughout many weird and terrible years.  As I talked
to him he would sit at my feet, looking so intelligently at me that I
fancied he understood every word of what I was saying.

When the religious mania was upon me, I talked over all sorts of
theological subjects with my Bruno, and it seemed to relieve me, even
though I never received any enlightenment from him upon the knotty point
that would be puzzling me at that particular time.  What delighted him
most of all was for me to tell him that I loved him very dearly, and that
he was even more valuable to me than the famous dogs of St. Bernard were
to benighted travellers in the snow.

I knew very little about musical instruments, but as I had often longed
for something to make a noise with, if only to drown the maddening crash
of the eternal surf, I fashioned a drum out of a small barrel, with
sharks' skin stretched tightly over the open ends.  This I beat with a
couple of sticks as an accompaniment to my singing, and as Bruno
occasionally joined in with a howl of disapproval or a yell of joy, the
effect must have been picturesque if not musical.  I was ready to do
almost anything to drown that ceaseless cr-ash, cr-ash of the breakers on
the beach, from whose melancholy and monotonous roar I could never escape
for a single moment throughout the whole of the long day.  However, I
escaped its sound when I lay down to sleep at night by a very simple
plan.  As I was stone-deaf in the right ear I always slept on the left
side.

Seven weary months had passed away, when one morning, on scanning the
horizon, I suddenly leaped into the air and screamed: "My God!  A sail!  A
sail!"  I nearly became delirious with excitement, but, alas! the ship
was too far out to sea to notice my frantic signals.  My island lay very
low, and all that I could make out of the vessel in the distance was her
sails.  She must have been fully five miles away, yet, in my excitement,
I ran up and down the miserable beach, shouting in a frenzy and waving my
arms in the hope of attracting the attention of some one on board; but it
was all in vain.  The ship, which I concluded was a pearler, kept
steadily on her way, and eventually disappeared below the horizon.

Never can I hope to describe the gnawing pain at my heart as, hoarse and
half mad, I sank exhausted on the sand, watching the last vestige of the
ship disappearing.  Altogether, I saw five ships pass in this way during
my sojourn on the island, but they were always too far out at sea to
notice my signals.  One of these vessels I knew to be a man-o'-war flying
the British ensign.  I tried to rig up a longer flag-staff, as I thought
the original one not high enough for its purpose.  Accordingly I spliced
a couple of long poles together, but to my disappointment found them too
heavy to raise in the air.  Bruno always joined in my enthusiasm when a
sail was in sight; in fact, he was generally the first to detect it, and
he would bark and drag at me until he had drawn my attention to the new
hope.  And I loved him for his tender sympathy in my paroxysms of regret
and disappointment.  The hairy head would rub coaxingly against my arm,
the warm tongue licking my hand, and the faithful brown eyes gazing at me
with a knowledge and sympathy that were more than human--these I feel
sure saved me again and again.  I might mention that, although my boat
was absolutely useless for the purpose of escape, I did not neglect her
altogether, but sailed her about the enclosed lagoon by way of practice
in the handling of her sails.  This was also a welcome recreation.

I never feared a lack of fresh water, for when, in the dry season, the
ship's stock and my reserve from the wet season were exhausted, I busied
myself with the condensing of sea water in my kettle, adding to my store
literally drop by drop.  Water was the only liquid I drank, all the tea
and coffee carried on board having been rendered utterly useless.

The powerful winged birds that abounded on the island one day gave me an
idea: Why not hang a message around their necks and send them forth into
the unknown?  Possibly they might bring help--who knows?  And with me to
conceive was to act.  I got a number of empty condensed-milk tins, and,
by means of fire, separated from the cylinder the tin disc that formed
the bottom.  On this disc I scratched a message with a sharp nail.  In a
few words I conveyed information about the wreck and my deplorable
condition.  I also gave the approximate bearings--latitude fifteen to
thirteen degrees, not far from the Australian main.

These discs--I prepared several in English, French, bad Dutch, German,
and Italian--I then fastened round the necks of the pelicans, by means of
fish-gut, and away across the ocean sped the affrighted birds, so scared
by the mysterious encumbrance that _they never returned to the island_.

I may say here that more than twenty years later, when I returned to
civilisation, I chanced to mention the story about my messenger-birds to
some old inhabitants at Fremantle, Western Australia, when, to my
amazement, they told me that a pelican carrying a tin disc round its
neck, bearing a message in French from a castaway, _had_ been found many
years previously by an old boatman on the beach near the mouth of the
Swan River.  But it was not mine.

So appalling was the monotony, and so limited my resources, that I
welcomed with childish glee any trifling little incident that happened.
For example, one lovely night in June I was amazed to hear a tremendous
commotion outside, and on getting up to see what was the matter, I beheld
dimly countless thousands of birds--Java sparrows I believe them to be.  I
went back to bed again, and in the morning was a little dismayed to find
that my pretty visitors had eaten up nearly all my green corn.  And the
birds were still there when I went forth in the morning.  They made the
air ring with their lively chatter, but the uproar they made was as music
to me.  The majority of them had greyish-yellow bodies, with yellow beaks
and pink ruffs, and they were not at all afraid of me.  I moved about
freely among them, and did not attempt to drive them out of my corn
patch, being only too grateful to see so much life about me.  They rose,
however, in great clouds the next day, much to my regret, and as they
soared heavenwards I could not help envying them their blessed freedom.

I kept count of the long days by means of pearl shells, for I had not
used up the whole cargo in the walls of my hut.  I put shells side by
side in a row, one for each day, until the number reached seven, and then
I transferred one shell to another place, representing the weeks.  Another
pile of shells represented the months; and as for the years, I kept count
of those by making notches on my bow.  My peculiar calendar was always
checked by the moon.

Now, I am not a superstitious man, so I relate the following
extraordinary occurrence merely as it happened, and without advancing any
theory of my own to account for it.  I had been many, many months--perhaps
more than a year--on that terrible little sand-spit, and on the night I
am describing I went to bed as usual, feeling very despondent.  As I lay
asleep in my hammock, I dreamed a beautiful dream.  Some spiritual being
seemed to come and bend over me, smiling pityingly.  So extraordinarily
vivid was the apparition, that I suddenly woke, tumbled out of my
hammock, and went outside on a vague search.  In a few minutes, however,
I laughed at my own folly and turned in again.

I lay there for some little time longer, thinking about the past--for I
dared not dwell on the future--when suddenly the intense stillness of the
night was broken by a strangely familiar voice, which said, distinctly
and encouragingly, "_Je suis avec toi.  Soit sans peur_.  _Tu
reviendras_."  I can never hope to describe my feelings at that moment.

It was not the voice of my father nor of my mother, yet it was certainly
the voice of some one I knew and loved, yet was unable to identify.  The
night was strangely calm, and so startling was this mysterious message
that instinctively I leaped out of my hammock again, went outside and
called out several times, but, of course, nothing happened.  From that
night, however, I never absolutely despaired, even when things looked
their very worst.

Two interminable years had passed away, when one day the weather suddenly
changed, and a terrible gale commenced to blow, which threatened almost
to wreck my little hut.  One morning, a few days later, when the storm
had abated somewhat, I heard Bruno barking wildly on the beach.  A few
seconds afterwards he came rushing into the hut, and would not rest until
I prepared to follow him outside.  Before doing so, however, I picked up
an oar--I knew not why.  I then followed my dog down to the beach,
wondering what could possibly have caused him to make such a fuss.  The
sea was somewhat agitated, and as it was not yet very light, I could not
clearly distinguish things in the distance.

On peering seawards for the third or fourth time, however, I fancied I
could make out a long, black object, which I concluded must be some kind
of a boat, tossing up and down on the billows.  Then I must confess I
began to share Bruno's excitement,--particularly when a few minutes later
I discerned a well-made catamaran, _with several human figures lying
prostrate upon it_!



CHAPTER IV


I try to revive my visitors--Demonstrations of amazement--A variety
entertainment--Evil spirits in the mirror--"The star above my
home"--"Preliminary canter" with the boat--A joyful procession--"Good-bye
to my island home"--Nearing the main--Among the cannibals--Smoke
telegraphy--A weird audience--A nation meets me--My first palace.

My state of mind was perfectly indescribable.  Here, I thought, are some
poor shipwrecked creatures like myself; and I prayed to God that I might
be the means of saving them.  The prospect of having at length some one
to converse with filled me with unutterable joy, and I could hardly
restrain myself from rushing into the water and swimming out to the
catamaran, which was still several hundred yards away from me.  Would it
_never_ draw near? I thought, wild with impatience.  And then, to my
horror, I saw that it was closely followed by a number of sharks, which
swam round and round it expectantly.  Seeing this, I could contain myself
no longer.  Sternly commanding my dog not to follow me, I waded into the
waves and then swam boldly out to the catamaran, taking good care,
however, to make a great noise as I swam, by shouting and splashing in
order to frighten away the sharks.  When eventually I did come up to the
floating platform of logs, I found that there were four blacks upon it--a
man, a woman, and two boys.  All were lying quite prostrate through
exhaustion, apparently more dead than alive.  The sharks still hung on
persistently, but at length I drove them away by beating the water with
my oar, with which I then proceeded to paddle the catamaran ashore.  You
see, the oar I grasped when Bruno came to give the alarm proved of
inestimable value; and so all through my marvellous years of sojourn
among the cannibals an undeniable Providence guided my every action.  But
this will be seen from my narrative in a hundred amazing instances.  I
climbed aboard the catamaran and paddled it into shallow water; and then,
jumping overboard again I pulled it right up on to the beach, and carried
the four blacks one by one into my hut.  They were in a most pitiable
state of collapse.  Their tongues were swollen and protruding out of
their mouths, and for a long time I could get nothing down their throats.
First of all I tried to revive them with cold water, but found they could
not swallow.

Then I remembered the rum I had saved from the wreck all this time, and
procuring some I rubbed their bodies with it, tied wet bandages round
their necks, and rolled them about in wet sails, in the hope that in this
way their bodies might absorb the necessary liquid.  You see I had an
idea that they were dying from want of water.  All four were terribly
emaciated, and in the last stages of exhaustion.  After two or three
hours' treatment, the two boys recovered consciousness, and some little
time later the man also showed signs of reviving, but the woman did not
come to until the afternoon.  None of them, of course, were able to walk;
and in the meantime they did nothing but drink water.  They seemed not to
realise what had happened or where they were until the following day, and
then their surprise--mainly at the sight of me--was beyond all
description.  Their first symptom was one of extreme terror, and in spite
of every kind action I could think of, they held out for a long time
against my advances--although I signed to them that I was their friend,
patting them on the shoulders to inspire confidence, and trying to make
them understand that I had saved them from a terrible death.  I fancy
they all thought they had died and were now in the presence of the
mysterious Great Spirit!  At any rate, it was not until they began to eat
freely that they grew in some measure accustomed to me.  Then an
ungovernable curiosity manifested itself.  From gazing at me unceasingly,
they took to feeling me and patting my skin.  They made queer, guttural
sounds with their mouths, evidently expressive of amazement; they slapped
their thighs, and cracked their fingers.

Next, my belongings came in for inspection, and everything excited
wonderment and delight to such a degree, that I blessed Providence for
sending me so much entertaining society.  My hut, with its curious
thatched roof, excited vast interest; and it was amusing to see the two
boys, aged respectively about twelve and fourteen, following their
parents about, jabbering incessantly, and giving me sly, half-terrified
glances as they examined my implements and utensils.  The woman was the
first to get over her fear of me, and she soon grew to trust me
implicitly; whereas her husband never ceased to view me with inexplicable
suspicion until we regained his own country.  He was a big, repulsive-
looking savage, with a morose and sullen temper; and although he never
showed signs of open antagonism, yet I never trusted him for a moment
during the six long months he was my "guest" on the little sand-bank!  It
seems I unwittingly offended him, and infringed the courtesy common among
his people by declining to take advantage of a certain embarrassing offer
which he made me soon after his recovery.

It may not be anticipating too much to say here that the woman was
destined to play a vitally important part in the whole of my life, and
with her I went through adventures and saw sights more weird and
wonderful than anything I had ever read of, even in the wildest
extravagances of sensational fiction.  But the ruling passion was very
strong, and one of the first things I did was to take my black friends
down to the beach and show them my precious boat floating idly in the
lagoon.  Oddly enough, I had in the meantime always taken the greatest
care of the boat, keeping her bottom clean and generally furbishing her
up--having, however, no particular object in view in doing this, except
perhaps that it gave me something to do.  The poor little "home-made"
boat threw the blacks into a perfect frenzy of astonishment, and they
concluded that I must have come from a very distant part of the world in
so enormous a "catamaran."  As a matter of fact, from that moment they
looked upon me as most certainly a kind of Supreme Spirit from another
world; they may have had doubts before.  Next I showed them the wreck,
which was now only a bare skeleton of rotting woodwork, but still plainly
discernible among the coral rocks.  I tried to explain to them that it
was in the larger boat that I had come, but they failed to understand me.

On returning to the hut I put on my clothes for their benefit, whereupon
their amazement was so great that I seriously contemplated discontinuing
my list of wonders, lest they should become absolutely afraid to remain
with me.  The clothes they considered part of myself--in fact, a kind of
secondary skin!  They were terribly frightened and distressed, and not
one of the four dared approach me.

The blacks did not build themselves any place of shelter, but merely
slept in the open air at night, under the lee of my hut, with a large
fire always burning at their feet.  I offered them both blankets and
sails by way of covering, but they refused them, preferring to lie
huddled close together for warmth.  In the morning the woman would
prepare breakfast for them, consisting of fish (mainly mullet), birds'
and turtles' eggs, and sea-fowl; to which would perhaps be added some
little luxury from my own stock.  They only had two meals a day--one in
the morning and the other in the afternoon.  Their favourite food was
turtle, of which they could eat enormous quantities, especially the fat.
Bruno was a long time before he took kindly to the new arrivals, probably
because they manifested such extraordinary emotion whenever he lifted up
his voice and barked.

I think the only thing that roused the father of the family from his
sullen moods was my extraordinary acrobatic performances, which also
threw the two little nigger boys into hysterics of delight.  Father,
mother, and children tried to imitate my somersaults, "wheels," and
contortions, but came to grief so desperately (once the morose man nearly
broke his neck) that they soon gave it up.  The man would sit and watch
our gambols for hours without moving a muscle.  I was never actually
afraid of him, but took good care not to let him get possession of any of
my weapons; and as I had also taken the precaution to break up and throw
into the sea the spears he had brought with him on his catamaran, I felt
pretty sure he could not do much mischief even if he were so disposed.
After seeing me bring down birds with my bow and arrow he began to hold
me in absolute fear, probably because he had some idea that his own skin
might be jeopardised if he did not accommodate himself to circumstances.
I repeatedly told him that with my boat I might perhaps some day help him
to get back to his own country, and I must say that this suggestion
roused him somewhat from his lethargy, and he appeared profoundly
grateful.

Gradually I acquired a slight acquaintance with the extraordinary
language of the blacks, and had many a chat with the woman, who also
picked up a few words of comical English from me.  She was a woman of
average height, lithe and supple, with an intelligent face and sparkling
eyes.  She was a very interesting companion, and as I grew more
proficient in her queer language of signs, and slaps, and clicks, I
learnt from her many wonderful things about the habits and customs of the
Australian aborigines, which proved extremely useful to me in after
years.  Yamba--for that was her name--told me that when I rescued them
they had been blown miles and miles out of their course and away from
their own country by the terrible gale that had been raging about a
fortnight previously.  It seems that they had originally started out on
an expedition to catch turtles on a little island between Cambridge Gulf
and Queen's Channel, but the storm carried them out to sea.  They drifted
about for many days, until at length they reached my little island.  The
only food they had during the whole of this time was turtle, but they
were entirely without water.  One would think that they must inevitably
have died of thirst, but the blacks are wonderful people for going
without water for prolonged periods.  Moreover, they find a mouthful of
salt water occasionally quite sustaining.

One of my most amusing experiences with the blacks was one day when,
quite accidentally, Yamba caught sight of herself for the first time in
the little oval looking-glass I had hanging up in the hut near my
hammock.  She thoughtlessly took it down and held it close up to her
face.  She trembled, felt the surface of the glass, and then looked
hurriedly on the back.  One long, last, lingering look she gave, and then
flew screaming out of the hut.

Oddly enough, she overcame her fears later, and, woman-like, would come
and look in the mirror for an hour at a stretch, smacking her lips all
the while in wonderment, and making most comical grimaces and contortions
to try various effects.  Her husband, however (Gunda, as I called him),
was very differently affected, for the moment his wife showed him his own
reflection in the glass he gave a terrific yell and bolted to the other
end of the little island, in a state of the most abject terror.  He never
quite overcame his terror and distrust of the mirror, which he evidently
considered possessed of life, and in reality a kind of spirit to be
feared and avoided.

But, of course, the two boys found the glass a never-ending source of
amazement and wonder, and were not in the least afraid of it after the
first natural shock of surprise.  Altogether, I thanked God for sending
me my new companions; and, as you may suppose, they afforded me as much
entertainment and gratification as I and my belongings did them.

Every evening, before retiring to rest, the family squatted round the
fire and indulged in a mournful kind of chant--singing, as I afterwards
learnt, the wonders they had seen on the white man's island; my mirror
coming in for special mention.  This was the only approach to a
"religious service" I ever saw, and was partly intended to propitiate or
frighten away the spirits of the departed, of whom the Australian blacks
have a great horror.

The blacks had been with me two or three weeks, when one evening the man
approached and intimated in unmistakable terms that he wanted to get away
from the island and return to his own land.  He said he thought he and
his family could easily return to their friends on the mainland by means
of the catamaran that had brought them.

And Yamba, that devoted and mysterious creature, solemnly pointed out to
me a glowing star far away on the horizon.  There, she said, lay the home
of her people.  After this I was convinced that the mainland could not be
more than a couple of hundred miles or so away, and I determined to
accompany them on the journey thither, in the hope that this might form
one of the stepping-stones to civilisation and my own kind.  We lost no
time.  One glorious morning we three--Yamba, her husband, and
myself--repaired to the fatal lagoon that hemmed in my precious boat, and
without more ado dragged it up the steep bank by means of rollers run on
planks across the sand-spit, and then finally, with a tremendous splash
and an excited hurrah from myself, it glided out into the water, a thing
of meaning, of escape, and of freedom.  The boat, notwithstanding its
long period of uselessness, was perfectly water-tight and thoroughly
seaworthy, although still unpleasantly low at the stern.  Gunda was
impatient to be off, but I pointed out to him that, as the wind
persistently blew in the wrong direction day after day, we should be
compelled perforce to delay our departure perhaps for some months.  You
see, Gunda was not a man who required to make much preparation: he
thought all we should have to do was to tumble into the boat and set sail
across the sunlit sea.  "I can paddle my catamaran against both wind and
tide; why cannot you do the same?" he would say.  He did not understand
the advantage or uses of sails.  He had lost his own paddles in the
storm, otherwise he would in all probability have left the island on his
own account.  He was like a fish out of water when the novelty of his
situation wore off.  On the other hand, I thought of water, provisions,
and other equally vital necessaries.  So Gunda had to rest content for a
time, and he grew, if possible, more morose and sullen than ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he advanced to meet them.  The newcomers, having landed, squatted
down some little distance away from the man they had come to meet, and
then Gunda and they gradually edged forwards towards one another, until
at length each placed his nose upon the other's shoulder.  This was
apparently the native method of embracing.  Later Gunda brought his
friends to be introduced to me, and to the best of my ability I went
through the same ridiculous ceremony.  I must say my new friends evinced
an almost uncontrollable terror at the sight of me.  Gunda, however, made
it clear that I was _not_ a returned spirit, but a man like themselves--a
great man certainly, and a mysterious man, but a man all the same.
Although by this time my skin had become tanned and dark, there was
seemingly no end to the amazement it caused the blacks.  They timidly
touched and felt my body, legs, and arms, and were vastly anxious to know
what the covering was I had round my body.  In due time, however, the
excitement subsided somewhat, and then the newcomers prepared more smoke-
signals to their friends on the mainland--this time building five
separate fires in the form of a circle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER V


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VIII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked, but at first could see nothing.  Presently, however, it seemed
to me that the whole country in the far distance was covered with a black
mantle, _which appeared to be made up of living creatures_.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIV


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XV


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now to resume my own narrative.  You will remember that I had settled
down for a considerable time on the shores of the lagoon, where I had
made everything around me as comfortable as possible.  Yamba had no
difficulty whatever in keeping us well supplied with roots and
vegetables; and as kangaroos, opossums, snakes, and rats abounded, we had
an ample supply of meat, and the lagoon could always be relied upon to
provide us with excellent fish.  The country itself was beautiful in the
extreme, with stately mountains, broad, fertile valleys, extensive
forests,--and, above all, plenty of water.  The general mode of living
among the natives was much the same as that prevailing among the blacks
in my own home at Cambridge Gulf,--although these latter were a vastly
superior race in point of physique, war weapons, and general
intelligence.  The people I now found myself among were of somewhat small
stature, with very low foreheads, protruding chins, high cheek-bones, and
large mouths.  Their most noteworthy characteristic was their extreme
childishness, which was especially displayed on those occasions when I
gave an acrobatic performance.  My skill with the bow and arrow was, as
usual, a never-ending source of astonishment.  I was, in fact, credited
with such remarkable powers that all my ingenuity had sometimes to be
brought into play to accomplish, or to pretend to accomplish, the things
expected of me.  I knew that I must never fail in anything I undertook.

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

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

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

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

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

But I have purposely kept until the end the most important thing in
connection with this strangely-found periodical.  The very first eager
and feverish reading gave me an extraordinary shock, which actually
threatened my reason!  In a prominent place in the journal I came across
the following passage: "_The Deputies of Alsace and Lorraine have refused
to vote in the German Reichstag_."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVI


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVIII


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh yes; come and sit down."

As I seated myself among them they asked--

"Have you been out prospecting?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What year is this?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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