Chapter 160171497

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Chapter NumberXII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160171497
Full Date1886-11-20
Page Number44
Corrections0
Word Count1968
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

THE NOVELIST.

A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT."

By fi. Davenport Oeeland.

CHAPTER XII.

On more than one occasion I have beard

people speak lightly of the privations and | hardships experienced by explorers. That they were silly and igaorant persons goes without saying, but on each occasion I have longed for them to have just a little taste of it. To argue with such persons is simply waste of time, and to relate your own expe riences produces nothiog hut an incredulous look ana a suggestion—not always delicately put—that you are exaggerating. Bat in writing this diary I shall have the satisfac tion of knowing that my statements will meet with not even a suspicion of doubt; in writing down my recollections simply for the purpose of establishing a sort of friendly con fessor, it is improbable that I shall stray from the real facts of my life. To narrate them to a fellow-man might open the way to tempta tion. I should be apt to lay the colour on here and there just a little thicker than was proper, not with any intent to deceive, hut only to create a greater feeling of interest in the mind of the listener. It is pleasant, when telling a story or making a speech, to see the eyes of your audience lighten and sparkle when you say a good thing or come to the point of your story. As applause it is more genuine often than the clapping of hands. But from the white blankness of the page before me I can receive no applause, nor elicit any sign of emotion. In journeying through life 1 have found "monotony" to be the great clog to 1 all my hopes and expectations. The man who can conquer the feeling and keep pressing forward to his goal, keeping to the same round of duty day after day, is the man who succeeds in life. Not the man who keeps on sullenly and doggedly like a mill horse: but he who can find and create strong interests for himself in little every-day trifles —monotony will never oppress him.

But it did begin to hang upon more than one of us during the first half of onr journey. I think it was chiefly the pace that killed us. We were crossing an immense plain, and could see for miles and miles on every side. There was hardly any occasion to break on from the others to search for water ; certain trees and shrubs pointed out its locality to us for miles ahead, the scenery being flat was uninteresting. We had exhausted almost every topic of conversation; there was not a sufficient number of possible dangers to keep us on the alert, and we often dozed as we rode. Even our meals—generally subjects of great interest to Englishmen—became monotonous. We had finished our fresh beef and the big loaf long age, and now had to fall back upon salt meat and damper. Three times a_ day we sat down or stood up (according to indi vidual fancy) to eat salt beef, damper, and tea—tea, damper, and salt beef. Game of all kinds was scarce and very shy# and though the two men often told us of savoury messei made from lizards and other creeping things, we were not fortunate enough to find any of them. , . .

After travelling across this plain for many days we sighted a high range of hills. Specu lation was excited on the subject; it was something fresh at any rate, and like the clond which piloted she Israelites of old these shadowy hills kept in front of us day after day. But they were real hills and did not move away from us, and one evening we lit our fire at the foot of an outlying spur.

It was later than usual when we made our camp, and we had neither time nor inclina tion to advance any distance into the range, but we could see that it was veiy rough and rocky. We had lit our fire at a point where a tiny stream issued from the hills, and as the feed was good McPherson determined to give the horses a day or two's reBt. And how pleasant it was to us also to know that we should not have to turn out at daybreak ubxc morning. , , .

We became more or less possessed or a desire to be luxurious for once in the matter of beds. A species oi bush grow upon the banks of the creek whose branches termi nated in a bunch of feathery leaves. These we broke off and spread thickly upon the ground to form a mattress, and then laid our rugs upon the top of all. No watch was set. We had not seen the slightest trace of natives nor even here, where water seemed plentiful, were there any signs of fresh en campments. The night passed away undis turbed, and we slept till the sun was high in the heavens on the following morning.

After breakfast had been prepared and eaten McPherson ordered the men to remain in camp and look after the horses, and then with Walter and mvself started off on foot to explore the range. * We carried our carbines and revolvers in ease of any chance encounter with blacks. Leaving the creek we ascended one of the spurs, and after an hours stifl climbing reached the top. We could now see that the range was steeper and more in accessible than we had expected. The ground was thickly covered with stones of all shapes and sizes, lying loosely upon the surface, and from between them grew immense bunohes or tussocks of porcupine grass. We found this to be even a greater hindrance to our progress than the stones. The leaves of the grass stuck out stifiy from the root in the centre, and the tips were armed with needle-Like points. Ordinary trousers gave no protection, and our legs were stung terribly. The hills about Pamatta had por cupine upon them, but not a growth like this. There the grass was but twelve inches high at the most, but here it reached to our waists. But we were net at the top of the main range yet and we had a hard two hours' tramo before we gained it. Near the summit we came to a barrier or cliff of rocks rising almost perpendicularly and running the whole length of the range as far as the eye could see. It would be impossible for our horses to climb it, and we must try to find an

^The^ocks were free from the horrible porcupine grass, and though they were steep the climbing was a pleasant change. From the summit an extensive though not on en couraging view was obtained. Eastward, the direction (of our route, the hills lay in masses as far as we could see; and in character they appeared to be as rough and as much covered with poroupine as the part we were then on* It certainly was not an inviting prospect. We sat down under the lee of a rock and smoked out pipes and discussed our plans. As McPherson sug gested, this probably was the beginning of the strip of desert, and it looked like one that would tax onr energies to the utmost. The range ran north and south, and after we had reBted we set out to look for an opening in the creBt. We went northwards for some miles but without success. Then, as the day began to shorten, we made our way on to the plain and back to the camp.

On the following day we tried on the south side of the creek, but in setting out kept along the plain for some distance before making up into the hiliB. Then we followed the crest back towards the creek, and stall no

opening could we discover. We reached the spot from which the creek appeared to start, a big black-looking pool of water at the bottom of a deep ravine. It looked a great distance down from where we stood We bad hoped that the creek cut through the range from side to side, and that following its course

we might find a road, but such was evidently

not the case. Our spirits sank low that night as we reviewed the situation. It was im possible to take the horses across the range, and the only course open to us seemed to oe that of following along the foot either north or south, in the hope of getting round the end or of finding a gap.

The next day was to be our last in camp, and before we rolled ourselves in oar rugs that night we had made np our minds to spend it in exploring the creek. We knew tnat there conla be no outlet in that direc tion, bnt we oould visit the waterhole we had seen from the top of the range, and make notes of its depth and oapacity and position for the use and guidance of future travellers.

McPherson called ub at an early hour, and we awoke to experience one of the most disagreeable days that oan be conceived. A strong north wind was blowing, and although the sun bad barely shown itself above the horizon, the blast felt like the breath of a furnace seven times heated. The sky was clear except towards the north ; there lay a bank of pale leaden-coloured clouds, and from its npper edge long streamers or' mares' tails' stretched towards mid-heaven. The wind had nothing to obstruct its course down the plain, and howled and whistled and raged with great fnry. I bad lain down at night with my head pointing northwards, and as I raised my rug off my shoulders the wind caught it and whisked it away. Any attempt to light a fire in the open was useless, and there was nothing else to be done but pickup our belongings and make for the shelter of the ravine. There we were in comparative peace, and could look out upou the plain be

fore us.

The trees on the creek bent before the wind, and tossed their arms aloft as though in protest. Now and then small branches would be broken off and swept away. The leaves on tree and bnsh looked Bhrivelled, and their under sides were turned uppermost. The grass and herbs hadloBt their fresh green look, and curled, and wilted, as if bsfore a fire. Clouds of dnst filled the air, and shut

out all view to a distance of half a mile.

The rough hot wind affected the temper of every member of our little band, Our eyes were full of dust, and we were altogether in an uncomfortable and irritable frame of mind. Breakfaet was eaten in silence. Oae of the men went off to look after the horses,

and McPherson, Walter, and myself set off up the creek.

It was a long tramp, and the day was warm. The banks rose abruptly ou both sides of the creek, and we were obliged to follow along itB bed. A quantity of loose gravel and shingle made the walking heavy, and now and then we would meet with a barricade of logs and rubbish washed down by floods and piled high against the trees and lying athwart the

creek's course.

At laBt we reached the pool, but now to our astonishment we found that the water isBued from an immense cave, the entrance to which lay before us on the further side of the poo). The cave appeared large and gloomy and the pool black and unfathomable, and for some minutes we stood undecided what course to pursue.