Chapter 160171498

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Chapter NumberXIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160171498
Full Date1886-11-20
Page Number44
Corrections0
Word Count2583
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

CHAPTER XIII.

The cave was singular in appearance. The opening instead of Deing arched as is usually the way ran up to a distance of 40 or 50 feet, joined at the top in quite an acute angle

resembling the pitch of a Church root, and

continuing upwards from this apex ran a crack or crevice to the top of the range or as far as we could see. The Btrata of the rocks on either side of this crevice did not corre spond, nor did they appear as if they had ever been joined. The width of the cave at the water's level was about CO feet.

While we Bmoked and rested and talked ourselves out debating the origin of the cave we determined to cross the water and explore its inner mysteries. We gathered some of the dead flower-Btalk of the grasstree to use as torches, then we stripped, aud tying our clothes into bundles carried them round our necks and made for the cave. The pool was not nearly bo deep as we bad thought; in no place did it reach to our necks. The water was icy cold and delicious to bathe in on a day such as we were experiencing. It shoaled at the mouth of the cave, being just up to our knees, but we proceeded cautiously incase of falling into boles.

Owing to the great size of the opening and the straightness of the cave we had plenty of daylight until we had penetrated at least half a mile. Here the cave turned away to the left a little, shutting out the light and making it necessary for us to light our torches. The water also had been left behind, and we found that we were walking over the bed of

a creek.

The width was still the same and the height was beyond the measurement of our eyes. The sides of the cave were rocky and rough, and etill holding by their roots were the remains of small trees and buahes, and here and there the trunks of trees of larger growth. Bnt all these were dead and as dry as tinder; very many years must have passed away since they had seen the light. The further we went the more puzzled we became to account for the formation of the

cave.

The floor was quite dry and pleasant to walk upon and we made rapid headway. Oar

course now turned and twisted a good deal, and after walking a distance of about 2 miles from where we entered we again saw day light. We pressed forward eagerly and found ourselves in the open air amidst the ranges. The cave was simply a huge tnunel, piercing the range from Bide to side, and affording ub most easy means of overcoming the difficulty of getting our horses across.

Our joy waB unbounded—we were saved many dayB' journey by not having to ride round the end of the range. How fortunate it was that we had determined to follow up the creek from the camp!

On our return we made a closer inspection of the aides of the tunnel and in places McPherson climbed some distance up the sides, but he was not able to go far on account of their hanging over.

We started a theory which explained the existence of the cave, and that was that it had been at one time a stream running through the hills between very high cliff's or banks. The base of these had become under mined and worn away by the action of floods in winter, and then had given way and fallen, and the upper edges coming together and fixing had left the tunnel as we now saw it. We could only conjecture of course, but that was our theory, and we felt proud of it. In deed, on that day I don'c know of anything we should not have been proud of; we were so happy that the merest trifle would have increased pleasure. The men were delighted at the news when they heard it, aud our supper aud camp that evening was enlivened by eongs and stories, and much prophesying

of good luck in store for us all through the trio.

We started away in good time next morning and reached the cave without much trouDle, but had difficulty in making the horses enter. The darkness and the hollow rumbling was more than they could stand. They delayed us for at least half an hour, and as they reared and plunged about in the water we were drenched to the skin. But that was a trifle; the day was warm, and we wore but little clothing. At last, after a considerable amount of persuasion and some foroe, we got one horse in and the others soon followed. But they were greatly frightened and very nervous, starting violently at the slightest

sound.

We journeyed for two days before we got clear of the hills. They were rough and stony, and covered with porcupine graes, and there was no scenery of any kind, nothing but one hill after another, and all alike in appear ance. It, was a country in which a man might easily go astray and be utterly lost. Water, however, was to be fonnd in the gullies without mnch difficulty, and feed was abundant. Rook wallabies were plentiful, and there were a few euro or hill kangaroo; we fonnd that portions of their bodies made a pleasant addition to our larder. Our salt beef was getting very low and we had to make small dampers and divide them into portions of so many days each. We were just beginning to feel the first pinches of straitened circumstances. Oa the third day we reached the edge of a plain which stretched away before us as far as the eye could see. It was of a different character to the one we had traversed before reaching the Tunnel Range, and was more dreary in appearance. It was almost covered with a 'low scrub of mallee, myall, balsam, and other buehes growing to a height of about 8 feet. The earth was sandy and open and very dry, and was almost destitute of grass and herbage. We pushed out into it tor a distance of one day's march and then put back to the ranges. This was evidently the strip of desert we were told of, and we muBt make our preparations accordingly. Zt was very doubtful if we Bhould find water suffi cient for the horses, and we should have to puBh through as quickly as possible. We would go as far as the horses could take us without distressing them too much, and then if there were no signs of water to be seen we should have to pat back. We now camped at a little spring, and began to make preparations for carrying as much water with us ob possible. W e had canvas bags and a small keg holding about two gallons. With one thing ana another we conld carry sufficient to last ourselves five or six days. One or two dampers — which brought" our flour to a very low ebb—were made, and on the next da; we set out. As

we proceeded further and further into the

scrub the climate seemed to change, and the weather was more like summer than winter, it was so hot. Nothing could have been more against either the horses or ourselves, and we Boon began to feel the want of suffi cient water. No animals were to he seen, and our only food was damper. The beef only increased our thirst. But without plenty of water even damper was too dry to eat much of or with any relish.

Hitherto we had travelled by day; but now, finding the weather so hot and the horses becoming distressed, we changed our tactics and camped during the hottest hours, and travelled in the early morning and at night. We directed our course by compass, and were going nearly due east. On the fourth day, after entering the desert, we met

with a eerioue misfortune. One of the canvas water-bags burst and the water was lost, This reduced our chance of getting across very materially, and our spirits sang in pro portion. The strength of the horses was tailing rapidly, and we had great difficulty in urging them along. On the fifth day it. was decided that if by sundown we had found no better promise of water we would retrace our steps. And so, as is generally the case when everything appears to be at its worst, we made a discovery that brought hope again into our hearte.

The desert was a succession of low sand hills, but as they were covered to the top with thick scrub, no view of the surrounding country could be obtained. But on this evening soon after we had left camp, we came to one whoBe top was clear of trees, and which, moreover, had a high crest or ridge of rock. We soon clambered to the top and gazed around. Behind us lay the big range from which we had started and on every side was a sea of scrub, eail ooloured, desolate, and monotonous. But as we looked more carefully we eaw what at first we took to be a cloud lying on the eastern horizon. It lay a little to the north of the course we were following. McPherson was the first to draw attention to it, and pointed out that it could not be a cloud because of its remaining stationary, and not altering in shape.

As we looked the rays of the setting suu rested upon it for a moment and lit it up. it was uo cloud 1 It was a large hill, and before the light died away we had made out the shape of trees upon its aides. To us it was aB the glimpse of a better laud—where there were hills and trees there must be water, and this rock towering up above the sur rounding desert might be our refuge aud salvation.

We only waited until McPherson had taken the hearing with hie compass, and then travelled on. We had now a definite object on which to reBt onr hopes, and were encou raged and buoyed up. If we could only have instilled the same feeling into the poor horses! But they could know nothing of our hopes, and plodded on with hanging heads and hollow flanks.

When we had first seen the hill it looked to be at no great distance from us. We had expected to reach it in at least a day's travel ling. But we bad forgotten to make allow ance for the extraordinary clearness of the air, and we soon fonnd that the distance was much greater than we bad supposed. But we could see the hill now above the top of tbe scrub and pushed on, taking hardly any rest.

My recollections of the next two days are indistinct. I know that the sun seemed to blaze down more fiercely than before, and that strange tbonghts filled my mind, and queer figures and visions floated at times before my eyes. The water had given out. We had had none for many hours. The horses were too tweak to carry us, and we went on foot in single file, either leading or driving our horses as each man thought fit. Walter bore up bravely. I bad not tnought that one so young could have held up ao well. But he kept on mile after mile, and never murmured. We were a silent party ; no one was inclined to speak, and, indeed, I doubt if any of ue had been able.

At last one of the pack-horsos fell, made one or two efforts to get np, failed, and then stretching out its neck and lege lay quite still. It was easy to be seen that it was beyond assistance from us. McPhereon signed to the men to pull off the pack and saddle, &c., and then drawing his revolver placed the poor beast out of misery. Then we marched on as before. ...

We rested for an hour in the night, and

then vent on. The hill looked no nearer at dawn than it had done the day before. Bnt now it was closer tnan we thought. At mid day we passed a place where blacks had camped not long before. Water, then, most be close at hand! The natives would not travel far from it. We kept on all through the night, staggering rather than walking, the hill looming dark and black above us, and just at break of day we burst from the scrub and found ourselves at the edge of a little plain surrounding the hilL

A timber-lined watercourse ran from about the middle ot the bill on to the plain, and towards this we hurried at our best speed. We reached the bank—the creek was dry! The two men threw themselves on the ground and cried that they were lost. It was truly a terrible disappointment, and what McPher son felt I cannot say. But at this moment he drew onr attention to the horses. " i<ook at tbem," he said; "theremust be water here." We had let go the reins when we came to the creek, and now the horses had left ub, and were walking quickly towards the hill. We followed them. As they went onwards they raised their nostrils and neighed as horses do who want water and can either see or smell it. We followed as well as we could, falling over rocks and logs in our way. At last they stopped, and looking towards us neighed loudly. We reached them, and there in front of us lay a clear sparkling pool of water. It lay at least

six feet down in the hollow of a rock, and

the horses could not have reached it, but I believe that notwithstanding the depth they would have plunged in in another minute if not held back.

In less time than it takes to write MePhe'r son had told us to hold baok the horses; had taken a can from the pack and had half climbed, half-slid to the water's edge. In another moment he had handed it to Walter, and he taking a mouthful passed it to the others. The horses, almost maddened by the sight of the water, strained to come to it, ana we had to raise the can to our lips with one hand and with the other hold them back. But no sooner had we moistened our own throats than we took off one of the canvas pack bags and filling it satisfied the horses. Heavens, how they drank ! gulping the water down in great mouthfuls ana burying their nostrils deep in the bag.

We were saved! How different were the expressions now on the faceB of all of us to what they had been twenty minuteB pre viously. And very deep and sincere were the words of thankfulness uttered by every one aB at last we turned away from the water and prepared to camp. We made no formal prayer, we did not bend our kneBS, I do not think we made mention of the Almighty's name, but our inmost feelings were simply a devout prayer of thankfulness for our escape from a terrible death.