Chapter 160171904

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Chapter NumberXIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160171904
Full Date1886-11-27
Page Number44
Corrections0
Word Count1992
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

THE NOVELIST.

A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.

Br E. Davenport Cleland.

CHAPTER XIV.

We pitched our camp on a grassy flat close to the waterhole, and turned the horses out to feed. The billycan was placed on the fire and tea made, and we found that this

quenched our thmt far more etteccuaUy than water. Just after tbe first deep draught of water we had felt satisfied, but in a few minutes au intense craving for more assailed us, and we should have continued to drink, and would have become ill in consequence, but tbe tea acted as a stimulant, and helped to stay the craving. The horses seemed to

share our insatiable thirst, and returned again and again to the hole. We made them comfortable by filling a shallow hollow in one of the rocks with water, where they could get it as often as they wished.

On examination the hill was found to be a

solitary mass of rock. There were no other hills near it, nor did it appear to be in the line of any range. The top was flat, and a deep valley or crater lay in the centre. Grass and trees abounded, and a creek ran at tbe bottom of the valley, finding an outlet at the point where we had camped. Kangaroo and wallaby were numerous, and birds of many sorts flew from tree to tree. It

was a veritable oasis In the desert, We also found that other human beings besides our selves knew of its locality. The ashes of many camp-fires and the remains of wurleya showed us that tbe natives visited here in large numbers, and it wonld be necessary for us to be on our guard against surprise and attack.

1 had gone to the top of the hill with McPherson to view the country, leaving Walter in the camp with the men. The poor lad, now that we were comparatively safe, felt exhausted and worn out, and needed rest. To the eastward we could see a fringe of trees, about one day's journey from the hill. We had crossed the desert; we supposed the trees would be the beginning of the good country we were in Bearch of, and it was from

there no doubt that the blacks came whose traces lay round about the creek where we were. The men managed to shoot some wallaby and some birds, and we had a more bountiful supper that mght than we had had

for some weeks.

Being so near the completion of onr out ward journey, we had no desire to remain in camp longer than necessary, and on the next day we pusbea on. The country waa still rough ana scrubby, bat of a better descrip tion than tbat which we had already passed through. Kangaroo were plentiful, and gazed curiously at our party, allowing us to ride within easy shooting distance. We could have killed hundreds of them had wa so desired.

As we approached the timber the country improved; the scrub was intersected by little plains, grass-covered, and dotted with trees of larger growth. By sundown we knew that the object of our journey was accomplished. We found a range of low bald hills, with springs of water in the gullies, and with large gum-trees, sandal wood, and other timbergrowing luxuriantly. The grass rose above our knees, and bloomed with flowers of many hues. No contrast be tween tbe country we had just left and this could have been greater. One was a wild and useless oesert, incap able of sustaining life in any form, and the other, almOBt like an earthly

Paradise, in which man and beast could live and move in happiness and con tentment. No doubt it looked very fine in deed to my eyes, having just escaped from the deBert. But we were not to be allowed to remain in undisputed possession. It was not probable tbat country like this would be without human inhabitants, and on the second day after our arrival we were visited by natives. They had probably been attracted by the smoke of our fire, aud at noon, just as we had finished dinner, the man on watch warned us of their approach. We had no desire to meet them in any but a friendly spirit, but it was necessary to be careful, and so, looking to our revolvers and carbines to see that they were loaded, we ad vanced to meet our visitors. There were be tween forty and fifty men in the party, and a group of women and children could be seen in tbe background. Tbe natives came on, waving gum boughs in their hands as a sign of peace. They appeared to be un armed ; hut as we nearea them we noticed that they had spears trailing on the ground, which tbey drew after them with their toes. Remembering what we had been told concerning their treacherous habits and warlike disposition, we halted at 20 paces distant from them, and signed that tbey also should stop. But our signs were either not understood or disregarded, and the natives continued to advance. It was necessary to stop tfaem at once as they outnumbered us five to one, and M&cPheraon raising his carbine fired in the air. The flash and teport of firearms was evidently a new experience to them, and they fled from us at once and in great disorder. They were frightened, bat did not run very far, and after a great deal of jabbering, and seeing tbat none of them were hurt by the noise, tbey again came towards us. But now in stead of concealing their weapons each man carried hie spear ready for aotion.

Seeing this, and dreading an encounter, McPherson handed his rifle to one of the men and bidding me do the same walked forward holding his arms up and waving his hands in the air. I did likewise, and the natives appeared to understand. Two of them stuck their spears in the ground and came to meet us, the main body halting and keeping back, as they saw our men doing.

The two who came forward were men of middle height and of muscular build. They were without olothing. The expression of their faces was unprepossessing, and was rendered still more so from the fact that they wore a skewer of wood placed horizontally through their noBtrils, and the two front teeth of the upper jaw had been extracted. The effect of this last disfigurement was horrible. At the time I supposed that it had been done accidentally, but have since learned that it was a tribal oustom. There was little hair on their faces, and their bodies were tatooed about the arms and chest in fantastic devices, Their language was unintelligible to ub and ours to them, but McPherson, by way of saying something, addressed them in a most polite language," taking off his hat, and bowing and making the kindest enquiries as to their health and the well-being of their wives and families. I have never witnessed a more ludicrous scene, and should have en ioyed it more if I had not had to keep so vigilant a watch on the movements of the other blacks—fearing treachery.

Our visitors took McPherson's Btnilea and bows in the spirit they were given, and grinned and bobbed their heads in return. They came close up to ub, and felt our hands and faces, and fingered onr clothing. Oi r t'O'isers and shirts being loose and barey tuzzled them greatly, but after the manner

of all savages they refrained from showing ] much surprise. Our sheath-knives Interested them most, and when we cat grass and sticks with them the natives seemed to understand their use. They handled them, feeling the edges and points, and when we pat them back into our belts 1 saw the men exchange glances, and if ever men showed covetousness in their eyes those simple sons of Nature did most oertainly.

Oar revolvers were the next articles which claimed their attention, bat these we did not allow oat of oar hands. The interview was becoming tiresome, and as we coald not obtain-any information for lack of language McPherson proposed that we should return. As a farewell joke, and while one of the natives was feeling the revolver with his finger, McPherson pointed the muzzle to the earth and palled the trigger. The black sprang back terrified, and McPherson langhed aloud. _ They seemed sensitive to ridicule, bnt quickly recovering their self-possession showed by their manner and expression of face that they were angered. They spoke altogether rapidly, and. as far as I could

judge by_their gestnres, felt contempt for the

little thing which made so mach noise and yet did not kill. Then we left them and went back to camp. The blacks also went away and joined the women, and dnring the afternoon we could hear them having a grand palaver ronnd their fires.

We kept strict watch, bnt were undis turbed that night. I found that McPherson had noticed the ohange that had come over the manner of the blacks during our inter view, and though he pretended while the

others were within earshot that there was nothing to fear, confided to me his wish that the blacks were a score of miles farther away lrom ns. He knew a little of their habits: that they were treaoherous, and also fond of bartering and acquiring weapons and pro perty of all sorts, and that it was quite possible that they might attack us to get possession of our knives and other goods.

This supposition proved correct. We moved onr camp every day, going from one point to another to examine the country and take bearings of its chief features and land marks, and we found that the blacks were dogging our tracks. We were not afraid of a night attack, aB the natives do not as a rule stir from the camp after sundown. They became bolder as they found that we did not take notice of them, and drew closer to us. At last matters reached a crisis, and we had to show them that our weapons could do something more than bark. It was near sun down on the day they attacked ns. We were preparing to camp in a thicket of gum trees when our attention wsb arrested by the action of the blacke. They had followed ue closely all day, and now we noticed that the warriors had singled out from the women and boys and were advancing towards us fully armed and prepared for battle. There could be no doubt but that their in tentions were hostile, and we prepared to meet them. We fastened the horses to trees, and then ran forward, each man taking shelter as best he could. It was an unpleasant adventure, and I for one wished myself well out of it. The blackB paused when they saw us prepared, and while they hesitated McPherson ordered us to fire

steadily, to pick out each a man. It was use less trying to frighten them again with noise only; we must show them that we could fight. And this plan proved to be a merciful one, for when the fignt began we fired a volley and three natives fell and one other was badly wounded. The sudden death of their comrades was more than the others could understand. We evidently dealt in witchcraft, and could cause death from a great distance. Leaving the dead upon the grovnd, the natives fled, uttering hoarse cries and yells. And so ended our first en counter. But we rode on a few miles farther before camping, in case the natives returned.

We longed to turn homewards ; our work was just at an end; [we had fulfilled our mission; and we had a presentiment that the blacks would not rest contented without revenge.