Chapter 160171905

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Chapter NumberXV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160171905
Full Date1886-11-27
Page Number45
Corrections0
Word Count2096
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

CHAPTER XV.

Besides the increasing danger of further fights with the blacks there was another reason why we should hasten our return. We had run out of provisions, and were be ginning to suffer from the want of proper food. The flour and sugar were finished, and we had very little tea left, so little indeed that we were obliged to exercise great economy, and only allowed ourselves a small quantity once a day. All we had to live upon was the flesh of Kangaroos and birds and water, and tea once a day as a luxury. Luckily McPherson and the two men had experienced similar privations on other occa sions, and had learned how to select and make use of certain rootB and plants, and in that way we escaped the evils which are generally associated with a diet of animal food. Our greatest hardships would come when we re-crossed the desert, because it was destitute of game of any de scription. But this we could guard against to some extent by killing and drying sufficient meat to last out the journey. This we proposed to prepare at the hill where we found the waterhole, and it was towards this

point that we now directed our course.

There were no natives to be seen on the day following the encounter, but that they were still in the neighbourhood was proved by the smoke of camp fires in the distance. And it was also evident that they were watching us, because as we travelled the smoke could still be seen at about the same distance from us. Although it was not usual for the natives to make a night attack we thought it better to be on the safe side, and after staying to eat onr supper of an evening we would ride on a mile or two and camp without lighting a fire.

Arrived at the hill we at once set to work

to prepare food. We expected to stay there abont three days, and, animated by the thought that we were journeying homewards, every one set to work with a will.

The valley in the centre of the hill was hemmed in by almost perpendicular sides, and formed an enclosure into which we could turn the horses without danger of them straying away. McPherson, Walter, and myself took tarn about during daylight to mount guard on the summit of the hill, so as to be able to observe the approach of natives, and the otherB were engaged in killing and drying the flesh of kangaroo and wallaby. On the second day of our Btay we found our fears of the natives following us were not unfounded. McPherson was on guard at the time when they first gave signs of their approach, fie called to us to come up to him, and from where he was standing we conld see several little columns of smoke ascending from out the scrub lying between our camp and the country we had just left. There was no doubt but that the smoke came from the fires of the ^blacks, and we felt instinctively that there was trouble in store for us. Tbey were not far away, and would probably reach the immediate neighbour hood of the hill that eveniDg. There was no danger of an attack from the eastern side of the hill, it being too difficult of ascent. The blacks would come ronnd on the side where we were camped, and would be between us and the desert. X; was past aooa when we

first discovered their approach, and as

we had not got oar supply of meat |

ossible f<

properly dried it was impossible for

to ran away, as otherwise we might have done. It was an instance in which dis cretion would have been the better part of valour. There was no.help for it, however, and we felt that the only thing to do was to make good our position and fight bravely to the last, if fighting should be necessary.

We moved our camp to a 'more secure posi tion, and hastened our preparations so as to be prepared to set out on the morrow. When McPherson came in at dusk he told us that the blacks had arrived, and had camped some distance below ue on the creek. They had crept round the hill, keeping in the shelter of the scrub, and he had had difficulty in forming a correct estimate of their num bers, but he believed that there were more men than had been present at our first meeting, and he also thought that they had left the women and children behind. This news caused us great anxiety—there could be no doubt as to the hostile intentions of our visitors.

We passed a wakeful night, and though we took turns in watching, I do not think that any of us slept. I did not, I know—I felt too anxione. We had the advantage in the way of excellence of aims, but the blacks greatly outnumbered ue, and that wonld more than halance our advantage in fighting as we

should do from tree to tree and other shelter.

At dawn we began to get ready our horses and packs, and while this was being done I was sent down the creek a little way to keep watch against surprise. I bad not long been at myjpost when I saw the enemy approach ing. They were in fighting costume; that is to say, their bodies were marked with streaks of red and white oolour. and each man carried

several spears and waddies. They were led by a native of Bnperior stature to the others, and from his wearing some extra adornments I [concluded that he was a ohief. He had marked his body with white only, and had put on the streaks in such a way that he resembled a moviDg skeleton, and very horrible he looked.

I ran back to the camp with the news, and the packing was at once stopped. The horses were fastened to treeB, and then each man taking hiB carbine awaited McPherson's orders. Be would have been glad to have escaped this trouble, but now that it was forced npon him he was determined to act boldly and energetically. He gave as some simple directions as to keeping well under cover, to fire with precision, and to be careful to keep as much in line as possible so as to pt event the blackB surrounding us. While he spoke we were walking down the creek to a place where the hills on either side formed a gorge, and the trees being closer together afforded more shelter. At this point the blacks oould not spread them selves out, and we should be more protected. We reached it just in time; the blacks were almost there, and aB they caught sight of us they raised a yell which echoed and re echoed among the rocks. They did not hesitate in their coming on, nor did they at first try to shelter themselves behind the trees. Their numbers had increased, as McPherson supposed, and there must have been nearly 100.

McPherson left his shelter and made a final effort to sue for peace, but be was greeted by a shower of spears, and narrowly escaped being hit. He sprang back to his tree, the first shot rang out sharply from his carbine, and was the Bignal for us to commence. I don't know how long we fought—perhaps not more than twenty minutes; but it was very warm while it lasted. We had breech-loading carbines and plenty of cartridges, the blacks were within 50 yards of ue, ana we must necessarily have made great havoc in their ranks. They fought bravely, and as they followed our example in taking shelter where possible, they stood their ground manfully; but, in order to pro perly hurl their spears they were obliged to expoBe the greater part of their bodies, far more so than we aid, and it was at those momentB that our shots took effect. Once they tried to rush, hoping to overpower us, but we used our revolvers with {such telling effect that they were compelled to retire. At last their leader fell, and that seemed to dis hearten the others. They began to retreat, and having expended most of their spears and waddies our danger was lessened. We fol lowed them for a short distance, keeping up a constant fire until they took to their heels and ran, and then we stopped.

We were the victors; but what had been the coBt ? I had bad no time to notice how my comrades had fared dnriug the heat of the fight, but now we gathered together. One was missing—Walter. Thinking that he might have been further out than we had gone we cooeyed, and waited for him to join us. In the meanwhile we discussed the affair, and reckoned up our casualties. McPherson had a flesh wound in the arm, the two men had a few scratches and bruises, and I had escaped unhurt. We shouted again for Walter, but no answering hail came, and he was nowhere in sight. Then it sud denly flashed upon us that it was possible he had been badly wounded, and was lying some where in the bed of the creek. Not one of us said aB much in words, but silently separated and began to search.

It waB I who found him. He was lying on hiB back at the foot of a tree; a spear had

pierced bis body, and at the first glance I J

believed him to be dead. I cannot write down the feelings I experienced at that moment. Years have passed eince then, but time has not greatly softened the pain that I felt at the instant when I saw Walter, my own boy, lying stretched upon the ground.

I gave a cry which quickly brought the others to the spot. I had knelt down, and had found that his heart still beat—he was not dead. The spear was barbed, and could not be pulled out, but as soon as McPherson came he ordered one of the men to bring

water, and then suggested that we should ' cut off the shaft of the spear close to the boy's body. The water brought him round, and in a little while he was able to sit up, supported in my arms. He suffered no pain, and did not for a moment remember what had happened.

The creek at this particular spot was much exposed to the wind and weather, and extemporizing a hurdle we slowly carried Walter to the camp. We made a soft bed for bim by puttiDg together all our rugs and blankets, and with bushes made a shelter from the wind and sun. He was not un conscious, but very quiet, and lying quite still, hiB eyes closed, and not speaking, ex cept to ask for water. When we had laid him down McPherson beckoned me aside. Our consultation was brief. Neither of us kDew anything of surgery; we could not remove the spear • head without using a knife, and feared to do so. From the first we had no hope that Walter would recover, there waB something in the poor lad's face, an indefinable expres sion which seemed to tell ue that he was doomed. McPherson BuggeBted that he was bleeding internally.

What a terribly long day it seemed in one sense, and yet in another the hours seemed to fly. it was a comfort to me that I was

allowed to take the place of nurse to my boy. The others knew how intimate we had been at the station, and that 1 bad joined the party chiefly to take care of him. And this was how I had fulfilled

my trust 1 What would Mary say, and what defence could I put forward ? Yet I could not have kept hun from joining in the fight

he would not hare listened to me bad I desired him to stay in the camp. He had done hiB duty bravely and well, and this, I suppose, was what would be called the " fortune of war!" But I would that that fortune lwd fallen to my share. I had nothing to live for, and as 1 sat on theground beside my boy I felt that if it had been pos sible I really could have cheerfully given up my life to save his.