Chapter 20281401

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Url
Full Date1890-03-15
Page Number497
Word Count3083
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleThe Burning Mountain of the Interior: An Australian Tale of Adventure
article text

The Storyteller.

The Burning Mountain of the Interior; AN AUSTRALIAN TALE OF ADVENTURE.



It is the beginning of November. The sun has gone down at the close of a day of blistering heat, and the short twilight is rapidly fading into the darkness of a moonless night. Under

the veranda of a sough mad hut, far up in the north of Sooth Australia, in faot almost on the boundary line that separates that colony from its dependency, the Northern Territory, three men are sitting, indolently smoking the even* ing pipe that usually follows the last meat of the d4y. Th« hut is the principal building on a northern oattle station, and the three occupants of the veranda are the owner thereof, a young relation (who is gaining that amoh talked of article, colonial experience), and a frteftd from a neighbouring station. " Well," says Morton, the owner, a sun* tanned wiry little fellow, addressing his neigh bour, " what do yon say, Brown, to having a look for the burning mountain ?" " Urn!" grants Brown, who differs conside rably in sice, owning as he dose some 6ft. 3in. of humanity; " isn't Khis weather hot enough for you without looking for burning moun tains?" " We've nothing much to do for two or three months, and I've long made up my mind to see if there's any truth in the yarn the niggers have." " I never could make anything out of it," re marked Brown. ? ? " Nor I," said Morton; " but everybody puts it down that they mean a burning mountain. Now,. Jl've tried very patiently and can only get from thorn that there's a big firo burning always in the same place, but when I adk about a mountain they say no. None of them have ever been there, and they seem frightened to talk about it." 41 They have muoh the same word for rocks, stones, and mountains." "Yes, and it is rooks I think they mean." " What has your boy, Billy Button, to say about it ?" " Billy comes from a tribe nearly a hundred miles from horo; he has heard about it, but has never seen any blacks who have been there." " North of west it is supposed to lie ; how far have you boon out there, Morton?" " Some fifty miles, all scrub and sand, but the niggers get across in some seasons, and I think this is the right time, as there have been plenty of thundertorms in that direction." " Well I'll go. A little scorching more or less does not matter much up here. You ought to have kept some oamels when the teams were up here." > " Didn't think of it, but I fancy horses will be handier; we have a thunderstorm nearly every day." • "And shall have till we start," replied Brown; "then you see they will knock off. How many of us will there be ?" "The pair of us, and—what do you say, Charley? Aro you p.nxiovis to distinguish yourself?" " I hope yon won't leave me behind," replied Charley in rather a hurt tone. " All right; Billy Button will mako four, and that will bo enough. To-niorrow we'll have all the horses in and get everything ready for a start the next day." X"How long shall we be away?" asked Charley, who bore upon his shoulders the

onerous duties of storekeeper. "Can't say! What do yon think, Brown? Abont six weeks ?" " We surely ought to find something in that time, if it's only the remains of Leiohhardt." " Make up two months' rations, Charley; I hate to go short; lucky we killed the other day, the beef will be just right." On an outside cattle station where so muob camping out has to be done the preparations for such a trip do not take long, and the morn ing of the second day found everything ready. Brown had sent over to his place for horses, and in all they started with fourteen, two apiece for riding, four pocked with rations, and two with water and the neoessary blankets, tent, and fly. At the last moment the blacks about the station tried to dissuade Billy from going by horrible stories of the fate awaiting them all, but Billy scorned to remain. The.nrßt thirty miles of the first day's journey in search of the burning mountain, the diaoovery of whioh was to immortalise tho finders, was over country well known to them; beyond stretohed a waste of sandhills and mulga scrub, into whioh Morton had once pene trated some twenty miles. With full water bags and a firm determination not to be beaten , back without a struggle, our adventurers com menced the second day's journey. The sombre scrub and heavy sand without a sign of break or ohangc in the depressing mono tony was their experience the whole of the day; scarcely the note of a bird or insoct broke the silence as they toiled on without much heart for conversation. Towards ovening a piece of . good fortune befel them; on a small Hat be-; tween the sand ridges they crossed a patch of j short green gross, the result of a thunderstorm ' that had fallen some time before. No water, though, could bo found; the hot summer sun had evaporated all that had been caught by the shallow day pans. The horses, however, ; stopped well on the soft young feed, and by' daybreak the next morning they were once more on the move. About 10 o'clock they asoended a sand ridge a good deal higher than those formerly crossed, ? and from tho crest they were able to look' around on the sea of scrub that encircled them. Not far off in the direction they were going Morton drew the attention of his companions to a thin oolumn of ?black smoke. i "Burning mountain already?" queried Brown. " Niggers hunting; the scrub looks thinner there," said Morton. " They won't be far from oamp at this time, but I expect it's only a soak-hole, not enough for us." In less than an hour they were riding' over patches of still burning grass thinly scattered over a bloodwood flat; but the 'Sharp eyes neither of Morton nor Billy could detect a sign of the hunters. After searching for some time the boy fonnd the tracks of a blackfellow, two gins, and some picka ninnies coming from the westward, and these they followed back for about a mile to * freshly abandoned oamp. It was situated on a tolerably open piece of country, partly covered with coarse drift sand; not far from the oamp was a ragged old gam-tree, much tomahawk-marked. Billy, who had gone to this tree at once, gave a low whistle and the others came up. He. pointed to a remarkably small hole close to the butt, and, dismounting, put his arm down and then peered into it. "Water long way flown,"1 he said; "gone bung, I think;" by whioh they understood that the supply had dried up. After some search a long sapling was procured and thrust down. The hole was about 10ft. deep, and the end of the sapling brought up some wet mad. " How did they get down, Billy ?" said Brown. "Pickaninny go down," replied the boy, pointing to a tiny foothold in the bank. " Well, boys," said Morton, who had been poking the sapling down vigorously and ex amining the point, " I don't see much to be got out of this; evidently there's been just one family here, and they've been dried out; it would take us two hours to open up the hole, and then we'd get little for our pains." . " Water gone bung," repeated Billy. "What do you Bay to following this flat? It's going partly our direction; it may lead to something." No one having anything better to suggost, they resumed their journey once more until a mid-day halt was made. "Well, respected leader," remarked Brown after the meal was finished and pipes were lit, "I'm afraid our horses will look mighty dicky to-morrow morning unless we get them a drink to-night." Morton glanced lazily at them where they stood grouped under whatever scanty shado they could obtain. " Beginning to look tucked up," lio returned, " but we'll pull up somothing before dark." " I hope so," said Brown as he stood up; " go fthoad, Captain Cook."- -? About 4 o'clock the open fiat whioh thoy had followed grow narrower until at last the scrub closed in entirely and they found them selves confronted by a thicker growth than any thoy Jiad yet met with, the mulga having given placo to a species of malice. Morton who was loading stopped. "Wo had better push through it," he Baid; "it may bo only a belt, and if *c start to follow it round we shall be all night in it." "Yes," replied Brown. "I'll take a turn ahead if you like. I prefer being first in a sorub." Morton laughed and dropped behind, arid for about an hour, tho scrub getting worse and worse, very blow progress was made. Tho sun was gotting low, and the cheerful prospect of a night in the scrub was before them, when to the relief of all Brown suddenly called out, " Hurrah 1 wore out of it!"

Cjiapteh 11. A NATIVH^ C«*KTEHY —MLI.V S EXPLANATION - HTOi>ii ra6'"By - gcnuii—discovert of a sTnAvcw: noAn. As the party one by one emerged from the scrub thoir eyes were delighted by n prunpect of open downs country dotted heve and tliere with clumps of #idea scrub ; but, better than all, not a mile away was plainly to be seen n line of creek timber, whilst the presence of water was

shown by the flights of white corollas hovering about. It was not long before the party vrere com fortably enoamped beside a good-sized waterhole and the horses luxuriating in a full supply. Brown with his pipe as usual under full blast was enjoying the scene, whon Billy, who had been wandering about the oamp, came up and remarked, " No sleep here." " What's the matter?" asked Brown. Billy pointed to a thick patch of scrub a short distance off, and beokoned to him to fol low. Brown noticed that the tops of the trees looked remarkably thick and dense, but it was not until he was close that ho saw the reason. Nearly every tree of any size bore a rude soaffolding, and on the top of every scaffold ing was either a bleached skeleton or a dried mummy-like corpse. The ground, too, was covered with bones and skulls that had fallen down. Brown called to the others, and they came and looked with awe at this strange sepulchre. " I've often seen thorn in the trees, ono or two in ono place, but nothing like this. Why, thoro must bo over a hundred hero," said Morton. " Strange!" remarked Brown, after a oloser inspection; "all the dried bodies have a red smudge on the forehead." •• No sleep here; by-and-by this fellow get up, walk about," insisted Billy. ' This remark rather dispelled the slight gloom caused by the sight of bo many human bodies, and Billy had to undergo a good deal of chafling, but it was evident that his fright was roal. No ghostly visitants, howover, came to the camp that night, but just before daylight Charley woke up, and, finding Billy fast asleep, a wicked idea came into his head. Brown dabbled a little in sketching, and Charley soon found the colour-box in ono of the pack-bags, and prooeedod to paint Billy's forohoad red' after the manner of the mummies in the scrub. " Halloo, Billy," said Morton as tho quarts were boiling; " what's up with your head ?" ' Billy grinned, not understanding what was! meant. ' " Look here," said Brown, taking his hand glass out of the pack. Billy looked and turned as white as he possibly could. " He come up," he said at last, pointing to* the scrub, and looking all round as though he* expeoted to find some mummies still walking about.-- ' ? ; • l ••Toll him yon '$Ur if,* Charley," said Morton. "I'm afraid you've funked him, and if* so he'll bolt." Charley laughingly complied, and after Billy 1 had been induced to wash off the paint and had' inspected the paint-box he was somewhat com forted, but evidently still thought that the sub ject was not a fit one to joke about. Struck by this, Morton after Borne trouble got from him that he had heard of tho men with red fore heads who were supposed to live near the burn ing mountain that they pretended to be dead during the day but got up and walked about at night. •'. This looks like being on the right track," said Morion to Brown. /" •• Urn t Jjioe sort of company you are bring ing us into; however, death or glory I Load on, Major Mitchell 1" And m a short tlmo the water hole and the ghastly scrub beside it were left behind. The patch of open country proved unfortu nately to be of very limited extent; in a short time they found themselves again entangled in the dense scrub, which, was now becoming a most formidable obstacle. Towards the middle of the day even the sanguine Morton began to despair of pushing on at the slow rate they were going, and to meditato a return to their oamp of the night before and a fresh start in a new direction. At noon they were compelled to halt; the desert hedgewood had now made its appearance, and the barrier presented by it was almost impenetrable. 11 What do you say, Brown ?" asked Morton when their meal was finished; "will you go nofth for a mile or two, and I'll do the same south, and see if there's anything like a gap in this confounded sorab ?" " My dear Captain Flinders, I am entirely at your disposal. I think we shall get along faster on foot." 411 think so too. Charley, you and Billy stop here till we come back." It was a good two hours before tho cracking of boughs and muttered bad language from the south announced to Charley and Billy the re* turn of Morton. " How did you get on ?" was the quory. ?, " Get on!" returned Morton. " I didn't get on at all; don't believe I got half a milo from hero. It's the worst old man sorub I was ever in; I've barked my hands nicely. If old Brown did no better we shall have to go and out him out with a tomahawk." Almost as ho spoke Billy held up his hand, and said, " Mitter Brown come up." In a minute or two his tall form emerged from the thicket. "I hex to report, sir," ho said to Morton with much solemnity,." that the main road to somewhere is about three-quarters of a mile to tho northward." " What on earth do you mean, old man ?" "I assure you it's a fact; after going through some of the most awful scrub I over met with I came to an ' illigant' oleared road, gas lamps, milo-stones, and probably bridges and public-houses." " Well wo*d better go tnere. I wonder you came back before visiting one of the pubs." " I didn't exactly see all that I have stated, but I really have no doubt of their existence," returned Brown. " Joking apart, there really is a cleared track out there, but wo'll have to out a road to get tho horses there." " Well this bents a>l; howover, it's getting late so wo had bettor tilmric. Charloy, you and DiUy go ahead with the tomahawks; wo'Jl dodge tho horses along after yon." It took sioine time and labour to negotiate the distance indicated by Brown, but about an hour before sundown, to tho astonishment of three of them, they stood upon what wn3 evidently a cleared track, about the width of an ordinary bridle track. Morton examined the limbs cut off, and pointed out that it was all done with a

stone tomahawk. Billy was looking for trades, but none had been made sinoe the last thunderstorm had fallen. " It's running westward ; I suppose it's all right, but this beats my experience. What say you, Brown ?" said Morton. •• Forward, Cortes, while the light lasts," wa« the reply of that individual. The progress was now easy, for the track had been most carefully cleared, and the horses, all old stagers, marched along in single file without any trouble. Darkness, however, fell, and the scrub around was still unchanged. " Morton," said Brown, breaking the silence, ••I've an idea." " Good gracious, man, have you at last found one in this scrub ?" " Don't be funny, Macdowall Stewart; but I should not be surprised at any moment to meet a first-class funeral coming along." •? You're as bad as Billy." " That's just it; il strikes me those mummies, Ac, we saw down there have all been carted along this road, from—- wherever we're going to. That's the reason it's so carefully cleared." "Jove! You're right. Bather a surprise for the mourners if we blunder on to them in the dark." " Just what we want to avoid; there's some thing ahead no white man has yet heard of, and if we can sneak along without being seen so much the better." " What do you think is the best thing to do ? We can't budge a step off the traok, and if unluckily there's a funeral ceremony on to night we shall fall foul of them all the same." "We'll go on until we get a bit of open country and then pull off and wait for day light." " All serene, but our tracks will let on." The conversation had been carried on without halting, and in silence the march continued until midnight, when a low whistle from Morton gave a signal to pull up. [to be continued.}