|Chapter Title||THE BLACKFELLOWS.|
|Newspaper Title||Euroa Advertiser (Vic. : 1884 - 1920)|
|Trove Title||A Final Reckoning: A Tale of Bush Life in Australia|
.A FLNAL RECKONING.* A TALE OF BUSI LIFE IN AUSTRALIA. SB G; A. IHENTY. CIl.PTER XT.-Tar. BnLCKhEu.ows. A few minutes after his conversation with Jim the p-trtystarted,following the broad track through the grass alona the foot of the hill. enuben infcnned Mr. Blount of what Jim had thol him. " By Jove, I think he ii right," the settler said. " Tha track is as broad as it was, but it isaaothing like so much traImpled down; but if your fellow sasv tho main boJv have gone over the hill, why are you followingI this track?" Reuben tave hi reasons, and said that his man had before had suspicious that the trackers aere in communication with the wild blacki. " He thinks that's why it is that they have so freqiently failed hero to catch any of these b fellows." " I shouldn't be at all surprised," Mr. Blount said savarely. " The beat thing would be to put a bullet into each of the rascals' heads." "I think Jim's idea is hbst," lonben said. "No: that we have oncegotour eyes open they won't be able to do us any more harm, and mv blackfellow will see we follow the trail right. I don' t wantthem to see we have any suspicionsof them, as that would put them on their guard; and by keping our eye upon them we may 1be able to turn the tables." "That is so,"Mr. Blount agreed. "What are you going to do, then? " r will call to them in a minute or: two and tellthemthatit is your opinion that only a small portion of the flock have come this way. Then we will have a consultation, and no doubt some of your friends will noticethat te ground is not much trampled. Then we will decide to ride back to the point from which we started, and will follow the other traiL" "Yes, that will do very well," the settler agreed. Reubea at onc3 called to the trackers, who weretrotting on ahead, and then ordered a halt. The two blacks came back. "Joe," Reuben said, "Mr. Blount thinks that the main body of the flock have not come this way. He says he thinks only a hundred or.twohave come. The ground does not look to mb'anything like so much trampled as it was before we halted." " I tink most of dem hab com along here," -the tracker said sullenly. " What do you think ?" Reuben asked the other settlers who had gathered round. " I did not notice it before," Dick Caister said; " but now Blount has pointed it out, I agree withhim entirely. There arenothinglikethe fall number of sheep have passed along here. Ishould say that they have not gone along more than two or three deep." Theor was a general chorus of assent. " You can't have been keeping your eyes open, " ReubLn said tothe trackers sharply " If you don't look sharp in future we shall quarrel. Come, gentlemen, let us ride back to the halting place and see if we cannot find out which way the main body have gone." Ten minutes' riding took them back to their starting-place. " They must have gone over the hill," Reuben said. "They certainly have not kept along at the foot, or we should see their tracks in this long grass." The trackers had exchanged a few words in a low tone, and they now moved up the hill and began to examine the ground carefully. " Some of dem have gone this way, captain." " Of course they have," Mr. Blount said "a blind man might see that." The marks of the sheep were indeed plain enough to all whentheir attention had once been drawn to the subject. On getting beyon d-:le crestthe trackers turned to the left, and lieuben saw that they felt it would be hopeless to attempt further to mislead a party containing several settler: who were perfectly capla?l of fp!lowing the trail, Jim iii, s&i a speaking td hI iss M ,ir, remained in the rear of the troop. After three miles' riding across the downs they again camo down upon a flat country thickly covered with brush. Here and there pieces of wool sticking tothornswere visible, and the trackers went steadily on for some little time. Then their pace become slower aid finally theystopped. " Trail ended, captain." " What do you mean by the trail ended P' Reuben asked angrily. " Why, I can see a piece of wool on there ahead." " Dat so, captain; but only a few sheep hab Spassed here." Some of the settlers dismounted, and having examined the ground carefully, de clared that they were of the same opinion as the trackers. "Very well," Reuben said; "then in that case we must go back again to the foot of the hill. They were all together there, and we must take up the trail afresh." On reaching the foot of the hill Jim and some of the settlers joined the trackers and penetrated the bush in all directions. Each re turned bringing in pieces of wool. " It is plain enough," Reuben said, " what they have done. They have broken up into small parties and havescattered. The question is, what are we tb do now? What do you think, Mr. Blount ? You have had more ex perience than anyone here, and you are the "I don't know what to recommend," the settler said. "They have no doubt done it to confuse us in case we should follow so far, and avoid being thrown of the scent the other side of the hill. The band may really have scattered and gone off in small parties to diffetent parts of the bush, or again they may have scattered with the understanding that they will meet again at some given spot which may be ten and m",y be fifty miles ahead." "The worst of itis," Reuben said, "I fear now that there is an end of all chance of coming up with them to-day; and now the question of water comes in. If we could have caught them before nightfall, the horses, having had a good drink at that stream, could have done very well till we'd goneanother thirty miles; but as that seems hopeless now we must consider seriously what we had best do before we go any further. Does anyone here know anything of the country ahead ?" There was a general silence. "The horses can do very well to-morrow without water," Mr. Bloun said; " they will chew the leaves of this scrub, and can if pressed hold on for even two or three days upon it" "In that case," Reuben said, "let us go on. We will break up into three parties. One shall go straight forward, the other two moving to the right and left, each following the tracks as well as they can. We will not go much beyond a walk. We have five more hours of daylight yet, and the horses can manage another fifteen miles. I will halt an hour before it gets dark and lighta fire. The smoke will be a guide to the other two parties, who shoua l not be more than a couple of miles to the right and left, and they will then close in. If you can suggest any better plan than that, Mr. Blount, please do so. Of course I see the ob jeation that the blacks may make out the smoke and will know that 'they are being followed." "Yes, that is an objection," Mr. Blount said: " but the chances are thatthey will know it without your telling them. It is more than probable that some of them have remained be hind on the watch, and that they will have signalled our coming long ago." - "Dey have done that, ar," Jim, who was standing close to Ieuben's elbow, put in. "Jim saw smoke curl up from the top of dehill just when we turned when we lost the trail." "WThy didn t you tell me before, Jim?" Rleuen asked. "De captain didn't ask Jim any question. Jim thought de captain saw it for sure.". "I didn't see it, Jim. I don't think any of us saw it. WVe were all too much occupied looking for the trail Another timeyou tell me what you see withoutmy asking. . "Well, mn that case, Mr. Blount, there can be no harm in my making a smoke, as they know already that they are pursued. WVll you take .charge of the right-hand piarty?:-Sergeant -PO'Conner will.take command of-the-left. Do -.-you each- take9iracekr with you.>- I will take. - my boy. Tliree.constables will go with each of yOnur.prties and four-.with me. Will you gentlemen please to divide up so as to make aeven altogether in each party without the nativeaf ,"I neednot tellyou to keep a sharplook out, Captain WFhitney. We know the blacks are a very strong party, and now they know that they are pursued they may as likely at not make a stand." . . "Yes, that is quina possible," 'Reuben agreed. "Will you please be careful that neither of yourparties get more than two miles at the outside away from mine? We can hear the sound of rifles at that distance. If either party fires the others will of course hurry to their assistance. Now let us move forward." With Jim in advance, Renben's party moved on, the black carefully examining the ground and bnshes as he went, and occasionally, some what to Reuben's surprise, rising from the stooping position in which he was walking and looking back over his shoulder. The motive wa explained when Jim exclaimed: "'Dere, captain, dere are the signals again." * Reuben turned in the saddle. On the crest of ths hill behind him were three columns of smoke Scarcely had he .looked at them when the smoke ceasea to ascend, as if the fires had been suddenly put out. -" That's to tell them that we have divided in three parties?" Reuben asked the black. Jim nodded and proceeded on his way again. "That's awkward," Reuben said; "I must warn the other two parties." So saying, he at once ordered two of the eonstables to ride right and left and warn the thers,who were not as yet more than a quarter ot a mile on either hand, that the natives wers aware that they had broken np, and that the. greatest caution -muast, therefore, ,be o-?arved. In ten minutes thea to con t .atables rsturned, hbaimp performed their mat aino.- Athosoghhe had no reason to believe that the Idak were within ten milesa of him -Bama a .w took l& precuton of.- ndbing e onsatable oat O each flank to ua dietan f fiftyyards; a third WMa directed to keep with Jiam sIty vd ahead o the sia bodyi-con. *s e oi BebaBhimself, aptrtahl..and-to ~mqameUitw
colonists. Occasionally Reuben rode forward ' to question Jim. s "How many sheep do you think have gone i along the track you are following ?" " About thirty sheep and three black fellow." 1 "HIow do you know there are three black 3 fellows, Jim' I can see marks sometimes of the sheep's feet, but I have not seen a maun's foot- i print at all." "Jim see 'em, captain, plain enough. \'When c dey all follow sheep not very plain to see., biut sometimes, when de sheep want to scatter Jim seeone footmark on, one hl and one on I the other, and sure to be one man behind. " How far are the sheep ahead, Jim; have_ you any ideal" " Six, eight hours, ear, when dey pass hero. but dere's no saying how far dey are now ; may he long way on, may ih only little ay. 1 Ale tink that they hab not gone so berry far ; dat smoke berry thin, not see him more than ten miles." "I wish you had said that before, Jim," Reuben said : "we would have kept together 1 and have galloped on, and taken our chance of finding them." " ,fight have found four or five of dem." Jim replied, " but de others all scattered. No good to find dem till dey come togetheragain." " No, you are right there, Jim; we must catch them all together if we can. There are some twelve hundred sheep somewhere ahead. Mr. Blount said there wereabout fifteen hundred driven off. We have come upon a hundred dead ones, and two or three hundred may have taken that turn to the right. As you say, it would heno good coming upon'thirty." For four hours the party continued their journey. SItis six o'clock," Reuben said, looking at his watch; " we will halt now and light the fire." Two of the constables were told off to keep watch some fifty yards in front, and the others dismounted and gathered together materials for a fire. This was soon done, aud the smoke mounted straight and clear, a'signal to the other two parties to close in. Suddenly a cry was heard from one of the sentries. The men stooping round the fire leaped to their feet just in time to see one of the constables struck from his horse bya boomerang, while a dozen spearswhizzed through the air at the other. Sifell forward- ounhie horsolie:.whiohe arried him up to the fire; as he fell from. the saddle as it stopped, he was caught by two of the others. Three spears had pierced him. "Stand to your arms; steady, for your lives," Reuben shouted. " Jim, throw the horses at once and fasten their legs. We must defend ourselves here," he continued, turning to the others, " until help comes." Not a moment was lost. The little party threw themselves down in a circle, each ?aking shelter behind a bush, and Jim speedily got the eight horses down in the centre, for each party had with it three of thespare animals. The whole time from the first alarm until all was ready to receive the natives did not occupy two minutes. The horses of the sentries had galloped wildly on.both having been struck by spears, and Jim had no difficulty with the re r imainder, which were all standing in a group when the alarm was given, the owners not yet having removed their saddles. All was done without flurry or excitement, although the yells of the natives rose from the bush all round them. The bush was fortu nately not very thick at the point where they had halted, leuben having selected it for that very reason, but the bushes were sufficiently near to each other to enable on or ' ecreep up within thirty yards or s, " : i being seen. eIDon't throw away a re '," .alhle out, "h but pick off the blacl.s : ~fC1 itp to throw their spear. A '!" The'exclamation was accompanied by .. shot from his rifle as a native rose suddenly from the bush ond hurled his s-ear, It missed S.iuben by an inch or two oty, but Ls hIs rifle flashed out, the black threw up his hands and fell back in the hush. "Here, sah, dis make good shelter," and SJim propped up his saddle almost in front of him. "That'sa good idea, Jim; help the others in the same way." The five men were all engaged now; the spears whizzed fastover and among them, but most of them were thrown almost at random, for the blacks soon learned that to raise them selves above the bushes to take aim was to court sudden death. Jim, after distributing the saddles to their owners, had lain down by the side of his master and loaded his rifle as fast as he discharged it, Reuben using his pt pistols as effectually as therifle in the intervals. Fortunately all the party were provided with 0these weapons. Had it not been so cach man would have been liable to be rushed by the d blacks every time he discharged his rifle. As d far as possible they fired by turns, so that each man while loading was covered by the fire of those on his right and left. it For half an hour the fight continued. 'Many 0 of the blacks had fallen, but they continued the assault as vigorously as before, and all the u defenders had received more or less serious wounds from the spears. "The others ought to have been here long not been attacked too: but as we don't hear 0 any firing that can hardly be so." d "Ihope they will be up before dusk," Dick e Caister said; ."it will be dark in another balf an hour. These fellows are only waiting for s that to make a rush. If theydoit is all up d with us." "t "They will find it a tough job even then," A Reuben said; "but the others must be here long before that. I told them to keel, within Stwo miles of us; they have had time to ride double that distance since we made the smoke ' for them." Another ten minutes elapsed. "t Hurrah!" Reuben exclaimed, "I can hear 11 the trampling of horses' hoofs. The moment t they arrive make a rush for your horses and charge." S " I am afraid the horses are killed," Dick said ruefully. T Inthat case," Reuben said, "we must get to our feet and pick off the blacks as they run. They will get up like a covey of partridge as the horsemen come among them." if A loud cheer was heard, and the little party, Swith an answering shout, sprang to their feet, and, rifle to shoulder, stood expecting the blacks to rise; but the ears of the natives were I sharoer than those of the whites, and they had o begun to crawl away before the latter heard ;s the approaching horsemen. Finding this to be h the case the party ran to their horses. Four i exclamations of wrath and grief were heard,for Sseven of the horses were completely riddled ir with spears. e Tartar, however, at his master's voice, strug i gled to rise to his feet. Reuben, aided by Jim, s quickly threw off the hobbles and leaped on to f its back as it rose to its feet, just as-Ir. Blount . with his party rode up. "Keep close together," Reuben exclaimed as She dashed forward, "we may find some of the soundrels." But the chase was in vain. It was already at growing dusk, and there was no saying in which er direction the natives had crawled away in the Sbush. After riding for a mile Reuben reined in e- his horse. e "Itisno use," hesaid; "wemay as wellget back to the fire. Whatmade you so late, Mr. e Blount? W\'e were fighting for three-quarters of an hour before you came up." "I am very sorry," Mr. Blount replied; "somehow or other we went wrong altogether. There is nothing to guide one in this flat bush, and the tracker who was leading the way said he was certain he was going as yon ordered him. Just before six o'clock we halted and looked in the direction in which we expected to see your s moke, but there sere no signs of it. Presently one of the constables exclaimed, 'There's the smoke, sir, right behind us.' I looked around, Sand, sure enough, there was a column of smoke, nid a long way off it was. ' What have you Sbeen doing, you rascal?' I said to the black. It ' There's thesmoke right behindrins;-vo. have ,, been leadinig uLwrbng.:altogethea5.-t 1rhoeblael, . hsved bhan he" was right, and thattle fir?s cia hve been mide by'the black fellows: I didn't know whatto make of it. It wastwo or three ininutes past six, and I noticed when we halted before that your watch was exactly with mine, seo s said to the men, ' We will wait fiveminutes longer, and, if wesee no other smoke, you may be sure that that is made by Captain Whitney." "We waited the five minutes and then Igave the word to start, when one of the men ex claimed, 'The black fellow's gone.' Sure Senough, he had slipped away without, being noticed while we were looking for the simoke. I felt sree now that something must be wrong, Sand we gallopedtowards your smoke as fast as the horsescould lay their feet to the ground. When we were about half way we heard the sound of firing, and I can tell you we didn't lose a moment on the way afterthat. Haveyou had any lossee ?" "Two of the constables are kIlled," Renben Ssaid, "and we have all got some more or less ugly seratches. iMy left arm is useless fora time I am afraid. A spear wentright through it. I fear some of the others have worse hurts."' " What can have become of the sergeant's Spart ?" Mr. Blonnt said. - "uhey must have gene the wrosg way, " 0Reuben replied. "I-told you I suspected thoe Strackers of being in league with the blacks. and I have no doubt your fellow led you purposely Sartray in order to give them an opportunoty of cutting us off before you could arrive to our assistance. I suppose the other party has been inisIed in the same way. Itis fortunate indeed that you made up your mind to ride for our smoke when you did. A quarter of an hour later and you would have found only our bodies, and would probably have been ambushed in turn." "Yes, it has been a close thing indeed," Mr. Blooatsaid . LI wa?' wrongsrfterwh -yo told me, to trustthat black acoandrel soentirely, but I own it aever entered.aymind thathewas ? teadckihaaatray.'t. ,- , y this it . they had reached the fire, whiech "How ace you all?" Reae asked; - **~·P W~einll hadoor S p c Prtup tthiot war dep.
That dodge of the saddle of your blaekiellow to saved us. Mine 'was knocked over half a di dozen times by spears, each of which would have done its business if it hadn't been for it. a I owe him my life os completely that I forgive tO him for making our horses a barricado to saie fc Reuben laughed. He; had'noticed@ hcn'whe hi ron for his horse that Jin; had thrown .him in m the centre of the' others; and their bodies re completely sheltered him from the spears of the Is nativee. bl "It was not fair,perhaps," he said: "but hi my horse woald have been killed as well as yours had he not done so, and Jim loves him g almostas well as he does me. lI has watched 1p over and guarded him for the last three years." w "I am net angry with him," Dick. said; 1l "nothing. could have saved our horses from a being killed, and if one was to be saved, it is If as well it should be Tartar, and not one of the ti others, as yours was far the most valuable of Is the live." . "Pile on the bushes," Reuben said to one of n the constables; "makenas big a blaze as you can; it will act as a beacon to the serveant and b his party." Is Half an hour later the tramping of horses' It hoofs was heard, and a few minutes later the eI sergeant and his party rode up. el "I am sorry I am so late, sir," the sergeant 1 said. "Somehow or other we went wrrone ., altogether, and saw nothing of youir smoke. I t1 was afraid something was wrong, but did not a know what to do, so we halted till it came on dark, and presently made out a fire, but it was n ailes away, and right in the directiori from d which we had come. I did not think it coiuld be Is you, but whether it was you or the blacks, that was the place to ride to." "Have you got the tracker with' yo, ser geant?" d " Yes, sir; at least I saw him trotting ahead ten minutes ago. "WVhy, wherehas he got to?"' The tracker was not to be seen.. "He has made off to join the .blacks, I aexpect," Reuben said. "You have been led astray purposely. We have been attacked, and Brown and Simpson are killed." An exclamation of rage broke from the men whlo were in the act of dismounting. "I expect," Reuben said, turning to -r. d ]Ilount, "that the feIlow? noticed the talk I had with sim. before we. tuined hack from the fWle ail;e.and.to nctlsde lthat ower bad b somed sspici on-that they were'onseales'e wiho cale" t blacks, and so, when the party separated, they determined to load the two flanking columns astray, so as to give their friends a chance of attacking uso, and then to bolt." "I expect that is it," Mr. 'lBount agreed. 1 " And now the first thing is to get something to eat. When that is done we will have a consul tation." diWhile the meat was cookineg over tho.fire, Reuben told off a party of eight mes to bury the bodies of the two constables who had fallen. The task was speedily completed, two holes being easily scraped in the light sandy soil. After supper was over the settlers gathered round Reuben. . "lN'ow, captain, what do you mean to do F" ,Ir. Blcunt asked. "I have given up all hope of seeing my sheep again, so don't.let them influence you, but just do as you thifk bes'. i The blocks are in strong force, that is evident, and it will he a serious bbusiness pursuing them anoy furthlerin their own country."l " I am going to pursue them till I catch them," Reuben said, " that is to say as long as there is a sheep track to serve as a guide. I don't ask you, gentlemen, to go further, for I know it is a serious risk; but it is my duty to hunt those fellows down and give them a lesson, and I mean to do it. We shall never have safety in the settlements until those follows come to understand that whenever they. attaclk us they will be hunted down." "I think you are ight," Dick Caimter said, I " and as long as you go I go with you for one, whateer cometos of it, ut how am I to go withouit my horse, I don't know." 1 " There ire the spare horses," Reuben said; "fortunately we have still got sixt of them." " So we have," Dick exclaimed joyfully. " I hiad forgotten all about them. What luck our bringing them with us !" The other settlers all announced their in tention of continuing the chase as long as Reuben was willino to nush on. " I will tell you what my idea is,!' Reuben said. " The horses are already worn out, and by the end of another day they will be half mad with thirst. I propose that we take two days' supply for ourselves in our water-bottles, and that we push forward on foot, sending two of Sthe constables back to the stream with our Ihorses. I propose that we should push forward to-night. I expect the track we are following r is the true one, and the stars do as a guide. At daybreak we will lie down in the bushes. The blacks will probablyleave some fellows behind asscouts ; they, seeingsiothing of us, will sup pose we have given it up and gone home, and they will make but a short journey. At night we will go on again, and the chances are that f before morning we shall catch sight of their a fires, and will fall upon them at daylight. What do you think of the plan f'.: "I think it is a good one," Mr. Blount said warmly-" a capital plan. Of course we don't much like leaving our horses, for in this country Spoorbrutes will be half mad by to-morrow night with thirst." k "It will be a long tramp back again," a settler said dismally. " We won't tramp all the way," Reuben P said with a smile "Directly we have over taken the blacks and given them a lesson, I will send Jim back again for the horses. He e can cover the ground at a wonderful pace, and a coming back he will ride one of them, and help e the two constables to keep them together. :e They will have had two days' rest and plenty of food and water, and will meet us before we get half way back. There will be no fear of X the blacks 'attacking them." it All agreed that the plan was excellent, and d half an hour later the whole party, with the ex ception of the two constables who were to start k at daybreak with the horses for the river, set out on their march. The sky was cloud It less, and the stars would have been a sufficient g1. uide even if they had not had Jim with them. 5 The black,however, took his place at the head of the party, and strode along as unhcesitating as if it had been broad daylight. (s0 E CONXTLfotn.)