Chapter IV

Containing an Account of Our Setting Out, Also a Complete Description of the Battle Royal Between Hardwicke and the Bullock Driver.

PREPARATIONS for our journey went on apace. We were to leave Port Augusta by the beginning of April, so as to have the whole of the winter months for our great march across the desert. Hardwicke's sister Kate poked a good deal of fun at him for what she was pleased to call our great expedition in search of kangaroo rats; but as neither she nor the others guessed our real intentions, we bore her pleasantries good-naturedly.

Our party was to comprise four, all told. Hardwicke as leader, myself as second in command, while our retinue was to consist of my servant, Tim Murphy, whom I had brought out from England, and an Australian black who rejoiced in the magnificent title of King Jimmy. This

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worthy, who was now reduced to the plebeian occupation of station hand, boasted descent from a long line of dusky kings somewhere on the Murrumbidgee river. What had become of the dynasty I never knew, but I suppose rum and the white man could tell a sorrowful tale. Now, like Othello, his occupation was gone; but he was nevertheless an excellent personage, and one whom we knew would prove invaluable on such a journey. He had been Hardwicke's companion on many an expedition, and Dick gave me glowing accounts of his valour and sagacity. He was a splendid bushman and tracker, and could follow the trail of man or beast with a less erring instinct than the bloodhound. He was working, at the time of our proposed journey, on an up-country station, but he no sooner received Hardwicke's message than he started for Melbourne immediately.

Soon after my last conversation with my cousin I had drawn my man Murphy aside, and told him of our intention of piercing the interior of the Great Lone Land, where hardships and danger most surely awaited us, and perhaps in the end, death—for I was determined to let him know what he had to expect, should he agree to accompany us. On the other hand, if he did not wish to risk so much, I offered to pay his passage back to England or give him its value in hard cash. The brave fellow answered with tears in his eyes that he would go with us if it was only for the pleasure of dying in my company. I knew such would be his answer, though I gave him the chance to refuse. As for the journey, he wound up by declaring that he cared not two straws for all the journeys in the world so that he had the honour to be in my society. And herein was an instance of that ignorance which is bliss.

We left Melbourne in the beginning of March and arrived at Adelaide some three days later. We stayed but a night and a day in that city, and then took boat for Port Augusta, which place we reached safely in due time. As we had brought most of the necessaries for the

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expedition with us we were ready for the road by the 31st of the month.

Our train consisted of four pack horses, laden with every conceivable thing in the way of provisions, &c., that Hardwicke had heard of explorers taking, or that King Jimmy could suggest, while four powerful saddle horses for ourselves completed the cavalcade. Dick himself had personally superintended the purchase of these animals, and a very fine lot they were, deep in the chest and muscular, and likely to bear well the great fatigue that lay before them.

“Start to-morrow, Mass'r?” said King Jimmy coming up to me as I sat smoking my pipe under the verandah of our “hotel.”

“Everything ready, Jimmy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well, then.”

Jimmy turned on his heel, but before he had gone half a dozen yards, Dick, who at that moment came from the inside of the house, cried in a loud voice, “No, no!” and the black looked round to know the reason.

“This is the 31st, isn't it?” said Hardwicke to me.


“Then what's to-morrow?”

“The first of the month.”

“Of what month?”

“Why, of April.”

“Yes. All Fools' Day. I wouldn't set out to-morrow for the world.”

“We will go the day after to-morrow,” said I to the aborigine, who stood surveying his master with a surprised and inquisitive look.

“Yes, the day after to-morrow, Jimmy,” repeated Hardwicke.

“Right, Mass'r Dick,” growled that worthy as he went off, shaking his ugly head and mumbling something about wasting a whole day.

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As soon as he was gone Dick burst into a roar of laughter.

“Fancy, All Fools' Day. Good heavens! I never though of that. We cannot possibly think of going to-morrow.”

“Well,” I answered, “I don't suppose it matters much. What more appropriate day could we have for the beginning of such an expedition?”

He seemed rather nettled at this, but replied: “I own it does seem a silly weakness to delay our setting-out, but it struck me that to start on that particular day out of the three hundred and sixty-five would be a coincidence better avoided. I think a bushman has something of the superstition of a sailor; he is apt to put things down to fate or providence that merely happen because they must in the natural course of events. I have seen much in my short life, and the solemnity of this vast interior is a thing I never trifle with.”

I know not if he was really serious. I only know the weird and mystic charm of his strange country seemed to impress him so strongly that he lounged into the bar and called for a Scotch whisky.

The 1st of April duly passed, and on the morning of the 2nd our little cavalcade set out on its great journey. We followed the main road to the north, in a very leisurely manner, and camped a little to the right of it, that evening, before sundown. It now became exceedingly heavy, rain having fallen in great quantities previously, so that had we taken a cart, as we at first intended doing, we should have found great difficulty in getting it along.

All the next morning we plodded slowly onward, and just before dinner-time we came up with three bullock teams, one of which was apparently stuck fast in the mud, for we could hear the lash of the great whip cracking, and the coarse shouts of the drivers, long before we had approached close enough to take in the true position of affairs; but on drawing near, our ears were assailed with volleys of the most hideous oaths, interspersed with sickening, dull thuds, caused by the angry teamsters' thick soled

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boots on the unoffending stomachs of the unfortunate bullocks.

As we came up to the scene of this brutal exhibition, we instantly perceived that all the kicks and blows from the whole of humanity would not better the case one jot, for the waggon, heavily laden, had sunk deep in a rut almost up to its axle, and every strain on the wheels but pressed them farther into the soft ground.

Three sinister-looking blackguards, of a most objectionable type, went about cursing and swearing in a truly shocking manner, administering, by way of variation, sundry cruel kicks and blows upon those portions of the oxen which they knew to be the tenderest.

“What brutes!” I said to Dick. “It's lucky for them they are a bit beyond the bounds of civilisation. Why, that leading bullock has a terribly sore shoulder which his collar is but goading the more.”

“You are right,” he replied; “those drivers are nothing but brutes.” Then turning to them he cried out, “I say, you fellows, what's the use of licking into those bulls like that? They can't possibly get out of the hole they're in.”

They ceased their execrations and surveyed us contemptuously.

“Who the devil are you?” said a burly, bearded fellow, addressing Hardwicke. “Mind your own bloomin' business; the bullocks ain't yours, are they?”

Dick flushed angrily at this uncourteous rejoinder, and answered, “It's lucky for you they're not.”

At this the fellow laughed aloud, as did his two companions; and, by way of showing his supreme contempt for my cousin, he began to blaspheme more horribly than ever, and kicked the unlucky animal with increased vehemence.

The poor beast bellowed with the pain, and turned its big brown eyes round as if appealing for mercy.

The blood rushed furiously to Hardwicke's face, and he cried out to the man in a short, sharp tone—a peculiarity of his when getting angry—“Don't do that again.”

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“I'll do it as often as I like,” replied the fellow.

“But it's not necessary,” said Hardwicke, suppressing, as I saw, an inclination to ride his horse over the man. “If you want to get out of this, why don't you level the road before the wheels?”

“Look here,” said the fellow, flaring up and getting exceedingly nasty, “you go and learn your grandmother how to suck eggs. You're a pretty smart chap, I don't think. Where was you dragged up, I wonder, that you got so damned cockey? Take my advice and mind your own bloomin' business. I'll get them bullocks out in whatever way I please; and I'll kick them as much as I bloomin' well please, and you too if you give me any more lip, you half-bred son of a lubra!” (blackwoman) and suiting the action to the word, he administered another unmerciful kick upon the already bleeding stomach of the animal.

Dick was off his horse with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, and, almost before the fellow was aware of it, he had struck him a sounding blow on the side of the head which knocked him into the mud beneath the bullock's feet. Here was a chance of revenge; but, luckily for the teamster, the animal had not the power of reflection, else it might have gone extremely ill with him. He, however, arose quickly, not relishing such adjacency to his victim's heels, and wiping the mud from his face, rushed madly upon Hardwicke, who, stepping quickly aside, allowed him to pass harmlessly by dealing desperate blows upon the air.

All was now excitement, the partisans of both sides casting defiant looks upon each other.

“Go for him, Joe!” shouted one of the teamster's companions. “Knock his damned head off!”

“Why don't you fight?” shouted the other, who, because he had seen Dick dodge his adversary, imagined that he did not want to do battle. “Stand up to Joe, for five minutes, if you can. He'll eat a dozen like you.”

“Will he, by God?” shouted King Jimmy. “Go for him, Mass'r Dick; go for him. Remember Black Pete, on

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the Limestone Creek!” And his dark face positively beamed with the recollection of that auspicious occasion.

“Hold your row, you black devil, or I'll wring your cursed neck,” cried one of the fellows to Jimmy.

“If you do,” said my man Murphy, whose Irish blood was rising at the thought of a shindy, “bedad, but there'll be two necks wrung, and yours will be one of the same.”

“Enough or this jaw,” growled he who had been called Joe. Then, turning to Hardwicke, he said: “Look here, my bird, you hit me when I wasn't looking.”

“I did no such thing,” replied my cousin.

“Then I'm a liar,” said the man.

“You are.” Dick was now as cool as a frosty night.

“Oh, I am, am I?” he replied. Then with a leer at his companions, which spoke volumes for his own cleverness, he said, “You'll have to fight me, sonny. A man never calls another a liar in these parts for nothing.”

“I'll——” Dick was beginning, but I cut him short.

“He'll do nothing of the kind,” said I, for I did not like the look of the man, and I was totally ignorant of Hardwicke's powers.

“Then he's a cur,” replied the man called Joe, “and shall lie down in the mud and let me kick him.”

At this Dick smiled grimly, whilst Jimmy, in the midst of a piercing shriek of laughter, screamed out, “Oh, lord, that am good! that am rich! Mass'r Dick, lie down——” and he almost suffocated with the force of his own exertions.

“Look here,” said Dick, stepping towards the man, “I'll fight you with pleasure.”

He then came over to me.

“You are not going to fight him, Dick? Consider.”

“I know it's low, Archie, but I must. You keep your eye on those other fellows, and see that we get fair play. This is a queer country we are travelling through, and unless a man upholds his honour by his fists, he is not reckoned worth the ground he walks on.”

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“Be careful, then; he is a strong, savage-looking fellow.”

One of the teamsters here came over to us, and addressing Dick, said, “Look here, you; Joe's willin' enough to let you off on his conditions.”

“What are they?” said Hardwicke.

“Don't you know?” replied the fellow, bursting into a coarse laugh, evidently imagining my cousin glad to come to any terms.

“Indeed I do not.”

“Joe must kick you till he's tired.” And the man grinned and giggled immoderately.

“It's very kind of Joe,” answered Dick, “but I'm afraid I can't accommodate him. As for you, my friend, I suppose you think this a very funny message? A little more of your impudence will put me under the painful necessity of giving you a dose that won't agree with you.”

The fellow scowled frightfully, and looked as though he would like to have eaten Hardwicke.

“You blow too much,” he said. “Jaw never won a battle yet”

“Indade, and didn't it,” cried Murphy. “Then what about Samson, you haythen?”

“Samson be——,” growled the man. “He ain't no Samson.”

“Him Samson enough for dam thief like you,” rejoined Jimmy, grinning from ear to ear.

But the ambassador utterly ignored the coloured gentleman's remark, and turned to Dick with an evil smile. “I only wanted to make things comfortable like. Joe is a pretty stiff cuss, I can tell you; at least, he's reckoned so about this part of the country,” saying which he turned and rejoined his companions.

We now adjourned to a green spot a little to the right of the waggons, and here the combatants, throwing off their superfluous clothes, stood up to one another. They were both excellently made men, tall and strong, Dick having the advantage in height, but the teamster that in breadth. Yet when I saw my cousin's magnificent chest and muscles

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I knew that he would prove no ordinary opponent, and the fears I before entertained of his ability as a boxer were partially allayed. I forgot the repugnance of such an encounter; my blood grew warmer, and I foresaw that unless a fair fight was allowed, there was going to be a rare old quarrel. I believe I even went so far as to wish that one of the other fellows would create a disturbance. But it was not to be. They were so certain of their man thrashing Dick that they looked upon the encounter as a little pleasant diversion, the result of which was a foregone conclusion.

At first began some cautious sparring, and here, at a glance, I saw that Dick's agility stood so many points to his favour, though I was dreadfully afraid of the enromous strength of the other man, should they come to close quarters. Hardwicke was the first to begin the music, which consisted of a sound not unlike the rattling of bones on a piece of wood. As the result of this playful attention, the teamster's mouth began to bleed, and spitting the blood upon his adversary, he rushed at him and caught Dick a mighty thump on the chest, which changed the colour of his skin considerably, and caused him to stagger back several feet; but before Joe could follow up his success, Dick had regained his equilibrium, and stepping quickly aside, escaped the savage onslaught of his opponent, but dealt the teamster a terrific blow on the neck, which, coupled with the impetus of his rush, sent him with dreadful violence to the earth.

The man was quickly on his feet again, and rushed with renewed fury upon the cause of his downfall. Dick met him boldly, and the shock of those two meeting fairly shook the earth, as it used to shake beneath the feet of Homer's heroes. They wrestled for a time, and then fell heavily, Dick underneath; and here it must be remarked, to the honour of the bushman, that he took no advantage of my hero's discomfiture, but loosening himself from the arms of his adversary, allowed him to rise.

Again they faced each other, and this time it was clearly

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seen that they meant business, for they trod the ground with a quick, impatient step, their breath coming fast, and their eyes flashing. The teamster seemed not inclined to waste time in fancy sparring, but continued to make desperate lunges in the direction of Dick's mouth. But that worthy was wide-awake, and either dodged the blows or countered with unerring accuracy. The man, Joe, began to show signs of distress, not on account of the punishment he had received, but through the exertion of slogging the air, which he had done to an unmerciful extent. This being not at all to his liking, he made a tremendous rush at Dick, and, breaking through his guard, dealt my cousin such a dreadful blow in the eye as to lay him out on the flat of his back.

“Well done, Joe! Well done, my lad! Another like that, and his blessed mother won't know him. Upon my sivey, I do believe he's crying!” This remark was caused by Dick, who had arisen with sundry ounces of mud upon him, violently rubbing his eye.

“It's too bad on you, Joe,” his two friends continued. “One would think you was licking into a blessed gum-tree. If you go on like that, you'll end by spoiling his lovely features.” And, tickled with their own fanciful conceits, they laughed aloud.

A broad grin overspread Joe's ugly face. “I didn't want to lick the kid, boys,” he said. “I promised to let him orf with a kickin', but he's so bloomin' particular.”

Things now began to look awkward for our side. Dick had received a very ugly blow, and was busily rubbing his eye, for though he had but lately seen stars, at the present moment he could see nothing with that particular orb.

“Don't hit him in the other eye, Joe; you might spoil the both on 'em—ruin his blessed eyesight,” said one of the fellows in a mock piteous tone.

“You got too much dam jabber-jabber,” cried King Jimmy, whose face was almost white with excitement. “Wait till Mass'r Dick finish. He knock him dam head clean off.”

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Dick turned to his enthusiastic follower and smiled.

Jimmy broke out once more. “Remember Black Pete, Mass'r Dick; Black Pete on the Limestone Creek.”

Once more the combatants faced each other, and Dick for the first time began to force the fighting; and so fierce was his onslaught that the bullock-driver receded with alarming rapidity before him. He delivered blow after blow upon the man's iron-like body, but without apparently making any impression, though the self-sufficient air had left the teamster's face, and his companions began to look alarmingly serious. At last Dick got one home, and, as a result of the gentle ministration, the blood oozed in a perfect torrent from the driver's nose, covering his beard and completely saturating his body.

“That's the style, Mass'r Dick,” shouted Jimmy, in a perfect frenzy of delight. “Another like that, and you shut him ugly mouth up for certain,” and he roared and danced about like a mad thing.

In the meantime the teamsters were endeavouring to stop the flow of blood from the nasal organ of their hero, and sundry oaths of a ruby colour, suggested, no doubt, by the ruby stream, fell glibly from their lips. Indeed, the ease with which they poured out great floods of blasphemies was a marvellous exposition of the popular art of swearing, and proved them rare adepts. Imagination and construction of sentences were alike wonderful. The laws of syntax were spurned, but the sense was always apparent.

Joe called for the whisky, and took a long pull, while Dick, on the contrary, only rinsed his mouth out.

“How do you feel, old fellow?” I said to him.

“Right so far, Archie. I think I shall lick him.”

“For goodness sake watch him well. He has been drinking whisky.”

“He won't get home again like this,” replied Dick, pointing to his left eye, which was already swollen, and disclosed several marks of a bluish-black hue. “It was a warm one, I can tell you, but I'll be even with him.”

Once more they faced each other, and, without a

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moment's hesitation, immediately fell to knocking one another about. Blow for blow was given and taken with as good grace as possible till, in making a savage rush at Dick, the teamster overshot the mark, and stumbled forward. He might have fallen on his face had not Hardwicke come to his rescue by planting two lightning-like blows on his defenceless features, which pulled him up sharply, straightened him for a moment, and then forced him rather savagely to the ground on the broad of his back.

Jimmy fairly shrieked with delight, and I could not suppress an exclamation of joy as I felt my face burn with a pleasant tingling sensation, while my man, Murphy, swore that anything nater he had never seen in the ould country. We were winning now, and it is pleasant to win, no matter what the stake.

The man, however, arose from his recumbent attitude a mass of blood and dirt, and spitting a couple of teeth out, which Dick had so unceremoniously loosened, he rushed, bellowing like a wild bull, at my hero, who, skipping aside, escaped the savage charge with but a slight brush; but in return for the teamster's attentions caught him, as he shot by, a ringing blow on the cheek, which made the man's jaw rattle like dice in a box, and was the cause of hurrying him unmercifully to the earth. But he was quickly up again, furious and raving; his face presenting a hideous picture of blood and dirt. He seemed more like an animal than a man, and I feared him now more than ever, for one of his terrific blows sent well home would end the battle there and then. Dick, I was glad to see, was as cool as a man could possibly be under such circumstances, and I knew that this would prove an advantage to him over his maddened adversary.

Like a wild beast he rushed at Hardwicke, his huge fists flying through the air with the rapidity of a couple of steam hammers; but Dick's agility stood him in good stead, and the blows were more than half spent whenever they reached their mark. Once Dick slightly tripped, and the teamster, lunging out, caught him on the side of the

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head, and over he went like a nine-pin. In a second he was on his feet again, his eyes flashing with anger, for to be so treated is not pleasing to the most cold-blooded individual, and rushing at his adversary, he broke through his guard, and dealt him a terrific smack in the eye, which he followed up by one in the mouth, and over went the great bushman like a log.

When he arose again, and rushed at my cousin, it was truly the charge of an infuriated animal. He bellowed more dreadfully than one of his own oxen, and whether in his madness he knew not what he was doing, or if the thrashing he had received had somewhat dazed his brain, I cannot say; I only know he rushed at Dick with increased vehemence, and kicked him in the side.

A cry, partly of pain but more of anger, rushed from Hardwicke's lips. “You cur! You damned cur!” and with the bound of a tiger, and almost with the fury of that animal, he sprang upon his adversary, and rained such a shower of blows upon his head and face as quickly felled him to the ground. Then, with superhuman strength, he lifted the man by the hair, and delivered a succession of terrific blows full on his opponent's face. His fury was so great that I was afraid he would kill the fellow.

I rushed between them, and seized him. “For God's sake, Dick, don't kill him!”

He flung the man savagely from him. “No, no; the dog's not worth it.”

The fight was now over, for the teamster made no show of resuming the contest; indeed, I doubt if he would be able to move for some time to come, and on the strength of one of the fellows declaring Joe had had enough, I led Hardwicke to a small pool of water which lay some few yards away, and washed the blood and dirt from him, Murphy in the meantime getting out some ointment, with which I anointed his injured parts. I then gave the rest to the teamsters for the benefit of the vanquished.

“How do you feel now, old fellow?” said I, after his

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dressing was completed, and he had taken a stiff “nobbler” of brandy.

“A little sore,” he replied; “but there's no damage done.” And, indeed, with the exception of his black eye, he seemed none the worse for the encounter.

We then went over to the fallen teamster, who had just regained consciousness, and a horrible picture he made in his bruised and bloody state.

“Look here, mate,” said Dick; “you forced the fight on me. Our little difference of opinion wasn't worth it all. I'm sorry enough it happened.”

“Bedad, but I know some one else who's sorry as well. It'll tach him to keep a civil tongue in his head for the future when he's talking to gintlemen,” I heard my man Murphy remark to King Jimmy, to which that worthy answered, in a tone of suppressed merriment, “Mass'r Dick can slog, no gammon. I see him polish off Black Pete on the Limestone. It was fine thing.”

“You're a better man than I thought,” said the fallen teamster, surveying Hardwicke through his bloodshot eyes; “I'm sorry I kicked you—there! What more do you want? Go to the devil. You've broke me up. I hope you're satisfied.”

As we had no reason for prolonging this disagreeable interview, we mounted our horses, and once more pursued our way.

Shortly after this we sighted Mount Arden, the first landmark on our journey; and at the foot of a piece of rising ground, about a mile to the west of the road, we pitched our camp for the night.