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Chapter VIII

In Which is Related Our Discovery of the Salt Lakes, Also an Account of the Death and Burial of Murphy.

THE next morning we were up at daybreak, a course of early rising being necessary in such warm latitudes, for as the day runs on the heat becomes intense while the morning is usually delightful.

We had agreed the preceding night that Hardwicke and I should set out in the direction of the lake, forcing our


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captive to accompany us, while Jimmy was to remain behind to take charge of the camp and of Murphy, who throughout the night had manifested such alarming symptoms as to make us positively tremble for his safety.

I was awake with the first beams of day, and after shaking my cousin I arose to make my morning ablutions, when to my amazement I discovered that our captive had, during the long hours of the night, made good his escape. The rope that had bound him was lying at the foot of the tree not untied, but absolutely gnawed through. How he had wriggled and twisted sufficiently to get his teeth into it was a mystery to me, but that he had done so we had ocular proof.

“It's a pity,” said Hardwicke, as he surveyed the rope, with one of his curious expressions which always meant a great deal more than he allowed his tongue to utter, “because he might have led us direct. Now we shall have to go ourselves and trust to luck. This is indeed a case of mistaken kindness,” he continued sadly. “If I had only guessed what sort of bird we had I should have made a very different cage. Behold the consequences of humanity. If we had studied his comfort less and bound him standing instead of sitting, he would not have escaped with such impunity. However, it can't be helped. Jimmy, Jimmy,” he cried as that worthy started up, “get breakfast as quickly as you can, for we must be off at once.”

“Yes, sir,” answered that individual as he arose with a sleepy yawn; but when he saw that the aborigine was no longer bound to the tree he was wide-awake in an instant. “Where's that dam black fellow?” he exclaimed.

“Gone, Jimmy,” said Dick; “gone, bolted, given us the slip.” And he held up the rope.

For a moment the fellow looked at it in astonishment, and then burst into a hilarious roar of laughter. “Well, I never! Who think that savage have so much sabbee?” And he went about the kindling of the fire with the sweetest of sweet smiles upon his face. Though he was more than fond of calling all blacks by the most insulting names, I am


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quite convinced that he was pleased at heart that one of his colour should have had the cunning to outwit us. Yet he protested that, should he lay hands on the filthy savage again, he would beat his brains out for his impudence.

We stewed a pigeon for Murphy that morning, and though the brave fellow did his best to eat, it was a great ordeal for him to swallow a couple of mouthfuls, and an equally difficult task to retain them. We spoke kind words to him and tried to cheer him up to the best of our ability; but what seemed to occasion him untold misery was the thought that he might prove an obstacle to our advancement. We did our best to dissuade him of such ideas, telling him that a long spell would be as beneficial to us and the horses as to himself; and I added that if he did not try his hardest to get rid of such absurd imaginings, I should be very angry with him. The poor fellow protested, with tears in his eyes, that he loved me better than life, and added that if he was going to be a burden to me, he hoped the Lord would at once deprive him of existence. We were all deeply affected by his sad, brave words, and I was forced to turn aside to hide my emotion.

Our horses had picked up marvellously. The rich grass and fresh water had worked such wonders in them that we felt the journey on which we were bent was a matter of little moment. We enjoined Jimmy to stick close to the camp and take good care of Murphy, and having caught and saddled the horses, we mounted and rode away.

The travelling was not difficult, and as the animals we bestrode were in first-rate form, we got along at a fairly good pace. Once only, when we had to cross some sand ridges, did any difficulties present themselves, but luckily for us they soon came to an end and we pursued our journey with comparative ease.

By sundown we reckoned we could not have travelled less than thirty or thirty-five miles, but as we saw no signs of the “dry salt lakes,” we came to a standstill for the night. It was not a bad day's work, and I was coming to the conclusion that our sullen prisoner had lied to us. Yet Jimmy,


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who possessed considerable cunning, vowed that he had spoken the truth, and I was fain to believe him before my own inclinations.

In the early morning we were away again, and before the sun had attained any great height we had traversed another ten miles. Then the sand became softer and progress more difficult, and as if to make things still more objectionable, the dreaded sand ridges rose before us about a mile away. We drew rein at their base, and while I set about preparing a slight meal, Dick began to mount the great hill at whose foot we had camped.

I had not paid particular attention to his doings, being otherwise busily engaged. I knew that he had mounted the big sand hill from which to obtain a good view of the surrounding country, but beyond that my thoughts were many thousands of miles away. Suddenly I was forced to heed him, for he was coo-eeing with all his might and gesticulating in a most excited manner.

“The lake, the lake!” he cried.

I instantly dropped the dinner and hastened to his side. There, not more than a mile off, stretching straight before us and shining like a huge sheet of silver in the glare of the burning sun, lay the object of our journey, attesting to the truth of old Morton's story.

“What think you now, Archie?” said he, turning with a glow of triumph upon his face. “Does this not augur well for the truth of the narrative? and can you doubt now that we are on the road to the Golden Lake?”

“My dear Dick,” I replied, “that's the dry salt lake for certain, and I own I am inclined to place more credence in the story, but that we are any nearer the Golden Lake is another matter.”

“Well, you are a dreadful fellow,” he said. “What will convince you?”

“I will tell you. When we find the Great White City in the Mountains and enter its Principal Street.”

“Then we shall find it if we live.”

“That I don't doubt.”




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He, however, was undaunted by my coldness, of which to tell the truth, I was heartily ashamed. Yet I could not help it, for something seemed to be continually telling me that I was engaged on one of the wildest fool's errands that had ever fallen to the lot of mortal man. But Hardwicke was so sure of being on the right track, and his enthusiasm was so catching that I, notwithstanding my half-belief of the whole story, found myself glowing as he spoke.

“I'll tell you what it is, old chap,” he said; “we're bound to strike that lake, we can't help it. Morton did not lie, he could not—to me. The finding of the gold apparently concerns you but little, but it means a lot to me. I am poor, as you know, but if fate treats us kindly, I shall be one of the richest men on earth.”

Now the finding of the gold did not concern me but little; on the contrary, it concerned me very much, for I had seen enough of life to know that however comforting birth may be to a man's dignity, that same dignity is ever so much better carried off with a long purse at the back of it. For a young man to see his few hundreds a year swelling into so many thousands was a very beautiful sight, and I made it known to Dick that I was just as anxious to handle the gold as he, though I assured him that I was not quite so certain of acquiring it. And I warned him not to dwell too much upon it, for it was possible that the adventure might fail; and I spoke of the Golden City of South America, which despite the apparently truthful stories that had been told of it, adventurers had proved to be a phantasy.

“But we are following no phantasy, no chimera,” he said. “The Golden Lake exists, and we shall find it, Archie; we shall find it. I'd stake my life on the truth of the story, and you shall see that I am right, if we do not blunder.”

“And that we are very likely to do with such vague directions as to its whereabouts.”

“I own the directions do seem vague at first, but in reality they are not so. It is true we missed the lake, but


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by how little? We can scarcely do so again. Mountains are not so easily missed in a barren wilderness. They must stand out, even at unprecedented distances, in such a pure air as this. This lake we see is much below the level of the land. I think for us to have come so close is a wonderful bit of instinctive steering, take it how you will. Had it not been for the fire, which threw us off our course, we might have marched straight into it. Herein see the wonders of providence. Had we discovered the lake first, we should never have found the oasis. Then what would have become of our horses and ourselves? Depend upon it, we shall strike the mountains.”

“I hope so!”

“There is only one danger.

“And that is?”

“Water. I don't like the look of the land beyond. But there, faint heart never won fair lady, and the timid adventurer never yet made his fortune. Farewell,” he cried, turning to the wide expanse of glittering salt; “you have given me new life, new hope,” and waving his hat to the far-off shining bed of gleaming crystal, he turned, and we began our descent of the sandhill.

We ate our slight meal with keen relish, especially my companion, who was in excellent spirits. Then we packed up our few things and, mounting once more, retraced our steps towards the camp. The horses seemed to know that they were going back to fresh grass and water, for they cocked up their ears and travelled at a remarkably good pace across the soft sand. We spared them but little during this journey, well knowing the good things that were awaiting them at the end of it, so that we did not draw rein till close on ten o'clock that night.

With the first glimpse of day we were away again, and but for an hour's rest at noon, stayed not till the welcome sight of the oasis met our eyes. We felt glad at returning home, for home it seemed to us, and urged our horses at a faster rate. Alas! that joy was destined soon to be turned to sorrow, for when about five or six hundred yards from


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the first copse which marked the utmost boundary of the oasis we were surprised to see a man running towards us at the top of his speed. In a moment we recognised Jimmy, and instinctively drew rein. He reached us puffing and blowing with terrific force, and with a fixed, scared look upon his face.

“Good God! what's the matter?” cried Hardwicke.

It was a moment or two before Jimmy could gain his breath, and then he gasped out—

“Black fellow—he come—mob the camp—steal horse—think he kill 'em!”

“And Murphy?”

“All the same—kill him too.”

“Where were you, you villain?”

“Me go shoot wallaby—come back minute—find black fellow in camp—twenty—thirty——”

“You wretch!” cried Hardwicke, drawing his revolver, “I'll kill you.” And I really thought he would have done so, for his face had grown as hard as iron.

Jimmy evidently shared my opinion, for he fell on his knees, crying: “Don't shoot, Mass'r Dick; don't shoot. I belong dam black fellow; all the same, don't shoot, for the Lord's sake, don't shoot.”

“Listen to me, Jimmy,” said Hardwicke, dropping his revolver. “I let you off this time, but, so help my God! if you ever disobey me again, I'll shoot you as dead as a door-nail.”

Jimmy seized his stirrup and began to kiss his boot.

“Suppose I do, Mass'r Dick,” said he; “you all the same shoot me like one dam 'possum.”

“Now lead the way,” replied his master. “We must surprise them before they do any further damage.”

Unfortunately we had left our rifles in the camp; but as we each had a revolver, and the culprit Jimmy a shot-gun as well, we felt that we should drive our enemies from the field without much difficulty.

We hastily made for the clump of trees, and dismounting, hitched our horses to a couple of saplings, and while we


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were superintending the order of our arms, we formed our plan. It was simplicity itself. Jimmy was to advance a few yards ahead of us as scout till we came up to the camp, then if the enemy presented itself, we were to discharge our revolvers ad libitum, and trust to noise and fright to give us the day.

Jimmy led the way with all the agility and softness of the native race. He bounded, leaped and twisted in the most remarkable manner, and yet so quietly were all these strange evolutions gone through, that there was scarcely the rustle of a leaf beneath his feet. We followed in a less artistic manner, but with an almost equal softness. Yet, notwithstanding the carefulness and rapidity of our approach, we had in some manner become observed, for when about three hundred yards from the camp we were greeted with a most outrageous shriek. The shriek was followed by the whiz of a boomerang above my head, and the next moment a twig, which that strange instrument had cut from the tree under which I stood, fell at my feet.

“Get behind the tree,” shouted my cousin. “The devils will be on us in a minute.”

He was right, for presently we beheld some sixteen or seventeen blacks advancing towards us in a body. They were all armed, that is, they carried spears and clubs, or as they call them “waddies,” while half-a-dozen of them poised boomerangs in their hands. This instrument, shaped somewhat similar to a bow, is an exceedingly destructive weapon in the hands of an experienced thrower. Many strange tales have been told of this wonderful weapon which, if thrown properly, sails out to a tremendous distance and then returns by a circuitous route to the thrower. But the story that caused me the most uneasiness was one in which it was said that a really good thrower could so hurl it as to make it twist behind a tree and brain his adversary hiding there. But on that point I had my doubts. Nevertheless, the feeling was not one of absolute comfort, for in fighting savages one never knows what one is to expect.

In the meantime the savages came boldly towards us,


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waving their spears and shouting, and evidently not the least concerned as to the reception they were likely to receive. I saw Dick dart rapidly from one tree to another, and immediately a shower of spears followed his flying form. The next moment he cried out—

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Then fire.”

Bang, bang, bang! Such an uproar had never assailed the ears of the natives before. They stood for a moment thunderstruck, making no attempt to use the weapons in their hands. Then, as if suddenly realising the danger they were in, they turned, and with hideous howls of terror fled for their lives, leaving four of their comrades dead or dying on the field, Jimmy, with a wild shout of victory, and quite unheeding our cries to him, gave them chase, loading his revolver as he ran, and for some minutes after we heard the distant popping of his pistol.

We advanced to where the fallen savages lay, and found three of them were shot through the body, two of whom were already dead, while a bullet had scattered the brains of the fourth. The third black lay upon his face, writhing in great agony, and on turning him round we discovered to our surprise that it was the same fellow whom we had taken captive, and who so unceremoniously had given us the slip. He scowled frightfully as his eyes met ours, and made convulsive efforts to seize his spear, which lay beside him. The blood was streaming from a wound in his breast, and as I stooped down to examine it to see if I could not alleviate his sufferings, he rose of a sudden and, taking me unawares, pushed me with violence to the earth, and grasping his spear, he whirled it triumphantly round his head preparatory to plunging it into me. But that triumphant whirl was the cause of my salvation, for Hardwicke, who was some few yards off, had heard me fall, and on looking round had taken in the situation at a glance.

Bang!




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With a wild cry the savage fell dead upon me. Dick had shot him not a moment too soon.

I disencumbered myself of the objectionable carcase.

“I am once more your debtor, Dick.”

“A close shave, old chap; but where was your revolver?”

I told him that I had laid it on the grass previous to my kneeling beside the wounded savage.

“Moral,” he muttered, “always keep your revolver in your belt.”

“I shall,” I answered. “But who would have thought a dying man equal to such a piece of mischief?”

“Ah, that's it,” said he. “Always think anybody capable of anything. Even a dead man is not safe. He'll breed a plague if he can't do anything else. But let us on to the camp.”

Away we hurried and soon came upon a scene of unutterable confusion. The camp was completely wrecked. Our provisions were scattered all over the place, the hut was demolished, and what to us was a thousand times more appalling, was the discovery of poor Murphy's body beaten almost to a jelly. I verily believe the wretches had not left one sound bone in it. I was completely overcome with the shock, and when I gazed upon his unrecognisable features, I felt like one half guilty. Poor Murphy! he had been a true servant to me—noble, brave-hearted and generous, and to lose him in such a brutal manner cut me to the heart. The merry tongue with its charming brogue was still for ever, and the bright, laughing face would never smile again. I could now understand the reason of my cousin's fierce resentment when King Jimmy first told him the unwelcome news. Had that individual obeyed orders and kept guard over the camp, this catastrophe would have been averted.

Presently that worthy returned, glowing with the excitement of his chase, and had Hardwicke not ordered him off to bring in the horses, I feel positive that I should have visited him with a rigorous chastisement.

We collected the scattered stores with great care, and


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were glad to find that though the savages had destroyed much, much still remained. Among other things our rifles and ammunition were uninjured. Nothing had been removed; and this fact we put down to our sudden return, the blacks not having had time to carry anything away. Had we been an hour later the consequences might have been awful. We found the bodies of the two horses they had slain, but where the third had got to we were at a loss to conjecture. This was a great piece of misfortune, so great, indeed, that a shadow fell upon the usually cheerful face of my cousin Dick. Murphy was gone to his last home, our horses were killed, and our provisions partly destroyed. What was to be the next move of the great regulator of fate? I, for one, shuddered to think. But thanks to that providence which seems in some unaccountable way to minister to the wants of men, our gloomy feelings were somewhat brightened later on by seeing the missing horse hobble quietly into camp.

As night came on we made preparations for the burial of poor Murphy. Sad and small preparations were they, merely consisting of wrapping him in his blanket and making it fast about his head and feet. Then as the moon came out we carried him to the tree on which the ill-fated Leichhardt had engraved his initial, for at its foot had I determined to dig his grave. The spot seemed not so desolate as another, for there the white man had stood, that fact alone making the earth more sacred.

I seized the spade and began to shovel out the earth, which, considering the firmness of the surrounding ground, or the appearance of firmness it possessed, proved to be remarkably soft. After I had excavated to the depth of a foot, I handed over the spade to Hardwicke, who, after taking a long spell at it, surrendered it in turn to Jimmy. That worthy had not been shovelling long before he stooped down and picked up something which he held towards us.

“What's this, Mass'r Dick?” he said.

Hardwicke took it from his outstretched hand.




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“Good God, it's a human skull!” he cried.

“A human skull, say you?”

“Yes, and what is more, it's a white man's!

I felt a cold, creepy shiver rush through me.

“Leichhardt's party?” I queried.

“Yes; perhaps this is Leichhardt's skull.” He was now more than serious, and I knew the full reality of our unfortunate position had at last forced itself upon him. Then he turned with an exclamation of annoyance and threw the skull back into the grave. “Faugh! Let us to work.”

No more was spoken, and amid a deep, oppressive silence we laid poor Murphy in his last home beside his ghastly companion. Then gently we piled the earth upon him, and on the top of that again laid the turf which we had cut carefully in squares, so that when we had finished and strewed some dried leaves over all, one would scarcely have known that the earth had been molested.

The moon now shone out brightly and illumined the great white gum with a weird glory. It looked like some strange, ghostly figure grimly watching over the forms of the departed. I felt an indescribable loneliness possess me, a terror which I could not control. The great carven letters stood out like hideous gashes on the white, gleaming trunk of the tree.

  L. 1849.

  H. 1878.

Hardwicke saw them too, and he cried out with a strange laugh: “If I were a superstitious fellow, I should believe I had carved my own tombstone.”

I did not like to tell him that I thought he had, but nevertheless such was my firm conviction.

The rest of the night was passed in quiet, though for fear of an attack from the savages we kept watch and watch throughout the whole of it, a precaution quite unnecessary, our opponents evidently having had enough of us and our shooting irons. When the morning broke, Jimmy and I


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undertook a reconnoitre. We saw several natives in the distance, but they would never allow us to come within range of them. We therefore returned to the camp, feeling perfectly secure from further attack.

It was agreed that we should remain a week longer in the oasis, and thus enable the horses to regain that strength which was necessary to carry them over the next stage of the journey. They were carefully watched and never allowed to stray far from the camp lest they should fall into the murderous hands of the savages. We also continued our watches through the night, but for the whole week no black molested us or attempted a raid on our little settlement.

As we only possessed three horses now, and as there was yet a goodly quantity of provisions left, it was painfully evident that one of us would have to walk; one of the three horses being required to convey the remaining stores. That, however, was easily arranged. We were to walk in turns, each of us declaring that he minded not that a rap, so long as the water and provisions held out. With an assembly so small and unanimous as ours, preparations sped cheerfully along, and on the morning of the seventh day from poor Murphy's sudden end, we were both eager and ready for the journey.

Our larder was well stocked with kangaroo flesh and several species of birds, all done up in true bush fashion, that is, smoked, sun-dried, &c., so as to withstand the severe heat which we knew we were to experience. And that we might not take more things than were necessary, we undid a package that contained some new clothes and rigged ourselves out from head to foot. Two small water-casks, each containing about four gallons, were slung on either side of the pack-horse, and these, with the half gallon each horseman carried in his waterbottle, completed our store of that invaluable liquid. Thus equipped, and with the distinct chance of falling in with some native wells on our way, we felt certain of accomplishing our march, which we reckoned a fortnight at the most, at twelve or fifteen miles a day.

I was more than glad when the time came for leaving, for


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I had taken an indescribable dislike to the place, notwithstanding the fact that it had been our salvation. I could not help but think of Murphy's terrible end, and try how I would, I could not get the idea out of my mind that we should never leave it alive. Therefore it was with feelings bordering closely upon the domains of pleasure that I beheld our little cavalcade step boldy forth into the Great Lone Land.

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