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Chapter XIII

In Which is Related Our Interview with Kalua the King.

THE room into which we now entered was a long oval in shape, one half of which was flooded in sunshine from a large aperture in the roof, the other half reposing in a sort of semi-darkness. The walls of this strange place (doubly strange through being in the possession of an Australian chief) were decorated with the skins and feathers of many beasts and birds, while spears, boomerangs, waddies, stoneaxes and other warlike implements were hung artistically among the skins, or gaudily ornamented with bright feathers.

What the decorations in the darker portions of the chamber were like we could not tell, nor did we know, till Ada stepped out of the brilliant stream of sunshine and began to talk, that four eager eyes had been intently scanning us. But on advancing from the glare of the sunlight into the shade beyond, we perceived two persons, one of whom was half-lounging and half-sitting in a sumptuous, indolent fashion on a great pile of skins. There was no mistaking the airs of this individual. If he were not the chief he ought to be, for he tried to look as imposing and superior as any prince of Christendom.

“By Jove!” whispered Dick to me, “the fellow's not black at all. He's a half-caste. What an awful face!”

I could scarcely believe my eyes at first, thinking that the sudden change from dazzling light to partial gloom might have affected them. But a further scrutiny proved the truth of Dick's words and my own anticipations. The man was certainly a half-breed and an ugly one to boot. His face was of a dark, sickly yellow in colour, and was ornamented by a thin, straggling black beard; his eyes were

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small, sunken, and bloodshot, glossy and gleaming like a snake's. His mouth, which was large and cruel, was filled with gleaming white teeth, but as he unfortunately had lost an upper front one, whenever he spoke or smiled his mouth presented a spectacle so curious as to quite fascinate one's sight. And yet about him there was an easy languor which did not ill become this marvellous mixture of white and black vice. He was apparently thirty-five or forty years of age, and, by what we could see of his stature, as he reclined luxuriously upon his skins, of good build and great strength. Round his neck he wore two great necklaces of red stones, which we truly guessed were rubies, and on his left arm a finely wrought gold bracelet with a great ruby let in the centre of it. This was his badge of office, the kings of the Mandanyah wearing it instead of a crown as most kings do.

Behind him stood an individual as black as night with a scrubby black beard and a huge shock of woolly hair. His face was so thin that his cheek bones almost protruded through the skin that covered them. His eyes were small and dazzling as diamonds, his figure slight but wiry, indicating the swiftness and elasticity of a cat. He also wore two necklaces, one of rubies and the other of gold, and was the chief priest or medicine man, Wanjula.

But while I had been taking in all these particulars, Ada had fallen on her knees before the chief and had gone through the story of her pursuit by the Wyhuma warrior and her rescue by ourselves, upon whom she dwelt in the most glowing terms, and wound up by imploring the king to grant us his protection. He narrowly examined us during her narration, and looked upon Hardwicke with an almost horror-stricken gaze when it came to that portion of her story in which my cousin had so marvellously killed the savage. He, however, made no answer to her, but held some conversation with his wily-looking adviser. What they said was too indistinct for Jimmy to catch, but they were evidently conscious that we possessed some mighty agency over death, the priest in particular looking on Dick with absolute terror.

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Kalua, for so the chief was called, then asked if the black man (Jimmy) could speak the language, and on her answering in the affirmative, he bade our dusky companion step forward, and there followed a string of questions which Jimmy in turn repeated to us and to which we gave the necessary answers.

It was noticeable from the very beginning that Kalua had a profound contempt for one of Jimmy's colour, for he opened his interrogations by inquiring of that worthy to what tribe of dogs he belonged. At this Jimmy's royal blood flared up, and being an irascible little man, he told Kalua in pretty plain language that he was the lawful king of a tribe somewhere on the Murrumbidgee, a tribe that had fought the great white men and many a time, and who would demolish such a wombat village as his (Kalua's) in the remarkably quick time of two minutes.

The king's sallow face flushed hotly at this and he seized the spear that was lying beside him with the intention of burying it in the haughty Jimmy's body, but the priest Wanjula luckily interposed in time, for both Dick and I had drawn our revolvers and a moment later would have hurried the king into eternity. He, however, being totally ignorant of what our actions foreboded, continued to rail at Jimmy in a most unkingly manner, pouring on his head such mountains of filthy abuse that I saw Ada close her eyes with pain and clap her hands to her ears. At last the great monarchal rage subsided, no doubt for the want of more expletives (though Jimmy told me after that the king's abusive vocabulary was the choicest he had ever heard), and curiosity getting the better of his not inborn dignity, the conversation was resumed on a somewhat milder principle.

I warned Jimmy to be more civil, and pointed out to him that our lives would not be worth an hour's purchase if we made an enemy of the chief, and as Dick backed me up and hinted at the same time that it would not be good for his hide if he disobeyed us, Jimmy's demeanour became lamblike in the extreme, and when he again addressed

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Kalua it was with the most humble, crawling-in-the dust voice that I am certain had ever passed his lips. This sudden change in front had a most palpable effect on his majesty and evidently flattered his vanity greatly, for was it not an open admission of his power? It, like music, soothed the savage beast, while obstinacy in us but raised his evil passions to our detriment.

“So ye are white men?” he asked though the medium of Jimmy, through whom again we answered.

“Ay, great chief.”

We thought it as well to flatter him, for there are few creatures alive callous to that seductive thing, and they you are never likely to meet. As it happened, we struck the right chord. Kalua's weakness was flattery, which, like most kings, he was equal to digesting mountains of.

He continued—

“Ye are of the same race as Laughing Hair—the Daughter of the Sun?”

“We are, oh chief.”

“What seek ye?”

“We are travellers from the borders of the great sea. Our people are mighty.”

“Why left ye then your people to come into the land which knows not the face of the white man?”

“We came, oh chief, to explore the great wild lands of the interior, so that we might tell to men the wonders we have seen.”

“Is the white man sure he came for nothing else?”

This question was launched directly at Dick, who had done all the talking, but that worthy evinced no surprise at the remark and answered quite unconcernedly—

“Surely the white man could come for nothing else?”

“Then the white man knows not the value of this metal?” continued the king, toying with the bracelet on his arm. “But I think the white man does,” and he showed his teeth unpleasantly and laughed in a most peculiar manner, the wind hissing through the space made by the departure of his front tooth.

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“Who the devil can he be?” said Dick; but we were not allowed time to speculate on his being, for he continued, with a horrible leer—

“The white man answers not.”

“What can the white man say?” replied Hardwicke.

“Kalua is too great a chief to be deceived by the tales of boys and old women. When the great cloud blackens the face of the sun, even like to night itself, who is not so wise but that he looks for rain?”

“The white man speaks strangely,” said Kalua.

“I should think he did,” replied Dick.

That the chief was not altogether satisfied with Dick's replies could be easily seen; yet he cloaked as best he could his doubts beneath another dreadful smile, and continued—

“How crossed ye the great plains of sand? There is no water, no grass; the kangaroo is gone, and the birds fall dead in the heat.”

“Yonder,” said Dick, pointing through the aperture up to the sky, “the God of the white man lives. It was he who helped us.”

Kalua seemed scarcely to understand this reply, and sought accordingly an explanation from his priest, but that individual was as much at sea as his royal master.

He turned again to us.

“And is the land by the borders of the great sea well grassed and wooded? Is it as fair as this?”

“Ay, chief, a thousand times more fair.”

“Why roams the white man then through all these dreary lands, since he comes not even for the yellow metal which all his people worship? Surely he thinks not with his head.” And he smiled most diabolically, his mouth hissing all the time like a miniature steam-engine.

“Who the devil can he be?” queried Dick for the second time. “It is the fate of the white man,” he continued, gazing at Kalua, and totally ignoring all reference to the yellow metal, “to roam over all lands, and over all seas. He is as mighty as a god, and can compel even the winds to aid him.”

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He must have thought we were jesting with him, for he replied quickly, “Surely the white man does not lie?”

“The white man never lies,” said my cousin, with not so much as the ghost of a smile upon his face.

“Then is the white man great beyond my people, or the people of the scattered tribes of the country,” said Kalua. “But I think you lie!” and he stood suddenly up and shook his clenched hand before us. His whole being underwent the most miraculous change in a moment. From the cool, cynical potentate he became a blustering, roaring savage. He shook with excitement. The words nissed through his teeth snake-like and furious. His sickly face grew positively green with rage. He foamed at the mouth like a mad dog, and snapped the words between his teeth as though they were lumps of flesh. We instinctively drew our revolvers, prepared for any emergency. Ada shrank back, overwhelmed with terror. The priest's diamond eyes glittered with the excitement of the scene. The monarch raved on, “I know you lie; I know the white man cannot speak the truth. Listen! I have heard of your people by the great sea, a lying, cheating, wonderful people. A people who murder, lie, cheat, and rob for the yellow metal, whose value ye pretend not to know. Liars that ye are, sons of liars! He who brought Laughing Hair here hath divulged the secret of the Great Cave. Ye have journeyed as only the white man will journey for the precious metal; but the desert is wide, and the vultures caw loudly. I know ye, for I am partly of your race, and have some of the poison of your blood within me. My mother loved the white man; but he was a beast who thrashed her till her spirit was broken, and then drove her from him with threats to kill if she should return. Then was she forced to fly to the wilderness. She journeyed on many days, till, falling sick with exhaustion, I was born. And the white man's blood was in my veins, and I was hated by my people. And they made a law that I should die, because they also hated the white man. One night I stole from the camp and took to the desert, I, a boy. And

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why? Because the poison of your blood was in me.” He paused, gasping for a minute, but quickly continued, “From that day to this have I not seen my mother; but the stories she told me of the white man's greed and cruelty have never left my mind. ‘Hate the white man,’ she said; ‘always hate him, as thou wouldst the poison of the death adder!’ ”

We were so startled by this furious outburst of passion that we knew not what to do or say. They, quickly perceiving our uncertainty, construed it naturally to timidity, and a shade of contempt swept the distorted features of the chief. He clapped his hands, and in a moment was surrounded by a dozen stalwart ruffians. Ada looked uneasy. The cold, diamond eyes of the priest glittered with triumph. We were getting into a serious dilemma. Dick, however, was equal to the occasion, and metaphorically took the bull by the horns. He advanced a step towards the king and spoke, holding his rifle in readiness. Jimmy, of course, translated.

“It is a lie, chief, to say all white men are liars. He who said so lies, he who repeats it lies! Some are good, some bad, even as it is with your own people. We seek ye no harm; we are travellers, and claim your hospitality. Refuse it, and we go elsewhere.” And he pointed across the lake to where the village of the Wyhumas lay.

Kalua was startled in turn, for Dick made a fierce figure in his assumed anger. The reference to their ancient enemy, the Wyhumas, brought a look of fury to the face of the king and of his followers.

Dick, however, gave them no chance to speak, but continued with a fiercer air than ever. “Though we be harmless people, oh, Kalua, yet know we how to protect ourselves; and woe betide the man or men who would attempt to lay a finger upon us, for he shall die like a dog, and on his carcase shall the vultures feed.”

A slight change swept over the angry features of the chief. “The white man talks,” he snarled.

“The white man can do more than talk,” retorted Dick.

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Then, holding up his rifle, “I hold in my hand a mighty engine of death—death swift and sudden as the fiery thunderbolt. I have but to wish thee dead, oh, Kalua, and lo! the cloud that tries to hide the face of the sun is not more weak than you to me. And to show your warriors that the white man does not lie, let the king but wish it, and I will kill him now, even as he sits,” and he raised the rifle as though to take aim.

Though Kalua looked alarmed, he seemed not yet to fully comprehend the situation, for he replied with seeming indifference, “I doubt not but that the white man speaks the truth; yet it seems strange to me that so small a tube can conceal a thunderbolt.”

“Chief, thou art still a disbeliever in the power and truth of the white man. Yet point me out some object and behold how I shall shatter it; or, bring me forth some animal, and at a distance which to thee may seem incredible, I will slay it, even as the thunderbolt fells the great trees upon the mountains.” Then turning to me he said in a stage aside, “How does that sound?”

“Most excellent,” I answered. “The idea is good.”

“Yes,” he replied, “But I must not work that thunderbolt to death. They are evidently discussing my proposal,” he went on. “If they accept it, so much the better. It will give them an idea of what we can do, though I wish I'd mentioned nothing about shattering objects.”

The curiosity of Kalua and his warriors was indeed aroused. After a very short debate they made it known to us that they would like to see an exhibition of our powers, and though sceptical as they tried to appear, they eyed our weapons with something akin to reverence, and took exceptional care not to come within reach of them.

We passed from the room, Kalua and his priest going first, Ada, Dick, Jimmy and I following, and the warriors bringing up the rear. On the other side of the curtains of skin we ascended some steps and presently found ourselves upon a sort of flat roof or platform which commanded both an extensive view of the lake and village.

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“What would you have me kill?” asked Dick.

Kalua looked around him, but perceiving no animal at which my cousin could fire, pointed towards an old white-haired woman who stood on the sands of the lake, about two hundred yards away.

“The white man is brave, chief,” exclaimed Hardwicke with a look of horror and disgust, “and never kills a woman. It is a written law with our people that man shall not even destroy man, unless in self-defence. Then is the white man as fierce and wild as the mountain torrent. He knows no mercy, no pity, but sweeps his opponent from his path with the fury of the whirlwind.”

Kalua smiled unprepossessingly but made no reply. Had it not been the custom of the Mandanyah to speak in an inflated manner I could easily have believed that he was laughing in his sleeve (only he had no sleeve to laugh in) at Dick's “high falutin” nonsense. He, however, proceeded to question his medicine man, Wanjula, as to the requisite target they should supply, when Hardwicke, who had been watching the lake, suddenly seized the shot-gun from Jimmy, and speaking to the chief said—

“Behold, oh, Kalua, those birds.” And he pointed to a flock of ducks that had just arisen from the water and was flying towards us. “In a moment shall my death-engine speak aloud, and from among their cloud-like ranks shall many fall dying to the earth.”

The king and his followers were so utterly ignorant of what Hardwicke was about to do, and so full of his doing something miraculous, that they fairly shivered with excitement, while the crowd which had collected below, seeing us upon the platform, stood gaping with open mouths, wondering what was in the wind.

On came the birds, forty or fifty yards above the water, in a flock of thirty at least, making a little white cloud in the blue air. Dick smiled at me, and I, ill as I was, could scarcely refrain from laughing outright. To use his own expression, he couldn't have missed them with his eyes shut.

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In a couple of seconds they were almost above us, and Dick, letting fly both barrels, brought six of them to the earth, one falling plump at the feet of the king. At first the sound appeared to startle the onlookers, but they no sooner knew that they were uninjured than their natural indifference broke down, and they gave vent to their feelings in loud cries of admiration.

The king tried, with the usual courtesy of kings, to treat the exhibition with that indifference it really deserved, but he hid his feelings badly, and I could see that he was strongly moved. As for his priest, Wanjula, he fairly shivered as he turned his eyes upon the redoubtable Dick, and I am certain he would not at that moment have laid his hands upon the “thunder tube,” as they afterwards called it, for all the blessings the Mandanyahs could grant him. Kalua picked up the bird that had fallen at his feet and examined it. There was one tiny red spot of blood on the breast.

“It is wonderful,” he said. “My brothers, the white men, are great chiefs, and possess a power unequalled by the people of the Mandanyah. The prayer of Laughing Hair is granted. Ye need not seek the hospitality of the Wyhumas. I have spoken.”

“We thank you, chief,” Hardwicke replied; “and to prove that our words are not mere empty sound, we beg you to accept this engine of destruction,” and he held out the gun as though to present it to the half-breed. “But,” he continued, “beware of it, oh chief, lest the thunderbolt it contains fly forth of its own accord and smite thee to the death.”

The king drew back shuddering, while Dick gave me a significant look. His warning was thoroughly effective. Kalua would not have touched that gun for the world. But, thought I, if we can make him some useful present it will please him just as well, and mayhap get us into his good graces, so I got out my knife and presented it to him. He seized it instantly with every sign of satisfaction, and made known to us that he was delighted with the gift. In fact,

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he eyed the great sharp blade so keenly as to make me almost wish I had not parted with it.

Our next duty was to express our thanks to Laughing Hair for the great favour she had rendered us, which Dick did in the most courtly and flattering style. She blushed vividly as she inclined her head, and looked, I thought, more beautiful than anything in the shape of woman I had everseen. I noticed the chief also regarded her with no little admiration, and I wondered, for the moment, if she might be his wife, and positively hated his ugly yellow and green face. But no, thought I, the innate dignity of so charming a creature would never suffer such humiliation.

We at last took our departure from Kalua and his men, leaving them wondering over the fallen bird; and, following Ada, retraced our steps through the king's “palace.” Outside, a crowd of eager, excited people pressed round us with shouts of wonder, which they kept up till we reached the hut which was destined to be our residence. I was now so utterly exhausted that I no sooner got within than I flung myself full upon a couch of skins that lay in one corner. I am also afraid that something like a groan of pain escaped me at that moment, for Dick was instantly by my side, while Ada held to my lips a gourd of some refreshing liquid, which it is needless to say I greedily drank.

I remember very little after that, for I was there and then struck down with fever, and must have been laid up for about five weeks. Dick, unfortunately, kept no account of dates, so that from that time forward we knew not one day from the other.

When I had regained sufficient consciousness to talk and know my cousin, I was informed of the severe attack I had undergone, and also that Ada, like a guardian angel, had tended me night and day. Dick had done his best (a statement not necessary for him to make), but he vowed that had it not been for her unswerving devotion, I should have given up the ghost. I remember sending for her to receive my thanks, and I can see her now as she came and leant over me; her great eyes full of tears, her lips quivering

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with emotion, and yet a bright and happy light illuminating all. I thanked her a thousand, thousand times for all that she had done for me, and you may judge of my great astonishment and joy when I heard her answer in our own language. True, it was with a slight baby accent, but it was nevertheless English, and it seemed to me the sweetest English I had ever heard. Dick, it seems, had talked with her during my long hours of quiet slumber, and little by little her native tongue had come back, till she spoke with scarcely any inconvenience.

Favoured by a strong constitution, I rapidly recovered, and great was the excitement in our little camp when I one day intimated a wish to arise, and go out and take the air. As it was summer and the weather very warm, there was little chance of taking a chill, so they led me out and sat me down on the sands of the lake, and there Dick and I talked for more than an hour of the strange adventures which had befallen us, of the beautiful Laughing Hair, and her ultimate fate, and of the difficulties that would be thrown in our way of discovering the Secret Cave now that the ugly half-blood had guessed the true reason of our journey.

“Kalua has certainly taken a most pronounced dislike to us,” said Dick; “but, notwithstanding his dislike or the dislike of fifty such as he, we must discover that gold. I have come all this way to find that Secret Cave, Archie, and I am going to find it before I return.”

“Then you have considered our return?”

“Oh, yes; but we must not think of attempting it yet. We are now in the hot season, and, consequently, all thoughts of journeying for some time will be impracticable.”

“And do you still hold the idea of journeying westward when we do start?”

“Yes; because I am sure we shall find both civilisation and good country sooner by going that way. We cannot be many hundreds of miles from the coast, and may happen to strike some station at half the distance. If we can arrange with Kalua to let us have some carriers for the

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first part of the journey, our arrival on the outskirts of the settlement is reduced to a certainty.”

“By the way, how is Kalua?”

“I have not seen him since that day. He is a surly, morose devil at best.”

“That's unfortunate. And when you get to the settlement, Dick, what then?”

“I shall go back to Melbourne and organise a secret expedition; return here, and load up with gold, my boy.”

“I am one with you, old fellow; but we must first find the gold.”

“That we shall do, never fear. Believe me, it will be a queer thing if I don't worm the secret out of somebody. I am sorry to say Ada knows absolutely nothing about it, though she has heard rumours of some secret being kept in the Great Caves. In the meantime we shall live quietly enough here till the winter comes round. The people are civil and harmless enough, and so far have not been guilty of anything greater than curiosity. I don't care much for that half-bred chief; and Wanjula, the priest, medicine man, and general humbug, is as snaky looking an individual as it has ever been my lot to see, but I don't think they mean us harm; at least Jimmy, who mixes promiscuously with the people, has heard nothing—have you, Jimmy?”

“No, Mass'r Dick; I've heard nothen',” replied that worthy. “All the same, black fellow too civil. Jabber too dam much soft soap for me. Jimmy no understand one black fellow who give another black fellow all him grub.”

“Why, Jimmy,” said Dick, “you surely don't object to such delicate attentions? Who ever heard of a black fellow grumbling because he was given too much to eat? You grow epicurean, James. But make the most of it, for we shall soon be on the ‘wallaby track’ (tramp) again.”

“The wallaby, Mass'r Dick,” he replied, his face brightening. “The sooner the better. No like this dam country, gold or no gold. No can understand how one black fellow give another black fellow all him grub,” and with a brain

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bowed down by that weighty problem, he departed along the sand, puffing vigorously at his pipe.

“What's the matter with him, Dick?”

“The fool's in one of his sulky moods, I suppose.”

“Perhaps,” I answered. “But do you think there might not be something in the wind? Something he guesses at, but is not certain of.”

“There may be. Anyhow, we can keep our eyes open. I don't trust that sallow-faced devil, Kalua. I am sure he hates us, and what is more, he's jealous.”

“Jealous! Of whom?”



“It's a fact. He has the audacity to aspire for her hand.”

“And she?” I could not help feeling greatly interested. Indeed, I would have been less than flesh and blood could I have remained indifferent as to the fate of one so beautiful, and to crown all, one who had nursed me back from the grave.

“Hates him like poison. I believe she would sooner take a lizard to her bosom than that mongrel.”

An inexpressible feeling of relief shot through me, and I turned my eyes to where she stood, some fifty yards away, talking to a native girl, and I thought her the sweetest thing in existence.

This native girl, Lusota by name, was Ada's constant companion. She affected Laughing Hair's style of dress, that is, she covered all those portions of her anatomy which her less delicate sisters had no scruples in showing, owned a most dazzling pair of black eyes, a figure full of life and grace, and a face, albeit its darkness, possessing few of the objectionable traits of her people. She was a true native belle, and had been courted by most of the young men of the village, but so far none of them had pleased her fastidious taste. At this I was rather surprised, for some of the young men were exceedingly wellbuilt, and quite handsome, as blacks go. Still her heart

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remained unconquered, and after she and Ada had advanced, and stood talking to us for a few moments, I saw that no young man of the tribe of the Mandanyahs would ever be able to say that he had won the heart of Lusota.