― 9 ―

Book One—The Oath

Chapter I The Marauders

THE sun was setting over the ranges just beyond the headwater of the Paterson River, a tributary of the Hunter, on the east coast of New South Wales. All there was still and silent, with no sign abroad of animal life, until three native blacks made their appearance upon the ranges above. They halted upon a small flat that had been formed in the curve of one of the steeper spurs, and as they looked round, it was evident that they were men of mark in their tribe, for three finer specimens of the aboriginal race could scarce have been encountered, even in those early days. And here it must be remembered that, beyond the boundaries of settlement, the Australian savage had not been inoculated with the vices introduced into the land by the white usurpers of his domain. The tribe of the Upper Paterson claimed as their patrimony the hunting grounds lying intermediate between those of the Port Stephens and Manning River tribes, and these three blacks were of that tribe.

They were fully armed after the Australian fashion. Each man carried in his left hand his shield and a bundle

  ― 10 ―
of spears. In his right he held his woomera, the instrument by which the spear is propelled when it is required to be thrown with greater force or to a longer distance than usual. Each wore a girdle of opossum hair, with the exception of which they were entirely nude. Stuck in it was the never-absent tomahawk and two or three boomerangs. The hair of each was drawn up into a knot upon the top of his head, and beautified by feathers fixed in the ligature that bound the hair. In the selection of these feathers, which were worn not so much as a matter of taste as a distinctive badge, each warrior differed. Macomo, the leader of the party, wore the pinion feather of the eagle hawk, the tall plume giving an appearance of greater height to his stature; Atare wore the tail feathers of the black cockatoo; and Opara was decked with the feathers of the blue crane. Round the forehead of each was bound a broad strip of the fine inner bark of the stringybark tree, and from this being coloured red, any person cognisant of the habits of the blacks might have known that the three savages were out upon some deed of bold daring, and that it would be derogatory to their manhood to return to their tribe without some evidence of success, even if it were but that disgusting aboriginal trophy of triumph, the kidney fat of a foe.

Having chosen a camping-ground, one set himself to work collecting materials for a fire; another employed himself in stripping a few short sheets of bark to form a gunya or rude shelter; whilst the third went off in search of game. By the time the gunya was completed, the fire was burning with a ruddy glow, and the hunter soon arrived with an opossum he had secured. This was thrown on to the red embers without the slightest culinary preparation, and when done—being in a state that a European would call “warm through”—it was taken

  ― 11 ―
off, cut up into three with a tomahawk, and the portion allotted to each speedily devoured.

Hitherto there had been but little talk amongst the blacks, save only what was necessary in connection with what each had undertaken for the general comfort; but now they sat round the fire, evidently with a fixed intention of having what bushmen would term a yarn.

“Atare has never smoked the dark leaves of the whitefellow?” said Macomo.

Atare shook his head in reply, and then asked, “Does it give pleasant thoughts and happy dreams, as the Port Stephens men say?”

“One smoke,” replied Macomo, “is better than the greatest feed of wombat. When another sun goes down, we will have tobacco enough to last us many moons; and sugar and tea for warm drink, and perhaps a bottle of strong water.”

“Macomo is right,” put in Opara. “If the sheep man goes out with his flock, we shall have what we want before the next sun goes out. He never comes back to the fire of his gunya until the sun is below the hills. We have our time.”

“But if he should send out his son?” questioned Atare. “He is a brave man, and his gun carries farther than our spears.”

“The eaglehawk mounts into the sky, and wheels round and round, watching, with untiring eye, when to make his descent upon his prey,” answered Macomo. “Is Atare less patient than a bird? Can he not watch and wait until the moment comes for swooping down upon his prey?”

“True! True!” said Atare, somewhat abashed. “Atare has lain and watched for half a sun to spear

  ― 12 ―
a wallabi; he will watch half a moon for the strong water, the sugar, and the whitefellow's leaves.”

“You said there were three blankets in the hut?” asked Opara by way of solving some doubt that had arisen in his mind. “The wind is cold when the sun goes out, and fire sends a track up into the sky that is seen a long way. A blanket is better than a fire for a warpath.”

“There are three and more than three—there are six,” replied Macomo. “Atare will have one for himself, and one for the young gin he brought into the camp last moon. Opara will not need to maan a gin, for the young girls from other tribes will come to him when he shows the blanket he has to give.”

Atare's eyes dilated with cupidity and expectation at this remark; and Opara, equally eager, said, “Let Macomo tell us again of the many good things he saw in the sheep man's hut.”

“Open your ears, then, for the talk of the many wonderful things that are to be yours when the next sun comes up,” Macomo commenced, and then, with much grandiloquence of diction, and with considerable exaggeration, he proceeded to tell of what appeared to these wretched blacks the boundless wealth contained in the hut of a shepherd. To this hut he had gone from accounts given him by others of his tribe. He had eaten white-fellow's bread, drunk his tea, and tasted his sheep flesh. All that they could conceive of best in the bush was not worthy to be named in the same breath with the white man's articles. He then dwelt upon the blankets, the tea, the sugar, the tobacco, the flour, calling into play all his powers of eloquence and description, and succeeded so well that when at last his companions lay down to sleep, it was with a firm resolve to make all that store

  ― 13 ―
of wealth their own, no matter at what cost to themselves either in suffering or endurance.

At the time of which we write, there was no way of legally holding land in Australia except by free grant under the hand of the Governor. These grants were issued to civilians or emigrants, on proof of the possession of so much capital, the quantity of land given being in proportion to the cash in hand for investment. To military settlers retiring from the service, grants of land were made in accordance with prescribed regulations. But already a kind of embryo squatting, though on a very small scale, had been initiated. There was certainly but little stock then in the colony, for it was not until some ten or twelve years after that the great sheep and cattle mania fell upon the land, in conjunction with the first issue of the occupation permits; still, however, there were some who took a more correct view of the great grazing capabilities of Australia, and maintained small flocks of sheep. But the animal was still somewhat rare, was difficult to obtain, and was high-priced, so that the possession of a few hundred of them was, in those early days, regarded as an indication of great wealth. It is with one of these shepherd squatters that we have now to do.

The spot to which we would now introduce our readers is some eight miles from that upon which we last night left the three black warriors camped; but upon the same river, and lower down its course. Not much more than a stone's throw from the river stood the residence of the owner of the land. It was but a hut of bark, and a rude enough structure, too, and a gold-miner of our day would have looked with the greatest contempt upon such a display of building ignorance.

  ― 14 ―

For some distance from the hut, the level ground, together with the gentle slope down to the river, had been cleared of timber. Part of the clearing had been fenced in, and was evidently under cultivation. A rude stockyard had also been constructed for the temporary restraint of the few milkers that formed the settler's herd, during the process of morning milking. The hut was divided into two unequal portions, forming bed and sitting rooms, with two small lean-to rooms at the back, one being a children's bed-room and the other a store. The sitting-room was plainly, though comfortably, furnished, in a style somewhat better than was usually seen in these early days beyond the city; and everything was peculiarly clean and neat, showing the hand, not only of care and attention, but also of taste. The common wooden sofa, or stretcher, had a clean chintz cover over its mattress, and the plain deal table, at which the family were seated, was as white as snow. The fireplace extended along the end of the house nearly from one side to the other, and two or three heavy logs were burning on the hearth. Over them, suspended by a hook and chain fastened to a beam in the chimney, hung a huge, three-legged, iron pot, not long placed there, for the water was not yet steaming. A small dog, of the long-haired terrier species, sat before the fire, abstractedly gazing upon the pot, and with melancholy as plainly depicted on his countenance as it could possibly be. His meditations seemed to render him still more uncomfortable, for he went out to the door, sniffed the air in all directions, and then returned to the fire, once more to continue that abstracted stare upon the iron pot.

The owner of this snug location was seated at the head of the table, and had just finished his morning's meal. As he leant back in his chair, he showed the full

  ― 15 ―
breadth of an ample chest, and it was evident that he was a powerful and an athletic man, from thirty-five to thirty-eight years of age, and in his grey eye there was that look of quiet resolution that none could mistake, and that few would dare.

George Maxwell came to the colony some few years prior to the opening of our tale as a sergeant in the——Regiment, and, having attained the rank of sergeant-major, retired from the service when his regiment's term of service in the colony had expired. He then obtained, under the regulations, the grant of the land he now occupied, and at once took it up. To the money he had saved from his pay and allowances, he had added the proceeds of a small property of his own in England, and the amount he had invested in sheep. He had barely been twelve months upon the land, but already he had done much, making what he fondly hoped would be a home for his old age, and for his children after him.

His wife was a buxom, matronly woman, the very beau ideal of a soldier's wife, and, looking upon her, you could not help feeling that, when the occasion demanded, she would be ready in execution and apt at expedient. She carried an infant in her arms, which, though a baby giant that would bear down most women, she handled and turned as though it were a feather. Two children, a boy and girl of three and six years old respectively, sat on either side of her at the table, whilst an elder lad of some twelve years of age sat near his father. This boy, though short for his years, was remarkable for his stout build, having strength of form and constitution unmistakably carved in every limb and lineament. He was his father's right-hand man, and was the ordinary shepherd of the flock of sheep that formed the family wealth. Perhaps it was the lonely hours he had passed

  ― 16 ―
in the bush whilst tending these sheep that had caused the look of pensiveness, or rather of mental weariness, that would often cloud his countenance. But whatever may have been the cause, the lad had that peculiar look which in Scotland would be denominated “fey,” or, in other words, of a person who is innately, but only spiritually, conscious of some great impending and mortal danger.

“Well, I will look after the sheep to-day, and give Jem a spell,” said George Maxwell. “The boy begins to look half fretted and moidered by his lonely wandering in the bush.”

“No, father,” expostulated the boy; “I don't mind it. Besides, you are best at home; for you can help mother better than I can, and somehow I'm more at ease when you're at home.”

“But your father has been very hard at work these last few days, and a rest after the sheep will do him as much good as the change to work will do you,” put in the mother. “It's just as well to make things pleasant all round, and a change of work is always pleasant.”

“Well, old woman, as you have given the word of command, so let it be,” said the father in a decided tone intended to stop further discussion. “I go with the sheep to-day so soon as they draw off.”

Here the dog, that had previously given the signs of uneasiness, raised his head, looked miserably at his master, and gave a long, low whine, as though he had known the decision that had been come to, and had appealed against it in the humblest possible manner.

“Why, what's the matter with the Marshal?” asked George. “Why, Blucher, old fellow, what is it?”

Blucher replied only by another long whine.

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“Perhaps you forgot to feed him?” suggested the wife.

“Very likely,” answered George; “and, now I think of it, I remember that he did not come as usual to ask for his share of breakfast. Come on, Blucher, poor fellow!” At the same time he took a piece of meat off a plate and offered it to the dog.

The animal took no notice of the temptation thus held out to him, but, looking reproachfully at his master, once more went to the door, looked round, sniffed the air, and vented his feelings in a lugubrious, but only half-decided howl.

“What can possibly be the matter with him now?” cried the wife.

“I can't even guess,” said George; “I hope nothing is wrong with him, for, after being so long in the regiment, I should be sorry to lose the poor old fellow.” And he went out to the dog with the intention of taking him up and examining him. Blucher, however, kept beyond his reach, and, though he whined and fawned, would not allow his master to touch him. He called and coaxed in vain, for still the dog kept beyond arm's length, and he was on the point of getting out of temper, when he observed that the sheep had begun to feed off on the side of a ridge, on passing which they would be out of sight. So he left the Marshal to his own devices, and, bidding his wife a hasty farewell, he whistled the dogs after him, and followed on the track of the sheep.

And so things went on in their ordinary daily routine upon the miniature station for fully a couple of hours; and then, just as the goodwife was thinking of preparing the dinner, the dog gave a low growl, then another and a louder one, and then, springing up, commenced barking savagely and incessantly.

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Chapter II The Massacre

RUNNING to the door to see what had caused this sudden change of mood in the animal, the wife was astonished, though certainly not alarmed, at seeing three blacks, armed with spear and boomerang, almost close to the hut.

The dog sprang out upon the blacks in the most furious manner, but he was too small to be of any use in the way of defence, although sufficiently attached to his owners to be the cause of mischief by the offence and irritation that his attacks would give to the blacks. Thus, when he rushed out at them, and the savages threatened him with their spears, she called him back, and, by a few soothing words, induced him to enter the hut, though all her persuasion was insufficient to keep him quiet, or to prevent him from keeping up a continued growling.

The blacks now came up, and Macomo, the leader, stalked with an air of authority into the hut, whilst Atare and Opara took up their station just within the doorway. As they cast their eyes around the hut, and marked its contents, there was in them a greedy and exulting gleam that did not escape the woman's observation. There was something there, though she could not read its whole meaning, that told her feminine instincts that she was not safe. With true maternal precaution, she gathered her two elder children up close to her, as

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though, at all events, to shield them from the first fury of the storm should it burst forth; and, taking up her position by the side of the cradle in which her infant was sleeping, she faced the intruders boldly, and addressed them sternly, no quaver of fear in her voice, no want of courage in her eye.

“Now, what is it you want?” she inquired.

The savages looked at each other, for, though Macomo may have known sufficient of the whitefellows' language to understand a simple sentence addressed to him, there were but very few words that he could speak himself. His companions were altogether ignorant of the tongue; but still the manner of the woman left no doubt in their minds as to what she was saying.

Macomo opened his mouth, put his fingers into it in a manner not to be mistaken, and said the one word, “Eat.”

“If you want food, go outside and camp down by the stockyard, and I will bring you something,” and she pointed with her hand to the door.

Macomo shook his head, and, with a half-imperative gesture, placed his hand upon the table, and indicated by signs that the meal should be served there.

“No!” answered the wife. “My husband will be home directly to his dinner, and he will not suffer you in the house. You must go outside.”

She was watching them narrowly, and she caught sight of the fierce significant glance that passed between them when Macomo told them the purport of what she had just said. She became aware then that, though Macomo pretended not to know what was said, he understood every word. The bearing of the three was such as to convince her that danger was impending and imminent, though of what kind she was unable to say.

  ― 20 ―
Judging from the wild and ruthless look of the savages, the very worst might be expected. What, then, was she to do? Should she make a bold effort and endeavour to escape? Alas, those little ones would impede her flight, and she had rather die with them than leave them in such pitiless hands. She must temporise, then; hold them in play; gain time—precious time. Perhaps her husband might take it into his head to come home to dinner. He had done so occasionally; but as she thought this she knew that she was deceiving herself, for only on one or two occasions had he done so. Still, time gained was something.

All this passed like a flash through her mind, and her plan was at once formed. Changing her tone to one of easy indifference, she said, “Well, never mind; if he comes in I must make peace for you. So sit down.”

With a calmness that nothing but the exercise of the most powerful will could have given, she placed chairs at the table, and, after laying plates and knives and forks on the board, she sat her children down on a stool by the fire, and went into the storeroom to fetch the food. “Perhaps,” she thought, “I may see some opening of escape in that direction.”

But again the thought of the helpless little ones came upon her, and she knew that escape with them was impossible. Almost mechanically, for her mind was busy upon some means of escape, she opened the safe, and was taking out the food, when she became aware of the presence of Blucher. He had followed her into the store, and was whining and fondling on her feet, expressing in the best way that nature permitted to him the sympathy he felt for her dangerous position.

  ― 21 ―

“My poor Marshal,” she said, “and you foresaw this, and this it was that caused the uneasiness for which we were inclined to blame you.”

The dog jumped and fondled upon her almost in ecstasy, as if he knew now that his conduct of the morning had been appreciated. “Oh,” she continued, “that you had but the power of speech, that you might aid me with your counsel, and tell me what is best to be done.”

Blucher wagged his tail and looked up in her face reflectively, a low whine being possibly intended to express the regret he felt at not being able to do what his mistress wished.

Suddenly the thought came upon her that George could not be very far away, and that the distance would be nothing when traversed at the full speed of the willing dog. If the dog could be sent away with a message, she might manage to keep the blacks in good humour, and George might be home in time to prevent mischief. But how to send a message; she had no materials for writing —nothing to send him as a sign of their danger. Stay! There was the locket with her dear mother's hair. George knew that she never parted with that, and that nothing but a dire extremity would induce her to risk its loss. She would tie it round the dog's neck, and when George saw it, he would guess the rest. But would the dog find her husband? and then, would her husband notice the locket on his neck? She would not doubt. She would try the experiment, and leave the result in the hands of Providence. All this passed through her mind in an instant of time, and in a few seconds afterwards the locket was taken from her own neck, and tied, in such a manner as to be readily remarked, round that of the dog, and the dog himself was dropped noiselessly out of the window, after he had been taken up by his mistress,

  ― 22 ―
caressed, and received this instruction—“Use all the speed you can, my good dog, to find your master, and bring him back to save us.”

This done, she left the store with as much coolness as if nothing had occurred. On opening the door, she found Atare standing on the watch, and, motioning him to go before—a direction that the black obeyed with evident unwillingness—she returned to the main room, and her heart was relieved from a load when she saw her children sitting safe where she had left them.

She placed the meat and bread upon the table, and was about to cut off some meat for the blacks, when the knife and fork were rudely snatched from her hand by Opara, who made signs to indicate that he would help himself.

Macomo now turned to her, and, going through a feigned process of drinking, said, “Tea!”

She shook her head. “No water,” she said. “Blackfellow go to river and get water.”

Macomo answered by pointing, with a sardonic grin, to the kettle that was boiling on the hearth.

“That is for the tea that my husband takes with his dinner, and must not be used.”

Again that savage gleam shot out of the eyes of the black. He, however, contented himself with making an imperative negative gesture, and pointed to himself and his companions.

She caught the look, however, and was warned by it. “Why, you surely would not eat my husband's dinner, and then leave him without a cup of tea also,” she said, in a voice of constrained pleasantry, even smiling on them, in the hope of temporarily restraining them from the execution of their manifest design of pillage.

The words fell upon ears that could not comprehend

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their meaning; but her tone of voice was readily understood; in fact, so well had the woman played her part, that, keen savage as he was, the cadence of the words, and the smile that accompanied them, completely deceived Macomo. Taking advantage of the seeming complaisance of the mistress of the house, he seized the hand which in speaking she had stretched out towards them. There could be no mistaking the look that accompanied this action, and all the Saxon blood of the virtuous English matron was at once up in arms.

Snatching her hand away with every token of disgust, and her eyes fairly ablaze with anger, she cried, “Out from the hut, ye black curs! Troop, march! Out of the hut, or I'll take your punishment into my own hands, and leave not a strip of your black hides for my husband to flog off you on his return!”

The blacks had started to their feet. The concentrated fury in which the last words were uttered left no possible excuse for mistaking the woman's meaning. In an instant their tomahawks were in their hands. As they thus confronted her, the woman took two paces backward, seized a small saucepan that was at hand, ladled it full of boiling water from the huge iron pot that was hung over the fire, and, preparing to cast it over the blacks, she said, “Clear out, every one of you! March out, or I will scald you so that your own tribe shall not know you again!”

Alas! Well would it have been for her had she cast on them the water without giving them warning. In the suddenness of attack she might have surprised them into flight, and so saved her life. It would have been beyond their power to have endured the pain that would have been caused by the hot water upon their nude bodies. But, though they understood the action of the woman,

  ― 24 ―
and its threatening character, they did not understand the words; and, the first surprise overcome, their wily wits were soon at work. That moment's pause had cost the poor mother her life; for Atare, who was close to the cradle, pounced suddenly down upon it, and, seizing the infant, that had been lying sleeping in it, in an iron clutch that almost crunched the young bones, and brought out a yell of agony from the babe, he, with a shout of derision, held it before him as a shield. This sight, and the cry of pain from her babe, was more than the mother's courage could stand. Letting fall the saucepan she had held, but had failed to use, she rushed forward to the rescue of her infant. She had barely taken three steps towards Atare, when the tomahawk of Macomo was buried in her brain. With a wild ringing shriek she fell, and the last sight that her dying eyse encountered as she was falling was one that had called forth that shriek of agony more than any bodily pang of her own. She saw, and had still the consciousness to be agonised by the action, her beloved babe dashed savagely down upon the earth by the now furious barbarian who had temporarily made it his protection. She saw this, and then Heaven, in its mercy, called her away. The two little ones, who were crying with fright in the chimney corner, were despatched almost before they were aware of what had happened. The poor babe had had all its little life crushed out of it by that one violent cast.

And now the savages dispersed over the hut, admiring, breaking, and destroying; collecting together all such articles as, according to their notions, were the most valuable, and wantonly smashing up all that they could not remove. Already they had gathered three heaps of goods, when the sound of hurried footsteps caught their ready ears. Opara at once sprang forward, looking out in the

  ― 25 ―
direction whence the sound came, but keeping himself concealed. A short observation satisfied him, and he grinned gaily to his companions as he told them that it was only the boy, and that if they would keep themselves quiet, the lad would run into the trap, and be very quickly disposed of.

Poor Jamie! He had heard whilst at work at the lower end of the clearing that piercing shriek, the last cry of his dying mother; and, changed as it was, and in a tone that he had never heard before, he knew that mother's voice. Stupefied for the moment by the thrill of horror that it caused to pass through his frame, he stood aghast and irresolute. He knew nothing of the arrival of the blacks, and could not therefore in any way conjecture what could possibly have called forth that cry of agony. That something dreadful had occurred he was convinced, and he at once set off at his utmost speed for the hut.

Nearer he came, his cheeks pale with the haste he had made, as well as from the remembrance of that dreadful cry that still seemed ringing in his ears. As he approached, however within fair sight of the doorway, the unwonted stillness that reigned around seemed to raise some suspicion in his mind, and he came to a dead halt, and peered inquiringly in at the door, now not more than fifty yards distant. He could see nothing of those he sought, nor of any living thing. He had left Blucher in the hut, and if Blucher were there, he would not have allowed him to come thus near without a bark of recognition. They might be down at the river, and some accident might have occurred there. Still he was sure that shriek—and the memory of it made him shudder— had come from the hut. He considered for a moment, and had almost made up his mind to go down to the river

  ― 26 ―
and search for his mother there, when suddenly a black form glided through the doorway, and in another moment a spear was cast from Opara's woomera, and came whizzing through the air straight towards him. Quick as lightning he dropped flat upon his face, and the spear sped harmlessly over him, and stuck quivering in the ground some twenty yards beyond.

The boy, however, did not wait to watch the course of the weapon, but, springing at once to his feet, he bounded off at his utmost speed along the upper line of the fence in the direction that had that morning been taken by his father. But he had cunning enemies at his heels. Opara ran after him only so far as to give himself a steady aim, and his weapon the required distance for a correct throw. Having attained this, he paused for a moment to steady himself, and then launched a boomerang from his hand. The weapon rose slightly from the throw, and then, cutting the air in a series of curves, at last struck the boy over the legs, and brought him to the ground with a broken thigh bone. Drawing his tomahawk from his belt, for he had left his spears behind him in the hut, Opara ran off at full speed to the spot where the lad had fallen.

In spite of the agony the action caused him, Jamie raised himself till he stood upright. All was now clear to him. He knew too well the meaning of that fatal scream, and the cause of that unwonted silence. The savages had desolated his home, and one of them was now approaching eager to take his life. That life he would sell dearly, if but the chance were given him; for, boy though he was, the heart of a man was in his bosom. Hastily looking round for some weapon of defence against the savage who was fast nearing him, he was almost driven to despair at finding that there was not so much

  ― 27 ―
as a stick within his reach. There were, however, a quantity of stones lying along the bottom of the fence. Quickly selecting one of these, he kept it as far as he could out of sight, and with a beating heart awaited the approach of the black. He had but to wait a few seconds, and then Opara was down upon him; and, as the savage raised his tomahawk to strike, the boy with all his strength launched the stone full in the face of the black. It struck the mark at which it had been so steadily aimed, and with such good-will that the savage fell as if he had been shot. This, however, did not save the boy, for the blow aimed by the black had already parted, and the tomahawk descended upon his head. Jamie dropped senseless, and apparently dead, and, at the same moment, his assailant, equally senseless, fell on top of him.

They lay thus for some minutes, for it was not until that time that Macomo and Atare missed their companion. His continued absence, however, at last led them to deem it advisable to follow on his track and learn what had detained him. They had not far to go, and their astonishment was great at finding him lying senseless upon the apparently dead body of the boy. Raising him up, they saw the ghastly wound that had been inflicted, a wound of so extensive a character that they despaired of their comrade's life. Their rage knew no bounds, and, spurning the lad's body with their feet, they would, no doubt, have hacked it piecemeal, had not their companion's precarious condition demanded their instant attention. They at once gave all their skill to restoring him to consciousness.

When at last he opened his eyes and gave a deep groan, they turned their attention to the boy. There is a kind of superstition amongst the Australian aborigines that the slayer of one of their tribe should not only be

  ― 28 ―
killed, but should also be buried out of sight, so that the members of his own tribe may never be able to claim and pay the last rites to the body. By this only, as they believe, can the spirit of their departed comrade be fully satisfied. Thus, then, in order to propitiate Opara's spirit, in the event of a serious termination to his wound, Macomo and Atare proceeded to put the boy's body out of sight.

Scooping out with their tomahawks a shallow trench in the softer ground that lay under shelter of the fence, they threw Jamie's body into it. They then drew over it the surface earth they had previously removed, heaping on the top a number of the stones before referred to, and scattering over all a quantity of leaves and twigs, in such a way as to leave but little trace of the bloody deed that had been thus concealed.

Having done this to their satisfaction, they bore the body of Opara to the hut, and, by the use of the rude aboriginal remedies, they succeeded in bringing him back to full consciousness, and ultimately in putting him in a state to move away. This was all the more necessary since these occurrences had consumed a considerable amount of time, and they began to feel that there was a danger that the settler might come upon them before they could get a sufficient distance away to provide for their comrade's safety. They had missed the dog, knowing that he would not have remained quiet throughout all this violence had he been anywhere handy; and they could give a pretty shrewd guess as to the direction in which he had gone. Their own wily and observant natures also told them that important information was to be conveyed by very trifling indications, such as would scarcely be remarked by an ordinary or uninterested observer, or one not acquainted with the token sent.

  ― 29 ―

Packing together, then, as much of their selected plunder as they could conveniently carry, they set fire to the hut, and before it had burst into a blaze, left the spot, their wounded companion toiling painfully after them.

As George Maxwell left his home in the morning, it was only to be expected that the melancholy howlings of the dog, which followed his footsteps, should have had some depressing influence upon him. He was a brave man, but he had the warmest affection for his family, and the strongest anxiety for their safety; and, as those cries followed him, he felt much more uneasy than he would willingly acknowledge to himself. This feeling became so strong upon him that, when he reached the top of the ridge, he paused for a moment hesitatingly, with more than a half inclination to turn back and send his son in his place. But upon what slight circumstances do the most important events of our life frequently hinge! Have not the most momentous occurrences but too frequently been dependent, in the first instance, upon some circumstance of the most trivial kind, that for the moment has passed by us disregarded?

And so it was in the present instance. At the instant when George paused, and just as he was on the point of turning back, he took one look at the sheep, still a long way ahead of him. He saw that the leaders of the flock were about to dip into a thick jungly gully. Had they fed into this, he knew that there was great danger of their separating, and of a large portion of the flock being lost. He could not, therefore, leave them at this particular juncture, and, hurrying forward after them, he determined to extricate them from this difficulty,

  ― 30 ―
to place them upon some clear feeding-ground, and then to return.

Suddenly he heard a distant cry, or rather, as it might be, the echo of a cry, that sounded to him like a shriek of distress, and coming, too, from the direction of his home. His heart almost ceased to beat as he heard, and then again he checked his fears. Could he have heard a cry at that distance from his home? It was folly. It must be a delusion of his sense of hearing acted upon by the nervous excitement his mind had been undergoing for the last few hours. And so he reassured himself.

Hardly had he made up his mind to return home than he had started; but he had not taken more than a hundred paces before the dog Blucher dashed breathless and panting out of the bush, and commenced to bark and to jump upon his master. He gave but a short time, however, to the caress of his master, for, almost immediately, he left him, ran back towards home, stopped to see if his master followed, and, finding that he did not do so, came back a short distance towards him, and then again dashed off homeward, as though tempting George to follow at the same speed.

“Well, Marshal,” said George, “so you have changed your mind, old fellow, and have come out to inspect the forces after all.”

The dog wagged his tail at the friendly salutation, but whined pleadingly, and once more started off on the homeward track.

As Maxwell hesitated, Blucher instantly ran back to him, and, seizing him by the trousers, endeavoured to drag him on the way towards the hut. Then, when his master turned and faced in the homeward direction, the dog once more bounded off on the track, stopping, however,

  ― 31 ―
when he had gone some distance, and looking back anxiously to see if his master followed.

George was fairly perplexed at the Marshal's conduct. “Confound the dog!” he said. “I hope he's not going mad. It seems very much like it. If he comes near me again in that style, I'll give him a charge of lead, and prevent accidents.”

He turned away, and once more the dog came back to him. George heard him coming, and at once faced round and raised his gun with a view to carry out his threat; but, in running his eye along the animal's body in search of the spot at which to aim, he perceived, for the first time, the black ribbon that was round its neck, and, tracing this ribbon with his eye, he saw the locket attached to it, and at once recognised it as his wife's.

Something like a suspicion of the truth seemed to dart across George's mind when he saw the locket. As his wife had well surmised, he knew the trinket never left her possession. The dog was now close to him, so, seizing the animal with one hand, with the other he detached the ribbon and locket from its neck. Yes, it was hers—there could be no doubt about it. Had this been sent by his wife? It could have been in the hands of none other. Then it could only have been sent in a moment of great urgency as a token that he was instantly required. And then the conduct of the dog—yes, that was all clear enough now. And he had been about to shoot the poor brute; and instead of following the faithful animal, who knew its mistress's danger, he had lost time, valuable time, that could never be regained. These were the thoughts that passed through his mind as he ran now at his utmost speed towards home.

“Oh! would to God I may not be too late!” was the expression, and the only one that passed the lips, of the

  ― 32 ―
agonised man, almost unconsciously, as he rushed wildly homewards. He saw it all now, plainly and palpably; at least he saw that some imminent danger impended— a danger that might fall at any moment on his own loved ones before he was there to aid them. But from what quarter and in what form did it threaten? And then that shriek—“Oh! would to God I may not be too late!” he cried, as the sweat, not of exertion, but of agony, poured from his brow. “Oh! Marshal, Marshal! would that you had language equal to your intelligence! Would that you could tell all that you have so recently seen!”

At last he reached a spot whence he had been accustomed to see the smoke from his hut fire rising into the air. Yes, there it was! But no; the largest fire of the coldest night never sent up such a smoke as that! And with the thought he dashed forward more fiercely and more eagerly than before. The summit of the next rise was reached, and then he came into full view of what had so recently been his happy, thriving home. One look told him all. That burning hut; with no one living soul near, spoke the whole history to his quick perceptions. He stopped abruptly and looked upon the ruin, and as he looked there was something in the sight that seemed to turn the man to stone. Grinding his teeth together with rage, he clenched his hands so violently as to be almost forcible enough to crush the polished barrel of the gun he held in one of them. He ceased at once the pious ejaculation he had previously so frequently and so fervently uttered. The blow had fallen—he had no need of prayer now. No word passed his lips, but the look of agony left his face, and in its place his countenance assumed the terrible scowl of vengeful determination—a scowl of which, ten minutes before, none would have thought it capable. Satisfied with his

  ― 33 ―
survey, he moved forward, but no longer with the head-long speed he had hitherto used. It was at a quick walk only that he came towards the spot, knowing that the blow had fallen—that the worst had occurred, and that what had happened was irreparable.

He reached the hut, and while it was burning, he stood as near as he conveniently could, and, leaning on his gun, passively watched the flames doing the work of destruction. To have seen him, one would have said that he was an utterly disinterested and an exceedingly nonchalant spectator of the ruin, but for the look of his face. There was still there that look of vengeful determination, that seemed now to have been firmly and indelibly chiselled into it in hard and unmistakable lines. There was no sign of his wife or his children. He did not expect to meet with any. He seemed to know instinctively that he must look there—there amongst that burning mass, for what had been his wife and children. And he must wait—wait patiently till he could search for and bring them forth. Well, he would wait. He could wait and bide his time; but his time would come at last, and then—and he ground his teeth savagely together as he thought upon what would happen then.

It had only been a bark hut, and the fire was not long before it had exhausted itself, and left nothing but smouldering ruins behind. As soon as he could venture amongst the heated wreck, George was at work upon it, heedless of burns and injuries to himself, dragging out the still burning sheets of bark that had fallen from the roof, and clearing away and rooting down to what he knew was below lying on the earthen floor. He came first to the body of his wife. He raised her remains tenderly and carefully, and laid them out on the spot of grass in front of the hut.

  ― 34 ―

In removing her he came upon the crushed body of the babe. Yes, he knew that the mother would not allow her infant to be far separated from her, even in death. Close by were the bodies of the other two children; but where was Jamie? His body was not near that burnt and hideous mass. Where could it be? And he searched over the whole hut, clearing out every portion of the ruin. Had Jamie escaped? Had he turned coward, and, saving himself, left his mother to be slaughtered without a blow in her defence? And a darker scowl than it had ever yet borne passed over his face. No! He could not believe it. Jamie would have died for his mother, and he must be dead, or his mother would not be lying there. But where was his body? Without waiting for any answer to his question, he hastily decided to dig a grave for the remains of his loved ones, and, when that was completed, he stood and looked down upon the corpses. He uttered no word; he shed no tear; there was not so much as a sigh breathed forth to relieve that heavy oppression that seemed to be suffocating him. Yes, his mind was clearer now, and he determined to search for Jamie's body, believing that the demons who had killed the others had sacrificed him also.

  ― 35 ―

Chapter III The Vow

GEORGE set himself vigorously to work to search for the body of the boy. He had come across the track of the two blacks who had borne their wounded comrade down from the upper side of the paddock to the hut. He followed along this track, guided by the blood drops, but this was unusual work to him, and he did it but slowly. At times he lost the traces altogether, and then was long at finding them again. At one point he almost despaired of success; but suddenly he received assistance. Blucher, who had left him unaccountably at the time of his arrival, and whom he had not seen since, came running up to him. The dog whined, and then went forward in the direction of the track which George had been following. He still uttered no word, but he nodded his head as though to tell the dog that he would follow this time.

Blucher needed no answer, for he could read his master's look, and with an appearance of satisfaction he started off briskly. George followed after him, and after taking a few steps he again saw the gouts of blood upon the earth. And then he came to the spot where the two blows had been struck, and, examining the ground, he saw, with a kind of savage joy, the earth saturated with blood. His experienced eye told him that there was there more of the vital fluid than would have flowed from any one wound; and his joy arose from the belief that

  ― 36 ―
the boy had not fallen unavenged. By this time Blucher was scratching at a heap of stones lying close under the fence. Hardly had he reached the dog's side than he was almost unnerved by hearing a feeble moan issuing from below that stony heap. Quick as thought he cleared off the stones, and in a few seconds the shallow trench was opened, and the senseless body of Jamie was exposed to view. George drew it out carefully, and as he did so, the lad once more gave forth a feeble moan.

“He is not yet dead—there may be hope,” was George's thought, and he laid the boy down upon the grass and commenced a careful examination of the wounds; for his military experience had given him a kind of rough-and-ready knowledge of surgery that stood him in good stead on the present occasion. He dressed the wound on the head, which, after all, was not so serious as he had at first thought it; he reduced the dislocation of a broken arm, and set and bandaged a broken leg; and before his work was completed had the satisfaction of seeing Jamie open his eyes.

He had done for the boy all that could be done at present; and now there was the more serious, but imperative duty of burying his dead out of sight. One by one he lowered them down to their final resting-place, and then he paused and reflected.

No; the grave shall not be filled up yet. There was something more to do. In that Jamie must take a part. To-morrow—yes, to-morrow, and Jamie might be sufficiently recovered to be conscious of what was doing. He would leave the work, then, till to-morrow.

So he decided in thought, for even yet he had uttered no word. So, covering over the mouth of the grave, he sat himself down silently and patiently by its side to watch through the night. His gun between his knees,

  ― 37 ―
and his shot-belt and powder-flask hanging from his shoulder, he made no movement, save only when he went over to tend his wounded son. His sheep came home of themselves at sundown, but he took no notice of them. His cows came to the yard to be milked, but they were unheeded. All his attention was absorbed by, and divided between, that apparently dying boy who was lying in the hastily-reared shed, and the unrecognisable heap of charred remains that lay in the pit he had dug.

Morning found Maxwell sitting with unblinking eyes, keeping watch by the grave-side. But, instead of the hale, hearty man, with dark-brown hair and fresh countenance, there sat a grey-haired, decrepit, old man with pinched-up face into which deep lines had been worn—so deep that the furrows, you would say, could only have been ploughed by years of care. There was still that settled vengeful look, all the more fearful for the sunken cheeks and hollow eyes that now accompanied it.

Silent, impassive, motionless he sat, his stony gaze ever rivetted upon that open grave over which he had kept his steadfast watch, and only showing a sign of life whenever a motion or a moan of pain came from the other object of his care.

At last the boy opened his eyes, greeted him with a weak cry of, “Oh! Father!” and looked round with a half-vacant gaze, as wondering where he might be.

George watched him with that fixed look upon his face, for not even the sight before him could change it in the least. At last, with a mighty effort, for the power of speech seemed to have left him, he spoke in a voice hoarse and hollow.

“You know me, Jamie?”

The boy looked at him for a moment, and his thoughts evidently wavered; but, as he looked, memory seemed to

  ― 38 ―
come back, his eye lightened up, and he moaned, “Oh! Father! My head, my head!”

“Who did it?” George constrained himself to ask.

Jamie's eye, so recently bright with intelligence, now wandered restlessly, whilst a look of intense horror came over his face, as his mind was thus taken back to the fearful scene in which he had been an actor. He tried to raise himself as he shrieked out—“The blacks! The blacks! Keep them away—oh! keep them away!” The excitement was too much for his weak state, and he had hardly spoken when he fell back unconscious.

A long-drawn expiration marked the satisfaction with which George received this intelligence. He had remained breathlessly waiting the answer to his question, and now it had come he was satisfied. Now he knew where to look for the murderers. All through that dreary night he had passed the weary hours of watching in pondering over the course he would pursue in the event of the ruffians being whites or blacks. Were they whites, he would take such a course; were they blacks, he would take other and different steps. All had been arranged in his own mind, and every step to be taken had been carefully arranged. They were blacks, and he had now only to trace them out who had done the deed. There was now but one thing more to be done here, but in that Jamie must bear a part; and, as Jamie had relapsed into insensibility, he must await his return to consciousness.

Carefully did he watch and tend the boy through what seemed to his impatience those long hours of delay. The sun was already high in the heavens before Jamie gave any evidence of awakening sensibility.

“Jamie,” said the father, when at last the mind of the boy was sufficiently aroused to comprehend the meaning

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of words, “Jamie! Have you courage enough to look upon your mother and the little ones?”

The eyes of the boy were opened wide with wonder at the question. He uttered a faint murmur of acquiescence, adding something that was inaudible.

“It must be done,” muttered the father. “It seems cruel to the lad to do it just now, but it is useless delaying longer. He must have care and attention at once, or he will never do his share of the work; and that which is to be done must be done before we quit this spot.”

Then, as he prepared to take the boy in his arms, he added aloud, “Come, then, and I will show them to you.”

He carried Jamie in his arms the few paces that intervened between the fence and the pit. “Now, courage, my boy! Courage!” he whispered hoarsely, as he held the lad over the drear opening—“Look! There, down there!”

The boy gave an idiotic laugh as he looked down; then asked in a voice that could scarce be heard, “Where's mother?”

“There—there, Jamie!” he cried in a voice of subdued savagery. “That black heap, which none but the eyes of affection could ever recognise for what it once was! That was your mother, boy. Now, look your last, for you will never see even that much of her again.”

He laid the boy down by the side of the pit, and, with the same unchanged countenance, and with the same business air with which he had thrown out the earth, he filled in the grave, rounded it over, and then covered it with such remnants of bark as had been spared by the fire in order to save the earth from being scratched away by native dogs, roping and pegging them down, in order to prevent their removal. Then he took two pieces of hardwood board, of unequal length, and, nailing one

  ― 40 ―
across the other, he constructed a rough semblance to the emblem of Christianity. Cutting one end of the longer board to a point, he drove it into the ground at the head of the grave. And now his work was nearly done.

“You know that your mother, your brother, and your sisters are all lying there?” he asked of Jamie, who had intently watched the whole proceedings, though as yet scarcely able to comprehend them.

The boy answered, “Yes,” though his look expressed that personally he was by no means satisfied that such was the case, but that he had taken his father's word for it.

“You know how they came by their death!” And as George commenced, that look of horror again fell upon the boy's countenance. His father noticed it at once, and, seizing his son by the hand, as though his strong grasp would give the other confidence, he continued: “Command yourself! Attend to me! You are safe here, and I am by to protect you. You know how they died?”

Jamie groaned. “Oh, yes yes!” he answered in the weak voice of exhaustion, whilst a shudder ran through his frame as he spoke.

“And now attend to me well, Jamie! What would you be prepared to do to those who have thus slain your mother and your brethren, and struck down yourself?” asked George, as he fixed his firm, stony eyes upon the boy.

The boy's eyes opened to their full width as this question was asked, and as they met those of his father, one would have said that the savage vengeful spirit of the one had been transmitted by that look to the other, for there was in the one the same wild gleam of revenge

  ― 41 ―
that was in the other. Clenching his uninjured hand, he groaned out between his teeth the one word, “Kill!”

George laughed grimly. “Yes, yes—you would kill—kill! Good, good; you would kill! My own son, my own brave boy! I recognise you now. Yes, kill, kill!” and he laughed again that wild discordant laugh of frenzy. “You shall have your wish! Now listen! I am about to swear an oath, and if, when I have finished it, you agree with it, and are content to take it also, and to be bound by it, hold up your hand—your uninjured hand—in token that you do so; but if your heart fail—if you experience even the slightest qualm of disinclination to join yourself with me in what I shall undertake, let your hand remain quiescent, and I will work alone! You understand?”

“Yes,” Jamie replied.

And then George knelt down upon that newly-filled grave, and, raising his hands to Heaven in solemn tones—tones better suited for holier and more Christian work—took a deep and fearful oath of vengeance. The boy looked on, not more than half-conscious of what was going on, but still understanding enough of the dreadful words to know that there was vengeance in the midst of them, and that a share of it had been promised to him. And so, when George had done, and looked towards his son, Jamie, with more energy than could have been expected from him in his then weak state, raised his arm into the air, and, with his hand fiercely clenched, he exclaimed, almost in his old tone of voice, “I swear!” And then, overcome by the exertion begotten of his temporary excitement, he fell back senseless.

A few hours after this the settlement was deserted. As month after month passed away, the grass grew over the lonely grave, and over the earth that had once been

  ― 42 ―
trodden bare with the tramp of happy infant feet, and for long, long days after, the spot was shunned by white and black, for the tale of the massacre soon got abroad, and, when once known, it would have been a bold man indeed who would have ventured near that grave after nightfall.

Some two or three days after the events just recorded, George made his appearance in Newcastle, then the penal settlement of the colony, bringing with him his wounded boy, almost at the point of death from exhaustion. He was well known to the authorities, and received every assistance at their hands. His boy was attended to by the medical officers of the settlement, and, as poor George's sad tale got noised abroad, universal commiseration was felt for him, whilst offers of service were made by those in power. With that same settled stony manner, he put aside all tenders of kindness—all attempts at condolence, shutting himself up with his son, over whom he watched patiently and anxiously. When at last the hope of recovery was turned into certainty, the lad's robust frame and excellent constitution having wonderfully seconded the skill of his medical attendants, George began cautiously to make his arrangements. He almost trembled for his project, however, when he found that, as Jamie gained strength of body, he gradually lost strength of mind. The injury he had received on the head had so far unsettled his reason as to make him occasionally something more than partially idiotic. Whilst the medical men were arguing upon the boy's cure, and disputing as to the probability of his ever fully recovering his reason, George and the subject of the dispute suddenly disappeared, and, notwithstanding that every search and every inquiry were made for them, no trace of them could be found.

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Chapter IV On The Track

SINCE leaving the hospital at Newcastle, George and his son had scoured the country all round about their old residence, in search of the murderers; but, though they had come across many parties of blacks belonging to the tribes in the neighbourhood, they had as yet found no trace of those they sought. They knew that, the occurrence being so recent, they would find in the tribe some evidence of the foray; whilst Jamie, in his saner moments, declared to his father that at any time, and under any circumstances, even to his dying day, he should know the black who smote him down, even if he had not left upon him a mark about which there could be no mistake.

Unkempt, travel-stained, haggard, and gaunt from months of camping in the open, their changed appearance so far favoured them that there was not much probability of either one or the other being recognised; yet still they had to pursue their perquisitions very carefully, for the first whisper that inquiry was afoot would be sure to be the signal for removing all trace of the crime, and they well knew how quickly intelligence travelled amongst the native tribes. Having thus visited the families of the tribes nearer to them, they were now making their way amongst the more savage tribes that dwelt still farther from the narrow line of settlement that bordered the Hunter and one or two of its tributaries. They had

  ― 44 ―
now to be exceedingly cautious, for every step was fraught with danger, as they were on the territory of a fierce, hostile, and untamed tribe, who would give them up to slaughter the instant they were discovered.

George, on first starting on his long-planned expedition, had designed to leave his dog behind, but the recollection of the good service the animal had rendered in time of need—the remembrance of the wonderful sagacity, almost amounting to reason, that he had displayed, and the mute appeals of the poor brute itself, all combined to make George change his intention. Once in the bush, he had only to train the dog to silence and immobility when necessary, and then he might be made a useful companion. Not only did Blucher learn this lesson, but when, from constant observation, he began to comprehend what they were after, he at once showed them the valuable service he could render by picking up a blackfellow's track, over which they were hesitating, and by running it down so noiselessly as to bring them into the centre of the camp of a sleeping tribe, without awakening a soul amongst those easily-aroused sleepers.

When this valuable instinct of the animal was thus shown, George congratulated himself upon what he had previously considered to have been a weakness on his part, and, as may be conceived, it was frequently made use of. The half-idiot boy, possessing himself great skill in all bush lore, yet looked with an eye of admiration upon the superior qualifications of the Marshal, regarding him in all such matters as an authority against which there was no appeal.

Having obliterated all trace of their camp, or at all events sufficiently blinded their trail to throw any who might pursue them off the scent, they moved off to a stony ridge a short distance back, and, basking out in the open

  ― 45 ―
sun, warmed themselves in his rays, until at last, when what he conceived to be the suitable time had arrived, George gave the order to start.

One of the aboriginal tribes is evidently on a hunting expedition, and a halt has been called for the night. Those who have been provident on the march have thrown down upon the ground the opossums or wallabies that have rewarded their hunting. Those who have not been so, and who are yet unprovided with a meal, set their gins to work to form the covering for the night, and scatter over the valley in search of game. These drive their yam sticks, of which they carry two or three, into the ground, and against this they rear up the shed or gunya, which their lord and master usually monopolises. Having done this, they collect the sticks for the fire, at which the men will cook their food. They have no firestick with them, so they must have the means of procuring fire; for the old aboriginal process of rubbing two sticks together until ignition is caused is a long, tedious, and wearing one—never resorted to except in the event of an accident. And until the flint, steel, and tinder of the white was known to the tribes, a lighted stick was always carefully preserved to furnish fire when needed.

And now, all being prepared, one of the gins goes over to one who appears to be the leader of the party, and from him receives flint, steel, and tinder, and, with a great show of importance, proceeds to strike a light. That this is a comparatively recent introduction into the tribe is evident from the fact that several gather round to witness the ceremony, thus showing that it had not yet altogether lost its novelty. The spark has caught, a few leaves and dry pieces of bark are ignited, and then fire is soon distributed amongst the tribe.

  ― 46 ―

But where got they, in those wilds, this article so invaluable to the savage? And who is he that reclaims it when it has served its purpose, and carefully puts it in a place of safety about his own person, as though it were regarded as the most valuable of his possessions—so valuable that it could not be entrusted to the care of his gin?

Yes, it is Macomo. He is now the leader of the present party, as he was recently the leader of the band of murderers at the station. A wallaby he has speared lies on the ground before him, and he reclines indolently upon the grass watching the gins—for he has two of them —build the fire that is for his use.

The men who have been out hunting now come into camp with varied success—some with more, some with less game, but none empty-handed, or with less than was sufficient for themselves. Should the meal run short, the gins and children suffer, for the noble male first gorges himself, and then distributes what he cannot eat amongst his family.

They were all busily engaged in cooking and eating, and there was consequently a partial cessation of the noise arising from the confusion of tongues that had hitherto prevailed. Just then, a coo-ee, uttered in that peculiar tone that indicated that it was meant for the warning note of the arrival of a friend, and just loud enough to reach their ears, proceeded from the hill down which they had themselves approached.

The new-comer approached rapidly, and as he came within the circle of light given out by the fire, the awfully hideous appearance of the man became clearly perceptible. He was young, tall, and well-made, but he had received some fearful injury to the upper part of the face that had deprived him of the sight of one eye, and that had

  ― 47 ―
not merely broken, but had crushed in and obliterated, all traces of the upper part of his nose, and left a broad white scar that there was no concealing full upon his forehead. Would Jamie recognise in the black that now stood here the savage who struck him down? Not by the features, certainly, for they had been crushed out of recognition; but the traces of the wound that the lad's powerful arm had inflicted would be sure to prove an unfailing identification.

“Well,” said Macomo, when at last Opara stood by his side; “what news does Opara bring?”

“There is a man of the Port Stephens tribe lying dead at the foot of the peaked hill near which we last night camped.”

“Dead! and how?” ejaculated the other.

“As Opara was coming into camp, he came upon a foot-mark that he knew belonged to none of his party. He followed it, and came upon the man of Port Stephens when his ears were shut, and sent a spear through him before he knew that any was near. See!” and putting his hand into his belt, he drew forth the fat torn from the inside of the slain man, displaying it as the trophy of his victory.

“Were there others of his tribe with him?” questioned Macomo, to this startling intelligence.

“Opara saw no other tracks than those of the man and his gin,” and he laughed satisfactorily. “He must have been a fool, or a boy on his first war-trail, to bring his gin with him into an enemy's hunting-grounds!”

“What!” said Macomo, his eyes opening wide with astonishment. “His gin?”

The other contented himself by nodding an affirmative.

“And did you spear her, too?” asked the chief.

  ― 48 ―

“No,” said the other, in a careless tone. “I am without a gin, and she is young and strong, so I brought her on with me, after some trouble. That is how I am so late.”

“Perhaps he was coming to join our tribe,” suggested Macomo.

“He should have used other colours, then. He was painted for war,” responded Opara.

“Where is the girl?” said the chief.

“She is now waiting my summons on the other side of the ridge,” replied the other.

“Go, fetch her! There must be something more in this than we see at present!” exclaimed Macomo.

“I have questioned her already. She knows nothing,” rejoined the other. “Her man was only a poor fellow in his tribe, and she is very stupid. She knows nothing of what he came to do.”

“Fetch her, then, into the camp,” and the chief drew himself up proudly, as if issuing a decree, “and let her from this night be one of our tribe.”

When Macomo had ceased speaking, Opara retired to the foot of the ridge, and coo-eed. He waited and listened for the answering cry, but it came not. Again he coo-eed, this time louder than before, but, attentively as he listened, no answer came. With an aboriginal exclamation of rage, he dashed up the ridge to the spot where he had left the girl, and, on reaching it, the reason why he had received no answer was apparent. The young girl was lying prone upon the ground, to all appearance totally insensible.

When she was left to herself by her captor, the young girl sank down to the earth, a prey to despair and grief. She presented a most pitiful sight. Her head was bleeding

  ― 49 ―
from three or four wounds that had been inflicted by Opara with the blunt end or eye of the tomahawk. This was no more than was altogether in accordance with the orthodox, though rough, mode of aboriginal wooing. When the black has fixed upon the female that is to be his gin, and she is mostly the member of some other tribe than his own, he watches his opportunity till he finds her alone, and then, coming down upon her suddenly, and perhaps unobserved, he knocks her senseless, usually with the waddy or native club of wood.

Raising her head, the girl was startled at hearing a rustle in a cluster of scrub near by, that her quick ear told her was made by some animal moving through it. She had but just fixed her eyes upon the spot, in eager watchfulness, when a little rough-haired dog pushed through the bush, looked round with quick, sharp eyes, and then retreated by the way he came.

She had not long to wait for a solution of this extraordinary proceeding, for, hardly had the bushes ceased to rustle after his departure, when they were again agitated more violently than before, and then she heard the words uttered in a low tone, “Hist! Hist, girl! Make no sound or cry! We are friends.”

It may here be mentioned that the girl had come from a part of the Port Stephens, whose hunting-grounds bordered upon the settlement of the whites. She was, therefore, acquainted with the language in which the words were spoken, and perfectly understood them; but, notwithstanding the caution given, she could hardly refrain from screaming, when a grey-haired man, bearing a gun, at the trail, in his hands, stood before her. It would be useless, and at the same time need too much explanation, to follow the gibberish, half aboriginal, half English, in which the conversation that followed was conducted,

  ― 50 ―
and we shall therefore narrate it as if spoken properly and in correct English.

“Young girl! I know your sad history, for I have been on your track all day long, hoping you were other than you are. Your husband's body told me the tale of what had happened, though I came up too late to save him,” commenced George—for he it was.

“Not my husband—my brother,” the girl interrupted.

“No matter which. I would have saved him had I been in time. Failing in this, I have done all I could for his body, by putting it under ground so deep that the warrigals will never be able to reach him,” he continued.

“The white man is very good, but Eumerella can do nothing more than thank him,” put in the girl.

“I need no thanks for what I would have done for any who needed it. But Eumerella, if so you call yourself, you can do more than thank me, if you will,” added George.

The girl shook her head sorrowfully. “She can do nothing,” she said. “She is weak, and wounded, and is a slave to the one-eyed murderer of her brother.”

A black frown came over the man's face as this allusion was made to Opara, and when he next spoke it was in a voice tremulous with restrained passion. “Listen! Is Eumerella content to let the blood of her brother lie staining the grass on the mountain-side, and to make no effort to avenge it?”

The dark eyes of the girl gleamed for an instant, but she relapsed into apathy as, holding up her hands helplessly, she said, “What can I do?”

“You can do much,” he added. “What would

  ― 51 ―
Eumerella do, if she had the power, to the murderer of her brother?”

“Tear out his fat whilst he was still living, and throw it, whilst his one eye looked on, to the warrigals to eat!” she exclaimed with savage energy, the sparkle of intense vengeance shooting out from her black eyes, and showing how intensely earnest she was, as she added passionately, “And I would do the same for the whole of the cursed tribe, if I had them in my hand!”

“You do not love them, then,” he said, regarding the girl with a look that seemed to read into her most secret thoughts.

“Love them!” the girl poured out savagely between her teeth. “I hate them! Whether in my own tribe, or as a slave to this sneaking, one-eyed coward, I shall always hate them. White man, hear my words! Eumerella is alone in the world. My brother was all that was left to me, and to-day he was slaughtered. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters have now all been destroyed by the tomahawks and spears of these wretched bandicoots, and now I am alone, and, what is worse still, I am a captive in the hands of my worst foes.”

“Good,” said George, when the young girl had concluded her story. “And now hear what I have to tell, and learn how very nearly, by the same bond of misfortune, we are bound together. The same one-eyed devil, the cowardly dog that murdered the boy, your brother, was one of a band who burnt down my house and slaughtered my wife and children. I, like yourself, am on their track for the purpose of revenge—though, unlike you, I would strike only those who had a hand in the fell deed that made me childless. I must know first who were those who were with this one-eyed dog, and, knowing that, I shall take my vengeance in my own way and at

  ― 52 ―
my own time. Say, will you assist me? and in return you shall have aid from me.”

“Tell me how, and I will do it!” she replied.

“You are about to make one of the tribe—at all events for a time; for it must be evident to you that it is useless just now to think of escape. And you will have frequent opportunities of learning what I require to know,” he continued.

“Let the white man point out the track, and I will follow it,” she responded. “My wits have been too dulled by blows to see his meaning.”

“Your captor was one of the murderers, and must know the others. Go with him quietly to the camp, put on as complaisant an air as possible, and worm from him this information by——” But before he could get further with his instructions, the coo-ee of Opara was heard rising up from the valley.

The girl made no motion, and all energy seemed to be driven out of her by that sound.

“I have no time to explain further,” continued George. “If your camp is broken up in the morning, mark in your new camp of to-morrow the exact spot in which the sun sets; then, when darkness has come, leave the camp in the opposite direction, and before you have gone far I shall be with you, and will tell you more. If you remain here, come to this spot.”

Again came the sound of Opara's coo-ee, this time uttered in evident anger.

“Have you understood me?” George asked hurriedly, and when the girl had nodded an affirmative, he continued, “Farewell! I must not be discovered. As you have not answered his cry, you will do wisely to fall down and pretend to be insensible.” Even as he spoke he

  ― 53 ―
disappeared in the scrub, and not a sound was given out that would indicate the presence of a living thing.

The girl had sense enough left to follow the advice he had given. She threw herself on the ground, and her weak and wounded state, with the excitement of the conversation with the white man, rendered her pretence of feigning insensibility only one very short remove from reality.

When Opara found her thus lying, he had not the slightest suspicion that anything extraordinary had occurred. Darkness had set in, and even if there had been any doubts upon his mind, he could not have satisfied them. But the whole thing seemed natural enough to him. He knew that she had given him a great deal of trouble during the day, and he did not expect to have altogether an easy task with her at once. He knew, too, that he had dealt her some very hard knocks—harder, indeed, than even Australian gallantry demanded, for he had unquestionably lost his temper over her. Her insensibility was, therefore, by no means surprising.

After two or three kicks, and a few Australian expletives from Opara, the girl opened her eyes, and then went naturally enough through all the different stages of returning sensibility, thereby showing how very much alike are women, whether savage or civilised. At last she rose, tottering to her feet, and Opara, after uttering some stern words of caution and direction, stalked on, without taking further notice of her, into the camp. Slowly and painfully she followed, so far restraining herself as not to cast one single glance in the direction in which she knew that her ally was concealed.

The arrival in camp of Opara and his captive was the signal for a fresh outbreak of verbal confusion, more especially amongst the women of the tribe. Opara, who

  ― 54 ―
had stood by, amused, and smiling grimly at the abuse which the women were heaping on his captive, now interfered. He marked her proud bearing, and thought all the more highly of her for it, and he now drew her from amongst them, taking her apart to a fire he had made with a few sticks begged from a neighbour. When she was seated, he left her for a few minutes, and, then returning, threw over her shoulders an English blanket, with the words, “The gin of Opara shall be as well covered as any in the tribe!”

Notwithstanding the revenge she cherished in her heart, the vanity of the girl was pleased by this magnificent present. She thought of what an answer it would be to the taunts of the gins when, in the morning, she showed herself in the tribe with the warm, heavy blanket hanging from her shoulders. At the same time, this feeling did not in any way prevent her from keeping steadily in sight her fixed purpose of vengeance. Calling to mind the instructions she had received from the white man who was to aid her, she thought the present moment, when Opara seemed well disposed towards her, and had even displayed some little weakness, would give about the best opportunity of sounding him, and learning from him as much as could be gathered without raising his suspicion.

Cunning as he was, Opara was but as wax in her hands, to be moulded as she would under her superior intelligence. This became so obvious to her as she went on, that her contempt for him became so great as to make her almost scorn to use her power upon so poor a subject. She opened the conversation by asking, in her softest voice, “What is the name of the warrior whom I have to thank for the warm covering of the whites?”

Opara answered by telling her his name.

  ― 55 ―

“It is the name of a great fighting-man,” she continued, letting her voice fall into a cadence of sadness. “Eumerella has often heard it mentioned with fear by her tribe.”

This was a piece of intelligence that was received with the greatest satisfaction by Opara. It was most flattering to his pride, as it was about the highest compliment that could be paid to a warrior to have his name thus spoken of in a hostile tribe.

“He is a great fighting chief,” she continued. “He would never work for the whites to buy this covering. He must have slain in fight the white man to whom it belonged.”

Here was another compliment to his prowess that tickled his vanity. The slaughter of a white man was a thing to be proud of, and to be talked about. Under this feeling he lost all caution, and in a short time Eumerella was in possession of the names of the three who had committed the murders.

“And now let me warn you never, if you value your life, mention to a single soul what you have this night heard, for, if you do, Macomo will brain you wherever he meets you.”

Being then satisfied, she readily complied with the direction of Opara to say no more upon the subject. She thus gained credit with Opara for ready acquiescence, when her silence was only due to the circumstance that she herself desired to pursue the matter no further.

On the day following, George and his son, who had been afoot from the earliest dawn, and who had kept a watchful eye upon the camp, withdrew to a spot of greater safety as soon as the first movement was made by the blacks. It was with satisfaction that he saw the men, after taking a hasty meal, start off to their hunting, leaving

  ― 56 ―
their women and children behind them; for he knew that if they moved now they would go no great distance. But his satisfaction was still greater when the sun passed the meridian and commenced to travel towards the west, and there were still no signs of moving the camp. And then he saw the hunters return into camp with their game. So George, followed by Jamie and the dog, left his secure post of observation, and, descending the ridge, approached much nearer to the camp, always taking care that he should be so placed as to be unobserved, whilst he had a full view of all that was done below.

Shortly afterwards he was aroused from a reverie by the harsh cry of the mocking-bird rising from a bush at no great distance—a cry repeated thrice with great rapidity, and sounding in his ears most remarkably like a distortion of the words “Take care!” Turning his head quickly in the direction whence the sound had come, he caught sight of Jamie making rapid signs to him. But, as he caught sight of his son, he, at the same time, saw that which made him think his last hour was come. A tall and powerful black stood, not fifty yards distant from him, with a spear already fitted to the woomera, and in the very act of throwing it. Just as he launched the weapon, and before it had parted from his hand, a small white bundle—for Blucher in his speed looked like nothing else—that had shot out from the bush where Jamie lay concealed, sprang upon the naked legs of the black. The start the savage gave on being thus assailed in rear by an unknown foe, disconcerted his aim, and the weapon that would otherwise have pinned George to the earth flew wide of the mark, passed over the crest of the ridge, and stuck upright in the earth half-way down the descent.

George had been too much taken by surprise to make

  ― 57 ―
any move, either aggressive or defensive; but now he sprang to his feet, and, bringing his gun up to his shoulder, held the black covered; then, advancing steadily some paces nearer, he, with an imperative gesture, directed the native to lay down his weapons. The dog meanwhile kept biting at the heels and calves of the black in the most frantic and determined manner, keeping him so well employed in defending himself as to leave him no opportunity to think of escape.

The black said a few words in his own language, and, pointing to the dog, signified that he desired George to keep the animal off.

“First lay down your arms, and then I will call him off!” It was the action that accompanied the words, and not the words themselves, that caused the black to comprehend his meaning. Still battling with the dog, he laid his spears upon the ground beside him.

“Now then the boomerangs!” and, pointing to the girdle of the black, George made him understand that the boomerangs were to be laid down also.

With a sulky air the black drew them forth. No sooner had they left his hand than Jamie darted forth from the bush in which he had been concealed, and seized upon them. At the same time, with a rapid movement, he snatched the tomahawk also from the girdle of the black.

George now endeavoured to call off the dog, but Blucher for once showed himself intractable. For the first time in George's memory he refused to obey orders, and insisted upon springing and making savage bites at the black. He did not bark, but it was apparent that it was only by the greatest exercise of canine self-control that he kept himself from indulging in that luxury. He indemnified himself, however, for this restraint by biting

  ― 58 ―
still more savagely at his opponent; and, as his teeth met in the flesh, he could not forego the satisfaction of uttering a subdued snarl. It was only when Jamie seized him by the back of the neck, and dragged him off by force, that he could be made to cease.

Coming up close to the black, George looked him steadily in the face. Why did the black show so much terror of the dog, he asked himself, and why did Blucher show such frantic rage as to be disobedient to orders? Did they know each other? Had they met before? And George glared suspiciously into the face of the savage, as though he would have read in the black countenance the secret he wished to learn. The wild, restless eyes of the black returned his gaze, and there was nothing but fear to be read there.

“What have I done,” said George, in a calm, severe tone, “that the black should seek to take my life?”

The savage shook his head in a way that expressed that he did not understand what was said, whilst his restless eyes glanced uneasily, and with great rapidity, from George to the boy and the dog, and to the bush around.

“Quick, Jamie!” said George, as he kept his look steadily fixed upon the black. “The cord from my wallet; the black devil is even now thinking of making a bolt. Quick, lad!”

He had scarcely ceased speaking than, with a motion like lightning, he seized the black by the wrist, and held him with a grasp of iron. The savage felt by that fierce grip that he had to do with one who was more than his master, and at once resigned himself, with aboriginal apathy, to his fate, whatever it might be, making no resistance as Jamie bound his hands securely behind him and tied him to a sapling. Drawing a clasp knife from

  ― 59 ―
his pocket, George muffled it in a piece of clothing torn from his dress, and before the black could so much as guess at what was intended, this was thrust into his mouth, and he was effectually gagged. He was then removed to a place of greater security, farther back from the crest of the ridge, and then the fastenings of his hands were looked to by George himself; his feet were bound, and, having again lashed him to a sapling, George left Jamie and the dog to mount guard over him.

When the light had so far faded out of the sky that his movements could no longer be seen from the camp, George, having given full instructions to Jamie for the watching and safe keeping of the prisoner, called Blucher to follow him, made his way to the place of concealment he had occupied the previous evening, and set himself down to wait the coming of his ally.

  ― 60 ―

Chapter V The Compact

GEORGE had not long to wait after the darkness had fairly set in. As soon as he showed himself in the clear ground, the young girl bounded towards him with the light step of triumph, anxious to unburden herself of the important news she had obtained.

“Eumerella knows the murderers of the wife and children of her white friend. She has discovered all that he wished to learn.”

“All?” he asked.

“Yes, all!” she cried, in unrestrained triumph. “The number of the crawling bandicoots that did the deed, and the names of those who were in the party.”

“Quick, quick, then! Tell me all you know!” he urged.

“Eumerella will tell her white friend all he desires to know; but he must first make her a promise, after the manner of the whites when a promise is not to be broken.”

“You mean I must swear it, I suppose?” said George.

The girl gave a sign of acquiescence.

“You might purchase my immortal soul at such a price as you now offer. I swear to do your wish, if it be possible. Now, what is it you require?” he asked.

“It is this. To be faithful to me—to give me your assistance by night or by day, whenever it may be required,

  ― 61 ―
and to aid me to your utmost in destroying and sweeping off the face of the earth this tribe of sneaking bandicoots,” and the girl, in her energy, stood out like a pythoness, the very incarnation of savage vengeance.

“Listen to me, girl!” and as he spoke George laid his hand upon her shoulder by way of calming her excitement. “I have promised, and I will faithfully perform all that you require of me in so far as the tribe is concerned—with this reservation, that the destroyers of my house, be they few or many, shall be mine, and mine only, to be dealt with as I may think fit, and at my own time. As for the rest—burn, slay, and destroy as you will; but these must be protected, guarded, saved for me, and for me alone. Agree to this, and you shall have my aid and counsel, and that of my son.” And as she made a gesture of astonishment, he added, “He is with me, but you have not yet seen him.”

“Opara is one of those that my white friend claims,” she rejoined; “and he it was that sneaked like a cowardly warrigal upon my brother and speared him. He must die by no hand but mine, for I am the last of my kindred, or my brother's spirit lies unsatisfied in the bush, asking for vengeance.”

“I tell you, girl, that they are mine, and mine alone! Months ago, before you had suffered any loss at their hands, I was bereft of all by these incarnate fiends, and then it was I swore the bitter oath that I am bound to keep, no matter who or what stands in my way. Even my own son, now my only chld, should perish by my hand if he came between me and the accomplishment of my oath.”

“If the white man has sworn, Eumerella will respect his oath,” she answered; “but she would ask one thing,

  ― 62 ―
and that is that Opara shall die soon, and that she shall be present when the time comes.”

“Agreed! I have already promised Jamie,” and he spoke with a bitter laugh, “that Opara shall be the first. In a few short months his day of reckoning will come. And now, having agreed to your terms, tell me the names of those I have purchased, and give me some sign by which I may know them when I see them.”

“There were three engaged in the foray,” she said.

“Three! only three!” he cried; “too few, too few to satisfy my intense yearning for revenge!”

“Let not my friend complain,” added the girl. “Eumerella will make a glorious death-offering, sufficient to satisfy the spirits of her friends and those of the white, when her plans are completed.”

“And their names?” he asked.

“Besides Opara, my captor, whom you have seen, there were Macomo, the great war chief of the tribe, and Atare, whom I have not yet seen. He is absent on some secret expedition, but should have been back to-day. Macomo is uneasy and anxious at his absence, for he is a great warrior, and the news he brings is important.”

“Ah!” he ejaculated, as his thoughts reverted to his captive. “He should have been here to-day?”

“Yes; and Macomo fears that he may have got into some difficulty or danger, if he be not slain. If he comes not back to-morrow, a party, with Macomo at its head, will go out in search of him,” she answered.

“You do not know him—can give me no mark by which to recognise him?”

“No,” she replied. “I only know from what the gins have said that he is one of the leaders of the tribe, and second only to Macomo in bravery.”

“Good! I must learn something of him for myself,”

  ― 63 ―
he went on. “And now, how shall I know this Macomo—this chief devil amongst the minor fiends?”

“He is taller than any in the tribe, and stout and strong,” she said. “But, besides this, he may be known by his always wearing three eagle feathers in the binding of his hair.”

“Three eagle feathers!” and he remembered to have see that morning a tall chief who bore that emblem on his head. “I shall not forget. And now, girl, there is but one thing more to be done, and my path is clear before me, and in that again you must aid me.”

“Let my white friend speak. Eumerella will pay service for service.”

“It is a hard task, in which cunning management will be required. It is to bring Opara here, near this spot, some time to-morrow,” he said.

“To slay him? He shall come!” she answered quickly.

“No, not to slay him; but to tell him of his crimes, and to let him know the punishment that awaits him,” rejoined George.

“What! you would warn him?” cried the girl in amazement.

“Yes,” he replied; “that is a part of my systematic purpose.”

“The white men do things strangely,” and she shook her head. “The black crawls after his foe in secret and strikes him unawares, lest he be too strong or too cunning, and so escape.”

“He shall not escape me. Were he to burrow in the earth, I would scent him out—would follow him down, and drag him forth to die when the time came. But I warn my enemy in order that he may know there is a danger always impending, whilst I keep him in ignorance

  ― 64 ―
of the moment when the blow will fall, so that he may always be in dread of it. That is part of my revenge. Think you I would be satisfied by merely slaying the bodies of these devils who have made me homeless? No. I must kill mind as well as body; knowing that the blow will inevitably fall, but not knowing when, they will always dread it—they will always be fearful that every bush they pass shelters the white man and his deadly bullet. I would have them die many deaths through fear, until at last they shall not dare to sleep at night, lest their fate should steal upon them unawares; or walk alone by day, lest it should meet them off their guard. I would wear them out, and destroy their manhood, as they have done by me, and from bold warriors turn them into laughing-stocks for their gins. Now, girl, what think you of that for vengeance? Is not the mere spear-thrust of the black paltry by the side of it?”

The girl almost quailed before the fierce, bitter energy with which these words had been uttered, and, looking up to him with a glance of dread, she answered, “My white friend is very cunning. He has taught me a lesson that I shall not forget. I would have destroyed the whole tribe at one blow, but he is a great chief and knows best. His words shall not be lost upon me.”

“And now,” he continued, “think you that you can, upon some pretence, cajole Opara to this spot?”

“He is a fool!” she answered, “and is easily led away by smooth talk. He shall come; but how shall I escape his vengeance?”

“You shall be made prisoner, too, so that he may not suspect,” rejoined George. “Besides, I shall want you to convey my words to him, so that he may understand them.”

“And Macomo—will you warn him, too?” she asked.

  ― 65 ―

“I must take other steps with him, for I doubt much if he is to be led away like the stupid Opara, if he is the great chief he is said to be. As to Atare, I will care for him, and may, perhaps, have him in my power when we next meet.”

“The white man shall want no aid that Eumerella can give him. Let him watch the camp, and if he sees the blanket taken off my shoulders and thrown over a bush, he will know that I have succeeded, and shall not be long before I come. Farewell!”

And they parted—the one to her enforced residence with her enemy, and the other to his lonely camp, to ponder over the means of best ascertaining whether it was really one of his long-sought foes that he held in his hands. He felt all but certain that his prisoner was the scout Atare of whom Eumerella had spoken, the more so from the behaviour of Blucher. But how to assure himself? There was the difficulty.

Returning to the spot where he had left his prisoner under the guard of Jamie, he threw himself on the ground without uttering a word, and was soon asleep. Waking up shortly after midnight, he relieved Jamie from the watch the boy had been keeping, although no great watch was necessary with so faithful and vigilant a sentinel as Blucher.

When morning had come, and the daylight was sufficiently strong to allow him to see the features of his prisoner, George, who was seated some few feet from the black, turned sharply round to him, and, imitating as nearly as he could the pronunciation of the girl, uttered, in a tone of confidence, and as though calling his prisoner's attention for the purpose of commencing a conversation, the name “Atare.”

The black raised his head suddenly, opened his eyes

  ― 66 ―
wide with astonishment that his name should have been discovered, and then signified by a motion that he knew he was addressed, and that he was paying attention.

Yes, that was his name! George was certain now. He bounded to his feet, and, pale with suppressed passion, stood before the black. Only by a violent effort of self-command did he restrain himself from cutting down the helpless man who lay bound at his feet; but, speechless with rage, he shook his fists impotently in the face of the black. One glance at the face of the grey-beard satisfied Atare that he was known. Taken by surprise, he had in some way, he saw, incriminated himself by answering to his name. But how had the white man learnt it? Why was he his enemy? The black could see no reason for this sudden outburst. He was soon to learn that reason.

George, having somewhat regained his composure, called Blucher to him, and, pointing to the animal, by signs informed Atare that the dog had recognised him. Then he brought forward the boy, and, mimicking the actions of cutting down and burying the boy, he bared the back part of the lad's head, and showed the recently-healed wound that had been inflicted upon it.

“Yes,” thought Atare; “that was where I saw the boy. I felt I knew the face, and must have been a fool not to have remembered it.” And now he supposed he had not many minutes to live. But no; having made Atare aware that he was known, George, who was more calm and impassive than ever, contented himself by looking to the prisoner's fastenings, and tightening up such portions as had become in any way loosened. This done, he was taken to a spot farther removed from the camp, and therefore considered to be more secure. Once more he was lashed to a sapling, of size sufficient to conceal his body, and then, at a sign from George, he was left alone,

  ― 67 ―
the boy, with the dog at his heels, following his father to a point whence the camp could be seen.

The blacks, after their gorge of the day before, had remained sleeping until the sun was high up in the heavens, and had obtained full power. Then, when at last they bestirred themselves, there being abundance of food left from the game procured on the previous day, they simply allayed whatever hunger had been generated by their long repose, and then threw themselves down again, basking in the sun, half-sleepily, and not one of them moving from the camp.

Macomo, however, formed an exception. He had shown by his movements that his mind was restless and uneasy. He paced backwards and forwards, now passing far beyond the confines of the camp, then returning to his fire and throwing himself down as though forcing himself to patience, and then, as if by motion he could allay his impatience, starting up again, and hurrying off in the direction whence he expected his messenger to arrive.

By degrees these walks were extended further along the valley, and at last, upon one occasion, he came nearer than he had yet been to the place where George and his son were concealed. Again directing that searching glance of his into the ranges above, something evidently attracted his notice, for he gave a scarcely-perceptible start, and peered steadfastly in one drection, that direction being the one in which George lay concealed. Slight as had been the motion, it had not escaped the attention of George, who had been narrowly watching the chief with the vigilant eyes of hate.

“He has seen us!” said George in a whisper to his son. “Have you, in your tricks, allowed any portion of you to be seen?”

  ― 68 ―

“Not a bit!” said Jamie, in the same low tone. “I've kept so close that if he'd got the eyes of fifty hawks he couldn't see me through this scrub. And look here, I ain't moved an inch!”

“What is it, then, that he is examining, for to a certainty he sees something suspicious?” continued George.

Jamie, with a cautious movement, parted the bush sufficiently to allow him to look forth, and then, with his quick young eyes, he examined the ground between them and Macomo. Something he, too, saw, and then he grinned maliciously, and asked, “Don't you see what it is?”

“I see nothing,” said his father.

“There, right in a line with us and the black hound below, and just a little above the gum sapling with a twisted top! Don't you see it? The black's spear that he shied at you and missed you, when Blucher gave him that grip. My word, wasn't that good fun!”

“Yes, yes, I see it now,” George answered; “and I see what fools we were not to recover the spear. It will assuredly lead to our discovery, and disturb all our plans, just as they have been arranged with a fair prospect of success.”

“I tell you what it'll do,” Jamie whispered. “It'll lead to the death of that tall, smart fellow, if he tries it on to learn anything more than he knows now.”

“How do you mean?” asked his father.

“I'll answer for his telling no tales!” and he laughed with a noiseless chuckle as he felt the edge of his tomahawk, and nodded approval of its keenness.

“No, no,” hurriedly whispered George; “he must not be injured. He is one of those we want. He must be dealt with in the way we have sworn.”

  ― 69 ―

“Ah!” and Jamie opened wide his eyes. “How did you learn that?”

“From the young gin last night. She told me who the murderers were.”

“You saw her last night after you left me? I thought so, though you didn't say anything to me,” said Jamie; “and wasn't that other fellow that we've got tied up one of 'em?”

“He was,” answered George. “You might have seen as much by his manner this morning.”

“I thought so,” Jamie replied. “Well, then, we must have this one to keep company with the other fellow until you've done your business.”

“What, make him prisoner?” cried George.

“Yes!” answered Jamie. “It can be done just as easy as easy. Let him cross the crest of the ridge out of sight of the camp, and then trust me to attract his attention. When I've done this, and he ain't thinking of you, just you steal up to him unawares and knock him on the head. There! He's turning now, and taking up the side of the range. You see he'll turn again presently right on a line with the spear. You keep yourself close, watch him sharply, and when you see by his movements that he is attending to what I am doing, give him a topper, and a good one, too, remember. Now, I'll be off before he turns this way.”

Having seen the spear, Macomo went forward in order to investigate, when one of the rapid glances that he sent around suddenly fell upon an object that filled him with amazement. He stopped abruptly, and as he looked his eyes glared excitedly, and not without some signs of fear, upon the unknown object that attracted his attention. Gambolling about on the ground, behind a somewhat thick bush, that partly concealed it from

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view, was an animal such as Macomo had never before seen. It had hair in colour resembling that of the kangaroo, and on its head and neck hung what appeared to be a long, dark, and shaggy mane. Two immense ears stood out prominently through this, and its huge head was deeply set in between the powerful fore legs that were scarcely seen. It made uncouth antic springs, as though disporting itself, and then rearing itself up on its hind legs, it opened its enormous mouth, though without uttering a sound, and displayed a set of strong white teeth.

Brave as he was, Macomo was but a savage, and he was therefore only too prone to savage superstition, and to delusions of the wonderful. He remembered, too, a tale that had been told him by Opara of the dreaded monster with feet like hands which he had tracked at no great distance from this spot; and he remembered, too, how he had sneered at the tale in utter unbelief. Had the monster now come to avenge himself?

As he thus thought, Macomo kept his gaze steadily fixed on the animal, never moving from the spot upon which he had first come to a halt. And now the monster, with a wild spring, bounded over a log, and rolled itself over and over till it reached a large-sized sapling, behind which it was no doubt crouching, for he lost sight of it for a time. Regaining somewhat of his courage with the disappearance of the unknown beast, Macomo poised his spear, and watched for its reappearance with the full intention of testing its spirituality. He stood, however, rooted to the spot, for he feared to turn and retreat lest the monster should spring on him unawares. As he thus stood prepared for the appearance of the animal from behind the tree, he was astonished to find that the monster had mounted the tree, for he now saw him peering

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at him from the first fork of the branches, its huge head, with its shaggy mane and outcropping ears, adding to the hideousness of its opened mouth and threatening teeth, with which it grinned out defiance at him. Without stopping to consider consequences, Macomo launched the spear, which flying true to the mark, passed through the fork, precisely at the spot where the head of the monster had been shown. But, whether natural or supernatural, the thing was too quick, for the head was drawn down just as the spear left the hands of the black, and the weapon consequently passed harmlessly through the air.

Whilst Macomo was still looking, doubtful whether his aim had been successful or not, and wondering that the monster had made no sign or sound, a hand, an unmistakable human hand, and a powerful one, too, to judge by the grip, was laid upon his shoulder. Turning as far as the strong grasp on his arm would permit, he encountered the stern face and angry gaze of George. He uttered but one exclamation of surprise, and then all his cunning and all his bravery came back to him. This was a real, tangible, and known danger, to which he had been accustomed, and with which he felt himself fully able to cope; whilst the monster threatened dangers in quarters that he knew not, and of a kind he could not conceive. He ran his eye hastily over the man who thus confronted him, and who thus held him with vice-like hand. His scrutiny was little encouraging, for whilst the white had hair and beard of grey, there was no sign of age about his person or about the unrelaxing tension of his sinews. His form was powerful, much more so than that of the black, although the latter was taller, and might be more active. Macomo noted this, and remarked also that the stranger bore in one hand one of the fire-spears

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of the whites, and he had often heard tell of the terrible and death-dealing effects of this weapon. He knew, as he saw all this, that in a hand-to-hand struggle, such as this must be, if it came to the pinch, his opponent had all the advantage over him of weight and power.

“Macomo is welcome to the white man's camp,” said George, still maintaining his grip of the other's shoulder. “Macomo will come and rest with his good friends the whites.”

Macomo understood not the words, although he knew by the tone of voice in which they were uttered, and the look that accompanied them, that they boded him no good. At the same time he recognised his own name, and could not refrain from showing surprise that the white, whom he had never seen before, should know his name. He contented himself, however, by shaking his head, and by saying, in his own tongue, “Macomo knows not the talk of the whites.”

“Does Macomo know what this is?” asked George, as he showed the gun, which he brought to the breast of the black, and by an expressive sign making his meaning understood.

Macomo knew it well, and in the same way expressed his knowledge of the use of the weapon that was now in such unpleasant proximity to his person.

“You must remain here then with us for a time. No injury will be done you if you are quiet. Our safety demands that you should be a prisoner for a time, and besides, I have something to tell you when I get the chance.” All this did George try to convey to the black in words and signs, but it was very doubtful whether Macomo understood anything more than that he was to be bound, and to remain a prisoner for a time.

Having this impression, and not trusting too much

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in the good faith of those with whom he himself had never kept faith, he hastily glanced round to pick out a route of escape when he should have torn himself from the grasp that now detained him.

“Don't try that, or I'll try this!” said a voice behind him, and, turning, he was for a moment confounded at finding at his side the monster he had recently seen gambolling in the bush, but who was now erect, armed with a tomahawk that he held up in a most unequivocally threatening manner, and by that action making his words perfectly comprehensible to the quick sense of the black. One glance was sufficient to show him how he had been deceived. Jamie's face was blackened and smeared with the charcoal from some charred logs, and on his back, and bound tightly round his body, was the skin of an old man kangaroo, so arranged that the ears stood out upon the lad's head, whilst his long, tangled hair, hanging by the depression of his head over his shoulders, had a not very distant resemblance to a mane. But before Macomo had recovered from his astonishment, George seized him by one wrist and Jamie by the other, whilst a dog that now, for the first time, came running up to give his aid to his master, made two or three bites at his heels, telling him thus very plainly that there was a third foe he had not reckoned upon, that he would have to encounter. With all the pride of a savage warrior, who, finding himself overmatched, knows that further resistance is useless and undignified, Macomo resigned himself to his destiny, be it what it might. In a few seconds he was safely bound, and was hurried off to a place of concealment, not very far removed from that in which Atare had been placed. There his feet also were bound, he was tied to a sapling, and received, by signs, the intimation that the first sound he uttered would be the signal

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for bringing upon him the effects of the deadly tube with which the white was armed. Most probably he understood the intimation thus given, for he remained perfectly quiet; and, having watched him for a short time to assure themselves of this, George and his son left him to meditate upon the luckless chance that had consigned him a prisoner to the hands of such strange enemies, and to abuse himself for having allowed himself to become the dupe of the shallow artifice of a boy.

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Chapter VI The Warning

ONCE more George returned to take a look down upon the camp. His recent adventure had made him too long neglect to watch for the arranged signal; but one glance as he reached the side of the hill was sufficient. There was the blanket hanging on the bush; but hardly had he seen and marked it than the girl came up and removed it. No time was now to be lost; so, calling Jamie to him, and followed by Blucher, he started off to the place of rendezvous, in order to take up a good position for his proposed ambush. On the way he took the opportunity of explaining to his son all that would be required of him, and on reaching the appointed spot, they at once concealed themselves.

Eumerella had found it much more difficult to arouse the attention of Opara than she had at all expected. After trying various schemes, she only at last succeeded by telling him the truth partially. She told him at first just as much as was necessary to attract his notice, and, when this was done, she began to foster his vanity and excite his cupidity. She told him casually how she had met the whites in the bush; then, when she found he listened eagerly to her tale, she went on to comment upon the stupid way in which they travelled, and the ease with which such a warrior as Opara might, by his skill and courage, surprise and overcome so blind an enemy. After

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a time he at last rose excited to his feet, and expressed his determination to undertake the adventure. Eumerella joined Opara just as he was on the point of setting out, and, managing to delay him a few minutes longer by some unimportant details, followed him to the spot where the track of the white man was to be picked up.

“Here it was,” she said, as she reached his side, “that I saw the whites last night. And look, here are the tracks!”

“Good!” exclaimed Opara. “We will follow them down, but first we must hide your blanket; and here, in these clusters of scrub, there are good places for the purpose,” and he looked round as though desirous of selecting the thickest.

“Here is one that no eye can pierce,” said Eumerella; “let Opara enter it and see if it be secure.”

One glance was sufficient to satisfy Opara that this was precisely the place he required, and the young girl, divesting herself of the blanket, handed it to the black. He had taken it from her, and was in the act of rolling it up, when he received a blow on the back of his head that laid him senseless on the earth.

“You have performed your part of the agreement well,” said George, “and may depend upon me when the time comes to perform mine. I have been successful beyond all I could ever wish. You do not know,” he cried in bitter triumph, “that I hold in my hands all three of my foes, and that before you brought Opara here, I had already secured Macomo and Atare!”

“What, Macomo!” and her tone of surprise had also much of incredulity in it.

“Macomo himself. The tall chief with the three eagle feathers!” affirmed George coolly. “Only a few

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minutes before you gave the signal an accident threw him in our way, and we made a prisoner of him.”

“If, then, you hold these two, it will be necessary that I should likewise be made a prisoner, and wounded heavily also, when I am taken into their presence. Their quick eyes and wits are not to be deluded like those of this brainless log at my feet, and there must be nothing left to my feigning, or it will be observed. Strike, then, and strike hard, if you would save me!” and she presented her head to receive the blow that she asked from George.

Having done as Eumerella desired, and lightly bound her, they bore off the still insensible Opara to the spot they had selected for holding their conclave; and, laying him down, they returned for the girl, who by this time had so far recovered sensibility as to be able to stagger along with some assistance. She was placed by the side of Opara, with instructions to simulate unconsciousness until the time came when her services should be required.

Over these, Jamie, armed with a tomahawk, and aided by Blucher, mounted guard; whilst George brought Macomo from the place where he had been bound, and lashed him to the tree at the foot of which Opara was lying. The chief could scarcely refrain from expressing aloud his astonishment at seeing one of his tribe lying bleeding and apparently dead at his feet. He was at a loss to understand the meaning of the white man in thus making a captive of him and in slaying his warriors. But when Atare was brought forth, something like a gleam of the truth flashed across his mind, especially when, with the aid of this idea, he was enabled to recognise in the body before him the third participant in that deed of blood which he so well remembered. Now, for

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the first time, there came upon him some misgivings with regard to the intentions of his captor.

Jamie now brought water, and went through the ceremony of recovering Eumerella. She played her part admirably, and awakened no suspicion in the minds of either chief. With Opara the task of recovery was somewhat more difficult, and it was not until more than a half-hour had elapsed that they ultimately succeeded in bringing him to such a state as to be dimly comprehensive of what was going on. Seated immediately below Macomo and Atare, he stared stupidly round, his dull mind being as yet unable to comprehend what connection there was between them and the stern white who confronted them—a connection that his companions had gleaned from the first glance.

And now George walked forward and stood in front of his prisoners, and then, addressing Eumerella, he said: “Girl, you understand the words of the white man, which these of your countrymen do not. I have made you prisoner in order that you should tell them, as near as you can, the words I speak. It is for their benefit that they should know fully who I am and what my objects are. Now, tell them this!”

He paused, and Eumerella at once, with great volubility, told them, not only what George had said, but also dwelt upon the hardship to herself that she should be nearly killed, and then taken prisoner, merely because she could say a few words of the whitefellow's talk.

“And now,” resumed George, “ask them if they know this dog.”

George watched them as the question was put, and he knew from the look they cast upon the animal that they recognised him. They made no answer, however.

“That dog,” he continued, “was the faithful guardian

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of my house. He was present when you, devils as you are, invaded that home and made it desolate, for he knows you, each of you. He it was that first brought me the news of the wicked deed you had committed.”

After this had been conveyed to them by the girl, he said: “Ask them if they know this boy.”

Atare had been previously informed who he was; otherwise Opara was the only one amongst them who could know and recognise the boy. His attention had been so much devoted to George that he had not spared much of it for Jamie. Now, however, he turned round upon the lad, and looked him in the face with blank wonder. Jamie returned the stare with interest, and with an expression in his eyes that boded no good. At last a full recollection of the struggle, the blow, and the wound came back upon him, as he looked into that face, changed as it was. Macomo contented himself by a sneering smile of cool contempt.

“It was upon this boy,” George went on, “that the valour of a savage warrior was exercised. He was the foe that the bravery of Opara selected. It was this boy who was cut down by yon powerful chieftain, who has valour and skill enough to capture women and to slay children, but is no better than a blind pup when he comes face to face with men. It was this boy whom you two buried, but whom I withdrew from the grave and restored to life, to join with me in hunting you down, and in carrying out my project of vengeance. And now ask them if they know who I am.”

To this question, as repeated by Eumerella to the blacks, Macomo disdained to make an answer, but with a look of insolent defiance he returned the fierce, vengeful glance of George. Atare hung his head in silence; whilst

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Opara raised his eyes to George's face in utter bewilderment.

“Tell them, if they have not already guessed it,” he continued, in a voice hoarse with suppressed excitement, “that I am the husband of that woman whom they so cowardly and cruelly murdered; that I am the father of those babes whom they so foully butchered. Tell them that I am he who has been searching them out amongst the tribes from the day on which they did their bloody deed; never halting, never stopping, never turning aside from my one settled purpose. Now I have found them, now that I have them in my power, ask them what they think they deserve at my hands.”

Macomo alone answered boldly to this speech, as conveyed to them by Eumerella. “Let the white man take his vengeance. We are warriors. We know what it is to fall into the hands of an enemy. We have no fear. Let him not waste his breath in words. We are ready!”

A cold, cruel smile curled around the lips of George as this speech was translated to him by the girl. “No,” he said; “tell them that I am not now about to take their lives. When I have said all I wish to say, I shall set them at liberty once more, to roam at large over the open forest and the wide bush!”

When this was told them, even Macomo could not help uttering an exclamation of astonishment, although he could scarcely give credit to the correctness of the announcement.

“But tell them also,” George resumed, “that the same eye that has traced them out, and has followed and found them where they thought themselves secure and beyond the reach of discovery, will still be upon them; and that the same hand that has already fallen upon them and made them captive, tearing them out of the

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very midst of their tribe, will always be over them, and ready to fall upon them when the time for so doing shall have come. Their lives are forfeited. When the day and the hour I have fixed shall arrive, one by one they must fall by my hand.”

Macomo smiled incredulously as this was told him. He had too much confidence in his own strength and cunning to have much dread of the threats of the white.

George remarked the smile, and read its meaning. “I see Macomo smiles,” he continued; “but let him look at me, and regard me well, for from this day forth in me he sees his destiny. Unseen by him, my eye shall never be off him; and to make him feel more bitterly how dread is the vengeance I now take, and how great is the misery to which I consign him, tell him that he shall be the last of the three to perish, and that his blood shall not be shed until I shall have broken down and crushed that proud spirit, as he by his crime has broken down mine, and that he shall not die until I have first made him a byword— a scorn and a reproach to his people, and until he who is now the great warrior of his tribe shall be less regarded than the feeblest gin!”

Macomo drew himself up proudly, as if such a thing were impossible.

“Macomo will see,” George went on. “He shall see what a white man can do in the way of vengeance, and how miserably your murders will compare with my great revenge. Fiends! Dogs! Devils! Had you no hearts! Is there nothing of humanity about you but your forms! Could you murder in cold blood those little innocents who never did you harm! Could not their little pleading voices move you to one spark of pity, or their angel faces beget one thought of mercy in your iron hearts! Could you not have spared me one—only one little one! Bloody,

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heartless butchers! But, as you have dealt by me and mine, so, by Heaven! will I deal with you and yours. The men of your tribe shall be thinned, scattered, and destroyed by fire and flood, and by the spears of your enemies. Your women and children shall die off miserably by hunger and thirst—by pestilence and slaughter. And when a blow of this kind falls upon your tribe, remember the hand that inflicts it will be mine.”

He paused, and noted with savage satisfaction that his words had had some effect, even upon Macomo. He then resumed: “I have sworn it! Yes, and this boy, whom you thought you had slain, has also sworn it! And the oath we have taken is, that, on every recurring anniversary of that dread deed of blood, one of the black hands that aided in the slaughter, reft from the lifeless body of the murderer, shall be laid as a death sacrifice upon the lonely grave where now sleep your victims.”

Having paused long enough to allow this to be translated to them as carefully as it was possible to do under the circumstances, and having noted the different effects the announcement produced upon the three savages, he concluded: “Now I shall leave you. I shall take this girl with me”; and he had been careful throughout not to mention her name, so that the blacks should have no suspicion of complicity on her part; “but only for such a distance as will enable me to baffle any pursuit you may set on foot. Then she shall return to you, and set you at liberty. You need not seek me, for you will not find me, until a misfortune is about to come on your tribe; then you will see me too soon for yourselves. Think now on my words, and on the fate that hangs over you. When the day and hour arrive, it will inevitably fall on you, and let that thought, and the evils that you will see your

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tribe suffering through you, make you in reality the dogs and cowards that you already are in heart.”

So saying, and without turning another look upon them, in a stern voice he ordered Eumerella to follow him, and strode hastily away from the spot. Jamie looked after his father, and then at the three captives, as though he doubted the wisdom of letting them off so easily. However, obedience had been so drilled into him that he was not now prepared to show insubordination. Still, he could not resist the temptation of going up to Opara, and shaking his tomahawk in the face of the savage, so closely as to risk damaging the small portion of nose that his former blow had left, he vengefully hissed out at him—“You first!”