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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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.