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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,

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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,

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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,”

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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

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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.

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“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

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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,

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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?”

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“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.”

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“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.