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III

There was no doubt about the strange proof or coincidence, whichever it should turn out to be. The three men stood on the bank of the Nicholson gazing at the gorge and the water-hole, from the bosom of which rose the two upright pillars of rock. A fortnight had elapsed since they were camped at the lagoon.

“It's the same place,” muttered Maxwell—and, as the overwhelming horror of his fight through shadowland came back to him, he leant on his horse's shoulder and bowed his head down on the mane.

Bennett made a sign to Davis, and both were silent for a while. Then Davis spoke—




  ― 84 ―

“Well, old man, as we aren't possessed of the supernatural power you had when you were last here, we'll have to get over that range somehow.”

Maxwell lifted his head. “We must tackle the range, but I expect we shall have a job to get the horses over. How about leaving them here in hobbles and going up on foot?”

“Not to be thought of,” replied Davis; “why, the niggers' tracks just back there in the bed of the river are as thick as sheep-tracks. The horses would be speared before we got five miles away. I know these beggars.”

“That's true,” said Bennett.

Davis eyed the range curiously for some time. “There's a spur there that we can work our way up, I think,” he said at last, indicating with his hand the spot he meant. The other two, after a short inspection, agreed with him. It was then nearly noon, so the horses were turned out for a couple of hours' spell, a fire lit and the billy boiled.

“What could have led your Dutch sailor


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up this way?” said Davis as, the meal over, they were enjoying a pipe.

“That is what has puzzled me. I have read up everything I could get hold of on the subject of Dutch discovery and can find no record of any ship visiting the Gulf about that date,” replied Maxwell.

“There may have been plenty of ships here, of which neither captain nor crew wanted a record kept. Those were the days of the buccaneers,” said Bennett.

“Yes, but with the exception of the ship which had Dampier on board, they did not come out of their way to New Holland,” returned Maxwell.

“The Bachelor's Delight' and the ‘Cygnet' were on the west coast, as you say; why not others which had not the luck to be associated with Dampier?”

“True; but the Dutch were not noted as buccaneers. However, plenty of ships may have been lost in the Gulf of which all record has disappeared. The question is, what brought the man up into this region?” said Davis.




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“I firmly believe we shall get the clue to that secret when we find the ravine. It seems incredible that a shipwrecked or marooned man should have left the seacoast, whereon was his only hope of salvation, and have made south into an unknown land, through such a range as this.”

“Well, boys, we'll make a start for it,” said Davis, jumping up; and the party were soon in their saddles.

The range proved stiff climbing, and they were so often baulked, and forced to retrace their steps, that it was sundown ere they reached the top.

It was a desolate outlook for a camp. A rough tableland of spinifex—evidently extending too far for them to cross and descend the other side before darkness set in—lay before them.

“Nothing for it but to go on and tie the horses up all night,” said Bennett. Fortune, however, favoured them; in about a mile they came to a small patch of grass, sufficient


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for the horses, and as their water-bags were full, they gladly turned out.

“Well, Maxwell,” said Davis, as they were discussing breakfast, “hear anything from your old Dutch navigator last night?”

“No, only I had some confused sort of dream about this place; I thought I heard that voice once more telling me to ‘go back.’ But that, of course, is only natural.”

“I think we are close to the spot,” remarked Bennett. “When I was after the horses this morning I could see down into the river, and there appeared to be a pocket there.”

Bennett proved right. In half-an-hour's time they were scrambling down the range, and soon stood in an open space which Maxwell at once identified.

Naturally everyone was somewhat excited. Although at first inclined to put the story down to hallucination, the subsequent events had certainly shaken this belief in the minds of the two friends. Maxwell silently pointed to the boulder; there was something carved


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on it, but it was worn and indistinct. Two centuries of weather had almost obliterated whatever marks had been there.

“They were fresh and clear when I saw them,” said Maxwell, in an awed voice.

By diligent scrutiny they made out the inscription that he had formerly repeated, but had they not known it the task would have been most difficult. The words had not been very deeply marked, and as the face of the boulder fronted north-west, the full force of two hundred years' monsoons had been experienced by the inscription.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said Davis. “There can be no doubt as to its age.”

“Let's go up the ravine and look for the reef and then get back as soon as possible. I don't like this place. I wish I had not come,” returned Maxwell.

They left the pack-horses feeding about and rode up the gully, taking with them the pick and shovel they had brought. “It was here, I think,” said Maxwell, looking round, “but the place seems altered.”

“Very likely the creek would change


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its 'course slightly in a couple of hundred years, but not much. That looks like an outcrop there.”

“This is the place,” replied Maxwell, eagerly, “I know it now, but it is a little different.”

The three dismounted, and Davis, taking the pick, struck the cap of the reef, breaking off some lumps of stone. As he did so, a wild “Holloa!” rang up the gully. All started and looked at each other with faces suddenly white and hearts quickly beating. There was something grisly in such a cry arising out of the surrounding solitude.

“Blacks?” said Bennett, doubtfully. Davis shook his head. Once more the loud shout was raised, apparently coming from the direction of the inscribed rock.

“Let's go and see what it is, anyhow,” said Davis—and they mounted and rode down the gully again, Bennett, who had picked up a piece of the quartz, putting it into his saddle-pouch as they went along.

Maxwell had not spoken since the cry had been heard, his face was pale, and


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occasionally he muttered to himself, “Go back, go back!” The pack-horses were industriously cropping what scanty grass there was; all seemed peaceful and quiet.

“I believe it was a bird, after all; there's a kind of toucan makes a devil of a row—have a look round,” said Davis to Bennett, and they both rode up and down the bank of the river, leaving Maxwell standing near the rock where he had dismounted. Nothing could be seen, and the two returned and proposed going up the gully again.

“You fellows go and come back quickly, I want to get out of this—I'm upset,” said Maxwell in a constrained voice, speaking for the first time.

Davis glanced at his friend. “Right you are, old man, no wonder you don't feel well; we'll just make sure of the reef and come back. If you want us, fire your pistol; we sha'n't be far off.”

The two rode back to their interrupted work, and hastily commenced their examination of the stone. There was no doubt about


  ― 91 ―
the richness of the find, and the reef could be traced a good distance without much trouble. They had collected a small heap of specimens to take back, when suddenly the loud “Holloa!” came pealing once more up the gully, followed instantly by a fainter cry and two revolver-shots.

Hastily mounting, the two galloped back.

The pack-horses, as if startled, were walking along their tracks towards home, followed by Maxwell's horse with the bridle trailing. Its rider was stretched on the ground; nothing else was visible.

Jumping from their horses they approached the prostrate man. Both started and stared at each other with terror-stricken eyes. Before them lay a skeleton clad in Maxwell's clothes.

“Are we mad?” cried Davis, aghast with horror.

The fierce sun was above them, the bare mountains around, they could hear the horses clattering up the range as if anxious to leave the accursed place, and before them


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lay a skeleton with the shrunken skin still adhering to it in places—a corpse that had been rotting for years, that had relapsed into the state in which it would have been had the former trance been death. Blind terror seized them both, and they mounted to follow the horses, when an awful voice came from the fleshless lips: “Stay with me, stop! I may come back; I may——”

Bennett could bear no more, he stuck spurs in his horse and galloped off. Davis would have followed, but he was transfixed with terror at what he saw. The awful object was moving, the outcast spirit was striving desperately to reanimate the body, that had suddenly fallen into decay. The watcher was chained to the spot. Once it seemed that the horrible thing was really going to rise, but the struggle was unavailing; with a loud moan of keenest agony and despair that thrilled the listener's brain with terror, it fell back silent and motionless. Davis remembered nothing more till he found himself urging his horse up the range.

In an asylum for the insane in a Queensland


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town there is a patient named Bennett, who is always talking about the wonderful reef he knows of up North. He has a specimen of very rich quartz, which he never parts with day or night. He is often visited by a friend named Davis, who nursed him through a severe attack of fever out on the Nicholson. The doctors think he may yet recover.

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