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II

The stove-like township is three days' journey away; four men, Davis, Bennett,


  ― 76 ―
Maxwell, and a blackfellow, are camped for the night by the side of a small lagoon covered with the broad leaves of the purple water-lily. In the distance the cheery sound of horse-bells can be heard, and round the fire the travellers are grouped listening to Maxwell, who is telling the tale he has never yet told:

“When I fell down on watch that night and became to all appearance a corpse, I never, for one instant, lost either consciousness or memory. My soul, spirit, or whatever you like to call it, parted company with my body, but I retained all former powers of observation. I gazed at myself lying there motionless, waited until my fellow-watcher came around and awakened the sleeping camp with the tidings of my death; then, without any impulse of my own, I left the spot and found myself in a shadowy realm where all was vague and confused. Strange, indistinct shapes flitted constantly before me, I heard voices and sounds like sobbing and weeping.

“Now, before I go any further, let me tell


  ― 77 ―
you that I have never been subject to these fits. I never studied any occult arts, nor troubled myself about what I called ‘such rubbish.’ Why this experience should have befallen me I cannot say. I found I was travelling along swiftly, carried on by some unknown motive power, or, rather, drifting aimlessly with a current of misty forms in which all seemed confusion. Suddenly, to my surprise, I found myself on the earth once more, in a place quite unknown to me.

“I was in Australia—that much I recognised at a glance—but whereabouts?

“I was standing on the bank of a river—a northern river, evidently, for I could see the foliage of the drooping ti-trees and Leichhardt trees further down its course. The surrounding country was open, but barren; immediately in front of me was a rugged range through which the river found its way by means of an apparently impenetrable gorge. The black rocks rose abruptly on either side of a deep pool of water, and all progress, except by swimming,


  ― 78 ―
was barred. On both sides the ranges were precipitous, cleft by deep ravines; all the growth to be seen was spinifex, save a few stunted bloodwood trees.

“What struck me most forcibly was, that in the centre of the water-hole, at the entrance of the gorge, there arose two rocks, like pillars, some twelve or fifteen feet above the surface of the water.

“Below the gorge the river-bed was sandy, and the usual timber grew on the banks. At first I thought I was alone, but, looking round, I found that a man was standing a short distance away from me. Apparently he was a European, but so tanned and burnt by the sun as to be almost copper-coloured. He was partially clothed in skins, and held some hunting-weapons in his hand. He was gazing absently into the gorge when I first noticed him, but presently turned, and, without evincing any surprise or curiosity, beckoned to me. Immediately, in obedience to some strange impulse, I found myself threading the gloomy gorge with him, although, apparently, we exercised no


  ― 79 ―
motion. It was more as though we stood still and the rocks glided past us and the water beneath us. We soon reached a small open space or pocket; here there was a rude hut, and we halted.

“My strange companion looked around and, without speaking, drew my attention to a huge boulder close to the hut, on which letters and figures were carved. I made out the principal inscription:—

‘Hendrik Heermans, her vangecommen, 1670.’

There were also an anchor, a ship and a heart, all neatly cut. I turned from these records to the man. He beckoned me again; I followed him across the small open space and up a ravine. The man pointed to a reef cropping out and crossing the gully. I looked at it and saw that the cap had been broken and that gold was showing freely in the stone. The man waved his hand up the gully as though intimating that there were more reefs there.

“Suddenly, sweeping up the gorge came a gust of ice-cold wind, and with it a dash of


  ― 80 ―
mist or spray. Looming out of this I saw for a moment a young girl's face looking at me. Her lips moved. ‘Go back. Go back!’ she seemed to whisper.

“When I heard this I felt an irresistible longing to return to my discarded body, and, in an instant, gorge, mountains and all my surroundings disappeared, and I found myself in the twilight space battling despairingly on, for I felt that I had lost my way and should never find it again.

“How was I to reach my forsaken body through such a vague, misty and indeterminate land? Impalpable forms threw themselves in my path. Strange cries and wailings led me astray, and all the while there was a smell as of death in my nostrils, and I knew that I must return or die.

“Oh, the unutterable anguish of that time! Ages seemed to pass during which I was fighting with shadows, until at last, I saw a sinking sun, an open grave, and men whose faces I knew, commencing to shovel earth on a senseless body.

“Mine!




  ― 81 ―

“I had felt no pain when my soul left, but the re-entrance of it into its tenement was such infinite agony, that it forced from me terrible cries that caused my rescue from suffocation.”

Maxwell paused, and the other two were silent.

“You will wonder,” he resumed, “what all this has to do with my present journey. I will tell you. You remember Milford, a surveyor up here—at one time he was running the boundary-line between Queensland and South Australia for the Queensland Government? A year ago I met him, and we were talking about the country up this way. In running the line he had to follow the Nicholson a good way, until finally he was completely blocked. He described to me the place where he had to turn back. It was the water-hole in the gorge with the two rock-like pillars rising out of the water.”

Again there was silence for a while. Then Davis said musingly—

“It's impossible to pronounce any opinion at present; the coincidence of Milford's


  ― 82 ―
report is certainly startling. But why should this sign have been vouchsafed to you? Apparently this being you saw was the ghost of some old Dutch sailor wrecked or marooned here in the days of the early discovery of Australia. Had you any ancestors among those gentry?

“Not that I am aware of,” returned Maxwell, “but if we find the place we shall certainly make some interesting discovery, apart from any gold.”

“And the girl's face?” enquired Bennett.

Maxwell did not answer for a minute or two.

“I may as well tell you all,” he said then; “I was in Melbourne, after I saw Milford, and I met a girl with that same face, in the street. Strange, too, we could not help looking at each other as though we knew we had met before. That meeting decided me on taking the trip up here. Now, that is really all. Are you ready for the adventure?”

“I should think so,” said Davis, “we have fresh horses at the camp, and nothing


  ― 83 ―
to do with ourselves for three months or more. Please God, we'll soon be on Tom Tiddler's ground picking up gold in chunks.”

“One question more,” put in Bennett. “Have you ever had any return of these trances or cataleptic fits?”

“Never since, not the slightest sign of one.”

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