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Chapter XXI. Jack Milton and His Coloured Friends.

ALTHOUGH the black fellow of Australia is neither the reasonless, nor hideous animal that it is generally the fashion to make him, he must be allowed to be one of the most improvident, in fact; in this particular phase of his character, he very closely resembles the literary, artistic and theatrical Bohemian, who at one period might have been seen prowling about the regions of the Adelphi Terrace, but who is now almost exterminated since the poet, novelist, journalist, critic, artist and actor have taken to frock coats, high hats, cigarettes, and the Stock Exchange for their inspiration. The aboriginal and the Bohemian have both to retire before the advance of civilization as represented by the Rothschilds and their fellow-capitalists.

Still, if the aboriginal is like the true and ancient Bohemian—an improvident fellow who acts on the early Christian principle of trusting in Providence for his next meal, when he has one before him, he is not stingy about sharing it with his friends, as he is not at all particular about sharing in his friends' goods. He bears no animosity to the white fellows for stealing his land from him, so long as they do not grudge him a few sheep now and again to keep him alive, for he believes in sharing the

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plunder. He would even share his water-holes with them if they would only be content to leave him a drain to quench his own thirst.

But his experience of the whites since they took forcible possession of his hunting-grounds has not been such as to conduce towards friendship or trust on his part. All his life he has been accustomed to fighting as a relaxation, and he has the same distaste to be conquered as any other created being; the only difference between him and other races is that whereas patriotism and property have been incentives to war and slaughter on their part, the stern necessity of having to fight for his bare existence has been the excuse of the aboriginal.

Explorers have gone over his ground and hunted him down as sportsmen do foxes. When he showed them his wells, they have emptied them without the least consideration for him, or his women and children. Settlers growing wealthy on his lands have laid poisonous baits for him, as they would for such pests as rabbits, rats and dingoes, arsenic being the favourite flavouring for these baits, although phosphorus and other merciful means were also employed for removing these original owners of the soil, who committed the crime of helping themselves to a sheep now and again from the hundreds of thousands that were feeding on their grass and drinking all their available water.

Mounted troopers with their renegade serfs, the black trackers, have followed these natives to their lairs and shot them down, old and young, women and infants, exterminating the tribe, root and

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branch, who have been in too close proximity to the latest encroaching settlement. They call this Iraelitish system, “Dispersing the Natives,” who may have been considered troublesome to the invaders. These Christianized land-robbers ever creeping onward and grasping another slice, call the easy-going and unpatriotic owners, treacherous, thieving and murdering beasts. I wonder what kind of beasts we, the builders of churches, would become, if we were robbed as we have robbed the aboriginal. I wonder what kind of outlaws we would show up, if we were treated as we treat them, and had only wooden spears, boomerangs and waddies to avenge our wrongs with, against revolvers, Winchesters, dynamite, and, most damnable of treacheries, the cold-blooded assassin's weapon—poison secretly spread over the land to destroy and torture us. If we were first robbed, next starved, and lastly poisoned when the pillagers could not get near enough to shoot us down?

We have given them blankets when their nakedness affronted our females, and kidnapped a boy or two to make servants of in return for the vast territory we have stolen from them, and when the blanketted scoundrels pilfer our trifles, and the kidnapped boys run back home, preferring liberty and rough times to pampered slavery, we call them ungrateful and treacherous beasts.

Aboriginals, Kanakas, Chinese, Japanese, Afghans, all who do not represent Western civilisation we treat like beasts, denying them any of the rights of man; yet we howl against them if they

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dare to remonstrate, retaliate or claim equal privileges as children of Earth. Our murders on them are acts of justice, their retaliations on us are atrocious murders. If a native, a Celestial or an Oriental kills a European, a holocaust hardly appeases our implacable rage. If a European kills or injures a coloured man, the most kindly will say, “Serve the dog right!”—and unless it is attended with peculiar features of atrocity or publicity, the law and the press unite in hushing it up. As for those native lords of the soil, from the evil day that the first white man accosted him down to the present hour, a ceaseless record of wrong has been presented to the Great Avenger dark and vile enough to damn to everlasting perdition the greatest race that ever struggled to be supreme.

As for treachery, vileness and atrocity, their acts seem like flakes of snow mingling with soot-smuts when compared with ours, when we remove the magnifying glass from them and the cover from us—hypocritical and ruthless savages as we are in spite of our pious pretensions.

The English-speaking guide, who had sworn brotherhood and introduced Jack Milton to his tribe, was the leader of the fighting-men and the eldest son to the chief. After seeing him safely placed, this splendid warrior left the camp, with those followers who had come so far with him. He told Jack on no account to leave the ground until his return, also promised to be back in time for the feast.

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“Yarraman (horses) no good to you after this; only eat up all the grass, drink up all the water, and then die. Better kill and eat them before that. You see bymby when we leave this place.”

Jack owned the wisdom of these remarks, and agreed to sacrifice his pack horses, as he reckoned they would be of little use after the crowd had taken its fill of his stock of provisions, but he pleaded for the life of his riding horse—the chum who had carried him so far.

“All right, keep that one; we bring along some more to-night.”

He gave some orders to the women who were looking after the fires, and then he went off and left Jack to amuse himself the best way he could.

This best way seemed to be sleep to Milton after his long and fatiguing journey, therefore, filling and lighting his pipe, he lay down under the shadow of the overhanging cliffs; and puffing gently he watched the smoke rings ascend into the still atmosphere, and soar lazily towards the blue, until sleep gradually claimed him as her own.

When he woke it was night, and the moon was high in the heavens. The camp fires also were burning brightly, and the natives all assembled and feasting. A pleasant perfume of broiling flesh was in his nostrils, and a tremendous vacuum under his belt, so that without any invitation he went over to the first group, amongst which happened to be his friend and helped himself to what they were devouring.

It was horse flesh they were indulging in.

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During the hours he had been unconscious they had killed a couple of his pack horses and transformed a bag of his flour into dampers, and were now putting them away as quickly as they could.

When his friend saw him he nodded, and made room for him at his side, then he said briefly, chewing vigorously at the same time, which gave his words a muffled sound:

“These dam troopers and trackers no trouble you no more. See!”

He pointed to the open near the pond, and as Jack looked he saw a number of horses grazing, with the hobbles on them.

“What have you done?”

“All same as they wanted to do to you. All same as they would do to us—what you call it on the dam stations when black fellow am shot down all round?”


“Yes, that am the word—they are all dispersed and sent to kingdom come. We went along down to their camp, and wait till bymby they all fall 'sleep 'cept one fellow. He watch with him gun. Then we creep round 'em and rush in. Some jump up and begin to shoot. That all right, only we no care one dam for him shooters, and him very soon shut up that game when our spears go into him. Not long and all lie same as him make black fellow when him get the square chance. That all right, you bet, mate.”

“What have you done with them?” asked Jack, who now that the deed was done felt strangely

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relieved. They were his natural enemies, although they had only been doing what they considered to be their duty, so that he could hardly be expected to do more than regret the necessity of destroying them.

The aboriginal still talked with his mouth full and his teeth working, in a muffled, indifferent way, as if the subject had not much interest to him; yet there was a lurid glitter in his eyes that contradicted his assumed disregard.

“I did what this fellow, Cap'in George they call him, have done to my friends, once, twice, thrice. Leave him to rot, or for the birds and ants and dingoes to pick him bones clean.”

He pointed with his greasy finger towards the north.

“Over there him creepy up to our camp, and shoot him little lubras and gins when him all asleep two years ago, that am him game always. He dam sharp and not let many run away. Ha! ha! — not dam smart enough this time, though.”

“But this party will soon be missed, and a search made for them?”

“Bymby, yes, but we all gone by that time—no come back for a long time. We go along o' you over there.” He pointed westward. “Plenty good places all long away there which men with big yarraman all miss. Plenty gold down there. Plenty gold where I show you bymby. Water and grub and gold and grass 'nough too for one yarraman, but no more. We kill them fellows

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to-morrow some, the rest another day, then we go on two days more.”

The next morning a number of the natives went off on an expedition which, the young leader explained, was to carry the bodies of the troopers and trackers into the desert, where they would not be found, and to remove all traces of the conflict that had taken place.

The others who remained in the camp were busy dividing the packages into more portable baggage. Two more horses were slaughtered and cut up, while the women were busy preparing for another feast.

Jack and his friend went down into the dry gully, attended by about a dozen of the best-looking young girls, who were full of sprightliness and mischief. The young chief was already married and had a little son. The “gin” was his second wife, as the first, with her children, had been murdered by the troopers, whom he had just revenged himself upon so terribly. Possibly this was one of the causes why he had taken so kindly to Jack Milton.

The lubras, or unmarried girls of the tribe, were not available to any of their own tribe, as such were considered too near akin, and on this point they are very particular. They would be abducted by some other friendly or hostile tribe, as were the Sabine women by the Romans, therefore there was no more possibility of jealousy among the young men over the partiality shown towards Jack by the girls, than would be amongst brothers towards the stranger their sisters paid attention to. Jack in

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fact was the only man whom these fair ones could flirt with at present, therefore, it was no wonder that he was greatly in demand by the dusky, and in many instances, unmistakably comely girls. He had the run of the ranch without a present rival.

Jack had not gone far fossicking in this valley before he saw that he had a gold centre at his command. If it could have been possible to stay and exploit this, he might have stayed here and made his fortune, but as such an idea was out of the question he had to sigh and relinquish it.

One of the girls who were with him suddenly stooped and picked up a dark-coloured pebble about the size of a duck's egg. This she attracted his attention to, and then placing it on a hard boulder with a piece of quartz she struck it with her full force, and split it in two, then she held out the broken halves to him with the inner sides uppermost.

She laughed merrily at his loud cry of admiration, exhibiting all her snowy teeth as if they were better worth looking at than the prismatic-tinted milky centre of that pebble, pretty although it might be. Yet she was pleased at the eagerness with which he pounced upon her present.

It was an opal in the rough, that unlucky but exquisite gem, with its rainbow-coloured fires swimming and sparkling, now green, now red, now blue and purple in the sunlight.

Jack looked at the stone carefully outside and inside, then he forgot about the gold specks that he could see in the sand and crumbling quartz, and

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began to look all round him for other specimens of the same sort.

He found, as he supposed, many exactly on the outside like the one he held, but when he broke these open, despite the dissentient cries of his handsome attendants, they were without a glimmer of the colour he wanted. It was only now and again, at considerable intervals, when they brought him, or pointed out one stone from a heap of others that he found the opal vein crossing the kernel. They knew where it was to be found in all colours and shapes, but they could not explain their secret, and the leader, seeing him well protected, had left him to their tender mercies.

They were merry girls, if somewhat forward and inquisitive, but already Jack had got used to their ways, likewise to their lack of apparel, for they seemed to have no consciousness as to its being unbecoming. Indeed, the young man had to own that nature here could not have been improved upon by dress.

Afterwards, when he saw these same beauties hiding their charms under the shirts, &c., of the troopers and trackers, he thought what a world of impropriety may be suggested by a shirt.

On the second morning they struck the camp, some of the boys and girls riding the spare horses and causing great sport as they rolled off or were sent flying over the animals' heads. That day they travelled sixty miles and brought up at a native well in the desert.