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CHAPTER XI.

A KANGAROO HUNT BY THE NATIVES—THEY RECOGNISE AN OLD ENEMY—THE FLIGHT—THE SKIRMISH—THE ATTACK RENEWED—SCROGGS'S GENEROUS DEVOTION—RETURN TO THE CLYDE—CRAB RESOLVES TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY.

THE usual torpidity of the natives was now changed to the most lively activity, in which the women, and even the youngest children, joined. The men jabbered to one another, the women chattered altogether, and the children cut little savage capers, casting juvenile spears at one another in sport and frolic. I made our guide understand that we wished him to warn us of any appearance of treachery, but he had no apprehensions of any hostile intentions.

“No want to fight now," said he; "hunt kangaroo.”

We observed, however, that he did not mingle


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With the natives in their proceedings, but with a sort of instinct that he was safer in our immediate vicinity than among the “black fellows,” as he called them, he kept close to our side.

The naked group made their way to the rear of the encampment, and at the distance of about half a mile, Musqueeto assumed the management of the hunt. He directed half of his party to proceed, as Tom interpreted to us, to a distance of about four miles from the spot where we stood, and another party to extend themselves circularly to the right, while others made a similar circuit to the left. By these means it was intended to enclose a circle, and to drive all the game to the centre. In the dry season it is the practice of the natives to set fire to the woods and so dislodge the game, which they slaughter as it flies from the flames towards their ambuscades. But, on the present occasion, as the grass will not burn in the winter season, they were obliged to pursue a more laborious expedient.

Musqueeto now sat down on the grass, and we followed his example, stationing ourselves on the log of a tree, and Tom informed us that we should have to wait till the first detachment of


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natives reached their destination before it would be time for us to advance.

We endeavoured, in the meanwhile, to engage Musqueeto in conversation, but he was not inclined to talk, and seemed to be engaged in some mental calculation.

“This is a new scene,” observed the magistrate; “I little thought that you and I should be engaged in a hunting expedition with our equivocal acquaintance here.”

“I hope it may all end well,” said I. “Since you have hinted about their recognising me, I have had very disagreeable sensations. A fight with the savages would be an awkward affair, encumbered as we should be with our little charge impeding our motions.”

The girl crept closer to me at the expression of these fears, but said nothing.

“It was only a few days ago,” said the magistrate, “that I was reading a specious argument of a French writer in favour of natural over civilised life; I am inclined to think that if the eloquent sophist had possessed the experience which we have of these savages—whose condition may be considered as the very perfection and model of the primitive state of society which the


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Genevese philosopher extolled—he would have modified his opinion.”

“The natives of Van Diemen's Land,” said I, “seem to be but one degree removed from the animal creation—a sort of connecting link between man and the brute.

“Having only one idea above the brute, and that is—to eat him! But they have only one brute to eat—to wit, the kangaroo.—In my opinion, the degraded condition of the natives of this island may be ascribed in a great measure, to the nature of the country itself. There is no fruit, herb, or root indigenous to the soil which is fit for the sustenance of man, and no animal, like an ox, a sheep, or a goat, capable of being domesticated so as to furnish a regular supply of food. The only animal fit to eat, apart from the opossum and such nasty things, is the kangaroo, and to catch the kangaroo the natives must be continually shifting their ground; consequently they are prevented from acquiring any fixed habitation, and are deprived of the advantage of those domestic habits which seem to form the first step in the progress of civilization.


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“Could you ever find out,” said I, “whether they have any idea of a Divine being?”

“All that inquirers have been able to make out,” replied my friend, “is, that they have a belief in an evil spirit, which seeks to do them harm, but they cannot discover any notion among them of a good or creative spirit. Cook and Flinders have described long ago the religious, or rather the superstitious ceremonies of the Sydney natives; but the aborigines of this island either do not practise the same comicalities, or we have not been able to witness them.”

“Our ignorance of their language,” I observed, “must be an obstacle to our acquiring a correct knowledge of their religious belief, or of their customs.”

“No doubt; but their language, so far as we can understand it, seems capable of expressing only the most simple ideas; and indeed it is only the most simple ideas that they want to express.”

“They are good mimics,” said I.

“So are all savages; and many animals excel in the same way; birds imitate sounds, and monkeys imitate gestures.—But our host is


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getting up; I suppose the sport is about to begin.”

Musqueeto rose languidly from the ground, and ejaculated an order right and left to the natives within hearing, who repeated the word till it was lost in the distance. We then moved forward, Musqueeto taking, or seeming to take little notice of us, and retaining his usual sulky, stupid look. But as the shouts of his comrades grew louder and louder, and the distant view of the game occasionally met his eye, the passions of the savage were roused up, and his listless demeanor rapidly changed to that of intense animation, as he grew hot in the excitement of the hunt. The spirit of the savage now began to develope itself, and it was with hideous sounds and frantic gestures, which I should in vain attempt to describe, that he performed his part towards frightening the game into the centre of the circle which at wide intervals was formed around the scared and terrified animals. But these intervals, as we continued our advance, gradually grew less and less, till we came within hearing of those who formed the farthest verge of the enclosure. As the circle narrowed, and as


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we caught occasional glimpses of a terrified kangaroo, the cries and antics of Musqueeto and the other natives to the right and left, who were in sight, became more violent and furious, and the black naked savages, rattling their spears and brandishing their waddies, and screaming and dancing about in the most raging state of excitement, resembled a band of demons engaged in some infernal orgies. And now with immense strides a monstrous kangaroo standing six feet high, and with his gigantic tail heaving up and down behind him, hopped past us to the left. Musqueeto saluted him with a spear, which stuck in his shoulder, but broke off among the bushes; he was met by the natives at their post, who drove him back again by their shouts. Musqueeto darted out to meet him, and before the animal could stop itself in its career, he struck it sharply on the crown with his waddy. The creature shook its beautiful head and ears a little, stunned by the stroke, and Musqueeto taking advantage of its confusion repeated his blows, nimbly avoiding the dashes which the kangaroo made at him with the formidable claws of his hind feet, till he brought him to the ground. A yell of triumph


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proclaimed this first success, and Musqueeto no longer the apathetic native which he so lately appeared, now exhibited himself in all the ferocity of the savage. His blood was up from his struggle with the kangaroo, and his exertions had lashed him into a state of almost ungovernable fury. Seeing him in this state we repented having engaged in this perilous sport, but to withdraw at such a moment would have excited the suspicion, and perhaps the anger of the natives. We kept our fire-arms ready, therefore, and endeavoured to preserve our coolness and presence of mind in the midst of the general excitement.

The circle had now become narrowed as close as was desired, and we saw five kangaroos—foresters—in the middle, and one prodigious fellow, whom the natives greeted with the title of boomah! boomah! Three of the foresters were quickly despatched with spears and waddies, but the boomah! stood in the midst looking with a sort of defiance on his enemies, who pressed upon him. Several spears were soon fixed in his body. He gave a bound as each sharp missile pierced his skin; but he still stood erect seeking for a


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passage through the ranks of his assailants. At last, as a party of three or four rushed at him from the point opposite to us, and tried to reach his head with their waddies, he gave a sudden plunge, and bounding towards the spot where the magistrate, with me and the little girl, were standing in silence, he effected his escape beyond the circle. Musqueeto stamped on the ground with rage and passion at the loss, and at that moment the habit of the old sportsman taking possession of me, I raised up my piece and selecting the right-hand barrel, which always contained a ball, I fired; I was lucky enough to hit the back of its head, the ball passing through it. The animal made no cry, for the kangaroo never utters any sound, and giving one last tremendous bound into the air, fell dead. At the report of my fowling-piece the cries of the natives instantly ceased, and they became motionless as statues, casting rapid glances of suspicion and fear at me and at one another. This sudden silence succeeding the furious outcries of the preceding moment had a peculiar and startling effect. I immediately ran to the game, and first, with the precaution of an old settler in the bush, I reloaded


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my piece, the natives gazing at me in silence. I then beckoned to the nearest native to come to me, pointing to the kangaroo, and inviting him by gestures to take the animal; he hesitated, and looked at the others. Calling black Tom, I bade him explain to the natives, that I considered the game belonged to them, and as soon as they understood my meaning they came forward, but slowly and doubtingly. Musqueeto, however, came up without ceremony, and examining the venison with the precision of a connoisseur, he evinced unqualified delight at the prize. Four natives uniting their strength contrived to carry the kangaroo to their encampment, which was at no great distance; while the rest went forward to make preparations for a feast. Before we arrived at the fires we were met by the two constables who had been alarmed by the report of my piece. They had lost no time in throwing the saddles on the horses, and had started immediately to our assistance.

“We feared you were in for it," said Sanders; "and Scroggs was all ready for a scrimmage, for he's no flincher when it comes to business—and that's the use of him.”


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“It's no use,” said Scroggs, “to stand shilly— shallying; the best way is to shoot 'em down at once, and then you're sure they can't do you any harm. Never trust a native!”

“Better mount you, horse, Sir,” advised Sanders; “they've got their spears and their waddies ready in their hands, and there's no knowing when they may be inclined to use them. Look at those three blackguards yonder jabbering together and pointing to Mr. Thornley.”

“They are talking about his capital shot,” replied the magistrate, “and wondering, perhaps, how it was done.”

“May-be, Sir; but I don't like the way they left off, when we looked at them. Better be on our guard,Sir.”

We had no apprehension of any violence being attempted, but we thought it best to be ready, so we took our horses from the constables and led them by the bridle. I put the child on mine, telling her not to be frightened, but to hold on fast by the mane. In this order we proceeded back to the fires, and the natives distributed themselves about, the game being cast in the middle of the open space. I saw two snakes


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lying by the side of the kangaroos, and I asked Tom what they were going to do with them.

“Eat 'em,” said Tom; “snake good—eat many snake at Sydney.”

As he spoke, a native took up the snakes, and, without skinning them, or performing any other operation of cleanliness, threw them on the fire; and after they had been done to his mind, he and one or two others, who seemed to have a right to partake, devoured them with much apparent satisfaction.

They now proceeded to dismember the largest of the kangaroos, and as the pieces of flint, which served as knives, were but clumsy tools to work with, I took out my bush-knife and presented it to Musqueeto. The knife contained one powerful blade and a smaller one, with a saw. I opened the saw and explained its use to the natives around, who were much struck with the contrivance; but the large blade pleased them most. Musqueeto condescended, on this occasion, to make use of his new acquisition, by cutting to pieces the kangaroo. He first cut off the head, which he threw on one side, and then separated the shoulders and body from the loins, and, with


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more politeness than I had given him credit for, he pushed towards us the hind quarters—the best part of the animal—inviting us to take it. Sanders, dismounting, threw it over the pommel of his saddle, and resuming his seat, urged us to lose no time in setting out, as we were now supplied with sufficient provision to last until we should reach some stock-hut or settler's farm. We mounted accordingly, but the magistrate and I tingered for a few moments to observe the curiosity with which the natives examined the head of the kangaroo, which had been pierced by the ball from my fowling-piece. From the examination of the hole through the head, they were led to an examination of the instrument that effected it, and three or four of them crowded round me, pointing eagerly to the ornamental stock which was studded with bright silver nails, and had a broad piece of silver plate on the bend of the stock, usually placed there to receive the engraving of the name. As I had held the stock of my piece under my right arm, the natives had not had the opportunity of observing it before, but now they gazed on it with an expression of eagerness and surprise as if they recognised it as an old acquaintance.


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“Look out, Sir,” said Sanders, “the same three savages that we remarked jabbering together before, have got their eyes on your fowling-piece.”

“Thornley,” said the magistrate, earnestly, “I am sure you are recognized; those natives remember your piece; we had better be off. Do you go first with the child, and I with the two constables will bring up the rear three abreast. Can Tom run at a pinch?”

“As fast as you can canter,” said Sanders.

“Move on then, and let us lose no time.”

I and the magistrate mounted our horses, when a yell broke out from the clustering savages, which made the woods ring again; a yell so loud and thrilling, that it made our horses start and champ their bits. Had any other stimulus been wanting to hasten our movements it now appeared in the shape of a spear thrown by a willing arm at me, but which missed and stuck in the flank of Scroggs's horse. The animal did not wait for a second spurring, nor Scroggs for a second hint, and the sight of this open declaration of war operated on us all. With one accord we galloped off round the


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base of the hill, Tom preceding us, who, however, was quickly left behind. Seeing this the magistrate called out to us to pull up, and he directed Sanders to let Tom mount behind him as the ground was level, till we got beyond the reach of the natives. The delay, however, enabled the natives to intercept us at the turn of the hill, and we encountered them standing on the bank on our right. We sheered our horses off beyond the reach of their spears, but a womera cast by some vigorous-native struck Scroggs's horse on the hind leg, and caused a temporary halt.

“Steady,” cried the magistrate, “we have a clear field and no trees.” A shower of spears interrupted his speech.

“Sanders, pick off that native to the right with the bundle of spears in his left hand.”

The constable fired, and the native fell. At this check, the rest retreated among the trees and bushes.

“Now, Scroggs, my man, you must make your horse go: man's life is worth more than horse's. Keep up for four and twenty hours and we are safe.”


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But we could make but slow progress with the crippled horse, and we would not leave the man behind. We jogged on therefore for another hour, skirting a thick wood to our right till we came to the base of a scrubby hill.

“Now, Sir,” said Sanders, “if the natives are determined to make a fight of it, this is the place where they'll do it. They have found out that Mr. Thornley is the same white man whom they fought with before, and no doubt he killed some of their relations at that time, and the survivors will have blood for blood: it's always the way with the natives.”

“How was it,” said I, “that Musqueeto was so quiet then? he must have known me!”

“You see, Sir, he's a Sydney native, and doesn't rightly belong to any tribe in this island; If you had hurt one of his gins that would have been another matter, for the natives are like the whites in that—they don't like other people to take their gins; and that's what gives rise to most of the quarrels between the natives and the stockkeepers. The stockkeepers entice their gins away by a tenpenny nail or a bit of broken glass bottle, or best of all, a red handkerchief—there's


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nothing like a bit of red rag to come over a gal with, let her be black or white—and then the natives don't like it, and so they have to fight it out.”

“And so must we fight it out,” said the magistrate, “for there are the natives coming forward in a body. I am sorry for it, but if we must defend our lives, the best way is to act decisively.”

By this time we had reached the top of the hill, and beneath us was a level plain of considerable extent, but the descent of the hill was very steep and rugged. We drew ourselves up on a clear space and waited for the attack. The natives also drew themselves up at a distance of about a hundred yards, and one of them advancing towards us, with a waddy in his right hand, and a bundle of spears in his left, began a speech in a loud, but calm voice, using abundant action, but without unseemly noise or passion.

“What does he say, Tom?” said the magistrate.

“He say, you all bad white men.”

“And what more? he must say more than that in that long speech.”


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“He say you come take his country, and eat his kangaroo, and take his gins. He say you very bad white men. And he say, this gentleman, Mitter Thornley, very bad white man indeed; he kill him brudder—brudder of black fellow dere—and he say he want Mitter Thornley to go stand there for him to throw spear at him.”

“He sends you a challenge to fight a duel, Thornley,” said the magistrate. “As a gentleman and a man of honour you can't refuse, or Blackee will post you.”

“Mitter Thornley go tand dere,” said Tom, “black fellow throw one, two, tree, many spear at him; then black fellow no want to fight: only kill Mitter Thornley; then very good friends.”

“Come, Thornley,” said my friend, laughing, “it is plain that you must perform the part of Quintus Curtius on this occasion.”

“Please, Sir,” said Scroggs, “I don't know how Squinting Curtis managed with the natives, but if we have only to do with that one jawing away there, we might buy him off, perhaps, with something that we have about us. There's the remains of the bottle of rum; offer him that.”


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Tom advanced accordingly, calling out “corrobara,” meaning thereby that he wished for a parley to talk the matter over a bit with the aggrieved native. Tom proposed that the half-bottle of rum should end the affair amicably, but the offer was indignantly rejected. Tom reported progress, and the native continued his harangue, enumerating over and over again the injuries which he had received, and the vengeance which he would take.

“Let us try him with something more,” said the magistrate, “it is something to get him to negotiate at all for the price of his revenge; if it is only a question of amount I think we may manage it. Let us consult Tom:—Tom, what shall we give him?”

“You give bottle of rum; Mitter Thornley's red handkerchief for his gin; and give him buttons from your coat.”

“My coat buttons!” said the magistrate. “Well, to save my friend's valuable life, and to prevent a breach of the peace—for I see Thornley is red hot to fight this duel—I suppose I must let him have them.”

Tom was accordingly despatched with these


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new presents; but the native now took a fancy to Tom's axe, and after some chaffering, Tom surrendered it. But there was still a hitch, and our ambassador returned again.

“Black fellow say, that, 'cause Mitter Thornley hab the piccaninny, he throw one little spear at that man there instead.”

“Throw a spear at me,” exclaimed Scroggs, “I won't have any spears thrown at me! Tell him to go and be hanged!”

“Black fellow say,” said Tom, “he must throw one little spear at somebody, 'cause, if he no throw spear, all the mob point finger at him. He say, he no hurt white man, only stick spear in him a little bit.”

“Stick a spear in me a little bit!” said Scroggs; “I'll stand no such thing! Let him stick his spears into the gum-trees, if he likes. What am I to have spears stuck in me for, more than anybody else?”

“My good fellow,” said the magistrate, “if the sacrifice of yourself will have the effect of preventing a fight, and of saving the effusion of blood, I should advise you to consent; but, of course, I cannot order you in such a matter; it


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is entirely for your own consideration and generosity to determine whether you will be the means, for a trifling smart perhaps, to save many human lives. Remember Quintus Curtius!”

“ —— Squinting Curtis! He never stood up to have spears shied at him I'll be bound.”

“If you go through this part well,” said the magistrate, “I shall certainly recommend you to the governor for reward and promotion.”

“It's very hard,” whined Scroggs, “but I am always to be the one to have the worst hand at the game. It was my bottle of rum that those black rascals swallowed, and now that it has got their pluck up, I am to be a cockshy for that rampaging devil there, that keeps brandishing his spears about.”

“I'll tell you what, my man,” said I, “I don't think any harm will come of it, or I would not consent to your going; but if you'll take the job off my hands, as I've got the child to take care of, I'll give you a hundred dollars!”

“Well,” said Scroggs, “I'll go, but I don't like it. You mean a hundred dollars in money, not property?”


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“Yes,” said I, “a hundred silver dollars down.”

“It's for the sake of the child I go, not the money. But nobody can say I haven't a right to something for making a target of myself for that black rascal to stick his spears in.”

“Why, he'll never hit you,” said Sanders. “You have a right to one spear to defend yourself with, according to the customs of the natives.”

The desire to get the dollars outweighing his fears, the doughty constable proceeded to the spot where this novel sort of monomachia was to take place, and standing about forty yards from the native, waited with a most rueful countenance for the commencement of the ceremony. The native treated him in the first place with an explanatory and expostulatory harangue, which the miserable Scroggs received much in the same way as a criminal listens to the congratulatory condolences of the executioner before he is turned off. The native then performed various mystic evolutions, which so protracted the proceedings, that the impatient Scroggs cried out —

“D—— you, if you're going to throw a spear at me, shy away, and don't keep me waiting in this manner!”


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The only word which the black man understood was the first, which almost all the natives had picked up from the frequent use of that expletive by the stockkeepers, with whom they mostly came in contact; but as he well knew it was an epithet of vituperation, he took it as a sign of heroic defiance from the magnanimous Scroggs, and suddenly stopping short in his fantastic antics, he cast a spear at the constable, which narrowly missed his arm, and whirred rapidly past him for more than twenty yards.

“Hulloa,” cried Scroggs, “that's too close to be pleasant. Take it easy, will you, you ugly blackguard!”

The next spear struck him on his right side, but meeting there with a tobacco-box, it was luckily stopped from doing further mischief than staving in the lid of it. But this was too much for Scroggs. Bestowing a hearty curse on all the natives in the island, and including him-self in his general execration for being such a fool as to stand there to be made a sieve of, he ignominiously turned tail, and the next missile projected by the savage took effect in his fleshy protuberance behind. Scroggs gave a


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roar that might have done credit to a wild bull, and without waiting for further compliments ran back to us, Sanders laughing heartily at his condition.

“I say, Scroggs, my boy, you'll never be able to show your wounds that way. Do you remember the sergeant of the 40th showing us his wounds in front? It will never do to leave them behind. Go and let the black fellow have another shy at your chest, that you may get honourably marked and look respectable.”

“A hundred dollars,” said Scroggs, “in dollars, not property!” pleased to find himself without more hurts. “Well I wouldn't mind standing another shy for the same money.”

The native who had given a yell of triumph when he saw his victim with the spear sticking in behind him, now gathered up his spoils, and returning to his companions, we saw no more of the natives for that time, and we proceeded on our way.

We had to sleep one night in the bush, which we managed as well as we could, and towards the night of the next day we reached a stock-hut to the east of Salt-Pan Plains. Here we


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parted with Tom, the magistrate giving' him an order on a storekeeper at Launceston, to supply him with anything he pleased to the amount of five pounds; and cutting across the country to Oatlands, we were glad to repose ourselves at a comfortable inn. At this place we learnt that the Jupiter had sailed two days before, and as I was anxious to get home with my charge, I begged the magistrate to proceed to Launceston and ascertain what had become of the uncle of Georgiana. I may as well say here, that my friend found that he had escaped from the island on board that vessel.

The subsequent difficulties which my charge had to encounter, I shall have to relate in their proper place. The constables, at my request, accompanied me to the Clyde, striking across the country by a short cut from Jericho. I rewarded them liberally for their activity and good conduct, giving Scroggs an order on the Bank at Hobart-Town for the hundred dollars according to my promise. My wife and children received the stranger with an affectionate kindness and sympathy, which soon reached her little heart, and in a short time she considered herself as a child of


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the family. After recounting my adventures, and my escape from the cavern of the red house, my wife scolding me, of course, for my rashness in running such a risk, I lost no time in turning my attention to the affairs of my farm, which had been for so long a time interrupted by the various accidents which had befallen me. On inquiring for Crab, I was informed that he had set out for his sheep-run an hour or two after I had started for Hobart-Town, and had not returned. His absence did not give me any uneasiness at the time, but another week having passed away without his appearance, I became alarmed, and began seriously to think of setting out in search of him. As we were discussing the matter towards the close of the day, we observed our old friend proceeding across the meadow in the direction of the house. He seemed faint and exhausted, and his clothes were dirtied and stained with travel. He had a bundle on his shoulder, the weight of which seemed to oppress him, and he trudged along, leaning on a stick in a manner unusual to his vigorous habits. I immediately went out to meet him and to assist him into the house. He sat himself down in the great chair with a deep


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sigh, casting his load on the floor, which rattled on the ground with a jingling crash.

“Thank God!" he said, "I'm at home again. I thought I should never have seen you any more. Such a country as this is! No stage-coach!—no nothing! But it sarves me right, I ought to have left it long ago; but now I have made up my mind. The next ship that goes takes me. There's nothing but wretchedness here; you'll all be ruined and murdered, every one—that's my opinion.”

“Why, what has happened?” said I—“what on earth is the matter with you?”

“What has happened? why, every thing has happened, that shouldn't happen! I'll tell ye if you'll give me time; but, first, I must have something to eat. Oh! there's the mutton chops. Only let me get a little life into my body, and then I'll tell ye.”

But the adventures of Mr. Crab on this memorable journey, must form the commencement of a new chapter.

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