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Chapter XVI. Tracking in the Bush.

VAGUE reports in the mean time reached the town of the capture of Mark Brandon, and of his escape; and all sorts of rumours were in circulation respecting Helen and the natives. How they arose, or whence they came, no one could tell; and the mystery which seemed to hang over Helen's fate and the Bushranger's proceedings, only increased the general curiosity and anxiety.

Trevor suffered, day by day, and hour by hour, the tortures of a painful suspense, which at last became intolerable; and, in spite of the

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remonstrances of his medical attendant, the ensign's representations to his commanding officer were so urgent, and his distress of mind was so severe, that a reluctant consent was given to his departure, and he lost no time in making his preparations.

The same corporal who had been his companion before was allowed to accompany him with three other soldiers, so that the party was sufficient to defend themselves against all ordinary attacks of the natives, and were more than a match for the two bushrangers, should they fall in with them.

Having completed his equipment, and provided necessaries for a lengthened journey in the bush, which were placed on a led horse, part of whose load consisted of a small bed-tent; and having taken particular care, this time, to be furnished with a couple of axes, and with two pocket compasses to provide against the accident of separation, not forgeting two well-trained kangaroo dogs, Trevor visited Louisa to take leave of her, and to

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encourage her with hopes of good tidings not only of her sister but of her father.

The native girl was present at this interview; and as Trevor talked energetically, and frequently pointed to the west as the side of the island towards which he was about to direct his steps, he observed that Oionoo was much excited. Struck with the circumstance, he remembered that, some days before, she had been very earnest in pointing in that direction, and that she had talked very fast and with much gesticulation, about something which they could not understand, but which, it was evident, she was desirous to tell them.

She had already learned to repeat a few English words, for which all the natives have a remarkable aptitude, being as excellent mimics of sounds as monkeys are of actions, although there have been as few examples of the former attaining much proficiency in the meaning of English as of the latter shaving themselves correctly. Trevor tried to make her understand that he was going into the

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woods a long way off in search of Louisa's sister.

Louisa said she thought Oionoo understood him.

Trevor was all ready for starting, and his party was at the door; but an idea occurred to him which he thought he might turn to account. He tried the girl again:—

“One,” he said, pointing to Louisa; “two!” intending that she should understand there was another Louisa, “two! gone! lost!”

The native knew what “one, two” meant, for being excessively fond of sugar, she had learned to say “two” when she wanted another lump; and they thought she comprehended what he meant by “two” Louisas; but he could not get on further.

“Describe to her the fight with the natives,” suggested Louisa.

Trevor did so. He acted over again the fight at the Sugar-loaf hill, and imitated the throwing of spears; and then endeavouring to look as savage and as much like a native as

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possible, which made the girl laugh, he described, in action, the carrying away of Helen, as he supposed had been the case, pretending to perform that operation on Louisa; and he finished his “ballet in action” by going through the mock process of making a fire and eating Louisa, which made the black girl at first laugh louder than ever, and then suddenly look grave.

“Stop a little,” said Louisa, “Oionoo is thinking; I am sure she understands us. See, she is going to speak!”

Oionoo said something in a serious tone of voice; but as her auditors could not make out what she meant, they could only shake their heads and make other signs expressive of their not being able to understand her.

Oionoo immediately led Louisa into the garden, through the window, which was open, and taking off her shoes, ran a little way on the soft walk, leaving the impression of her naked foot on the ground. She then came back, put on her shoes again, and ran on as

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before, leaving the marks of her shoes near the imprints of her naked feet. Trevor and Louisa watched these proceedings with much interest.

Oionoo now returned and commenced looking about as if to discover the signs of some one who had gone before. She acted her part admirably. Suddenly she pretended to see, for the first time, the mark of a naked foot—and she looked sorry: then she seemed to catch sight of the mark of the shoe and seemed glad. Pointing to herself, and pointing to the marks, she gave Louisa to understand that she—Oionoo—could find the other Louisa in the bush.

“I understand her,” said Trevor; “these natives do not seem to be deficient in intelligence after all. She means, that the mark of a white woman's shoe is easy to be distinguished from the naked foot of the native; and that she could track it.”

He pointed to the west and explained to her by signs that she should go with him, and

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track the footsteps of the other Louisa. Oionoo nodded her head.

“I will take her with me,” said Trevor; “I have often heard of the extraordinary sagacity of the natives in tracking through the bush. She understands what we want, and she can serve as our guide. She seems to have no objection to go with me. Come,” he said to the black girl, “come.”

Oionoo followed him readily to the door, and stood outside quietly, while Trevor took an affectionate leave of Louisa; but when she found that the party was moving off without her white friend and protectress she ran back again, and taking hold of Louisa's dress, squatted down at her foot, and refused to stir.

Louisa made earnest signs to her to accompany Trevor; Oionoo made signs equally earnest that Louisa should come too. The difficulty was embarrassing. No signs of entreaty would make her stir without Louisa. There was a gunny-bag full of brown sugar in an adjoining store-room. Louisa caused it to

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be brought out, and made her understand that all that quantity of sweet stuff should be hers, if she would serve as Trevor's guide in the bush. But she looked on the reward with indifference, and kept tight hold of Louisa's gown.

“We must have her,” said Trevor; “she may be the means of recovering your sister. Try to make her understand that it is your command that she should go.”

Louisa now put on an angry countenance; she stamped her foot; looked on the black girl with an air of authority; and by signs intimated to her that it was her order that she should go. But Oionoo leaving hold of Louisa's gown, crept into a corner of the room, and putting her hands over her face, cried lamentably.

“Poor thing,” said Louisa, “she will not leave me; but as you think that by her assistance she may recover Helen, I will try another way, and if that fails, why I will put myself under your care, Mr. Trevor, and for such a sacred object, I will remember that I am a

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soldier's daughter and accompany you myself!”

The emotion which the tender girl felt in speaking this determination brought tears into her eyes. Oionoo regarded her earnestly; she crept from her corner; came near to Louisa; took hold of her dress again, and looked up sorrowfully and wistfully in her face.

Louisa shook her head, and made a motion to push the native girl from her.

The poor black girl fixed her large black eyes on Louisa with the most pitiable expression of countenance; it was the first time that her white friend—her guardian and protectress, had looked down on her with an eye of displeasure! The poor girl felt it bitterly, her tears flowed fast, and she bowed down her head in sorrow.

Louisa was much grieved, but Trevor encouraged her to proceed:—

“Make her understand,” he said, “that it grieves you and makes you cry because she will not be my guide to find your sister.”

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As soon as Oionoo comprehended this, her whole manner changed in a moment. She stood erect, and her manner was firm and decided. She was about to leave the room to join the party on the instant; but Louisa detained her for a moment. She pointed to Trevor, and clasped her hands together, to intimate that the girl should not leave him. The girl seemed impatient at this, and again turned to go; Louisa kissed her and embraced the native affectionately. It was then that the floodgates of the poor black girl's tears were opened afresh, and she wept and talked passionately, embracing and kissing Louisa's feet with the most extravagant expression of attachment and affection. Trevor could not refrain from giving utterance to the thought which the native girl's sensibility excited:—

“Sterne, was right,” he said; “these black people have souls after all.”

At the sound of his voice, Oionoo arose, and with a calm and resolved expression of countenance followed Trevor out of the town.

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They kept along the high road until they came to New Norfolk, about twenty miles from Hobart Town, where they stopped for the night. The next day they turned off to the westward, Trevor having previously ascertained that his shortest course to the Sugar-loaf Hill, which was his first point, was by that route.

As soon as the native found herself fairly in the bush and out of sight of human habitation she kicked off her shoes, which the corporal considerately placed in one of the packages carried by the sumpter-horse. She would have cast off her sailor's trousers, and spencer also, in order to be more free and easy in her journey; but to that absence of ceremony the old corporal was the first to object, saying, that, “although she was black she was a woman, and that it was the duty of a soldier to pay respect to the fair sex, whether black or white, let alone a poor ignorant native who had trusted herself to their protection.”

In this way, as the party was strong and

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well provided, and as their hearts were in their work, they soon left hill after hill behind them. They crossed various small streams by wading, and pressed on till they reached the Shannon River which they were obliged to trace upwards for some distance towards its source at the Great Lake, before they could find a practicable ford. Then turning to their left, Trevor endeavoured to find his way to the Sugar-loaf Hill; but he had over-rated his ability of finding his way in the bush; and notwithstanding his compass he found himself lost in a wild part of the country where they were encompassed within a mighty cluster of undulating and continuous hills.

In this difficulty he had recourse to the native, who had hitherto acted a passive part. He had a strong desire to reach the spot where the fight with the natives took place, for his own satisfaction; and he judged that if he continued his course so as to cross that line of route, the native would not fail to distinguish the tracks which had been made in that direction.

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He made her understand, therefore, that the time was come when she was wanted to discover the tracks of the little shoe.

Oionoo readily comprehended him; and she began diligently to search with her eyes right and left, but without stopping. Trevor remarked that she preserved a straight line in the direction which he had pointed out to her, as if prompted by a sort of instinct, and that she passed over all sorts of obstacles without hesitation. In this way they continued their journey for many miles, without any intimation being given by the native of the tracks they were in search of, nor of any other sign of white people or of natives.

This want of success filled Trevor with much uneasiness; he began to suspect that, by some delusion of direction which is so frequent with bush-travellers, they were altogether wrong in the course they were pursuing; or that Oionoo did not possess the talent of tracking which was generally considered as one of the most notable characteristics of the natives. But his doubts

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were presently put an end to by an exclamation from the black girl.

She stopped, and pointed to some trace on the ground which she regarded with extreme astonishment.

Trevor looked narrowly at the place, but he could see nothing; the rest of the party also examined the spot, but they could detect no mark or footstep.

Oionoo, however, persisted in pointing at the place. She examined the shoes of all the party, and seemed to compare them with the trace which her eyes detected;—but this, it was evident, was unsatisfactory to her. At last she looked at the horse which carried their provisions, and not without some hesitation and fear, speaking to him in a deprecating tone, she examined his foot, which one of the men held up for her.

Satisfied with this view she clapped her hands, and pointed to the trace which the white people could not see, and to the horse's foot, to signify that there was a track of that foot. She

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then began to survey the ground here and there to discover another mark of the same sort, which she presently did, and soon after another and another, pointing in a direction different from that which Trevor had been pursuing.

As it was known that Major Horton, who had gone into the bush in search of his daughter, was provided with horses, Trevor judged that these were their tracks; and he thought it might be useful to endeavour to overtake the Major, and communicate with him respecting their common object. He made signs to Oionoo, therefore, to follow up the track, which she did with great alacrity, seeming much pleased to be employed; and it was not long before she discovered the track of white men's shoes, which she intimated to Trevor by signs which were easy to be understood.

In this way they continued their march for some time, but without coming up with the party which had preceded them; but the marks of the horse's hoofs were so plain on such parts of the ground now and then, as were clear of

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grass, and seemed so fresh, that Trevor considered they must have been very recently made, and that if they pushed on vigorously, they could not fail to overtake the Major. Urging his men forward, therefore, and encouraging them with kind words—not unaccompanied with promises of reward for diligence—he followed Oionoo, who strode along at a prodigious rate, and seemed to rejoice like a wild animal in her return to her native wilderness.