previous
next



  ― 208 ―

Chapter XV. The Eagle.

THE race of the desperate marauder, however, was now almost run. His late exertions had caused his gunshot wound to bleed afresh; and the holes which the spears of the natives had made in his flesh were acutely painful. It seemed, however, that destiny had rescued him from the perils which he had escaped in order to reserve him for a more dreadful and signal doom; and if the many crimes which he had committed could be atoned for by any earthly torture, that which he suffered in the wilds of the bush might be considered a sufficient punishment.




  ― 209 ―

He dragged his weary limbs onwards towards the north, hoping to reach some part of the river, which he presently came in view of, by some ford, or by means of some natural bridge in some narrow part of its course. He met neither with soldiers nor natives on his way, and wretched and exhausted as he was, he congratulated himself on their avoidance.

He was faint from hunger; he gathered some native manna from a tree resembling the ash, but larger and higher in its growth, and rougher in its bark than the English ash, which refreshed him a little: but it afforded no nourishment, and he felt the absolute necessity of obtaining some sort of food. He could find no eatable gum in the part where he was, or that would have helped him a little. He was almost tempted to eat some of the large caterpillars or grubs which are abundant on the red gum-tree, but he could not bring himself to put them into his mouth. The gum of the tree being resinous and exceedingly nauseous, none but natives can bear the taste of them.




  ― 210 ―

But while he was looking at the grubs he saw a kangaroo-rat hopping over the grass. He threw a stick at it, and brought it down. He was afraid of making a fire lest the smoke should betray him; cutting open the creature, therefore, he sucked its blood, and tried to eat some of its raw flesh. But such a meal was unsatisfactory and disgusting.

He examined all his cartridges over again; but they had all been spoiled by the wet when he had swum his horse over the river the day before. As they were useless, and their weight encumbered him, he threw them away all but two. He had preserved the pistol with which he had killed the constable, but without powder it was useless. However, the flint and steel would enable him to light a fire if he could dare to do it.

He was surprised not to find himself pursued; but the rocky and difficult country on the western side of the river, over which he was passing, was almost impracticable for horses. He continued his way, therefore, unmolested;


  ― 211 ―
but full of torture both of body and mind, for with the diminution of his corporeal strength, his mental faculties became enfeebled and clouded.

He travelled in this miserable manner the whole of the day, making but little progress, and hardly able to walk, but still urged onwards by his desire to place the greatest possible distance between himself and those who, he felt sure, were in search of him. In this way he contrived to reach the base of a high and precipitous rock which had been visible for some distance before he arrived at it, and which over-hung the river, which at that part was broad and rapid.

He thought if he could ascend the height, he should be able to find some recess wherein he could lie, and find the repose which he so much needed. Some remains of his wonted resolute will came to his aid, and he climbed up the rock; but he could find no cave or shelter on his way. The top of the rock consisted of a narrow platform, about six feet square. In the


  ― 212 ―
middle were the remains of the nest of some large bird, which he guessed to be an eagle. As it was calculated to make a convenient pillow, he pushed it towards one end, and laying his head on it, rested.

The wind was high that night, and it was very cold; but he remained on his rock. He thought that it was a place of security, and he felt a disinclination to move. He tried to sleep, but could not.

The next morning the sun rose bright, and the sky was clear. He tried to get up. He was able to sit upright, but he found himself so weak that to descend the rock was an impossible task. He had been very cold in the night; but now he felt parched and fevered. The sun shone hot upon him; but instead of reviving his benumbed limbs by its warming beams, its heat only blistered him. He longed for some shelter, but there was none. The rays of the sun were scorching on the bare rock; and soon his brain seemed to be on fire! The weary hours seemed as if they would never pass away! The


  ― 213 ―
inexorable sun seemed fixed in the heavens! In his delirium, he almost believed that the huge ball of fire stood still to increase his torments. He crawled to the edge of the rock to throw himself down into the cool waters beneath; for his agony was insupportable.

But first he thought he would leave a memento of his death to those who might find his body; and he was penetrated with a strange desire that the money which he had buried in the bush should not be lost. It was a strange fancy; but arising, perhaps, from the habits of his mind during a long series of years. He determined to record the manner of his death and the spot where the treasure was concealed.

He had the means ready at hand in a large pocket-book, which had formed part of the booty taken from the brig, and of which the constable who had taken him to the cave had not thought it worth while to deprive him, as nothing was written in it. The long pencil which had belonged to it had dropped out.


  ― 214 ―
He cast his eyes about for something to make a mark with; and he spied, sticking up by the side of the platform, a feather from an eagle's wing. It seemed not to have been long dropped. He thought this a lucky circumstance.

He fashioned the quill with the clasp-knife which he had taken from the soldier's knapsack into a pen. He was about to make some soldiers' ink out of one of the cartridges which had been wetted by the water, and which he had preserved. But another thought struck him: his principal wound bled at intervals; he moistened his pen from the eagle's wing with his own blood—and wrote.

The occupation distracted him from present pain and anticipations of the evil that was to come. He had a grim pleasure in writing with his own blood. He took it into his head to put down an account of the many murders which he had committed, and his various other crimes. It was a terrible list. He had a sort of satisfaction in showing a pre-eminence in


  ― 215 ―
his line; the world, he was resolved, should have something to remember him for! He continued to write his history; pausing only at intervals when a faintness seized him, till he was interrupted in his occupation by a shadowing of the sun, which he attributed to a passing cloud.

He looked up in thankfulness to bless the friendly shade—when he beheld one of the largest of the great eagles of Australia poising on its wings at no great distance above his head, and in the attitude of pouncing upon him. The eagle, as it bent down its head with its hooked beak, shot fire from its eyes on the intruder in its haunt, and its long sharp claws retracted and extended ominously, as if eager to fix themselves on the devoted carcass of their destined prey.

previous
next