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Chapter XI. Oionoo.

IT was one of the men who first observed a figure moving up the ravine in which they were lying; he pointed it out to his comrade, who touched the Major's foot with a dead branch which lay ready to his hand, and the three remained without moving, their eyes fixed on the object.

The Major at once perceived that it was a native, who was advancing cautiously towards them, and who seemed anxiously looking out on every side, as if in search of something.

“It is a spy of those black devils, looking out for us,” said one of the soldiers.

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“It's a woman, by George,” said the other, as the native continued her advance.

“I wish it had been a man,” continued the first, who had levelled his piece sharp-shooter fashion towards the native; “it goes against one's feeling to fire at a woman.”

“She is tall and straight,” remarked the second, “and if it wasn't for her being black, she wouldn't be amiss.”

“She looks like a young girl,” said the other, as the native advanced nearer.

But it seems that the sound of his voice had struck her ear; for she stopped, listened; snuffed the air like a pointer scenting game; looked about on all sides; and turning her head half round behind, remained for a brief space in an attitude of fixed attention.

The Major regarded the native girl with much attention; and the men seeing that she was alone, were only curious to observe her motions.

She remained for some time fixed and motionless as a statue, her black body shining like polished ebony. She was entirely naked;

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there was no mark of paint or of tattooing visible on her sleek and glossy skin; and her hair was not woolly, but hung from her head some inches behind in frizzy curls.

Presently, suspecting, as it seemed, that some danger was nigh, she resumed her walk, but with more caution even than at first. With a timid and frightened look, she turned her large eyes, which were singularly black and bright, towards the spot where the Major and his men were hidden, and tried to pierce into the space before her, which the shades of the evening had begun to render obscure, treading lightly, and lifting up her feet in that peculiar manner characteristic of the natives, who walk like a high-stepping horse, in order to clear the dead wood with which their path in the woods is encumbered.

To judge from the supple movements of her well-formed limbs, the Major guessed that she was possessed of great agility; but there was a something in her manner which convinced him that she was not abroad with any hostile intentions. Indeed, her countenance, when she

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was close enough for them to observe it, expressed suspicion and fear, rather than any other feeling.

As she approached the spot where they lay concealed amidst loose rocks and stones, she suddenly stopped again, and snuffed the air with her broad flat nose, and made a step back, as if with the intention of flying from some unusual danger.—But after a few moments of anxious scrutiny of the point which she had left, she again advanced a few steps with a quick motion, as if she thought it better to encounter the new danger that was before than that which was behind; and again she stopped and snuffed the air, and seemed surprised and alarmed at some unexpected discovery.

The Major whispered as low as possible to his men:—

“We must take this woman.”

Low as his whisper was, however, it was heard by the quick-eared native. She gave a frightened look towards the spot where they lay concealed, and at that moment the two soldiers starting up, the girl uttered a loud scream of

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fear, and darted up the steep ascent before them.

The men followed; but they would have had little chance in pursuing a native in the bush, had not the girl, in looking back to see if her pursuers were nigh, stumbled over a loose stone and fallen to the ground. Paralysed as she was with fear, before she could recover herself, and uncertain perhaps which way to fly, for it seemed to her that there was danger on every side, the men seized her by the arms. She made no struggle, but, doubling herself up, she sat on her hams and bent down her head in terror, expecting doubtless, that she was to be put to death.

In this state the Major approached the native with the intention of calming her fears; but for some time she remained in such an agony of terror as to be insensible, seemingly, to all that was going on around her, and her whole body shook and shivered with fear.

The Major directed his men to release her arms. They did so, but the native showed no

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sign of being sensible of the restraint having been withdrawn.

He spoke to her kindly and soothingly; but the girl's teeth continued to chatter with terror.

He extended his hand and patted her on the shoulder as jockeys do horses when they desire to calm them; but the native, supposing, perhaps, that this was done in order to ascertain if she was fat enough to be eaten, only shuddered the more, and shrunk herself up from the touch of the strange creatures, the like of whom she had never beheld before!

The poor Major was puzzled to know how to communicate with her, or what to do, now he had got her, with the young lady whom he had so violently taken under his protection. But as he was desirous of making use of the native to guide him back to his cave, he determined to persevere in his attempt to bring about a mutual good understanding.

He desired one of his men to give him a bit of “damper,” which he offered to the native, but she would not take it. He then ate a bit himself, and invited her by signs to do the

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same. She looked wistfully at it for a moment; there was hunger in her looks, the Major thought.

He put the bit of damper down on the ground. She raised her head up timidly, and looked at the two soldiers, and then at the bread. At last she took it in her hand, and smelt it, tasted it, and ate it up greedily. The men, as she opened her mouth, could not refrain from an involuntary exclamation:—

“What grinders!”

Seeing that she liked it, the Major threw her another piece. The native ate that also.

“Try her with some brandy,” said one of the soldiers.

He poured out a small quantity into a metal mug which they had brought with them, and the Major, after having taken a little sip to show the lady how the liquor was to be disposed of, handed her the vessel with his arm outstretched, much in the same manner as a visitor hands a morsel to a wild animal in a cage in the Zoological Gardens. She took it, and having smelled at it, let it drop.

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“D—— her,” said one of the soldiers, “the black brute has wasted the brandy!”

The tone of the soldier's voice as he uttered this exclamation, excusable perhaps in the bush, where brandy is scarce, seemed to renew the fright of the native. She looked round her timidly, as if meditating escape.

“Give me some sugar,” said the Major; “we will try her with that.”

The man unpacked his parcel in a twinkling, and brought it to the Major, who, grasping a small handful of it, placed it on a piece of the bark of a tree, and putting some of it in his mouth, passed the bark plate to the lady, who took it without hesitation.

She smelled at it as before, and poked it with her finger, which she carried to her mouth. Seeming satisfied with the taste, she poked her finger into it again, and then diligently licked it with much apparent satisfaction. Then, being unable to resist the temptation of its sweetness, she bore the piece of bark on which the sugar was deposited to her mouth, and ate it all up in a moment, cleaning the bark with

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her tongue of any remaining crumbs as a dog does a plate.

This last mark of attention on the part of her entertainer seemed to re-assure her considerably; her trembling ceased; and she sat on her hams more composedly than before. The Major now tried by signs to make her understand what he wanted.

He pretended to drink, and looked all about as if he was trying to find water. The native understood him, and pointing in the direction of the path by which she had come, shook her black poll, and made signs of being frightened at something from which she had fled. Then pointing in a direction forwards she nodded her head, and rising from her sitting position began to move forward.

Had the Major been a younger man, he would not perhaps have minded the total absence of dress on the lady's person, which, as she stood on her hind legs, was more conspicuous and striking than it had been in her sitting posture; but, as he was the father of a family, he would have preferred that she should have

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been clothed with some sort of covering however trifling.

Desirous of remedying the deficiency in some way, he drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and presented it to the black lady, not being able to express his meaning by words, nor even by signs, but hoping that what is called the natural modesty of her sex would prompt her to make a proper application of the gift. The native girl accepted the handkerchief readily, and turning round on the strange white man, whom she rewarded with a smile which exhibited to view her formidable row of teeth, tied the handkerchief round her head, and continued her way.

“She knows no better,” said the Major to himself; “and, after all, our civilised habits are only conventional; but certainly if a lady of any colour was to appear at court in the old country in that state of primitive simplicity, it would produce no slight sensation.”

The further philosophical reflections which he might have made on this point of etiquette were put a stop to by the native suddenly

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pointing to a tiny stream of water which trickled from the side of the declivity. The Major and his men drank of it eagerly, and the native drank some also, the sugar having made her thirsty; and when the party had satisfied themselves with the pure element, which the men remarked would mix admirably with any sort of spirit, but to which hint the Major paid no attention, the question was, what was to be done next?

The young lady showed no disposition to escape, and seemed to wait quietly to know how she was to be disposed of; but as the evening was advancing, and as it was nearly dark, the excellent Major was somewhat puzzled to know what to do with his new acquisition during a night bivouac. If it was possible, he thought it would be best to endeavour to reach the cave that night, but as he calculated that he must be at a great distance from it, he despaired of being able to accomplish the journey, fatigued as he was with his day's march.

He essayed, however, to communicate his

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desire by signs. He pointed to the water of the spring, and endeavoured to make her comprehend the idea of a large quantity of water spread over a wide surface. It seemed that the native comprehended him, for she stretched out her arm towards the right and shook her head, exhibiting signs of great fear from that quarter;—what the cause of her fear was it was impossible for them to make out;—but they could make her understand nothing further.

The Major was inclined to regard her as a fugitive from her tribe, or perhaps a prisoner who had escaped, for he could not otherwise account for her being alone, and for the expression of alarm which she had displayed in her demeanour before they had secured her.

His men took the liberty to represent to him, that the natives were a savage and treacherous race, and that it was very likely that this young girl had been sent out as a decoy, in order to throw them off their guard; and they related many instances, which they had heard in camp, of the cunning of the blacks, and

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of their insuperable animosity to the white people.

This view of the case, however, the Major repudiated, for the girl's countenance, black as it was, had something in it of that softness which is never entirely absent from the youthful of her sex; and her manner indicated besides, as it struck him, that she was in want of protection, and was inclined to accept it even from the white people rather than again encounter the dangers from which she had recently escaped.

He pursued his inquiries, therefore, and made another attempt to communicate with the native by the universal language of signs, although the coming darkness scarcely allowed him sufficient light for his operations.

He directed one of the men to scoop out a hollow basin in the course of the rill, which soon filled the excavation with water. He then took a piece of the bark of a tree, and stuck a couple of sticks in it to represent miniature masts, clothing them with pieces of paper to represent sails. He then, by signs and gestures, contrived

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to make the black girl understand that he wanted to go to a great thing like that.

The girl looked at it attentively for some time, gazing alternately at the mimic ship and at the Major, as if striving to comprehend his meaning. Suddenly she broke out into a wild laugh, and clasped her hands, and pointed with her finger in a direction over a high tier of hills.

The Major made signs to her to go forward in the direction in which she pointed, but she showed much reluctance to move, for the night was setting in, and the natives have a great dread of travelling in the dark, fearing to fall into the power of an evil spirit. The Major was not aware of the cause of her fear, but it was clear that she was afraid of something, and he showed to her the guns of himself and the soldiers to re-assure her; but it was evident, from her manner, that she did not comprehend the use of such weapons.

He then directed his men to unsheath their bayonets. She retreated at the sight of these strange instruments, but the Major, taking one of them in his hand, offered it to her. She took

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hold of it, but let it drop immediately, alarmed at its coldness, and at the unusual feel of metal.

But as, in falling on its point, it stuck in the ground, the circumstance seemed to strike her with much admiration; and when the Major picked it up and offered it to her again she took it, and continued to hold it in her hand, though a little frightened. As it did not move, however, and as she felt no harm, she touched the point gently with her finger and was surprised at its sharpness.

The Major then made signs to her to hold the weapon in her hand and move forward; and the native, after a little hesitation, and seeing that the white strangers showed no signs of fear in the dark, and supposing perhaps that the curious cold spear which they had given to her was a protection against the evil spirit, set out at a tolerably rapid pace in the direction to which she had pointed as the place where the great moving thing that resembled the little bark ship lay in the wide water.

Her new friends followed, keeping a sharp eye on her to guard against an escape; but of

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this it afterwards proved the poor girl was not thinking; and after a brisk walk of about three miles, after passing over some high hills, the Major suddenly found himself on the margin of the bay; and, as he presently perceived, not far from the cave which he desired to reach.

He now became aware that he had been wandering nearly the whole of the day in a part of the country abounding in high and low hills, and at a comparatively small distance from the place of his destination, confused as he had been by the intricacies of the bush. Determining to profit by this lesson, he led the way at a rapid pace to his old encampment, having previously relieved the girl from her bayonet for fear of accidents, and having invited her by signs to accompany him.

The native now, in her turn, followed her conductor with great willingness; a circumstance which rather surprised the Major, as it betokened a confidence which he had been given to understand was altogether contrary to the disposition and the habits of the aborigines; but the reason was afterwards explained when

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she had been taught sufficient words in the English language to enable her to express her meaning.

The Major now thought that he might do an acceptable service to the colony and to the government by taming the wild creature which had thus been placed in his power, and who seemed well contented to abide with him and to receive his commands.

He determined therefore to make the attempt, not a little pleased to have the opportunity of studying closely a specimen of the singular people who inhabited a country unlike any other part of the known world.

With this view, he made up his mind at once to send her on board the brig, and to place her under the care of his daughter Louisa, to whom she might be taught perhaps to perform the part of a female attendant.

He immediately made the signal to the brig which had been agreed on, by lighting three fires on the beach at particular distances; and the distant sound of oars on the water soon proclaimed that his signal had been understood and

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attended to. The mate was not in the boat, and the Major immediately despatched it back for clothes of some sort for their visitor; not liking, although it was night, that his new acquaintance should make her appearance in her present unsophisticated condition before his daughter.

The boat returned promptly; and the Major, with much delicacy, showed the young lady how to put on a pair of sailor's trousers, which he tied on with a bit of rope yarn round her middle. Over this was placed a petticoat to give her a proper feminine appearance; and a faded light blue spencer, which hooked on behind, “put her bows in decent trim,” as a sailor expressed it.

Her head was left bare, and shoes and stockings were dispensed with; and thus elegantly dressed, the young lady was politely assisted into the boat by the sailors, where she squatted down on her hams, preserving an extraordinarily grave countenance all the time, the poor creature being in truth utterly lost in astonishment as to what had been done and what was to happen next. Thus freighted, with the addition

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of the Major and the two soldiers, the boat was rapidly rowed to the vessel.

The affectionate Louisa was overjoyed to see her father again; a delight, however, which was presently damped by the thought of his ill success in search after her sister Helen, and by his informing her that it was his intention to recommence his journey at the dawn of day. With respect to the novel sort of lady's maid which her father had brought for her, she felt a little repugnance at first to allow the black girl to remain in close proximity to her person.

But that feeling presently wore off, and she soon ceased to regard the colour of her skin; while the gentle aspect of the kind-hearted Louisa and the soft and silvery tones of her voice so won on the simple heart of the native, who was not long in learning that the beautiful creature, who she at first supposed had come from the skies, was of the same sex as herself, that she threw herself on the floor of the cabin, uttering sounds which were unintelligible; and then raising her head, laughed, and addressed

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to Louisa some words which, although spoken in an unknown and barbarous tongue, were evidently meant for the expression of her gratitude, and obedience, and devotion.

The personal appearance of the native was so grotesque, that Louisa could not forbear some little laughter at the incongruous nature of her habiliments. Her laughter seemed to please the girl. She coiled herself up at Louisa's feet, and although her wild bright eyes glanced rapidly at every motion or sound that occurred, she seemed quite resigned, and pleased with her new position.

Louisa made attempts to talk with her, but that was impossible. She tried to find out the name of her new acquaintance, but it was some time before the native could be brought to comprehend what she wanted. At last, by frequently repeating her own name and pointing to herself, she made the girl understand her meaning. The native repeated the name of, “Louisa,” with a readiness and correctness which was quite startling: and then pointing to herself, said, “Oionoo.”

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“Oionoo,” repeated Louisa.

The young native girl, at the sound of her own name thus pronounced, showed the most extravagant signs of joy. She again threw herself on the ground before Louisa, and kissed her feet, while great tears ran from her bright fierce eyes down her black face, and she seemed convulsed with the most violent emotion.

The Major regarded this scene with extreme surprise, and his daughter was much affected by it. They could not conjecture the reason of the violent emotion of the black girl; and they were not aware that she was in fact the last of her tribe, and had escaped, when she was encountered by the Major, from those who were about to put her to a cruel death.

How amply the kindness which was bestowed by the fair and gentle Louisa on the forlorn native girl was afterwards repaid by services the most important, will be seen in the sequel of this narration.