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Chapter XIII. A Bush Supper.

THE corporal was not a man to lose his presence of mind at a faint. He had seen too much service, and had been in too many fights to be scared at the sight of a dying man. But he could not refrain from giving utterance to his indignation at his officer being wounded—and slain it might be—by “those black rascals,” he muttered, “and with such tools as these,” as he contemptuously kicked a spear on one side with his foot.

“Such murdering wretches,” said he, as he shook his musket towards the spot where the retreating natives had disappeared among the

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bushes, “don't deserve quarter. And now I suppose they are going to make a feast of that poor young lady!—a delicate morsel she will be for them—the blackguard cannibals!”

It was well that Trevor's condition did not allow him to hear the last exclamation of the angry corporal, who, promptly fetching some water in his cap from the adjacent stream, threw it over his officer's face. Then observing that the blood flowed most from one particular spot under his right shoulder, he opened Trevor's coat, and applying a suitable bandage, soon had the satisfaction to see that the flowing of the blood ceased. He fetched another capful of water from the stream, and dashed it plentifully over Trevor's face, and wishing mentally that he had ever so little a drop of brandy, he endeavoured to pour some water down his throat. Trevor seemed to revive at this, and the corporal continued his attempts, till at last, to his great joy, he saw his officer open his eyes.

He urged him to take a good drink. Trevor drank some of the water, which refreshed him; for he was faint as well from want of food and

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drink as from loss of blood. Presently he was able to stand up; and although weak and tottering, he insisted on proceeding into the thicket in search of Helen.

The corporal endeavoured to dissuade him from so rash a proceeding, and offered to go alone; but to this the ensign would not consent, urging that he was strong enough to pull a trigger, and as his double barrel had been reloaded by the corporal, they could fire three times without loading, if there should be occasion for more fighting.

Leaning on the corporal's arm, therefore, he made his way into the thicket, behind which Brandon had been hidden, and from which had proceeded the shriek which Trevor did not doubt had been wrung from Helen in her double fear of the bushrangers and the natives.

But when they arrived at the spot they could see nothing of her, for whom alone Trevor was at that moment solicitous. There were several bodies of the natives lying about, and the marks of much trampling on the grass:—but no living thing was to be seen.

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The corporal having cast his eye about for a convenient object, supported the ensign to the foot of a dense thicket at no great distance, and requesting him to sit up and lean against the matted branches, so that he might be protected from a sudden attack from behind, offered, “with his permission,” to make a survey round about to endeavour to discover some trace of the young lady.

To this the ensign assented; and the corporal immediately proceeded to make rapid circles around, keeping a sharp eye on every bush which might conceal an enemy; but without success. He continued his search for some time, and even penetrated for some distance into the wood beyond;—but he could see nothing of Miss Horton nor of the natives: they had disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and he feared that they had taken the young lady away to make a feast of her; a suspicion which he communicated freely to Trevor on his return, with many supplemental embellishments of that horrible surmise.

Trevor could only reply by a faint groan of

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anguish. He attempted to rise, but was unable from weakness.

The corporal again made a diligent investigation of every square yard of ground, as well as the dusk which was now coming on would allow him, on the spot where the fight had begun. But he could find no trace of the poor girl, living or dead; nor of the other prisoner—the gentleman—Mr. Silliman—whose body was no where to be found.

The corporal, having made his report to the ensign, requested his “further orders;” and receiving his request to do as well as he could under the circumstances—for Trevor was too weak to walk—he immediately set himself about making such preparations for passing the night as the place afforded.

He gathered some of the soft and flowering branches of a Mimosa tree which stood close by, and made of them a tolerably soft bed; and by cutting some stout stakes with his clasp knife from a grove of straight-stemmed shrubs which grew by the margin of the water, he contrived to prop up other boughs which

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he gathered, so as to make a tolerable bush hut for Trevor, and sufficient at that season of the year to shelter him from the weather.

Having accomplished this to his satisfaction, he began to resolve the serious question of “how the garrison was to be victualled?”

There was drink enough, for the stream of fresh and sparkling water at hand ran close by, and the corporal knew very well that so long as a soldier can get a good drink of clear water, although he might grumble a little for want of spirits, he could not come to any great harm; but food was indispensable. While the old soldier was “rummaging his head,” as he expressed it, for remembrances of expedients under a similar difficulty in his various campaigns, and regretting the non-existence of villages and farm-houses in those desolate regions, he beheld to his infinite delight an immense kangaroo hopping leisurely towards the water on the other side of the stream.

The animal advanced at a slow pace; some times hopping and sometimes moving on all-fours, as he was enticed to stop on his way by

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some patch of sweet grass which particularly tempted him. Now and then the animal raised himself up to his full height, as he rested on the inferior joints of his hind legs, with his long tail serving as a part of his triangular support behind; and then the corporal guessed that he stood at least six feet high, and his heart leaped within him as he surveyed the magnificent piece of game, for he had made up his mind that “on that kangaroo he and his officer should sup that night.”

The kangaroo hopped on straight to the water; and putting down his head, prepared to drink; but suddenly raising it up again, snuffed the air, and looked fearfully about.

So exquisitely delibrat are the senses of those timid animals, that the noise made by the corporal in the cocking of his musket, and the separating of the bushes on the other side of the stream, which was not more than a dozen yards across, alarmed the creature, and it was about to take to flight; but at that critical moment the report of the corporal's musket rang in the air and the poor kangaroo, making a

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mighty spring from the ground, fell dead; for the ball had passed through its small and deer-like head, and life was gone in an instant.

The sound of the corporal's piece put Trevor on the alert, and he looked anxiously about for the new enemy which the alarm betokened. He was not a little relieved when he saw his faithful subaltern staggering under the load of the hind-quarters of a kangaroo on his shoulders which he held there by the hind-legs, and which seemed as much as he could carry, while the ponderous tail of the animal hung down the corporal's back behind, and bumped him as he walked along, keeping time, as it were, with the corporal's movements.

“There,” said the corporal, as he cast his burthen heavily on the ground; “there's supper for us, at any rate;—and now, to cook it!”

The old campaigner was not long in lighting a fire with the dead brushwood which lay about; and while the embers were burning clear he occupied himself in cutting some tender steaks, artistically, from the loins, the most delicate

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part of the animal, and which he had taken care to include in the portion of the carcass which he had brought with him.

He then looked about for two convenient stakes, two feet and a half long, with a fork at the end of each, which he laid on the ground ready for use. He had taken out the kidneys and liver of the animal; the latter of which he placed to bake in a convenient receptacle of hot ashes; as the liver of the kangaroo, from its extreme dryness, is used by the old traveller in the bush as a substitute for bread to eat with the other part of the flesh.

From the kidneys, which is the only part of the animal on which, except in very rare cases, any grease is to be found, for the kangaroo is almost all lean and sinew, the corporal carefully separated all the fat he could find. Then taking his iron ramrod,—first carefully ramming down a cartridge, having previously primed, into the barrel of his musket, he slipped it through the pieces of flesh and fat which he had cut, after the manner of more ancient heroes—taking a layer of flesh and a layer of fat alternately.

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Matters being thus in progress, and the corporal in a state of considerable excitement, he scraped away with a stake as much of the burning wood as he did not want for his cooking, and reserved the clear glowing embers of the hot charcoal for his kitchen fire. Then driving in his short stakes, one on each side of the live coals, with their forked ends uppermost, he laid his ramrod, which performed the part of a spit, on the upright supports, the two ends resting on the two forks, with the fire in the middle. This being arranged, he set himself to turn his ramrod round and round with great assiduity, so that the pieces of flesh might be equally roasted. He kept his eye also on the liver, which was baking, as he declared, “beautifully.”

A sudden thought, however, striking him, he took the liberty to ask the ensign if he felt himself strong enough to turn the ramrod while he manufactured some plates, and procured some water, to which Trevor cheerfully assented.

The corporal then cast his eyes about, and spying a tree, which seemed to his mind, about a hundred yards to the left, and not far from

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the water, he proceeded to the spot, and cut through the bark with his knife, though not without much difficulty, and peeled a long strip, which he broke into two pieces—one for a plate for his officer, and the other for himself.

Thus provided, and with his cap full of water for their drink, he returned to the fire, and finding the meat cooked, he slid off a couple of slices, which he presented to the ensign on his bark-plate, waiting, with much deference, for his officer to finish his meal before he began his own.

“Eat, my good fellow,” said Trevor: “this is neither a time nor place for ceremony; we are comrades now.”

The corporal swung his open hand up to his forehead, but missing the peak of his military cap, was baulked in the military obeisance which he intended; perhaps he would have completed his salute by touching the peak of the cap as it stood on the grass like a jug full of water, for habit is strong,—but at this moment a gentle air from the north-west wafted the fragrance of the crisped venison to the corporal's nose! It was too

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much! military etiquette is strong, but nature is stronger still! The corporal's bowels yearned for the meat, and, without further ceremony, he plumped himself down by the fire; and as he stuffed himself with the exquisite morsels his appetite did really seem to grow on what it fed on, and he declared, with moistened eyes and greasy chops, that never, no—never, had he feasted on such delicious prog before!

The ensign, albeit that his heart was sorely troubled at the uncertain fate of Helen, acquiesced by a nod in the eulogium of the corporal.

“And to think,”—said the corporal, sympathisingly, as he took in another huge mouthful of the dainty viand,—“to think that, at this moment perhaps—those black savages are doing just the same as we are doing with this kangaroo,” he continued, speaking with difficulty through the mass of meat which he was discussing,—“just the same with that poor young lady!”

Trevor dropped his meat and his bark-plate at this horrid and most ill-timed suggestion, and made an effort to rise; but he was too weak,

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and his wounds had begun to stiffen: he sank down again, and putting his hands before his face he groaned aloud.

The poor corporal, excessively abashed at the effect of his remark, which he had intended as amusing conversation wherewith to enliven the repast, suspended his diligent mastication, and pondered for a few moments within himself. Not knowing what else to do, he proffered his capful of water to his officer, who declined it courteously.

Having refreshed himself, and invigorated his appetite by a copious draught of the pure element, the corporal finished his meal in silence; and, having eaten up all the meat from the ramrod, which he carefully wiped and returned to its proper place, he proceeded to attack the liver, which he devoured leisurely, amusing himself with it to pass away the time. But, thinking that the ensign showed signs of drowsiness, he assisted him to his bed of leaves and blossoms, and covered him with boughs so as to guard him from the night air as well as possible.

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Having attended to this duty, and having so arranged the fire that it should communicate its warmth to his sleeping officer without danger of its blaze reaching the temporary habitation, the corporal dissected from the hind quarter of the game one of the legs, which he arranged to cook gradually near the fire on three small stones, which he set under the meat to keep it in a convenient position. This he did in order to provide refreshment ready for the next morning.

The dirty condition of his firelock after the work of the day now grieved him sorely; but he did not think it safe to attempt the cleaning of the inside, as he might want to dispose of its contents on the sudden against an enemy; and he considered also that the discharge of his piece, besides disturbing his officer, involved the waste of another cartridge. He remedied the evil, however, as well as he could so far as the outside went, and fixed his bayonet as an additional means of defence against surprise, although he trusted more to the butt-end of it as a cudgel in an affray, than to its point as a scientific weapon.

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Thus prepared, he mounted guard over his officer's quarters, pacing up and down regularly, after the manner of sentinels, and resting occasionally in a standing posture, with his hands reposing on the muzzle of his firelock. After an hour or two of this watching, the poor fellow found himself so overpowered by fatigue that he was obliged from mere exhaustion to sit down on the ground; but he kept diligent watch on all sides, nevertheless.

He sat gazing at the fire, and listening to catch the slightest sound; but all was still, and the vast bush seemed buried in universal repose. The stars above his head, and the moon which gradually rose, shed their quiet light over the tranquil scene; but there was no stir of any living thing. The corporal gazed at the sky, and the kangaroo's leg which was roasting, alternately. He looked at the fire, and thought of his night bivouacs in former campaigns, and of his old comrades whom disease or the shot of the enemy had long since sent to their last homes. At last his eyes began to blink—and wink—at the fire;

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—and the light of the moon—and the twinkling of the stars—faded from his sight;—he thought he was still awake—but even as he determined not … to give way … to the drowsy … oppression … which … mastered him … his eyes closed — and the wearied soldier slept.