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Chapter VI. A Native Chief.

DESCENDING a gentle declivity for about two hundred yards, they were led by the old lady who acted as mistress of the ceremonies, into the bosom of the valley, which was bordered by dense forests of the stringy-bark tree, whose tall and leafless stems had a naked and gloomy appearance. In the centre of the valley ran a small rivulet on the borders of which on either side, Helen perceived groups of natives.

As she approached nearer, she observed that one of them was sitting on the log of a tree apart from the others who were standing or


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lying about near the fires which were burning in all directions. Presently, she was able to distinguish that the native on the log was an old man; apparently very old; and it struck her immediately, although she could not tell why, that the other natives demeaned themselves with a sort of deference to the aged black man; although there was no sign of royalty or chieftainship about him, and the only robe of royalty he wore was, like the other natives, the garb of nature.

Helen remembered to have read something of the “natural dignity of man,” and of “beauty when unadorned being adorned the most,” &c. She was decidedly of opinion, however, that the natural dignity of man would have been assisted on the present occasion by that article of dress which, among ladies of white complexions, can never be more than distantly alluded to; and the same remark was applicable to the countrymen or subjects of his black Majesty. As to the female part of his court, Helen could not but wish that their beauties


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had been adorned by some sort of covering of ever so little dimensions.

But the old lady who was conducting her and her companion to the presence of the great man did not seem to be at all aware that anything was wanting to the impressive nature of the reception. There was the sky and the sun above, and the earth and its waters beneath, and kangaroos, and opossums, and gum for food; and what was there to want more?—The old lady, after all, was somewhat of a philosopher; but she carried out her philosophical notions of the fewness of the natural wants rather to the extreme! Poor Helen felt the present practical illustration of it most painfully. But there was no retreat! She was in the power of the natives, and she was constrained to abide by their will.

Mr. Silliman suffered also exceedingly, but it was from a different cause; not that he was unfeeling or indifferent to the extreme awkwardness of Miss Horton and himself being the only persons dressed at this sable party;—his


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thoughts ran on being “dressed” in another way; for he feared that this might be the chief or conjuror, for the especial gratification of whose appetite he had been reserved. It was with a shudder, therefore, of natural apprehension that he observed, whatever else of strength or beauty that important personage had lost, that the old gentleman had preserved his grinders, which were decidedly carnivorous!—His mouth, also, was of most formidable dimensions:—

The great man opened it deliberately, and said something to the old woman.

The old woman replied sententiously; and then pointing to the old man she said to his compulsory visitors:—

“Walloo-wombee!”

“What does she mean?” asked Jerry, of Helen.

“She means, doubtless, that the name of that old man is the word she has pronounced;—and as he seems to be the chief of the tribe, it will be prudent for us to please him.”




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“He is a most particularly ugly old rascal,” replied Jerry. “Did you ever see such grinders!”

“Hush!” said Helen; “he is going to speak again.”

The natives, men, women, and children, now gathered round, and looked on in silence.

In reply to some questions put from the log, the old lady, it seemed, explained to the “chief” the difference of the sexes of Helen and Jeremiah, for she pointed to Helen and then to a woman of her own tribe, and then to Jerry and to a male native. The old gentleman expressed a lively curiosity at this, and beckoned to Helen to come near to him. Taking hold of part of her dress with his black paw, he examined it with much wonder: he had never seen anything resembling it before. He directed the white woman, by signs, to take it off. His mistress of the ceremonies was about to render her aid unasked in this interresting operation, the issue of which was


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evidently waited for by the assembled natives with much interest.

Poor Helen was much embarrassed. She had a particular objection to being stripped, especially in the presence of such a numerous assemblage; but she feared also to offend the chief. In this dilemma, gently resisting the old lady's officious readiness to act as lady's maid, she pointed to Jerry; wishing to direct attention to his attire; and hoping that some lucky accident would prevent the necessity of her parting with her own. As soon as her desire was understood, it was at once assented to by the chief, who was wondering what the bundles borne by the white man contained. Jerry therefore was invited by very significant gestures to unpack himself. Helen, rejoicing at this diversion, assisted him with alacrity.

The first thing that attracted the chief's attention was the axe of which he had received information from the natives who had preceded the prisoners, and which he forthwith tried, but with a very feeble hand, on the log which served


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him for his throne of audience. It might be difficult to say whether he entertained the same opinion of a throne as a great contemporary who expressed a memorable opinion on that subject, but, at any rate, he treated it with as little ceremony.

Being satisfied with the qualities of the tool, he quietly dropped it on the ground behind him, as a perquisite to be appropriated to himself. He then pointed to the tea-kettle, the shape of which filled him with much curiosity. He turned it over and over, wondering perhaps of what sort of bark or wood it was made, and enquired the use of it?

The old lady, who acted as interpreter, immediately entered into an animated description of the boiling of the water; but as he could not comprehend the matter that way, he directed that the white people should proceed to explain its uses by practical illustration.

Jerry made some tea in it accordingly, and sweetened it with the white sugar, a substance which the old gentleman examined with


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particular curiosity. Observing that the white man put a bit of it into his mouth, the chief did the same, and seemed exceedingly gratified at its sweet taste; which was not altogether new to him, however, as the juice which exudes and crystallizes on a certain tree in Van Diemen's Land, similar to the sweet maple, abundant in many parts of the United States of America, has a sweet taste, though sickly to a stranger, of which the natives are very fond.

Approving of the sugar as he had done of the axe, he intimated that the whole of it should be shown to him, which he seized on as a royal prize, and deposited it on the ground behind the throne.—The tea-kettle he paid little regard to.

Animated by the discoveries he had already made, of the white man's treasures, he expressed his desire, by very intelligible signs, that Jerry should proceed with his revelations.

Accordingly that obsequious individual produced


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a stone bottle of rum, which the old gentleman smelt at, and put away with evident dislike.

A tinder-box was then displayed, which puzzled the great man exceedingly; but when Jerry struck sparks with the flint and steel, and ignited the tinder, the admiration of all present was violent in the extreme! It was immediately taken possession of by his Majesty for the use of the State.—Three pannikins also, which formed part of Jerry's stores, were placed in the royal treasury.

They now came to Grough's knapsack, which Jerry, hitherto, had not had the opportunity of opening, and which that most unamiable person had added to his prisoner's load, with so little humanity, on the morning of the late Mr. Swindell's sudden decease.

The weightiest part of its contents was a huge bottle of brandy, which the chief rejected with the same antipathy as he had put aside the rum. Jerry next pulled out a handkerchief containing dollars, which the natives did not


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understand the value of; they were given to the children to play with.

Jerry then fished out of the knapsack a woollen bag secured by a string. He opened it, and, to his extreme delight, found a small pair of pocket pistols, with a flask full of powder, a couple of dozen balls, with spare flints and apparatus complete. It had formed part of the Major's personals, and had been secured by Mr. Grough for himself, at the time of the general plunder.

Helen was so rejoiced at the sight of the familiar weapons that she could not refrain from a loud exclamation of gladness! for she felt that she now had, at her command, the means of defending herself from outrage, and perhaps of intimidating the savages.

The pistols were of exquisite make; and their quality was proved by their having preserved their primings so long a time, for to Helen's still greater satisfaction, they were loaded.—As a soldier's daughter, and a girl of spirit as she was, she was neither unacquainted with


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the use of such weapons, nor timid in availing herself of their protection. She took possession of them, therefore, as her legitimate right, and suspended the bag to her girdle, explaining in a few words to Mr. Silliman the part which she intended to act.

The old chief and the other natives observed her proceedings with much interest, and the old woman put out her hand to take the pistols from her for the purpose of presenting them to the chief. But Helen shook her head and pointed to the sky.

All the natives looked up at the sky; but as they saw nothing more than they had seen every day, they all looked down again and directed their eyes to the curious things in the hands of the white woman. The old lady again made an attempt to possess herself of the pistols, but Helen pushed back her hands. The chief, who it seemed was not exempt from the general infirmity of royalty, now became impatient, and said some words in an angry tone, which excited his savage subjects,


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and his female prime minister advanced again.

But Helen, determined not to relinquish her protectors, thought that, by an exhibition of the power of the tiny fire-arms, she might succeed in overawing the natives so as to cause them to desist from their hostile intentions of wresting them from her by force. She again made a sign, therefore, for the natives to look up to the sky, wishing them to understand that the things which she held in her hand had some connection with the mysterious powers of the heavens; and while they were thus earnestly engaged, she discharged one of the pistols in the air, which, from its propinquity to their ears, produced an astounding report!

The effect of this unexpected “thunder” on the old chief was sudden and striking. Most of the other natives had heard the sound of the white man's thunder, and had witnessed its deadly effects; but the chief, from his extreme distance from any settlement, and from his great age, which had incapacitated him for some


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years past from joining his tribe in their customary migrations, never having experienced such a shock on his auditory nerves before, fell back with affright, and tumbled head over heels from his log, to the infinite consternation of the spectators!

They all rushed towards him, which afforded to Helen the opportunity to recharge her weapon, which was expedited by the attentive Mr. Silliman.

The old man was lifted from the ground, and, happily for the prisoners, it was ascertained that he was more frightened than hurt, or the consequences might have been fatal to the thunder-makers on the spot. As it was, they were taken hold of by some of the natives, who bound Jerry with his own whale-line, and placed him on the ground apart near a huge fire, which he had much the same satisfaction in contemplating as it might be supposed, a sirloin of beef would have if endowed with animation in the same position waiting to be roasted. Poor Jerry thought, to be sure, that his last hour was come! and


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whether the whole world was ultimately to be consumed by fire or not, that certainly he, as a fractional portion of living matter, was destined individually to experience that most disagreeable mode of corporeal annihilation!

But the effect on the chief, when he had sufficiently recovered his faculties to comprehend the cause of his sudden summerset from his log, was most impressive and profound; and he was seized with the idea that the white people had really come from the sky, and that they had the power to wield the thunder and lightning which often visited them from above!

He regarded Helen especially as a superior being, from the wonderful whiteness of her skin, and from the absence of all fear, which he did not fail to remark was one of her characteristic qualities.

As to Jerry, whose dress, the chief remarked, was different from that of Helen, he conjectured that he was some inferior inhabitant of the same sky, fulfilling the office of attendant or slave to her, the superior one; but who, still, was to be


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regarded with the respect due to a creature attached to the person of one to whom he was inclined to pay superstitious veneration.

It is likely that this fortunate reverence of the old chief saved both their lives. Jerry was ordered to be unbound; while Helen was treated with extraordinary respect, being invited to sit on the log occupied by his Majesty, and the whole of her goods borne by her slave were directed to be restored to her. But somehow, as Jerry remarked, they were subjected, with a curious similitude to more civilized courts, to so many deductions in the shape of perquisites by the way, that but little of the restituted property reached its legitimate destination.

Mr. Silliman, however, with much tact, took advantage of these favourable dispositions, and set the natives to work to build for Helen a commodious hut formed of stakes and the boughs of trees, contenting himself with one of an inferior description at a little distance; a distinction which confirmed the natives in their


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idea of his subordinate capacity. He observed, however, that he and Helen were closely and constantly watched so that escape seemed impossible; and to fight their way out from the boundaries of their confinement was an undertaking too rash to be attempted.

But not the slightest violence was offered to either of them; and excepting that they were not allowed to leave the valley, no restraint was placed on their motions. On the contrary, the old chief was particularly pleased to have the white woman constantly by his side; and as he became familiarized to the presence of “the inhabitant of the sky,” important state resolves took the place of his first fears of her preternatural powers.

But it is proper in this place, as the western tribe of natives occupies an important position in this narrative, to describe the person of their chief, not only for the sake of historical accuracy, but for the gratification also of the curious in such matters.

His Majesty “Walloo-wombee” had been


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originally very tall, and as straight as a stringybark tree, but now was much bent with the weight of years. What his physiognomy originally had been, it would have been difficult to conjecture; but his visage at the period to which this narrative refers, resembled that of a very old baboon. His body was thin and bony; his arms long and wiry; his legs like spindles with long narrow feet, having projecting excrescences like the claws of a Boomah “kangaroo.” His head, looking at it in front seemed small from the lowness and narrowness of his retreating forehead; but seen sideways, it looked large and of an oblong shape from the projecting bump behind. In this characteristic it resembled the skulls of all the natives, which are remarkably thick; a quality which enables them to bear the thumps of their waddies, in their frequent combats, with a disregard to feeling which surprises an European. The whole framework of the old man, though now attenuated and feeble, exhibited the remains of extraordinary strength and agility; and it was to those


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qualities, most likely, as is usual among savages, that he owed his elevation as chief of the tribe.

It must not be omitted, that on the occasion of the white people's reception, his grisly hair was profusely powdered with the dust of redochre, and that his body was smeared over, in rough devices, with the same material mixed with resinous gum to help its adhesion.

It would appear from this, that even in the most simple and the rudest state, there is an innate propensity in the animal man, to improve his personal appearance by the aid of art; for, doubtless, the care which had obviously been bestowed on the adonisation of the chief, was supposed to add a finish to the natural dignity of his person, calculated to strike an awe in the beholder.

Such was the high personage on whose nod—or on whose waddie—the fate of Helen now depended.

The old lady, who was the daughter of this engaging individual, looked almost as aged as


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her parent, though she was in truth, twenty years younger; and excepting her sex, and that her ugliness was infinitely more revolting in a woman than in a man, there was little difference between them. But as the hearts of the softer sex are proverbially more susceptible of the tender passion, than those of the male kind, it was she who first felt a flame for one of the prisoners.

The black Gorgon loved him as Desdemona loved Othello — that is, vice-versarily considered; but it must be confessed, that she had at first in her contemplation a different sort of passion—for she loved him because he was so fat! and as a familiar saying expresses it—although in the present case it had too literal an application—she loved him as if she could eat him!—a mode of exemplifying her partiality, which she had originally cherished with all the ardour of native ingenuousness!

But, as she could eat him—as she considered—at any time, her thoughts were gradually turned in another direction; and such is the


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force of mighty love! she, the daughter of a chief, resolved to raise him to the rank of her husband!

She had already, had three. Two had been killed in battle; the other she had killed herself. She would willingly have tried a fourth; but no one of the tribe could be cajoled into accepting that distinguished but dangerous place; for she was strong and tough exceedingly! and was as expert as any one of the males in throwing the spear and in handling the waddie; a dexterity which she had acquired by much experience, and by the constant exercise of that primitive argument on the skull of her deceased husband. These unattractive traits in her character, added to her indomitable fierceness on all occasions when her will was thwarted, caused her to have more fearers than admirers among the gentlemen of her acquaintance.

The advent of Jeremiah, therefore, was really a godsend for the old lady;—it seemed that he had dropped from the sky for her on purpose,


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—andit was not long before she contrived by various endearing attentions to make the object of her attachment sensible of her preference. But Jerry was as inexorable as a tiger!

Filled with despair, the daughter of the royal chief communicated her sorrow to her venerable papa, who having, himself, similar designs towards the white woman, was well-disposed to forward her inclinations.

The unhappy Helen, on her side, viewed the increasing partiality of the old savage with unspeakable horror, as it threatened a fate worse than death itself; so fatal, sometimes, to their objects are royal predilections!

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