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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVI.

Knowing how unsafe it would be for him to remain longer by himself in the hut, in view of further molestation from the blacks, whom he had now more reason to dread than ever, Burrel determined at once to seek protection at Macalister and Crawford's camp. He knew that from his solitary condition he was exposed to the dangers of a midnight attack from his page 185 enemies, who would now be incited by a desire for vengeance for the blood of their companion, who was still writhing on the ground, but whether mortally wounded or not, Burrel did not wait to ascertain, for, hastily loading his gun and sending his dog round his sheep, he drove them straight for the bushmen's camp, which he reached just about sundown. The men had just ceased from their work, and were washing themselves as Burrel arrived. On hearing Burrel's account of the manner in which he had been attacked by the blacks they became greatly excited.

“Depend upon it, lads,” said Crawford, “we are bound to be attacked by the blacks to-night, in revenge for the man that Burrel either killed or wounded. There wouldn't have been so much danger if Burrel had only managed to frighten them; but now that he has drawn blood, their fury will be roused, for they are very revengeful, and what their want of courage would prevent their doing, their desire of vengeance will incite them to attempt. Now, it is my opinion that they will try and sneak upon us here towards morning, when they think that we are asleep, so we had better sit up all night, and be ready to give them a warm reception if they do come. But, Jehosaphat ! we have only one gun among us, and no bullets ! As for the bullets, however, we can soon make a good substitute for them by chopping up some nails. That will do far more damage among them than a ball would, for that matter. But, lads ! what about the two other chaps, Lampiere and Charlie? They are bound to be murdered if they are left by themselves.”

“But what can we do now to help them? “asked Macalister.” They are more than four miles from here, and it will be dark in no time. It would be as much as any man's life is worth to venture out to give them the alarm, with these savages prowling round the place in all directions.”

“What do you say, then, to our going along there in a body? If we meet the darkies on the way we can fight them as well there as here.”

“Yes,” remarked Billy Stack, “that's plain enough, and we may be in time to save the lives of these two chaps yet, and if so, then by joining them there will be all the more of us to show face to the blacks if they do come near us.”

Crawford here made some rough comments about my carelessness in leaving so many men unprovided with firearms against the desperate emergency that was now imminent. “What the blazes could he have been thinking about?” he passionately asked,” or does he value the lives of men no more than if they were so many dogs, when he would leave only one double-barrelled gun amongst so many in a wild country like page 186 this is, teeming with blacks that have never seen a white man before? And he knew very well, too, that blacks were never to be trusted.”

This rebuke, indeed, seemed well merited; for it did appear an act of desperate rashness on my part, with the responsibility of making some provision for the protection of the lives of these men resting upon my shoulders, that the sudden contingency that was now menacing the lives of all should be found to be so utterly unprovided for.

I could, indeed, have retorted, had I been present, that, though so censorious after the event, yet he, too, had been as utterly unsuspicious before, and also that a gun would have been provided for any man who had expressed any feeling of fear in being left there without one; besides the fact that, though hitherto unacquainted by face with the whites, they could scarcely have been so by report. With these blacks, too, both numerically and physically so contemptible, our original idea that in our dealing with them the only precaution necessary was a judicious exercise of firmness and kindness, would have proved perfectly well founded, but for the wholly unlooked for contingency of the advent among them, and consequent demoralisation, of the Warego murderers. Yet, even so, attention on my part to the note of warning as to the treacherous propensities of the blacks, given as a decided maxim by Crawford in his account of these same Warego murders—viz.,” Black fellows are never to be trusted”—would have found me prepared.

But to return; in reply to Billy Slack's endorsement of Crawford's plan that all should go at once to Lampiere and Knight's hut, Burrel said, “It is my firm belief that the time is now past for being of any service to either Lampiere or Knight, and that what murdering the blacks may have intended doing there has now either been accomplished or attempted, and that Lampiere and Knight at the present moment are either dead men or skulking somewhere about in the bush. I have been thinking of it all as I came along here. It was from their direction that the blacks were coming when I observed them approaching me, and we know that neither of these chaps had anything with which to defend themselves against the blacks if they had attacked them; and even if poor Bill Lampiere had a gun, he would have been so utterly unsuspicious of them, that they would have knocked him on the head before he imagined that they had any evil intentions against him. He was not like me in that respect, for I am by nature apt to be suspicious, and am quick in reading men's faces. Charlie Knight, poor Self, would be quicker, but without a gun what could he do if he page 187 saw the blacks coming, except run? and if he did they would just run him down, unless he managed to dodge or baffle them, which God grant that he did; but I feel certain that it is no use to go over to that hut now.”

“Burrel is right,” replied Crawford, “I can see it now as plain as a pikestaff. The blacks have been intending to make a clean sweep as they went, and even if they had managed to kill Burrel they would have been upon us to-night, and if they had, every man Jack of us would have been knocked upon the head, for they would have sneaked upon us during our sleep; and you will find they will try and do that, as it is, to-night. And you know, boys, I told you before that Billy the Bull, and Tommy the Turk, who murdered the two whites on the Warego, were supposed to have made their escape down to this back country. Now, mark my word, you will find that these two wretches are among these blacks, and it is they who are putting this devilment into the heads of the others to kill the whites, as they seem bent upon doing. Now, as matters stand, we can do no better, as we have no time to fortify ourselves with logs, than to make them believe that we have no suspicion of their coming, but we will keep on our clothes, and hang a blanket inside in front of the tent door, to prevent the blacks from seeing our light, and be ready when we hear the dog growling. I will take the gun. I know these two black satans by sight, and if they are there I promise that one of them at least shall lose the number of his mess before morning. But now to supper boys, and have a good one whilst we are at it, for fear it should be our last on earth; but make your minds easy for a few hours yet, for the blacks never attack till near morning, when they expect people to be in their soundest sleep.”

These words of Crawford's seemed to all the best counsel that could be acted upon in their present emergency. It was now about dusk, and the bullocks were unyoked, otherwise they might have constructed a hasty fortification of logs, thereby preventing their being surrounded by the blacks in their attack.

The soundness of the advice to lull suspicion by an appearance of slumber was evident, whilst keeping on the alert for their secret approach, so as to enable Crawford to give them the benefit of at least one of the barrels of his gun with some certainty of aim, and then to stand to their arms of working tools and do what they could, if the blacks should still come on.

Accordingly, at the usual hour for retiring, the tent was darkened by a blanket, carefully hung in front of the slush lamp, so as to intercept any rays from its light that might page 188 have indicated its presence to the watchful eyes of prowling enemies, while all the men listened in silence for their first approach, Burrel keeping his dog beside him at the door of the tent, and occasionally inciting him to watchfulness by a whispered “Look out for them, Tweed”.

At length, after the suspense of a few hours, the wisdom of their precautions became patent from the dog's manner. At first sniffing the air, and growling suspiciously, he at length darted out into the scrub barking furiously. This action he several times repeated. At length the suspicions of the watchers as to the cause for this was confirmed to a certainty, for the dog, after one of these furious charges, was suddenly heard to make a howl, as if from the effect of a violent blow that caused him to retreat, yelping back to the tent. All the men were now ready for what was to come, Crawford in front, resting on one knee, with his gun held in readiness. The flap of the tent door was held also in readiness by one of the men, to be drawn aside the moment that the blacks made a rush. The night outside was clear and partly illumined by a waning moon that allowed objects to be easily distinguished for a few yards in front of the tent.

All at once Crawford whispered, “I see them, by _____, they are coming out of the scrub, crawling on all fours. Stand ready boys, I see a lot of them coming; pull the tent flaps aside, and drop the blanket from before the light. Jehosaphat! Billy the Bull!” As he uttered these words, Crawford instantaneously fired his piece. There was a scream of pain that testified that his shot had not been thrown away. Following this yell, there came another, but more defiant one, as the blacks all sprang to their feet and rushed towards the tent, when the report of Crawford's second barrel again rang out, but failed to check them. On the same instant the white men were fighting for their lives against an over-powering force of black fellows. One of these, a powerfully built man, seizing Crawford's gun, endeavoured to drag it out of his hand. “Strike, lads, strike, and keep together for God's sake,” shouted the latter while desperately endeavouring to free his weapon from the grasp of his assailant.

The white and black man seemed fairly matched in strength, but not in wit. Finding it imperative to immediately free himself from the struggle with the black from the fear that others might come to his assistance, and being unable to do so by sheer strength, Crawford suddenly released his grasp of the gun, and seized hold of the black fellow by the hair of his head and instantly dragged him to the ground, and almost within the tent, beyond which he had been carried in the struggle; page 189 then, placing his foot upon his neck, he seized hold of the gun, that his now almost paralysed antagonist at once quitted hold of. Instantly clubbing his gun, Crawford lifted it over his head with the intention of dashing out the brains of his prostrate foe, but with a writhe, a bound, and a side spring, the twisty black fellow was on his feet and bounded out of the tent, and into the scrub, all his companions instantly giving way too and fleeing after him.

“Come away out into the open, lads,” shouted Crawford on this fortunate issue of this desperate affair, “don't wait here; they may sling their spears at us from the scrub.”

As a matter of fact, however, though in his excitement Crawford had forgotten it, the natives of the Darling and its surrounding districts never throw their spears like those of other parts of Australia; but the advice at the time seemed too prudent to be disregarded, and was at once complied with by all retreating for some hundred yards out on to the clear ground, where, by Crawford's directions, they hastily gathered a heap of rubbish and set fire to it, so as to be enabled by the light of the flames to see if the blacks made any show of renewing the attack. But they made none.

Whatever blacks had been wounded had contrived to go off with their companions. For when, shortly afterwards, the white men were able to scan the scene of the late conflict by the light thrown by the fire they had kindled no signs of any body lying there could be seen. Yet that there had been some wounded was evident, for, besides the first shrill yell of pain that had followed immediately upon Crawford's shot, Macalister on the first onset of the blacks had been seen to fell one with a blow of his axe. The blow, indeed, had been partly broken and changed in its direction by the interposition of the black fellow's narrow shield, but that it had taken some effect on his woolly head was certain and borne witness to from the bloody condition of the edge of the tool. And there was blood also on the sheath-knives of both Burrel and Stack, who both fought with these weapons in their left hands whilst provided with a short stout stick to guard their heads against the clubs of their assailants.

With all the excitement consequent on this victory, it may be easily believed that the idea of slumber was but little thought of for the remainder of that night, though in fact there was by this time but little of the night left even if they now had desired to sleep. They did, however, after a while, when assured of the retreat of the blacks, return to their tent. This assurance they obtained by observing the cessation of the barking of the dog, that had been the first, by his keen scent, to admonish them of their danger.

page 190

On leaving Lampiere's, Lilly had come on their camp at about nine o'clock, and found them all in the act of setting out on a raid upon a camp about a mile from their own, where some blacks were, who, whether they had been connected with the misdemeanour of the others or not, had appeared all along to be of a most peaceable and friendly disposition.

Great was their satisfaction on Lilly's producing another double-barrelled gun, with ample ammunition for their requirements. And great was their sorrow, especially Burrel's, on hearing Lilly's sad verification of his too well founded fears as to the fate that had befallen his former hutmate, whose loss he could the more appreciate as that of one whose tastes had coincided with his own.

“Come along then, lads,” cried Crawford, whose blood was now up at Lilly's narrative. “We have plenty of weapons now; let us go over to that camp and shoot down man, woman and child: it will be the right way to strike a proper terror into these fiends”—a resolution which was at once vetoed by Lilly, who said, “Shoot the men, but curse the idea of shooting women and children”.

“What is there worse in shooting them than in killing young snakes? they may be harmless enough now, but the children will be just the same as their fathers when they grow up, their treachery is ingrained; and, as for the women, I reckon it is the only way of striking terror into the men to kill them. You do as you like, I intend to blaze away at whoever I come across.”

“No, Tom Crawford, you will do nothing of the sort; wait here till the boss comes, and until he does come I reckon I'm boss.”

“You're boss, are you?” Crawford replied excitedly; “then why weren't you here to boss us last night, when four men were fighting with their lives in their hands against twenty murderous savages?”

“I am here now, however,” replied the other, “and ready to fight as many murderous savages as you will, without blowing about it, and without playing the part of a coward in shooting helpless women and children either.”

“Look, Lilly,” replied Crawford, now in a fury, “I have faced singlehanded Warrugul blacks where few men would care to be seen even with help beside them, and I will not be dictated to by either you or any white man breathing as to what I am to do and what I am not to do with these blacks after the manner in which I and these chaps have had to fight for our lives against them, and I am now going over to that camp to do as I said I would do, and the man that interferes with me, ‘boss’ or no ‘boss’ I'll put a bullet into him whether I am a coward or not.”

page 191

“You will?” answered Lilly, his cheek whitening with gathering passion.

“Yes, I will,” replied Crawford, his eyes actually blazing.

“Well, blast you, let us see who can aim the straightest,” Lilly fiercely replied, springing from his horse and drawing his revolver.

“For God's sake, chaps,” cried Macalister in horror, “mind what you are doing; it will be downright murder if you shoot one another.”

The others seconded the speaker with their words of entreaty, but out of fear of their weapons refrained from going between the disputants.

For a moment Crawford looked resolutely at Lilly, as if on the point of at once accepting his challenge, but in Lilly's stern, concentrated gaze, he read the unyieldingness of a rock. Perhaps too, he might have thought, that, in the event of this encounter Lilly's wonted superiority in most things would not be to his own (Crawford's) advantage on the present occasion. A habit of bluster, even when supported by a foundation of natural courage, usually impels a man of this kind beyond the point he intended, and from which a calm undaunted opposition soon makes him retreat. This was the case with Crawford. For a moment, as I have said, he paused, and during this pause his better sense prevailed. “Lilly,” he said, dropping his gun stock that he had just before got ready for action, “you are game I know, but so am I game; and I know of no other man besides yourself to whom I would now have budged one step, but on the whole I believe you are the smartest man of the two.”

“Why, Tom Crawford,” said Lilly, readily softening at the other's concessions, “I know myself that you are as bold as a lion; but ask yourself what sort of manliness there is in shooting women and children. You will have plenty of men to shoot at before it is all over; and now you come along with me, for I swear that I will get on the tracks of the cursed gang that has killed that poor young fellow, and follow it till I can get at them, and then I'l shoot the men down like so many dingoes.”

“Well yes, Lilly, that is the best way; but in Queensland, where I have been, people have not been so particular as to what they shot, I can tell you. Many's the time I have been with squatters who have ordered us to shoot right and left, women, and children, just as we came across them,” replied Crawford, without the slightest sign of compunction at such a horrid confession.

“Well, Tom,” replied Lilly, gravely, “I don't pretend to have much religion about me, but I would sooner that you should have to answer for that work than I, in the next world.”

page 192

It was at this time that I rode in among them.

“No, no, that would never do,” I said hastily, on learning the cause of the dispute, that had ended so happily. “This is a bad business, men, and I am afraid I am to blame for leaving so few guns among you; but, as you are all aware, there had never been the slightest suspicion of any danger from these blacks before. It is useless however to talk about that now. We must try and find out in the first place what has become of Lampiere's body if dead; or, if he is alive, of which I fear now there is but slight hope, where he can be hiding; but as for killing the women and children, why, Crawford, I am surprised at you for thinking about it, if for nothing else, why, then, for fear of the danger you would bring your own neck into. Depend on it, if once a rumour of such a thing were to reach the police, you would be taken up and arraigned for murder; and as for the blacks at that particular camp, I will not hear of their being interfered with till I have clear proofs of their connection with this disturbance. They have been very friendly to us all along, and it is my opinion they have had nothing to do with it, for I have just come across the murderers and had a narrow escape myself, and there wasn't one among those whom I could recognise as having seen before.” I then gave them a detailed account of my encounter with the blacks on the scrub, and of shooting one of their number and my subsequent meeting with “Billy the Bull”.

“I'll bet my life, Mr. Farquharson,” said Crawford, when I concluded my narrative, “that that big black fellow you shot was Tommy the Turk, and if so the murders of that poor German and Captain Bruce are now avenged, from what you say of your certainty of Billy the Bull's death from the dose he got of my chopped-up nails. I am glad that I had something to do with paying up that score anyhow. And now chaps, that these two bloody scoundrels have been wiped out, you will find that this disturbance with the blacks will be at once properly quashed.”

I now listened to a detailed account of their proceedings from the men.

I then proposed that Lilly and I should have some breakfast, and give our horses a rest and feed of grass, as both were looking considerably the worse for their long and rapid journey. Burrel I also now directed to let his bleating sheep out of the yard, and with him sent Billy Stack with one of the guns in case of any further attack.

After we had eaten our breakfast and a couple of hours had been allowed to elapse for the sake of our horses, Lilly and I page 193 again mounted, and accompanied by Crawford and Macalister on foot, went on our way to the place, where from Knight's description I understood that Lampiere had been struck down, to see what could be there discovered of him dead or alive.

There we expected to be joined by Cabbagetree Jack and Snowball, the latter of whom would at once, through his native instinct and early training, enable us, if baffled, to follow the trail we were seeking.

As it happened, we were able to do this without Snowball's assistance.

On reaching the gate of the sheep-yard, a large, dark red stain on the ground, as if from recent blood, gave only too clear a proof of the tragedy that Knight had described.

But as we were gazing at these sorrowful evidences of poor Lampiere's fate, noticing too that all round about the ground was marked with black fellows' tracks, Lilly suddenly pointed to the footprints of a single black fellow, deeply marked, as if they had been made by some one who had been struggling under the weight of a heavy burden, and they went towards the other side of the yard that was bounded by the water-hole. On following these steps, we found, from the further evidences of blood, that the body had been laid down here and had been temporarily covered over with some brushwood lying there, that showed signs of having been removed from its original position, which was marked by the more tender appearance of the grass on which it had been lying.

Thence the foot tracks of the person who had brought the body there, and who had apparently again removed it, could be easily followed leading towards the end of the water-hole opposite to that on which the hut was situated. Then, crossing the water on the dry channel, they went on through the scrub and bush on the other side. The soil about the place being of a sandy nature admitted of our easily following such heavily weighted steps as we were now eagerly tracing.

We had proceeded thus for nearly a quarter of a mile, following these tracks with but little trouble as they led through the scrub, when with the sudden exclamation of “Look!” Crawford levelled his gun at a black fellow named Charlie, whom he had at that moment sighted coming towards us from a space of rather more open ground in front.

This Charlie, who had been with me at the lambing, tending the young lambs at Mulroy's Station, had come to me under a cloud, having been suspected of having enacted a treacherous part in an affair where a poor cook had been murdered in open daylight. by the blacks in a back block station further up country. On this station Charlie had been retained as a sort page 194 of a station hand, his duty being chiefly to run in the horses when any were required. The cook had been murdered in the absence of his employer in broad daylight, and in sight of the people at another station on the other side of the creek, that there formed a broad sheet of water, from which point the people vainly attempted to frighten off the murderers by firing their guns, but the distance was too great for them to have any effect. Charlie, from his position on the station, could, it was supposed, had he so chosen, have easily warned the cook of his impending danger, and this for some cause he had not done. Therefore, for thus having failed to warn the murdered man of his danger, the owner of the station, a ruthless and determined man, immediately on his return swore vengeance against Charlie's life, whilst he forth with began a war of extermination against all the tribe of blacks, shooting down without compunction men, women, and children. To escape a similar fate Charlie went for his life, and thus arrived at our place, when I took him at once into my service, in spite of this grave charge against him. I had particularly noticed that he was civil and attentive to his work, and, for a black fellow, rather intelligent. It was in view of the suspiciousness of his character from the above circumstance, which in Crawford's hasty judgment laid him open to the same suspicions on the present occasion, that the latter had now levelled his gun at him.

“Hold, hold!” I exclaimed, eagerly restraining his arm. “Let us see what he has to say for himself first.”

“Say be d——d. What do you think he would say?” replied Crawford roughly, at the same time impatiently shaking off my hand and readjusting his aim.

“What do you mean? Are you mad, sir, or do you think you are going to act as you like? Put down your gun, sir, and let me see what this black fellow has to say for himself before you attempt to lift it against him again,” I said, striking his weapon to one side at the same time. I spoke more sternly to him because of the black fellow's pitiful gesture of supplication at the sight of Crawford's pointed gun, for, falling on his knees and clasping his hands—an instinctive gesture of entreaty common to all humanity when supplicating for life—he was calling out earnestly “Bail, bail (no, no) fire”.

On my stern reproof, Crawford sullenly grounded his weapon, and I called out to the black fellow, “Charlie, you come here, me wanten you. Bail shoot 'em you now.” The poor black fellow, at once rising to his feet, obeyed my order, encouraged by my assurance of protection against Crawford, who still regarded him with a frowning and sulky countenance.

On his approach I observed that Charlie carried in his hand page 195 a cooleyman—to wit, a piece of bark stripped off a thick branch of a tree, with a sharp bend or knee to it, and used by the blacks as a vessel for holding water in.

“Which way white fellow you know?” said I, pointing to where Lampiere's hut was, to indicate of whom I was speaking.

Thereupon, to my intense relief, Charlie readily replied,

“Me know, black fellow no kill him—him there,” and he pointed in the direction he had just come from.

“What that you say, Charlie?” here Lilly eagerly broke in; “black fellow no kill 'em Bill, him all right?”

“Bail,” replied Charlie, shaking his head decisively in reply to Lilly's latter remark, “him big one sick, black fellow big one cut 'um cobra,” and Charlie signified, by drawing his hand over his head, that Lampiere had received a severe wound there.

“Thank God for His gracious mercy,” I ejaculated fervently. “Come along, Charlie, you show 'em me white fellow.”

Charlie hesitated, glancing at his empty cooleyman, and signifying by a nod of his head in the direction where he indicated that the wounded man was lying, that we should go there by ourselves, whilst he went on for some water.

“Don't let the treacherous dog out of your sight,” cried Crawford; “he is trying to work a dodge to get away from you; keep him in front of us till he shows us where Lampiere is, and if he is telling truth he can go for water afterwards, and if not, leave me to deal with him.”

Charlie appeared to quite comprehend both the nature of Crawford's speech and of his sentiments towards him. He said nothing, however, only instinctively keeping close to me. On my directing him to lead the way to where Lampiere was, he instantly complied by stepping confidently on in front of us, Crawford following, and keeping his eye steadily upon him in evident expectation of Charlie attempting to play us some trick, which he was as ready to prevent, by instantly shooting him down. However, all this caution happily proved to be needless. After walking for about ten minutes more, on our entrance into another thicket of scrub, Charlie turned round, and pointing with his finger, briefly remarked to me, “White fellow there,” and on looking eagerly in the direction in which Charlie had pointed, I joyfully shouted out, “Here he is, lads, sure enough; budgery (good) you Charlie”. We then all at once surrounded poor Lampiere, who was lying under a primitive structure of boughs, in the form of a black fellow's camp, and in a couch of leaves and broom. He was perfectly conscious, but very pale and weak, and faint from the loss of blood, caused by a scalp wound that appeared to be so dangerously page 196 deep, that it was indeed a marvel how he had survived it at all. His right arm, too, between the elbow and wrist, was also broken, as if he had instinctively interposed it between his head and the weapon that had fallen so heavily there, although its momentum had been doubtless considerably reduced by the action.

I now saw at once what had been Charlie's object with the cooleyman, and at once said to him, “You go along to the creek, Charlie, and fetch water now”. Charlie gave an involuntary glance at Crawford, but the latter on this proof of the groundlessness of his suspicions against the poor fellow, instantly replied to that distrustful glance, “Me no sulky, Charlie; me think 'em you b——y rogue, you budgery black fellow—you save white fellow's life”. Charlie thereupon immediately proceeded on his mission of charity, that Crawford's hasty weapon had very nearly fatally interrupted.

Lilly and Crawford now vied with one another in their attentions to the wounded man, by at once with their knives cutting timber into splints and binding up his broken arm.

Macalister, by my directions, then took my horse and rode to the camp for a blanket and some tools, a stretcher was soon got ready, and the wounded man borne tenderly along to the camp tent.