Ralph Rashleigh, by James Tucker

Chapter 31

As the tall ship, whose lofty prore

Shall never stem the billows more,

Deserted by her gallant band,

Amid the breakers lies astrand.

For nearly six months after his separation from the tribe with whom he had abode so long did Ralph Rashleigh pursue his course northward along the beach, only turning inland when the mouth of some wide river intervened, whose bank he then followed until it became narrow enough to cross it upon a catamaran or bark canoe, lodging at night under the cliffs, in caverns, or in the open air, as the weather dictated or as such conveniences were readily attained, and living chiefly upon fish caught by torchlight as the least troublesome mode of obtaining them, varied occasionally by a meal of cockles, oysters, limpets, or roots, if any such presented themselves.

He passed through many tribes of coast blacks, some of whose language he very imperfectly understood; but having assumed the character of a wandering carandjie, or doctor-priest, which his experience with his old black patron had sufficiently taught him how to sustain and to support by painted marks and other appliances on his person, he was never molested by any of the aborigines, who on the contrary always treated him with abundance of rude hospitality, suffering him to remain in their camps as long as he chose and to depart when he pleased, though they seldom failed to exert their utmost powers of persuasion to induce him to fix his abode among them altogether.

At length he reached the utmost north-eastern point of land on the coast of New Holland and just at the entrance of Torres straits. From the summit of a lofty mountain he could see many small islands, which he doubted not formed part of the Indian archipelago; and he fixed his longing eyes upon them as abodes of that civilization which he felt he was perhaps never more destined to enjoy. How ardently did he now wish for the assistance of some of his unfortunate boat companions, and reflected with bitter regret that if only Roberts had been spared, they might together have contrived some means of crossing the strait, which is not very wide in several places, though it is full of many intricate channels formed by adverse currents.

Rashleigh lay nearly the whole day upon this eminence, and only returned to the beach at nightfall, where he found the two gins, who were much alarmed at his absence. The next morning, having resumed their march, he was greatly surprised to see, at about a mile from the shore, the remains of a wrecked vessel which he had taken for a portion of the rocks on which she lay when he had been upon his elevated point of observation.

The tide was running out, the water was calm, but there was great danger from the sharks, that are very numerous in those seas, so that our adventurer feared to swim, and there was no wood at hand fit for making into a catamaran. But he explained to the gins his wish of reaching the wreck and dispatched them along the shore to look for any timbers that might have floated in, while he laid together all the fishing-lines they possessed into cordage, for the purpose of tying and securing the timbers of a raft.

After some delay, Tita, one of the gins, cooeed loudly to him from a considerable distance, making signs of surprise and lamentation. Rashleigh hastened to her side, and there he found one of the tops of the ill-fated vessel, with the remains of no less than four unfortunate persons lashed fast to it. They presented a most revolting sight, being in an advanced state of decomposition and washed by the salt waves ever and anon, that as they retired carried off portions of the flesh.

Nothing therefore could be done but to cut loose the fastenings that yet bound them to the frame they had so vainly put their trust in; and scraping a deep hole in the sand, the remains were thus inhumed together. But as Tita was turning over one of the corpses, the pocket of a pair of canvas trousers worn by the deceased gave way, and a considerable quantity of gold coin rolled on the beach, part of which went into the water. The gins were attracted by the glitter of these shining pieces of metal, and they collected all they could find before they would pay any attention to the requests of our exile, who wished to hasten with his sad task of performing the last offices of humanity to his unfortunate fellow-countrymen, and who looked upon money as being perfectly worthless to him in his present circumstances.

When this was performed they set to work, and with two strong booms that lay near, and the top, they quickly formed a raft of most respectable dimensions. Then, cutting out two rude paddles of some broken wood, Rashleigh gave one to each of the gins, reserving a long one for himself to steer with, and he thus put to sea with all his family, for the eight or nine curs that constantly followed either himself or the women would by no means be left behind on the present occasion, but leaped into the water and swam stoutly after them, until Ralph found they distracted the attention of Enee and Tita, who kept calling to and encouraging them, instead of plying their paddles, so that he at length told them to stop, and all the dogs were then placed on the catamaran, which, assisted by the ebbing tide, soon reached the wreck.

The ill-fated vessel appeared to have been of about five or six hundred tons burden. All her masts, her bulwarks and her forecastle had been totally carried away. In fact, not so much as a hen-coop had been left on her spar deck, which was clean swept by the violence of the gale, that also seemed to have nearly parted her in two a little abaft the main-chains. She lay canted, or leaning slightly, to one side in a sort of indentation upon the reef that upheld her as firmly as the stocks upon which she had been erected; and from her great height it appeared almost a hopeless task to think of getting on board of her, as the fury of the storm had torn away every particle of rope, so that no friendly end hung down, and the bowsprit being also swept off close to the head, neither bridle nor martingale remained that he could throw a rope over.

At length he bethought himself of a scheme. There was part of a stanchion left erect, belonging to the bulwark near the fore-chains, so, going under the lowermost side of the wreck, he took the cord he had made on shore, and fastening a stone to it that Enee used for a sinker to her fishing-line, he cast it over the stanchion after the manner of the lasso wielded by South American horsemen, hoping the stone might twist round the piece of wood and thus enable him to haul himself up by the cord. His attempts failed, and after repeating them until he was tired, he sat down in utter despair to try to invent some other plan.

Enee took up the rejected line, and laughing, said, “Me try now.”

Rashleigh only smiled; but the gin, coiling up the line in her left hand, swung the stone round her head two or three times, let it go with a peculiar jerk, and it was fast in an instant.

Our exile quickly ascended, and the only place that he could see open on the deck being the companion-way, he went down this into the principal cabin, where of course everything was in great confusion; but in one of the sleeping-berths he thought he heard a moaning sound, as of some human being in pain. He had some difficulty in opening the door which led to this apartment, but at length knocked out the panels with his tomahawk. Here upon a cot lay what he at first took to be merely a heap of clothing. He went over and then discovered it was in fact two females and a child, all three attenuated by famine and apparently dead.

In order to ascertain whether life had actually departed, Rashleigh gently turned over the nearest one to him. She feebly opened her eyes and emitted another of those piteous moans that had at first attracted our adventurer to the place. Yet, apparently exhausted as she was, a mother’s feelings prevailed over all others, for at the sight of the sooty-looking being that stood beside her, she shuddered convulsively and clasped the child more closely. There was something so exquisitely pathetic in the mutely imploring glance she gave our exile the next moment that quite melted him, and he burst into tears.

This was neither a time nor a place, however, for indulging in useless grief; so, after a moment’s thought, our adventurer returned to the main cabin, which he searched all over, and then went forward through an opening that he found in the bulkhead along the deck, which was empty, until he reached the sailors’ berths, where it was very dark, until by dint of hard labour he partly cut and partly broke up the hatchway. Here he soon found some wine and a keg of water, with which he returned, and picking up a whole tumbler that lay among a heap of rubbish in a corner, he mixed some wine, water and sugar together. Re-entering the sleeping-cabin where these poor creatures lay, he moistened the lips of each and soon had the gratification to find that all three lived. The child drank most eagerly and soon afterwards began to cry, “Mamma, Mamma, take black man away.”

The mother could only reply by a feeble embrace, but Rashleigh left their presence and returned to the main-deck, where he threw the end of a rope, which he took out of the sailors’ quarters, to his gins, bidding them make fast the raft to it and come on board. While they did this he anxiously gazed around to see what kind of weather seemed to promise for the night, as the day was now far advanced, and he wished to remain on board until morning, which would have been highly dangerous if it should come on to blow, as in that case the vessel must have gone to pieces at the furthest in four or five hours. Never had he before looked so anxiously at the horizon. But he could see nought that boded wind.

Being unwilling, however, in a matter of so much moment to rely solely upon his own judgment, as soon as Enee got upon the deck he asked what she thought the weather would be on the morrow. She looked round for an instant and replied, “Very hot day will be to-morrow.”

He then directed her to go below, and when Tita came up repeated his question. This gin took rather longer to scan the heavens; but at last she said, “That sun very saucy . . . Very much hot to-morrow;” which set Rashleigh’s mind at rest, for almost the smallest indications of a change in the weather are visible to these untutored children of nature, to whom the knowledge is in fact absolutely necessary, as they spend their whole lives in the open air.

Ralph now went once more below, where he found Enee examining all she saw with many an exclamation of wonder, and the child crying lustily for food. He set both the gins to work to make a fire in the cabin stove, which luckily was uninjured, and departed to discover some food if possible. After some research. he made shift to force his way into the hold, where among the cases, casks and hampers that formed the trifling cargo there was on board, a small place had been apparently formed as a kind of steward’s room. At least, from articles he found there fit for table and culinary purposes, that was the opinion our exile formed of the use of the little apartment, where, among other things, were some tins of preserved meat, fine biscuit, flour, sugar, etc., with some of which and a tea-kettle he returned to the cabin, where a good fire had been made by the gins out of the fragments of the broken door and articles of furniture that plentifully strewed the deck. The stove roared very much as the flames acquired power, and Enee and Tita were greatly afraid, as they thought the noise proceeded from something supernatural, until Rashleigh pointed out to them the smoke going astern out of a funnel pipe, to which he placed Enee’s ear, and bade her listen, telling her at the same time it was the pent-up smoke that made the noise. This seemed to remove their fear, and in a short time they willingly assisted in preparing a mess of weak soup with some biscuit broken up very small in it, which Rashleigh judged the most fitting food for the invalids, and of which they all very gratefully partook.

Our adventurer now resumed his researches, after having made a plentiful meal — the first in nearly five years — of European food, consisting of boiled salt beef, biscuit and tea, the only part of which that pleased Tita or Enee was biscuit soaked in tea, which they first saturated with sugar. Ralph next began to consider how he could get the rescued sufferers on shore, as it was plain they would not be able to help themselves in any way for some time, and every hour might be the last of the wreck. He at length determined on forming a large raft of all the hatches and gratings he could find, and of lowering the ladies with the child down to it in a cot, then to load it with anything he could get in the shape of provisions which it would contain and tow it to the shore.

All night himself and the gins worked at this. Fortunately they found a coil of coir rope of a small size, which made good lashings; and besides, it was moonlight. So after they had collected the whole of the movable articles they could find and placed them under the main hatchway, Enee lowered them down the vessel’s side to Rashleigh as fast as Tita handed them up to her. Our adventurer, placed on his own catamaran beneath the side of the wreck, received the materials as they came to him, selecting first the gratings which he intended for the lowest part of the new raft, and bound them as firmly together as possible by passing ropes between the bars over and under, across and athwart again, in every direction, until he had made a sort of floor about seven feet wide and more than twelve feet long. On this he bound another tier of gratings and lastly the hatches, with doors knocked off the cabins to make a level deck on the top of all. These last he secured by driving a nail or two here and there into them, Tita having found some nails and a hammer put up in a bag, where they had apparently been thrown after securing the hatches by their means in the storm.

It was just daylight when this undertaking was completed, and Rashleigh found, by throwing in some chips, that the tide was running out again; so he lay down to sleep for a while, after having attended to the wants of his invalid charges. When he awoke the sun was high in the heavens, and he began to fear he had slept too long; but on repeating his experiment, he was glad to perceive the tide was now set in strongly towards the shore. He therefore got a large cot on deck, lashed it fast to the only standing stanchion before referred to, and soon placed his rescued freight into it; for though he was obliged to carry the child and mother together, as they clung so closely one to the other that he could not have separated them without using force, yet both were scarcely so heavy as a good-sized infant.

Our adventurer eased them all down in the cot himself. They were received and placed on the raft by the gins, upon whom the feeble invalids appeared to gaze with much surprise. The fear of the child for their colour had apparently been overcome, probably because Rashleigh had fed it twice. A loading of useful articles having been soon made up, the gins took to their paddles and they all reached the shore in a very short time, near some beetling cliffs, selected by Ralph for that purpose from the prospect they afforded of shelter and concealment.

Having discovered a place where an impending rock formed a kind of roof, he disembarked the passengers by carrying the cot between himself and Tita. He then placed them beneath the shelter and transferred them to another more spacious resting-place, formed with sails which he had brought on shore with him. Lastly he put all his freight on the land and left it, together with the invalids, in charge of Enee, giving her directions as to supplying the latter with food, also how to make a signal in case any blacks should approach; although he deemed the last scarcely a possible contingency, as he had not seen the traces of any human footsteps for several days, nor were there any of the usual indications for miles along the coast that this part was frequented by any tribe whatever, which Rashleigh attributed to the nature of the surrounding soil, it being exceedingly dry and poor, without either swamps or dense thickets, which afford the most favourite food of the aborigines of Australia.

Rashleigh returned to the wreck and instituted a very strict search over it for articles that might be serviceable, in particular female apparel suitable to his charge, and provisions, of both which he found an ample supply. A desk placed in the main cabin contained a quantity of writing materials and a large sum in bills of exchange, both of which he also secured, far more for the sake of the former than of the latter. After these the only things he thought of any real value to them under their circumstances were some carpenters’ tools, fire-arms and ammunition.

The conveyance of these stores to the shore occupied Rashleigh and the gin Tita the whole of that day and a great part of the ensuing night, although they laboured unremittingly, as they observed indications of a storm. And they had not been upon the shore more than half an hour with their last freight before a tempest came on from the south-cast, accompanied with that low moaning sound which betokens the awakening of the mighty winds, that in a very short time covered the ocean with foam and gave great reason to our adventurer for heartfelt rejoicing at his singularly opportune arrival, because it now became evident that if his coming had been delayed but for thirty-six hours the wreck must have gone to pieces, and the poor sufferers been whelmed in the deep, even if they had survived any longer the assaults of famine, which had indeed obviously reduced them to the last gasp of existence when they were so fortunately relieved by Rashleigh.

Despite the roaring of the elemental war, our adventurer, who was quite worn out with fatigue, soon slept soundly, though not before he had satisfied himself by examination that their place of refuge was safe both from the waves and from the rain, which shortly began to fall in torrents. A sail hung up at the entrance secured them from the latter, even in case of a shift of wind, and the distance, not being less than 150 feet from high-water mark assured him they were out of reach of the former.

By daybreak next morning Rashleigh was on the beach. The rain and wind had both ceased, and all the surrounding country gratefully acknowledged the refreshing moisture. The ocean, however, presented the wildest scene of mountain billows our adventurer had ever witnessed. Around the reef that had proved so fatal to the ship, in particular, the wreaths of spray were foaming many yards up towards the sky. Ralph could not identify the exact spot on which the wreck had been, of which, however, he saw no vestige near the rocks where she had lain the day before; but many fragments that floated on the billows, and a few that strewed the shore, told too plainly what had been her fate.

For a week or more after this our exile occupied himself in forming a dwelling under the rock he had at first selected, which he resolved on retaining because he could find none superior in accommodation. Upon the one hand, it presented the double advantage of being open to the sea, so that they were enabled to see any passing vessel; while it was perfectly invisible, as well as inaccessible, from the shore, the only mode of approach being by a catamaran or boat, owing to projecting cliffs that stretched on either side, far into the sea.

As might have been expected, their habitation was both simple and rude, consisting only of the cave, along the exposed front of which our exile had set up stanchions picked up from the wreck. On these he had nailed boards derived from the same source. Thus he had formed a front and had contrived to afford air, light and entrance to the interior by fixing in it a door and four small sash windows, also procured from the cabins of the unfortunate vessel. For the floor of the interior they had the solid rock, which, if not very level, was at least very hard, and easily kept clean.

They had no lack of really necessary furniture, as all that had been in the cabins, with very slight exceptions, had either been brought by our exile or had washed on the beach after the wreck broke up. The domicile was divided, within, into three apartments, one of which, in the centre, comprising nearly as much space as both the others, contained the chief part of their stores, and was common to all parties. On either hand of this were the sleeping apartments, one appropriated to the invalids, the other to Rashleigh and the gins. Both the latter rooms were hung round with sails to cover the damp rocky sides of the cavern, and the partitions between the apartments were formed of the same articles.

In a few days the ladies recovered sufficiently to converse, and the first use they made of their organs of speech was to return the warmest thanks to their preserver. The child also was soon able to run about, and Rashleigh now learned with surprise that he was nearly seven years of age, though from his size the former scarcely thought it much more than as many months. Ralph also ascertained that the name of the ill-fated vessel had been the Tribune, which had brought out convicts from England, and was then bound in ballast for Calcutta, to which place these ladies were proceeding to join the husband of one of them, a Captain Marby, H.E.I.C.S. The other was her sister, and the little boy was the son of the Captain.

It appeared that a week or ten days (for the ladies had no means of telling exactly how long) before Rashleigh saw the wreck, the Tribune had struck very suddenly upon the reef. It was not blowing hard at the time, but both the females were confined to their cabin by sickness, and it appears the crew thought it too troublesome to make any effort for their safety, as the door could not easily be opened; and overpowered by alarm, the ladies heard them take to their boats, thus abandoning the wreck. The entrance to their sleeping apartment had become too firmly fixed when the ship struck for the unfortunate females to open it, and although driven frantic at the thought of the fate that awaited them, they exerted all their strength in ill-directed efforts; yet being without implements of any kind, the door defied all their attempts, which only exhausted their feeble frames, until at last they lay down to die in despair, where Rashleigh had so happily found them.

Many were the consultations held in the cave by the two ladies with Ralph as to the best mode of escaping from the inhospitable coast which formed their present retreat; but all ended in acquiescing with him that it was better for them to remain in the place of security they now occupied than to brave the labour and danger attending a journey of many hundred miles along the beach, exposed to the hostility or ill usage of the aborigines, from whom Rashleigh felt his assumed character of a carandjie or his personal strength might fail to prove a protection for so many women.

Their retreat being in the direct route pursued by vessels between Sydney and India, of which there were even then two or three at least passing annually, Rashleigh hoped it would riot be long before they might be relieved. And in order to attract the attention of any passing voyager he selected the point of a promontory that jutted out far into the sea, where he set up a post and hoisted upon it a Union Jack reversed. Beside this post he or the gins every morning made a fire, hoping the smoke might excite observation, when the flag would show it was Europeans in distress that had caused it.

The mode of living pursued by the secluded party was at once simple and rather abstemious, at least as regarded the provisions rescued from the wreck, because they desired to make the latter hold out as long as possible. The only food in which they indulged unsparingly was fish, of which the ocean presented them an inexhaustible supply. There was a small spring of fresh water that oozed out of a joint in a neighbouring cliff, which by frugality sufficed for their wants. And they discovered a wild sort of spinach that grew luxuriously in a spot near their beacon, which they usually boiled in salt water or with a piece of salt meat, when they proved very palatable vegetables where none better could be obtained.

It may be here observed that Rashleigh did not allow the ladies to imagine he was aught beside what he seemed, an aboriginal native of New Holland, and he accounted to them for his knowledge of the English tongue and the appliances of civilized life by stating that he had been brought up from infancy until his twentieth year in the family of an eminent officer of the colonial government at Sydney, but that death having deprived him of his white protector, he had, like many others of his countrymen and women similarly bred, returned to the erratic life of a savage, the independence of which he preferred to the labour and restraint of civilized society. Our exile had carefully cautioned the gins not to betray the secret of his colour; and he confidently relied upon their secrecy, because they not only were really attached to him, but they also feared him for a superstitious reason as well as for his superiority in strength and his knowledge of all the rude arts practised by the savages.

This superstition arose from an idea very prevalent among these simple beings that all the whites who have made their appearance in Australia are animated by the spirits of departed blacks, so that when any aborigine sees a white person for the first time he or she will give the latter a native name derived from a fancied resemblance to some deceased member of their own tribe. In conformity with this absurd notion the ancient carandjie, on adopting our adventurer, had bestowed upon him the name of Bealla, which referred in a very distant manner to a peculiarity in the walk of one of the old chief’s sons, who had fallen in battle with a hostile tribe many years before. This is the nearest approach they ever dare to make towards recalling the memory of the dead, and this is never done except in cases like the present. The blacks also believe that persons thus adopted by them still possess all the knowledge they had acquired of native usages, besides skill in the arts of civilization derived from the whites, the former having remained to them since their previous state of existence; and they therefore generally hold them in great awe as persons who from their double attainments are able to know even the motives of actions and all things both past and present.

Several months passed away in a very monotonous manner to the inhabitants of the rocky retreat on the coast, the ladies chiefly amusing themselves by teaching the gins Enee and Tita the manners of white females, which the others learned with great avidity and soon became exceedingly partial to such dress as came within their reach, though the natural predilection of the savage still betrayed itself in their love of gaudy colours and their repugnance to any covering upon the head or feet. Rashleigh occupied himself in providing fuel or fish, in cleaning and arranging his unused arms, or at night in teaching the gins to read.

One day, in the eighth month of their sojourn here, our exile had walked up the beacon hill which commanded the view over a wide expanse of land and sea. At a considerable distance towards the north he saw the smoke of several fires, which he knew at once could proceed from none but blacks encamped. He therefore resolved that he would reconnoitre them more closely, as it was of great consequence he should ascertain their dispositions and intentions, in case they might become aware of the occupancy of the cliff.

He therefore did not make any fire on the hill and pulled down both the post and flag, so that it might not excite observation. He then returned to the cave and intimated cautiously to the ladies that there was a tribe of his countrymen at some distance, whose motions it was necessary that he should go and observe. A very affecting scene now ensued; for the mother, fearing for the safety of her child as well as that of herself and sister, with many tears implored our exile that he would neither betray nor desert them. The younger lady and the little boy also added their tears and entreaties, nor was it for some time that the earnest assurances of our exile could pacify them.

At nightfall Ralph lay aside the sailor’s dress which he had constantly worn since the wreck, and resumed the old, character of a carandjie, the only things he retained of European make being a double-barrelled gun, some ammunition and a pair of pistols concealed in his opossum-skin belt. It was several miles to the camp and our adventurer did not reach it until nearly morning. By the number of fires the tribe appeared to be numerous, and according to custom the disguised white man went straight to the fire belonging to the chief. He was unmolested in passing through the camp by the dogs, who, if awoke by his stealthy, springy step, only snuffled about him and slunk off in silence. The chief lay asleep and alone; so Rashleigh made up the fire, filled a pipe with tobacco, sat down and smoked in silence for some time. At last the savage awoke, and seeing as he judged a strange carandjie sitting by the fire eating smoke, he sat up and a conversation ensued.

“Is my brother carandjie hungry, that he devours the wind of the fire?” enquired the stranger black.

“I devour the fire wind to make me wise but not to satisfy my hunger,” replied the mock magician.

“Is the tribe of my brother far away?” was the next question.

“My fathers dwelt many moons’ joumey nearer to the rain than this,” returned Rashleigh. “But I wander through the land at my pleasure.”

“Does my brother,” now asked the strange chief, “travel so far without a gin to wait upon him?”

“A wise man waits on himself,” replied the sham carandjie with great solemnity . . . “But,” added he more briskly, “all the gins of the weakest are mine.”

“True, it is just,” assented the black. “But is not my brother lonely for want of company?”

“I need no company but my own thoughts, and the spirits of wise men that are departed, but who hover around us everywhere, ready to come if anyone is bold enough to call them,” returned the disguised white man.

At this the recumbent chief arose, casting a fearful glance around him as he did so. Then, having procured a quantity of dry fuel that lay close at hand, he put it on the fire, and by the glare that sprung up he looked long and earnestly at his untimely visitor. Rashleigh during this investigation refilled his pipe very calmly, adding a few grains of gunpowder to the tobacco.

At length the stranger remarked in a kind of awe-stricken whisper, “’Tis very true, our fathers have told us: the spirits of the dead are everywhere, but none of our tribe ever thought it safe to call on them. Do these fearful visitants never try to injure the hardy warrior that seeks their company?

“Be certain, oh my brother,” replied Ralph, “that not every carandjie can control the tempers of the dead. He, however, who can speak to them with words of fire need never fear aught they can do!”

At the moment the gunpowder in his pipe blazed up and formed such a striking commentary upon his words that he at once perceived he had attained his object in exacting a high degree of respect from his new acquaintance.

At daylight the camp was in commotion, for the warriors thronged around the strange carandjie, eager to learn the news respecting the movements of the tribes along the coast. Rashleigh told them all he knew; but as he expected, this was fresh to them, for they had not learned aught of it. In fact, the coast tribes rarely have any communication.

A hunt was proposed, when our adventurer displayed the power of his weapons to great advantage before these savages, who had never seen any fire-arms used before; and amid the drunkenness of a great feast that ensued in honour of our adventurer’s visit, he made his exit from among them unobserved, having gained his end of making an impression upon them that in case of a collision he knew would be highly advantageous to him.

Having gone part of his way in the salt water so as effectually to prevent the blacks from tracking him, he reached the cavern unmolested. But after this, as he wished not to excite their observation, he abstained from lighting a fire or hoisting his flag on the beacon bill, contenting himself with keeping a sharp look-out all day upon the sea. In his absence he deputed Enee to do so in his room, having given her instructions what to do in case any vessel should heave in sight.

For many weeks the tribe of blacks remained near the spot where Rashleigh had at first seen them, and during this period our exile paid them repeated visits, always taking care, however, to leave them in a sudden and mysterious manner, so that they could never trace him; which, with other arts used for this purpose, induced the savages at length to look upon him as being a very great magician, who could make himself invisible at will.

One night our exile, oppressed by anxiety at the flight of time without any means being afforded of his leaving the place he was in, had wandered to the top of a neighbouring eminence, from which, on looking in that direction, he was greatly surprised to observe that the blacks were holding a night council, which is never done among these people except in cases of great emergency. Stopping only therefore to prepare himself for his assumed character of a carandjie, our adventurer hastened towards the camp of the tribe, on approaching nearer to which he found the whole of the warriors, armed and equipped for fight, were engaged in the performance of that frightful war-dance with which they stimulate themselves to a pitch of ferocity prior to engaging in any arduous enterprise, accompanying their motions by an extemporaneous song all the while, which, referring to the past exploits of their most renowned warriors and magnifying their valorous deeds with more than eastern exaggeration, promised to exceed them all in acts of daring upon the present occasion. From expressions relating to their present purpose, made use of in this song, Rashleigh quickly found that there was a ship manned by white men in some sort of distress not far off, whose commander, foolishly thinking to purchase the goodwill of these treacherous savages, had treated them very kindly, making them large presents of glittering gew-gaws used in barter. Besides, which was greater folly than all, he had given them a portion of that bane to the uncivilized of all colours, rum, and this had stimulated them, for the sake of getting more, to seek his destruction.

After our exile had elicited this information from the terms of their savage song, taking an opportunity in the evolutions of the dance, he stepped forth from his place of concealment and placed his hand upon the shoulder of the chief before any eye had observed his approach.

“Hu!” cried the stranger with a start, as on turning he observed the mysterious carandjie; but added, though rather in a sulky tone, “My brother is welcome, if he comes as a friend.”

“Your lips speak words that are not in your heart,” replied the sham conjurer. “You do not wish me to be here lest I should defeat your intended attack on the white strangers’ big canoe!”

“My brother knows everything!” cried Tocalli in surprise. “But he will join with our tribe in plundering the pale rulers of the wind!”

“First tell me, oh Tocalli, whether you love your own people?” enquired the disguised white man.

“Why should the wise carandjie ask that?” demanded the chief. “He knows I do.”

“Then if you do, allow the white men to depart in peace. They have plenty of weapons, such as mine. If you conquer them many of your tribe must die. And what will happen to those that are left? Can you tell, oh Tocalli?”

The black shook his head, but answered nothing.

“Then I can! The fire-water of the white men will make them mad. They will drink till they fight, fight till they kill, and kill till none remain alive!”

“’Tis no matter!” cried Tocalli. “My brother speaks the words of a coward. He looks like a man, but his heart is that of a gin!”

In conversing thus, they had strayed close to die edge of the sea at a spot that Rashleigh knew, where some rocks lay that had moderately deep water beside them. Our exile, while the strange chief Tocalli was last speaking, had put a small quantity of powder in his pipe; and they walked upon the rock in silence for a second or two, when, the fire reaching it, the gunpowder exploded. While the blackfellow was dazzled and confounded, Rashleigh slipped into the tide and swam off as quietly as he could, making his way to a side of the bay, where, by the signs of his late companion, he understood that some goods belonging to the white men had been landed to lighten their distressed vessel.

It was some time after Ralph had reached the shore before he could find out the pile of stores; but at length he did so and concealed himself among them, anxiously waiting for morning in the hope that he might find some means of communicating to the seamen intelligence of the proposed attack of the blacks, and resolved, if he could do so by no other means, that he would swim off to the vessel, though the danger from sharks was so imminent that in that case it was but a chance he would ever reach it.

When morning dawned our exile could see that the big canoe spoken of by the blacks was, in reality, a schooner of about 150 tons burden, which had apparently got on shore on the point of a low sandy islet nearly two miles from the land. While he was yet gazing on her he saw two boats loaded with goods putting off from her side, which made for his place of concealment. The blacks were also all in motion, many of them pretending to fish along the shore, while a few others, among whom was Tocalli, walked loungingly up to the pile of stores. They were apparently unarmed; but Rashleigh could see that in the tufts of opossum skin that depended behind from his belt, each man bad a nullah nullah concealed.

The boats meantime had reached the shore, and a person who seemed to be the captain landing, Tocalli went up to him. The white man said, “Shake hands, chief,” offering his own to the savage for that purpose.

Rashleigh was so close to both that he could even see the malignant gleam of satisfaction that sparkled from Tocalli’s eye as he extended his left hand to the unsuspecting stranger, while his right hand sought the weapon with which he designed to immolate the white man on the spot.

In the mean time each of the savages had got close to one of the sailors. There was not an instant to be lost. Just as the black chief had drawn out his waddy, a bullet from the piece of our exile entered his brain, and he fell dead without a cry or a struggle.

Ralph, springing out of his hiding-place, called aloud, “Beware, white men, the treacherous rascals are going to murder you!”

The blacks had, in fact, each seized his man at a signal from Tocalli; but the sudden report of the gun, accompanied by his fall, so much amazed them that the sailors easily shook off their grips and hastily retreated to their boats.

The captain cried out to recall them; but Rashleigh recommended him to let them go for some arms, returning from the ship with all speed, as, so little had they dreamed of any danger from the savages, that not a man had brought so much as a pistol, and the greater part of the cargo was lying strewn close by their present position. In the mean time, the blacks, having recovered in some degree from their first affright, enraged at the death of their chief and being strengthened by many others of the stragglers, now rushed upon the white men with spears, boomerangs and clubs, of which they poured in a volley that knocked the captain and a sailor down. But the fall of one of their own number staggered them in their advance, and the discharge of both barrels of Rashleigh’s piece, together with his pistols, immediately afterwards completed their discomfiture, and they fled pell-mell to the nearest thicket.

It was now high water of a spring tide, and a stock of fire-arms being brought by the boat, her crew also reported to the captain the welcome intelligence that the schooner floated, needing nothing, as they believed, but a pull or two by the capstan on the anchor they had dropped ahead to heave her off altogether. The commander, who at present had not time to express either his thanks for or his amazement at the opportune assistance rendered by our adventurer, whom he knew not what to think of, unless he might be an angel in mourning, was now anxious to return on board with all the hands he could obtain to man the vessel for this purpose; and our adventurer volunteered his services, provided they would load and leave all the fire-arms they had brought with them, that he on his part would mount guard over the goods. The captain would not at first hear of this, saying that he would not for the sake of twenty times as much goods wish that harm should happen to the man who had saved all their lives. But Rashleigh, persisting in his request, absolutely refused to go on board the schooner with them, saying that he knew his countrymen too well to believe there could be any danger of their so soon attacking him after they were once fairly beaten off, but if they did, he could give them so warm a reception, having the means of twenty discharges, that they would quickly turn tail again. At length the captain returned with all his men to the schooner, and Ralph, having laid the fire-arms ready cocked upon a row of cases, paced to and fro in their front with a double-barrelled gun in his hand.

For some time not a sign nor a sound disturbed the solitude and silence of the lonely beach. The blacks all appeared to have retreated for good, and Rashleigh ventured to look round at last at the schooner, whence the song of the mariners heaving at the capstan now began faintly to reach his ear. For a few seconds the labour seemed ineffectual; but at length Rashleigh plainly saw her move. She appeared about to plunge into the water, when he received a spear in the leg, and several others rattled around him upon the various casks and packages that strewed the beach. Doubly vexed at his wound and the inattention that had permitted his enemies thus to surprise him, he looked around without at first being able to perceive from what quarter the attack emanated; but all at once he caught the glare of a human eye, fixed upon him from behind a sand-bank. In an instant his gun was at his shoulder; another, and he had pulled the trigger. The black at whom he fired, leaping up convulsively, fell dead upon the sand-bank, while another volley of spears, one of which passed through his shoulder, hurtled into the sand on every side of him.

Rashleigh now withdrew behind a cask, crouching down to pull the spear from his leg, and the blacks, deeming perhaps he had fallen by their last weapons, leaped up and came running towards him. Another of them fell in the advance; but now, inured to the noise of fire-arms, and their passions roused to fury, the survivors rushed upon Ralph, who had not time to pick up another musket, but clubbing his fowling-piece, defended himself with the butt end of it until one of his assailants got within the sweep of it and grappled him round the body. In a short time both were on the ground, with eyes flashing fire. They tugged and strained for the mastery, rolling over and over each other so quickly that more than one blow intended by his sable antagonists for the white man fell upon his unlucky opponent. At length something seemed to divert the attention of the blacks from the affray for an instant. Our adventurer was now uppermost, and drawing a pistol from his belt, he blew the skull off his struggling enemy. A few shots fired from an approaching boat drove away all the others.

The captain of the schooner landed a few moments after, and finding Rashleigh alive though much hurt and bleeding, he hastily but heartily congratulated him on his escape with life, insisting that he should forthwith go on board to have his wounds dressed by the steward. After this able medico had fulfilled his office, our exile learned that the schooner was the Sea Mew, of Sydney, which was returning from a trip of trade among the Fiji islands. Ralph now acquainted the captain with the circumstance of his having saved the ladies from the wreck of the Tribune, which the latter had heard of and had left at Timor Coupang a vessel that had been dispatched from New South Wales by Colonel Woodville, Mrs Marby’s father. in search of his daughters, who, with the child, had been reported as left on board the wreck by a party that had escaped after the Tribune struck and had made their way southwards along the coast until they arrived at Port Macquarie, then newly formed as a penal settlement. The commander of the Sea Mew was well pleased to hear of the safety of Mrs Marby and her sister, their father being much respected by all classes of the colonists, and the loss of his children having been a severe blow to the old gentleman. It was speedily arranged that as soon as the schooner could he reloaded she should go round to the other bay for the purpose of receiving the ladies; and as the depth of water where they were was now known to her commander, the vessel was enabled to stand in close to the shore, so that by the next morning all her cargo was reshipped, and in a very few hours the Sea Mew had anchored in the offing abreast of the cavern.

The condition of the ladies, who had been plunged into complete despair by the absence of Rashleigh, whom they looked up to as their only protector, and who were now almost intoxicated with joy at the prospect of a happy release from their gloomy place of confinement, may be more easily conceived than described.

Let it suffice to say that before evening the whole party, with all that was thought worth removal, had been transferred to the schooner, which weighed anchor about sunset with a favourable breeze and pursued her voyage to Sydney.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tucker/james/1952/chapter31.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05