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THE CHIMNEY CORNER.

AMONG THE AUSTRALIAN

BLACKS.

( Continued.)

However, just as I was stretching myself for a comfortable rest, an old man, with whom I was well aquainted, and who was one of their chiefs or “doctors,” called me by name, and when I went to him, he began to question me about Reuben. He said he thought that Reuben was a wild black, but I denied it, and declared that Reuben was a good fellow, and like a brother to me. I was going on to say more in bis praise, but the old chief cut me short by informing me that one of his tribe had dreamed that a wild black fellow had come and taken away all the fat from about his kidneys, (gore-ei)—that the man was dying on that account, and that nothing could save his life except being anointed with the fat of a wild black. He said further that they had determined to kill Reuben that night; bnt that I need not fear for myself, no one would harm me. As soon as the chief had done •speaking, I went back to the camp, and found Reuben in a most agreeable position. He was, in fact, an aboriginal copy of Captain Macheath, with an aboriginal Polly and Lucy seated on each side of him, and"cramming him with choice morsels of opossum and fish, to his perfect satisfaction. I called to him, but he would not condescend to reply, and only grinned when I spoke to him. I rushed off to get the horses saddled, and was again interupted by the old chief, who advised me not to cross the river. “ Besides,” he said ‘‘that fellow Reuben is nearly dead already.” I did not stop to listen to another word, but hurried off and found Reuben, alive and well certainly, but in a state of torpor, and distended like a boa-constrictor after a gorge. I shook and kicked him, and pulled him up and let him fall again, but he was quite stupid and helpless. At last I succeeded in rousing him. I then told him all that I had heard, and urged him to fly, but it was of no avail. He only glared stupidly at me, and muttered that he did not care a bit, that his belly was full, and that he would not stir an inch to save his life. I could do nothing, so I turned the horses to grass again, and then laid myself down beside Reuben, who had fallen asleep again directly; and I was just dropping off, when a tall, naked black man strolled up to our fire, and stretching himself and yawning, said, unceremoniously, that his fire was out, and threw himself on the ground beside Reuben. In a few minutes two others came up and did the same, and with them the old chief who had spoken to me. I got up and went and stirred the fire, in order to let them see that I was awake, and then I laid down again in my former position. All remained perfectly quiet for a long time, and at last, being much fatigued, after two or three desperate efforts to remain awake, I fell into a sound and dreamless sleep. How long I slept I know not, but some time towards morning I was partially aroused bj r something striking my legs a violent and sudden blow. I slowly opened my eyes and looked dreamily around. I was in that peculiar state between sleeping and waking when we are conscious of an apparently double existence —when we can see the objects which pass before our eyes, and hear all the sounds which are audible, and still are not sure that all is not a dream.

I turned towards where Reuben lay, and for an instant I saw distinctly the figure of a tall man holding in his hand a tomahawk, and bending over him. I called out, and at once the figure seemed to sink into the earth, I rubbed my eyes and looked again ; there was now no figure visible, and as I could distinguish in the semi-darkness the forms of Reuben and other blacks lying apparently in the same position which they occupied when I fell asleep, I believed I had been dreaming, and went to sleep again. When next 1 awoke the sun was shining brightly, and appeared to be two or three hours high, and the stillness which prevailed on all sides was the first thing that attracted my attention. I sat up and looked around; the blacks had vanished, the fires were still burning, but no living thing remained behind. I saw that Reuben was also missing from his place, and fancying that perhaps he had gone away to look after the horses, I coo-eed long and loudly several times, but no answering call was to be heard. Suddenly the remembrance, of my morning’s vision flashed across my mind, and I sprang to the other side of the fire, where Reuben had slept. Then to late I knew that it was no phantom black which I had seen, for on poor Reuben’s saddle, which had been his pillow, were thick, dark clots of blood and scattered locks of hair, which told me plainly that the tomahawk had split his skull as he slept, and lower down was a large black stain on the yellow clay, which showed where the knife of the savage had been at work. The grass was all troden down and crushed where the body had been dragged away, and I could follow the track down to the bank of a neighbouring lagoon. So, sick at heart, I went and saddled the horses as quickly as I could, eager to get away as soon as possible from the accursed spot. Then, leading poor Reuben’s horse, I swam the Murray and galloped off to M'Cannon’s station. When I reached it, I told at once what had occurred, and with some difficulty I prevailed on a couple of the men to go back with me adtoss the river. We brought a black fellow also with us and some ropes ; and as soon as we reached the bank of the lagoon in Tarlo-bend, the black plunged and dived. He remained two or three minutes under water, then, as soon as he arose, he swam in to the shore again, and said, “ Dead black fellow sit down there.” he then rested for a short time, and taking one end of the rope with him, he dived 'again. When he came up to the surface he told us to haul in, and on our doing so poor Reuben’s body came to the land in a few moments. His murderers had opened his side to take out his kidney-fat, in accordance with their brutal superstition, and had then fastened the body to the botom of the lagoon by driving a stake through it. This is the usual plan which the blacks adopt to prevent detection. One year, when the waters of the Gunbower and Marabet Creeks subsided, the bodies of nine men were found fastened to the bottom by stakes. There were no coroners nor inquests in those days on the Lower Murray, and besides, Reuben was “ only a black fellow so we buried him that evening in an adjacent sand-hill, and I cut his name into a pine tree which stood at the head of his rude grave. When I spoke to the neighbouring white men about punishing the murderers, they said it was no use making any row about it, for I could not swear who killed him, and besides, he had no business going, into a strange camp. Such being the case I got together the cattle I had come down for, and prevailed on a man to help me to drive them up to the station. We met with no more accidents on our journey . back, and I reached home in safety ; but for many nights after my sleep was disturbed by fearful dreams, and even to this very hour I shudder when I think of poor Reuben’s fate, and that fearful night ' on the Murray river. ; CONCLUDED 1 —— 1 — i

ON THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA. ] 1 After a long commission, mostly passed 1 in the fierce heat of the tropics, it was c very pleasant to return once more to old I £ England and its cool leafy glades. As I s

soon as the old ship was paid off, I rushed away by ihe express train to my uncle’s place in the country. A better example of the ancient Elizabethan Manor House than his it would be hard to find. A broad avenue of stately elms led up to the house with its many gables and steep roofs, its old bell turret and twisted chimneys standing out in all the warmth of honest red brick against the shade of the rook-haunted trees that sheltered it from the summer sun, and in winter broke the force of the north winds.

And here the reigning deity of the place was ray pretty golden-haired cousin, Kitty Heathcote, in sunshine of whose smiles I, in common with many others, thought it the most supreme happiness to bask—and so perhaps it was ; but we were sure to find out before long that it was a very dangerous pastime. Kitty was an extremely handsome girl of about nineteen years of age, very highly accomplished, and of an exceedingly fascinating manner. Her mother having died many years before, she was left the sole mistress of the establishment. She was an heiress in her own right, and consequently became alive to the fact that she was a pearl of great price ; and yet, even the latest of her rejected lovers, of whom the name was legion, could not, in the bitterness of his disappointment, say that she was proud or arrogant. All the tenants of the estate, all the poor people in the neighboring villages, delighted to speak of her goodness and thoughtfulness, the kind condescension of the squire’s daughter. In fact, the whole country round was ringing with her praises. It was no wonder that she had always a crowd of suitors for that pretty little hand of hers, and it was not until, lilce other giddy moths that fluttered round that too dazzling flame, I got severely burnt,'that I perceived she was nothing less than an incorrigible flirt. fl Before I acquired this unwelcome piefl of knowledge—a lesson, indeed, that H was very loth to learn—l rejoiced in t® high place that I was fool enough to thiiH I had taken in her affections. Day 1® day I fell deeper and more blindly H love, and was on the point of making® formal declaration and proposal when® rival, whom I have since had cause H remember, appeared on the scene. H James Traill Witherington, the son H an old friend of my uncle’s, came at tl® time to pay him a visit. He had late® returned from the west coast .of AfridH where he was supposed to hold a Gover® ment appointment and was also report® to be very wealthy—two facts hard H reconcile with one another. H In appearance he was a tall, well-ma® man ; he had a dark, sallow face of tfl| Spanish type, very black hair, and sin® ter-lookiug black eyes. People said H was good-looking. I failed to see it® perhaps because, from the moment ® met, I felt a dislike for him which eventup ally grew to absolute hatred. He began by making desperate love to Miss Heathcote, and she appeared to encourage him. At least I thought so. I naturally liked him none the better for this. He regarded mo as rather a formidable rival, but even had it not been so, the result was inevitable; we were destined to hate one another, and we did so to our heart’s content. He was certainly wealthy, but I could never make myself believe in the Government appointment at Benin. Slave-dealer seemed more likely, but I said nothing of my suspicions, which, it must be admitted, were more founded on prejudice than on any reasonable grounds. Things thus went on for some time very unsatisfactorily, and I rcsol red to obtain some expression of opinion from my cousin ; and so it happened that in a long conversation with Kitty about her Spanish - looking friend, she pronounced his sentence, and gave me my dismissal as well, in these memorable words—- “ Oh, my dear coz, I haven’t the slightest intention of marrying him whatever. I would as soon think of marrying you—and that you know I’m not going to do. But you only see, I’ll lead him such a dance.”

And away she ran across the lawn, singing and laughing as if the world had no cares, no sorrows, no bitter disappointments.

Her light heart little dreamt of the cruelly heavy blow that she had just inflicted—never thought of the painfullybuilded fabric of long-cherished hopes those hopes of hers had crushed—the heart that she had bowed down, if not utterly broken. How long I sat there alone, staring at the chair that she had just left, I cannot tell. This was the first great sorrow, and I bore it badly. Presently, however, there came a feeling of relief, and subsequently actually of exultation—of relief that it was now all over—of exultation in the thought of the bitter draught that my rival, sooner or later, would have to swallow. .

Why did fate send that man across my path just at this moment ?

In he came with his insolent sneer and swagger, and contrived to turn the conversation upon his favourite subject—the incompetence of the Royal Navy and its officers. He never lost an opportunity of abusing the service, but on this occasion his remarks were more than usually -desparaging. It was evident that he was bent upon a quarrel, and he found in me, for the first time, a reciprocity of sentiment. He became more ani more insulting, and eventually personally offensive. He wished to provoke me to strike him. He succeeded in his object; I struck him in the face.

As 1 expected, the blow was not returned. A few hurried words about seconds, pistols, the coppice at sunset, and he was gone. So far ho had achieved his purpose ; for the rest, he was a dead shot, which was the only clever thing I knew of him.

Seconds were found in two young farmers on the estate, and were soon instructed in their duties. That evening, the wind chanting a weird dirge through the forest trees, eddying and scattering the leaves of autumn, we met in the place appointed. With few preliminaries we took up our positions, his black, snake-like eyes gleaming with a more sinister expression than ever, and, at the given signal, fired —

or rather, he fired, it is said, before the time, and I fell, the pistol dropping from my grasp undischarged. The bullet had pierced my right side, and thinking, from the blood that issued out of my mouth, that the wound was mortal, my adversary fled.

(to be continued.)

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18800415.2.21

Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 87, 15 April 1880

Word Count
2,532

THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 87, 15 April 1880

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