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White Cloud (the); by the Author of the "Trapper's Bride'
END OF THE FIFTH VOLUME.
TALES OF THE COLONIES.
BY CHARLES ROWCROFT.
THE BUSHRANGER OF VAN DIEMEN'S LAND.
It was one of the men who first observed a figure moving up the ravine in which they were lying; he pointed it out to his comrade, who touched the Major's foot with a dead branch which lay ready to his hand, and the three remained without moving, their eyes fixed on the object. The Major at once perceived that it was a native, who was advancing cautiously towards them, and who seemed anxiously looking out on every side, as if in search of something.
"It is a spy of those black devils, looking out for us," said one of the soldiers.
"It's a woman, by George," said the other, as the native continued her advance.
"I wish it had been a man," continued the first, who had levelled his piece sharp-shooter fashion towards the native; "it goes against one's feeling to fire at a woman."
"She is tall and straight," remarked the second, "and if it wasn't for her being black, she wouldn't be amiss."
"She looks like a young girl," said the other, as the native advanced
But it seemed that the sound of his voice had struck her ear; for she stopped, listened, snuffed the air like a pointer scenting game, locked about on all sides, and turning her head half round behind, remained for a brief space in an attitude of fixed attention.
The Major regarded the native girl with much attention; and the men, seeing that she was alone, were curious to observe her motions. She remained for some time fixed and motionless as a statue, her JANUARY, 1846, NO. I. VOL. V.
black body shining like polished ebony. She was entirely naked; there was no mark of paint or of tattooing visible on her sleek and glossy skin; her hair was not woolly, but hung from her head some inches behind in frizzly curls. Presently, suspecting, as it seemed, that some danger was nigh, she resumed her walk, but with more caution even than at first. With a timid and frightened look, she turned her large eyes, which were singularly black and bright, towards the spot where the Major and his men were hidden, and tried to pierce into the space before her, which the shades of the evening had begun to render obscure, treading lightly, and lifting up her feet in that peculiar manner characteristic of the natives, who walk like a high-stepping horse, in order to clear the dead wood with which their path in the woods is encumbered. To judge from the supple movements of her well-formed limbs, the Major guessed that she was possessed of great agility; but there was a something in her manner which convinced him that she was not abroad with any hostile intentions. Indeed her countenance, when she was close enough for them to observe it, expressed suspicion and fear, rather than any other feeling. As she approached the spot where they lay concealed amidst loose rocks and stones, she suddenly stopped again, and snuffed the air with her broad flat nose, and made a step back, as if with the intention of flying from some unusual danger. But after a few moments of anxious scrutiny of the point which she had left, she again advanced a few steps with a quick motion, as if she thought it better to encounter the new danger that was before, than that which was behind; and again she stopped and snuffed the air, and seemed surprised and alarmed at some unexpected discovery.
The Major whispered as low as possible to his men:— "We must take this woman."
Low as his whisper was, however, it was heard by the quick-eared native. She gave a fearful look towards the spot where they lay concealed, and at that moment the two soldiers starting up, the girl uttered a loud scream of fear, and darted up the steep ascent before them. The men followed; but they would have had little chance in pursuing a native in the bush, had not the girl, in looking back to see if her pursuers were nigh, stumbled over a loose stone and fallen to the ground. Paralysed as she was with fear, before she could recover herself, and uncertain, perhaps, which way to fly, for it seemed to her that there was danger on every side, the men seized her by the arms. She made no struggle, but, doubling herself up, she sat on her hams and bent down her head in terror, expecting doubtless that she was to be put to death. In this state the Major approached the native with the intention of calming her fears; but for some time she remained in such an agony of terror as to be insensible, seemingly, to all that was going on around her, and her whole body shook and shivered with fear.
The Major directed his men to release her arms. They did so, but the native showed no sign of being sensible of the restraint having been withdrawn.
He spoke to her kindly and soothingly; but the girl's teeth continued to chatter with terror.
He extended his hand and patted her on the shoulder as jockeys do horses when they desire to calm them; but the native, supposing, perhaps, that this was done in order to ascertain if she was fat enough to be eaten, only shuddered the more, and shrunk herself up from the touch of the strange creatures, the like of whom she had never beheld before.
The poor Major was puzzled to know how to communicate with her, or what to do, now he had got her, with the young lady whom he had so violently taken under his protection. But as he was desirous of making use of the native to guide him back to his cave, he determined to persevere in his attempt to bring about a mutual good understanding.
She looked wist
He desired one of his men to give him a bit of "damper," which he offered to the native, but she would not take it. He then eat a bit himself, and invited her by signs to do the same. fully at it for a moment; there was hunger in her looks, the Major thought. He put the bit of damper down on the ground. She raised her head up timidly, and looked at the two soldiers, and then at the Major, and then at the bread. At last she took it in her hand, and smelt it, tasted it, and ate it up greedily. The men as she opened her mouth could not refrain from an involuntary exclamation:
Seeing that she liked it, the Major threw her another piece. The native ate that also.
"Try her with some brandy," said one of the soldiers.
He poured out a small quantity into a metal cup which they had brought with them, and the Major, after having taken a little sip to show the lady how the liquor was to be disposed of, handed her the vessel with his arm outstretched, much in the same manner as a visitor hands a morsel to a wild animal in a cage in the Zoological gardens. She took it, and having smelled at it, let it drop.
"D- her," said one of the soldiers, "the black brute has wasted the brandy."
The tone of the soldier's voice as he uttered this exclamation, excusable in the bush, where brandy is scarce, seemed to renew the fright of the native. She looked round her anxiously, as if meditating
"Give me some sugar," said the Major; we will try her with that."
The man unpacked his parcel in a twinkling, and brought it to the Major, who, grasping a small handful of it, placed it on a piece of the bark of a tree, and putting some of it in his mouth, passed the bark plate to the lady, who took it without hesitation. She smelled at it as before, and poked it with her finger, which she carried to her mouth. Seeming satisfied with the taste, she poked her finger into it again, and then diligently licked it with much apparent satisfaction. Then, being unable to resist the temptation of its sweetness, she bore the piece of bark on which the sugar was deposited to her mouth, and ate it all up in a moment, cleaning the bark with her tongue of any remaining crumbs as a dog does a plate.
This last mark of attention on the part of her entertainer seemed to
re-assure her considerably; her trembling ceased; and she sat on her hams more composedly than before. The Major now tried by signs to make her understand what he wanted.
He pretended to drink, and looked all about as if he was trying to find water. The native understood him, and pointing in the direction of the path by which she had come, shook her head, and made signs of being frightened at something from which she had fled. Then pointing in a direction forwards she nodded her head, and rising from her sitting position began to move forward.
Had the Major been a younger man, he would not perhaps have minded the total absence of dress on the lady's person, which, as she stood on her hind legs, was more conspicuous and striking than it had been in her sitting posture; but, as he was the father of a family, he would have preferred that she should have been clothed with some sort of covering, however trifling. Desirous of remedying the deficiency in some way, he drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and presented it to the black lady, not being able to express his meaning by words, nor even by signs, but hoping that what is called the natural modesty of her sex would instruct her to make a proper application of the gift. The native girl accepted the handkerchief readily, and turning round on the strange white man, whom she rewarded with a smile which exhibited to view her formidable row of teeth, tied the handkerchief round her head, and continued her way.
"She knows no better," said the Major to himself; "and, after all, our civilised habits are only conventional: but certainly if a lady of any colour was to appear at court in the old country in that state of primitive simplicity, it would produce no slight sensation."
The further philosophical reflections which he might have made on this point of etiquette were put a stop to by the native suddenly pointing to a tiny stream of water which trickled from the side of the declivity. The Major and his men drank of it eagerly, and the native drank some also, the sugar having made her thirsty; and when the party had satisfied themselves with the pure element, which the men remarked would mix admirably with any sort of spirit, but to which hint the Major paid no attention, the question was, what was to be done next? The young lady showed no disposition to escape, and seemed to wait quietly to know how she was to be disposed of; but as the evening was advancing, and as it was nearly dark, the excellent Major was somewhat puzzled to know what to do with his new acquisition during a night bivouac. If it was possible, he thought it would be best to endeavour to reach the cave that night, but as he calculated that he must be at a great distance from it, he despaired of being able to accomplish the journey, fatigued as he was with his day's march.
He essayed, however, to communicate his desire by signs. He pointed to the water of the spring, and endeavoured to make her comprehend the idea of a large quantity of water spread over a wide surface. It seemed that the native comprehended him, for she stretched out her arm towards the right and shook her head, exhibiting signs of great fear from that quarter; but what the cause of her fear was it was impossible for them to make out. But they could make her