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cooking damper for four days. "Shut-eye," which
was Tom's name for bedtime, was early that
evening, for he proposed making a start at dawn
next day.

Tynan was roused in the morning by the lilt
of a camel-bell, and saw, in the dim grey light, the



176 GOLDEN BUCKLES

five ungainly beasts coming to camp with that
aloof and unhurried dignity which is peculiarly
their own. Tom had already kindled a fire and
placed the three quart-pots in front of it.

"Come and give me a hand with these camp-
sheets, Jim," he called.

"Right-0! I'm coming." Tynan flung back his
blanket, slipped on his boots, and hurried out in
the cold air.

A trench was scooped in the sand near the
spring, about a foot deep, and long enough for
five camels to water there at once. Two camp-
sheets were spread over the trench, and water was
poured into them, forming quite a serviceable
trough. It was a tedious job, for there was a very
small flow of water, and the camels seemed never
to have had enough; but at last it was over, and
the men went to breakfast.

"I don't like this change of wind," remarked
Tom, as he cut himself a sUce of damper. It's
been due south for over a week, and now it's al-
most west. If it swings round any more, and
blows from the north, we're in for rotten
weather."

"Rain, d' you men ?" asked Tynan.

"Lord, no! Heavy, sultry weather. Hot as
hell. However, here goes!" and he gulped down
the rest of his tea, and stood up and shouted to
Banjo to bring the camels closer up to the packs.

Before six o'clock, they were filing away from
camp, heading due west. Tom went first on a
free cam.el, Banjo next, sitting sideways on top
of a light load, two other draft camels tied nose-
line to crupper followed, and Tynan brought up
the rear, also on a free camel. At times he rode
abreast of the leader, but for the most part kept
in the rear, both for the sake of urging the line



GOLDEN BUCKLES 177

to keep up the pace, and to call out if a nose-line
broke — a not infrequent occurrence.

Within the first hour, the firm plains over which
they had travelled since crossing the Franklins,
changed to lidge after ridge of loose red sand.
Great tufts of spinifex clothed the slopes, and the
hollows between were often so filled with dense
mulga scrub that travelling was very slow. Tom
rode a quarter of a mile ahead to search out
the best track across these valleys, leaving Banjo
to follow his camel-tracks.

During the first afternoon, as they topped an
unusually high ridge, Tynan saw, or thought he
saw, a coil of smoke far away northward. The
distance was so great and the mulga so dense, that
it might have been a tall tree enlarged by the
heat which quivered over the landscape. Tom was
a good way ahead at the time, and his friend did
not mention the matter till after supper.

"Did you notice any smoke to the north about
three o'clock this afternoon?" he asked.

"Yes. And I saw some almost due ahead of us
a bit later. They must be niggers' fires."

Next morning, just before they started, Tom
gripped his companion's arm, and led him to the
fringe of the camping ground.

"You remember that smoke you saw yester-
day?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Well, look there."

Tom pointed to the ground in several places,
and even the city-bred man had no difficulty in
understanding what he saw there. All around
were the tracks of naked feet. Their breadth and
the spread of the great toe apart from the others
proclaimed them native. Here and there it was
plain to see that someone had been sitting down.
Without a doubt, wild blacks had been within a
sr ear's thrust of them that night.



178 GOLDEN BUCKLES

"You carry your revolver handy, I suppose?"
said Tom.

Tynan pointed to his belt, at which hung a re-
volver pouch.

"And at night?"

"I haven't up till now, but, by gad! I will in
future."

Many more smoke signals were seen that day,
often in front, but still on the north of their line
of march.

"How d'you feel?" asked Tom during dinner.

"Good," smiled Tynan, "though I must admit a
revolver's a great comfort."

"Yes. But I don't expect you'll have to use it.
The beggars are just curious, that's all. . ; . By
the way, it's a dashed good sign."

"Good sign! What? That warrigals are
about?"

"Yes ; for, don't you see, it means there's water
somewhere between that spring and Poison Peak.
We may be jolly glad of it before we're through."



GOLDEN BUCKLES 179

CHAPTER XXXIL
The Supposed Tree Stump.

A big fire was made that night, and the two
white men kept alternate watches. It was a new
experience to Tynan, knowing that eyes were
peering at him out of the dusky faces in the
shadows beyond the circle of flickering light. The
air was still and sultry. During the day the wind
had gradually changed to the north, and the
weather had become more and more oppressive,
till at night, in the gloom of the weird trees, it
seemed that the whole world was shut away and
lost beyond recall.

During the second watch, one of the camels be-
gan to roar, but its complaint died away to silence
again.

Banjo went after the camels as usual at day-
break, but only returned with four.

"What for you no bring 'um up other camel?"
asked Tom.

"Him bin break 'um leg," was the answer.

"Which way?" And both white men started
after the nigger.

What they found explained the sudden roar
which had broken the stillness of the night. One
of the draft camels lay dead, about half a mile from
camp. Tracks all around left no doubt as to the
perpetrators of the deed. The blacks were evi-
dently not following them out of curiosity.

The third day was one of constant tension. Tom
rode with a rifle over his knees, and every now
and again fired into the scrub to scare away any
lurking enemy. In spite of the fact that the
weather had become almost unbearably hot and



i8o GOLDEN BUCKLES

that the two riding camels shared between them
the load of the one that had been killed, the party-
pushed on and did thirty miles before sunset.

"Hoosh-tar, Kabul! Hoosh-tar, Emir! Shah!
Sultan!" The four camels knelt, and Banjo at
once began to pull off the packs.

Tom checked him. "By-'m-by," he said. "We
get um tucker first time."

In explanation to his friend, he accused himself ^
of being the cause of the fifth camel's death."

"However could you have saved it, Tom?"

"By doing what we're going to do to-night,"
the bushman replied. "Camp here till dark, and
then go on for another hour. I'd like to go on
right through the night, but Sultan's feet are too
sore."

"But won't the niggers follow us ?"

"No. I don't think so. They usually watch -
where you camp, and then creep in at night. I
bet ^f we returned here to-morrow morning we'd
find a whole lot of tracks. We'll be as safe as a
house if we move on."

"But the camels?"

"That's the trouble. The poor beggars are
thirsty and may wander. I wish to hell I knew
where the niggers are gettmg water, but it's too
close scrub to run about looking for it. We're
cutting it pretty fine for ourselves, too. ... I
reckon we'll close-hobble the camels on as good
feed as we can find in the moonlight, and take it
in turns to watch them, like we do with a mob of
cattle."

Immediately it was dark, the men made a big
fire, as if preparing for a night's camp, but at
once set off west again through the scrub. After
about an hour, they found a little well-grassed
flat, free from trees, and short-hobbled the camels
on it, making camp in the scrub near by. Tom
took first watch, Tynan second ; no fire was lit.



GOLDEN BUCKLES i8i

A sleep of utter exhaustion overwhelmed the
young man, in spite of all danger, and it seemed as
if he had only just stretched himself on top of his
swag when Tom shook him. Instantly he was
fully awake and, to the bushman's satisfaction, his
hand at once went to his revolver.

"Right, old man," said Tom, "it's only me. I've
just come off watch. Everything's quiet."

"What's the time?"

"About half past two." Tom ought to have
called him at one, but he had given the untried
man a little longer to rest.

"You're a damn good chap, Tom. Where are
the camels?"

"I'll show you."

The four tall beasts were still feeding in the
little open space, and seemed in no mood to stray.

"I'd just walk round the beggars every half
hour or so," explained Tom. "You'll easy enough
keep your eye on them in this light, and the moon
won't set till close on daylight. Keep them on this
patch if you can. ... So long!"

Tynan walked round the camels, drove them a
little closer together to let them know he was
there, and then sat down, with his rifle at full cock,
on a log where Tom had evidently been sitting.
The tall grey animals looked ghostly in the moon-
light, and in a few minutes the main details of the
scene were quite plain.

Not a breath of wind stirred. The watcher's
arms and face were damp with sweat, and a crowd
of tiny midges gave him no peace. But the weeks
of travel had made him disregard many discom-
forts, and he did not even bother to drive the
little pests away.

His mind was beginning to wander — and if it
was speeding on its way to Melbourae, who can
be surpiised? — when one of the camels lifted its



i8r GOLDEN BUCKLES

head and looked intently at the scrub opposite to
the spot where Tynan was sitting. Then he im-
agined that he saw something move from one tree
to another, just where the camel was looking. He
watched it for several minutes with the rifle at
his shoulder, while his heart pounded away with
excitement. The thing was too vague to shoot at,
and it is impossible to sight properly in moonlight.
Nothing would be gained by firing at a shadow,
and a report would betray their whereabouts to
the blacks. At last he gave it up as a trick of
an over-wrought imagination. Moreover, the
camel had resumed its feeding.

Then from the east, and quite near, came a
feeling that someone was looking at him. For a
moment he did not turn round, but kept the rifle
pointing in its original direction. Taking a firm
mental grip of himself, he wondered whether this
growing sense of horror was merely nerves. No,
they were steady enough. He most decidedly was
being watched.

He wheeled and faced east suddenly. Silence.
Just twisted trees throwing tangled shadows on
the sand. It is marvellous how the mind records
objects even when no special attention has been
paid to them. Before he sat down on the log,
Tynan had glanced around, and now, as he looked
again, peering intently into the scrub, he felt sure
that he had not noticed before a short stump
about fifty yards away.

His mind was superlatively alert. A twig
cracked, and he looked away for a moment, then
back again at the old stump. It seemed to have
changed its position very slightly. He began
walking slowly towards it with his rifle pointed.
A night-owl hooted close by. He could not tell
till afterwards how long the ordeal lasted. The
owl hooted again, hut Tynan did not take his at-
tention from the stump. He seemed to know that



GOLDEN BUCKLES 183

savage human lips had framed those ghastly bird-
notes.

The thing he was looking at suddenly collapsed.
Where formerly was a stump, there was none.
But at the same instant there was a report.
Tynan did not know he had' fired. The action was
purely reflex. Then he saw something black
writhing on the ground.

The silence was instantly full of a sound like
the rustling of leaves. To his horror every shadow
seemed alive, fleeing back into the scrub, of whose
mystery they seemed a part. He saw that writh-
ing thing go back and back till it, also, was lost in
the gloom.

He put his hand to his head. The thing was too
uncanny to be real. Then he heard Tom's voice,
anctJthat lusty shout restored him at once.

"Here, Tom! Here!" he answered.

"Are you alright?"

"Oh, yes. Fm alright."

"What did you fire at?"

"A nigger, though I'm hanged if I knew what it
was when I fired. ... To tell you the truth,
I didn't know I had pulled the trigger."

"Did you hit him?"

"Yes. He was over here in the scrub." Tynan
began to go towards the spot, but his friend re-
strained him.

"Steady, Jim ! Steady ! I reckon we'd best wait
a bit."

So, side by side, the two white men watched the
camels till dawn.

When the light was strong enough to reveal
of any ambushed enemy, they went to the spot
where Tynan had last seen the nigger. Instead of
the body, they found marks where it had been
dragged away. They followed for a quarter of a
mile, but judged it best not to go further. There
were tracks of natives in abundance, but when



i84 GOLDEN BUCKLES

Tom had been shown the place where the nigger
had stood so incredibly still in imitation of a tree-
stump, he suddenly called out,

"See, Jim! See that track?"

"Yes. I see it. Nice roots for a tree," he
laughed.

"Yes, yes," answered Tom in excitement. "Do
you know who you've shot, man? It's Jack. See
that cut across the heel? By gad, we've got the
devil at last."

"Jack?" queried Tynan, in amazement. "You
mean that nigger that caused so much mischief?"

"Yes, that's the chap. The one from the Mis-
sion Station."

"I wish I'd known," said Tynan. "I'd have made
a cert of him. . . . But there! The whole
bally thing was a fluke. I didn't even know it was
a nigger till I heard the report."

"Never mind, let's hope he's a gone coon. I
wondered why these niggers were so persistent.
They'd never have followed us after dark if that
blasted nigger hadn't led him. He's a good example
of trying to civilise blacks. Give a nigger his
tucker and clothes if he wants them, and teach
him just enough for his work, and he's right.
Anything more than that makes rascals of them.
. . . And it's not only me that says it," con-
tinued the stockman, as they walked away towards
camp. "You ask any man who has lived for any
time in this country, and he'll tell you the same."



GOLDEN BUCKLES 185

CHAPTER XXXIIL
A Sand-storm.

The remainder of the journey to Poison Peak
was accomplished without any interference from
blacks. No signal smokes were seen by day, no
mishaps occurred at night. The enemy seemed
to have been finally scared away. Constant watch
was kept, however, and this nervous tension added
to the strain of travel. But Fate did not allow
them to reach their goal without a further test.

Had everj'thing gone smoothly, the end of the
fourth day would have seen the travellers camping
in the shadow of the peak, with but an hour's
climb ahead of them. As it was, the fourth even-
ing found them still in thick scrub, with their
objective like a grey cloud against the brilliant
sunset. Tynan had turned suddenly sick that
afternoon, and when, with a call upon all his re-
maining strength, he had done his share of the
unloading, he lay down in the sand with his head
on his rolled-up swag, and fell into an exhausted
sleep.

The promise of the previous night had been ful-
filled. All day the men had travelled with sweat-
soaked clothes under a sky that was without the
mercy of a single cloud. Wind had come in hot
puffs like an oven door opening, but even these
died down at sunset, leaving a world gasping for
breath.

Tynan had experienced his first touch of the
sun. At tea he could eat nothing, and, though
Tom gave him a liberal allowance of water, his
thirst was as unquenched after two quarts of tea
as before. What sleep he gained that night was fit-



i86 GOLDEN BUCKLES

f ul and exhausting. Many a time in his almost de-
lirious dreams, he imagined himself with Ida Hen-
nessy. Sometimes he was riding with her along
tracks amongst tall trees whose foliage even the
noon sun failed to pierce; at others they were
boating together on a river edged with willows
which overhung the water, making canopies of
green where lovers idled; again, upon a wind-
swept cliff, they watched the grey sea beat itself
to spray, and laughed as it dashed past their faces,
leaving lips and cheeks cool and bitter-sweet to
kiss. Always this sense of coolness and of water.
And every time he woke, he saw the lifeless trees,
and the moon sailing in a cloudless sky, and was
conscious once more of his burning head and ach-
ing body.

Suddenly the clink of hobbles made him remem-
ber his watch.

"Tom!" he shouted. "Tom!"

"Hulloa!" came the answer from not far away.

"Why ever didn't you call me to watch the
camels ?"

Tom laughed. "You were making such a row
in your sleep, old man, that I reckoned you would
scare the beasts clean away."

"Was I? I'm sorry, Tom. But, you know, I
ought to do my share."

Tom became suddenly serious, and said almost
tenderly : "You're doing all your share, Jim ; don't
make any mistake about that. You've got a touch
of the sun, that's all. . . . Besides," and he
told a lie to satisfy his friend, "Banjo took most
of your watch."

Tynan got out of his blankets, and in order to
bluff away the deadly weakness that was master-
ing him, asked how far they were from Poison
Peak.

"It can't be more than fifteen miles," was the
answer. "There's a ten mile stretch of bare



GOLDEN BUCKLES 187

sandy country to cross yet, and I reckon we'll get
out of this blasted scrub in a couple of hours. . .
But come and have breakfast. I've got a stew
going. It ought to be rather good."

So it was, considering the ingredients at hand,
and Tynan did his best to show his appreciation.
But all he could do was to drink as much black hot
coffee as Tom would let him have. His body
seemed to crave stimulants, although the satisfy-
ing of his thirst merely brought on sickness again.

Not a breath of wind broke the oppressive still-
ness of the morning. Every tree waited; every
insect was mute with wonder at that awful sultri-
ness.

"It can't last long," was Tom's opinion as he
tightened the girths round one of the camels, and
Tynan, whose little strength was nearly ex-
hausted by the easy task of rolling up his swag,
prayed that his friend might be right.

Morning held its breath till noon. An occasional
puff of hot wind was like the panting of a wrestler
preparing for a final throw. Seated on his camel,
Tynan lolled forward, unconscious of anything
but the necessity of holding on.

Some slight relief was gained when they
emerged from the scrub upon an absolutely barren
plain. In front of them was the short range of
hills of which Poison Peak was the highest fea-
ture; to north and south the mulga scrub ended
abruptly and gave place to level sand, unrelieved
by grass or shrub or tree of any kind. So bare
was it that, at Tom's direction, Banjo collected a
handful of sticks and carried them along to boil
the quart-pots at mid-day. Tom saw the useless-
ness of urging his companion to eat, and was
again extravagant in his allowance of tea.

"There's good cool shade up there, Jim," he said,
encouragingly, pointing to the west. "The shade
of rocks, and any amount of spring water. And I



i88 GOLDEN BUCKLES

reckon one sight of that gold would revive a dead

man."

Tynan had just enough strength for that after-
noon, and no more. He had reached his limit, and
when his friend helped him to mount, he clutched
the front of the saddle for some time before he
could trust himself alone. His head felt very light,
and any sudden movement made him sick and
giddy. Ahead of them. Poison Peak was almost lost
in a slate-blue haze which was hiding the horizon.
Northward, a few puflfs of white cloud showed like
browsing sheep, whereas the rest of the sky was
filmed here and there with gossamer grey. The
air was so still that it seemed as if the pad-pad
of the camels must break the silence for miles
around.

Slowly the flock of white clouds spread out over
the pastures of the sky. Behind them, and more
slowly, came a well-defined billowy mass of grey,
from which jutted out three shapes like the heads
of wolves with gaping jaws. A brown streak
began to show against the grey, low down on the
sky-line. It was the color of milky tea at first,
but as it rose with the clouds, it looked as if a fire
were burning in its heart, for an angiy red shone
here and there through the brown. The three
wolf-clouds rushed wildly across the sky, increas-
ing each moment in size and in the weirdness of
their outlines. The bank of grey rose higher and
higher, massed in thunder shapes, the deep blue
of whoge shadows was lit up from time to time
with hidden lightning. And, like a curtain bellied
with the wind, behind which were the fires of hell,
the immense brown cloud came sweeping on.

No sound. No breath of air. The ground
cringed in terror of the approaching storm.

The herald clouds crossed the sun, and at once
the landscape was wrapped in deepening twilight.
Then, as if to clear the way, came two or three



GOLDEN BUCKLES . 189

short shai*p puffs of cold wind. They ceased, and
again the oppressive stillness was unbroken.

The sound of rustling leaves came gradually
out of the silence, and grew so rapidly, that soon
a forest seemed to be lamenting at the chastening
of a gale. A faint rumbling echoed through all
that approaching mass, while flashes lit up each
towering column of cloud. The dark brown cur-
tain came tailing across the plain below.

It enveloped them suddenly. Wind sped howl-
ing past. Thunder crashed and lightning flashed,
so near that the very air was tainted. Sand!
Sand ! Sand ! A thousand men shovelling at once
could not have thrown so much dust into the air.
The darkness of utter destruction, the agent of
some merciless fiend whose power had blotted out
all light for ever, was tangibly flying upon the
wind.

In an. instant each man was alone. The head of
the camel he rode was lost to view, and even the
front of the saddle could only be found by touch.
Breathing was a struggle that absorbed every
power of mind and body. They had to definitely
will each breath, or life would have gone in com-
pany with the 'shrieking fiends that sped past
them.

All at once Tynan's camel swerved, and before
he had time to check it, even if he had had the
power, it was kneeling down.

What could he do? He was alone. He was
more afraid than he had been in his life before;
afraid of the ervil powers that were wrecking their
fury on the exhausted earth. Gathering the last
of his strength together, he shouted : "Tom ! Tom !"
But the wind caught his voice, tore it to tatters,
and strewed them far away to the south, and not
the tiniest shred of his shout reached even his
own ears. Then he must have fallen off his camel.

The storm passed by, as clean-cut as it came,



I90 GOLDEN BUCKLES

trailing over the landscape like the skirts of Death.
It left a clean, cool air and a sky marred by no
sultry vapours. No morning in spring could be
more joyous. ThQ earth appeared to be newly
awake and smiling, and all living creatures seemed
cleansed of weariness like a man cleanses his body
with water. This was true only by contrast with
what had gone before, and it had one exception —
the exhausted man — though even he yielded
quickly to the spirit of well-being that filled the
air.

"Come on, Jim. Drink this."

From somewhere very far away, Tynan heard
the words, and automatically obeyed. Almost at
once his lungs began to tingle, and then a fire of
new life coursed through his veins. He looked up.
Tom was kneeling at his side with a flask of
brandy. The bulk of his camel towered above
him, half buried in sand, and the other three
animals knelt quite close by.

"Better?"

"Yes, thanks, but—"

"Have another."

After the second draught, he sat up. The situa-
tion was easily explained. Tynan was riding the
last camel when the storm broke, and his animal
had knelt because those in front had done the
same. The only difference in their experiences
was that whereas Tom had got off his camel and
sheltered of his own free will, the other white man
had done it involuntarily, and had succumbed to
exhaustion for a time.

No rain had fallen, but the air had just the same
feeling of being newly washed that comes after
a thunder shower. The cool change brought
health and renewed spirits to Tynan. Half an
hour after the storm had passed, it was hard to
believe that he had been recently so near the limit
of his strength. He looked and saw the mass of



GOLDEN BUCKLES 191

Poison Peak looming up, every detail clearly de-
fined through the sparkling atmosphere, and it
looked as if a half-hour's walk would bring him to
the foot of the hills.

"Nearly there," he said to Tom, smiling.

"Yes, only about five more miles."

"Five miles be hanged ! It's not more than two.
I bet I could walk there in three-quarters of an
hour easily."


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