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then at his friend who was stirring the fire into
a blaze, and then out across the plateau. He was
too deeply stirred for any but the one word
"Hell !" and his tone was made up of fear, anger,
and self-condemnation. Had he not given a name
to the peak because of the poison-weed which grew
there? In his eagerness to test the find, he had
become careless of the very means of life, for such
indeed were the camels.

"What's wrong, Tom?" asked Tynan, who had
not heard the conversation.

"Everything!" was the dejected answer. "This
nigger says the camels have eaten poison-weed.
He couldn't bring them up to water to-day. That
means they're dead or pretty bad."

How great a mockery did the gold seem now?
Wealth beyond their wildest imagination was here
waiting for them, but they were cut off from the
world as surely as sailors wrecked on an unchar-
tered island, with their boats — in this case the
rightly-named "Ships of the desert" — useless.

"Perhaps he's wrong,' suggested Tynan,
fnntly. "Let's go and see."



2o8 GOLDEN BUCKLES

They found the boy's story correct. Two camels
lay dead, the third could not rise on its legs, but
th > fourth, although stiff in the joints from the
same cause, did not seem to have eaten so much
of the deadly herb. By good fortune, the sur-
vivor was the stronger of the two draught camels,
and such was their relief after thinking that all
had died, that it was an almost cheerful party
which led the ungainly beast back to camp.

"I'd best clear right out to-morrow, Jim," said
Tom, summing up a conversation about their next
move. "I'll leave you most of the tucker, and
make straight for Marnoola, and bring back
horses." His tone was confident, but he remem-
bered with misgiving the eighty mile dry stage.
* Or perhaps Macfarlane would lend me a couple
of camels. Yes, he's sure to do that. Or would
you rather go and leave me, Jim? I'd just as
soon."

"I suppose we couldn't both go?"

"Impossible, Jim, old man."

"Then I'll stay."

It was an easy thing to say, yet even Tynan
realised a little what it meant, but not all. To
camp for weeks with a nigger in that desolate
spot, depending for life on a trickle of water, and
with no means of crossing the two hundred miles
which separated him from the nearest white man.
Hour by hour his mind would follow his companion
on his perilous journey, beset by blacks, thirst,
accident, a thousand dangers, with the bare chance
of being able to get camels and return.

He had not the faintest suspicion of his com-
panion's integrity. Those nightmare hours of
madness weighed not a feather's weight against
the months of comradeship during which Tom had
shown the good metal he was made of. He knew
that there was a chance of life for both of them if
Tom took the trip, so he repeated :



GOLDEN BUCKLES 209

"Yes, Tom, I'll stay."

1 ou ve got plenty of good water, so you'll be
as right as rain."

Plenty of good water!

Tynan was first to see what had happened. He
walked over to the spring, with the quart-pots in
his hand. The rocky basin was empty! Like a
flaw in an earthenware pot, marred in burning, a
crack ran right across the bottom. Where the
water now flowed it was impossible to tell ; the ex-
plosion which made the men so amazingly rich, left
them desperately poor, for it had shattered the
bowl which held the water of life.

Disaster affects people very differently. To
Tynan it came with no sudden shock. He merely
thought he was mistaken, and after standing and
staring at the crack for some time, stooped down
to fill one of the pots. He must have stayed there
for some time, squatting on his haunches, wonder-
ing idiotically why the quart-pot remained empty.

"Hi! Jim! What in the deuce are you doing?
I could have filled twenty quarts by now," shouted
Tom.

Tynan heard his friend's shout, and turned his
head. Something in the way he did this struck
Tom as unusual. It was so slow, so tired ; the way
a man might turn in his sleep. So he walked over.

Each needed another witness before he could
believe that of his own eyes, but crouching to-
gether over the empty pool, they knew at last that
their fate was sealed.

One canteen of water, filled that morning by ttie
nigger for washing purposes, and a water bag
nearly full, was all that stood between them and a
most terrible death ; terrihV no. only because of
physical suffering, but also because Death



2IO GOLDEN BUCKLES

whispers the hope of Hfe so long in the ears of its
perishing victim.

The remaining hours of Hght were spent in a
feverish search for water. The spring had been
above the gold reef, and the men groped about
with picks and wedges to see if the split in the
basin of the spring came out anywhere below.
Thousands of pounds' worth of gold mocked them
in their search. They would gladly have ex-
changed it all for a sign of water. Lumps of gold-
encrusted quartz were kicked out of the way as
rubbish. In vain. The fissure which drained the
basin had apparently no outlet. Whether or not,
with the accumulation of water, the spring would
someday flow out in another place, it was impos-
sible to tell, and they could not stay to find out.
By blasting they might have tapped the water
again, but every stick of gelignite had been used in
those three charges.

When all hope had gone, they would have turned
to fly like hunted animals, but saner councils pre-
vailed, and they decided to wait till morning be-
fore setting out to meet death. They were men,
and would die fighting.

Some gold, taken the day before, was standing
in a little muddy water in an old billy-can. How
eagerly the men peered down at it, measuring, not
the wealth below, but the wealth above; the
amount of muddy liquid, not the weight of golden
sand. The water was carefully decanted off and
the gold emptied into a cloth and squeezed so that
the last drop might be saved. Then the cloth was
shaken out and the worthless treasure scattered.

Hope came with the dawn, but as surely as
dawn became day, so did hope die in the light of
grim reality.

Tynan got up and went straight to the pool.
It was empty. Then he clambered down to see



GOLDEN BUCKLES 211

whether the water had come through. He found
Tom there on a similar errand, and they returned
together dejectedly to camp.

Every ounce of weight was a subject for con-
sideration, for one camel cannot carry a big load
on a dry stage. The canteen of water and a six
weeks' supply of flour were of first importance.
Tom reckoned that in four weeks they would either
have reached Mamoola or ... he did not give an
alternative; he just said it would take four weeks
to reach the station, and added two more in case
of emergency. A few tins of meat were allowed,
tea, sugar, and tobacco, but all gear other than a
blanket apiece was left behind. Though Tom did
not explain the reason, he insisted that a small
bag of salt should be put into the packs.

After much hesitation, a small bag of gold was
added to the load, for the purpose — as Tom ex-
pressed it — "of buying a plant for another try,"
though he knew well that he had seen the last of
Poison Peak, for not all the gold in the world could
buy back that little spring.



212 GOLDEN BUCKLES

CHAPTER XXXVIL
Salt Meat.

Two haggard white men, a black boy, and a
famished camel! Tynan was lying full length
on the sand underneath a mulga, caring nothing
that the ants were crawling over him, and that
flies were buzzing round his closed eyes and gap-
ing mouth. His withered body could be
seen through rents in his tattered clothes.
The skin of his face was so dry, it looked as if
any movement would crack it across; his eyes
were feverish and unlit by reason ; and out of his
mouth lolled a swollen tongue.

His companion stood over him, leaning one
hand against the tree, and gazing hopelessly at the
desolate view of gnarled trees, sand, and un-
clouded sky.

The black-boy chewed parakelia stolidly, and
spat. He could not understand these men who
vomited at the juicy leaves and hoarded that
little drop of water in the canteen.

"You make um camp?" he asked.

Tom nodded, and the boy proceeded to pull off
the pack from the kneeling camel, and, having
with difficulty induced it to rise, led it away and
hobbled it.

How strange these fools of white men were.
When they looked into your eyes you saw
Kadaitcha there and were afraid, but when water
was gone they were no good any more. "Silly
fella, quite," he summed them up.

He wandered some little way from camp, col-
lecting wood and also a handful of parakelia for
himself. It was not good tucker for it pained



GOLDEN BUCKLES 213

inside, but anything was better than having one's
longue loHing out.

Suddenly he stopped. A track arrested his at-
tention! He stooped down. A blackfellow had
made it only a short time before. Just then, this
meant one thing- and one only. Quatcha! Water!
He would have dropped his firewood then and
there and followed the tracks, had he not felt, in
his untutored mind, that a white master is a
master always till he is dead. So he took the
wood to camp, lit a fire, and then said to Tom:

"Me bin find um black-fella track dat way."

Tom looked up, but did not catch the boy's re-
mark. His senses were becoming dull and un-
reliable. So Banjo said again:
f"Me tink me find um quatcha, by-*m-by."

That magic word "Quatcha," water!

"Which way?" asked Tom, looking so fiercely
into the boy's eyes that the native almost wished
he had followed the tracks at once.

"Dat way." He pointed to where he had been
picking up firewood. "Me bin find um black-
fella track."

"You bin find um black-fella track?"

"Yah."

"You no bin find um quatcha?"

The one followed naturally on the other in
Banjo's mind, so he answered:

"Neh. Black-fella, him bin find um quatcha
alright."

The logic was simple and convincing. The
presence of a native meant that water was ob-
tainable somewhere. It might be a long waj''
away, but if that niggei- could walk to it, Tom
felt that, in his extremity, he could do so too.

"Look here!" said he, forgetting in his excite-
ment that he was talking to the boy. "Look
here, if you fetch along that son of the devil,



214 ' GOLDEN BUCKLES

I'll give you my pocket-knife;" one of the white
?nan's possessions that Banjo coveted very much.

The boy looked puzzled for a moment, then
shook his head.

"What name you yabber? You yabber longa
me same as you all day yabber," he remarked.

Tom smiled. He could afford to smi^e now that,
a glimmer of hope had penetrated the darkness
cf despair.

"You track um up black-fella," he explained.
"You fetch um longa camp. Me give pocket-
knife longa you."

He took from his belt a big clasp-knife, pointed
to it, and then to the boy.

"You know um?" he asked.

"Yah. Me know um alright," was the ready
answer. "Me track um up quick-fella."

He was gone in a minute.

There were two pints of water left; two
precious pints. Tom debated. His companion was
in that lethargic state of exhaustion that might
at any time change to the madness of those who
die of thirst: a madness that makes the victim
fling his clothes away and walk, walk, walk,
usually in a circle where Death sits in the centre.
Or he might slip away into the unknown country
with hardly a flutter of the eyelids to tell of the
wing-beats of his liberated soul.

To hoard that water any longer would be
miserly, and with the faint prospect of help, they
might need just the strength that it would give
to take them to where help lay.

With far more care than he had taken over
washing gold, he poured the water into one of
the quart-pots, and waited. It was well to wait,
for Chance is a strange player with whom to
throw dice with life as the hazard.

After three hours he was still watching the pot



GOLDEN BUCKLES 215

of water, when, with no sound to herald them,
two men stood by him. Banjo and another.

"Me bin find um ah'ight," grinned Banjo.

Tom handed over the clasp-knife without a
word. He knew that one must never break a
promise to a child or a nigger. Then he looked
at the black-boy's companion.

Tall, deep black, naked, and armed with a
boomerang, two spears and a small wooden shield.
The man, though evidently afraid, was held there
by a kind of shy animal curiosity which did not
mar a certain barbaric dignity in his bearing. His
massive head and face were nearly hidden with
hair, which on top was plastered with mud and
fat, and around his cheeks stood out in a thick
tangle. Broad nose through which a piece of
carved wood was thrust, and very bright black
eyes which glittered beneath overhanging brows.
On forehead and chest were many long scars —
tribal marks — and legs and arms showed signs of
many wounds. Standing there squarely on both
feet, he looked down at the unconscious man, at
Tom, at the camel-pack, and then at the black-
boy, to whom he said a word, showing a set of
perfect teeth which gleamed when his beard and
moustache parted for a moment and closed again
till the only features discemable were those bright
watchful eyes.

Tom held out a stick of tobacco. Instantly it
was snatched and hidden in the native's hair,

"Tell him we want quatcha," said Tom to Banjo.

"Him can't know um quatcha," was the answer.
"Him walk longa Barrow. Him can't know um
yabber longa me."

"Oh, he's a Barrow nigger, is he?" said Tom
to himself, then, standing up, he pointed to the
stranger and made the universal pantomime for
water.



2i6 GOLDEN BUCKLES

He raised his hand and turned the palm up,
which means "where is it?" Then he stooped
and pretended to scoop up water with his hands
and drink it, and again made the sign "where is
it?"

With a gleam of his teeth, the man showed that
he understood, but, watching him closely, Tom
saw a look of cunning come into the black eyes.
Warraguls usually run away from a white man
"quick-fella," but this man saw helplessness in-
carnate, and with the cruelty of his race, decided
to let it die.

He shook his head.

Tom went through the pantomime again, and
even poured a drop or two of water out of the
quart-pot into a pannikin and back again,
but though the teeth gleamed recognition of the
need, the man merely shook his head and squatted
down on his haunches.

Other methods had to be tried, and the reason
for including a bag of salt in the loading soon
became apparent.

Tom called Banjo and gave a whispered order,
at which the boy's eyes lit up with excitement.
A broad surcingle was lying near the fire, and
Banjo picked it up and ran it idly through his
hands. Tom leant forward and held out another
stick of tobacco. The supple hand of the native
was stretched out eagerly, and in that instant the
bushman summoned all his remaining power for
one great effort. He suddenly gripped the man's
extended wrist and twisted it with strength
enough to fling a heifer in the branding yards.
Instantly Banjo leapt on the struggling man,
whipping the surcingle round that slippery body,
and buckling it tight. The captive did not cry
out, but fought like the wild animal that he was,
but at last, bound hand and foot, he was propped



GOLDEN BUCKLES 217

up ag*ainst a tree at some little distance from
camp. A fire was lit so near him that the hot
and thirst-producing smoke blew all around him.

Tom rubbed salt into pieces of tinned meat and
fed the man with them. He eagerly licked the
salt and swallowed thQ tasty morsels till he had
eaten as much as he could hold ; then the fire was
made up, and Tom returned to camp, feeling as if
he was at the very end of his endurance. Fiery
spots danced before his eyes, the trees seemed to
sway to and fro in a most sickening manner, and
his knees could hardly support his weight. But
he steeled his will and went over to the quart-pot
of water.

No sacramental wine was ever drunk so rever-
ently as that last pannikin of tea. Tom forced
his companion's share down his throat with great
difl^culty. It resulted in a flicker of the eye-lids,
a gurgling effort to speak, and lethargy again.
His own portion, while it brought strength to his
body and enabled him to swallow some meat, did
nothing to alleviate the awful thirst.

He intended to watch the captive all night long,
but sleep would not be denied him. It was fitful,
but the hours of darkness were cool, and in the
morning Tom's first thought was one of hope.

The position of the bound man caused him to
smile. There was Banjo sitting up on his blanket,
examining his knife with great interest. Around
his ankle was a hobble, connected by a chain with
one round the bound legs of the wild black.
Banjo had watched all night of his own free will,
fastened to the captive, so that any movement to
escape would at once arouse him. White men
might be fools, but a pocket-knife was a very
desirable possession.

Tom took another handful of salt and walked
over, giving a passing "Good fella" to his boy,



2i8 GOLDEN BUCKLES

praise which, coming from him, was praise indeed,
and made the boy show his teeth with pleasure.

The wild man must have been raging with
thirst. He eagerly licked the salt to get the tem-
porary relief which it afforded, but only created
a greater longing for water. Tom let the
medicine do its work, and when no more salt could
be forced on him, bound a green-hide hobble
around the man's neck, and attached a long rope
to it.

Before leaving camp, Tom built a rough bough
shelter over his unconscious companion and slung
the canteens and quart-pots on the camel. Then
he mounted, fastened the rope to the saddle, and
told Banjo to free the man's ankles. He leapt to
his feet at once and made a dash for liberty, but
the neck-rope pulled him up. Again and again,
with his hands bound behind him, he tried to
break away, but at last gave it up, and set out
sullenly to slake his overpowering thirst.

Tom cocked his rifle, and hung on, for he was
very weak. Once the man tried to fray the rope
against a tree, but a shot searing a hole
through his plastered hair effectually stopped
all such tricks. It was a strange procession and
a grim one, for the lives of two white men de-
pended on the issue.

They reached water in three hours, a rock-hole
in an unexpected outcrop, not deep, but contain-
ing enough of the life-giving liquid to save the
party for four or five days, perhaps more. The
desolate mulga scrub was all around it, and a
perishing white man might have passed within
five yards of the hole without knowing it was
there. Native tracks were seen in the sand, but
they were several weeks old. In all probability
this was one of the sources of water used by the



GOLDEN BUCKLES 219

blacks who had harassed the party on their out-
ward journey.

Tom was an old bushman or he might never
have returned to his friend, but might have
vomited his life away on the banks of the rock-
hole. He drank very little at first; a few sips,
then filled the canteens ; then a few more sips, and
waited; and just before leaving, he put his face
and hands in the pool and took a drink. He gave
the wild black a drink also — as much as he needed
— but instead of setting him free, took him back
to camp, for the man might have poisoned the
water in revenge.

As soon as Tynan regained consciousness, he
was put on the camel and taken to the rock-hole,
and was left there while another trip was made
for the stores and gear. The warragul was still
bound to a tree when Tom and the black-boy re-
turned for the last time. For their own safety
they burnt his spears and boomerang before re-
leasing him and sped him on his way with some
parting shots, and Tom kept a sharp look out for
any revenge he might take. But the frightened
man made off as fast as he could, and they saw
no more of him.

As long as the water in the rock-hole lasted,
they camped beside it, to gather strength for the
next stage of that terrible journey. Finally they
filled canteens and quart-pots, gave man and beast
a drink, and started out again.



220 GOLDEN BUCKLES

CHAPTER XXXVIII
A Bush Letter-Box.

At last they reached the httle spring from
which they had set out west on their adventure.
The water in the canteens had lasted, but the fati-
gue of travel on foot had reduced them both to
mere shadows of the men they were. Haggard un-
shaven jaws, sun-blighted eyes, scraggy necks that
seemed just bone and sinew wrapped in tanned
skin, and drooping frames on which hung tattered
clothes. Both men had worn their boots to the
uppers, and now trudged along with their feet
bound in rags and bits of leather.

They camped at the spring as long as they
dared. The camel was in a very low state, and,
though their supply of rations was strictly
limited, they had to give the poor beast an oppor-
tunity to pick up. For themselves, they knew that
the rest they stood in need of could only come at
the journey's end.

When they had been there for nearly a week,
Tom said to his friend: "Jim, I don't half like
tackling the 70 miles to the Toolooroo springs
without having a look round. You see, we can't
reckon on any water, and it's a long stage with
only one camel. Old Sultan's pretty well done for."

"What could you do by looking round, Tom?"

"Well, there's the south route through the
Franklins. There was water when we came up
about 20 miles away from here, and another lot
15 miles further on, but I reckon they'll be dry
by now. My brother's grave is further than the
springs, so there's just the chance of those two
clajHPans."



GOLDEN BUCKLES 221

"And if they're dry, we'd have all that way
down through the ranges and . . . Why, Tom
we wQuld'nt have tucker for half the distance.
Let's take the shortest route and chance it."

"We might meet someone if we went south.
It's a thousand to one we wouldn't, but we're tak-
ing long odds anyway."

"So we might at Toolooroo springs, Tom. Some
Marnoola people, you know."

"Yes, that's right."

Tom puffed at his pipe for a few minutes. "If
I thought there was any chance of water at those
two camps south, I'd advise it, I would indeed,
Jim. If we're on water we'll get on somehow, but
neither" of us is fit to tackle another perish. . . .
How about if I leave you for a day or two and
cruise round with the camel?"

Courage is often due to physical well-being, and
cowardice to the reverse, so it must not be
thojught strange that Tynan replied :

"Why not send Banjo i"

"He couldn't do much good on foot."

"Well, why not let him take the camel?"

"That'd leave us absolutely stranded."

"Oh, he'd come back alright. He played the
game when he brought that warragul in."

"But he wanted my knife." Tom looked down
at his rags and laughed. "I've got nothing more
he wants now, I'll bet."

"Tom, old man," urged Tynan, and his voice
had a pleading note in it that told his friend he
had been taxed to his hmit; "Tom, old man, I'll
promise him my watch and pouch when he comes
back."

"As you like," was the response. "I'll bet he
comes back for that."

So Banjo was given his orders in the morning,
and was sent south with the camel, water, tucker,



222 GOLDEN BUCKLES

and tobacco, to see if there was water in the clay-
pans at which the party had camped coming up.

A week went by. No sign of Banjo. Another
one was nearly gone. The men looked blankly
into one another's eyes and saw death written
there. The black-boy had "slipped them up."

When the two men finally gave up trying to
deceive themselves and one another as to their
dilemma, and acknowledged that they had now to
make plans for a journey without either camel or
black-boy, they still had a fortnight's rations for
two men.

"We're not dead yet, by a long chalk," said Tom,
with forced cheerfulness. "Something may have
delayed that nigger. I reckon we give him
another day and then take water and tucker and
start out and let him catch us up. What d'you
say?"

"Yes, I reckon that's the best thing we can do.
was the answer, given in the same spirit, for
though both of them knew that probably they
would never reach the Toolooroo springs, they
realised that to give way to despair would lessen
what chances they had, so both of them put a
bold face on the venture.

Mutual danger had drawn these two men of
such different birth and training, very intimately
together. Failure and hardship make a far
stronger social cement than success and ease, as
is borne witness to by the almost proverbial clan-
nishness of the poor, and the travellers had had
a full measure of both hardship and failure. Tom
had grown to admire the way in which the young
man "stuck it out" under conditions entirely alien


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