Dot and the Kangaroo/Chapter VII
"I'm so glad you've come back!" she exclaimed.
The Kangaroo was a little breathless and excited. "We are not in danger at present," she said, "but one never knows when one will be, so we must move; and that will be more dangerous than staying where we are."
"Then let us stay," said Dot.
"That won't do," replied the Kangaroo. "This is the conclusion I have jumped to. If we stay here, the Blacks might come this way and their dingo dogs hunt us to death. To get to a safe place we must pass their camp. That is a little risky, but we must go that way. We can do this easily if the dogs don't get scent of us, as all the Blacks are prancing about and making a noise, having a kind of game in fact, and they are so amused that we ought to get past quite safely. I've done it many times before at night."
Dot looked round to say good-bye to the Koala, but the little animal had heard the Kangaroo speak of Blacks, and that word suggested to its empty little head that it must keep its skin whole, so, without waiting to be polite to Dot, it had sneaked up its gum tree and was well out of sight.
Without wasting time, Dot settled in the Kangaroo's pouch, and they started upon their perilous way.
For some distance the Kangaroo hopped along boldly, with an occasional warning to Dot to shut her eyes as they plunged through the bushes; but after crossing a watercourse, and climbing a stiff hill, she whispered that they must both keep quite silent, and told Dot to listen as she stopped for a moment.
Dot could hear to their right a murmuring of voices, and a steady beating sound. "Their camp is over there," said the Kangaroo, "that is the sound of their game."
"Can't we go some other way?" asked Dot. "No," answered the Kangaroo, "because past that place we can reach some very wild country where it would be hard for them to pursue us. We shall have to pass quite close to their playground." So in perfect silence they went on.
The Kangaroo seemed to Dot to approach the whereabouts of the Blackfellows as cautiously as when they had visited the water-hole the first night. Dot's little heart beat fast as the sound of the Blacks' corroboree became clearer and clearer, and they neared the scene of the dance. Soon she could hear the stamping of feet, the beating of weapons together, and the wild chanting; and sometimes there were the whimpering of dogs, and the cry of children at the camp a little distance from the corroboree ground.
The Kangaroo showed no signs of fear at the increasing noise of the Blacks, but every sound of a dog caused it to stop and twist about its big ears and sensitive nose, as it sniffed and listened.
Soon Dot could see a great red glare of firelight through the trees ahead of their track, and she knew that in that place the tribe of Black men were having a festive dance.
If they had gone on their way it is possible that they would have slipped past the Blacks without danger. But although the Kangaroo is as timid an animal as any in the bush, it is also very curious, and Dot's Kangaroo wished to peep at the corroboree. She whispered to Dot that it would be nice for a little Human to see some other Humans after being so long amongst bush creatures, and said, also, that there would be no great danger in hopping to a rock that would command a view of the open ground where the corroboree was being held. Of course Dot thought this would be great fun, so the Kangaroo took her to the rock, where they peeped through the trees and saw before them the weird scene and dance.
Dot nearly screamed with fright at the sight. She had thought she would see a few Black folk, not a crowd of such terrible people as she beheld. They did not look like human beings at all, but like dreadful demons, they were so wicked and ugly in appearance. The men who were dancing were without clothes, but their black bodies were painted with red and white stripes, and bits of down and feathers were stuck on their skin. Some had only white stripes over the places where their bones were, which made them look like skeletons flitting before the fire, or in and out of the surrounding darkness. The dancing men were divided from the rest of the tribe by a row of fires, which, burning brightly, lit the horrid scene with a lurid red light. The firelight seemed to make the ferocious faces of the tribe still more hideous. The tribe people were squatting in rows on the ground, beating boomerangs and spears together, or striking bags of skin with sticks, to make an accompaniment to the wailing song they sang. Sometimes the women would cease beating the skin bags to clap their hands and strike their sides, yelling the words of the corroboree song, as the painted figures, like fiends and skeletons, danced before the row of fires.
It was a terrifying sight to Dot. "Oh, Kangaroo!" she whispered, "they are dreadful, horrid creatures."
"They're just Humans," replied the Kangaroo, indulgently.
"But white Humans are not like that," said Dot.
"All Humans are the same underneath, they all kill kangaroos," said the Kangaroo. "Look there! they are playing at killing us in their dance."
Dot looked once more at the hideous figures as they left the fire and began acting like actors. One of the Blackfellows had come from a little bower of trees, and wore a few skins so arranged as to make him look as much like a kangaroo as possible, whilst he worked a stick which he pretended was a kangaroo's tail, and hopped about. The other painted savages were creeping in and out of the bushes with their spears and boomerangs as if they were hunting, and the dressed-up kangaroo made believe not to see them, but stooped down, nibbling grass.
"What an idea of a kangaroo!" sniffed Dot's friend, "why, a real kangaroo would have smelt or heard those Humans, and have bounded away far out of sight by now."
"But it's all sham," said Dot; "the Black man couldn't be a real kangaroo."
"Then it just shows how stupid Humans are to try and be one," said her friend. "Humans think themselves so clever," she continued, "but just see what bad kangaroos they make—such a simple thing to do, too! But their legs bend the wrong way for jumping, and that stick isn't any good for a tail, and it has to be worked with those big, clumsy arms. Just see, too, how those skins fit! Why it's enough to make a kangaroo's sides split with laughter to see such foolery!" Dot's friend peeped at the Black's acting with the contempt to be expected of a real kangaroo, who saw human beings pretending to be one of those noble animals. Dot thought the Kangaroo had never looked so grand before. She was so tall, so big, and yet so graceful: a really beautiful creature.
"Well, that's over!" remarked the Kangaroo, as one of the Blacks pretended to spear the dressed-up Blackfellow, and all the rest began to dance around, whilst the sham kangaroo made believe to be dead. "Well, I forgive their killing such a silly creature! There wasn't a jump in it."
After more dancing to the singing and noise of the on-lookers, a Blackfellow came from the little bower in the dim background, with a battered straw hat on, and a few rags tied round his neck and wrist, in imitation of a collar and cuffs. The fellow tried to act the part of a white man, although he had no more clothes on than the old hat and rags. But, after a great deal of dancing, he strutted about, pulled up the rag collar, made a great fuss with his rag cuffs, and kept taking off his old straw hat to the other Blackfellows, and to the rest of the tribe, who kept up the noise on the other side of the fires.
"Now this is better!" said the Kangaroo, with a smile. "It's very silly, but Willy Wagtail says that is just the way Humans go on in the town. Black Humans can act being white Humans, but they are of no good as kangaroos."
Dot thought that if men behaved like that in towns it must be very strange. She had not seen any like the acting Blackfellow at her cottage home. But she did not say anything, for it was quite clear in her little mind that Blackfellows, kangaroos, and willy wagtails had a very poor opinion of white people. She felt that they must all be wrong; but, all the same, she sometimes wished she could be a noble kangaroo, and not a despised human being.
"I wish I were not a little white girl," she whispered to the Kangaroo.
The gentle animal patted her kindly with her delicate black hands.
"You are as nice now as my baby kangaroo," she said sadly, "but you will have to grow into a real white Human. For some reason there have to be all sorts of creatures on the earth. There are hawks, snakes, dingoes and humans, and no one can tell for what good they exist. They must have dropped on to this world by mistake for another, where there could only have been themselves. After all," said the kind animal, "it wouldn't do for every one to be a kangaroo, for I doubt if there would be enough grass; but you may become an improved Human."
"How could I be that?" asked Dot, eagerly.
"Never wear kangaroo leather boots—never use kangaroo skin rugs, and,"—here it hesitated a little, as though the subject were a most unpleasant one to mention.
"Never do what?" enquired Dot, anxious to know all that she should do, so as to be improved.
"Never, never eat kangaroo-tail soup!" said the Kangaroo, solemnly.
"I never will," said Dot, earnestly, "I will be an improved Human."
This conversation had been so serious to both Dot and the Kangaroo, that they had quite forgotten the perilousness of their position. Perhaps this was because the kangaroo cannot think, but it quickly jumped to the conclusion that they were in danger.
Whilst they had been peeping at the corroboree, and talking, the dingo dogs that had been prowling around the camp, had caught scent of the Kangaroo; and, following the trail, had set up an angry snapping and howling.
The instant this sound was heard by the Kangaroo, she made an immense bound, and as she seemed to fly through the bush, Dot could hear the sounds of the corroboree give place to a noise of shouting and disorder: the dingo dogs and the Blacks were all in pursuit, and Dot's Kangaroo, with little Dot in her pouch, was leaping and bounding at a terrific pace to save both their lives!