Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/115

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79
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

led the way, was soon aboard with O'Reilly. M—— meanwhile remained on the shore, and, when appealed to by Maguire in a whisper to "come on," answered in a trembling voice: "No, I promised my wife not to go in the boat." This led one of Maguire's cousins, who had come aboard before the others, to answer back in a sneering tone: "All right, go home to your wife." Yet M—— did not deserve this taunt of cowardice. He was brave enough when duty called him, as he afterwards showed.

The four men in the boat were careful to pull quietly till there was no danger of their being overheard. Then they bent vigorously to the oars, as if rowing for life. Little was said, but thoughts of what they had at stake were all the deeper for not finding vent in words. By sunrise the boat had got almost out of sight of land, only the tops of the high sand-hills being visible. The course was a straight line of forty miles across Geographe Bay. It had been arranged to lie in wait for the Vigilant on the further shore, and row toward her as she passed the northern head of the bay. After pulling strongly till near noon the men began to feel the need of food and drink, which from some reason or other had not been provided for their cruise. O'Reilly, who had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, suffered dreadfully from thirst. Accordingly the boat was run ashore through the surf and pulled high and dry on the beach. The drenching which the men got in doing this gave them temporary relief from thirst. But this soon became so intense that they wandered for hours through the dried swamps in search of water. Hundreds of paper-bark trees were examined for the wished for drink, but not a drop could be found. O'Reilly became alarmed at the burning pain in his chest, which seemed, as if its whole inner surface were covered with a blister. As night was coming on they came to a cattle-track, which led to a shallow and muddy pool. But the water was too foul to drink, so they had to content themselves with cooling their faces in it.

As the whaler would not put to sea till morning or, perhaps, the following evening, O'Reilly was in sore need of sustenance to keep up his strength. Fortunately there was a man living in a log house a few miles away whom the Maguires knew and thought well of. He was an Englishman named Johnson, and lived on this lonely expanse of coast with no neighbor nearer than forty miles, as keeper of a large herd of buffalo cows. The three men started for his house, leaving O'Reilly in the Bush for safety, but promising that one should return with food and drink as soon as he could get away unobserved. The poor sufferer whom they left behind watched them winding in and out among the sand-hills till they were lost to view. Then he lay down on the sand in a shady spot and tried to sleep. But the terrible blistering pain in his chest made it impossible for him to remain in a reclining position,