Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/64

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to witness their triumph, no friendly steamer was at hand to bear them back to the popular ovation that awaited them in Melbourne; and so they had no other alternative than to retrace their steps, retraverse the overland route with their faces now turned to the south, and make with all possible speed for the depot at Cooper's Creek. It was literally a race for life, and poor Gray perished on the way. The surviving three, by a singularly sad coincidence, reached Cooper's Creek on the afternoon of the very day on which the depot had been abandoned by the party whom Burke had left in charge. Brahe, the officer in command of the depot, finding his stock of provisions growing smaller, and feeling convinced that the explorers must have either perished, or else returned to the settled districts by some other route, had broken up his camp and started southwards in complete ignorance of the immediate proximity of the returning heroes. Before leaving, he took the precaution of burying some provision at the foot of a tree which he had marked with the word "Dig." When Burke and his companions came up a few hours afterwards, weak, weary, and well-nigh exhausted and found the camp on which their salvation depended silent and deserted, their anguish, astonishment and cruel disappointment may well be imagined. It was some time before the unfortunate little band realised the full extent of this wholly unexpected disaster. After having achieved the great work which all their predecessor in the field of Australian exploration had failed to accomplish, this was indeed a sad anti-climax to all the hopes and anticipations that had cheered their lonely march across the wide Australian plains. When, after a brief interval of dazed astonishment, they recovered