Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/67

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53
THE STORY OF BURKE AND WILLS.

taken. He, in his turn, anxiously looked around but could see no signs of the presence of friends, Brahe, by another grievous oversight, having left no indication whatever to show that he had been there a second time. Then came the tragic close of this brilliant and successful enterprise. Burke and his two companions, enfeebled and emaciated by fatigue and privation, struggled on in the vain hope of reaching one of the outlying squatters' stations of South Australia. Wills was the first to succumb to exhaustion; Burke yielded up his brave spirit a day or two afterwards; and King would assuredly have shaded the sad fate of his companions in misfortune had he not luckily fallen in with a party of blacks who treated him very kindly and allowed him to live with them for several months. He was the hardiest of the three, and by his indefatigable exertions throughout the appalling difficulties and disappointments that met them at every step, he succeeded in prolonging the lives of Burke and Wills for days. The last words committed to paper by the dying leader of the expedition were: "King has behaved nobly and deserves to be well rewarded." King was in truth a remarkable example of the devoted Irishman of humble birth, who conceives an ardent affection for the brave leader under whose banner he is serving, and who is ready to follow whithersoever he goeth. As one of the historians of the expedition rightly remarks: "Having tended Burke and Wills to their death, this brave young soldier preserved their papers with a faithful devotion and constant heroism worthy of the Victoria Cross."

When Brahe arrived in Melbourne with the startling news that none of the explorers had returned to the depot at Cooper's Creek, and when no tidings of them could be obtained from any source, the whole colony was thrown into