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The Peril Finders

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Peril Finders, by George Manville Fenn.

  ________________________________________________________________________This is a long and excellent book, though a rare one, and is GeorgeManville Fenn at his very best. It starts in California, where severalsettlers had been trying to gain a living as fruit-growers, but thevarious blights and insects were getting the upper hand, and failure wasin the air all round. One day an aged and deranged old prospector comesthere, having walked in from the mountains and salt-plains, manyhundreds of miles away. He has a belt with some excellent samples ofgold, and a story that there are ancient cities out there, where gold isabundant. He has a few lucid moments just before dying. Some of thesettlers decide that they might as well give up, and go in search ofthese gold-mountains and their ancient cities.

  The distances are huge. There are episodes with rattle-snakes which arebrilliantly written. Eventually they come to one of these cities,carved into the rock. They find evidence that the city had been sackedby invaders, many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before. Butwhile they are there they are attacked by a large number of Apaches,whom eventually they manage to beat off by an ingenious trick. So theyare once again on their travels. They spend several years, but nevermanage to find the gold-mountains, though they do find another sackedcity. Eventually they decide that enough is enough, and they make theirway back to their original fruit-farms, where they find all the otherneighbouring settlers gone, but to their surprise they find their ownfarms blooming with excellent fruit, natural predators for the blightsand scale-insects having arrived on the scene. So they move back intotheir old farm buildings, and carry on their businesses.

  There are several adults, all men, in the story, but the principalsare two lads whose fathers are leading the expedition. Another hero isan American settler, who has great wisdom and character, having muchmore experience of the wilderness than any of the others. Otherimportant characters are the mules that carry their equipment, and alsothe extremely important water kegs. The horses are very important, too.You will love this book, especially if you can make it into anaudiobook, but it will be one of no mean duration.

  ________________________________________________________________________THE PERIL FINDERS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.



  "Well, boys, where have you been?"

  The speaker, a sturdy-looking, sun-tanned man, seated upon a home-madestool at a rough home-made table in a home-made house of rugged,coarsely-sawn boards, with an open roof covered in with what one of theboys had called wooden slates, had looked up from his writing, and as hespoke carefully wiped his pen--for pens were scarce--and corked thelittle stone bottle of ink so that it should not evaporate in thesuper-heated atmosphere, before it was wanted again for the writing ofone of the rare letters dispatched to England, these being few, thewriter preferring to wait till the much-talked-of better days came--thedays for which they had been patiently waiting five years.

  The boys looked sharply one at the other, their eyes seeming to say,"You tell him!" But neither of them spoke, and the penman saidsharply--

  "Hallo! Been in some mischief?"

  The boys spoke out together then, and muddled or blurred their reply,for one said, "No, fa," being his shortening of _father_, and the othercried, "No, sir," both looking indignant at the suggestion. "What haveyou been doing, then?"

  "Fishing, sir."

  "Good lads!" cried the first speaker, leaning back on his seat, andstarting up and grasping the rough edge of the table to save himselffrom falling, while the boys burst out laughing.

  "Yes, you may laugh, my fine fellows," said the first speaker ratherpettishly, "but it wouldn't have been pleasant for me if I had gonedown."

  "No, fa," said his son, colouring and speaking quickly. "I beg yourpardon! I am sorry."

  "I know, Chris. You didn't think. I suppose it looked droll."

  "Yes, sir," said the other boy, hastily. "I beg your pardon too. Youthought you were in an arm-chair, didn't you?"

  "I did, my boy," was the reply, given in company with a weary sigh."But granted, granted, and thank you. I'm glad to find that though weare leading this half savage life, you young fellows don't forget thatyou are gentlemen."

  "Gentlemen's sons, sir," said the second boy modestly.

  "Same thing, Ned Bourne. Well, so we're to have a treat: fish fordinner, eh? Where are they?"

  The boys exchanged glances again, their eyes twinkling with mirth, andthen they burst out laughing merrily once more.

  "A big basketful, boys?" And the speaker rubbed his hands.

  "No, fa," cried the first boy. "We haven't caught one."

  "What! Why, where did you go?"

  "To the upper pool, sir," said the second boy, "and there wasn't afish."

  "Then why didn't you try the river?"

  "There is no river now, fa."

  "No river?"

  "No, fa; it was all turned into pools when we were there a fortnightago, and now there's only a muddy spot here and there; all the rest havedried-up."

  "Tut, tut, tut! What a place it is!"

  "Oh, it will be better soon, sir," said the second boy cheerfully."There'll be a heavy rain, the river will fill again, and the fish beginrunning up from the sea. It's such a lovely morning out, and theflowers are glorious."

  "Yes, Ned, lovely and glorious," said the penman sadly. "It is, as Ihave often said, a perfect paradise--a beautiful garden. I don't wonderthat the old mission fathers called it the Valley of the Angels. Butthough we can drink in the beauty of the place it does not quench one'sthirst, and not being herbivorous people, we can't feed on flowers. Ohdear! Then there are no fish?"

  "Not till the rains come, fa."

  "And when they do come the wet will find it easy to get to your skin,Chris--and to yours too, Ned Bourne. What a pair of ragamuffins youlook!"

  The two frank, good-looking lads coloured through their bronzed skins,and each involuntarily clapped his hand to a guilty spot--that is tosay, one covered a triangular hole in his knickerbockers and the otherpressed together the sides of a long slit in his Norfolk jacket, andthey spoke together again.

  "I got hung up in the agaves, father, and the thorns catch like hooks."

  "A nail ran into my knicks, sir, when I was on the roof mending theshingles."

  "A very meritorious proceeding, my dear Ned, but there are needles andthread in the chest: why didn't you mend your knicks, as you call them?Don't let's degenerate into scarecrows because we are obliged to livethis Robinson Crusoe-like life. It's many years since I read that book,Chris, but if I recollect right he used not only to mend his ownclothes, but make new ones out of goat-skins. `A stitch in time savesnine,' boys, so mend your ways--I mean the open ways where the wind andrain get in. See anything of your father, Ned?"

  "Yes, sir; he's working away with Mr Wilton up in the farorange-grove."

  "Far orange-grove," repeated Christopher Lee's father bitterly; "a grovewithout oranges. Is the blight--the scale, I mean--any better upthere?"

  "No, sir. Father said it was a hundred times worse."

  "But that was exaggeration, Ned," cried Chris eagerly. "It's very bad,but not a hundred times worse than it was last time we were there."

  "Say eighty or ninety times worse, then," said Chris's father bitterly.

  "No; dad's right, sir," cried Ned Bourne. "The twigs and leaves arecovered with those nasty little tortoise-like things, and he says theyare sucking all the juices out of the trees."

  "They might have waited till the fruit was ripe," said Chris, with agrin, "and then been contented with sucking a few oranges."

Doctor Lee smiled sadly at his son, and was silent for a few momentsbefore saying--

  "That's bad news indeed, boys; it's like the last straw that breaks thecamel's back. I did hope that the orange trees were going to be betterthis year; it would have made up for that other disappointment."

  "What other disappointment, fa?" cried Chris sharply.

  "Over the peaches. I've been through the plantations this morningbefore I sat down to write home about our troubles."

  "But have the peaches got scale too, father?"

  "Yes, my boy, and every other blight and disease possible to them,without counting the dry shrivelled state they are in from the drought."

  "Oh dear!" sighed Chris. "There seems to be nothing here butdisappointments."

  "Oh yes, there is, my boy," said the doctor; "it is a land of beauty andperfect health."

  "Yes, it's beautiful enough, fa," said Chris grudgingly, "and it'swonderful to see Mr Bourne, who used to be so weak that he had to becarried out to lie in the shade, while now he can do anything. He runsfaster than we can, doesn't he, Ned?"

  "Ever so much," said the lad proudly, and with glistening eyes.

  "And he carried that tree to the saw-pit," said Chris; "the one wecouldn't lift."

  "Yes, he has thoroughly recovered," said the doctor, "and we were noneof us so well before in our lives."

  "But that makes it so bad for you, fa," said Chris, with something ofhis father's bitterness of tone. "How are you ever going to get apractice together if people will be so horribly healthy?"

  "What!" cried the doctor. "Horribly healthy, indeed! Why, you wickedyoung ruffian, do you suppose that I want people to be ill? Thankgoodness that it is such a paradise of beauty and health. Don't I havepeople come from a hundred miles round with their accidents--brokenlimbs and cuts?"

  "Doctor Lee," said the other boy, who had been sitting on a flour-barrelvery silent and thoughtful and with his brow puckered up, while hisvoice sounded eager and inquiring.

  "What is it, sir? Are you going to defend Chris?"

  "No, sir; I wasn't thinking about what he said, but about the wayeverything we have planted fails. I can't understand it."

  "Can't you, my boy?"

  "No, sir. We all came here from England, didn't we, to seek forhealth?"

  "That's right, Ned."

  "Father gave up his living in Derbyshire because if he had stopped anylonger he would have died."

  "Yes, Ned, and Mr Wilton gave up his practice as a lawyer because hisdoctor said that he was in the last stage of consumption."

  "But you didn't, sir."

  "I was not his attendant, my boy. I had never seen him or Mr Wiltontill I met them here on this land they have taken up."

  "Did you think they'd die, sir?"

  "I was afraid so, Ned. I never expected to see them recover as theyhave."

  "Then I won't say it's a horribly disappointing place," cried Ned,proudly. "I say it's beautiful and grand."

  "So it is, my boy," said the doctor; "but why have you begun talkinglike this?"

  "Oh, that's nothing to do with what I was going to say, sir," said theboy excitedly.

  "What were you going to say, then?" asked the doctor, smiling.

  "That I can't understand it, sir."

  "Well, you said so before," cried Chris grumpily.

  "Of course I did; you needn't catch me up, Chris.--I mean this, sir; Ican't understand why it is that the trees and flowers and other thingsgrow so beautifully here, while the peaches and oranges, bananas andcorns are always killed by frost or want of water, when they are notcovered with insects and grubs which make them wither away."

  "That's simple enough, my dear boy," said the doctor gravely. "Allthose things which flourish so well are natives of this part of theworld, and grow wild. Those which we have planted are foreign to thesoil, and grow after the fashion to which they have been trained bycultivation. Nature is a better gardener than man, but fruits of thesoil that she produces and which flourish so bravely are not suited toour requirements."

  "Oh, I see," said Ned thoughtfully. "But what about the millions ofinsects? Why don't Nature's plants get blighted the same as ours do?"

  "They are," replied the doctor; "only in the enormous space and amongstthe millions of trees spread about, we do not notice that a part of themsuffer. It is only in the plantations and orchards and gardens setapart by man for growing things quite foreign to the soil, that thedamage is so plain. Nature never meant groves of oranges to flourishhere, or they would have existed--at least, so it seems to me. As itis, we choose to settle down upon wild land that has been the home ofthe insects which annoy us ever since the beginning of time, and plantthose foreign trees, so we must take our chance of their succeeding.Who's that coming across the plantation?"

  "Mr Wilton," said Chris, running to the door.

  "And father along with him," cried Ned.

  "Tut, tut, tut! To dinner, I suppose," said the doctor dismally."Potatoes and damper! Oh, boys, I did think you would have had a dishof fish."