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Rob Harlow's Adventures: A Story of the Grand Chaco

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Rob Harlow's Adventures, a Story of the Grand Chaco, by George ManvilleFenn.


  A small private naturalist's expedition is about to take place up one ofthe Paraguay rivers. The eponymous hero, Rob Harlow, is a teenager.They are going to be rowed up the river, and the larger vessel that hadbrought then there, with its Italian captain, is to wait for them. Thecaptain's son, Giovanni, is very keen to come with them, and his fatherthinks it would be a very good idea. The other adults on the trip arenot so happy about the responsibility, but eventually he is allowed tocome. He is about the same age as our hero, Rob.

  There ensue the usual desperate situations we always get from thisauthor. Serpents; people getting lost and eventually found, having losttheir reason; attacks by Indians; insects; pumas; jaguars; and variousother problems with animals. There are even quarrels between the boys,arising from a silly misunderstanding.

  It's good stuff, and will be numbered among George Manville Fenn's best,which is rather a long list.





  "Don't they bite, sir?"


  _Smick! smack! flap_!

  "Oh, murder!"

  "What's the matter, sir?"

  "My hand."

  "Hurt it, sir?"

  "I should think I have."

  "You should wait till they've sucked 'emselves full and then hit 'em;they're lazy then. Too quick for you now."

  "The wretches! I shall be spotted all over, like a currant dumpling. Isay, Shaddy, do they always bite like this?"

  "Well, yes, sir," said the man addressed, about as ugly a specimen ofhumanity as could be met in a day's march, for he had only one eye, andbeneath that a peculiar, puckered scar extending down to the corner ofhis mouth, shaggy short hair, neither black nor grey--a kind ofpepper-and-salt colour--yellow teeth in a very large mouth, and a skinso dark and hairy that he looked like some kind of savage, dressed in apair of canvas trousers and a shirt that had once been scarlet, but wasnow stained, faded, and rubbed into a neutral grub or warm earthy tint.He wore no braces, but a kind of belt of what seemed to be snake orlizard skin, fastened with either a silver or pewter buckle. Add tothis the fact that his feet were bare, his sleeves rolled up over hismahogany-coloured arms, and that his shirt was open at the throat,showing his full neck and hairy chest; add also that he was about fivefeet, nine, very broad-shouldered and muscular, and you have ShadrachNaylor, about the last person any one would take to be an Englishman orselect for a companion on a trip up one of the grandest rivers of SouthAmerica.

  But there he was that hot, sunny day, standing up in the stern of thebroad, lightly built boat which swung by a long rope some fifty feetbehind a large schooner, of shallow draught but of lofty rig, so thather tremendous tapering masts might carry their sails high above thetrees which formed a verdant wall on each side of the great river, andso catch the breeze when all below was sheltered and calm.

  The schooner was not anchored, but fast aground upon one of the shiftingsand-banks that made navigation difficult. Here she was likely to lieuntil the water rose, or a fresh cool wind blew from the south androughened the dull silvery gleaming surface into waves where she couldroll and rock and work a channel for herself through the sand, and sailonward tugging the boat which swung behind.

  It was hot, blistering hot! and all was very still save for the ripplingmurmur of the flowing river and the faint buzz of the insect plagueswhich had come hunting from the western shore, a couple of hundred yardsaway, while the eastern was fully two miles off, and the voices of theman and the boy he addressed sounded strange in the vast solitudesthrough which the mighty river ran.

  Not that these two were alone, for there were five more occupants of theboat, one a white man--from his dress--a leg being visible beneath akind of awning formed of canvas, the other four, Indians orhalf-breeds--from the absence of clothing and the colour of their skinsas they lay forward--fast asleep, like the occupant of the covered-inportion.

  The great schooner was broad and Dutch-like in its capacious beam, andmanned by a fair-sized crew, but not a soul was visible, for it wasearly in the afternoon; the vessel was immovable, and all on board werefast asleep.

  Shadrach Naylor, too, had been having his nap, with his pipe in hismouth, but it had fallen out with a rap in the bottom of the boat, andthis had awakened him with a start to pick it up. He valued that pipehighly as one of his very few possessions--a value not visible to anyone else, for intrinsically, if it had been less black and not quite somuch chipped, it might have been worth a farthing English current coinof the realm.

  So Shadrach Naylor, familiarly known as "Shaddy," opened his one eye soas to find his pipe, picked it up, and was in the act of replacing it inhis mouth prior to closing his eye again, when the sharp, piercing, darkorb rested upon Rob Harlow, seated in the stern, roasting in the sun,and holding a line that trailed away overboard into the deep waterbehind the sand-bank.

  Perhaps it was from being so ugly a man and knowing it that Shaddy had agreat liking for Rob Harlow, who was an English lad, sun-burnt,brown-haired, well built, fairly athletic, at most sixteen, verygood-looking, and perfectly ignorant of the fact.

  So Shaddy rose from forward, and, with his toes spreading out like anIndian's, stepped from thwart to thwart till he was alongside of Rob, ofwhom he asked the question respecting the biting, his inquiry relatingto the fish, while Rob's reply applied to the insects which worried himin their search for juicy portions of his skin.

  But they were not allowed to feed in peace, for Rob smacked and slappedsharply, viciously, but vainly, doing far more injury to himself than tothe gnat-like flies, so, to repeat his words,--

  "I say, Shaddy, do they always bite like this?"

  "Well, yes, sir," said Shaddy, "mostlings. It's one down and t'othercome on with them. It's these here in the morning, and when they'vedone the sand-flies take their turn till sun goes down, and then outcomes the skeeters to make a night of it."

  "Ugh!" ejaculated Rob, giving himself a vicious rub. "I'm beginning towish I hadn't come. It's horrible."

  "Not it, youngster. You'll soon get used to 'em. I don't mind; theydon't hurt me. Wait a bit, and, pretty little creeturs, you'll likeit."

  "What! Like being bitten?"

  "To be sure, sir. 'Livens you up a bit in this hot sleepy country; doesyour skin good; stimmylates, like, same as a rub with a good rough towelat home."

  Rob gave vent to a surly grunt and jerked his line.

  "I don't believe there are any fish here," he said.

  "No fish! Ah! that's what we boys used to say o' half-holidays when wetook our tackle to Clapham Common to fish the ponds there. We alwaysused to say there was no fish beside the tiddlers, and them you couldpull out as fast as you liked with a bit o' worm without a hook, butthere was fish there then--big perch and whacking carp, and now and thenone of us used to get hold of a good one, and then we used to sing quiteanother song.--I say, sir!"


  "This here's rather different to Clapham Common, isn't it?"

  "Yes," said Rob, "but it isn't what I expected."

  "What did you 'spect, then? Ain't the river big enough for you?"

  "Oh! it's big enough," said the lad, snatching his line in. "Didn'tseem like a river down behind there."

  "Right, my l
ad; like being at sea, ain't it?"

  "Yes, and it's all so flat where you can see the shore. An ashy, dusty,dreary place, either too hot or too cold! Why, I wouldn't live at MonteVideo or Buenos Ayres for all the money in the world."

  "And right you'd be, my lad, says Shadrach Naylor. Ah! Why, look atthat! Fish is fish all the world over. You don't expect they'll biteat a bare hook, do you?"

  "Bother the bait! it's off again," said Rob, who had just pulled in theline. "It always seems to come off."

  "Not it, lad. There, I'll put a bit o' meat on for you. It's themlittle beggars nibbles it off.--There you are; that's a good bait.Perhaps you may get a bite this time. As I says, fish is fish all theworld over, and they're the most onaccountable things there is. One daythey're savage after food; next day you may hold a bait close to theirnoses, and they won't look at it. But you're hot and tired, my lad.Why don't you do as others do, take to your sister?"

  "My sister!" cried Rob, staring. "I haven't got one."

  "I didn't say sister," said Shaddy, showing his yellow teeth; "I saidsister--nap."

  "I know you did," grumbled Rob; "why don't you say siesta?"

  "'Cause I don't care about making mouthfuls of small words, my lad."

  _Splash_! went the freshly thrown-in bait.

  "I don't like sleeping in the middle of the day," said Rob as he took afresh hold of his line.

  "Wait a bit, my lad, and you'll like getting a snooze on there when youcan get a chance. And so you're a bit disappynted in the country, areyou?"

  "Yes, but it's been getting better the last few days."

  "Yes," said Shaddy, "ever so much; and as soon as you get used to ityou'll say it's the beautifullest place in the world."

  Rob turned to him quickly, his irritation passing away.

  "Yes, it is getting beautiful," he said; "the trees all along that sideare very grand."

  "Ah," said Shaddy, replacing the great sheath-knife with which he hadbeen cutting up his tobacco in his belt, "and it's bigger and wilderwhen we get higher up. I don't wonder at their calling it the GrandChaco."

  "The trees are wonderful," said Rob softly as he gazed at the great wallof verdure.

  "And it's wonderfuller inside as you go on and up the little rivers orcreeks. Just you wait a bit, my lad, and you'll see. I can show youthings as'll open your eyes. You won't think the place dull."

  "I suppose we are getting up toward quite the middle of South America,aren't we?"

  "Getting that way, my lad, but not yet. Wasn't that a bite?"

  "No," replied Rob confidently. "I say, Shaddy, are there really anygood fish in this river? Isn't it too big?"

  "Wants a big river to hold big fish in, millions of 'em, big as you are.Wait, and you'll see."

  "But one gets so tired of waiting."

  "But we has to wait all the same, and how those 'Talians get up and downas they do is always a wonder to me. I suppose they like waiting, andhaving their snoozes in the hot sun. 'Tis their nature to. Naples ishot enough, but not like this."

  "Have you been to Italy?"

  "'Ain't many places I haven't been to, my lad."

  "But you've been here a long time."

  "Nigh upon twenty year up and down; and when I go to a place I like toforage and ferret about, being fond of a bit o' sport. That's how it isI know so much of the country up here. Couldn't help larning it. Nocredit to a man then."

  "What are you looking at?" said Rob.

  "Nothing, but looking out for squalls."

  "Change of weather?"

  "Nay, not yet. I meant Indian squalls. I didn't know as there were tobe no watch kept, or I wouldn't have slept. It ain't safe, my lad, togo to sleep close to the shore this side."

  "Why! Wild beasts?"

  "Nay, wild Indians, as hates the whites, and would come out from underthe trees in their canoes and attack us if they knowed we were here. Itold the skipper so, but he's like them 'talians: knows everythinghimself, so that he as good as told me to mind my own business, and so Idid. But this side of the river's all savage and wild, my lad. Thepeople had rough hard times with the old Spaniards, so that every whiteman's a Spaniard to them, and if they get a chance it's spear or club."

  Rob looked rather nervously along the interlacing trees hung with theloveliest of vine and creeper, and then jerked his line.

  "Ah, it's all right enough, sir, if you keep your eyes open. I can't,you see: only one."

  "How did you lose your eye, Shaddy?"

  "Tiger," said the man shortly.

  "There are no tigers here," said Rob. "They are in India."

  "I know that. Striped ones they are, and bigger than these here. I'veknown 'em swim off from Johore across to Singapore--though they're bigcats--and then lie in wait for the poor Chinese coolie chaps and carry'em off. They call these big spotted chaps tigers, though, out here;but they're jaggers: that's what they are. Call 'em painters up inTexas and Arizona and them parts north. Jaggered my eye out anyhow."

  "How was it?"

  "I was shooting, and after lying in wait for one of the beggars fornights, I saw my gentleman--coming after a calf he was--and I shot him.`Dead!' I says, for he just gave one snarly cry, turned over on hisback, clawed about a bit, and then lay down on his side, and I went up,knife in hand, meaning to have his spotted skin."

  Shaddy stopped and laid his hand over the scar and empty eye cavity, asif they throbbed still.

  "Well?" cried Rob eagerly.

  "No; it wasn't well, my lad. All the worst's coming. He wasn't dead abit, and before I knew where I was, he sent my rifle flying, and he hadme. It was one leap and a wipe down the face with his right paw, andthen his jaws were fixed in my right shoulder, and down I went on myback. If I hadn't twisted a bit he'd have torn me with his hind clawssame as a cat does a great rat, and then I shouldn't have been here tobe your guide. As it was, he kicked and tore up the earth, and then heleft go of my shoulder and turned over on his side, and died in realearnest."

  "The bullet had taken effect?"

  "Nay, my lad; it was my knife. I thought it was my turn again, and, asI had it in my hand, I felt for his heart, and found it."

  "How horrible!"

  "Yes, it was, my lad, very; but I won that game. I didn't get the skinmoney, for I didn't care for it then. I couldn't see very well. Why, Iwas quite blind for a month after, and then all the strength of two eyesseemed to go into this one. Painters they call 'em nor'ard, as I said;and he painted me prettily, didn't he, right down this cheek? Never sawa girl who thought me handsome enough to want to marry me."

  Shaddy laughed.

  "What is it?" said Rob.

  "I was thinking about Mr Brazier yonder when I came to you at BuenosAyres."

  "What, when he was waiting for the guide Captain Ossolo said he couldrecommend?"

  Shaddy nodded.

  "He looked quite scared at me. Most people do; and the captain hadquite a job to persuade him that I should be the very man."

  "Yes, and it was not till the captain said he would not get one half sogood that he engaged you."

  "That's so, my lad. But I am a rum 'un, ain't I?"

  "You're not nice-looking, Shaddy," said Rob, gazing at him thoughtfully;"but I never notice it now, and--well, yes, you are always very kind tome. I like you," added the boy frankly.

  Shaddy's one eye flashed, and he did not look half so ferocious.

  "Thank ye, my lad," he cried, stretching out his great hand. "Would youmind laying your fist in there and saying that again?"

  Rob laughed, looked full in the man's eye, and laid his hand in thebroad palm, but wished the next moment that he had not, for the fingersclosed over his with a tremendous grip.

  "I say, you hurt!" he cried.

  "Ay, I suppose so," said Shaddy, loosing his grip a little. "I forgotthat. Never mind. It was meant honest, and Mr Brazier shan't repentbringing me."

  "I don't think he does now," said Rob. "He told me yesterda
y that youwere a staunch sort of fellow."

  "Ah! thank ye," said Shaddy, smiling more broadly; and his ruffianly,piratical look was superseded by a frank aspect which transformed him."You see, Mr Harlow, I'm a sort of a cocoa-nutty fellow, all shaggyhusk outside. You find that pretty tough till you get through it, andthen you ain't done, for there's the shell, and that's hard enough tomake you chuck me away; but if you persevere with me, why, there insidethat shell is something that ain't peach, nor orange, nor soft banana,but not such very bad stuff after all."

  "I should think it isn't," cried Rob. "I say, it would make some of ourboys at home stare who only know cocoa-nut all hard and woody, and themilk sickly enough to throw away, if they could have one of thedelicious creamy nuts that we get here."

  "Yes, my lad, they're not bad when you're thirsty, nor the orangeseither."

  "Delicious!" cried Rob.

  "Ay. I've lived for weeks at a time on nothing but oranges andcocoanuts, and a bit of fish caught just now and then with my hands,when I've been exploring like and hunting for gold."

  "For gold? Is there gold about here?"

  "Lots, my lad, washed down the rivers. I've often found it."

  "Then you ought to be rich."

  The man chuckled.

  "Gold sounds fine, sir, but it's a great cheat. My 'sperience of goldhas always been that it takes two pounds' worth of trouble to get onepound's worth o' metal. So that don't pay. Seems to me from what Ihear that it's the same next door with dymons."

  "Next door?"

  "Well, up yonder in Brazil. I should say your Mr Brazier will dobetter collecting vegetables, if so be he can find any one to buy 'emafterwards. What do you call 'em--orkards?"

  "Orchids," said Rob.

  "But who's going to buy 'em?"

  "Oh, I don't know," said Rob, laughing. "There are plenty of peopleglad to get them in England for their hothouses. Besides, there are thebotanists always very eager to see any new kinds."

  "Better try and get some new kinds o' birds. There's lots here withcolours that make your eyes ache. They'd be better than vegetables.Why, right up north--I've never seen any down here--there's little humpybirds a bit bigger than a cuckoo, with tails a yard long and breastsever so much ruddier than robins', and all the rest of a green thatshines as if the feathers were made of copper and gold mixed."

  "Mr Brazier hasn't come after birds."

  "Well then, look here; I can put him up to a better way of making money.What do you say to getting lots of things to send to the 'LogicalGardens? Lions and tigers and monkeys--my word, there are some rumlittle beggars of monkeys out here."

  "No lions in America, Shaddy."

  "Oh, ain't there, my lad? I'll show you plenty, leastwise what we callslions here. I'll tell you what--snakes and serpents. They'd give noend for one of our big water-snakes. My word, there are some whackersup these rivers."

  "How big?" said Rob, hiding a smile--"two hundred feet long?"

  "Gammon!" growled Shaddy; "I ain't one of your romancing sort. Truth'sbig enough for me. So's the snakes I've seen. I've had a skin of onefellow six-and-twenty foot long, and as opened out nearly nine foot laidflat. I dessay it stretched a bit in the skinning, but it shrunk a bitin the drying, so that was about its size, and I've seen more than onethat must have been longer, though it's hard to measure a twisting,twirling thing with your eye when it's worming its way through mud andwater and long grass."

  "Water-snakes, eh?" said Rob, who was beginning to be impressed by theman's truth.

  "Ay, water-snakes. They're anti-bilious sort of things, as some folkscalls 'em--can't live out of the water and dies in."

  He laughed merrily as he said this.

  "That's true enough, my lad, for they wants both land and water. I'veseen 'em crawl into a pool and curl themselves up quite comfortable atthe bottom and lie for hours together. You could see 'em with the waterclear as cryschial. Other times they seem to like to be in the sun.But wait a bit, and I'll show 'em to you, ugly beggars, although they'renot so very dangerous after all. Always seemed as scared of me as I wasof--hist! don't move. Just cast your eye round a bit to starboard andlook along the shore."

  Rob turned his eye quickly, and saw a couple of almost naked Indiansstanding on an open patch beneath the trees, each holding a long, thinlance in his hand. They were watching the water beneath the bank veryattentively, as if in search of something, just where quite a field oflilies covered the river, leaving only a narrow band clear, close to thebank.

  "Don't take no notice of 'em," said Shaddy; "they're going fishing."

  "Wish them better luck than I've had," said Rob. "Fishing! Those aretheir rods, then; I thought they were spears."

  "So they are, my lad," whispered Shaddy. "They're off. No fish there."

  As he spoke the two living-bronze figures disappeared among the trees assilently as they had come.

  "Of course there are no fish," said Rob wearily as he drew in hisbaitless line, the strong gimp hook being quite bare. "Hullo, herecomes Joe!"