King o' the Beach: A Tropic TaleGeorge Manville Fenn
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
King o' the Beach, a Tropic Tale, by George Manville Fenn.
This book was written just before the end of the century, when it wouldhave been expected that travel by steamer was pretty safe. Carey, ateenage boy making his way by steamer "Chusan" to meet his parents inAustralia, becomes very friendly with the ship's doctor, and also withone of the seamen, Bob Bostock. But somewhere out in the Indian Ocean hehas an accident, falling from the ship's rigging, and is unconscious andpossibly may not live. His telescope took the brunt of the fall. Butwhile he is lying unconscious, a great gale springs up, the vessel losespower, and is driven onto a coral-girt volcanic island.
Some of the passengers and crew get away on the ship's boats, but Careyis not fit for the journey. The ship lies on the reef, but mostlyundamaged. The Doctor and Bostock remain with him. After they aresettling in, and Carey is recovering well, a "beachcomber", who reckonshe is king of these islands, makes his appearance with a retinue ofaborigines. He is quite a nasty piece of work. However one of theaborigines becomes friendly with Carey and the others. The beachcombershoots the doctor, but then fall down a stairway, breaking both legs.Since he can't get the doctor, he dies. At this moment Carey's fatherappears, as the other passengers had reached Australia, and contact hadbeen made.
There are the usual tense moments with various saurians, and othernasties, but perhaps not such a high level of tension as is usual withthis author. A good easy read, nevertheless. NH
KING O' THE BEACH, A TROPIC TALE, BY GEORGE MANVILE FENN.
"Mind what you're doing! Come down directly, you young dog! Ah, Ithought as much. There, doctor: a job for you."
It was on board the great steamer _Chusan_, outward bound from the portof London for Rockhampton, Moreton Bay, and Sydney, by the north route,with a heavy cargo of assorted goods such as are wanted in the far southColonies, and some fifty passengers, for the most part returning from avisit to the Old Country.
"Visit" is a very elastic word--it may mean long or short. In CareyCranford's case it was expressed by the former, for it had lasted tenyears, during which he had been left by his father with one of hisuncles in London, so that he might have the full advantage of an Englisheducation before joining his parents in their adopted land.
It had been a delightful voyage, with pleasant fellow-passengers andeverything new and exciting, to the strong, well-grown, healthy lad, whohad enjoyed the Mediterranean; revelled in the glowing heat of the RedSea, where he had begun to be the regular companion of the young doctorwho had charge of the passengers and crew; stared at that greatcinder-heap Aden, and later on sniffed at the sweet breezes fromCeylon's Isle.
Here the captain good-humouredly repeated what he had said more thanonce during the voyage: "Now look out, young fellow; if you're not backin time I shall sail without you:" for wherever the great steamer put inthe boy hurried ashore with the doctor to see all he could of thecountry, and came back at the last minute growling at the stay being soshort.
It was horrible, he said, when they touched at Colombo not to be able togo and see what the country was like.
He repeated his words at Singapore; so did the captain, but with thisaddition:
"Only one more port to stop at, and then I shall have you off my hands."
"But shan't we stop at Java or any of the beautiful islands?"
"Not if I can help it, my lad," said the captain. "Beautiful islandsindeed! Only wish I could clear some of 'em off the map."
So Carey Cranford, eager to see everything that was to be seen, had tocontent himself with telescopic views of the glorious isles scatteredalong the vessel's course, closing the glass again and again with anejaculation signifying his disgust.
"Islands!" he said. "I believe, doctor, half of them are only clouds.I say, I wish the captain wouldn't go so fast."
"Why?" said his companion, an eager-looking manly fellow of about twicethe speaker's age.
"I should like to fish, and stop and explore some of the islands, andshoot, and collect curiosities."
"And drive all the passengers mad with vexation because of the delay."
"Oh! old people are so selfish," said the lad, pettishly.
"And the young ones are not," said the young doctor, drily.
The boy looked up sharply, coloured a little through the brown paintedby the sun on his skin, and then he laughed.
"Well, it's all so new and fresh," he said. "I should like to see astorm, though. One of those what do you call 'ems--tycoons--no,typhoons."
"You're getting deeper into the mire," said the doctor, smiling."Carey--why, we ought to nickname you Don't-Care-y, to have such a wishas that."
"Why? It would be a change."
"A storm! Here, in this rock and shoal-dotted sea, with its dangerouscurrents and terrible reefs, where captains need all their skill topilot their vessels safe to port!"
"Never thought of that," said the lad. "Let's see, what does the chartsay? New Guinea to the north, and home to the south."
"Home if you like to call it so," said the doctor; "but you've a long,long journey before you yet."
"Yes, I know, through Torres Straits and Coral Sea and by the GreatBarrier Reef. I say, doctor, wouldn't it be jolly to be landedsomewhere to the south here and then walk across the country toBrisbane?"
"Very," said the doctor, drily. "Suppose you'd take a few sandwiches toeat on the way?"
"There, you're joking me again," said the boy. "I suppose it would bemany days' march."
"Say months, then think a little and make it years."
"Oh! nonsense, doctor!"
"Or more likely you'd never reach it. It would be next to impossible."
"Why?" said Carey.
"Want of supplies. The traveller would break down for want of food andwater."
"Oh! very well," cried the boy, merrily; "then we'll go by sea."
It was the day following this conversation that Carey Cranford's energyfound vent, despite the heat, in a fresh way.
The _Chusan_ was tearing along through the dazzlingly bright sea,churning up the water into foam with her propeller and leaving a cloudof smoke behind. The heat was tremendous, for there was a perfect calm,and the air raised by the passage of the steamer was as hot as if it hadcome from the mouth of a furnace. The passengers looked languid andsleepy as they lolled about finder the great awning, and the sailorscongratulated themselves that they were not Lascars stoking in theengine-room, Robert Bostock, generally known on board as Old Bob, havinggiven it as his opinion that it was "a stinger." Then he chuckled, andsaid to the man nearest:
"Look at that there boy! He's a rum un, and no mistake. That's beingBritish, that is. You'd never see a Frenchy or a Jarman or a 'Talian upto games like that in the sun."
"That there boy" was Carey Cranford, and he had taken the attention ofthe captain as well, who was standing under the awning in company withthe doctor, and the two chuckled.
"There, doctor," he said; "did you ever see so much of the monkey in aboy before? Wouldn't you think a chap might be content in the shade ona day like this? What's he doing--training for a sweep?"
A modern steamer does not offer the facilities for going aloft furnishedby a sailing ship, and her masts and yards are pretty well coated withsoot; but Carey Cranford, in his investigating spirit, had not paused toconsider that, for he had caught sight of what looked like a blue cloudlow down on the southern horizon.
"One of the islands," he said
to himself. "Wonder what's its name."
He did not stop to enquire, but went below, threw the strap of his largebinocular glass over his head, ascended to the deck again, and then,selecting the highest mast, well forward of the funnel, he made his wayas far aloft as he could, and stood in a very precarious positionscanning the distant cloud-like spot.
The place he had selected to take his observation was on one of theyards, just where it crossed the mast, and if he had contented himselfwith a sitting position the accident would not have happened; but he hadmentally argued that the higher a person was the wider his opticalrange, so he must needs add the two feet or so extra gained by standinginstead of sitting. His left arm was round the mast, and both handswere steadying the glass as, intent upon the island, he carefully turnedthe focussing screw, when the steamer, rising to the long smooth swell,careened over slightly, and one of the boy's feet, consequent upon thesmoothness of his deck shoes, glided from beneath him, bringing forththe captain's warning cry and following words.
For the next moment, in spite of a frantic clutch at the mast, the boywas falling headlong down, as if racing his glass, but vainly, for thisreached the deck first, the unfortunate lad's progress being checkedtwice by his coming in contact with wire stays, before head and shoulderstruck the deck with a sickening thud.