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Nat the Naturalist: A Boy's Adventures in the Eastern Seas

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Nat the Naturalist; or, A Boy's Adventures in the Eastern Seasby George Manville Fenn.


  Nat's mother and father have died, and he is being brought up by an auntand uncle, the latter being his mother's brother. His aunt does notcare at all for boys, and in particular makes sniping remarks at Nat thewhole time. But Nat's uncle is very fond of him, and they are greatfriends.

  But enter the aunt's brother, a famous naturalist, back from some tripin South America. Nat, who has already shown great interest incollecting specimens from nature, is enthralled, helps him to stuff andcatalogue his specimens, and eventually persuades him to take him (Nat)with him on his next trip.

  This requires a little training in shooting and sailing. Then they areoff, on a P&O liner sailing from Marseilles. On arriving in the JavaSeas they disembark, purchase a little boat, and set off. Very soon theyare joined by an enthusiastic native, and the trio spend some yearscollecting numerous splendid specimens, of birds, beetles, and anythingelse they can.

  An unfriendly tribe of natives steal their boat, but does not find theirhut and specimens. They set-to to build a boat of some sort, to getthemselves away from such an unfriendly place. At the same time theirnative assistant disappears, presumably murdered by the unfriendlylocals. What happens next I will not spoil the story by telling.

  You'll enjoy it.





  "I don't know what to do with him. I never saw such a boy--a miserablelittle coward, always in mischief and doing things he ought not to do,and running about the place with his whims and fads. I wish you'd sendhim right away, I do."

  My aunt went out of the room, and I can't say she banged the door, butshe shut it very hard, leaving me and my uncle face to face staring oneat the other.

  My uncle did not speak for some minutes, but sat poking at his hair withthe waxy end of his pipe, for he was a man who smoked a great deal afterdinner; the mornings he spent in his garden, being out there as early asfive o'clock in the summer and paying very little attention to the rain.

  He was a very amiable, mild-tempered man, who had never had anychildren, in fact he did not marry till quite late in life; when Iremember my poor father saying that it was my aunt married my uncle, foruncle would never have had the courage to ask her.

  I say "my poor father", for a couple of years after that marriage, thenews came home that he had been lost at sea with the whole of the crewof the great vessel of which he was the surgeon.

  I remember it all so well; the terrible blank and trouble that seemed tohave come upon our house, with my mother's illness that followed, andthat dreadful day when Uncle Joseph came down-stairs to me in thedining-room, and seating himself by the fire filled and lit his pipe,took two or three puffs, and then threw the pipe under the grate, lethis head go down upon his hands, and cried like a child.

  A minute or two later, when I went up to him in great trouble and laidmy hand upon his shoulder, saying, "Don't cry, uncle; she'll be bettersoon," he caught me in his arms and held me to his breast.

  "Nat, my boy," he said, "I've promised her that I'll be like a father toyou now, and I will."

  I knew only too soon why he said those words, for a week later I was anorphan boy indeed; and I was at Uncle Joseph's house, feeling verymiserable and unhappy in spite of his kind ways and the pains he took tomake me comfortable.

  I was not so wretched when I was alone with uncle in the garden, wherehe would talk to me about his peas and potatoes and the fruit-trees,show me how to find the snails and slugs, and encourage me to shoot atthe thieving birds with a crossbow and arrow; but I was miserable indeedwhen I went in, for my aunt was a very sharp, acid sort of woman, whoseemed to have but one idea, and that was to keep the house so terriblytidy that it was always uncomfortable to the people who were in it.

  It used to be, "Nat, have you wiped your shoes?"

  "Let me look, sir. Ah! I thought so. Not half wiped. Go and takethem off directly, and put on your slippers. You're as bad as youruncle, sir."

  I used to think I should like to be as good.

  "I declare," said my aunt, "I haven't a bit of peace of my life with thedirt and dust. The water-cart never comes round here as it does in theother roads, and the house gets filthy. Moil and toil, moil and toil,from morning to night, and no thanks whatever."

  When my aunt talked like this she used to screw up her face and seem asif she were going to cry, and she spoke in a whining, unpleasant tone ofvoice; but I never remember seeing her cry, and I used to wonder why shewould trouble herself about dusting with a cloth and feather brush frommorning to night, when there were three servants to do all the work.

  I have heard the cook tell Jane the housemaid that Mrs Pilgarlic wasnever satisfied; but it was some time before I knew whom she meant; andto this day I don't know why she gave my aunt such a name.

  Whenever aunt used to be more than usually fretful, as time went on myuncle would get up softly, give me a peculiar look, and go out into thegarden, where, if I could, I followed, and we used to talk, and weed,and train the flowers; but very often my aunt would pounce upon me andorder me to sit still and keep out of mischief if I could.

  I was very glad when my uncle decided to send me to school, and I usedto go to one in our neighbourhood, so that I was a good deal away fromhome, as uncle said I was to call his house now; and school and thegarden were the places where I was happiest in those days.

  "Yes, my boy," said my uncle, "I should like you to call this home, forthough your aunt pretends she doesn't like it, she does, you know, Nat;and you mustn't mind her being a bit cross, Nat. It isn't temper, youknow, it's weakness. It's her digestion's bad, and she's a sufferer,that's what she is. She's wonderfully fond of you, Nat."

  I remember thinking that she did not show it.

  "And you must try and get on, Nat, and get lots of learning," he wouldoften say when we were out in the garden. "You won't be poor when yougrow up, for your poor mother has left you a nice bit of money, but youmight lose that, Nat, my boy; nobody could steal your knowledge, and--ah, you rascal, got you, have I?"

  This last was to a great snail which he raked out from among some tenderplants that had been half eaten away.

  "Yes, Nat, get all the knowledge you can and work hard at your books."

  But somehow I didn't get on well with the other boys, for I cared solittle for their rough games. I was strong enough of my age, but Ipreferred getting out on to Clapham Common on half-holidays, to look forlizards in the furze, or to catch the bright-coloured sticklebacks inthe ponds, or else to lie down on the bank under one of the trees, andwatch the efts coming up to the top to make a little bubble and then godown again, waving their bodies of purple and orange and the gay creststhat they sometimes had all along their backs in the spring.

  When I used to lie there thinking, I did not seem to be on ClaphamCommon, but far away on the banks of some huge lake in a foreign landwith the efts and lizards, crocodiles; and the big worms that Isometimes found away from their holes in wet weather became serpents ina moist jungle.

  Of course I got all these ideas from books, and great trouble I foundmyself in one day for playing at tiger-hunting in the garden at homewith Buzzy, my aunt's great tabby tom-cat; and for pretending that Napwas a lion in the
African desert. But I'll tell you that in a chapterto itself, for these matters had a good deal to do with the alterationin my mode of life.