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The Peril Finders, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  The gentlemen named strode into the roughly-furnished kitchen-like room,looking as unlike a clergyman and a lawyer as could be imagined, forboth were dressed in well-worn garments, half farmer, half back woodsettler, the one with a thistle staff or spud in his hand, the othershouldering a double gun, which, following the example of his companion,he set up in a corner in company with the spud and a couple of fishingrods and a landing-net, before going to the broad shelf over thefire-place, upon which he placed a cartridge wallet, glancing at thesame time at another fowling-piece and four rifles hanging across uponhooks.

  The whole place was untidy, giving the notion to an observer that nowoman ever entered the shanty; but the firearms looked clean and bright,and the gentleman who had just deposited the canvas wallet on themantel-board was probably answerable for the absence of dust, for hetook an old silk handkerchief from his pocket, and using it liberally,flicked away a few traces of white wood-ash which had floated up fromthe fire smouldering on the hearth in spite of the heat of the day.

  "Hallo, boys!" he said; "back again?" and without waiting for an answer,he continued, "What have you for dinner to-day, Lee?"


  "Hang it all, man! There's a tin or two of preserved meat. One wasn'tfinished."

  "No," said the doctor; "I looked at it this morning, and it had gonebad."

  "Too bad to eat--for a hungry man?"

  "Yes," said the doctor; "unless he wants to poison himself."

  "This sounds cheerful, Bourne."

  "Horrible! There, it's of no use to save up," said the gentlemanaddressed. "You must give us the last tin of bouille beef."

  "Gone bad too," said the doctor gruffly.

  "What, have you opened it to see?"

  "No; the top and bottom are both blown up in a curve with the bad gasgenerated."

  "Well, upon my word! Hear this, Wilton! Can anything be worse?"

  "No. Who says home--Eastward Ho!" replied the gentleman addressed."Look here, Lee; we've been talking it all over as we went well over theplantation this morning. Everything has gone wrong, and it's madness totry any longer. Why, it's five years since we agreed to join hands andlands and to work the fruit-farm into a success."

  "Yes," said the doctor sadly; "and we've worked like slaves."

  "I'm afraid," said the gentleman addressed as Bourne, "that no slaveswould have worked half so hard."

  "That they would not," cried Wilton. "There, it's a failure, and we'dbetter get to 'Frisco and take passage by a sailing-vessel while we havethe money. The plantation is going back to a state of nature, and weshall waste time by trying any more."

  "We ought to stay on for a bit," said the doctor, as the two boys stoodlistening eagerly and forgetting all about the poor dinner to come.

  "What!" cried Wilton, with a bitter laugh. "Who'd buy it?"

  "Oh, we shouldn't make much; only enough to pay our passages back toLiverpool. Some newcomer would be glad to have a place fenced in andplanted, and with all the improvements we have made."

  "I, for one," said Mr Bourne firmly, "will not be a party to sellingsuch a miserable failure to a stranger."

  "Nor I," cried Wilton angrily. "It wouldn't be honest."

  "Well, I suppose not," said the doctor sadly. "I'm afraid--no matterhow little we obtained--I should feel as if I had swindled mybrother-seeker for prosperity. There, I'll join with you in what yousay. But what a failure we have made!"

  "No, no, not altogether," said Ned's father warmly. "We have found whatwe ought to think better than riches. Eh, Wilton?"

  "Hah! Brother-grumbler, we have indeed," said the other. "I neverexpected to be strong again."

  "And we are," said Bourne. "Strong as horses, thanks to you, Lee."

  "No, no, no, I won't take the undeserved credit, my dear fellows; thankthe climate and the out-door life. The place is a regular Eden."

  "Only it won't grow us food-stuffs to live upon."

  "Nor fruit to sell," added Wilton. "There, we've talked it over foryears, worked till we have been worn out, and hoped against hope. Theplantations are the homes of plagues of every noxious insect under thewestern sun, so let's give it up and go."

  "Agreed," said the others, and the boys joined in with a hearty"Hurrah!"

  "Then you won't mind going, Ned?" said Mr Bourne.

  "No, father. I should like it--for some things," replied the boyaddressed, and he looked wistfully at his companion.

  "What do you say, Chris?" cried the doctor. "You want to go, then?"

  "Yes, fa, I should like to go to England again, but I shall be verysorry to go away from here, for it is very beautiful, you know."

  "But you'd like the change?"

  "Yes, fa," said the boy frankly, "for some things. But I shouldn't likeit if Ned Bourne were not coming too."

  "Oh! I should be coming too, shouldn't I, father?" said the other ladeagerly.

  "Of course, my boy. I dare say Doctor Lee will think out some plan bywhich those years of companionship may be continued," looking at hisfriends.

  "Oh yes," cried Wilton eagerly; "that must be managed somehow. I shouldsay--Who's this?"

  "Company?" said Ned's father, turning to look through the open doortowards the track leading to the next plantation.

  "Our Yankee neighbour," said the doctor. "What does he want?"

  "It's a patient for you, Lee," said Wilton.

  "Hillo, you!" cried the newcomer, in a lusty voice, but in rather anasal sing-song tone. "Doctor there?"

  "Yes; come in," was the reply, and a tall, sun-dried, keen-looking manin grey flannels, the legs of which were tucked into his boots, droppedthe butt of his rifle on the earthen floor with a dull thud, as heslouched into the room, to show the assembled party that the joke abouta patient for the doctor was a good guess, and that many a true wordreally is spoken in jest.