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Bunyip Land: A Story of Adventure in New Guinea, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  You will have gathered from all this that my father had been missing forpretty well three years, and that he, a well-known botanist, hadaccepted a commission from a well-known florist in the neighbourhood ofLondon to collect new plants for him, and in his quest he had made hislast unfortunate trip--which had followed one to Carpentaria--to NewGuinea.

  We had heard from him twice, each time with a package of seeds andplants, which we had forwarded to London. Then there was an uttercessation of news; one year had become two--then three--and it wouldsoon be four.

  Quite a little fellow when he started, I had cried with disappointmentat being left behind. Now I had grown into a big fellow for my age; Ihad dreamed incessantly of making the attempt to find my father, and nowat last the time had come.

  I believe I was quite as excited over the proposed journey as Jimmy, butI did not go about throwing a spear at gum-trees, neither did I climbthe tallest eucalyptus to try if I could see New Guinea from the topmostbranches. Moreover I did not show my delight on coming down, certain ofhaving seen this promised land, by picking out a low horizontal branchand hanging from it by my toes.

  All of these antics Jimmy did do, and many more, besides worrying meevery half-hour with--

  "Come long--time a go find him fader."

  Of course now I know that it would have been impossible for me to havecarried out my plans without the doctor, who was indefatigable, bringingto bear as he did the ripe experience of a man who had been all over theworld pretty well before he came to Australia to make a practice; andevery day I had from him some useful hint.

  He was quite as eager as I, but he met all my impatient words with--

  "Let's do everything necessary first, Joe. Recollect we are going to afar more savage land than this, and where we can renew nothing but ourstore of food. Don't let's fail through being too hasty. All in goodtime."

  But the time did seem so long, for there was a great deal to do.

  Jimmy--who by the way really bore some peculiar native name that soundedlike Wulla Gurra--was fitted out with a serviceable sailor's suit, ofwhich he was very proud, and never prouder than when he could see it toits best advantage.

  This was in the wool barn, where, upon every opportunity, the black usedto retreat to relieve himself of the unwonted garb, and hang it upagainst the shingle wall. Then he would show his teeth to the gums andsquat down, embrace his knees, and gaze at the clothes.

  When satisfied with the front he would rise deliberately, go to thewall, turn every article, and have a good look at the other side.

  We ran some risks at this time, for our henchman was given his firstlessons in the use of a rifle, and for a long time, no matter how thedoctor tried, it seemed as if it was impossible for the black to holdthe piece in any other direction than pointed straight at one of hisfriends. By slow degrees, though, he got over it, and wanted lessons inloading and firing more often than his master was prepared to give them.

  Jimmy had heard the report of a gun hundreds of times, but hisexperience had never gone so far as holding the piece when it was fired;and when, after being carefully shown how to take aim, he was treated toa blank charge and pulled the trigger, the result was that I threwmyself on the ground and shrieked with laughter, while the doctor seatedhimself upon a stump and held his sides, with the tears rolling down hischeeks.

  For at the flash and report Jimmy uttered a yell, dropped the rifle, andturned and ran as hard as he could for the barn, never once lookingbehind him.

  A couple of minutes were, however, sufficient to let his fear evaporate,and he came back waddy in fist, half shamefaced, half angry, and rubbinghis right shoulder the while.

  "Don't do dat," he cried fiercely. "Don't do dat. Play trick, MassJoe. Play trick, Jimmy."

  "I didn't," I cried, laughing. "Here; see me."

  I took the rifle, put in a charge, and fired.

  "There," I said, reloading. "Now, try again."

  Jimmy had on only his curtailed trousers, into whose waistband hecautiously stuck the waddy, the knob at the end stopping it from fallingthrough, and gingerly taking the rifle once more to show that he was notafraid, he held it loosely against his shoulder and fired again.

  The gun kicked more than ever, for it was growing foul, and, uttering ayell, Jimmy dashed it down, snatched the waddy from his waistband, andbegan belabouring the butt of the piece before we could stop him, afterwhich he stood sulkily rubbing his right shoulder, and scowling at theinanimate enemy that had given him a couple of blows.

  One or two more experiments with the piece, however, taught the blackits merits and demerits to such an extent that he was never so happy aswhen he was allowed to shoulder the formidable weapon, with which hewould have liked to go and fight some native tribe; and his constantdemand to me was for me to put in an extra charge so that he might havewhat he called "big-bang."

  The doctor took care that we should both be well furnished with everynecessary in arms, ammunition, and camp equipments, such as were lightand would go into a small space. He got down from Sydney, too, aquantity of showy electro-gilt jewellery and fancy beads, with commonknives, pistols, guns, and hatchets for presents, saying to me that ashowy present would work our way better with a savage chief than a greatdeal of fighting, and he proved to be quite right in all he said.

  Taken altogether we had an excellent outfit for the journey, my mothereagerly placing funds at the doctor's disposal. And then came thequestion of how we were to get to the great northern island, for as arule facilities for touching there were not very great; but somehow thisproved to be no difficulty, all that we undertook being easily mastered,every obstacle melting away at the first attack. In fact the journey toNew Guinea was like a walk into a trap--wonderfully easy. Thedifficulty was how to get out again.

  Perhaps had I known of the dangers we were to encounter I might haveshrunk from the task--I say might, but I hope I should not. Still itwas better that I was in ignorance when, with the doctor, I set aboutmaking inquiries at the harbour, and soon found a captain who was in thehabit of trading to the island for shells and trepang, which heafterwards took on to Hongkong.

  For a fairly liberal consideration he expressed himself willing to goout of his way and land us where we liked, but he shook his head all thesame.

  "You've cut out your work, youngster," he said; "and I doubt whetheryou're going to sew it together so as to make a job."

  "I'm going to try, captain," I said.

  "That's your style," he said heartily, as he gave me a slap on theshoulder. "That's the word that moves everything, my boy--that word`try.' My brains and butter! what a lot `try' has done, and will alwayskeep doing. Lor', it's enough to make a man wish he was lost, and hisson coming to look after him."

  "Then you have a son, captain?" I said, looking at him wistfully.

  "Me? Not a bit of it. My wife never had no little 'uns, for we alwaysbuys the boats, they arn't young ships. I married my schooner, my lad;she's my wife. But there, I'm talking away with a tongue like an oldwoman. Send your traps aboard whenever you like, and--there, I likeyou--you're a good lad, and I'll help you as much as ever I can. Shakehands."

  It was like a fierce order, and he quite hurt me when we did shakehands, even the doctor saying it was like putting your fist in ascrew-wrench.

  Then we parted, the doctor and I to complete our preparations; thevarious things we meant to take were placed on board, and now at lastthe time had come when we must say _Good-bye_!

  For the first time in my life I began to think very seriously of moneymatters. Up to this money had not been an object of much desire withme. A few shillings to send into Sydney for some special object now andthen was all I had required; but now I had to think about my motherduring my absence, and what she would do, and for the first time Ilearned that there was no need for anxiety on that score; that myfather's private income was ample to place us beyond thought
for thefuture. I found, too, that our nearest neighbour had undertaken towatch over my mother's safety, not that there was much occasion forwatchfulness, the days gliding by at our place in the most perfectpeace, but it was satisfactory to feel that there were friends near athand.

  I was for saying _good-bye_ at the little farm, but my mother insistedupon accompanying us to Sydney, where I noticed that in spite of herweakness and delicate looks, she was full of energy and excitement,talking to me of my journey, begging me to be prudent and careful, andon no account to expose myself to danger.

  "And tell your father how anxiously I am looking forward to his return,"she said to me on the last evening together; words that seemed to giveme confidence, for they showed me how thoroughly satisfied she was thatwe would bring my father back.

  We were too busy making preparations to the very last for there to bemuch time for sadness, till the hour when the old skipper came, and wasshown up to our room.

  He came stamping and blundering up in a pair of heavy sea-boots, andbegan to salute me with a rough shout, when he caught sight of my paledelicate-looking mother, and his whole manner changed.

  "Lor', I didn't know as there were a lady here," he said in a huskywhisper, and snatching off his battered Panama hat, sticking out a legbehind, and making a bow like a school-boy. I beg your pardon forintruding like, mum, but I only come to say that the schooner's warpedout, and that youngster here and Mr Grant must come aboard first thingin the morning.

  He sat down after a good deal of persuasion, and partook ofrefreshment--liquid, and copiously. But when, on leaving, my motherfollowed him to the door, and I saw her try to make him a present, heshook his head sturdily.

  "No, no," he growled; "I asked my price for the trip, and the doctorthere paid me like a man. Don't you be afeared for young chap therewhile he's aboard my craft. While he's with me I'll look after him asif he was gold. I don't like boys as a rule, for they're a worrit andwants so much kicking before you can make 'em work, but I've kind oftook to youngster there, and I'll see him through. Good night."

  The captain went clumping down the stairs, and we could hear himclearing his throat very loudly down the street. Then the doctor, withgreat delicacy, rose and left us alone, and I tried to look cheerful asI sat for an hour with my mother before going to bed.

  Did any of you who tried to look cheerful when you were going to leavehome for the first time ever succeed, especially with those wistful,longing eyes watching you so earnestly all the time? I'm not ashamed tosay that I did not, and that I almost repented of my decision, seeing asI did what pain I was causing.

  But I knew directly after that it was pain mingled with pleasure, andthat I was about to do my duty as a son.

  Twice over, as I lay half sleeping, I fancied I saw, or really did see,somebody gliding away from my bedside, and then all at once I found thatit was morning, and I got up, had a miserable breakfast, which seemed tochoke me, and soon after--how I don't know, for it all seemed verydream-like--found myself on the wharf with my mother, waiting for theboat that was to take us three travellers to the ship.

  Jimmy was there, looking rather uncomfortable in his sailor's suit,which was not constructed for the use of a man who always sat down uponhis heels. The doctor was there, too, quiet and cheerful as could be,and I made an effort to swallow something that troubled me, and which Ithought must be somehow connected with my breakfast. But it would notgo down, and I could do nothing but gaze hard as through a mist at thelittle delicate woman who was holding so tightly to my hands. There wasa dimness and an unreality about everything. Things seemed to be goingon in a way I did not understand, and I quite started at last assomebody seemed to say, "Good-bye," and I found myself in the littleboat and on the way to the schooner.

  Then all in the same dim, misty way I found myself aboard, watching thewharf where my mother was standing with a lady friend, both waving theirhandkerchiefs. Then the wharf seemed to be slowly gliding away andgetting more and more distant, and then mixed up with it all came thesound of the bluff captain's voice, shouting orders to the men, who werehurrying about the deck.

  Suddenly I started, for the doctor had laid his hand upon my shoulder.

  "We're off, Joe," he said heartily; "the campaign has begun. Now, then,how do you feel for your work?"

  His words electrified me, and I exclaimed excitedly:

  "Ready, doctor, ready. We'll find him and bring him back."