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The Rajah of Dah, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  "Every man to his taste, Ned, my boy," said Johnstone Murray, gentleman,to his nephew, who was home for a visit to his uncle--he called it home,for he had never known any other, and visited this but rarely, his lifehaving been spent during the past four years at a Devon rectory, where awell-known clergyman received four pupils.

  As the above words were said about six months before the start up theSalan River, Ned Murray's guardian raised a large magnifying-glass andcarefully examined a glittering fragment of stone, while the boy leanedover the table upon which his elbows rested, and eagerly watched hisuncle's actions.

  "Is that gold, uncle?"

  "Eh? gold? nonsense. Pyrites--mingling of iron and sulphur, Ned.Beautiful radiated lines, those. But, as I was saying, every man to histaste. Some people who have plenty of money like to go for a ride inthe park, and then dress for dinner, and eat and drink more than is goodfor them. I don't. Such a life as that would drive me mad."

  "But you didn't answer my question, uncle."

  "Yes, I did, Ned. I said it was pyrites."

  "No, no. I mean the other one, uncle. Will you take me?"

  "Get away with you! Go back to the rectory and read up, and by-and-bywe'll send you to Oxford, and you shall be a parson, or a barrister,or--"

  "Oh, uncle, it's too bad of you! I want to do as you do. I say: dotake me!"

  "What for?"

  "Because I want to go. I won't be any trouble to you, and I'll workhard and rough it, as you call it; and I know so much about what you dothat I'm sure I can be very useful; and then you know what you've oftensaid to me about its being so dull out in the wilds by yourself, and youwould have me to talk to of a night."

  "Silence! Be quiet, you young tempter. Take you, you soft greensapling! Why, you have no more muscle and endurance than a twig."

  "Twigs grow into stout branches, uncle."

  "Look here, sir: did your tutor teach you to argue your uncle to deathwhen you wanted to get your own way?"

  "No, uncle."

  "Do you think I should be doing my duty as your guardian if I took youright away into a savage country, to catch fevers and sunstrokes, andrun risks of being crushed by elephants, bitten by poisonous reptiles,swallowed by crocodiles, or to form a lunch for a fastidious tiger tiredof blacks?"

  "Now you are laughing at me again," said the boy.

  "No, sir. There are risks to be encountered."

  "They wouldn't hurt me any more than they would you, uncle."

  "There you are again, arguing in that abominable way! No, sir; I shallnot take you. At your ago education is the thing to study, and nothingelse. Now, be quiet!" and Johnstone Murray's eyes looked pleasant,though his freckled brown face looked hard, and his eyes seemed to saythat there was a smile hidden under the grizzled curly red beard whichcovered the lower part of his face.

  "There, uncle, now I have got you. You've said to me scores of timesthat there was no grander education for a man than the study of theendless beauties of nature."

  "Be quiet, Ned. There never was such a fellow as you for disputing."

  "But you did say so, uncle."

  "Well, sir, and it's quite right. It is grand! But you are not a man."

  "Not yet, but I suppose I shall be, some day."

  "Not if I take you out with me to catch jungle fever."

  "Oh, bother the old jungle fever!"

  "So say I, Ned, and success to quinine."

  "To be sure. Hurrah for quinine! You said you took it often in swampyplaces to keep off the fever."

  "That's quite right, Ned."

  "Very well then, uncle; I'll take it too, as much as ever you like.Now, will you let me go?"

  "And what would the rector say?"

  "I don't know, uncle. I don't want to be a barrister. I want to bewhat you are."

  "A rough, roaming, dreamy, restless being, who is always wandering aboutall over the world."

  "And what would England have been, uncle, if some of us had not beenrestless and wandered all over the world."

  Johnstone Murray, gentleman and naturalist, sat back in his chair andlaughed.

  "Oh, you may laugh, uncle!" said the boy with his face flushed. "Youlaugh because I said some of us: I meant some of you. Look at thediscoveries that have been made; look at the wonders brought home; lookat that, for instance," cried the boy, snatching up the piece of pale,yellowish-green, metallic-looking stone. "See there; by yourdiscoveries you were able to tell me that this piece which you broughthome from abroad is pyrites, and--"

  "Hold your tongue, you young donkey. I did not bring that stone homefrom abroad, for I picked it up the other day under the cliff atVentnor, and you might have known what it was from any book on chemistryor mineralogy.--So you want to travel?"

  "Yes, uncle, yes!" cried the boy.

  "Very well, then; get plenty of books, and read them in an easy-chair,and then you can follow the footsteps of travellers all round the worldwithout getting shipwrecked, or having your precious soft young bodydamaged in any way."

  "Oh dear! oh dear!" sighed the boy; "it's very miserable not to be ableto do as you like."

  "No, it isn't, stupid! It's very miserable to be able to do nearly asyou like. Nobody can quite, from the Queen down to the dirtiest littleboy in the streets. The freest man finds that he has the hardest masterto satisfy--himself."

  "Oh, I say, uncle!" cried the boy; "don't, don't, please; that doesn'tseem like you. It's like being at the rectory. Don't you begin tolecture me."

  "Oh, very well, Ned. I've done."

  "That's right; and remember you said example was better than precept."

  "And so it is, Ned."

  "Very well then, uncle!" cried the boy; "I want to follow your exampleand go abroad."

  Johnstone Murray brought his fist down bang upon the table of hisstudy--the table covered with books, minerals, bird-skins, fossils,bones, and the miscellaneous odds and ends which a naturalist delightsin collecting round him in his half study, half museum, where as in thiscase, everything was so sacred that the housemaid dared hardly enter theplace, and the result was a cloud of dust which immediately made Nedsneeze violently. Then his uncle sneezed; then Ned sneezed; then theyboth sneezed together, and again and again.

  "Oh, I say, uncle!" cried Ned; and he sneezed once more.

  "Er tchishou! Bless the king!--queen I mean," said the naturalist.

  "You shouldn't, uncle," cried the boy, now laughing immoderately, as hisuncle sneezed and choked, and wiped his eyes.

  "It was all your fault, you young nuisance. Dear me, this dust--"

  "Ought to be saved for snuff."

  "Now, look here, Ned," said Mr Murray at last. "I do not say that someday when you have grown up to be a man, I may not ask you to accompanyme on an expedition into some new untried country, such as the part ofthe Malay Peninsula I am off to visit next."

  "How long will it be before you consider I am a man, uncle?"

  "Let's see; how old are you now?"

  "Sixteen turned, uncle."

  "Humph! Well, suppose we say at one and twenty."

  "Five years!" cried the boy in despair. "Why, by that time there willnot be a place that you have not searched. There will be nothing leftto discover, and--" (a sneeze), "there's that dust again."

  "You miserable young ignoramus! what are you talking about?" cried thenaturalist. "Why, if a man could live to be a hundred, and have ahundred lives, he would not achieve to a hundredth part of what there isto be discovered in this grand--this glorious world."

  He stood up with one hand resting on the table, and began to gesticulatewith the other.

  "Why, my dear boy, before I was your age I had begun to take an activeinterest in natural history, and for considerably over twenty years nowI have been hard at work, with my eyes gradually opening to the wonderson every hand, till I begin now to feel sorrow and delight at how littleI know and how much there
is yet to learn."

  "Yes, uncle; go on," cried the boy, eagerly.

  "You said I was not to lecture you."

  "But I like it when you talk that way."

  "Ah, Ned, Ned! there's no fear of one's getting to the end," saidMurray, half sadly; "life is far too short for that, but the life ofeven the most humble naturalist is an unceasing education. He is alwayslearning--always finding out how beautiful are the works of the Creator.They are endless, Ned, my boy. The grand works of creation are spreadout before us, and the thirst for knowledge increases, and the draughtswe drink from the great fount of nature are more delicious each time weraise the cup."

  Ned's chin was now upon his thumbs, his elbows on the table once more,and his eyes sparkled with intense delight as he gazed on the animatedcountenance of the man before him; for that face was lit up, the broadforehead looked noble, and his voice was now deep and low, and now rangout loudly, as if he were some great teacher declaiming to his pupil onthe subject nearest to his heart. Till it suddenly dawned upon himthat, instead of quenching, he was increasing the thirst of the boygazing excitedly in his eyes, and he stopped short in the lamest way,just as he was rising up to the highest pitch of his eloquence.

  "Yes, uncle, yes!" cried Ned. "Go on--go on."

  "Eh? No; that's all, my boy; that's all."

  "But that isn't all!" cried Ned excitedly, rising now. "That's only thebeginning of what I want to learn. I want to road in those books,uncle. I want to drink from that glorious fountain whose draughts aresweeter every time. I want to--I want to--I want to--Oh uncle, ohuncle, go on! do take me with you, there's a dear old chap."

  The boy stretched out his hand, which was slowly taken and pressed asJohnstone Murray said in a subdued tone: "God grant that I may be doingrightly for you, Ned. You've beaten me finely with my own weapons, myboy."

  "And you'll take me?"

  "Yes, Ned, I give in. You shall be my companion now."


  Ned sprang on to his chair, then on to the table, and waved his handabove his head. A month later he was on his way in one of the Frenchboats to Singapore, from whence, after making a few final preparations,they went up in a small trading-steamer to the little settlement ofDindong, on the Salan River. Here they made a fortnight's stay toengage a boat and men, and learn a little more of the land they were toexplore, and at last the morning came when they parted from thehospitable merchant to whom Murray had had introductions; and the bamboowharf had faded quite from sight, when Ned Murray again cried excitedly:

  "Hurrah! Off at last!"