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Nat the Naturalist: A Boy's Adventures in the Eastern Seas, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  As I told you, my uncle had no children, and the great house atStreatham was always very quiet. In fact one of my aunt's strictinjunctions was that she should not be disturbed by any noise of mine.But aunt had her pets--Buzzy, and Nap.

  Buzzy was the largest striped tom-cat, I think, that I ever saw, andvery much to my aunt's annoyance he became very fond of me, so much sothat if he saw me going out in the garden he would leap off my aunt'slap, where she was very fond of nursing him, stroking his back,beginning with his head and ending by drawing his tail right through herhand; all of which Buzzy did not like, but he would lie there and swear,trying every now and then to get free, but only to be held down andsoftly whipped into submission.

  Buzzy decidedly objected to being nursed, and as soon as he could getfree he would rush after me down the garden, where he would go boundingalong, arching his back, and setting up the fur upon his tail. Everynow and then he would hide in some clump, and from thence charge out atme, and if I ran after him, away he would rush up a tree trunk, and thencrouch on a branch with glowing eyes, tearing the while with his clawsat the bark as if in a tremendous state of excitement, ready to bounddown again, and race about till he was tired, after which I had only tostoop down and say, "Come on," when he would leap on to my back andperch himself upon my shoulder, purring softly as I carried him roundthe grounds.

  I used to have some good fun, too, with Nap, when my aunt was out; butshe was so jealous of her favourite's liking for me that at last I neverused to have a game with Nap when she was at home.

  Buzzy could come out and play quietly, but Nap always got to be soexcited, lolling out his tongue and yelping and barking with delight ashe tore round after me, pretending to bite and worry me, and rollingover and over, and tumbling head over heels as he capered and boundedabout.

  I think Nap was the ugliest dog I ever saw, for he was one of thosedirty white French poodles, and my aunt used to have him clipped, tolook like a lion, as she said, and have him washed with hot soap andwater every week.

  Nothing pleased Nap better than to go out in the garden with me, but Igot into sad trouble about it more than once.

  "Look at him, Joseph," my aunt would say, "it's just as if it was doneon purpose to annoy me. Beautifully washed as he was yesterday, and nowlook at him with his curly mane all over earth, and with bits of strawand dead leaves sticking in it. If you don't send that boy away to aboarding-school I won't stay in the house."

  Then my uncle would look troubled, and take me into his own room, wherehe kept his books and garden seeds.

  "You mustn't do it, Nat, my boy, indeed you mustn't. You see how itannoys your aunt."

  "I didn't think I was doing any harm, uncle," I protested. "Nap jumpedout of the window, and leaped up at me as if he wanted a game, and Ionly raced round the garden with him."

  "You didn't rub the earth and dead leaves in his coat then, Nat?" saidmy uncle.

  "Oh no!" I said; "he throws himself on his side and pushes himselfalong, rubs his head on the ground, sometimes on one side, sometimes onthe other. I think it's because he has got f--"

  "Shush! Hush! my dear boy," cried my uncle, clapping his hand over mylips. "If your aunt for a moment thought that there were any insects inthat dog, she would be ill."

  "But I'm sure that there are some in his coat, uncle," I said, "for ifyou watch him when he's lying on the hearth-rug to-night, every now andthen he jumps up and snaps at them, and bites the place."

  "Shush! yes, my boy," he whispered; "but don't talk about it. Your auntis so particular. It's a secret between us."

  I couldn't help smiling at him, and after a moment or two he smiled atme, and then patted me on the shoulder.

  "Don't do anything to annoy your aunt, my boy," he said; "I wouldn'tplay with Nap if I were you."

  "I'll try not to, uncle," I said; "but he will come and coax me to playwith him sometimes."

  "H'm! yes," said my uncle thoughtfully, "and it does do him good, poordog. He eats too much, and gets too fat for want of exercise. Supposeyou only play with him when your aunt goes out for a walk."

  "Very well, uncle," I said, and then he shook hands with me, and gave mehalf a crown.

  I couldn't help it, I was obliged to spend that half-crown in somethingI had been wanting for weeks. It was a large crossbow that hung up inthe toy-shop window in Streatham, and that bow had attracted myattention every time I went out.

  To some boys a crossbow would be only a crossbow, but to me it meanttravels in imagination all over the world. I saw myself shooting applesoff boys' heads, transfixing eagles in their flight, slaying wildbeasts, and bringing home endless trophies of the chase, so at the firstopportunity I was off to the shop, and with my face glowing withexcitement and delight I bought and took home the crossbow.

  "Hallo, Nat!" said Uncle Joseph. "Why, what's that--a crossbow?"

  "Yes, uncle; isn't it a beauty?" I cried excitedly.

  "Well, yes, my boy," he said; "but, but--how about your aunt? Supposeyou were to break a window with that, eh? What should we do?"

  "But I won't shoot in that direction, uncle," I promised.

  "Or shoot out Jane's or Cook's eye? It would be very dreadful, my boy."

  "Oh, yes, uncle," I cried; "but I will be so careful, and perhaps I mayshoot some of the birds that steal the cherries."

  "Ah! yes, my boy, so you might," he said rubbing his hands softly. "Mybest bigarreaus. Those birds are a terrible nuisance, Nat, that theyare. You'll be careful, though?"

  "Yes, I'll be careful, uncle," I said; and he went away nodding andsmiling, while I went off to Clapham Common to try the bow and the shortthick arrows supplied therewith.

  It was glorious. At every twang away flew the arrow or the piece oftobacco-pipe I used instead; and at last, after losing one shaft in theshort turf, I found myself beside the big pond over on the far side, onethat had the reputation of being full of great carp and eels.

  My idea here was to shoot the fish, but as there were none visible toshoot I had to be content with trying to hit the gliding spiders on thesurface with pieces of tobacco-pipe as long as they lasted, for I darednot waste another arrow, and then with my mind full of adventures inforeign countries I walked home.

  The next afternoon my aunt went out, and I took the bow down the garden,leaving my uncle enjoying his pipe. I had been very busy all thatmorning, it being holiday time, in making some fresh arrows for apurpose I had in view, and, so as to be humane, I had made the heads bycutting off the tops of some old kid gloves, ramming their finger-endsfull of cotton-wool, and then tying them to the thin deal arrows, sothat each bolt had a head like a little soft leather ball.

  "Those can't hurt him," I said to myself; and taking a dozen of thesebolts in my belt I went down the garden, with Buzzy at my heels, for agood tiger-hunt.

  For the next half-hour Streatham was nowhere, and that old-fashionedgarden with its fruit-trees had become changed into a wild jungle,through which a gigantic tiger kept charging, whose doom I had fixed.Shot after shot I had at the monster--once after it had bounded into thefork of a tree, another time as it was stealing through the wavingreeds, represented by the asparagus bed. Later on, after much creepingand stalking, with the tiger stalking me as well as springing out at meagain and again, but never getting quite home, I had a shot as it waslurking beside the great lake, represented by our tank. Here itsstriped sides were plainly visible, and, going down on hands and knees,I crept along between two rows of terrible thorny trees that bore sweetjuicy berries in the season, but which were of the wildest nature now,till I could get a good aim at the monster's shoulder, and see its softlithe tail twining and writhing like a snake.

  I crept on, full of excitement, for a leafy plant that I refused to ownas a cabbage no longer intercepted my view. Then lying flat upon mychest I fitted an arrow to my bow, and was cautiously taking aim,telling myself that if I missed I should be seized by the
monster, whensome slight sound I made caused it to spring up, presenting its stripedflank for a target as it gazed here and there.

  Play as it was, it was all intensely real to me; and in those moments Iwas as full of excitement as if I had been in some distant land and inperil of my life.

  Then, after long and careful aim, twang went the bow, and to my intensedelight the soft-headed arrow struck the monster full in the flank,making it bound up a couple of feet and then pounce upon the bolt, andcanter off at full speed towards a dense thicket of scarlet-runners.

  "Victory, victory!" I cried excitedly; "wounded, wounded!" and I setoff in chase, but approaching cautiously and preparing my bow again, forI had read that the tiger was most dangerous when in the throes ofdeath.

  I forget what I called the scarlet-runner thicket, but by some easternname, and drawing nearer I found an opportunity for another shot, whichmissed.

  Away bounded Buzzy, evidently enjoying the fun, and I after him, to findhim at bay beneath a currant bush.

  I was a dozen yards away in the central path, and, of course, in fullview of the upper windows of the house; but if I had noted that factthen, I was so far gone in the romance of the situation that I daresay Ishould have called the house the rajah's palace. As it was I hadforgotten its very existence in the excitement of the chase.

  "This time, monster, thou shalt die," I cried, as I once more fired,making Buzzy leap into the path, and then out of sight amongst thecabbages.

  "Hurray! hurray!" I shouted, waving my crossbow above my head, "themonster is slain! the monster is slain!"

  There was a piercing shriek behind me, and I turned, bow in hand, tofind myself face to face with my aunt.