Nat the Naturalist - A Boy's Adventures in the Eastern Seas
by G. Manville Fenn
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"Why, nothing could be more beautiful than that, uncle," I cried. "What is it?"

"The rock manakin, or chatterer," he replied; "an inhabitant of the hottest and most sterile parts of Central America. Here is another kind that I shot in Peru. You see it is very similar but has less orange about it, and its crest is more like a tuft or shaving-brush than the lovely radiating ornament of the other bird. That is almost like a wheel of feathers in rapid motion."

"And as orange as an orange," said Uncle Joe, approvingly.

"I thought we could not find any more beautiful birds in your boxes, uncle," I said.

"Oh! but we have not done yet, my boy; wait and see."

We went on with our task, the damp peculiar odour showing that it was high time the cases were emptied.

"Now, Nat, we are coming to the cuckoos," he said, as I lifted a thin layer of wool.

"It does seem curious for there to be cuckoos in America," I said.

"I don't see why, Nat," he replied, as he carefully arranged his specimens. "You remember I told you it was a cuckoo, probably from Malacca, that you showed me you had bought; well, those you are about to unpack are some of the American representatives of the family. You will see that they are soft-billed birds, with a very wide gape and bristles like moustaches at the sides like thin bars to keep in the captives they take."

"And what do they capture, sir?" I asked.

"Oh, caterpillars and butterflies and moths, Nat. Soft-bodied creatures. Nature has given each bird suitable bills for its work. Mind how you take out that bird. No: don't lift it yet. See, that top row must come out after the whole of that layer which is arranged all over the top row's tails."

"What! do their tails go right along the box, uncle?" I cried.

"Yes, some of them, my boy. Be careful: those are very tender and delicate birds."

I lifted one, and held it out to Uncle Joe, who came down from his seat to examine the glories of the bird I had in my hands.

It was something like the cinnamon-brown and crimson bird I had bought, but much larger. Its breast was of a vivid rosy crimson, and its back and head one mass of the most brilliant golden-green. Not the green of a leaf or strand of grass, but the green of glittering burnished metal that flashed and sparkled in the sunshine. It seemed impossible for it to be soft and downy, for each feather looked harsh, hard, and carved out of the brilliant flashing metal, while turn it which way I would it flashed and looked bright.

"Well, Nat," said Uncle Dick, "what do you say to that?"

"Oh, uncle," I cried; "it is wonderful! But that cannot be a cuckoo."

"Why not, Nat? If cuckoos are slaty coloured here and have breasts striped like a hawk, that is no reason why in the hot climates, where the sun burns your skin brown, they should not be brightly coloured in scarlet and green. You have seen that the modest speckled thrush of England has for relatives thrushes of yellow and orange. What has the poor cuckoo done that his hot country friends should not be gay?"

"But do these lovely creatures suck all the little birds' eggs to make their voices clear?"

"And when they cry 'cuckoo' the summer draws near, eh, Nat? No, my boy, I think not. To begin with, I believe that it is all a vulgar error about the cuckoo sucking little birds' eggs. Doubtless cuckoos have been shot with eggs in their mouths, perhaps broken in the fall, but I think the eggs they carried were their own, which, after laying, they were on their way to put in some other bird's nest to be hatched, as it is an established fact they do; and because they are very small eggs people think they are those of some other bird that the cuckoo has stolen."

"Are cuckoos' eggs small, uncle?" I said.

"Very, my boy, for so large a bird. I have seen them very little larger than the wagtail's with which they were placed. Then as to their crying 'cuckoo' when summer draws near. I have heard their notes, and they live in a land of eternal summer. But go on emptying the case."

I drew out specimen after specimen, some even more beautiful than the first I had taken from the case, though some were far more sober in their hues; but I had not taken out one yet from the top row. When at last I set one of these free, with his tail quite a yard in length, my admiration knew no bounds.

In colouring it was wonderfully like the first which I have described, but in addition it had a golden-green crest, and the long feathers of the tail were of the same brilliant metallic colour. It seemed to me then—and though now I find beauties in sober hues I do not think I can alter my opinion—one of the loveliest, I should say one of the most magnificent, birds in creation, and when fourteen of these wonderful creatures were laid side by side I could have stopped for hours revelling in their beauties.

"Well, Nat," said my uncle, who quite enjoyed my thorough admiration, "I should make quite a naturalist of you if I had you with me."

"Oh, if I could go!" I cried in an excited tone, at which he merely laughed. "I'd give anything to see those birds alive."

"It requires some work and patience, my boy. I was a whole year in the most inaccessible places hunting for those trogons before I got them."

"Trogons! Yes, you said they were trogons."

"Trogon resplendens. Those long-tailed feathers are fitly named, Nat, for they are splendid indeed."

"Glorious!" I cried enthusiastically; and though we worked for some time longer my help was very poor, on account of the number of times I kept turning to the splendid trogons to examine their beauties again and again.



It was a long task, the emptying of those cases, even to get to the end of the birds, and I could not help thinking, as day after day crept by, what a wonderfully patient collector my Uncle Richard must have been. Certainly he had been away for years and had travelled thousands of miles, but the labour to obtain all these birds, and then carefully skin, prepare, and fill them with wool, must have been tremendous.

"And did you shoot them all, uncle?" I asked one day.

"With very few exceptions, my boy," he replied, laying down his pen for a minute to talk. "I might have bought here and there specimens of the natives, but they are very rough preservers of birds, and I wanted my specimens to be as perfect as could be, as plenty of poor ones come into this country, some of which are little better than rubbish, and give naturalists a miserable idea of the real beauty of the birds in their native homes. But no one can tell the immense amount of labour it cost me to make this collection, as you will see, Nat, when we open this next case."

Uncle Dick was right. I was astonished as we emptied the next case, which was full of tiny specimens, hundreds upon hundreds of humming-birds, with crests and throats like beautiful precious stones, and all so small that it seemed wonderful how they could have been skinned and preserved.

The more I worked with Uncle Dick the more I wondered, and the stronger grew my desire to follow in his steps. So when we had all the birds out so that they could dry in the warm air of the room, there were the cases full of beetles of all kinds, with glistening horny wing-cases; butterflies so large and beautiful that I used to lean over them, feast my eyes on their colours, and then go into day-dreams, in which I pictured to myself the wonderful far-off lands that produced such creatures, and think and think how it would be possible to go out there all alone, as my uncle had gone, and spend years in collecting these various objects to bring home.

Then I used to wake up again and work hard with my uncle, writing out names in his lists, all as carefully as I could, but of course making plenty of mistakes in the Latin names, while Uncle Joe used to sit and smoke and look on, rarely speaking for fear of interrupting us, till Uncle Dick looked up and started a conversation by way of a rest.

Then all the different birds when thoroughly dry had to be repacked in the boxes, with plenty of camphor and other preservative spices and gums to keep the various insects away, and quite a couple of months had slipped away before we were nearly done.

I ought to have been back at school, but Uncle Dick would not hear of my going, and he seemed to have such influence over my aunt that his word was quite law.

"No, Sophy, I have not half done with him," he said one evening. "I don't want to flatter the boy, but he is very valuable to me. I could easily get a clerk or copyist to make out my lists and help me select and rearrange my specimens; but he would do it mechanically. Nat takes an interest in what he is doing, and is a naturalist at heart."

"But he ought to be going on with his studies," said Aunt Sophia. "It is quite time he was back at school."

"He is learning a great deal more than he would at school," said Uncle Dick; "and his handwriting is a good deal improved. It is more free and quicker."

"But there are his other studies," said Aunt Sophia, who was in a bad humour.

"Well, Sophy, he has picked up a great deal of Latin since he has been helping me; knows ten times as much as he did about America and the West Indian Islands, and has picked up a host of little natural history facts, for he is always asking questions."

"Oh yes," said my aunt tartly, "he can ask questions enough! so can all boys."

"But not sensible questions, my dear," said Uncle Dick smiling; but my aunt kept looking angrily at me as I sat hearing all that was going on.

"Sensible questions, indeed!" she said; "and pray, of what use is it going to be to him that he knows how to stick a pin through a butterfly and leave the poor thing to wriggle to death."

"Naturalists do not stick pins through butterflies and leave them to wriggle to death," said Uncle Dick, looking at me and smiling. "Suppose they did, Nat, what would happen?"

"It would be very cruel, uncle, and would spoil the specimen," I said promptly.

"To be sure it would, Nat."

"It's all waste of time, Richard, and the boy shall go back to school."

"I have not done with Nat yet, Sophy, and I shall be obliged by your ceasing to talk nonsense. It worries me."

This was said in so quiet and decided a way, and in the voice of one so accustomed to command, that my aunt said:

"Well, Richard, I suppose it must be as you wish."

"Yes, if you please," he said quietly. "I have the boy's interest at heart as much as you."

As the time went on my aunt and Uncle Dick had two or three little encounters over this, in all of which Aunt Sophy was worsted; Uncle Dick quietly forcing her to let him have his own way in everything.

This set me thinking very much about the future, for I knew that in less than two months' time Uncle Dick would be off upon his new expedition; one that was to be into the most unfrequented regions of the East Indian Islands, though he had said very little about it in my presence.

"I should like to know all about where you are going, Uncle Dick," I said one afternoon, as we were working together.

"Why, my boy?"

"Because it is so interesting to know all about foreign lands, uncle."

"Well, my boy, I think of going from here straight away to Singapore, either with or without a stay at Ceylon. From Singapore I mean to traverse most of the islands along the equator, staying longest at such of them as give me plenty of specimens. Then I shall go on and on to New Guinea, collecting all the time, spending perhaps four or five years out there before I return; that is, if the Malays and Papuans will be kind enough to leave me alone and not throw spears at me."

"You will go where all the most beautiful birds are plentiful, uncle?" I said.

"Yes, my boy, collecting all the time."

"Shall you go alone, uncle?" I ventured to say after a pause.

"Yes, my boy, quite alone, except that I shall engage one or two native servants at the places where I stay, and perhaps I shall buy a boat for my own special use to cruise from island to island. Why, what are you sighing about, boy?"

"I was thinking about your going out there, uncle, all alone."

"Well, my boy, do you suppose I shall be frightened?"

"No, uncle, of course not; but won't you be dull?"

"I shall be too busy to be dull, my boy. The only likely time for me to be dull is of an evening, and then I shall go to sleep."

He went on with his work until it grew dark, and then at his request I lit the lamp, placed it down close to his writing, and remained standing there by his elbow wanting to speak but not daring to do so, till he suddenly turned round and looked me in the face.

"Why, Nat, my boy, what's the matter? Are you unwell?"

"No, uncle," I said slowly.

"What then? Is anything wrong?"

"I—I was thinking about when you are gone, uncle."

"Ah! yes, my boy; you'll have to go back to school then and work away at your ciphering and French. I shall often think about you, Nat, when I am busy over the birds I have shot, skinning and preserving them; and when I come back, Nat, you must help me again."

"When you come back?" I said dolefully.

"Yes, my lad. Let me see—you are fourteen now. In four or five years you will have grown quite a man. Perhaps you will not care to help me then."

"Oh, uncle!" I cried; for I could keep it back no longer. It had been the one great thought of my mind night and day for weeks now, and if my prayer were not gratified the whole of my future seemed to be too blank and miserable to be borne.

"Why, what is it, my boy?" he said. "Nat, my lad, don't be afraid to speak out. Is anything wrong?"

"Yes, uncle," I panted; for my words seemed to choke me.

"Speak out then, my boy, what is it?"

"You—you are going away, uncle."

"Well, Nat, you've known that for months," he said, with a smile.

"Yes, uncle; but don't go by yourself," I cried. "Take me with you; I won't want much to eat—I won't give you any trouble; and I'll work so very, very hard to help you always, and I could be useful to you. Pray—pray, uncle, take me too."

He pushed his chair away from the table and sat gazing at me with a frown upon his face, then he jumped up and began walking swiftly up and down the room.

"I would hardly let you know that I was with you, uncle, and there should be nothing you wanted that I would not do. Don't be angry with me for asking to go, for I do want to go with you so very, very much."

"Angry, my boy! No, not angry," he cried; "but no, no; it is impossible."

"Don't say that, uncle," I cried; "I would work so hard."

"Yes, yes, my boy, I know that; but it would not be just to you to drag you away there to those wild lands to live like a savage half your time."

"But I should like that, uncle," I cried excitedly.

"To expose you to risks of voyaging, from the savages, and from disease. No, no, Nat, you must not ask me. It would not do."

"Oh, uncle!" I cried, with such a pitiful look of disappointment on my face, that he stopped and laid his hand upon my shoulder.

"Why, Nat, my boy," he said in a soft, gentle way, very different to his usual mode of speaking, "nothing would be more delightful to me than to have you for my companion; not for my servant, to work so hard, but to be my friend, helpmate, and counsellor in all my journeyings. Why, it would be delightful to have you with me, boy, to enjoy with me the discovery of some new specimen."

"Which we had hunted out in some wild jungle where man had never been before, uncle!"

"Bird or butterfly, it would be all the same, Nat; we should prize it and revel in our discovery."

"Yes, and I'd race you, uncle, and see which could find most new sorts."

"And of an evening we could sit in our tent or hut, and skin and preserve, or pin out what we had found during the day, Nat, eh?"

"Oh, uncle, it would be glorious!" I cried excitedly. "And I say— birds of paradise! We would make such a collection of all the loveliest kinds."

"Then we should have to hunt and fish, Nat, for the pot, for there would be no butchers' and fishmongers' shops, lad."

"Oh! it would be glorious, uncle!" I cried.

"Glorious, my boy!" he said as excitedly as I; "why, we should get on splendidly, and—tut, tut, tut! what an idiot am I! Hold your tongue, sir, it is impossible!"


"Here have I been encouraging the boy, instead of crushing the idea at once," he cried impatiently. "No, no, no, Nat, my boy. It was very foolish of me to speak as I did. You must not think of it any more."

"Oh! uncle, don't talk to me like that," I cried. "Pray, pray take me with you."

"I tell you no, boy," he said impatiently. "It would be unjust to you to encourage you to lead such a vagabond life as mine. Say no more about it, sir," he added harshly. "It is impossible!"

A deep sigh escaped my lips, and then I was silent, for my uncle turned to his writing again, and for the next week he was cold and distant to me, while I went on with my task in a dull, spiritless manner, feeling so miserable that I was always glad to go and hide myself away, to sit and think, and wonder what I should do when my uncle had gone.



It was about a fortnight after this conversation, during the whole of which time Uncle Dick seemed to have kept me so at arm's-length that my very life had become wretched in the extreme, when, being in the drawing-room one evening, my aunt, who had been talking to him about his preparations for going away in three weeks' time, suddenly drew his attention to me.

"Do you see how ill and white this boy has turned, Richard? Now it's of no use you denying it; he's quite upset with your nasty birds and stuff."

"No, he is not," cried Uncle Dick suddenly; and his whole manner changed. "The boy is fretting."

"Fretting!" cried my aunt; "with plenty to eat and drink, and a good bed to sleep on! What has he to fret about?"

"He is fretting because he has taken it into his head that he would like to go with me."

"Like to go with you, Dick?" cried Uncle Joe, laying hold of the arms of his easy-chair.

"Yes, Joe, I'm afraid I have turned his head with my descriptions of collecting abroad."

To my utter astonishment, as I sat there with my face burning, and my hands hot and damp, Aunt Sophy did not say a word.

"But—but you wouldn't like to go with your Uncle Richard, Nat, would you?" said Uncle Joe.

"I can't help it, uncle," I said, as I went to him; "but I should like to go. I don't want to leave you, but I'd give anything to go collecting with Uncle Dick, anywhere, all over the world."

Uncle Joe took out his red handkerchief and sat wiping his face.

"I have turned it over in my mind a dozen times," said Uncle Dick, "and sometimes I have thought that it would be an injustice to the boy, sometimes I have concluded that with his taste for natural history, his knowledge of treating skins and setting out butterflies and moths, it would be a shame not to give him every encouragement."

"How?" said my aunt, drily.

"By taking him with me and letting him learn to be a naturalist."

"Humph!" said my aunt; "take him with you right away on your travels?"

"Yes," said my Uncle Dick.

"But I don't think it would be right," said Uncle Joseph softly.

"Don't be stupid, Joe," said my aunt sharply; "why shouldn't the boy go, I should like to know?"

"Oh, aunt!" I cried excitedly.

"Yes, sir, and oh, aunt, indeed!" she cried, quite mistaking my meaning. "Do you suppose that you are to stay here idling away your time all your life—and—"

"That will do," cried Uncle Dick quickly. "Nat, my boy, I have held off from taking you before; but if your Uncle Joseph will give his consent as your guardian, you shall come with me as my pupil, companion, and son, if you will, and as far as in me lies I will do my duty by you. What say you, Joe?" he continued, as I ran to him and took his extended hands.

My aunt looked at me as if she were going to retract her permission; but she was stopped, I should say, for the first and last time in her life, by Uncle Joseph, who waved his hand and said sadly:

"It will be a great grief to me, Dick, a great grief," he said, "and I shall miss my boy Nat very, very much; but I won't stand in his light, Dick. I know that I can trust you to do well by the boy."

"I will, Joe, as well as if he were my own."

"I know it, Dick, I know it," said Uncle Joe softly; "and I can see that with you he will learn a very, very great deal. Nat, my boy, you are very young yet, but you are a stout, strong boy, and your heart is in that sort of thing, I know."

"And may I go—will you take me, Uncle Dick? Say you will."

"Indeed I will, my boy," he cried, shaking my hand warmly; "only you will have to run the same risks as I do, and stick to me through thick and thin."

"But I don't think it would be possible for him to be ready," said my aunt, who evidently now began to repent of her ready consent.

"Nonsense, Sophy!" cried Uncle Dick; "I'll get him ready in time, with a far better outfit than you could contrive. Leave that to me. Well, Nat, it is to be then. Only think first; we may be away for years."

"I don't mind, sir; only I should like to be able to write to Uncle Joe," I said.

"You may write to him once a week, Nat, and tell him all our adventures, my boy; but I don't promise you that you will always be able to post your letters. There, time is short. You shall go out with me this morning."

"Where to, uncle?" I said.

"To the gunsmith's, my boy. I shall have to fit you up with a light rifle and double shot-gun; and what is more, teach you how to use them. Get your cap and let's go: there is no time to spare."



I did not know where we were going, or how we got there, in my state of excitement; but I found myself as if in a dream handling guns and rifles that my uncle placed before me, and soon after we were in a long passage place with a white-washed target at the end, and half a dozen guns on a table at my side.

"Look here, Nat," said Uncle Dick, "time soon steps by, my boy, and you will grow older and stronger every day, so I shall let you have both gun and rifle a little too heavy for you. You must make shift with them at first, and you will improve in their use day by day."

"Yes, uncle," I said as I looked at the beautifully finished weapons from which we were to choose.

"Did you ever fire off a gun?" said my uncle.

"No, uncle."

"You will not be afraid?"

"Will it hurt me, uncle?"


"Then I'm not afraid," I said.

He liked my confidence in his word, and nodded approval.

Just then the man with us took up one of the guns to load it, but my uncle stopped him.

"No," he said; "let him load for himself. Look, Nat, this is one of the Patent breech-loading rifles. I pull this lever and the breech of the gun opens so that I can put in this little roll, which is a cartridge— do you see?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Now I close it, and the rifle is ready to fire. Next I reopen, take out the cartridge, and close again. Try if you can do the same."

I took the rifle, and, with the exception of being too hurried and excited, did nearly as my uncle had done.

"Now, my boy," he said, "the piece is loaded, and a loaded gun or rifle is a very dangerous thing. Never play with your piece; never trifle in any way; never let your barrel be pointed at those who are with you. Remember those bits of advice."

"Yes, uncle."

"There, now, put the piece to your shoulder, aim at that white target, and pull the trigger."

"But there is no cap on," I said.

"Caps are things of the past, Nat," he said smiling, "except that they are inclosed in the cartridge. Now, then, hold your piece tightly to your shoulder, take careful aim—but quickly—and fire."

I tried to obey him exactly, but the rifle seemed very heavy to hold up firmly, and the sight at the end of the barrel seemed to dance about; but I got it pretty steady for the moment, drew the trigger, there was a sharp report, and the stock of the piece seemed to give me a thump on the shoulder as I heard a dull clang.

"Well done, Nat; a good beginning, boy. There, your bullet has hit the target just on the extreme edge."

"What, that black star? Is that the place, uncle?"

"To be sure it is, my boy. I thought that rifle would be too heavy for you; but if you can do that the first time, it decides me to keep it."

The man smiled approval, and my uncle took the rifle in his hand.

"Brush!" shouted the man, and a brush started out of a hole in the wall, and touched the target over with white-wash.

"Now for the double gun," said my uncle. "Try this one, Nat."

I took the gun and put it to my shoulder, aiming at the target; but it seemed heavier than the rifle, and the sight wavered about.

"Try this one, Nat," said my uncle; and he handed me another with rather shorter barrels.

"I like this one, uncle," I said. "It's ever so much lighter."

"No, sir," said the man smiling; "it's half a pound heavier. It is the make. The weight of the gun is more central, and it goes up to the eye better."

"Yes," said my uncle; "it is a handy little gun. Load that the same as you did before."

I found the construction so similar that I had no difficulty in loading both barrels of the gun, and it seemed such easy work to just slip in a couple of little rolls of brown paper as compared to the way in which I had seen men load guns with a ramrod.

"Now, Nat," said my uncle in a quick businesslike way; "once more, you must remember that a gun is not a plaything, and though you are a boy in years you must begin to acquire the serious ways of a man. To handle a gun properly is an art, perfection in which means safety to yourself and friends, durability to the gun, and death quick and painless for the object at which you fire. Now then. No hesitation, boy: raise your gun quickly to your shoulder, take a sharp aim, and fire right and left barrels at those two targets."

My heart beat fast as I did as my uncle bade me, feeling two sharp thuds on my shoulder, and then as I stared through the smoke I expected to see the two white targets covered with shot marks.

"Better luck next time, Nat," said my uncle smiling.

"Haven't I hit them, uncle?" I said in dismay.

"No, my boy; one charge ploughed up the sawdust below the target on the right, and the other scored the white-washed wall three feet to the left of the second target."

"But do you think it is a good gun, uncle? I aimed quite straight."

"We'll see, Nat," he replied, taking the gun from my hand, and reloading it with a quick cleverness of hand that fascinated me.

Then raising the gun he fired both barrels in rapid succession, hardly seeming to take aim, and as the smoke rose above our heads we all walked towards the targets, which looked like currant dumplings.

The man with us rubbed his hands with satisfaction, saying that it was a capital close pattern, which my uncle afterwards explained to me meant that the shot marks were very close and regular all over the targets, instead of being scattered irregularly, which he said was a great disadvantage in a gun.

"I don't think, sir, that you'll find many guns do better than that, sir; and, if you'll excuse me for saying so, I don't think many gentlemen would have made two such clever shots."

"There is no cleverness in it," said my uncle quietly. "When a man spends all his days with a gun in his hand it becomes like second nature to him to hit that at which he aims. Yes, I like the gun. Now, Nat, what do you say—which was in fault last time?"

"I was, uncle," I said rather ruefully. "I thought it would be so easy to shoot."

"So it is, my boy, when you have had practice. Now come back and we will not lose any more time in selecting pieces. You shall have that gun and that rifle, and we will have a couple of hours' practice at loading and firing."

We walked back to the table, and as we did so I saw a man thrust a long-handled brush from a loophole at the side of the wall and whiten the targets once more.

"You decide upon those two pieces, then, sir," said the gunmaker; and my uncle bowed his head.

I noticed then how quiet he seemed when away from home, speaking very little but always to the purpose; a habit, I suppose, acquired from his long and solitary life abroad.

He then said that we had an abundant supply of cartridges, and took a chair beside me.

"Now, Nat," he said, as soon as we were alone, save that a man was behind the loophole ready to thrust out his long-handled brush to whiten the target. "Now, Nat, my boy, fire away all that ammunition. It will not be wasted, for it will make you used to your gun. We will leave the rifle practice till we get to sea. Now, then, begin, and mind this, when you have fired keep your eye upon the object at which you aimed. I'll tell you why. If it is a bird, say a valuable specimen, that we have been seeking for weeks, you may have hit the object, but it flies a short distance before it drops, and if you have lost sight of it for a moment all our trouble is wasted, for it is sometimes labour in vain to seek for small objects in a dense, perhaps impenetrable jungle."

"I'll remember that, uncle."

"Another thing, my boy—a very simple thing, but one which you must learn to do, for your eyes are too valuable when we are collecting for them to do anything but look out for the treasures we seek. Now mind this: you raise your gun, take aim, and fire—not hurriedly, mind, but with quick ease. Then either before or after you have fired your second barrel, according to circumstances, but with your eyes still fixed upon the bird or animal at which you shot, open the breech of your gun, take out the spent cartridge, and reload."

"Without looking, uncle?"

"Certainly: your fingers will soon manage all that with a little education."

I could not help a little nervous haste as I began to load and fire at the targets, but after two or three shots I grew more used to what I was doing, and to my great delight found that I had hit the target.

Then after a little more practice I found it so much easier that I generally saw one or two little spots on the white discs; and by the time that the ammunition was all gone—that was after I had fired forty-eight times—I had once or twice made a respectable show upon the target, but I finished off with four misses, and as my head was now aching badly from the concussion and the noise, I turned with a very rueful face to my uncle.

"Time we left off that," he said smiling. "You are tired, and your hands are getting unsteady."

"I'm afraid I shall never shoot, Uncle Dick," I said dolefully.

"Nonsense, my boy!" he cried, clapping me on the shoulder; "you shot very badly indeed, but better than I expected, and you steadily improved until you grew tired. All these matters take time."



The time was short before we were to start on our long journey, but Uncle Dick was determined to make the best of it, and he steadily went on with what he called my education, as well as fitting me out with proper necessaries for my voyage.

These last were very few and simple.

"For you see, Nat," he said, smiling, "we must not encumber ourselves with anything unnecessary. You must bid good-bye to collars and cuffs, and be content with flannels, one to wear and one for your knapsack; and this you will have to wash and dry whenever you get a chance. We'll take some socks, but after a time we shall have to be content with nothing but good boots. We must not have an ounce of luggage that we can do without."

It was a delicious time of adventure to me as I went about with Uncle Dick buying the necessaries for our trip, and very proud I felt of my flannels and stout drill breeches and Norfolk jackets, with belt to hold cartridges, and a strong sheathed knife.

Every day I had a long practice with my gun with what uncle said were satisfactory results; and matters had been going on like this for about a fortnight when my uncle said one day:

"Now, Nat, we must have a bit more education, my boy. We shall very often be left to our own resources, and travel from island to island in a boat, which we shall have to manage; so come along and let me see if I cannot make a sailor of you before we start."

In order to do this he took me down to Gravesend, where, in spite of its being a rough day, he engaged a sailing-boat.

"Bit too rough for that, mister, isn't it?" said a rough-looking sailor who stood by with his hands in his pockets.

"It is rough, my man," said my uncle quietly. "Jump in, Nat."

I felt afraid, but I would not show it, and jumped into the boat, which was pushed off, and my uncle at once proceeded to hoist the lug-sail.

"That's right, Nat," he said encouragingly. "I saw that you felt a bit nervous, for your cheeks were white; but that is the way: bravely meet a terror and it shrinks to half its size. I can remember feeling as timid as could be on entering an open boat and pulling off in a choppy sea; but now I know the danger, and how to meet it, I feel as calm and comfortable as you will after a trip or two. Now then, lay hold of that rope and give a pull when I cry 'haul', and we'll soon have a little sail upon her."

I did as he bade me, and, pulling at the rope, the sail was hoisted part of the way with the effect that it ballooned out in an instant, and the boat went sidewise.

"Mind, uncle," I shouted; "the boat's going over;" and I clung to the other side.

"No, it isn't, Nat," he said coolly. "We could heel over twice as much as that without danger. I'll show you. Take another pull here."

"No, no, uncle," I cried, "I'm satisfied; I believe you."

"Take hold of the rope and haul," he shouted; and I obeyed him, with the boat heeling over so terribly that I felt sure that the water would rush over the side.

He laughed as he made fast the rope, and bade me go to the rudder, for I had taken tight hold of the side of the boat.

There was something so quick and decided about Uncle Dick's way of ordering anyone that I never thought of disobeying him, and I crept to the rudder, while he took his place beside me as the boat danced up and down upon what I, who had never seen the open sea, thought frightful waves.

"Now, Nat," he said, "you see this rope I have here."

"Yes, uncle."

"This is the sheet, as it is called, of the sail, and it runs through that block to make it easier for me to give or take as I want. Now, my boy, here is your first lesson in managing a sailing-boat whether the wind is rough, or as gentle as a breath. Never fasten your sheet, but hold it loose in your hand."

"Why, uncle?" I said, as it seemed to me that it would have saved all the trouble of holding it if it had been tied to the side.

"That's why," he said, as just then the wind increased, so that I clung once more to the side, for the sail was blown so hard that the boat would have gone over enough for the water to rush in if Uncle Dick had not let the rope run swiftly through his hands, making the sail quite loose, and the boat became upright once more.

"I brought you out on a roughish day, Nat," he continued, "so as to give you a good lesson. Look here, Nat,—if an unskilful rider mounted a spirited horse he would most likely be thrown; and if a person who does not know how to manage a sailing-boat goes out in one on a windy day, the chances are that the boat is capsized, fills, and goes to the bottom. Now, if I had not had hold of the sheet then, and eased off the sail—let it go, as a sailor would call it,—we should have been capsized, and then—"

"What then, uncle?" I said, feeling very nervous indeed.

"We should have gone to the bottom, my boy, and been drowned, for I don't think I could have swum ashore from here in my clothes and taken you as well."

"Then—then, hadn't we much better go ashore at once, uncle?" I said, looking at him nervously.

"Yes, Nat, I'll take you ashore at once if you feel afraid; but before doing so I will tell you that I brought you out here to give you a severe lesson in what boat-sailing with me is likely to be; and I tell you besides, Nat, that I know well how to manage a boat. You have had enough of it, I see, and we will go back."

He made a motion to take the tiller out of my hands, for I was steering as he told me to steer, but I pushed his hand back.

"I thought you were frightened, Nat," he said; and then there was a pause, for I wanted to speak, but the words would not come. At last, though, they did.

"I am frightened, uncle, very much frightened; and this going up and down makes me feel sick."

"All right, then, Nat, we'll go back," he said kindly; but he was watching me all the while.

"No," I gasped, "we won't, and—and," I cried, setting my teeth fast, "I won't be sick."

"But it is dangerous, Nat, my boy," he said; "and we are going straight away into rougher water. Let us go back."

"No," I said, "you brought me out to try me, uncle, and I won't be a coward, not if I die."

He turned his head away for a few minutes, and seemed to be looking at the distant shore, and all the while the little boat rushed through the water at a tremendous rate, the sail bellying out and the gunwale down dangerously near the waves as we seemed to cut our way along.

The feeling of sickness that had troubled me before now seemed to go off, as if my determination had had something to do with it; and in spite of the sensation of dread I could not help liking my position, and the way in which we mastered the waves, as it were, going head on to one that seemed as if it would leap into the boat, but only for us to rise up its slope and then plunge down to meet another, while the danger I had feared minute after minute floated away astern.

When my uncle turned his head he said quietly:

"Nat, my boy, it was dangerous work to come out here with me; but, my boy, it is far more dangerous work to go out on that long voyage with me amongst savages, perhaps; to sail on unknown seas, and to meet perils that we can not prepare to encounter. Do you not think, my boy, you have chosen badly? Come, Nat, speak out. I will not call you a coward, for it would only be natural for you to refuse to go. Come, speak to me frankly. What do you say?"

"Was it dangerous to come out to-day, uncle, in this little boat?"

"Decidedly, my boy. You heard what that old boatman said."

"Yes, uncle. Then why did you come?"

He stared at me for a moment or two, and then said quietly to me, leaning forward so that he could look straight into my eyes.

"To give you a lesson, my boy."

"But you knew you could manage the boat, uncle?"

"Yes, my boy. I have had a good deal of experience in boat-sailing on the great American rivers, and on the sea."

"And you would not mind coming out at a time like this, uncle?"

"No, my boy, certainly not. I have been out years ago with the Yarmouth boatmen in very rough seas indeed."

There was a pause for a time, and then he said again, "Well, Nat, will you give up?"

"No, uncle," I said excitedly, "I don't feel half so frightened. I couldn't help it then."

"You'd have been a strange boy, Nat, if you had helped it," he said laughing; "and I am very glad we came. Now, let me tell you that we are in a very small boat in water quite rough enough to be very dangerous; but knowing what I do, possessing, as I do, the knowledge which is power, Nat, there is not the least danger whatever, and you may rest perfectly assured that we will get back quite safe."

"Then I've been terribly cowardly, and afraid for nothing, uncle," I said, as I felt horribly ashamed.

"Yes, my boy, but that is generally the case," he said smiling. "You were afraid because you were ignorant. Once you know well what you are about, you feel ashamed of your old cowardice."

"But it's very shocking to be like that, uncle," I said.

"Not at all, my boy. It is the result of ignorance. The more ignorant and uncultivated people are, the greater cowards they seem. They are superstitious, and believe in ghosts and goblins and imps and fairies; and as for savages in far-off regions, they are sometimes the greatest cowards under the sun."

"I feel very much ashamed of myself, uncle," I said, and the tears stood in my eyes.

He looked at me very kindly as I spoke.

"I wish I was not so ignorant."

"For my part, Nat," he said, "I feel very proud of you, my boy; and let me tell you that you have no cause to be ashamed at all. Now take hold of the sheet here, and give and take as I tell you. Don't be afraid to let it slip through your hands fast if there is a heavy squall. I'll steer. The sea is heavier out in this long reach. Tell me when you'd like to put back."

"I don't want to go back, uncle," I said; "let's go on."

He nodded, and away we dashed, scudding along and riding over the waves, while he showed me how he steered, and why he did this and that; how, by a little pressure on the tiller, he could check our speed, and even turn the little vessel so that we were facing where the wind blew from, and now the sail flapped angrily; but we made no progress at all, only were tossed about on the waves.

I told him that I thought we could only go along with the wind straight behind us, but he showed me how we could sail with the wind on either side, and sometimes with it almost facing us, by what he called tacking, which I found meant that, if the wind came from straight before us, say at a certain point in front, we could get there at last by zigzagging through the water, now half a mile to the left, now half a mile to the right, a common way of progressing which brought us nearer and nearer every time.

"The sea is rougher than I thought," he said, "for I suppose we may call it sea out here, Nat, this being the estuary of the Thames, so I think I'll make that do for to-day."

"Don't go back for me, uncle," I said, as a wave broke over the bow of the boat, splashing us from top to toe.

"I am going back for both our sakes, Nat, for we shall soon be wet through. It is a day for india-rubber coats; but this has been a glorious sail, and a splendid lesson for you, Nat."

"Yes, uncle," I said, "and I feel hardly frightened a bit now."

"No, my boy, it has given you far more confidence than you had before. It is live and learn, Nat; you believe more in me and I believe more in you."

He gave me one of his nods as he said this, and then took the rope from my hand.

"Now, Nat, steer us home, my boy; I'll tell you what to do. By and by you and I will have a native boat, perhaps, with a matting sail, to manage, sailing about near the equator."

"But is it rough out there, uncle, amongst the islands?" I said.

"Very, at times, my boy; but with a light, well-built boat like this I should not be afraid to go anywhere. See how like a duck she is in shape, and how easily she rides over the waves. I should like to have one exactly the same build but twice as large, and with the fore part and poop decked over or covered in with canvas; and I don't know but what it would be wise to take out such a boat."

Then he went on giving me explanations about the sail, and which was a lug-sail, what was meant by fore-and-aft rig, and a dozen other things, showing me the while too how to steer.

The result was that, drenched with spray, but all in a glow with excitement, we got safely back, and for my part feeling that I had had a lesson indeed, and ready to put out any time with my uncle in far rougher seas.



Days of practice with my gun followed, and then two or three more afternoons in the mouth of the Thames, my uncle always selecting the roughest days for that purpose; but after a time or two I quite got over my dread of the water, and was ready enough to hold the sheet or take the tiller, picking up very rapidly a knowledge of how to steer so as to ease the boat over the waves that would take us on the beam; learning how to tack and go about: and a dozen other little matters highly necessary for one who attempts the management of a boat.

And then the day of parting came, for Uncle Dick had made all his preparations, which were after all very simple, consisting as they did of two or three changes of clothes, plenty of ammunition, tools for skinning birds and animals, an abundant supply of preserving paste, and some medicines.

It was arranged that we were to go by one of the French steamers from Marseilles, to catch which we had of course to cross France, and then we intended to travel by one of the Peninsular and Oriental steamers to Singapore after crossing the Isthmus of Suez, for this was long before Monsieur de Lesseps had thrust spade into the sand.

"Get the good-byes over quickly, Nat," said Uncle Dick; and this I did as far as my Aunt Sophy was concerned, though she did kiss me and seem more affectionate than usual.

But it was different with poor Uncle Joseph, and had I known how he would take it to heart I'm afraid that I should have thought twice over before making up my mind to go.

"I can hardly believe it, Nat, my boy," he said in a husky voice. "It don't seem natural for you to be going away, my boy, and I don't know how I shall get on without you."

As he spoke he held my hands in his, and though he was pretending to be very cheerful, I could see that he was greatly troubled, and after all his kindness to me I felt as if I was behaving cruelly and ungratefully in the extreme.

"But I'm not going to grieve about you, Nat, my boy," he said quite cheerfully, "and here's your knife."

As he spoke he drew a splendid great jack-knife out of his pocket, hauling out a quantity of white cord to which it was attached, and proceeding to fasten it round my waist.

"There, Nat, my boy," he said, "it was the best I could get you; and the man says it is a splendid bit of stuff. Do you like it, Nat—do you like it?"

"Oh, uncle," I said, "it is too kind of you!"

"Not a bit, my boy, not a bit; and now make good use of it, and grow strong and big, and come back as clever a man as your uncle, and I know you will."

There is a bit of history to that knife, for it was only the day before that he and I and Uncle Dick were together, and Uncle Joe wanted to make me a present.

"There, Nat," said Uncle Joe, drawing his heavy gold watch out of the fob by its watered-silk ribbon with the handsomely chased gold key and large topaz seal at the end, "I shall give you that watch, my boy, for a keepsake. Take it, Nat, and put it in your pocket; keep it out of sight, my boy, till you have gone. I shall tell your aunt afterwards, but she mightn't like it, you know, and it would be a little unpleasant."

"But I don't like to take your watch, uncle," I said, glad as I should have been to have it, for it seemed too bad to take it away.

"Quite right, Nat," said Uncle Dick; "don't take it."

"Not take it!" said Uncle Joe in a disappointed tone.

"No; he does not want a watch, Joe. Where he is going he must make the sun his watch."

"Yes," said Uncle Joe quickly, "but how about the night?"

"Then he'll have to sleep and rest himself for the next day's work."

"And how about getting up in good time?"

"Daylight's the good time for getting up, Joe," said Uncle Dick; "and the sun will tell him the time."

"Ah!" cried Uncle Joe triumphantly, "but the sun does not always shine."

"No, not here," replied Uncle Dick. "You have too much smoke and fog. We are going where he shines almost too much. Here, put away your watch, Joe. It is of no use to a boy who will be journeying through the primeval forest, plunging through thorny undergrowth or bog, or fording rivers and letting his clothes dry on him afterwards."

"But I should have liked him to have the watch," said Uncle Joe, rubbing one side of his nose softly with the case.

"Leave it for him in your will, then, my boy," said Uncle Dick. "He wants nothing that will encumber him, and your watch would only be a nuisance when the water had soaked in. Leave it to him in your will."

"Yes," said Uncle Joseph, "but I should have liked to give him something else to make him always remember me when he's away."

"Why, Uncle Joe," I cried, with a curious choking feeling coming in my throat, "you don't think I could ever forget you?"

"No, my boy, no," he said, shaking my hand very heartily, and then laying the watch down, as if he didn't care to take to it again.

"It's very kind of you, Joe," said Uncle Dick, for he saw how his brother-in-law seemed hurt; "but don't you see, my dear boy, we are going to lead the roughest of rough lives, and what we carry at a time when every extra ounce will be a trouble, must be the barest necessities. I've often had to leave behind valuable things, solely because I could not carry them. Here, I tell you what: you go into the city to-morrow, and buy him one of the best, and biggest, and strongest jack-knives you can find; one of those with a steel loop so that it can hang handily from a lanyard, ready for any purpose from cutting his breakfast to hacking a way through the canes, or skinning a wild beast. You could not give him a better present than that."

"To be sure," cried Uncle Joe, brightening up, "I will. What kind of a handle would you like, Nat?"

"Never mind the handle, Joe; look to the blade. Let it be a thoroughly good bit of stuff, the best you can buy."

"To be sure. Yes; to be sure," cried Uncle Joe; and taking up his watch he lowered it so carelessly into its place that it missed the fob, and ran down the right leg of his trousers into his Wellington boot.

I had to turn boot-jack and drag the boot off before the watch could be recovered, Uncle Dick laughing heartily the while.

And now this was the knife the good, amiable old fellow had got for me, and certainly it was one that would stand me in good stead for any length of time.

"Good-bye, Joe, old fellow," said Uncle Dick, gripping his hand fast. "I'll take care of Nat."

"Yes, yes, you will, won't you?" he cried.

"Indeed I will, Joe, indeed I will; and now once more good-bye, old fellow, I'm off. Till we meet again. Come after me soon, Nat."

Uncle Dick went away so as to leave us together, and no sooner were we alone than Uncle Joe hesitated for a moment, and then hugged me to his breast.

"Good-bye; God bless you, my boy!" he cried. "It's all for the best, and I won't worry about your going; only come back to me as soon as you can, and mind you write."

I can remember that there was a curious dim look about everything just then, and that Uncle Dick was very quiet in the cab; and so he was in the train, speaking to me hardly at all, and afterwards he read to himself nearly all the way to Paris, after which he suddenly seemed to turn merry and bright, and chatted to me in the heartiest way.



Everything was so new to me that, on embarking at Marseilles, I was never tired of inspecting the large steamer, and trying, with only moderate success, to talk to the French sailors, who, on learning our destination, were very civil; but, after the first day or two, began to joke me about never coming back any more.

It was comical work trying to make out what they meant as they began to talk to me about the terrible wild beasts I should meet, and, above all, about the orang-outangs, which they assured me were eight or nine feet high, and would look upon me, they assured me, as a bonne bouche.

The third day out on the beautiful blue water, as some of the passengers had guns out, and were shooting at the sea-birds for amusement merely, a practice that I should have thought very cruel but for the fact that they never once hit anything, Uncle Dick came up to me on the poop deck and clapped me on the shoulder.

"Now, Nat," he said, "there's plenty of room out here for a rifle ball to go humming away as far as it likes without danger to anyone; so get out your rifle and you shall have a practice."

"At the sea-gulls, uncle?" I said.

"No, no; nonsense!" he said; "we don't shoot sea-gulls with a rifle. I shall start you with a target."

"A target, uncle?" I said; "but if you do, we shall leave it all behind in a very short time."

"To be sure we shall," he replied, laughing; "and then we'll have another."

I ran down and got my rifle out of the cabin, feeling half ashamed to go on deck again when I had fastened on my belt full of cartridges; but I got over my modesty, and joined my uncle, whom I found waiting for me with half a dozen black wine bottles, and as many bladders blown out tightly, while the bottles were empty and firmly corked.

"Now, Nat," he said, "here are your targets, and I reckon upon your having half a dozen shots at each before the steamer takes us too far away, unless you manage to sink it sooner."

I looked at my uncle to see if he was laughing at me, but he was quite serious, and, in obedience to his order, I loaded and stood ready.

"Now, look here, my boy," he said; "this will be rather a difficult task, for both your target and you are in motion. So you must aim as well as you can. I should draw trigger just as the bladder is rising."

"But how shall we know if I hit it?"

"You are not very likely to hit it, Nat," he said smiling; "but if you do, the bladder will collapse—the bottle be shivered to fragments, and sink. Now let us see."

It made me feel nervous to see so many people collect about me, one and all eager to witness my skill, and I knew enough French to understand a good many of their remarks. Some said I must be a very skilful shot, others that I could not shoot at all; and one way and another they disconcerted me so that, when my uncle threw the first bladder over the side, and I saw it floating away, I felt so confused that I let it get some distance before I fired.

"Reload," said my uncle; and I did so, and fired again.

"Reload," he said; and, having obeyed him, I waited till the bladder was on the top of a wave, and again fired without result.

"Again," said my uncle; "don't hesitate, and fire sharply."

The bladder was now getting a long way astern and looking very small, so small that I knew I should not hit it, and consequently I felt no surprise that it should go floating away.

"Don't lose time, Nat," my uncle continued, just as if it was quite a matter of course that I should go on missing shot after shot.

So once more I prepared to fire, and as I did so I saw that two of the French passengers had their telescopes fixed upon the object at which, after taking very careful aim, speck as it seemed, I fired.

To my utter astonishment, as the smoke rose I saw no bladder was floating on the waves, a fact of which the lookers-on had already informed me by a round of applause.

"He would not hit them when they were close," cried one passenger. "I said, he would not try. It was un grand shot, messieurs, un coup merveilleux."

I felt scarlet in the face, and grew the more and more ashamed as first one and then another insisted upon shaking hands with me.

"Now, Nat," said my uncle in a low voice, "after that you will lose your character if you do not hit some more."

"Pray, don't send out another, uncle," I whispered.

"Why not, boy? What does it matter if you do miss? Keep on practising, and never mind what people say. Are you ready?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Fire, then, as soon as you get a good view of the bladder."

I waited until it was about forty yards away, and rising slowly to the top of a wave, when, calculating the distance as well as I could, I fired, and the bladder disappeared.

I could not believe it, and expected each moment to see it come back to the surface; but no, there was no bladder visible; and, having reloaded, my uncle sent another afloat, bidding me wait till it was farther away before I fired.

I obeyed him and missed. Fired again and missed, but the third time the bladder collapsed and sank, and my reputation as a marksman was made.

The French passengers would have petted and spoiled me had not my uncle interfered; and when we were once more alone he began to talk of my success.

"You quite exceeded anything I expected, Nat," he said smiling. "How you managed it, my boy, I cannot tell. The first time I set it down to pure accident; but when you repeated it again and again, all I can say, my boy, is that your eyes must be wonderfully good, and your aim and judgment even better. I doubt with all my practice whether I could have been more successful."

"I think it must have been chance, uncle," I said, "for I seemed to have no time to aim, and the vessel heaved up so just then."

"No, my boy," he replied, "it was not chance, but the result in a great measure of your practice with your gun; but you will not always shoot so well as that. When you come to be out with me in the wilds of one of the islands we visit, and have perhaps been tramping miles through rough forest, you will find it hard work to hit the object at which you aim."

"But it will be easier to shoot from the ground than from on shipboard, uncle, will it not?"

"For some things yes, my boy, for others no. But wait a bit, Nat, and we shall see."

The practice was kept up all through our voyage, and I became quite an adept at breaking floating bottles and other objects that were sent over the side, for the bladders soon came to an end; but our voyage was very uneventful. It was always enjoyable, for there was so much that was fresh to see. I never complained about the heat, which was very great, although people were lying about under awnings, while I used to get into the chains, or the rigging below the bowsprit, so as to gaze down into the wonderfully clear water and watch the dolphins and bonita as they darted through the sunlit depths with such ease and grace.

Sometimes I have wished that I could be a fish, able with a sweep or two of my powerful tail to dart myself through the water just as I pleased, or float at any depth, keeping up with the huge steamer as it was driven on.

Then a change would come over me, and I would think to myself: Well, I'm very glad I'm not a fish; for just as I would be watching some lovely mackerel-like fellow with a flashing back of mottled blue and purple, some monster ten times his size would make a dart at him and engulf him in his capacious throat. And as I watched the larger fish seize their food, it seemed to me that once they could get within easy range they seemed to suck their prey into their jaws, drawing it in with the great rush of water they sent through their gills.

It was not tempting at such times and above all when one used to see a thin grey fellow, six or eight feet long, seeming to sneak by the side of the ship, or just astern, where there was an eddy. Every now and then it would turn half over and show the pale under parts as it made a snatch at something that looked good to eat; and after a good many tries the sailors managed to catch one by means of a hook baited with a piece of ham that had been condemned as high.

It was only about six feet long, and when it lay on the wet deck thrashing about with its tail I thought that after all a shark was not such a dangerous-looking creature as I expected, and I said so to my uncle.

"Think not, Nat?" he said.

"Why, no, uncle, I don't think I should be afraid of a shark; I think I could catch such a fellow as that with a rod and line."

"Ah! Nat, some of them run up to fifteen or twenty feet in length," he said; "and they are awfully savage brutes. Such a one as this would be enough to kill a man."

"He don't look like it, uncle," I said. "Why, look here!"

I ran to where the shark lay, and stooping down, seized it with both hands by the thin part just before where the tail forked, meaning to give it a shake and drag the brute along the deck; but just as I got tight hold the creature seemed to send a wave down its spine, and with one flip I was sent staggering across the deck to fall heavily at full length, the crew and passengers around roaring with laughter at my discomfiture.

I was so angry and mortified that I jumped up, opened my great jack-knife, and was rushing at the shark, when my uncle laid his hand upon my arm.

"Don't be foolish, Nat, but take your lesson like a man. You will not despise the strength of a shark for the future."

"Why, it was like touching a great steel spring, uncle," I said.

"If anything I should say that the backbone of a shark has more power in it when set in motion than a steel spring, Nat," he said. "There, now, our friend is helpless, and we can examine him in peace."

For, after thrashing the deck with a series of tremendous blows with his tail, the shark had his quietus given to him with a few blows of a hatchet, and as he lay upon the deck my uncle pointed out to me the peculiarity of the monster's structure, and after we had examined his nasty sharp triangular teeth in the apparently awkwardly placed mouth, I was shown how it was that a shark had such wonderful power of propelling itself through the water, for in place of having an ordinary fin-like tail, made up of so many bones with a membrane between, the shark's spine is continued right along to the extremity of the upper curve of its propeller, the other curve being comparatively small.

The flying-fish in the Red Sea have been described too often for it to be necessary for me to say anything about the beauty of these fishy swallows, but we saw hundreds of them dart out of the sea, skim along for a distance, and then drop in again. Then there were glimpses had in the deep clear blue—for that was the colour I found the Red Sea—of fishes with scales of orange, vermilion, and gold, bright as the gorgeous sunsets that dyed sea and sky of such wondrous hues evening after evening before darkness fell all at once, and the great stars, brighter, bigger, and clearer than I had ever seen them before, turned the heavens into a vast ocean of gems.

Day and night seemed to me to follow one another with wonderful rapidity, till one morning, as the steamer was panting and throbbing on its way, my uncle pointed to what looked like a low distant haze far away on our right.

"Do you see those mountains, Nat?" he said.

"Mountains, uncle! Are these mountains?"

"Yes, my boy, in a land that I could find it in my heart to visit, only that is not quite wild enough for our purpose."

"What place is it, then?" I said, gazing eagerly at the faint distant line.

"Sumatra, Nat;" and as he spoke the long-shaped island, so familiar on the maps at school, rose before my eyes, and with it came Java, Celebes, Borneo, and New Guinea, places that were before long to be the objects of our quest.



Three days later we were lying in Singapore harbour, and I had one or two runs ashore to have a good look at the town, with its busy port full of all kinds of vessels, from the huge black-sided steamer and trim East Indiaman, to the clumsy high-sterned, mat-sailed, Chinese junk, and long narrow Malay prahu.

I could have stayed there a month staring about me at the varied scenes in the bright sunshine, where hundreds of Chinamen in their blue cotton loose clothes and thick-soled shoes were mingled with dark-looking Hindoostanees, Cingalese, and thick-lipped, flat-nosed, fierce-looking Malays, every man in a gay silk or cotton sarong or kilt, made in plaids of many colours and with the awkward-looking, dangerous kris stuck at the waist.

I say I could have stopped here for a month, enjoying the change, and wondering why the Malays should be so constantly chewing betel-nut and pepper leaves. I learned, too, that there was much to be seen in the island, and that there were tigers in the jungle near the plantations; but my uncle said there was no time to waste, and we must get on.

"We don't want civilisation, Nat, or the works of man; we want to go far away into the wilds."

"But don't you mean to go to Malacca, uncle?" I said. "That is where so many birds come from."

"I did think of going there, Nat; but I want to get to less-frequented spots, and I have found to-day a great prahu that is going right away to the Ke Islands, which will be well on our route to Aru and New Guinea. The Malay captain says he will take us, and tow our boat behind."

"Our boat, uncle?"

"Yes, Nat; while you have been staring about at the heathen I have been busy looking out for a boat, and I have found one that I think will do. Come and see."

I went with him to a creek outside the busiest part of the town, where the principal part of the people seemed to be fishermen, and here, after threading our way amongst dozens of clumsy-looking boats, my uncle showed me one that I should have thought would be the last to suit us.

"Why, you don't admire my choice, Nat!" he said smiling.

"It is such a common-looking thing, and it isn't painted," I replied.

"No, my boy, but it is well varnished with native resin. It is Malay built, very strong, and the mast and sails are well-made, though rough; better still, it will carry us, and a man or two for crew if we like, and give plenty of room for our treasures as well."

"But it is differently rigged to the boats on the Thames, uncle," I said disparagingly.

"Naturally, my boy," he said laughing; "but the sails will require the same management."

"And what an anchor, uncle!" I said. "Why, it is made of bamboo and a stone."

"We can easily buy a small grapnel and some cord, Nat," he said smiling; "and when you have found out how our boat will sail, you will think better of it, I am sure."

On the following day but one we were on board the prahu surrounded by fierce-looking Malays, every man being armed with his kris, and looking as bloodthirsty a lot as I thought I had ever seen. Our boat was towing behind as the men used long oars to get us out of the port, and then the great matting sails were hoisted, and we began to go swiftly through the surging sea.

"There, Nat," said my uncle gleefully, "good-bye to civilisation, for we are fairly off. How do you feel now?"

"I was thinking, uncle, suppose that, now they have us safely on board, and away from all help—"

"They were suddenly to rise up, draw their knives, which are said to be poisoned, Nat."

"Yes, uncle, and stab us."

"Rob us," he said laughing.

"And throw us overboard, uncle."

"Ah! Nat; suppose they did. What would Uncle Joe say?"

"It would kill him, uncle," I said, with tears in my eyes.

"And Aunt Sophy?" he said.

"Well, I don't know about Aunt Sophy," I replied; "but I hope she would be very sorry."

"Ah! well, you needn't be nervous, Nat, for I don't think the Malays are such bloodthirsty fellows as people say; and our captain here, in spite of his fierce aspect, is very gentlemanly and pleasant."

I could not help looking at our captain, whom Uncle Dick called gentlemanly, for to my eyes he seemed to be a fierce savage, with his scarlet kerchief bound round his head, beneath which his dark eyes seemed to flash angrily.

"Shall you keep your loaded gun with you always, uncle, while we are with these people?" I said.

"No, my boy, certainly not," he replied; "and you may take it for granted, Nat, that even the most savage people are as a rule inoffensive and ready to welcome a white man as a friend, except where they have been ill-treated by their civilised visitors. As for the Malays, I have met several travellers who have been amongst then and they all join in saying that they are a quiet superior race of people, with whom you may be perfectly safe, and who are pleased to be looked upon as friends."

"But I thought, uncle," I said, "that they were very dangerous, and that those krises they wore were poisoned?"

"Travellers' tales, my boy. The kris is the Malay's national weapon that everyone wears. Why, Nat, it is not so very long since every English gentleman wore a sword, and we were not considered savages."

We had rather a long and tiresome voyage, for the prahu, though light and large, did not prove a very good sea-boat. When the wind was fair, and its great sail spread, we went along swiftly, and we were seldom for long out of sight of land, coasting, as we did, by the many islands scattered about the equator; but it was through seas intersected by endless cross currents and eddies, which seemed to seize upon the great prahu when the wind died down, and often took us so far out of our course one day, that sometimes it took the whole of the next to recover what we had lost.

So far, in spite of the novelty of many of the sights we had seen, I had met with nothing like that which I had pictured in my boyish dreams of wondrous foreign lands. The sea was very lovely, so was the sky at sunrise and sunset; but where we had touched upon land it was at ports swarming with shipping and sailors of all nations. I wanted to see beautiful islands, great forests and mountains, the home of strange beasts and birds of rare plumage, and to such a place as this it seemed as if we should never come.

I said so to Uncle Dick one day as we sat together during a calm, trying to catch a few fish to make a change in our food.

"Wait a bit, Nat," he said smiling.

"Yes, uncle, but shall we see wonderful lands such as I should like?"

"You'll see no wonderful lands with giants' castles, and dwarfs and fairies in, Nat," he replied smiling; "but before long I have no doubt that I shall be able to show you beauties of nature glorious enough to satisfy the most greedy imagination."

"Oh! of course I did not expect to see any of the nonsense we read of in books, uncle," I said; "only we have been away from home now three months, and we have not got a single specimen as yet, and I want to begin."

"Patience, my boy, patience," he said. "I am coming all this distance so as to get to quite new ground. So far we have not landed on a tropic island, for I shall not count civilised Singapore; but very soon we shall take to our own boat and coast along here and there, landing where we please, and you shall have nature's wonders and natural history to your heart's content. Look there," he said softly; "there is a beginning for you. Do you see that?"

He pointed down into the gloriously blue clear water, illumined by the sunshine, which made it flash wherever there was the slightest ripple.

"Yes, I can see some lovely little fish, uncle," I said. "Why, they are all striped like perch. There's one all blue and scarlet. Oh! I wish I could catch him."

"No, no; farther down there, where those pink weeds are waving on that deep-brown mass of coral. What's that?"

"Why, it's a great eel, uncle. What a length! and how thin! How it is winding in and out amongst the weed! Is it an eel?"

"No, Nat; it is a snake—a sea-snake; and there is another, and another. They are very dangerous too."

"Are they poisonous, then?" I said.

"Extremely. Their bite is often fatal, Nat, so beware of them if ever you see one caught."

We had a fine opportunity for watching the movements of these snakes, for several came into sight, passing through the water in that peculiar waving manner that is seen in an eel; but a breeze springing up soon after, the sail filled out, and once more we glided rapidly over the beautiful sea.

I call it beautiful sea, for those who have merely looked upon the ocean from our own coasts have no conception of the grandeur of the tropic seas amongst the many islands of the Eastern Archipelago, where the water is as bright as lapis lazuli, as clear as crystal, and the powerful sun lights up its depths, and displays beauties of submarine growth at which the eye never tires of gazing.

It used to worry me sometimes that we had not longer calms to enable me to get down into the little boat and lie flat, with my face as close to the water as I could place it, looking into what was to me a new world, full of gorgeous corals and other Zoophytes, some motionless, others all in action. Scarlet, purple, blue, yellow, crimson, and rich ruddy brown, they looked to me like flowers amongst the singular waving weeds that rose from the rocks below.

Here fishes as brilliant in colours, but more curious in shape, than the pets of our glass globes at home, sailed in and out, chasing the insects or one another, their scales flashing every now and then as they turned on one side or dashed up towards the surface and leaped clean out of the water.

In some places the sand was of a beautiful creamy white and as pure as could be, Uncle Dick saying that it was formed out of the corals which were being constantly pounded up by the waves.

But whenever the breeze rose I had to be quickly on board again, and on we sailed till, after a long dreamy voyage, we came one morning in sight of some mountains; and as we drew nearer I could see that the rocks rose straight up from the sea, which, calm as it was, sent up columns of spray where the waves broke upon the solid stone.

"There, Nat," said my uncle, "that is our present destination."

"What! that rocky place, uncle?" I said, with a tone of disappointment in my voice.

"Yes, my quick young judge," he said laughing. "Wait till we get closer in," he continued, using his glass; "or no, you can see now; look, Nat."

He handed me the glass, and as I looked through, my heart seemed to give a great throb, for the lovely picture I gazed upon seemed to more than realise my dreams.

For what at a distance looked to be a sunlit rocky shore, proved through the glass to be a land with lovely shaped trees growing to the edges of the cliffs, which were covered with wonderful shrubs and creepers. Even the rocks looked to be of beautiful colours, and every here and there I could see lovely little bays and nooks, edged with glistening white sand, upon which the crystal water played, sparkling like diamonds and sapphires in the sun.

"Oh, uncle!" I cried.

"Well, Nat, will that place do for a beginning?"

"How soon can we get ashore?" I cried excitedly in answer.

"In a couple of hours, now, Nat; but I said will this place do?"

"Oh, uncle!" I cried, "it was worth coming all the way to see. I could wander about there for months. Shall I get the guns out of the cases?"

"Gently, gently," he said laughing; "let's get into harbour first."



We were not very long in getting to the harbour, a snug landlocked cove where the great prahu in which we had come could lie well protected from the rollers. Our passage in was made easy, as the great sails were lowered by the men in a couple of canoes, who paddled out, shouting and singing, and splashing the water; and then, after ropes had been made fast to their sterns, they paddled away again, drawing us steadily inshore.

I began to wonder directly whether these would be anything like the savages who came to Robinson Crusoe's island; but a moment's reflection told me that Juan Fernandez was supposed to be his island, and that was on the other side of the world.

"Well, Nat, what do you think of our visitors?" said my uncle, as I leaned over the prow of our vessel and watched the men in the canoe.

"I was thinking, uncle, that it can't cost them much for clothes," I said, laughing.

"No, Nat," he replied, joining in my mirth; "but do you see how different they are to our sailors here?"

"Yes, they are blacker, uncle, and have different shaped noses, and their hair curls instead of being straight."

"Good!" he exclaimed; "that's the way to become a naturalist. Observe everything. You are quite right; we are going to leave one race of men now, Nat, the Malays, to travel amongst the Papuans, a people who are wonderfully different in every way."

I felt a little nervous at first on going ashore, for we were surrounded by quite a crowd of fierce-looking blacks, all chattering, gesticulating, and pressing on us in their eagerness to get close up, but I soon found that it was only excitement and delight at seeing us among them, and that they wanted to barter ornaments and shells, for tobacco and sugar, or knives.

They were just like children, and though, had they been so disposed, they could have overpowered us and taken possession of everything we possessed in an instant, nothing seemed farther from their thoughts.

The captain of the prahu came ashore with us, and we explained to one of the chief men that we wanted to have a hut on shore and stay with them for a time, and his countenance expanded into a broad grin of pleasure, one which seemed to increase as we both shook hands with him, and uncle gave him a handful of tobacco, and I a small common one-bladed knife.

He looked at both in turn, and then seemed puzzled as to what he ought to give us in exchange, while, when he was made to understand that they were presents and nothing was wanted back, he attached himself to us, and very soon we found ourselves the possessors of a very dark, little well-thatched hut, with no windows, and nothing to close the door, but it answered our purpose in giving us shelter, and to it the chief willingly helped with a couple of dozen of his men, in getting our chests, boxes, and stores.

The next thing was to find a place for our boat, which was towed ashore behind a canoe; and on the chief understanding the want, he very soon pointed out to us a shady nook where it could be run ashore and beached in safety, away from the waves, he helping himself to make the rope fast to a large cocoa-nut tree.

This done, the chief walked, or rather strutted, round our boat, and looked under it, over it, and about it in all directions, making grimaces expressive of his disgust, and ending by kicking its sides and making derisive gestures, to show that he thought it a very poor boat indeed.

The prahu was going away the next day, so a busy scene of trading went on till night, when the captain sought us out, and in his broken English enquired very earnestly whether we had landed everything, including sundry stores which my Uncle Dick had purchased of the Scotch merchants at Singapore, they being able to tell him what was most likely to find favour amongst the savages with whom we should have to deal.

In answer to a question, the Malay captain assured us that we might feel quite safe amongst the Ke islanders, and also with those in the Aru and neighbouring isles; but he said that he would not trust the men of New Guinea, unless it was in a place where they had never seen white men before.

He promised to be on the look-out for us as he was trading to and fro during the next year or two, for my uncle assured him that we should be about that time among the islands, and with the promise to meet us here in a year's time if we did not meet before, and to come from Singapore provided with plenty of powder and shot for our use, and ready to take back any cases of specimens we might have ready, he parted from us with the grave courtesy of a Mohammedan gentleman. The next time we saw him was in the morning, as he waved his scarlet headkerchief to us from the deck of his prahu, which was floating away on the current, there being barely wind enough to fill the sails.

Some very beautifully shaped canoes filled with the naked black islanders paddled out for some little distance beside the prahu, singing and shouting, and splashing the sea into foam with their paddles, making it sparkle like diamonds in the glorious morning sunshine.

But after a while my uncle and I, in spite of the delightful sensation of being ashore in such a glorious climate, began to feel so very human that we set to and made a fire; then I fetched water from a spring in the rock that ran over in a cascade towards the sea, and after rigging up three pieces of bamboo, gypsy fashion, the kettle soon began to sing, the coffee was measured out, a box dragged outside the hut door to act as a table, and just as the canoes approached the shore we began upon biscuit, a couple of toasted red herrings, of which we got a couple of boxes at Singapore, and what seemed to me the most delicious cup of coffee I had ever tasted.

"There," uncle said to me at last, "we are regularly launched now, Nat. Those Malays were not savages, but people of law and order. Now we are left alone in the wilds indeed."

"Yes, uncle, and here come the black fellows," I said with my mouth full of biscuit.

In fact, as soon as they had run their beautiful canoes up on to the sands they were starting in a body to come and look at us; but there was a loud shout and some gesticulating, and we saw one tall savage flourishing a spear, when they all went off in other directions, while the savage with the spear came sidling towards us in a slow, awkward way, keeping his face turned in the opposite direction, but gradually coming nearer.

"I hope he does not mean to throw that spear at us, Nat," said my uncle. "Where did the others go?"

"They seemed to go into the woods there," I said.

"Humph! And they might get round to the back of our hut," said my uncle, looking rather uneasy. "But we will not show any distrust. Have you recognised that chief this morning?"

"I think this is he, uncle," I said, "but I can't see his face."

"Well, we will soon see," said my uncle, as we went on with our breakfast, and kept on watching the black till he came about fifty yards away, apparently searching for something amongst the shrubs and plants with the handle of his spear.

"Shout at him, Nat," said my uncle.


The savage must have seen us from the first, but he looked up, then down, then turned himself and gazed in every direction but that in which we were; and I shouted again, but still he would not look our way.

"He is shamming, Nat, like a very bashful boy," said Uncle Dick. "He wants us to ask him to breakfast. Hallo! Get my rifle, Nat; I can see a lot of heads in the trees there. No, sit still; they are only boys."

The savage evidently saw them at the same moment, for he made a rush towards the dark figures that were stealing from tree trunk to tree trunk, and we saw them dash away directly out of sight, after which the savage came sidling in our direction again.

"Hi!" I shouted, as the childish pantomime went on, and the savage stared in all directions as if wonder-stricken at a strange noise coming he knew not whence, and ending by kneeling down and laying his ear to the ground.

"Hi!" I shouted again; but it was of no use, he could not possibly see either us, our chest, our fire, or the hut, but kept sidling along, staring in every direction but the right.

"Go and fetch him, Nat, while I toast another bloater. We'll give him some breakfast, and it will make him friendly."

I got up and went off, wondering what Uncle Joe and Aunt Sophia would have said to see me going to speak to that great spear-armed savage, and for a moment I wondered what would happen if he attacked me.

"Uncle Dick would shoot him dead with his rifle," I said to myself by way of comfort, and I walked boldly on.

Still he would not see me, but kept sidling on till I got close up to him and gave him a smart spank on his naked shoulder.

In an instant he had spun round, leaped to a couple of yards away, and poised his spear as if to hurl. Then, acting his astonishment with great cleverness, his angry countenance broke up into a broad smile, he placed his spear into the hollow of his left arm, and stepped forward to shake hands, chattering away eagerly, though I could not understand a word.

"Come and have some breakfast," I said, and he chattered again. "Come and have some breakfast," I shouted; and then to myself: "How stupid I am! He can't understand."

So I took him by the arm, and pointed towards where my uncle was watching us with his rifle leaning against the table; and I knew that he must have been looking after my safety.

The savage stared here and there and everywhere, but he could not see my uncle till I dragged him half-way to the fire and pointed again, when he uttered a shout of surprise, as much as to say, "Well, who would have thought of seeing him there!"

He then walked up with me, grinning pleasantly, shook hands, and looked astonished as we pointed to the ground for him to sit down.

He seated himself though, at last, after sticking his spear in the sandy earth, and then watched us both as I spread some salt butter out of a pot on a piece of biscuit, and then handed him over some hot coffee, which I made very sweet, while my uncle, after shaking hands, had gone on toasting the bloater upon a stick of bamboo.

"Don't give him the coffee too hot, Nat," said my uncle. "There, that's done, I think."

"I could drink it myself, uncle," I replied, and we placed the food before our guest, pointing to it, but he kept on shaking his head, and put his hands behind him.

"Perhaps he thinks it is not good, uncle," I said, after we had several times partaken of our own to set him an example.

"Or that it is poisoned," said my uncle. "Taste it to show him it is good, Nat."

I took up the tin mug of coffee and tasted it twice, then broke a piece off the biscuit, put a little of the herring upon it, and ate it, the savage watching me closely the while.

Then his face broke into a broad smile once more, and he made believe to have suddenly comprehended that the food was meant for him, for, taking a good draught of the coffee, he leaped up, tossing his arms on high, and danced round us, shouting with delight for quite a minute before he reseated himself, and ate his breakfast, a good hearty one too, chattering all the while, and not troubling himself in the least that we could not understand a word.

"I'm sorry about one thing, Nat," my uncle said. "He would not eat that food because he was afraid that it was poisoned."

"Well, wasn't that right of him, uncle?" I said, "as we are quite strangers."

"Yes, my boy; but it teaches us that he knows what poison is, and that these savages may make use of it at times."

Our black guest looked at us intently whenever we spoke, and seemed to be trying to comprehend what we said, but began to laugh again as soon as he saw that we observed him, ending by jumping up and shaking hands again, and pointing to the rifle, seizing his spear, holding it up to his shoulder, and then making a very good imitation of the report with his mouth.

He then pointed to a bird flying at a distance, and laughed and nodded his head several times.

"That relieves us of a little difficulty, Nat," said my uncle. "The Malay captain seems to have told him why we have come; but there is another difficulty still, and that is about leaving our stores."

"It seems to me, uncle, that what we ought to do first is to learn the language."

"Yes, Nat, and we must. It would be more useful to us now than your Latin and French."

"Yes, uncle, and we shall have to learn it without books. Hallo! what's he going to do?"



The reason for my exclamation was that our visitor suddenly began to drag the chest we had used for a table into the hut, and after this he carried in the kettle, and two or three other things that we had had out, the rifle included; after which, as we watched him, he patted us both on the chest to call our attention to what he was going to do, and, picking up his spear, he thrust it down into the ground close up to the doorway, its point standing up above the thatch.

"What does he mean by that, uncle?" I asked.

"I think I know, Nat," he replied; "but wait a minute. This fellow is no fool."

For after calling our attention to what he was going to do, he ran off into the jungle; and as we watched the spot where he had disappeared, he peered at us from behind a tree trunk, then from another, and another, popping up in all sorts of out-of-the-way places where we least expected to see him, and then suddenly creeping out on hands and knees from among some bushes, raising his head every now and then as if looking to see if he was watched, and again crawling on towards the hut.

Just in the midst of the pantomime he became aware of what we had seen before, about a dozen boys coming cautiously through the forest, when, jumping up in a rage, he dashed at them, and they disappeared, he after them, to come back panting and continue his performance, hiding and creeping out again, and going nearer and nearer to the hut.

"I say, uncle, isn't this all nonsense?" I said.

"No, my boy. He can't talk to us to make us understand, so he is trying to show us something by signs."

As he spoke the black crept on and on, rising to his knees and peering round to see if he was watched, and at last, having arrived within half a dozen yards of the hut, he rose and made a dash for the door, making believe to see the spear, stuck up there like a sentry, for the first time, and then stopping short, uttering a howl of dread, and shivering all over as he crept crouching away, holding out his hands behind him as if to ward off a blow.

Then suddenly springing up, he ceased acting, looked at us, and laughed.

"Why, what does he mean, uncle?" I said.

"I know," said Uncle Dick quickly; and pointing to some of the savages down on the shore he went up to the door of the hut, and made as if to go in, but stopped and pointed again to the savages at a distance.

The black nodded and laughed, danced about with delight, and then pointing to the savages himself he ran to the door, and came shivering and crouching away once more as if too much alarmed to go in.

"It is all right, Nat," said my uncle; "he is evidently a chief, and he means that no one will dare go into the hut while his spear is stuck there. We have made a friend."

All this time the savage was looking sharply from one to the other, as if to make sure that we comprehended him; and then, seeing that we did, he made signs for us to follow him, talking excitedly the while.

We walked with him to a grove of cocoa-nut trees, passing a number of the people as we passed through, but no one attempted to follow us; and after about a quarter of an hour's walk he led us to a roughly-built palm-thatched shed, where we could hear the sounds of chopping and hammering, and on entering we found, to our surprise, that the shed was far larger than we had expected, and that in it were four men busy at work making a boat similar to one that lay there evidently but lately built.

Our new friend pointed to the finished boat, and we looked it over at once to find that it was beautifully made and perfect, with its oars, anchor, mast, and sail, and finished with such neatness that I began to wonder what tools the man must use, while my wonder was increased upon my uncle pointing out to me the fact that there was not a single nail in the whole boat, which was entirely put together by means of wooden pegs, and fastened with thin bands of rattan cane.

The black noticed our appreciation of the boat, and had we felt any doubt before of his power, it was silenced at once, for, giving his orders, the boat was half carried, half run down over the soft sand out into the pure blue water, when he signed to us to enter, leaped in afterwards, and we were run right out by the men.

The breeze was light, but strong enough for the boat, and the sail being hoisted, away we went upon the long rollers, rising and falling so easily that I could not help thinking how clever these islanders must be.

"Why, Nat," said my uncle, "we ought to have waited until we came here, for this boat is worth a dozen of the one I bought. It is so light and buoyant, and suited to the seas we are on. It will hold quite as much as our own, and be stronger and far easier to manage."

All this time the black was watching him intently, striving to understand his words, but shaking his head in a disappointed manner from time to time.

We had a fair trial of the boat, and became each minute better satisfied. Sometimes my uncle steered, sometimes I, and always to find that the light vessel went over the roughest rollers like a cork, and without shipping a drop of water.

My uncle managed as well that we should run along the coast, so as to see something of the country, with the result that I grew quite excited by my desire to land and see some of the wonders of the place; and at last the boat's head was put about and we ran back.

Now, however, the black chief took the rudder in hand, and ran us ashore on the top of a great roller, which left us high and dry upon the soft white sand, our companion jumping out and pulling us beyond reach of the next wave with the greatest ease.

The spot he had chosen was close to the boat we had brought from Singapore, up to which our companion had walked, kicking it with a look of contempt; and I must say that I could not help feeling ashamed of the rough, common, clumsy-looking thing, after our ride in that from which we had just disembarked.

Just then our companion shouted, and half a dozen blacks came racing and clattering to our side, taking charge of the boat, while we walked up to the hut, not without some misgivings as to the state of its contents.

It was quite evident, though, that no one had been near it, and our companion, with a look of consequence that was very comical in a naked savage, took up his spear and stood aside while we entered and obtained our guns and ammunition.

At this, however, he made signs indicative of his displeasure, shaking his head and pointing to the boat and then to our stores.

"I shall have to trade for the boat," said my uncle; "and to tell the truth, Nat, I don't feel at all unwilling."

So setting to, there was a long pantomime scene, in which my uncle offered the black chief our heavy, clumsy boat for the new, light, canoe-like vessel we had tried.

The offer was refused with a show of disgust, but not so great as I expected; for, as I afterwards found, there were iron and copper fittings in our boat that were looked upon by the islanders as a great acquisition. So then my uncle proceeded to lay in the boat a bit at a time the additions that he would give in exchange, his offerings consisting of showy cloth, brass wire, and axes, till the chief was satisfied and the boat was our own, after which he made signs for us to get our guns, and we started inland for our first shooting expedition, I with my pulses throbbing, and every nerve in a state of tension as I wondered what would be the first gloriously feathered trophy that I should secure.



It was a land of marvels to me, as now for the first time I saw in all their beauty the tall cocoa-nut trees and other palms, like vast ferns, towering up on their column-like stems and spreading their enormous feathery leaves so gracefully towards the earth. Then after a few steps we came upon bananas, with their long ragged leaves and mighty clusters of curiously-shaped fruit, with hundreds of other trees, such as I had never even heard of before, and among which, every now and then, we heard the sharp harsh cry of some bird of the parrot tribe.

These cries set us both on the qui vive, but though we walked for some little distance we did not obtain a shot nor see a single bird, but we found that there was plenty of forest land full of vast trees with here and there patches of beautiful undergrowth, so that, as Uncle Dick said, it was only a matter of time.

"I feel as excited over it, Nat, as you seem to be, my boy; for it is intensely interesting always to me, this search for unknown birds. What's that?"

We stopped to listen, but could not make out what the noise was that kept falling upon our ears. It was a kind of soft pleasant croak, ending in a kind of deep hum, sometimes coming from one direction, sometimes from another.

"It can't be a bull-frog, Nat, for we are not near any marsh or water as far as I can see."

"Are there tree bull-frogs, uncle?" I said, "because that noise comes out of one of the tall trees. Oh! look, there's a big bird," I cried, and raising my gun I took quick aim and fired, when far above us there was a heavy flapping noise of wings amongst the trees, and then silence.

"A miss, or a hit too weak to bring him down, Nat," said my uncle smiling. "Better luck next time. Load again, my boy."

I hastily reloaded, and we went on again, rising higher and higher over very difficult ground; and then we entered another grove of high trees and heard the same soft croaking noise as before.

"Pigeons, Nat, without doubt," said my uncle. "No other birds, I think, would have made that curious flapping of the wings."

"But that bird I shot at was too big for a pigeon, uncle," I replied.

"You'll find pigeons out here, Nat, four times as big as you have seen at home. Look, my boy, on the top branches of that great tree there is quite a cluster of them. Steal up softly; you round that way, I will go this. We shall one of us get a shot, I dare say."

I made a little circuit in obedience to my uncle's orders, and we crept up softly towards where a huge tree rose like a pillar to a tremendous height before sending out a branch, and there, just dimly seen in the soft twilight beneath the canopy of leaves, were several huge birds, which took flight with a great rattle of wings as we came near.

There was the quick report of my uncle's gun, closely followed by mine, and one bird fell heavily to the ground, the others disappearing from view beyond the trees; but just then our companion uttered a shout and dashed on ahead, to return in a few minutes with a second bird which his quick eyes had detected as wounded, and he had seen it drop into a tree some distance off, and then fall, to lead him a long chase before he secured it and brought it back.

Meanwhile we were both kneeling beside the first, which had fallen in a patch of open ground where the sun came down, and I shall never forget the delight with which I gazed at its wonderfully beautiful plumage.

"A pigeon, you see, Nat," said my uncle; "and a fine one too."

"Is that a pigeon, uncle?" I said wonderingly.

"To be sure it is, my boy, and—"


"That was a thrush, if I am not mistaken."

I ran and picked up a bird that he shot in the middle of his speech, as it flew over some low bushes, and brought it back in triumph.

"No, uncle, it is not a thrush," I cried. "It is a lovely blue and grey bird."

"What is it, then, Nat?" he said, smiling. "Have you forgotten all I told you about the representatives of our home birds being bright in colour?"

"But I did not think a thrush could be all of a lovely pale blue, uncle," I said; "and I never saw such a pigeon as that. Why, its back and wings are almost as green as those cuckoos—the trogons—and what beautiful feet and eyes! Oh! uncle," I said, "I am glad we came."

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