Nat the Naturalist - A Boy's Adventures in the Eastern Seas
by G. Manville Fenn
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"Undoubtedly the female hornbill," said my uncle. "How singular! The male bird must have plastered her up there and fed her while she has been sitting. That was what we saw, Nat."

"Then there must be eggs, uncle," I cried, with my old bird-nesting propensities coming to the front.

But Ebo was already up the tree again as soon as he had rid himself of the great screaming bird, and in place of bringing down any eggs he leaped back to the earth with a young hornbill, as curious a creature as it is possible to imagine.

It was like a clear leather bag or bladder full of something warm and soft, and with the most comical head, legs, and wings, a good-sized soft beak, a few blue stumps of feathers to represent the tail, and nothing else. It was, so to speak, a horribly naked skin of soft jelly with staring eyes, and it kept on gaping helplessly for more food, when it was evidently now as full as could be.

"Are there more birds?" said Uncle Dick pointing to the hole; but Ebo shook his head, running up, thrusting in his hand, and coming down again.

"Very curious, Nat," said my uncle. "The male bird evidently shuts his wife up after she has laid an egg, to protect her from other birds and perhaps monkeys till she has hatched, and then he goes on feeding her and her young one."

"And well too, uncle; he is as fat as butter."

"Feeding both well till the young one is fit to fly."

"Which won't be yet, uncle, for he hasn't a feather."

"No, my boy. Well, what shall we do with them?" said my uncle, still holding the screeching mother, while I nursed the soft warm bird baby, her daughter or son.

"Let's put the little—no, I mean the big one back, uncle," I said, laughing.

"Just what I was thinking. Climb up and do it."

I easily climbed to the nest and was glad to get the young bird in again without cracking its skin, which seemed so tender; and no sooner had I rolled it softly in and climbed down than my uncle let the mother go, and so strong was her love of her young that she immediately flew to the hole and crept in, croaking and screaming in an uneasy, angry way, as if she was scolding us for interfering with her little one, while from a distance amongst the trees the cock bird kept on answering her with the noisiest and most discordant cries.

Every now and then it came into sight, flying heavily across the openings between the trees, its great cream-coloured, clumsy-looking bill shining and looking bright in the sun, while the cries it uttered tempted one to put one's fingers into one's ears.

And all the time the hen bird inside the tree kept answering it peevishly, as much as to say, Look here: what a shame it is! Why don't you come and drive these people away?

"This is one of the most singular facts in natural history that I have met with," said Uncle Dick, who was still gazing curiously up at the tree and watching the female hornbill's head as she kept shuffling herself about uneasily, and seemed to object to so much light.

"I think I know what it is, uncle," I said, laughing.

"Do you, Nat," he replied. "Well, you are cleverer than I am if you do know. Well, why is it?"

"The hen hornbill must be like Uncle Joe's little bantam, who never would sit till she was shut up in the dark, and that's why Mr Hornbill fastened up his wife."

My uncle laughed, and then, to Ebo's great delight, for he had been fidgeting about and wondering why it was that we stopped so long, we continued our journey in search of the birds of paradise, whose cries could be heard at a distance every now and then.

But though we kept on following the sounds we seemed to get no nearer, and to make matters worse, so as not to scare them uncle said it would be better not to fire, with the consequence that we missed shooting some very beautiful birds that flitted from tree to tree.

"We must give up the birds of paradise to-day, Nat," said my uncle at last. "I see it is of no use to follow them; they are too shy."

"Then how are we to get any?" I said in a disappointed tone; for we had been walking for some hours now and I was tired.

"Lie in wait for them, Nat," he replied smiling. "But come, we'll try and shoot a few birds for food now and have a good dinner. You will feel all the more ready then for a fresh walk."

By means of a little pantomime we made Ebo understand what we wanted, and in a very little while he had taken us to where the great pigeons thronged the trees, many being below feeding on a kind of nut which had fallen in great profusion from a lofty kind of palm.

If we had wanted a hundred times as many of the big pigeons we could easily have shot them, they were so little used to attack; but we only brought down a sufficiency for our present wants, and as soon as Ebo understood that these birds were not to be skinned but plucked for eating, he quickly had a good fire blazing and worked away stripping the feathers off so that they dropped on the fire and were consumed.

The plumage was so beautiful that it seemed to be like so much wanton destruction to throw it away, and I could not help thinking what delight it would have given me before I had seen Uncle Dick's collection, to have been the possessor of one of these noble birds. But as my uncle very reasonably said, we should have required a little army of porters to carry our chests, and then a whole vessel to take them home, if we were to preserve every specimen we shot. We could only save the finest specimens; the rest must go for food; and of course we would only, after we had obtained a sufficiency of a particular kind, shoot those that we required for the table.

Ebo was invaluable in preparing fires and food for cooking, and upon this occasion, as he placed the birds on sticks close to the hot blaze, I watched him with no little interest, longing as I did to begin the feast.

But birds take time to cook, and instead of watching impatiently for them to be ready, I saw that Uncle Dick had taken his gun down a narrow little glade between two rows of trees growing so regularly that they seemed to have been planted by a gardener.

But no gardener had ever worked here, and as I overtook my uncle he began to talk of how singular it was that so beautiful a place should be without inhabitants.

"The soil must be rich, Nat, to produce such glorious trees and shrubs. Look at the beauty of what flowers there are, and the herbage, Nat. The place is a perfect paradise."

"And do you feel sure, uncle, that there are no savages here?"

"None but ourselves, Nat," said my uncle, laughing.

"Well, but we are not savages, uncle," I said.

"That is a matter of opinion, my boy. I'm afraid the birds here, if they can think about such things, would be very much disposed to look upon us as savages for intruding upon their beautiful domain to shoot one here and one there for our own selfish purposes."

"Oh! but birds can't think, uncle," I said.

"How do you know?"

Well, of course I did not know, and could produce no argument in support of my case. So I looked up at him at last in a puzzled way and saw that he was smiling.

"You can't answer that question, Nat," he said. "It is one of the matters that science sees no way of compassing. Still, I feel certain that birds have a good deal of sense."

"But you don't think they can talk to one another, do you, uncle?"

"No, it cannot be called talking; but they have certain ways of communicating one with the other, as anyone who has taken notice of domestic fowls can see. What is more familiar than the old hen's cry to her chickens when she has found something eatable? and then there is the curious call uttered by all fowls when any large bird that they think is a bird of prey flies over them."

"Oh! yes, I've heard that, uncle," I said.

"I remember an old hen uttering that peculiar warning note one day in a field, Nat, and immediately every chicken feeding near hurried off under the hedges and trees, or thrust their heads into tufts of grass to hide themselves from the hawk."

"That seems to show, uncle, that they do understand."

"Yes, they certainly comprehend a certain number of cries, and it is a sort of natural language that they have learned for their preservation."

"I know too about the chickens, uncle," I said. "Sometimes they go about uttering a little soft twittering noise as if they were happy and contented; but if they lose sight of their mother they pipe and cry and stand on their toes, staring about them as if they were in the greatest of trouble."

"I think I can tell you another curious little thing about fowls too, and their way of communicating one with the other. Many years ago, Nat, I had a fancy for keeping some very large fine Dorking fowls, and very interesting I found it letting the hens sit and then taking care of their chickens."

"But how is it, uncle," I said, interrupting him, "that a tiny, tender chicken can so easily chip a hole in an egg-shell, as they do when they are nearly ready to come out?"

"Because, for one reason, the egg-shell has become very brittle, and all the glutinous, adhesive matter has dried away from the lime; the other reason is, that the pressure of the bird's beak alone is sufficient to do it, because the pressure comes from within. There is a wonderful strength in an egg, Nat, if the pressure is from without; it will bear enormous weight from without, for one particle supports another, and in reason the pressure adds to the strength. The slightest touch, however, is sufficient to break a way out from within. I'll be bound to say you have often hammered an egg with a spoon and been surprised to find how hard it is."

"Yes, uncle, often," I said.

"Well, but to go on with my story, Nat. One day a favourite hen had eleven beautiful little yellow downy chickens, and for the fun of the thing I took one soft little thing out of the nest and carried it into the yard, where the great cock was strutting about with his sickle-feathered green tail glistening in the sun, and, putting down the tiny yellow ball of down, I drew back, calling the old cock the while.

"He ran up, thinking it was something to eat; but as soon as he reached the helpless little chick he stopped short, bent his head down, looked at it first with one eye, then with the other, and seemed lost in meditation.

"'Come, papa,' I said, 'what do you think of your little one?'

"Still he kept on staring intently at the little thing till it began to cry 'Peek, peek, peek' in a most dismal tone, for it was very cold, and then the old cock, who had been looking very important and big, suddenly began to cry 'Took, took, took', just like a hen, and softly crouched down, spreading his wings a little for the chick to creep under him and get warm, and no doubt he would have taken care of that chicken and brought it up if I had not taken it back to the hen.

"But look! we are talking about barn-door fowls and losing chances to get lovely specimens of foreign birds and—what's that?"

For just then a shrill wild call rang down the lovely glade, and I thought that Uncle Dick was wrong, and savages were near.



There was no occasion for alarm, the cry only coming from Ebo, who, as soon as he saw us, began making frantic signs to us to come.

"That means the pigeons are cooked, Nat," said my uncle, laughing; and this was the case, for, as soon as he saw us, the black came running up gesticulating and pointing behind him in the direction of the fire, where the delicious birds were waiting for us to eat.

Those were delightful meals that we had out in the shade of some grand wide-spreading tree, in whose branches every now and then a parrot would come shrieking, to be followed by others; and as we ate our dinner so would they busily find and eat theirs, hanging by their legs, perhaps head downwards, or perching on one leg and using the other with its soft clasping yoke toes like a hand to convey the food towards its beak.

I never felt tired of watching the parrots and paroquets, for besides their beauty of plumage of all kinds of soft tints of green, brightened with orange and scarlet and blue, they always looked such plump and delicately feathered birds. I have seen hundreds of them stuffed, and have admired the bird-mounters' skill, but they never get anywhere near nature and the soft and downy beauty of a bird in its native state.

The wonder to me was that they could keep themselves so prim, and with every feather in such perfect order. The paroquets, for instance, had the central feathers of their tail so long and thin and delicate, that it seemed that, flitting and climbing about the trees so much, they must get them broken, but they apparently never did, except when they were damaged by our shot.

It was the same with the lovely racket-tailed kingfishers and the fly-catchers, some of which had tails double the length of their own bodies, and of a delicacy that was beautiful in the extreme.

But I must go back to the rest of our adventures that day, for as soon as we had dined and had a rest, Uncle Dick signed to Ebo that he should make a rough hut beneath this tree, ready for our sleeping that night, and leaving him industriously at work, we started off together to try and explore a little more of the island.

Going as straight as we could, we were not very long before, from a bit of a hill, we could see the blue waters of the ocean spreading far and wide, and soon after we made out the great rollers falling over upon the sands, which spread right and left, of a dazzling whiteness, being composed entirely of powdered-up coral and madrepore.

There was no need, my uncle said, to go farther that day, for we had found out that it was no great distance across the island; the thing now was to discover its length.

"It seems a foolish thing to do, perhaps, Nat," said my uncle, "but I should very much like to try a little more exploration to-day. I don't think we will shoot any more birds, but examine the land instead, so as to be a little at home with its shape, ready for making a trip here and there in the future. We shall be able to mark down good spots, too, for finding specimens in the future."

"But shall you stay here long, uncle?" I asked.

"That I cannot answer, Nat," he replied, as we shouldered our guns and trudged on. "It all depends upon the number of specimens we find, and so far it seems to me that we might travel far before we hit again upon such a wild paradise."

"I wonder how Uncle Joe would like to live here!" I said laughing. "What a garden he might have, and how things would grow! Oh, how I should like to help him build the house and get the garden in order!"

"Your Uncle Joe would be happy anywhere, Nat," said my uncle. "He is one of those contented amiable men who are always at rest; but I'm afraid your Aunt Sophia would soon find it dull, and be grumbling because there was no gas, no pavement, no waterworks, no omnibuses, no cabs, no railroads. No, Nat, my boy, your Aunt Sophia would be miserable here."

"And yet it is such a lovely place," I cried enthusiastically. "Everything is so beautiful. Oh! uncle, I could stay here forever."

"No, Nat, you could not," he replied laughing; "but it is very beautiful all the same. I have travelled a great deal, and have seen some wonderful scenery, but I have never met with so much beauty condensed in so small a space."

We kept on walking, but it was only to stop every now and then before some fresh find—sometimes it would be a curiously-shaped orchid, or a pitcher-plant half full of dead insects. Then some great forest tree full of sweet-scented blossoms, and alive with birds and insects, would arrest our attention; or down in some moist hollow, where a tiny stream trickled from the rocks, there would be enormous tree-ferns springing up twelve or fifteen feet above us, and spreading their beautiful fronds like so much glorious green lace against the sky. A fern is always a beautiful object, but these tree-ferns were more than beautiful—they were grand.

The farther we went the more beauties we found, and we kept on noting down places to visit again where there were palm and other trees full of fruit, which evidently formed the larder of various kinds of beautiful birds. We could have shot enough in that walk to have kept us busy making skins for days, but we kept to the determination my uncle had made, not to shoot any more that day, except once, when the curious hoarse cry of some bird of paradise, answered by others at a distance, tempted us away.

"Birds of paradise are exceptions, Nat," said my uncle, smiling. "We must get them when we can."

I immediately seemed to see the beautiful bird flying amongst the trees, with its lovely buff plumes trailing behind like so much live sunshine, and glancing once at my gun to see that the cartridges were in all right, I crept cautiously on amongst the trees on one side as Uncle Dick made a bit of a curve round in another, so that we had a good many great forest trees between us, whose foliage we carefully watched as we went cautiously on.

Every now and then, after a silence that made us think that our labour was all in vain, and we were about to give up, the loud harsh cry would come echoing from amongst the trees, and always seeming so near that I thought I must get a shot at the bird in a moment or two, and I bent down and crept on as quietly as I could, till the tree from which the sound seemed to come was reached.

Then I would stand ready to fire, watching carefully for a shot, peering amongst the boughs, and fancying a dozen times over that I could catch glimpses of the bird amongst the leaves, when, as if laughing at me for my pains, the cry would come again from a couple of hundred yards away, and the chase went on.

I did not shout to Uncle Dick, for by stopping to listen now and then I could hear the rustling of the leaves and twigs as he went on, besides every now and then catching through the dim light a glimpse of his face.

Once or twice, when a beautiful bird sprang up between us, my heart began to beat more quickly, for I thought that if uncle was tempted to shoot at it he might hit me; but by degrees I grew more confident and walked boldly on, feeling that I had nothing to fear.

That bird must have led us for miles. Every time we were ready to give up, the hoarse cry rang out again, and we followed once more, feeling sure that sooner or later we must get a shot at it, or at one of the others which kept answering from a distance; but at last I heard a peculiar whistle from where my uncle would be, and I forced my way through the undergrowth and joined him.

"Nat," he said, wiping the perspiration from his face, "that must have been a wild-goose instead of a bird of paradise. Have you heard it lately?"

"No, uncle; not for quite a quarter of an hour. I think it must have taken a longer flight this time."

"Yawk, yawk—wok, wok, wok, wok, wok," rang out close behind us, and we both fired simultaneously at a faint gleam of what seemed to be yellow light as it flitted through the glade, running forward to get beyond the smoke in the hope that we might have hit it.

But even if we had we should not have been able to find it, for in the eagerness of our pursuit we had come now into one of the densest parts of the forest that we had found, and after wandering on through a faint warm glow caused by the setting sun shining through the tree trunks, a sudden dull greyness had come upon us, followed almost at once by darkness, and we knew that we were lost.

"I ought to have known better, Nat," said my uncle, with an exclamation of impatience. "I have not the most remote idea where our camp is, and Ebo will be expecting us back."

"Oh! never mind, uncle," I said; "let's have a try. I dare say we can find the way back."

"My dear boy, it would be sheer folly," he replied. "How is it possible? We are tired out now, and it would be only exhausting ourselves for nothing, and getting a touch of fever, to go striving on through the night."

"What are we to do then, uncle?"

"Do, my boy? Do as Adam did, make ourselves as comfortable as we can beneath a tree. We can do better, for we can cut some wood and leaves to make ourselves a shelter."

"What, build a hut, uncle?" I said in dismay; for I was now beginning to find out how tired I really was.

"No; we won't take all that trouble; but what we do we must do quickly. Come along."

I followed him up a slope to where the ground seemed to be a trifle more open and the trees larger, and as we forced our way on my uncle drew his great hunting-knife and chopped down a straight young sapling, which, upon being topped and trimmed, made a ten-feet pole about as thick as my arm was then.

This he fixed by resting one end in the fork of a tree and tying the other to a branch about five feet from the ground.

"Now then, Nat," he cried, "get your big sheath-knife to work and clear the ground here. Does it seem dry?"

"Yes, uncle, quite," I said.

"Well, then, you chop off plenty of soft twigs and leaves and lay them thickly for a bed, while I make a roof over it."

We worked with a will, I for my part finding plenty of tree-ferns, whose fronds did capitally, and Uncle Dick soon had laid sloping against the pole a sufficiency of leafy branches to form an ample shelter against the wind and rain should either come.

"So far, so good, Nat," he said; "now are you very hungry?"

"I'm more tired than hungry, uncle," I said.

"Then I think we will light a fire and then have as good a night's rest as we can."

There was no difficulty in getting plenty of dried wood together, and after a few failures this began to blaze merrily, lighting up the leaves of the trees with a rich red glow; and when it was at its height setting a good many birds flitting about in the strange glow, so that we could have procured more specimens here. But after sitting talking by the fire for some time we crept in under our leafy shed, and it seemed to me that no sooner had I stretched myself out than I fell fast asleep.



I had no idea how long I had been asleep when all at once I started into wakefulness, feeling that we were in danger.

I did not know what the danger might be, but that there was something about to happen I was sure.

It was very dark in our narrow shed, and nearly dark out beyond our feet, only that a faint glow from our fire made one or two tree trunks stand out like dark sentinels just on the other side.

My uncle was so near that I could have wakened him by just moving one hand, but remembering that other night I shrank from wakening him without cause.

"I've got another fever fit coming on," I said to myself; but all the same I did not feel so, only startled and timid, and to encourage myself I thought that I must have had a bad dream.

But no; I could remember no dream. It seemed as if I had sunk at once into a profound sleep from which I had just wakened fancying that we were in danger.

Then I lay quite still listening to my uncle's breathing, and thinking how helpless and unprotected we were out in that wild place, not even having Ebo with us now.

But what was there to fear, I asked myself as I recalled my uncle's words, that he was certain there were no wild beasts in such an island as this, and there were no other inhabitants than ourselves.

Yes, I could think of all this, and it ought to have made me more comfortable; but no, there was still that curious feeling of being in danger, and I felt as certain as if I could see it, that something was coming to attack us.

Then as I could neither see nor hear anything I began once more to conclude that I must be suffering from another attack of fever, and I lifted my hand to awaken my uncle, so that he might give me some quinine again.

Then I recollected that the medicine was in one of our boxes right away from where we were, for we were lost in the forest, and it would be impossible to move until the sun was up once more. So there I lay till another change came over me, and I once more felt sure that it was not fever again. I knew it was not, and this time there was no mistake— something was coming through the forest, though what it was I could not tell.

Should I waken my uncle?

I raised my hand again and again, but always lowered it once more, so fearful was I of being ridiculed; and then I lay thinking that although uncle had said with such certainty that there were neither inhabitants nor wild beasts, there was plenty of room for either to hide away in these forests; and besides, should there be no regular inhabitants, some might have come by canoe from one or other of the islands. And, yes, I was sure of it, they must have seen our fire, and were creeping up to kill us where we lay.

This was a very pretty theory; but would not they make some noise as they came, and if so, where was that noise?

I lay perfectly still with the perspiration oozing out of me and my horror increasing, but still there was no noise.

Yes, there was—a low rustling sound as of some one creeping through the bushes towards us. There could be no mistaking that sound, it was just the same as I had been hearing all the afternoon as we crept cautiously on in search of the birds of paradise.

I listened and tried to pierce the darkness with my eyes, but only just about the embers of the fire was anything visible, where the tree trunks stood all like sentries.

Then the noise ceased and I was ready to believe that I had made a mistake. No, there it was again, and certainly much nearer.

Should I wake Uncle Dick, or should I try to be brave enough to deal with the danger myself?

I was horribly frightened and sadly wanted him to give me his help and counsel; but as I was not sure, in spite of my feelings, that there really was danger, I fought hard with my cowardice and determined to act as seemed best.

Cautiously reaching out my hand I took hold of my gun, and by pressing my finger on each trigger in turn, I cocked it silently, and raising myself on one elbow waited for the danger to come.

The sounds stopped several times, but were always resumed, and the more I listened the more certain I felt that some big animal was creeping up with great caution towards the fire, though I felt that that animal might be a man.

I would have given anything to have been able to sit up in an easier position; but I could only have done so by making a noise and perhaps waking Uncle Dick for nothing. So I remained as I was, watching with eyes and ears upon the strain, the barrel of my gun towards the opening in our leafy shed and well covering the fire; and so minute after minute went by, with the sensation more and more strongly upon me of the near presence of some creature, one which I each moment expected to see cross the faint glow of the fire.

Then all was still, and though I listened so intently I could hear nothing but my uncle's breathing. So still did everything become that I began to feel less oppression at my chest, and ready to believe that it was all fancy, when suddenly the embers of the fire seemed to have fallen a little together, for the glow grew stronger and there was a faint flicker which made my heart give one great bound.

For there, between me and the fire, was what appeared to be the monstrous figure of an orang-outang, which had crawled close up to the fire and was looking at it.

The creature was on all-fours and had its back to me, while the darkness of the night prevented me from making it out properly; but it looked to me very large and dark coloured, and I had read that the strength of these creatures was enormous.

It crouched there about five yards from where I lay, and as I wondered whether I had better shoot, I suddenly recollected that both barrels of my gun were loaded with small shot, and that at such a distance, though the shot would well hang together, they were not certain to make a mortal wound; while the result would be that the monster would be more fierce and terrible than it was before.

I don't think I was afraid to fire, but I hesitated, and as I waited I felt that there was a possibility of the animal not being aware of our presence, for it was evidently the fire that had attracted it.

But these hopes came to an end directly, and I raised my gun softly to my shoulder, for the creature seemed about to crawl towards me. This was only for a moment or two though, and then there was a peculiar scratching noise as if the monster was tearing at the bushes, and I could dimly see its great back waving to and fro. Then all at once the scratching ceased, and it seemed to have thrown some twigs and leaves upon the fire, which blazed up, and my gun nearly fell from my hand.

"Ebo!" I shouted; and as my uncle sprang up and we crept out into the ruddy light spread by the burning wood, there was my monster in the shape of our trusty follower, dancing about like mad, and chattering away as he pointed to the fire, then to himself, then to a distance, and seemed to be trying to make us understand that he had seen the fire and tracked us by its light to where we were.

His delight seemed to know no bounds, for whenever he came to a pause in his performance and stood grinning at us, he broke out again, leaping about, running away, coming back, and shouting and laughing as he slapped himself loudly with his hands. I can compare his conduct to nothing but that of a dog who has just found his master.

The question now arose what was to be done, and by a good deal of sign— making we asked Ebo to lead us back to the camp; but he shook his head and stamped and frowned, and to cut the matter short threw some more wood on the fire, pushed us both into our leaf tent, lay down across the front, and went to sleep.



I said very little to my uncle about my alarm, feeling sure that he would laugh very heartily at my mistake, but I lay awake for some little while thinking that it was time I grew to be more manly and brave, and not so ready to be frightened at everything I could not directly understand. It seemed so shocking, too, for I might in my cowardly fear have shot poor Ebo, who was one of the best and truest of fellows, and seemed never so happy as when able to do something for me.

My last thoughts before I went to sleep were that I hoped I might grow into a brave and true man, and I determined to try hard not to be such a weak coward.

I have often thought since, though, that if any ordinary man had been placed in the same situation he would have been as nervous as I; for to awake out of a deep sleep in a dark forest in a wild land, where dangerous beasts might be lurking, to hear a peculiar rustling noise, and through the faint light to make out the figure of the black, looking big and indistinct as he crept on all-fours, was, to put it as you may, very startling.

I was ready enough to laugh at all the dread when I awoke in the morning to find the sun just up, and sending his rays through the long vistas of trees, where the birds were whistling, twittering, and screaming loudly, while every now and then from a distance came the hoarse cry of the birds of paradise.

"It is terribly tempting, Nat," said my uncle, "but I think we had better make straight for camp and get a good breakfast before we do anything else. Hallo! what is Ebo doing?"

"Making up the fire," I said; and directly the black had thrown on a great armful of dead wood he came to us laughing and rubbing the front of his person, squeezing himself in to show how empty he was, after which he picked up a stick, took aim at a bird, said "Bop!" and ran to pick it up; coming back laughing for us to applaud his performance.

"Well, Nat, that's a piece of dumb-show that says very plainly we are to shoot some birds for breakfast before we do anything else, and it would perhaps be wise, so come along; there are some of our old friends in that great palm-tree."

I followed my uncle closely, and we had no difficulty in shooting three of the great pigeons, which Ebo pounced upon and carried off in triumph, and in a few minutes they were roasting upon sticks, while our black cook busied himself in climbing a cocoa-tree, from which he detached half a dozen nuts, each of which came down with a tremendous thud.

I was terribly hungry, but Uncle Dick said we should be worse if we stopped there smelling the roasting pigeons. So we took our guns and went across an opening to where there was tree after tree, rising some thirty or forty feet high, all covered with beautiful white sweet-scented starry flowers, each with a tube running up from it like that of a jasmine.

All about this beautiful little birds were flitting, and as we watched them for some time I could see their feathers flash and glitter in the sunshine, as if some wore tiny helmets of burnished gold and breastplates of purple glittering scales. No colours could paint the beauty of these lovely little creatures, which seemed to be of several different kinds, for some had patches of scarlet, of orange, blue, and white to add to the brilliancy of their feathering; and so little used were they to the sight of man that they seemed to pay no attention to us, but allowed us to go very close, so that we could see them flit and hover and balance themselves before the sweet-scented starry bell-flowers, into whose depths they thrust their long thin beaks after the honey and insects that made them their home.

I soon learned from my uncle that they were the sun-birds, the tiny little fellows that were in the Old World what the humming-birds were in the New, for there are no humming-birds in the East.

Following Uncle Dick's example, I took the shot out of my gun, for he said that the concussion and the wad would be sufficient to bring them down. But, somehow, we were so interested in what we saw that neither of us thought of firing, and there we stood watching the glittering feathers, the graceful motions, and the rapidity with which these tiny birds seemed to flash from blossom to blossom, till a loud yell from Ebo summoned us to breakfast.

"Yes, Nat," said my uncle, who seemed to read my thoughts, "that is the way to see the beauty of the sun-birds. No stuffed specimens of ours will ever reproduce a hundredth part of their beauty; but people cannot always come from England to see these things. Take care! What's that?"

We were going through rather a dense patch of undergrowth, where the ground beneath was very soft and full of water, evidently from some boggy springs. There was a great deal of cane and tall grass, with water weeds of a most luxuriant growth, and the place felt hot and steamy as we forced our way through, till, as I was going first and parting the waving canes right and left with my gun barrel, I stepped upon what seemed to be a big branch of a rotten tree that had fallen there, when suddenly I felt myself lifted up a few inches and jerked back, while at the same moment the canes and grass crashed and swayed, and something seemed to be in violent motion.

"Is it an earthquake, uncle?" I said, looking aghast at the spot from whence had been jerked.

"Yes, Nat, and there it goes. Fire, boy, fire!"

He took rapid aim a little to the left, where the canes and broad-leaved plants were swaying to and fro in a curious way, just as if, it seemed then, a little pig was rushing through, and following his example I fired in the same direction.

But our shots seemed to have no effect, and whatever it was dashed off into a thicker part, where it was too swampy to follow even if we had been so disposed.

"Your earthquake has got away for the present, Nat," said my uncle. "Did you see it?"

"No, uncle," I said.

"But you must have trodden upon it, and it threw you back."

"No, uncle; I trod upon the trunk of a small tree, that was all."

"You trod upon a large serpent, Nat, my boy," he exclaimed.

"Ugh!" I ejaculated; and I made a jump back on to more solid ground.

"The danger has passed now, Nat," he said, smiling at my dread; "but really I could not have believed such a creature existed in so small an island."

"Oh, uncle!" I cried, "I shall never like to go about again for fear of treading upon another."

"You will soon get over that, Nat, and perhaps we may have the luck to shoot the brute. I don't think we did it much mischief this time, though I got a good sight of it as it glided amongst the canes."

"Why, we had no shot in our guns, uncle," I cried; "we took them out so as not to knock the sun-birds about too much."

"Of course!" cried my uncle. "How foolish of me not to remember this!"

We had both reloaded now, and then, without heeding a shout from Ebo, we stood looking in the direction taken by the reptile, though now all the luxuriant canes and grasses were quite still.

"What do you say, Nat?" said my uncle. "Shall we follow the monster and try and shoot it?"

"It must be forty or fifty feet long, uncle," I said, feeling a curious creeping sensation run through me.

"Forty or fifty nonsenses, my boy!" he said, laughing. "Such serpents as that only exist in books. They rarely exceed twenty feet where they are largest. That fellow would not be fifteen. What do you say—will you come?"

"Ye-es, uncle," I said hesitatingly, feeling hot and cold by turns.

"Why, Nat," he said quietly, "you are afraid!" I did not speak for a moment or two, but felt the hot blood flush into my face as I stood there looking him full in the eyes, and unable to withdraw my gaze.

"Yes, uncle," I said at last. "I did not want to be, but a serpent is such a horrible thing, and I am afraid."

"Yes, it is a horrible monster, Nat," he said quietly. "I don't like them myself, but if we could kill it—"

"I can't help feeling afraid, uncle," I said, "but I'm ready to go on now."

"What! to attack it, Nat?"

"Yes, uncle."

"It will be rather dangerous, my boy."

"Yes, uncle," I said. "I suppose so; but I want to get over being so afraid of things. I'm quite ready now."

I looked to him to come on at once, but he did not move, and stood looking at me for some minutes without speaking.

"Then we will go and attack the brute, Nat," he said; "but it will not go away from that bit of a swamp, so we will try and put a little more nerve into our hearts with a good breakfast, and then have Ebo to help us, unless he proves to be a worse coward than you."

"He could not be, uncle," I said pitifully; and I felt very, very miserable.

"Oh! yes, he could be, Nat, my boy," said my uncle, smiling, and grasping me affectionately by the arm. "You are a coward, Nat, but you fought with your natural dread, mastered it, and are ready to go and attack that beast. Master Ebo may be a coward and not fight with and master his dread. So you see the difference, my boy."

Another shout from the black made us hasten our steps to where he was dancing about and pointing to the crisp brown pigeons, big as chickens, with great green leaves for plates, and the new ripe cocoa-nuts divested of their husks; but for a few moments I could not eat for thinking of the serpent. My fresh young appetite asserted itself though soon after, and, forgetting the danger to come, I made one of the most delicious of meals.



It was only while I was scraping out the last of the delicate cream from the inside of a huge cocoa-nut that I recalled the task we had to come, and a curious shiver ran through me as I glanced in the direction of the swamp where, nearly a mile away, the reptile lay.

Ebo knew nothing about it as yet, and I hardly conceived how he would be made to understand what we had seen.

"Do you think he will be ready to help kill the serpent, uncle?" I said, after waiting for some time to see if he would say anything about the attack.

"I hardly know, Nat," he replied cheerily; "but we'll soon try him. By the way, use the cartridges with the largest kind of shot, for we must make up for this morning's mistakes. Here, Ebo, we've seen a snake," he said.

"Ung-kul, Nat-mi-boi. Hal-lo, hal-lo hal-lo!" replied Ebo, laughing merrily, and showing his white teeth.

"We shall not get at his understanding like that," said my uncle quietly; and he sat thinking for a moment.

"Shall I try and draw a snake, uncle?" I said.

"To be sure, Nat," he replied, laughing; "but where are paper, pencil, or chalk? Stop a minute—I have it."

We generally carried a stout piece of cord with us, ready for any emergency, and this cord, about ten yards long and a little thicker than clothes-line, my uncle now untwisted from his waist, where he had worn it like a belt, and calling Ebo's attention to it he laid it out upon the ground. Then holding one end he made it wave about and crawl and curve and twine, ending by knotting it up in a heap and laying the end carefully down as if it were a serpent asleep.

Ebo watched the process attentively, at first seriously and then as if delighted, clapping his hands, dancing, and chattering away as if telling my uncle how clever he was.

"But that does not show him what we want, uncle," I said.

"Well, then, you try."

I took up the rope, made it undulate a little, and then as Ebo looked on I gave it a quick twist and wound it round him, pretending to make the end bite.

He took to it directly, pretending that the reptile was crushing him, fighting his way free of the folds, picking up his club and attacking it in turn, beating the make-believe head with his club, and finally indulging in a war-dance as he jumped round, dragging the imaginary serpent after him, pretending all the while that it was very heavy, before stooping down to smell it, making a grimace, and then throwing down the rope, which he pretended to bury in the sand.

"It's all right, Nat. He understands, and has evidently encountered big snakes. Now, then, to show him our enemy, for he will fight."

My uncle was right, for it was evident that Ebo quite understood us and meant fighting, for, sticking his spear in the ground, he made signs to me that I should lend him my hunting-knife, which I at once did, and laughing and chattering away he looked about him a little, and then proceeded to cut down a sapling tree about as thick as his arm, from whose trunk he selected a piece a couple of feet in length and carefully trimmed it into a formidable club with a smooth, small handle, while he left the thick end jagged with the ugly places from which he had cut the branches.

He was not long in getting it into shape, and no sooner had he satisfied himself with his work than he returned my hunting-knife, making believe that he was horribly afraid lest it should cut off his head, and then proceeded to attack an imaginary serpent that was trying to escape through the bushes. Now he was trying to strike it, now retreating, now making blows at it upon the ground, now in the air, ending by dropping his club and seizing the neck of the creature, which he pretended had coiled round him; now he was down upon one knee, now overthrown and rolling over and over in a fierce struggle; but at last his acting came to a conclusion by his striking the reptile's head against a tree, kicking off an imaginary coil from his leg, and strutting about proudly to show how he had conquered.

The most surprising part of the affair was that he did not seem to be in the slightest degree exhausted by his efforts, but picked up his club and began chattering to us, and pointing to the marsh as if asking us to come on.

"Well, Nat," said my uncle, "if he will only fight half as well as that when we encounter the serpent, there ought to be nothing to fear. We ought to master the brute easily."

"Would such a serpent be very strong, uncle?" I asked.

"Wonderfully strong," he replied. "Their muscles are tremendously powerful. See what strength anything of similar form possesses; an eel, for instance."

"Yes, uncle," I said thoughtfully, as I recalled how difficult I had once found it to hold a large one that I had caught. "Eels are very strong."

"Look here, Nat," said my uncle kindly, "I don't think we should run any risks in following up this serpent, for one good shot would disable it; but still it may be a little perilous, and it is not just to expect a boy of your age to face such a danger. You stop back at a distance, and I will send Ebo into the marsh to drive it out, while I try to get a shot at it."

"Oh, no, uncle!" I said quickly.

"Come now, my boy," he cried, clapping me on the shoulder. "You are going because you think I shall consider you cowardly if you stay behind. I tell you truly, Nat, I shall not."

"I did feel something of that kind, uncle," I said warmly; "but that is not all. I want to try and be brave and to master all my cowardly feelings, and this seems such a chance."

He stood looking at me for a few minutes, and then said quietly:

"Very well then, Nat, you shall come. But be careful with your gun, and do not fire unless you have a clear shot. Don't hurry, and mind that Ebo is not near. As to the danger," he said, "there is very little. The worst thing that could happen would be that the serpent might seize you."

I could not help a shudder.

"Coil round you."

The shudder felt now was the serpent wrapping me round.

"And giving you a severe squeeze," continued my uncle. "It is a hundred to one against its teeth catching you in the face, and it is doubtful whether they would penetrate your clothes, and even if they did you would suffer no worse than from a few thorns, for these constricting reptiles are not poisonous."

"It don't sound very nice, uncle," I said, feeling as if my face was showing white through the brown of the sunburns.

"No, Nat, it does not," he said; "but now I have told you the worst I may as well say something on the other side. Now the chances are that the brute will try its best to escape, and be shot in the act; and even supposing that it did seize you, which is no more likely than that it should seize Ebo or me, we should immediately get hold of it by the neck and have its head off before it knew where it was."

"Yes, uncle, I know you would," I said with more confidence and a strange thrill of excitement running through me. "Let me come, please."

"You shall, Nat," he replied; "and now I'll confess to you, my boy, that I should have felt disappointed if you had held back. Come along, my lad, and I think we shall soon slay this modern dragon."

All this time Ebo had been looking at us wonderingly; but no sooner did we examine our guns and start forward, than he shouldered his club and went before us towards the piece of marshy ground.

I walked on by uncle's side with my gun ready, and all the time I kept on wondering what he would have said to me if he had known how nervous I felt.

The thoughts of what we were approaching seemed to take all the brightness and beauty out of the scene, which was as lovely as could be. Strange birds flew by us, glorious trees were on every side, some of them covered with flowers, while the brilliant greens of various shades made up for the want of colour in others. Where we were the land seemed to slope down into a little valley, while farther back there was a ridge clothed to its summit with beautiful vegetation.

But just then, as the poetical writer said, the trail of the serpent was over it all, and I kept on seeing imaginary reptiles' heads reared above the beautiful waving canes and grasses, and fancied I detected the rustling noise made by the creature's scales as they glided through the dry stems.

"Now," said my uncle, as we stood at last on the edge of the moist depression, "we must contrive some plan of attack, Nat. We must not let the enemy escape, or he will be scaring us all the time we stay."

I thought it very kind of him to say us when I know he meant you, but I did not say anything, only eagerly searched the thickly-spread canes and broad-leaved plants as far as I could see with my eyes, and then I could not help thinking what a beautiful spot that marsh was in spite of the serpent, as two or three of the lovely pitta thrushes flitted amidst the bamboos, and half a dozen sun-birds darted about a convolvulus-like plant, and kept flashing in the sunshine, which every now and then seemed to make their feathers blaze.

"Now, Nat," said my uncle, "I think this will be a good place for you, by this trickling rill; you see the place is roughly in the shape of a ham, so you shall have the place of honour, my boy, by the knuckle-bone, while I and Ebo go round the fat sides and see if we can find the enemy there."

"Do you think it will come this way, uncle?" I said.

"Yes, Nat, just below you there, so be cool, and give it both your barrels as it goes by. You may depend upon one thing, and that is that the reptile, if it comes down here, will be trying hard to escape. It will not attack you."

I hoped Uncle Dick was right, but could not feel sure, as I remained on the side of the steep slope, at the bottom of which a tiny stream trickled amongst a long patch of luxuriant canes through which I expected the serpent would try to escape to another part of the island.

The next minute I was quite alone, for in obedience to my uncle's signs, and eagerly falling into his plans, Ebo ran off to get to the back of the little marsh, my uncle also disappearing quietly on my own side, but of course higher up.

"Perhaps the serpent won't be here after all," I thought to myself as I stood there in the midst of the profound silence; and I could not keep back the hope within me that this might be the case.

Everything was now very still, only that once from a distance came the hoarse cry of a bird of paradise and the scream of a parrot, but directly after I seemed to detect the peculiar noise made by a hornbill, one of which birds flapped across the little valley towards a clump of trees.

Not a sound came from beyond the cane swamp, and the slightest grasses hardly moved, but stood there with their feathery plumes bathed in sunshine, while with strained eyes I counted the knots on every light-brown and cream-coloured cane.

I was watching for a wavy, undulating movement, which I felt sure must follow if the serpent was there and creeping about; but all was perfectly still.

"It must be farther up to the top of the marsh than he thinks," I said to myself; and then I heard a cry which made my blood bound through my veins. But there was nothing the matter; it was only Ebo on the move, and I heard my uncle answer him. Then there was a beating noise as if the black was thrashing the canes with his club.

Then my heart seemed to leap to my mouth, for there was a rustling in the tall grasses, something seemed to be forcing its way through, and with my gun at my shoulder I was ready to fire at the first glimpse of the scaly skin, but feathers appeared instead, and a couple of large wading-birds flew out.

The beating went on, and bird after bird took flight from its lurking-place, some being very beautiful; but no serpent appeared, and I began to feel more bold.

Still the beating went on, with Ebo shouting from time to time and my uncle answering, till they could not have been more than fifty yards above me, when suddenly the black seemed to change his tone, shouting excitedly to my uncle.

"They've found it," I said to myself; and in my excitement I forgot all about my fears, and stood there with my eyes sweeping the cane growth and my ears strained to their utmost.

All at once, and so close that the noise made me jump, I heard a shot, followed by a shout from Ebo, and a loud crashing noise, as if the canes were being thrashed together with a big stick.

Bang once more, and then perfect silence, but directly after the thrashing, beating noise began once more, and as I gazed excitedly in that direction I heard my uncle's voice.

"Look out, Nat," he cried. "It's coming your way."

"Yolly-to, yolly-to!" cried Ebo; but I hardly heard him, for, rushing down amongst the reeds and canes, writhing and bounding in the most extraordinary way, beating, whipping the tall leaves, tying itself up in knots and then throwing itself out nearly straight, came what to me seemed to be a most monstrous serpent.

I ought to have fired, but as the reptile came towards me I felt as if I must run, and I turned and fled for a dozen yards before shame stopped me, and I faced about.

The creature was close at hand, writhing horribly, and leaving behind it a beaten track, as in a fit of desperation I raised my gun, took quick aim, and fired, leaped aside to get away from the smoke, and fired again at something close to me.

The next moment I was knocked down, my gun flying out of my hand, and when I struggled up the serpent was gone.

"Hurt, Nat?" cried my uncle, who came running up with Ebo, who began to feel me all over.

"I don't think I am, uncle," I said angrily; "but the thing gave me a horrible bang."

"Pick up your gun then and come along, lad. You hit the brute with both barrels, and I know I did once. Come along; load as you run."

Ebo had already gone on in the serpent's track, for after I had been sent over by a blow as the reptile writhed so fiercely, it had straightened itself out, and gone straight down the little valley towards more open ground.

"Obe-ally-yolly!" shouted Ebo, and running after him I found that the serpent was gliding about in a rapid way amongst some tall trees, with the black darting at it and hitting it with his club from time to time, but apparently without making any impression.

"Stand back, Ebo," cried my uncle, waving the black away, and then, as Ebo leaped back, preparing to fire. But he lowered his gun as I came up. "No," he said, "you shall give him the coup de grace, Nat;" and feeling no fear now I finished the loading of my gun and went in among the trees.

"Fire at its head, Nat," cried my uncle; but it was not easy to see it, for the creature kept on twining about in a wonderfully rapid way; but at last I caught it as the head came from behind a tree trunk, fired, and the monster leaped from the ground and fell back in a long straight line, perfectly motionless, till Ebo darted in to give it a final thump with his club, when, to my astonishment, the blow seemed to electrify the creature, which drew itself up into a series of waves, and kept on throbbing as it were from end to end.

"Shall I fire again, uncle?" I said excitedly.

"No, Nat," he replied; "it would only be slaying the slain. Bravo, my boy! you did capitally."

"But I ran away at first, uncle," I said sorrowfully. "I did not stop when the serpent first came out."

"It was enough to make a Saint George run away from such a dragon, Nat," he said laughing. "I could not have believed such a serpent existed in these isles. Let's see how long he is."

"Thirty feet, uncle," I cried excitedly.

"Your eyes magnify this morning, Nat," he said merrily. "No, my boy," he continued, after pacing along by the writhing creature's side; "that serpent is barely fourteen feet long, but it is wonderfully thick for its size, and it proves that there must be animals here such as would form its prey."

"Shall you have it skinned, uncle?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, handing his knife to Ebo, who readily understood what was wanted, and leaving him to his very nasty job, my uncle and I went in search of birds of paradise.



We had a long tramp after the birds of paradise that day, but did not get one. We shot some lovely sun-birds though, and a couple of thrushes such as we had not seen before. Our walk took us well in sight of the sea once more, and we began to have a pretty good idea of the form of the island. But the more we went about the more my uncle was satisfied that it was only a matter of time to make here a glorious collection of the birds of the eastern islands. We saw four different kinds of birds of paradise in our walk, though we did not get one on account of their shyness, but we did not despair of getting over that; and at last, well tired out, we returned to Ebo, who had hung up the serpent's skin to dry, and following his guidance till nightfall we got back to our hut by the sea-shore, where the boat lay perfectly safe, and being too tired to make a fire and cook, we lay down and fell asleep at once.

It was still dark when I was awakened by a hand shaking my arm, and, starting up, there was the black face of Ebo bent over me.

"Ikan-ikan," he kept on repeating.

"Ikan—fish," said my uncle, starting up. "Yes, we may as well get some for a change, Nat;" and in a few minutes we were all down on the sand launching the boat, which rode out lightly over the rollers.

We had plenty of fishing-lines, so fine that Ebo shook his head at them, and proceeded to show us how easily they would break; but after trying over and over again without success, and only cutting his hands, he grinned and jumped up to dance, but evidently thinking there was no room he settled down again and began to examine some hooks and glittering tin baits which we had in a box.

These he scanned most carefully as the boat skimmed along, my uncle steering, and after trying the sharpness of the hooks he performed what always seemed to me a conjuring trick, in bringing a couple of mother-of-pearl baits out of his waist-cloth, with a roll of twine.

The savages of the East, in fact most of the eastern people, wear a cord round the waist made of a material in accordance with their station. The poorer people will have it of cotton or twisted grass, the wealthier and chiefs of silk, while some have it threaded with gold. This thin cord is used as a support for their waist-cloth, and is rarely taken off, but is fastened so tightly that I have seen it appear completely buried in the flesh, just as if the wearers had an idea that they ought to make themselves look as much like an insect as possible.

Ebo wore a very tight lingouti—as it is called—round and over which he tucked the coarse cotton cloth which formed his only article of attire, and it was by means of this cotton cloth that he performed what I have spoken of as being like conjuring tricks, for somehow or another, although he had the appearance of carrying nothing about with him, he had always a collection of useful articles stored away in the folds of that waist-cloth.

Upon the present occasion he brought out two mother-of-pearl baits such as would be used to attract the fish when no real bait could be obtained.

It was a sight to see Ebo comparing his pearl baits with our specimens of tin and tinned copper, and for a time he seemed as if he could hardly make up his mind which was the better. Then he laid his coil of line made of roughly twisted grass beside ours, and inspected the two carefully, after which he uttered a sigh and put his own away, evidently quite satisfied that the civilised article was by far the better.

We sailed out about a mile and then anchored at the edge of a reef of coral, which acted as a shelter against the great rollers which broke far away upon its edge, seeming to make a ridge of surf, while where we lay all was undulating and calm, but with the tide running strongly over the reef, where the water was not a fathom deep and growing shallower moment by moment.

Ebo laid his short club ready to his hand, signing to me to draw my big hunting-knife and place it beside me.

"That looks as if we were to catch some large and dangerous fish, Nat," said my uncle; and he drew his own knife before passing to each of us a line with the artificial baits affixed.

"Won't you fish, uncle?" I asked.

"No, my boy. You two can fish, and as soon as you catch one we will cut him up for bait. I don't believe in artificial bait when you can get real."

By this time Ebo had thrown out his line and I followed his example, seeing the swift current seize upon the bait and carry it rapidly out over the reef, twinkling and sparkling in the water as I jerked it by paying out more line.

All at once, when it was some fifteen yards away. I felt a jerk and a snatch.

"I've got one," I said; but the tugging ceased directly, and I felt that the fish had gone.

Either the same, though, or another seized it directly, for there was a fierce tug which cut my hand, and I had to give line for a few moments while the fish I had hooked darted here and there like lightning, but I had it up to the side soon after, and gazed at it with delight, for it was, as it lay panting in the boat, like a magnificent goldfish, five or six pounds weight, with bars across its side of the most dazzling blue.

"Poo—chah—chah!" Ebo cried with a face full of disgust as he twisted his own line round a peg in the boat, and seizing his club battered the fish to death after unhooking it, and threw it over the side, where, as it was carried away, I could see that dozens of fish were darting at it, tearing it to pieces as fast as they could.

"What did you do that for?" I cried angrily, for it seemed wasting a splendid fish.

Ebo chatted away in reply, almost as angrily, after which, evidently satisfied that I did not understand, he behaved very nastily, though his dumb-show was so comic that it made us roar with laughter.

For he pretended to eat, as we supposed, some of the fish. Then he jumped up, sat down, jumped up again, rubbed his front, kicked out his legs and shouted, making hideous grimaces as if he were in pain, ending by leaning over the side of the boat, pretending to be horribly sick, and finishing his performance by lying down, turning up his eyes, and moaning.

"We must take what he shows us for granted, Nat," said my uncle, as Ebo jumped up smiling, as much as to say, "Wasn't I clever?" "These people know which are the wholesome and which are the unwholesome fish; but I was going to use some of that fellow for bait."

Just then Ebo hooked and brought in a fine fish that was all blue, but even this one would not do, for he killed it and tossed it overboard, chattering at it the while as if he were abusing it for being so bad.

We saw scores of fish dart at it as it was thrown in, and now they bit so freely at the artificial baits that there was no occasion to change.

I had hold of what seemed a nice fish directly, and after letting it run a little I began hauling in, watching its progress through the shallow clear water and thinking how bright and beautiful it looked against the brilliant corals, the softly waving weeds of every shade of brown and scarlet, while now and then some other fish darted at it.

All at once I uttered a cry of astonishment, for a long line of undulating creamy white seemed to dart at my fish, seize it with a jerk, and twist itself round it, till fish and the eel-like creature that attacked it resembled a knot.

I kept on hauling in, but only slowly now, for fear the hook should break out, the weight being double what it was and the water lashed into glittering foam.

"What is it, uncle?" I cried excitedly.

"Don't hurry, Nat," he replied; and just then Ebo, who had been too busy pulling in a fish to notice my line, threw out again, and then fastening his cord came over to my side to see.

No sooner did he make out what I had at the end of the line than he seized his club, gesticulated furiously, and began beating the side of the boat, chattering aloud, and signing to me to give him the line.

"Let him have it, Nat," said my uncle. "He has had experience with these things."

I gave up my hold of the fishing-line most unwillingly, for the little adventure was intensely exciting, and every jerk and drag made by the creature that had seized my fish sent a thrill through my arms to my very heart.

"It is some kind of sea-snake that has taken your fish, Nat, and is regularly constricting it. As I told you before, there are some of them dangerously poisonous, and not like our great friend out in the swamp."

Meanwhile Ebo was jerking and shaking the line furiously, as if endeavouring to get rid of the snake, but without avail, for it held on tightly, having evidently got one fold twisted round the line, and I must confess, after hearing about the poisonous nature of these creatures, to feeling rather nervous as to its behaviour if it were brought on board.

But Ebo did not mean to bring it on board. He wanted to shake it off, and what with the struggles of the fish and the writhing and twisting of the snake, it seemed every moment as if the line must break.

The black brought it close in, then let it go almost to the full length of the line, jerked it, made fierce snatches, but all in vain; and at last getting the unwelcome visitor close in, he signed to my uncle to take his knife while he raised his club for a blow, when there was a sudden cessation of the rush, and foam in the water, and fish and snake had gone.

Ebo grinned with triumph, and after examining the bait threw it out again, returning to the other side directly to draw in a satisfactory fish for our breakfast, while my uncle chatted to me about my last captive.

"This is new to me, Nat," he said. "I never could have thought that these snakes or eels, for they seem to partake of the character of the latter, would have wound themselves round the prey they seized. The elongated fish in our part of the world, congers, dog-fish, guard-fish, and similar creatures, fasten their teeth into their prey, then setting their bodies in rapid motion like a screw, they regularly cut great pieces out of their victim. This was precisely the same as a serpent with its prey, and it is a natural history fact worth recording. But look!"

I had already felt a fish snap at my bait, checked it, and knew that I was fast into a monster. For a few moments he let me feel something heavy and inert at the end of my line, then there was a plunge and a rush, the line went hissing out, and try as I would to check it, the fish ran straight off till I dragged with all my might, and felt that either the line must break or my hands would be terribly cut.

"Give and take, Nat," cried my uncle.

"It's all give, uncle, and I can't take a bit."

I had hardly said the words when I was at liberty to take in as much as I liked, for the fish was gone, and upon drawing in my line in a terribly disappointed way, it was to find that the fish had completely bitten through the very strong wire gimp, not broken it, but bitten it as cleanly as if it had been done with a knife.

"That must have been a monster," said Uncle Dick. "But never mind, my boy. Here, hold still and I'll loop on another bait."

He was in the act of doing this when Ebo began to dance about in the boat, striving hard to drag in the fish he had hooked. His plan was to haul in as quickly as he could, never giving the fish a moment's rest, and any form of playing the swift, darting creature did not seem to enter his head.

He seemed to have found his match this time, for the fish refused to be dragged on board, but after a fierce struggle the black's arms were too much for it, and a dozen rapid hand-over-hand hauls resulted in its being hauled over the side, a sharp-nosed glittering silver-fish about four feet long, and I was about to fling myself upon it to hold it down and stop its frantic leaps amongst our tackle, when Ebo uttered a cry of alarm, darted before me, and attacked the fish with his club, dealing it the most furious blow upon the head, but apparently without any effect, for as one of the blows fell, the great fish seemed to make a side dart with its head, and its jaws closed upon the club, holding on so fiercely and with such power that it was not until Uncle Dick had cut off its head that the club could be wrenched away, when Ebo showed me the creature's jaws full of teeth like lancets and pretty well as sharp.

"No wonder your wire was bitten through," said my uncle. "Hallo! is he not good to eat?"

Ebo evidently seemed to consider that it was not, for the fish was thrown over, and the fierce monster, that must have been a perfect tyrant of the waters, had not floated a dozen feet before it was furiously attacked and literally hacked to pieces.

There was no difficulty in getting fish that morning, the only thing was to avoid hooking monsters that would break or bite through our tackle, and those which were not good for food.

The reef literally swarmed with fish, some large, some small, and every now and then we could see the rapid dash of one of the snake-eels as I called them. I saw them regularly leap out of the water sometimes and come down in a knot, twisting and twining about in the most extraordinary way, and at last, so interesting was the clear, shallow water, that we laid aside our lines and leaned over the side gazing down at the fish that flashed about, till the reef was dry, and leaving Ebo in the boat we landed to walk about over the shining weeds and coral, picking our way amongst shell-fish of endless variety, some with great heavy shells a couple of feet long, and some so small and delicate that I had to handle them with the greatest delicacy to keep from crushing their tissue-papery shells.

I could have stayed there for hours and filled the boat with wonders. There was scarlet and orange coral, so beautiful that I was for bringing away specimens; but Uncle Dick showed me that it was only the gelatinous covering that was of so lovely a tint, and this, he told me, would soon decay.

Then there were the brilliantly tinted weeds. There were sea-slugs too, delicacies amongst the Chinese under the name of trepang, and so many other wonders of the sea that I should have gone on searching amongst the crevices of the sharp coral, if I had not had a sharp warning given to me to make for the boat by the parts that had only been an inch or two deep rapidly increasing to a foot, and my uncle shouting to me to come aboard.

It was quite time, for I was some distance from the boat, with the tide flowing in so rapidly that in a few minutes I should have had to swim, and a swim in water swarming with such furious kinds of the finny tribe was anything but tempting.

As it was I had to swim a few strokes, and was of course soaked, but my uncle hauled me uninjured into the boat and I little minded the wetting, but laughed at my adventure as we sat over our breakfast and feasted upon frizzled fish to our hearts' content.



It would be tedious if I were to go on describing the almost endless varieties of birds we shot, glowing though they were with rainbow colours, and to keep repeating how we skinned and preserved this sun-bird, that pitta, or trogon, or lovely rose-tinted dove. Parrots and cockatoos we found without number, and as we selected only the finest specimens, our collection rapidly increased, so fast, indeed, by steady work, that I began to understand how my uncle had brought so great a number from the West.

But still one of the great objects of our visit to this part of the world had not been achieved; we had shot no birds of paradise; and these were scarce things in England at the time of which I write.

There were plenty of rough specimens of their plumage worn in ladies' bonnets; but a fair, well-preserved skin was hardly known, those brought to England being roughly dried by the natives; so at last my uncle declared that no more birds should be shot and skinned until we had obtained specimens of some at least of the lovely creatures whose cries we often heard about us, but which tantalisingly kept out of shot.

It was a difficult task, but we at last made Ebo understand that we must shoot some of these birds, when by his way he seemed to indicate that if we had only told him sooner we might have had as many as we liked.

That very day he obtained a good little store of provisions, shouldered his spear, and went off by himself, and we saw no more of him for forty-eight hours, when he came back in the most unconcerned way, just as if he had never been out of sight, and sat down and ate all that we put before him.

After that he lay down and went to sleep for some hours, waking up ready to dance around us, chattering vehemently until we had finished the skins we were preserving, when he signed to us to take our guns and to follow him.

We obeyed him, but he did not seem satisfied until we had collected some provision as well, when once more he set off, taking us through a part of the island we had not visited before, and, if anything, more beautiful than that we had.

It was a long journey he took us, and we could have secured hundreds of brilliantly coloured birds, but we only shot a few large ones, such as we knew to be good food, ready for our halt by the camp fire, for it seemed that we were not to return to our hut that night.

Over hillsides, down in valleys where tree-ferns sprang up, of the most beautifully laced fronds, great groves of palms and clumps of cocoa-nut trees, some of whose fruit Ebo climbed and got for us, and still we went on, avoiding the marshy-looking spots which experience had taught us to be the home of the serpents, which, in very small numbers, inhabited the isle.

Several times over we looked inquiringly at Ebo, but he only smiled and pointed forward, and we followed him till he stopped suddenly and showed us some wood ready for making a fire.

Here we had a welcome rest and a hearty meal, but he did not let us stay long, hurrying us forward, till, just before sundown, he brought us to a dense patch of forest, with huge trees towering upward and spreading their branches, making an impenetrable shade.

"It will be too dark to travel far here to-night, Nat," said my uncle. "Where does he mean to go? But this ought to be the place for the birds of paradise, Nat, if we are to get any."

Just then Ebo stopped, and we found a rough hut of leaves with a bed of fern already waiting for us, this having been part of his work during his prolonged absence.

His delight knew no bounds as he saw that we were pleased, and as usual he indulged in a dance, after which he caught us in turn by the arm and tried very hard to explain that the birds of paradise were plentiful here.

We were too tired to think about anything much besides sleep, and very gladly crept into our hut, to sleep so soundly without a single thought of serpents or huge apes, that I seemed hardly to have closed my eyes, and felt exceedingly grumpy and indisposed to move when Ebo began shaking me to get me up.

"All right!" I said, and then, as I lay still with my eyes closed, Ebo kept on:

"Hawk, hawk, hawk; kwok, kwok, kwok;" and it seemed so stupid of him, but there it was again; "Hawk, hawk, hawk; kwok, kwok, kwok."

"Come, Nat," cried my uncle; "unbutton those eyelids, boy, and get up. Don't you hear the birds calling?"

"I thought it was Ebo, uncle," I said. "Oh! I am so sleepy."

"Never mind the sleepiness, Nat. Come along and let's see if we cannot get some good specimens."

Just then I saw Ebo's face in the opening, and cutting a yawn right in half I followed my uncle out into the darkness, for though the birds of paradise were calling, there was no sign of day.

But if we wished for success I felt that we must get beneath the trees unseen, and, examining my gun, I followed my uncle, who in turn kept close behind Ebo.

The black went forward very cautiously, and looking very strange and misty in the darkness; but he evidently knew what he was about, going along amongst the great tree trunks without a sound, while we followed as lightly as we could.

On all sides we could hear the hoarse cries of the birds, which we felt must be in good numbers, and I felt less sleepiness now in the fresh morning air, and a curious feeling of excitement came over me as I thought of the lovely amber plumes of these birds, and wondered whether I should be fortunate enough to bring one down.

All at once Ebo stopped beneath an enormous tree, and as we crept up close to its mighty trunk we gazed up into the darkness and could here and there catch a glimpse of a star; in fact, so black was it, that but for the cries of the various birds we heard, it might have been taken for the middle of the night.

There was nothing to see but an almost opaque blackness, though now and then I fancied I could make out a great branch crossing above my head. It seemed nonsense to have come, but the loud cry of one of the birds we sought, sounded loudly just then and silenced my doubts. I raised my gun ready for a shot, but could see nothing.

Just then my uncle whispered with his lips to my ear: "Don't make a sound, and don't fire till you have a good chance. Look out."

The loud quok, quok, quok, was answered from a distance, repeated above our heads, and then there was the whistle of wings plainly heard in the solemn silence of the forest, and all this repeated again overhead till it seemed as if we were just beneath a tree where the birds of paradise met for discussion, like the rooks at home in the elms. But no matter how I strained my eyes I could not distinguish a single bird.

The minutes went by, and I longed for the light, for though I knew it would betray our presence, still I might catch sight of one bird and bring it down. But the light did not come, and as my arms ached with holding up my gun I lowered it, and patiently waited with my heart beating heavily, as I listened to the cries that were on the increase.

All at once I felt an arm glide over my shoulder, and I could just make out that Ebo was pointing upward with his black finger steadily in one direction.

I tried to follow it but could see nothing, and I was thinking how much better a savage's sight was than ours, when from out of the darkness there came the hoarse "Hawk, hawk, hawk; quok, quok, quok," and as the cry seemed to direct my eye, I fancied that I could see something moving slightly at a very great height, bowing and strutting like a pigeon. I looked and looked again and could not see it; then a star that was peeping through the leaves seemed to be suddenly hidden, and there was the movement again.

I forgot all about my uncle's orders about not firing until I had a good chance, and taking a steady aim at the dimly seen spot just as the hoarse cry arose once more, I drew the trigger.

The flash from my gun seemed to cut the blackness, and the report went echoing away amongst the trees; then there was a sharp rustling noise, and a dull, quick thud, and I was about to spring forward and seek for what I had shot, but Ebo's arms closed round me and held me fast.

I understood what he meant, and contented myself with reloading my gun, the click of the lock sounding very loud in the silence that had ensued, for the report of my gun had caused a complete cessation of all cries, and I felt that we should get no more shots for some time; but all the same I had heard no rush of wings as of a flock of birds taking flight, and I wondered whether any of them were still in the dense top of the tree.

Five or ten minutes must have elapsed, and then once more Ebo's arm glided over my shoulder and rested there, while I laid my cheek against it, and gazed in quite another direction now till I fancied I saw what he was pointing at, but which looked like nothing but a dark spot high up amongst the twigs; in fact, when I did make it out I felt sure that it was a nest.

But I recalled how accurate Ebo had been before, and once more taking aim, making it the more careful by leaning my gun barrel against the trunk of the tree, I fired; there was a quick rustle of leaves and twigs, and another dull thud, but no one moved.

After a few minutes' waiting Ebo pointed out another, whatever it was, for I was still in doubt as to whether these were birds of paradise that I had shot, for the silence had not been broken since I fired first.

I took a quicker aim this time and drew the trigger, and once more there was a heavy fall through the branches, and then as if by magic it seemed to be daylight, and I saw several big birds dotted about the tree.

Uncle Dick and I fired together, and then came a rush of wings as another bird fell, the loud cries being repeated from a distance; while Ebo, evidently considering that it was of no more use to wait, ran out to pick up the birds.

Only one bird had fallen when my uncle and I fired together, for I believe I missed; but as Ebo and I picked up the result of our expedition here the sun rose, and in the bright light that came between the trees we stood gazing in ecstasy at the lovely creatures.

"Oh, uncle!"

That was all I could say for some time.

"I think it ought to be 'Oh, Nat!'" he replied laughing. "Why, you young dog, what eyes you have! you got all the luck."

"Oh no, uncle," I said laughing; "I shot with Ebo's eyes."

"Then next time I'll do the same," he said.

"But let's go and shoot some more," I said excitedly.

"No, Nat, we shall get no more of these to-day. I suppose it will only be by hiding in the darkness beneath the trees they frequent that we shall have any success. They are wonderfully shy, and no wonder when they have such plumage to protect."

I suppose most people have seen specimens of the great bird of paradise, but they can have no conception of the beauty of a freshly shot specimen such as were two of those which I brought down. I felt as if I could never tire of gazing at the wonderful tinting of the bird, here of a pale straw yellow with the feathers short and stiff like velvet, there of a rich chocolate with the neck covered with scales of metallic green. Their tails seemed to have, in place of centre feathers, a couple of long beautiful curving wires nearly a yard long; but the chief beauty of the birds was the great tuft of plumage which seemed to come out from beneath the wings, light and soft, quite two feet long, and all of a rich golden orange.

It seems to me impossible to conceive a more lovely bird, and we took them in triumph to our hut, where we breakfasted, my uncle afterwards carefully making skins of all four.

The other two were evidently younger birds, and had not their full plumage, but they were very beautiful and formed a splendid addition to the collection.



Our work done, my uncle decided that we should stay here for a couple of days at least, even if we did not afterwards come round to this side of the island, for our good fortune was not yet at an end. In taking a look round, towards mid-day we heard a harsh cry, and by means of a little stalking Uncle Dick got within shot and brought down a bird that was almost as beautiful as those we shot before daylight.

This had shorter plumes of a rich red, but it had two long double curved wires in its tail, and its upper plumage was more plush-like and richer in its colours. The metallic green was more vivid, the golden yellow a colour which was most bright upon its neck and shoulders.

Almost directly after I shot a big dull brown bird which gave me no satisfaction at all; but Uncle Dick was delighted, saying that it was the female bird of the kind we had shot, and we decided that it was the red bird of paradise.

Even then we had not come to the end of our good fortune, for after passing over hundreds of sun-birds, pittas, and trogons, such as we should have been only too glad to meet a short time back, my uncle suddenly raised his gun and fired at what seemed to be, from where I stood, a couple of sturdy-looking starlings.

One fell, and Uncle Dick shouted to me as the second bird came in my direction.

I made a quick shot at it just as it was darting among some bushes, and brought it down, and on running to pick it up I found that I had shot something entirely fresh to me.

"Well done, Nat!" cried my uncle. "Mine is only the hen bird. What a lovely little creature, to be sure! It is a gem."

"What is it, uncle?" I said.

"Evidently a paradise bird, my boy."

It was a curious little short-tailed fellow, but wonderful in its colours; while from the centre of the dumpy tail sprang two wires of about six inches long, which formed two flat spiral curls at the end, and of a most intense green. Instead of the long plumes of the birds we shot before—birds three times the size of this—it had under each wing a little tuft of grey, tipped with green, which the bird could set up like tiny tans. The whole of the upper surface was of a rich red, and the under part of a glistening floss-silky or glass-thready white, but relieved here and there with bands and patches of metallic green. There were shades of orange crimson here, and when I add that the bird's legs were of a delicious blue, and its beak of orange yellow like a blackbird's, you can realise how beautiful a creature I had shot.

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