Middy and Ensign, by George Manville Fenn.
This was the first Manville Fenn book I ever encountered, and I loved it at first sight. So much so that I had put nearly fifty of his books on the website within a couple of years, although, writing in 2005, two years ago I had never heard of Manville Fenn.
HMS Startler is on patrol up the Parang River in the Malay peninsula. On board are the midshipman, Bob Roberts, and the ensign, Tom Long. Their friendly bickering goes on throughout the book. Various tropical indispositions trouble them, and also of course the insect life in the air and saurian life in the river is of no help. It is hard to know which of the natives are on their side, and which not, and there is a great deal of two-facedness. We are introduced to various fruits. A soldier on their own side is prone to fall asleep when on sentry duty, and the little fort they build to give the womenfolk a little more room than aboard ship, is very nearly captured and destroyed.
There are various trips for fishing and shooting purposes, and we learn a great deal about the natural history of the area while these expeditions are in progress.
One of the reasons why some of the natives do not like the British Protectorate is that normally any traffic passing up and down the river does so only on payment of a toll to the local chieftains, who in turn are at loggerheads with each other in dispute of the right to exact tolls.
It's a very exciting book, and you'll probably learn a lot by reading it.
MIDDY AND ENSIGN, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
ON BOARD THE "STARTLER".
The close of a hot day on board Her Majesty's ship "Startler," whose engines kept up a regular pulsation as the screw-propeller churned the water astern into golden and orange foam. The dappled sky and the rippled sea were a blaze of colour; crimson, scarlet, burnished copper, orange chrome, dead, and flashing gold,—all were there, on cloud edge and wave slope, mingled with purples, and greens, and blues, as the sun slowly descended to his rest.
There had been a general disposition all day long to lie under awnings, and pant "like tired dogs," so Bob Roberts the midshipman said; but now officers and men, in the lightest of garments, were eagerly looking for the cool evening breeze, and leaning over the bulwarks, gazing at the wondrous sunset sky and gorgeous sea.
The deck of the clean, smart-looking vessel had a very picturesque aspect, dotted as it was with groups of officers and men; for in addition to the crew, the "Startler" carried four companies of Her Majesty's somethingth foot, the escort of the British Resident and his suite, bound for Campong Allee, the chief town of Rajah Hamet, on the Parang River, west coast of the Malay peninsula.
The Resident was to be the help and adviser of the Mohammedan potentate, who had sought the protection of the British Government; and to fix him in his position, and save him from the assaults of the various inimical petty rajahs around, the corvette was to lie for some months in the river, and the residency was to be turned into a fort, garrisoned by the troops under Major Sandars.
Bob Roberts, a fair, good-looking, curly-headed lad of sixteen, was standing with his back leaned against the bulwarks, his cap thrust back, and his hands deep in his pockets, staring defiantly across the deck at a lad of about a year or so older, who, as he stood very stiff and upright by the cabin ladder, returned the stare with interest.
The latter had just buckled on his sword, and, in spite of the heat, buttoned up his undress coatee to the chin, ready for the short spell of drill which he knew would take place before the officers dined; and after giving the finishing-touch to his gloves, he rather ostentatiously raised his sword, then hanging to the full length of its slings, and hooked it on to his belt.
"What a jolly shame it is that we should only carry a beggarly little dirk," said Bob Roberts to himself, as he tried to look sneeringly at the young ensign before him; for the latter came across the deck with rather a swaggering stride, and stood before the midshipman.
"Well, young Jack tar," he said, with a touch of contempt in his tone.
"Well, young Pipeclay," retorted the middy. "I say, how tightly you've laced your stays to-day. Mind where you go, or you'll get some pitch on your lovely uniform. My word, how handsome you look!"
"I tell you what it is, Master Bob, or Robert Roberts," said the young ensign, flushing, "if I did not feel that I was stooping by so doing, I should tell you that you were an impudent puppy of a boy, and give you a good caning."
"No, no! please pray don't do that, Mr Ensign Long, or Tom Long, or Long Tom, or whatever you call yourself," retorted the middy, assuming an aspect of mock terror. "You frighten me into fits almost; and if you did try to cane me you'd split that coatee of yours all up the back, or break your staylace, or do yourself some mischief, and—"
Just then there was the sound of a bugle, followed by the tramp of feet; and the young officer, scowling fiercely, turned half-right, and as he did so let his sword down, so that the end of the scabbard might clatter against the white deck, as he marched off to where the men were assembling, while the middy burst into a hearty laugh.
"You two gents is allus a quarrelling," growled a wonderfully copper-faced old sailor, giving his lower jaw a twist. "You puts me in mind of the gamecocks as the Malay niggers we're going amongst keeps, to strut up and shake out their hackles afore they has a set-to."
"Well, he is so cocky, Dick," said the middy, "and struts about, and—"
"That's what I say, sir," said the old sailor, leaning his arms on the bulwark, "just like a gamecock."
"And assumes such an air of superiority," continued the middy.
"Just like you do, sir, to'rds us common sailors," said the man, chuckling.
"Don't you tell lies, Dick," said the lad sharply. "I always treat the sailors as an officer and a gentleman should."
"So you do, sir, so you do! and it was only my gammon. But you do wish you was a swaddy now, and wore a red coat instead of a blue."
"No I don't, Dick," said the lad colouring; "but I do think we naval officers ought to wear swords, the same as those boy-soldiers."
"So you ought, sir;" said the sailor, winking to himself; "but never you mind about that, sir. If so be as it comes to a brush with the niggers, I'll grind you up a cutlash, with a hedge so sharp as you might shave yourself with it. Perhaps you'd like me to do it now, sir, if your razor is feeling a bit dull?"
"Now, look here, old Dick Dunnage," said the middy; "that's cheek; and I won't have cheek from you, so I tell you."
"Cheek, sir," said the old sailor, with assumed innocence. "I didn't mean to shave only your cheek, sir, but your chin as well."
"Now that'll do, Dick. I'm not ashamed of having no beard, and I'm not ashamed of being a boy, so now then."
"Course you ain't, sir. There, I didn't mean nothing disrespectful. It was only my fun. This here 'bacca as you give me, sir, baint the best I ever had. Lor! how hot them poor fellows do look, buttoned and belted up as they is," he continued, as the soldiers fell into line. "It's a deal better to be a sailor, Master Bob."
"Ever so much, Dick," said the middy. "How long is it since you were out here, Dick?"
"How long, sir?" and the sailor thoughtfully, as he sprinkled the sea with a little tobacco juice; "six year."
"And have you been more than once, Dick?"
"Four times altogether, sir. Let's see: I was at Singapore, and at Penang, and Malacky, and up the country at a place they called Bang, or Clang, or something or another."
"And what sort of a country is it, Dick?" said the boy eagerly.
"Wonderful country; all palm-trees and jungles, and full of rivers and creeks, where the long row-boats, as they call prahus, runs up."
"Those are the pirates' boats, Dick?"
"That's right, sir; and precious awkward things they are to catch, Lord love you! I've been after 'em in cutter and pinnace, firing our bow gun among them, and the men pulling like mad to get up alongside; but they generally dodged in and out of some of these mangrove creeks till they give us the slip, and we had to pull back."
"Shouldn't I like to be in chase of one of the scoundrelly prahus!" cried the lad, with his eyes flashing.
"That you would, sir, I'll lay," said the old sailor; "and wouldn't you lay into 'em with that very sharp-edged cutlash I touches up for you!"
"Now look here, Dick, you're chaffing," said the lad; "now just drop it."
"All right, sir," said the man, with a laugh twinkling at the corner of his lips.
"It is a very fine country though, isn't it, Dick?"
"Wonderful, sir. There's gold, and tin, and copper, and precious stones."
"Did you ever find any, Dick?"
"Well no, sir; but I've known them as has found gold in the rivers. The Chinees gets most on it."
"There now you're chaffing again, Dick," cried the lad. "Chinese indeed! Why we're not going to China."
"'Course we aint, sir, but the Chinees swarm in the place we're going to. I ant chaffing now; this here's all true—as true as that the chaps all wears a dagger sort of a thing with a crooked handle, and calls it a crease."
"Yes, I know they all wear the kris," said the lad.
"Yes, sir, and a plaid kilt, just like a Scotchman."
"A plaid kilt, like a Scotchman, sir, and they calls it a say rong; and the big swell princes has it made of silk, and the common folks of cotton."
"Is this gammon, Dick?"
"Not a bit on it, sir. They wears that crease stuck in it; and they carries spears—limbings they calls 'em—and they can throw 'em a wonderful way."
"They poison the kris, don't they, Dick?"
"No, sir, I don't think they do," said the sailor. "I asked one man out there if they didn't; and he pulls his'n out of its sheath, and it was all dingy like, and as sharp as a razor, and he says in his barbarous lingo, as a man put into English for me, as his knife would kill a man without poison."
"What sort of wild beasts are there, Dick?"
"Honour bright, Dick?"
"Honour bright, sir; lots on 'em. They feeds 'em on Chinees."
"Feed them on Chinese, Dick?"
"Well sir, the tigers help theirselves to the coolies when they're at work."
"Anything else, Dick?"
"Lor, bless you! yes, sir; there's elephants."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure, sir. I've seen 'em, heaps o' times; and rhinosseress, and hippypotimies, and foreign birds, and snakes."
"Are there snakes, Dick?"
"Are there snakes! He says, are there snakes?" said Dick, apostrophising the sea. "Why the last time as ever I was there, they caught a boa-constrictor as was—"
"Don't make him too long, Dick," said the boy laughing.
"I won't make him too long," said the sailor solemnly. "Let's see, sir; this here ship's 'bout hundred and fifty foot long."
"Yes, Dick, but the boa-constrictor was longer than that," said the lad, laughing.
"I won't go to deceive you, Mister Roberts," said Dick, "no more than I did when I was learning you how to knot and splice. That there boa-constrictor was quite a hundred foot long."
"Well, say fifty, sir."
"No, nor yet fifty, Dick."
"Well, sir, not to zaggerate about such things, if that there sarpent as I see with my own eyes—"
"Why you couldn't see it with anybody else's, Dick."
"No, sir, but I might have seen it wi' a spy glass. This there sarpent as I see it lying down stretched out straight was a good twenty-five foot."
"Perhaps that may have been, Dick," said Bob Roberts, thoughtfully.
"Yes, sir, it were all that; and when it was alive it must have been fifty foot at least."
"Cause they stretches out so, sir, just like worms in the garden at home do."
"Gammon, Dick. Serpents don't stretch."
"Don't stretch, sir! Just you wait till you get a thirty-footer twissen and twining round you, and see if they don't stretch."
"All right, Dick; and when he does, you come and pinch his tail, and make him open his mouth; and when he does that you pop in a bit of your nasty tobacco, and he'll leave off, and go like a shot."
The old sailor chuckled, and said something about Mister Bob Roberts being a nice boy, while the party in question walked aft to see the company of soldiers on deck put through half-an-hour's drill, making a point of staring hard and derisively at the young ensign, who saw the lad's looks, grew angry, from growing angry became confused, and incurred the captain's anger by giving the wrong order to the men, some of whom went right, knowing what he ought to have said, while others went wrong, and got the company hopelessly confused.
The result was that Ensign Long, of her Majesty's somethingth foot, was severely snubbed, just as Mr Linton the resident, and his daughter Rachel Linton, were looking on.
"I wouldn't have cared if they had not been there," said Ensign Long to himself; "but if I don't serve that little wretch of a middy out for this, my name is not Long."
INTRODUCES MORE FRIENDS; WITH A FEW WORDS ON THE RIVER PARANG.
The men were dismissed, and gladly got rid of coatee, rifle, and belt, to have a lounge in the cool of the evening; the dinner was ready in the captain's cabin, where lights already appeared; and, soon after, the tropic night came on, as if with a bound. The sky was of a purple black, studded with its myriads of stars, which were reflected with dazzling lustre from the smooth surface of the sea. But not only were the bright star shapes there to give splendour to the wave, for as far down as eye could reach through the clear water it was peopled with tiny phosphorescent atoms, moving slowly here and there, and lighting up the depths of the sea with a wonderful effulgence that was glorious to behold.
Under the vessel's prow the divided waters flowed to right and left like liquid gold, while, where the propeller revolved beneath the stern, the sea was one lambent blaze of fire ever flashing right away, covered with starry spots that glistened, and rose, and fell, on the heaving wave.
As the evening crept on, the various lights of the ship shone out clear and bright, notably that from the binnacle, which was like a halo round the face of the sailor at the wheel. There was a faint glow from the skylights too, and a lantern was hung here and there about the quarter-deck, where soon after the officers assembled to chat and smoke, while their men in turn enjoyed their ease.
The ship rushed swiftly on its way, having passed Penang the previous day; and it was expected that on the next they would be at the mouth of the river, a native city upon which was to be the home of all for many months, perhaps for years.
The officers were discussing the character of the rajah, some being of opinion that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant and upholder of slavery, whom the British Government were making a great mistake in protecting, while others declared that according to their experience the Malays were not the cruel treacherous race they had been considered, but that they were noble, proud, and thorough gentlemen by nature, and that if they were properly treated the life of an Englishman amongst them was perfectly safe.
"Well, gentlemen," said a little fat man, who seemed to do nothing but perspire and mop his forehead, "they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I know one thing, however, Parang is a glorious country for botanical specimens."
"Just the thing for you, doctor," said Mr Linton, the resident.
"But it won't be just the thing for you, gentlemen," said the little man, "for as sure as my name's Bolter, if you don't strictly follow out my orders some of you will be losing the number of your mess."
"Come, that sounds well," said a quiet-looking man in white jacket and trousers; "we are going to Parang to help to put down slavery, and we are to be put into a state of slavery by the doctor here."
"He'll deal gently with you sometimes," said the grey-haired major in command of the troops. "Never turn a deaf ear to his discourses on plants, then you will be indulged."
"What a nice revenge I could have on you, major!" said the doctor, laughing, and rubbing his hands. "Ha, ha, ha! and I could double your dose."
"Yes," laughed the major; "and after all it is the doctor who really commands these expeditions."
"Ah, well," said the little gentleman, "I'll do the best I can for all of you. But don't be rash, my dear boys. You must avoid night dews, and too much fruit, and over-exertion."
"There, there, doctor," said the major, laughing; "you needn't trouble yourself about the last. I'll undertake to say that none of my fellows will over-exert themselves."
"Unless, sir, they are called upon to fight," said a rather important voice.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, I'm sure, Mr Long," said the major seriously. "Of course we shall not study trouble then."
The officers smiled, and looked from one to the other, greatly to Mr Tom Long's annoyance. In fact he felt so much aggrieved at the way in which his remark had been received, that he proceeded to light a very large cigar before rising to seek another part of the deck.
"If you smoke that big strong cigar you'll be ill, Mr Long," said the doctor quietly.
"I'd cut it in half, Long," said Captain Smithers, "and give the other half to young Roberts."
"I know what I can smoke, sir," replied the youth haughtily. "Perhaps you will take one."
"I! No, thanks. They are too strong for me." And with what was meant for a very haughty, injured look, Ensign Long strode slowly away.
"Thank you, doctor," said Major Sandars. "It's just as well to snub that young gentleman sometimes. He's a fine young fellow, and will make a splendid officer; but really there are times when I get wondering whether we have changed places, and he is in command."
"Oh, all boys go through that stage," said the resident quietly. "He has just arrived at the hair-brushing, make-yourself-look-nice age, and feels at least eight-and-twenty."
"When he is only eighteen," said Captain Smithers.
"He is only seventeen, I believe," said the major, "and the youngest ensign in the service. By the way, Linton, I believe Long has formed a desperate attachment for your daughter."
"Yes, I had noticed it," said the resident drily; "and as Ensign Long is seventeen, and my daughter twenty-three, it will be a most suitable match. But he has a rival, I see."
Captain Smithers started slightly as the major exclaimed,—
"Who may that be?"
"Our dashing young friend, Mr Bob Roberts."
There was a bit of a scuffle here as the whole party burst into a roar of laughter.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, Roberts," said the resident. "I did not know you were there."
Bob Roberts felt red hot with shame and annoyance, as he made a rush and retreated from the group, by whom his presence had been unperceived.
"I hope, Linton," said Captain Horton, in command of the "Startler," "that my youngster there has not been behaving impertinently to Miss Linton."
"Not at all," said the resident quietly; "both Mr Long and Mr Roberts have been full of respectful admiration for the young lady, who has sufficient common sense to behave to the silly young gentlemen as they deserve. It is all connected with the hair-brushing stage, and will, I have no doubt, help to make them both grow into fine manly young fellows by-and-by."
"Why, I can see through the mill-stone now," said the doctor, laughing.
"What mill-stone, doctor?"
"Why, I have been puzzling myself as to why it was those two boys were always squabbling together. I see now; they're as jealous as can be. I say, Mr Linton, you ought not to bring such a bone of contention on board as that daughter of yours, and her cousin."
"Seriously, my dear doctor," said the resident, "I do sometimes feel that I am to blame for bringing those two motherless girls out into the jungle; but Rachel declared that she would not be separated from me; and Miss Sinclair, my sister's child, seems more like one of my own, and shared her cousin's feelings."
"They are two ladies, Linton," said the major, "for whom we feel the deepest respect; and, speaking selfishly, I am only too glad that my wife has a couple of such charming companions."
"Yes," said Captain Horton; "and if I had known what I know now, I should have let Mrs Horton have her wish, and accompany me."
"Well, gentlemen," said the resident, rather sadly, "I don't know, but I have a sort of presentiment that it would have been better if we had been without ladies, or soldiers' wives, if you come to that; for I cannot conceal from myself that we are bound upon a very risky expedition, one out of which I hope we shall all come safely."
"Oh, we shall be safe enough," said the major.
"Do you think there is really any danger, Mr Linton?" said Captain Smithers, rather hoarsely.
"Why, you are not afraid, are you, Smithers? Come, you must not show the white feather!"
"I am not afraid for myself, Major Sandars," said the young captain, quietly; "and I hope I shall never show the white feather; but when there are women and children in an expedition—"
"Oh, come, come," said the resident, gaily; "I am afraid I have been croaking. There may be danger; but when we are surrounded by such brave men as the officers and crew of the 'Startler,' and her Majesty's somethingth foot, I see, after all, nothing whatever to fear."
"Fear? no!" said Captain Horton. "Why, we could blow the whole place to Cape Horn with my guns; and the Malays would never face Sandars' boys, with their bayonets."
"Did you notice that sentry, Smithers?" asked the little doctor, in a low voice, of his companion, as the conversation now became less general.
"Sentry? which one?"
"This one," said the doctor. "Don't speak aloud, or he'll hear you."
"Private Gray? No, I did not notice anything. What do you mean?"
"The light of that lantern shines full on his face, and he made a movement that drew my attention, when we were talking of there being danger."
"Indeed?" said the captain.
"Yes; he was evidently listening to the conversation, and I saw him start so that he nearly dropped his piece; his face was quite convulsed, and he turned of a sickly pallor. The light was so strong upon him that I could see his lips whiten."
"Or was it fancy, doctor?"
"Fancy? No, my lad, that was no fancy; and I hope we have not many more like him in the regiment."
"Well, for my part," said Captain Smithers, quietly, "I have often wished that my company was composed of Adam Grays."
"Adam, eh? To be sure; I remember the fellow now. Well, he's a poor descendant of the first Adam, for if that fellow is not an arrant coward my name isn't Bolter."
"Really, doctor, I think you do the man an injustice. He is a very superior, well educated fellow; and it has often puzzled me how he became a private soldier."
"Scamp!" said the doctor, shortly. "Some runaway or another. The ranks of the army are made a receptacle for blackguards!"
"Hang it, doctor!" cried the young captain, warmly, "I cannot sit here and listen to such heresy. I confess that we do get some scoundrels into the army; but as a rule our privates are a thoroughly trustworthy set of fellows, ready to go through fire and water for their officers; and I only wish the country would make better provision for them when their best days are past."
"Ah, that's right enough," said the doctor; "they are all what you say, and they do deserve better treatment of their country. I mean, ha, ha, ha! to make teetotallers of them this trip. I'm not going to have the men poisoned with that red hot country arrack, I can tell them."
"It is terrible stuff, I believe."
"Terrible? It's liquid poison, sir! and I don't know that I sha'n't try and set up a private brewery of my own, so as to supply the poor fellows with a decent glass of beer."
"Poor fellows! eh, doctor? Why, you said just now they were a set of scoundrels."
"Well, well, well; I didn't mean all. But look at that fellow Sim— there's a pretty rascal for you! He's always on the sick-list, and it's nearly always sham."
"I'm afraid he is a bit of a black sheep," said Captain Smithers.
"Inky black, Smithers, inky black. I shall poison that fellow some day. But I say, my dear boy, the brewery."
"What about it?"
"What about it? Why, it would be splendid. I mean to say it is a grand idea. I'll get the major to let me do it."
"My dear doctor," said Captain Smithers, laughing, "I'm afraid if you did brew some beer, and supply it to the men, fancy would go such a long way that they would find medicinal qualities in it, and refuse to drink a drop."
"Then they would be a set of confoundedly ungrateful scoundrels," said the doctor, angrily, "for I should only use malt and hops."
"And never serve it as you did the coffee that day, doctor?"
"Well, well, I suppose I must take the credit of that. I did doctor it a little; but it was only with an astringent corrective, to keep the poor boys from suffering from too much fruit."
"Poor boys! eh, doctor? Come, come, you don't think my brave lads are a set of scoundrels then?"
"I said before, not all—not all," replied the doctor.
"Ah, doctor," said Captain Smithers, "like a good many more of us, you say more than you mean sometimes, and I know you have the welfare of the men at heart."
"Not I, my lad, not I. It's all pure selfishness; I don't care a pin about the rascals. All I want is to keep them quite well, so that they may not have to come bothering me, when I want my time to go botanising; that's all."
"And so we have fewer men on the sick-list than any regiment out here?"
"Tut! tut! Nonsense!"
Just then the ladies came up from the principal cabin, and began to walk slowly up and down the quarter-deck, evidently enjoying the delicious coolness of the night air, and the beauty of the sea and sky.
Captain Smithers sat watching them intently for a time, and then, as he happened to turn his head, he caught sight of the sentry, Adam Gray, and it struck him that he, too, was attentively watching the group of ladies. So convinced did the young officer become of this, that he could not refrain from watching him.
Once or twice he thought it was only fancy, but at last he felt sure; and a strange angry sensation sprang up in his breast as he saw the sentry's countenance change when the ladies passed him.
"An insolent scoundrel!" he muttered. "How dare he?"
Then, as the ladies took their seats at some distance, he began thinking over what the doctor had said, and wondering whether this man, in whom he had heretofore taken a great deal of interest, was such a coward; and in spite of his angry feelings, he could only come to the conclusion that the doctor was wrong.
But at the same time what he had heard and seen that evening had not been without its effect, and he found himself irritable and vexed against this man, while his previous good feelings seemed to be completely swept away.
At last he rose impatiently, and strolled towards where the ladies were sitting, and joined in the conversation that was going on round a bucket of water that the doctor had just had dipped from over the side, and which he had displayed, full of brilliantly shining points of light, some of which emitted flashes as he stirred the water with his hands, or dipped glasses full of it, to hold up for the fair passengers to see.
"All peculiar forms of jelly-fish," he said aloud, as if he were delivering a lecture, "and all possessing the power of emitting that beautiful phosphorescent light. There you see, ladies, if I had a spoon I could skim it off the top of this bucket of water, just like so much golden cream, and pour it into a glass. Very wonderful, is it not?"
"Look, look, doctor!" said one of the ladies, pointing to the sea, where a series of vivid flashes rapidly followed one another.
"Yes, my dear, I see," he replied; "that was some fish darting through the water, and disturbing the medusae. If you watch you can see the same thing going on all round."
So glorious was the aspect of the sea that the conversation gradually ceased, and all on the quarter-deck watched the ever-widening lines of golden water that parted at the stem of the corvette and gradually died away, or were mingled with the glistening foam churned up by the propeller.
For the sea seemed to be one blaze of soft lambent light, that flashed angrily wherever it was disturbed by the steamer, or the startled fish, that dashed away on every side as they swiftly ran on towards the land of swamp and jungle, of nipah and betel palm, where the rivers were bordered by mangroves, the home of the crocodile; a land where the night's conversation had roused up thoughts of its being perhaps the burial-place of many a one of the brave hearts throbbing within the timbers of that stout ship—hearts that were to play active parts in the adventurous scenes to come.
DOCTOR BOLTER CURES ONE PATIENT, AND IS LEFT WITH ANOTHER.
"Is that Parang, that dim light out yonder, captain?" said the major, pointing to what looked like a cloud touching the water.
"Oh, no," was the reply. "That is part of Sumatra. Our destination lies off the other bow, due east from where we are lying now."
It was a glorious morning, and the sun at that early hour had not yet attained to its greater power. The ladies were on deck, enjoying the morning air; the soldiers were having morning parade, and looked clean and smart in their white clothes and puggarees. The sailors were giving the last touches to brass rails and cabin windows, and were coiling ropes into neat rings; and altogether the deck of the "Startler," with its burnished guns, presented a bright and animated spectacle, every one seeming to have some business on hand.
There was a little bit bustle about the steerage ladder, where four sailors were hauling a sick man up on deck; and as soon as they had him lying in the sunshine upon a mattress, the doctor bustled up—Bob Roberts, seeing Ensign Long at hand, going up and looking on, after the two youths had exchanged a short distant nod.
"Well, Sim," said the doctor, briskly, "how are you this morning?"
"Very—very bad, sir," replied the invalid, a big bony-faced man, who looked very yellow.
"Put out your tongue," said the doctor.
Private Sim put out such an enormously long tongue that Bob Roberts gave his trousers a hitch, and made believe to haul it forth by the yard, very much to the ensign's disgust.
"That'll do," said the doctor, feeling the patient's pulse, and then dropping the hand, "Now what am I to prescribe for you, Sim, eh? You feel a terrible sense of sinking, don't you?"
"Yes, sir; terrible."
"As if you needed strengthening food?"
"And some kind of stimulating drink—say wine?"
"Yes, sir," said the patient, rolling his eyes. "I feel as if a little wine would do me good."
"Has the buzzing sensation left your head?"
"Very nearly, sir."
"And you don't feel so much pressure on your chest?"
"Well, sir, not just now."
"Less pain too, under your left shoulder?"
The major walked up just now.
"Yes, sir; it's not quite so painful."
"But you slept well?"
"Pretty well, sir, for me; I should think I had quite an hour's sleep last night."
"A whole hour, eh?"
"Well, doctor," said the major, "what do you think of your patient? I hope you are better, Sim?"
"Thanky kindly, sir," said Private Sim, screwing up a terrible face.
"I was thinking which I ought to prescribe," said the doctor, very seriously. "Sim's is a peculiar case. There's pressure on the brain, and also congestion of the vascular system of the spinal column."
"Indeed!" said the major.
"Yes, sir," replied the doctor, pursing up his lips, "and I'm hesitating between two courses."
"Try 'em both, doctor," said Bob Roberts, laughing with his eyes.
"Right, youngster," said the doctor, clapping him on the shoulder, "I will. We'll have the moist application first, and the warm dry application after."
Private Sim screwed up his face a little tighter.
"If I might make so bold, sir," he said in a whining voice, "I think what you've given me's done me ever so much good, and all I want now is rest."
"Rest, my man!" said the doctor. "Nonsense man! You want the most brisk and active treatment. Yours is a sluggish system, but we'll soon put you right. Here, my lads," he continued to the sailors, "bring a stout rope, and lash it round his chest. We'll give him four dips overboard for the head pressure, and then four dozen on the back to increase the circulation."
"Oh, doctor!" groaned the man, looking round for sympathy; but only to see everyone within hearing on the grin.
"Don't you be afraid, Sim; I'll soon put you right," said the doctor kindly. "I'll make a man of you."
"I don't think I could bear it, doctor. I mean I do really feel better, sir."
"Let's see if you can stand, Sim," said the doctor.
The man rose groaning, and held on by one of the sailors, who, at a word from the doctor, slipped away, and left the invalid standing.
"You are better, decidedly, Sim. You couldn't have done that two days ago."
"There, now walk across the deck."
"If I'm able to walk, sir, shall I have to be dipped?"
"Walk away, and go below to your mess, you idle, shamming scoundrel," cried the doctor.
Private Sim opened his lips to speak, but the look he received was too much for him, and he slowly walked off, trying hard to appear ill-used, till he reached the companion ladder, down which he shuffled to the intense delight of the men.
There was no land in sight, but the sea was glorious in the brilliant sunshine—so clear and blue that the darting fish could be seen far below; and before long, Bob Roberts had borrowed a fishing-line from Dick, the old sailor, baited the hooks, and was trailing it behind the vessel, in the hope of catching enough fish for a dinner for his mess.
At first his sport was not very good; but after a time he captured a large glistening fish, evidently, from its silvery skin, belonging to the mackerel family; and this so excited Ensign Long, who had been looking on rather contemptuously, that he borrowed a line of the boatswain, and was also soon at work fishing.
The lads had such good sport that the officers looked on quite amused, and the ladies under the awning asked from time to time to be shown the glistening captives that had been taken.
Soon after the doctor joined the party, to discourse learnedly about the various fishes, which he classified as he pointed out their peculiarities, assuring his fair hearers that far more beautiful specimens might yet be taken.
Rachel Linton, a fair, very intelligent looking girl, was much interested in the doctor's descriptions, as was also her cousin, Mary Sinclair, a dark, handsome, but delicate, brunette, of nineteen, full of questions, which the doctor took great delight in answering.
Bob Roberts and the young ensign vied one with the other in hurrying up with their fish, as they were successful, Ensign Long looking hopelessly disgusted as he saw the middy catch and carry three fish in succession beneath the awning, while he could not get a bite.
Soon, however, his turn came, and with a look of triumph he bore a long silvery fish with bars of azure blue across its scaly armour, to where the ladies were seated, Bob Roberts biting his lips as he heard the exclamations of pleasure uttered by each of the cousins in turn.
"Never mind," he muttered, "I shall have a startler directly, see if I don't," and he fished away, changing his bait, or replacing it as it was lost in consequence of the rapid motion of the steamer through the water; but all in vain; not a single fish came to his side, while on the other side Ensign Long was having tremendous luck.
Wearied out with trying, the lad sat at last holding his line in one hand, but paying no heed to it, for his eyes were directed beneath the awning, where all looked dim as compared with the sun-glare outside; and here from time to time he saw Long enter with some new prize, which the doctor took, and held up to the ladies, the more brilliantly coloured being consigned to one or the other of a couple of buckets of water, which one of the soldiers in undress uniform, whom the middy recognised as the sentry of the previous night, kept replenishing with fresh water dipped from the sea.
"He isn't a bad-looking chap," said the young midshipman, as he sat on the bulwarks in a very insecure position. "I wish I was filling the buckets and holding up the fish for the ladies to see."
He glanced once at his trailing line, and saw the bait flash in the water, then he glanced back at the party beneath the awning.
"How black Captain Smithers looks," he said. "That soldier must have splashed him, or something, for he looks as if he was going to have him tried by court-martial. Here I think I shall drop it. Hang it all! if that fellow Long hasn't caught another. What did she say?" he cried, drawing in his breath with a hiss. "'You are ever so much more fortunate than Mr Roberts.' Oh, I'd give something to have her say that to me, and—murder! I've got him this time—"
He made a convulsive grasp at a rope, and just saved himself from falling overboard, for a vigorous snatch made by a large fish at his bait had been quite sufficient to disturb his equilibrium, his activity alone saving him from a terrible ducking, if not from being drowned.
He recovered himself though, and thought no more of his escape in the excitement of finding that he had hooked a heavyish fish, and which took a good deal of playing; for just as it seemed exhausted, there was a fierce, furious snatch at the line, and the captive appeared to have grown heavier.
"He's almost too heavy to lift out, Dick," he cried to the old sailor who came up.
"Ease him then, sir, and take it easy," said Dick; "tire him quite out, and then haul in quickly."
Bob Roberts obeyed, and to his intense delight, gradually hauled his fish to the surface, where he could not make out what it was by its shape, only that it was a blaze of blue, and gold, and silver, flashing in the sun.
"Hi, doctor! I've got such a beauty!" he shouted, dragging at the stout line, till with a rush he hoisted his fish on to the deck.
"Well, that's a rum 'un, sir," cried the sailor. "Why it's a young sea sarpent."
"What have you got?" said the doctor eagerly, as the lad hurried excitedly beneath the awning with his prize.
"I don't know, doctor," said the lad. "But look, Miss Linton—Miss Sinclair, isn't it curious?"
The lad's cheeks flushed, and his eyes sparkled with delight, as he held up by the line what seemed to be a good-sized fish, of five or six pounds' weight, with a very long brilliantly-coloured eel twined tightly round and round it, in a perfect spiral, several feet in length.
"Why, you've caught a fish, boy," said the doctor, examining the prize through his glasses, "and it has been seized and constricted by a sea snake. Dear me! bliss my soul! that's very curious. Look here, Captain Smithers, and ladies. Gray, a fresh bucket of water. Most singular thing!"
"I thought he got precious heavy all at once, doctor," said the lad, looking from one to the other. "That chap darted at him then."
"Ye-es, I suppose so," said the doctor. "Lovely colouring, to be sure! See how tightly it has constricted the fish, ladies. Just like a piece of woodbine round a stick, only the coils are more close."
"It is very beautiful," said Miss Linton, approaching more closely, so that she could feast her eyes on the vivid colouring of the water-snake, which was about five feet in length, but whose coils seemed to grow more close as the fish ceased to flap as it was held up by the middy.
"I'm glad you like it, Miss Linton," he said, darting a triumphant glance at where Ensign Long was now fishing in vain. "He didn't catch two at once," the boy muttered to himself.
"I wouldn't go too close, Miss Linton," said the doctor, "for some of these sea snakes are reputed to be poisonous. Lovely thing, isn't it, Smithers?"
"Very," said the young captain drily; "but pray take care, Miss Linton."
"I am not afraid," said the lady, looking up at him with a quiet air of confidence, just as Private Gray bore in a fresh bucket of limpid sea water, and set it down at her feet.
"Now then," said the doctor; "hold still, Roberts."
"All right, sir; but it's jolly heavy," said the boy.
"Then give the line a shake, and the snake will fall into the bucket. Or stop; I will."
But he was too late, for the lad had already given the line a quick shake, with the result that the snake uncoiled like lightning, and darted at the nearest object, that object being Miss Linton's arm, round which it coiled with the rapidity of the thong of a whip round a stick.
The resident's daughter was brave and strong minded, but as she felt the contact of the creature's cold scales upon her bare arm she could not forbear from shrieking aloud; but even as she uttered the cry, the young soldier, Gray, had caught the snake round the neck, causing it to loosen its hold, but only to coil round his own bare arm, round which it twisted, and twice seized the wrist with its little mouth.
"The snake has bitten me," said the young man, hoarsely, as he dashed its head rapidly against one of the chairs, and then cast it, broken but writhing, upon the white deck.
All this took but a few moments, and then Private Gray stood, gazing with a strange wild longing look at Miss Linton, as the doctor exclaimed,—
"Quick, Roberts, to my cabin; the ammonia. Ladies, go away, please, quickly."
He caught the young soldier, and forced him back in one of the chairs as he spoke, for already a ghastly pallor was overspreading his countenance.
"Is it—is it poisonous, doctor?" whispered Miss Linton, as she darted a horrified look at Gray.
"Deadly! my dear young lady," he replied hastily. "The poor fellow has saved your life. And only last night," he thought, "I said he was a coward."
DOCTOR BOLTER RUBS HIS HANDS, AND CAPTAIN SMITHERS LOOKS GREEN.
As soon as Bob Roberts returned with the ammonia, and realised what was wrong, he pulled out his pocket-knife, placed his foot on the reptile's neck, as it still writhed feebly, and cut off its head.
He had hardly completed his task though, before he was summoned by the doctor to assist him. Here, however, he was forestalled by Miss Linton, who, ignoring the request to go, had in the most business-like way helped to lower the fainting man upon the deck, and supported his head while the stimulant was administered.
"Pray go away, Miss Linton," exclaimed Doctor Bolter then; "this is only a task for a trained nurse."
"I am a trained nurse," said Rachel Linton, quietly; and drawing a cushion from a chair, she placed it on the deck, lowered the injured man's head upon it, and then, seeing the doctor's intention, held the patient's arm while he freely used a lancet about the tiny marks made by the serpent's teeth, and rubbed in the ammonia.
Captain Smithers meanwhile had not spoken, but stood watching Miss Linton, with a strange look upon his countenance, shuddering, though, once or twice, as he saw the ghastly face of the injured man, and his fixed half-closed eyes.
"What can I do next, doctor?" said Miss Linton, in a quiet, eager voice.
"Nothing at present, my dear young lady," he said, looking at her admiringly. "Why, what a brave-hearted girl you are!"
"Brave?" she said. "What, to do this for one who saved me perhaps from death? But tell me, doctor, will he live?"
"I don't know; I hope so; it is impossible to say. It is such a rare thing for a man to be bitten by one of these creatures. I never had such a case before, and I ought to have known better; but I did not know it was a dangerous species of snake."
He held the soldier's pulse as he spoke, and then frowned, and mixing more ammonia and water, raised the poor fellow's head, and poured the liquid between his half-clenched teeth.
"Try and swallow it, Gray, my good fellow."
The young man opened his eyes as if awakened from sleep, stared about till they rested on Miss Linton, when they closed again, and he drank the stimulant with difficulty.
"Stand back, please. Captain Smithers, keep every one away, and let us have all the air we can."
Thus appealed to, the young officer motioned back those who pressed forward, the news of the accident having spread through the ship, and all who dared ascending to the quarter-deck.
"How provoking!" exclaimed Major Sandars. "One of my best men too, doctor. Really, Bolter, I must put a stop to your natural history researches."
"Confound it all, major!" cried the little doctor, angrily; "it was an accident. That young dog caught the snake, and—no—no! it's all right, Roberts. It was my fault; I ought to have foreseen what would happen."
Ensign Long had begun to congratulate himself on the fact that Bob Roberts was about to have a good wigging, but found out that he was wrong, and felt annoyed to see how important a part the lad played in the proceedings to fight back the effects of the deadly poison.
"Take my coat off, Roberts," said the doctor. "Gently, boy, gently. That's right. Now the ammonia; good. Raise his head a little. Poor fellow, we mustn't let him slip through our fingers. That's it, Miss Linton. Miss Sinclair, will you get a big fan, and give him all the air you can?"
He was obeyed to the letter; while Captain Horton and the resident stood near, ready to help in any way they could, for the news had caused the deepest concern through out the ship.
"Yah!" cried Private Sim, with an ugly snarl; "there's yer nasty favouritism. See how they're all a-cuddling and messing that there Gray up, orficers and women and all. Might ha' died afore they'd ha' done anything for me."
"Why, you caulking, miching lubber," growled old Dick, "you had ten times as much trouble 'stowed on you as you deserved. Tell you what, my lads," he continued, addressing a crowd of soldiers and sailors who had been discussing the event forward, "it's this here sorter thing as makes me saddersfied to be a common sailor. Yer orficers may row and bully yer sometimes for not being smart enough; but I never knowed a orficer yet as wasn't ready to run the same risks as the men; and when you're down, Lor' bless my 'art, nothin's too good for you. 'Member the skipper coming and bringing us horindges, Joe Tomson, when we had the feckshus fever?"
"Ay, ay, mate," growled a big sun-tanned sailor.
"Right you are, mate," said a big sergeant. "It's just so with us. I've knowed our officers run out under fire to bring in wounded men, and get shot down theirselves. You remember Captain Smithers doing that, out in China, Billy Mustard?"
"That I do," said a fair red-faced private, with a merry look in his eyes. "He brought me in on his back. I'm waiting to see him down some day, and carry him in."
"To be sure," growled old Dick. "Orficers is orficers, and there 'aint one aboard this ship as wouldn't jump overboard to save any man, even if it was such a grumbling warmint as old Sim here."
Private Sim snarled, and showed a set of yellow teeth, as he held out the palm of his left hand to give it a severe punch with his right fist; after which ebullition he seemed to feel much better, and went and leaned over the side.
"I hope Private Gray will get better," said Billy Mustard, who was a great favourite with the men from the fact that he was famous as a fiddler, and could rattle off anything from "Money Musk" up to "The Triumph;" and as to hornpipes, the somethingth said there wasn't a man in the service who could touch him. Billy Mustard had won the hearts of the sailors, too, during the voyage, from the way in which he sang "The Death of Nelson," with many another naval ditty, to which the whole forecastle could rattle out a hearty chorus. "I hope Private Gray will get better," said Billy.
"Ah, we all hope that," said Sergeant Lund. "Not that Adam Gray's a friend of mine. He's too much of a gentleman; and when he's going through his drill, it always seems as if one was putting a young officer through his facings. Not that I wish him any harm; but if he's a gentleman he ought to have got his commission, and kept out of the ranks."
"Well, sergeant," said Billy Mustard, "I don't see that it matters much what a man is, so long as he's ready for dooty, and I will say as Gray never sticks himself up, but does his dooty like a man."
"Yah! he'll turn out no good," snarled Private Sim, looking round.
"Well, for my part," said old Dick, "if I was to go in for being cunnle of a regiment, I should like that there regiment to be all private Simses, and then I'd have all the officers doctors."
"And a big hospital for barracks," said the sergeant, laughing. "And rations of physic served out every day," cried Billy Mustard.
There was a hearty laugh at this; but it was checked directly, as the men recalled that one of their number was lying in grievous peril; while Private Sim glanced round, uttered a snarl like that of a hyena, then turned back and gave his left hand another punch.
"Laugh at me, will yer?" he growled, "when I'm so jolly ill. Just let me get hold o' that there fiddle o' yours, Master Billy Mustard, and I'll smash it, see if I don't."
He seemed to feel better after this threat, and stood leaning over the bulwarks, and spitting down into the sea, while one of the sailors went aft to learn some tidings concerning Adam Gray.
Meanwhile, the centre of an anxious knot of observers, the young soldier lay breathing very feebly in spite of the stimulants frequently administered; and Bob Roberts, as he knelt close by on the deck, watched with a strange feeling of heart-sickness coming over him. He could not conceal from himself the fact that he had been the cause of all the suffering; and full of self-reproach, he knelt there, considering whether he should ever forget that scene, with the pale face of the fine young fellow lying before him.
Gray seemed to be in no great pain, but to be suffering more from a strange delirium caused by the working of the tiny drops of poison injected in his veins. He muttered a few words occasionally, and started convulsively from time to time; but when spoken to, he calmed down, and lay, apparently, waiting for his end.
"Don't know; can't say," was all that could be got from the doctor, as the hours crept on—hours when the heat of the sun was terrible; but no one left the injured man's side.
The specimens in the buckets were forgotten, and died; the cause of the misfortune grew dry and shrivelled, where it had twined and wriggled itself, half a dozen yards away, the dangerous head being thrown overboard by Bob Roberts, and swallowed by a fish before it had descended many feet.
Both the resident and the captain had tried to persuade the ladies to leave the sick man's side; but they had declined to go, and Doctor Bolter had nodded approval.
"Thank you, my dears, thank you," he said. "It's very kind of you; and I'm glad enough, I can tell you, to find that you've both got something in you besides fine young ladyism."
"I wish we could do more," said Rachel Linton, quietly.
"So do I, my dear," said the little doctor; "and I wish I could do more, but I have done all I can. Nature must do the rest."
The long, hot day passed on, and evening was approaching before the doctor took anything more than a glass of wine and water and a biscuit; and at last, when every one had judged by poor Gray's aspect that all now was over, and Major Sandars came up and thanked him for his patient endeavours to save the poor fellow's life, the doctor felt his patient's pulse once more, raised the closed eyelids and gazed at the pupils, and then rose up, dropped into a cane lounging chair, and began softly rubbing his knees.
"Now, ladies," he said firmly, "go below and dine. I order it. Sandars—Horton—if you have any good feeling left in you, you'll send relays of Jacks and privates to rub my poor knees. I say," he said, looking round with a smile, "that was a close shave, wasn't it?"
"Close shave?" said the major, as the ladies drew back, apparently hurt at the doctor's levity; and poor Bob Roberts, kneeling at the injured man's feet, lowered his head so that those near should not see the unmanly tears gathering in his eyes, though he was somewhat comforted on seeing that Ensign Long was almost as much moved.
"Yes," said the doctor; "you might have got all the nobs of the profession, and I don't believe they could have done better."
"No," said Captain Horton rather coldly. "You have worked hard, Doctor Bolter."
"Hard? I should think I have. I tell you what it is, sir, you would not have felt more pleased than I do if you had been made an admiral."
"But the man is dying fast, Bolter," said Major Sandars.
"Dying, sir? why he has been dying fast all day."
"Then is not this rather unseemly before ladies?" said Captain Horton.
"Unseemly? Before ladies?" said the doctor in a puzzled way. "Why, can't you see for yourselves? Ha, ha, ha!" he said, laughing softly. "Don't you see the remedies have beaten the poison. There's a delightful sleep he has dropped into."
"Sleep?" exclaimed Miss Linton.
"To be sure, my dear. Look what a lovely perspiration is coming out on his forehead. There, come away, and let him sleep. He'll be nearly well by to-morrow morning."
Bob Roberts leaped up from the deck, as if sent by a sling, made a dash at Ensign Long, swung him round, indulged in a kind of war dance indicative of triumph; then looked extremely ashamed of himself, and dashed off into the gun-room to spread the news that the doctor had saved Gray's life.
"That's not a bad sort of boy," said the doctor, looking after Bob; and then, as Ensign Long raised his chin in the air, and looked very dignified, "tell you what Sandars, if I were you I'd get Captain Horton to make a swop. Let's give him Tom Long in exchange for the middy. What do you say?"
Tom Long marched off, looking very much disgusted; and Sergeant Lund having been summoned to bring a file to watch by the sick man, the much relieved party went down to dinner.
UP THE PARANG RIVER.
That evening the anchor was dropped off the mouth of the Parang river; and as the night closed in all eyes were directed to the thickly-wooded country on each side of the stream, whose banks were hidden by the dense growth of mangrove trees, which, now that the tide was up, seemed to be growing right out of the water, which those on board could see through their glasses to be smoothly flowing amidst the stems.
Further inland tall columnar nipah palms could be seen fringing the tidal way, and apparently growing amidst the mangroves, with the water washing their roots.
Dense green vegetation, and a broad flowing muddy river—that was all that greeted the eyes of the eager lookers-on, till darkness set in. Not a trace of town or village, not even a fisherman's hut or a boat. All was vegetation and the flowing river.
Once Bob Roberts thought he saw a boat coming down the stream, and in the distance it very strangely resembled some little craft with upright mast and dark sail; but as it came nearer it proved to be a patch of root-matted vegetable soil, washed from the bank, and having in the centre a small nipah palm, which slowly passed from might, to be cast ashore upon some mud bank, and again take root.
But as the darkness fell, the distant glitter as of tiny sparks amidst the trees took the attention of all. They were too distant to see the phenomenon to perfection; but the faint sparkle was very beautiful as the myriads of fire-flies, by which it was caused, flitted and changed from place to place, which was now dark, now scintillating in a most peculiar manner.
The captain had decided not to attempt the passage of the river till morning, all on board being very ignorant of its entrance, though, judging from the configuration of the coast, the most they had to dread was being grounded for a time on some bank of mud or sand. This part of the coast was so sheltered that there was no surf; and when the anchor was let go, the corvette swung round easily, to lie almost without motion on the calm still waters of the river's mouth.
But though no sign of human habitation had been visible, as the night wore on those on board became fully aware of the fact that the jungle had plenty of denizens, for from time to time strange roarings were heard, and then splashings in the water, as of wild creatures bathing. Once or twice too, as Bob Roberts and Ensign Long, companions for the time being, if not friends, leaned over the bulwarks, they fancied they could hear some great beast swimming towards them.
"What can it be?" said Bob in an awe-stricken whisper, as the strange snorting and splashing grew nearer.
"'Nosserus," said Dick the sailor, who generally contrived to be pretty close to the youths, and depended upon them largely for his supplies of tobacco. "It's one on 'em having a wallow, like a big pig, somewhere in the shallows."
"That's a tiger, isn't it!" said Tom Long, as a hoarse roar came over the smooth surface of the water.
"Shouldn't wonder, young gentlemen, if it were; but I'll say good night, for 'taint my watch, and I think a turn in won't be bad preparation for a hard day to-morrow."
Everyone expected a busy day upon the morrow; but it was long before the two youths could tear themselves away from the side of the vessel, for there was something so mysterious and weird in the look of the black water, in which the stars just glimmered; while right before them all looked dark and strange, save where there was the distant twinkling of the fire-flies, ever changing in position.
"Hark!" whispered Long; "there's a splash again. That can't be close to the shore."
"No, that's not a hundred yards from the ship. I say, Long," whispered Bob with a shudder, "I shouldn't much like to swim ashore. I'll be bound to say that was a crocodile."
"I shouldn't wonder," was the reply; and they still stood trying to make out the cause of the strange splashing noises, till, utterly tired out, they sought their cots, and were soon fast asleep.
The getting up of the anchor roused the two lads soon after daybreak, by which time steam was up; and with the faint morning mists slowly rising like silver gauze above the dense belts of trees, the steamer began slowly to move ahead.
The tide was flowing, and the mangroves were deep in the water, though not so deep but that their curious network of roots could be seen, like a rugged scaffold planted in the mud to support each stem; while as they slowly went on, the dense beds of vegetation, in place of being a mile off on either side, grew to be a half a mile, and soon after but a hundred yards, as the steamer seemed to be going straight into a broad bank ahead.
As they approached, though, a broad opening became visible, where the course of the stream swung round to the right; and after passing a point, the river rapidly contracted to about a hundred yards in width, and soon after was narrower, but still a smoothly flowing stream by the eternal mangroves. At last some signs of life began to appear, in the shape of an occasional crocodile, which glided off a muddy bank amidst the mangrove roots, into the water. Here and there, too, the long snout of one of these hideous reptiles could be seen, prone on the surface of the water, just above which appeared the eyes, with their prominences, as the reptile turned its head slowly from side to side, in search of some floating object that might prove to be good for food.
The sight of these beasts was too much for the officers, who were soon armed with rifles, making shots at the muddy-hued creatures, apparently with no other effect than for the long horny head to slowly sink beneath the water.
Captain Smithers proved himself to be the best shot, for after splashing the water with a bullet close to the head of one of the saurians, his attention was drawn to another, between the steamer and the shore, apparently quite unconscious that the vessel could injure it in the least.
Judging from the size of the head, this was apparently the largest crocodile that had been seen; and taking long and careful aim, Captain Smithers at last fired, when the monster lashed the water furiously for a few moments with its tail.
"He's hit, and badly," said Doctor Bolter. "It's a big one, too. What a splendid specimen it would make!"
As he spoke, his words as to the size of the creature were verified, for the crocodile suddenly shot itself half out of the water, showing its head, shoulders, and a good deal of its horny back, before turning over and diving down, displaying its hind legs and tail before it disappeared.
"That was eighteen feet long if it was an inch," said the doctor, excitedly; "but he has gone to the bottom."
"Yes," said Captain Smithers, quietly reloading, "we shall not see it again. How is your patient, Bolter?"
"Oh, pretty well all right again, thanks. It was a lucky escape for the poor fellow."
"Very!" said Captain Smithers, thoughtfully. "What bird is that, doctor?"
"A white eagle," was the reply, as the doctor followed with his glasses the flight of a magnificent bird that rose from a stunted tree, flew across the river, and away over the mangroves on the other side.
Soon after, as the steamer still made its way onward in mid-stream, the river being very deep, as shown by the man busy in the chains with the lead, a flame of blue suddenly seemed to dart from a mangrove root, and then another and another, as some of the gorgeously-coloured kingfishers of the peninsula shot off along the surface up the stream.
On still, and on, with every one on board eagerly on the look-out for novelties, but all growing somewhat tired of the unbroken succession of dull green mangroves. At last, however, after many hours of slow and cautious progress, the mangroves gave place to tall and beautiful palms, showing evidently that the steamer was now beyond the reach of the tide; and this was farther proved by the fact that the stream was now dead against them, running pretty swiftly, but, in place of being muddy, delightfully clear.
Faces that had looked long and solemn as the supposition had grown stronger that the country was nothing better than a mangrove swamp, became more cheery of aspect, especially when, through an opening in the dense clumps of palms with their feathery tops, the blue line of a distant range of hills could be seen.
Then came, as they rounded a point, the first trace of human habitation, in the shape of a Malay village, which in the distance bore a marvellous resemblance, in its steep gabled roofs thatched with palm-leaves, to some collection of cottages in far-distant England. But soon it was seen that every cottage was raised upon posts, that the walls were of woven reed or split bamboo, and that the trees that shaded them were cocoa-nut and areca palms.
Onward still, but more slowly and cautiously, lest the steamer should take the ground. Now and then scattered patches of cultivation were seen, in the shape of paddy fields; clusters of fruit-trees stood here and there; native boats were drawn right up on the mud, or secured to posts; and now and then buffaloes could be seen, standing knee-deep in the water, with dark-skinned children running to and fro, terribly excited at the sight of the strange ship.
Onward still, hour after hour, past village after village, wonderfully same in appearance, and the river still kept broad and deep enough for the navigation of the steamer, till night came on, and she was anchored in mid-stream, with the wild jungle coming close down to the water's edge on either side.
At early morn the journey was continued till a broad reach of the river was ascended, at the far end of which was a good-sized island, in which was a palm-thatched building of some consequence, while, only separated from it by a narrow arm of the river, stood the largest collection of houses they had seen, with what was evidently a mosque by the river side. There was an abundance of boats too, and what strongly resembled a stockade; but what most took up the attention of all on board were a couple of long, low, well-made vessels, each displaying a curious figure-head bearing a faint resemblance to some fabulous monster; and in these armed boats both the soldiers and sailors of the little expedition were quite right in believing that they saw nothing more nor less than the much-talked-of vessels of the kris-bearing pirates of Malaya, the well-known, much-dreaded prahus.
HOW TOM LONG TRIED THE DURIAN.
A little bustle on deck, the rattling of chains, the splash of an anchor, and Her Majesty's ship "Startler"—well manned, and armed with guns that could send shot and shell crashing through the town on the river's right bank—swinging to her moorings; for she had reached her destination—the campong, or village, of Sultan Hamet, the native Malay potentate, who was under British protection, and who sought our aid to rule his land beneficially, after our manners and customs, and who now professed the most ardent friendship for those who were ready to do their duty; though the trust they felt in the Malays was not untempered by suspicion—in some cases, perhaps, with fear.
It was a very busy time for all, and after the "Startler" had been made what Dick the sailor called snug—that is to say, firmly anchored head to stream, for they were now far above the reach of the tide—a strong party of the blue-jackets were landed upon the pleasantly umbrageous island, along with the soldiers; for this island was to be the site of the residency, and it proved to have four good-sized buildings amidst the trees, which had been roughly prepared by Sultan Hamet's orders.
Doctor Bolter was almost the first man to land, and for a long time he was fussily perspiring about, as he abused the sanitary arrangements of the place to every man he met, pausing last of all to stand mopping his face in front of Bob Roberts and Tom Long.
"Pretty sort of a wilderness to bring us to, young gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "I don't know what to start at next. The place will be a very hot-bed of fever, and we shall all be swept away."
"What do you say to this for a neat spot, doctor?" said Bob Roberts.
"Neat spot? what for?"
"Burying ground? What do you mean, sir?"
"To bury us all decently, doctor," said Bob, grinning. "And I say, doctor, who's to bury the last man?"
"If you were under my charge, Master Bob Roberts," said the doctor, panting with the heat, "I should reduce that vital force of yours a little, sir."
"Thanky, doctor. But I say, doctor, which is to be the resident's house?"
"That, sir; and those three buildings are to be turned into barracks, and fort, and officers' quarters; and how I am to get them all into a sanitary state, I don't know."
But the doctor did manage it somehow in the following days, when, in spite of the heat, every one worked with a will; the resident's house was improved, and boats were constantly going to and from the "Startler," whose hold was something like a conjuring trick, as it constantly turned out household necessaries and furniture. Handy workmen amidst the soldiers and Jacks were busy, fitting, hammering, and nailing; so that in a very short time the resident's house began to grow ship-shape.
At the same time the officers' quarters were being prepared, and the barracks as well; while plans were made to strengthen the fort, dig ditch, form glacis, and generally make the place tenable against a possible enemy.
Plenty of Malays were enlisted to help; but beyond bringing wood, and acting as carriers, they did not prove to be very valuable workers. But all the same, the preparations went on, various chiefs coming across in their boats from time to time, watching with no little wonder the changes that were being effected, talking together a good deal about the stands of arms in the little barracks, and the nine-pounder field-pieces that were brought ashore from the "Startler's" hold.
The inexhaustible bottle was nothing to that ship, for no sooner did the adjutant make out a list of requisitions, and send in, than the hold began to disgorge, and boat-loads of stores came ashore; till, in a marvellously short time, the white tents, saving one or two large ones, disappeared from where they had been first set up amongst the trees, and with a celerity that perfectly astounded the Malay visitors, the island assumed an aspect that seemed to say the English visitors meant to stay.
Meanwhile, the country people grew less shy, and boats came with fruit and rice for sale, one of the first being visited by Bob Roberts—Tom Long, who had evidently meant to be there before him, coming directly after.
The ladies had landed and taken possession of their new abode, where several of the soldiers were busy forming a garden; and it had struck both the admirers of Miss Linton that an offering or two of fruit and flowers would be very acceptable, after the long confinement on ship board.
The sampan, or native boat, that the two lads had come to visit, was fastened to a rough bamboo landing-stage, that had been one of the first things fitted up at the island; and, to their great delight, they could see that the boat was stored with various vegetable productions, some of which were sufficiently attractive to make the lads' mouths water, to the forgetting of the main object of their visit.
"Hallo, soldier!" said Bob Roberts, as he saw Tom Long come up, looking very aggressive.
"Hallo, sailor boy!" said Tom Long, superciliously; and then they stood looking at each other, quite unconsciously like a couple of Malay game cocks in bamboo cages, on the afterpart of the sampan. These two pugnacious birds were evincing a strong desire for a regular duel; but as the bamboo bars of their cages prevented a near approach, they stood there ruffling their plumes, and staring hard in each other's faces.
"Seems a strange thing that a man can't come down to buy a little fruit and some flowers, without your watching him," said Bob, at last.
"I wasn't watching you, boy," said Tom Long, superciliously. "There, spend your penny, my man, and go about your business."
"Look here, my stuck-up red herring," cried Bob, setting his teeth hard, "Captain Horton said that the naval officers were to set an example of gentlemanly behaviour before the natives, or I'll be blowed, Mr Tom Long, if I wouldn't punch your head."
"Blowed—punch head," sneered Tom Long; "that's gentlemanly, certainly."
"Look here," said Bob, who was stung to the quick by the truth of this remark; "do you want to fight, Mr Tom Long?"
"Mr T. Long presents his compliments to the middy boy of the 'Startler,' and begs to inform him that when her Majesty's officers fight, it is with some one worthy of their steel."
"Ha, ha! Haw, haw! Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Bob, cutting a caper expressive of his great amusement. "Her Majesty's officers—some one worthy of their steel. Ha, ha, ha, ha! I say, Tom Long, how happy and contented her Majesty must feel, knowing as she does that the gallant officer, Ensign Long, is always ready to draw his sword in her defence. Here, you stop! I got here first."
"Sahib wants my beautiful fruit," said one of the dark-faced men in the sampan, towards which Tom Long had stepped.
"Hallo!" said Bob, going up. "You are not a Malay?"
"No, sahib: I Kling, from Madras. Sell fruit—flowers. This Malaya man."
He pointed to a flat-nosed, high-cheek-boned man with him, who was dressed in the inevitable plaid sarong of bright colours, and wore a natty little plaited-grass cap upon his head.
Bob turned, and saw that this man carried a kris stuck in the folds of his sarong, which had slipped from the hilt, and he was now busy with a little brass box and a leaf. This leaf of one of the pepper plants he was smearing with a little creamy-looking mixed lime from the brass box, on which he placed a fragment of betel-nut, rolled it in the leaf, thrust it into his mouth, which it seemed to distort, and then began to expectorate a nasty red juice, with which he stained the pure water.
"Hope you feel better now," said Bob, who, in his interest in the Malay's proceedings, had forgotten all about the squabble with Tom Long. "Ugh! the dirty brute! Chewing tobacco's bad enough; but as for that— I'd just like to get the armourer's tongs and fetch that out of your mouth, and then swab it clean."
"No speak English; Malaya man," said the Kling laughing. "Chew betel, very good, sahib. Like try?"
"Try! No," said Bob, with a gesture of disgust. "Here, I say; we'll buy some fruit directly: let's have a look at your kris."
The Kling, who seemed to have quite adopted the customs of the people amongst whom he was, hesitated for a moment, looking suspiciously at the two lads, and then took the weapon he wore from his waist, and held it out.
Bob took it, and Tom Long closed up, being as much interested as the midshipman.
"I say, Tom Long," the latter said, with a laugh, "which of us two will get the first taste of that brown insect's sting?"
"You, Bob," said Tom Long, coolly. "It would let out a little of your confounded impudence."
"Thanky," said Bob, as he proceeded to examine the weapon with the greatest interest, from its wooden sheath, with a clumsy widened portion by the hilt, to the hilt itself, which, to European eyes, strongly resembled the awkwardly formed hook of an umbrella or walking-stick, and seemed a clumsy handle by which to wield the kris.
"Pull it out," said Tom Long, eagerly; and Bob drew it, to show a dull ragged-looking two-edged blade, and of a wavy form. It was about fifteen inches long, and beginning about three inches wide, rapidly narrowed down to less than one inch, and finished in a sharp point.
"It's a miserable-looking little tool," said Bob.
"Good as a middy's dirk," said Tom Long, laughing.
"I don't know so much about that," said Bob, making a stab at nothing with the kris. "I say, old chap, this is poisoned, isn't it?"
"No, sahib," said the Kling, displaying his white teeth.
"But the Malay krises are poisoned," said Bob. "Is his?"
He nodded in the direction of the Malay, who was trying to understand what was said.
"No, sahib, no poison. What for poison kris?"
"Make it kill people, of course," said Bob, returning the rusty looking weapon to its scabbard.
"Kris kill people all same, no poison," said the Kling, taking back his dagger. "'Tick kris through man, no want no poison, sahib."
"He's about right there, middy," said Tom Long. "Here, let's look at some fruit."
This brought Bob Roberts back to the object of his mission; and realising at once that Tom Long's object was a present, he, by what he considered to be a lucky inspiration, turned his attention to the flowers that were in the boat.
For the Malays are a flower-loving people, and there is nothing the dark beauties of this race like better than decking their jetty-black hair with white and yellow sweet-scented blossoms.
Bob was not long in securing a large bunch of arums, all soft and white, with the great yellow seed vessel within. To this he added a great bunch of delicately tinted lotus, and then sat down on the edge of the boat to see what Long would purchase.
Tom Long was hard to please; now he would decide on a bunch of delicious golden plantains, and then set them aside in favour of some custard apples. Then he wondered whether the ladies would not prefer some mangoes; but recollecting that they had had plenty of mangoes, and the delicious mangosteen in India, he decided upon some limes and a couple of cocoanuts, when the Kling exclaimed, "Why not sahib buy durian?"
"What the dickens is durian?" said Tom.
"Durian best nice fruit that grow, sahib."
"Oh, is it?" said Tom. "Then let's have a look."
The Kling said something to the Malay, who stooped down, and solemnly produced what looked like a great spiney nut, about as large as a boy's head.
"That durian, sahib," said the Kling, smiling.
"Oh, that's durian, is it?" said Tom, taking the great fruit in his hands, and turning it over and over.
"Nice-looking offering for a lady," said Bob Roberts, laughing. Tom Long looked up sharply, and was about to speak; but he said nothing, only kept turning the great fruit over and over.
"Taste nice, most nice all fruit, sahib," said the Kling.
"Here, let's try one," said Bob, laying down his flowers; and the Kling signed to his companion to give him another, which the Malay did with solemn importance, not a smile appearing on his face, nor a look suggestive of his being anxious to sell the fruit in the boat.
The Kling took the great wooden fruit, laid it on the thwart of the boat, and reaching a heavy knife from the side, he inserted it at the head of a faint line, one of five to be seen running down the wooden shell of the fruit, and following this mark, he was able to open the curious production, and divide it into portions like an orange. In each of these quarters, or fifths, were two or three great seeds, as large as chestnuts, and these were set in a quantity of thick buttery cream or custard.
"Well, all I can say is that it's precious rum-looking stuff," said Bob. "Which do you eat, the kernels, or this custardy stuff?"
"No eat seeds, sahib; eat other part," said the Kling.
"Come along, soldier," said Bob; "I'll eat one bit, if you will?"
Tom Long looked too much disgusted to speak, but in a half-offended manner he picked up another quarter of the durian, and examined it attentively.
"Phew!" ejaculated Bob, looking round. "What a horrible smell. There must be something floating down the river."
They both glanced at the flowing silvery waters of the river, but nothing was in sight.
"It's getting worse," said Tom Long. "Why, it's perfectly dreadful!"
"It's this precious fruit," exclaimed Bob suddenly; and raising his portion to his nose, "Murder!" he cried; "how horrid!" and he pitched his piece overboard.
"Why, it's a bad one," said Tom Long, sharply: and he followed the middy's suit.
The Kling raised his hands in dismay; but leaning over the side, he secured the two pieces of durian before they were out of reach, and turned to his customers.
"Good durian—buteful durian," he exclaimed. "Alway smell so fashion."
"What!" cried Bob, "do you mean to tell me that stuff's fit to eat?"
The Kling took up the fruit; and smelt it with his eyes half-closed, and then drawing in a long breath, he sighed gently, as if with regret that he might not indulge in such delicacies.
"Bess durian," he said, in an exaggerated ecstatic manner. "Quite bess ripe."
Bob stooped down and retook a portion of the strange fruit, smelt it cautiously, and then, taking out a knife, prepared to taste it.
"You are never going to eat any of that disgusting thing, are you, sailor?" cried Tom Long.
"I'm going to try it, soldier," said Bob coolly. "Come and have a taste, lad."
In the most matter-of-fact way, though quite out of bravado on account of Tom Long's disgusted looks, Bob took a long sniff at the durian.
"Well, it is a little high," he said, quietly. "Not unlike bad brick-kiln burning, with a dash of turpentine."
"Carrion, you mean," said Tom Long.
"No, not carrion," said Bob, picking out a good-sized fragment of the fruit upon his knife; "it's what the captain calls sui generis."
"All burra sahib like durian," said the Kling, showing his white teeth.
"Then the burra sahibs have got precious bad taste," said Tom Long, just as Bob put the first piece of the fruit into his mouth, rolled his eyes, and looked as if he were about to eject it into the stream, but did not; gave it a twist round, tasted it; looked less serious; began to masticate; and swallowing the piece, proceeded to take a little more.
"There, it won't do, Bob Roberts," said Tom Long; "say it's horrible, like a man. You can't deceive me. What does it taste like?"
"Don't know yet," said Bob trying the second piece.
"What a jackass you are to torture yourself like that, to try and take me in, middy!"
Bob helped himself to a little more.
"Well, what does it taste like?"
"Custard," said Bob, working away hard, and speaking between every dig of his knife; "candles, cream cheese, onion sauce, tipsy cake, bad butter, almonds, sherry and bitters, banana, old shoes, turpentine, honey, peach and beeswax. Here, I say; give us a bit more, old cock."
Tom Long was astounded, for after finishing the first piece of the evil-smelling dainty, Bob had begun the second, and was toiling at it with a patient industry that showed thorough appreciation of the most peculiar fruit in the world.
"Tipsy cake, bad butter, old shoes, peach and beeswax," and the other incongruities, rang in Long's ear; and to prove that he was not deceiving him, there was Bob eating away as if his soul were in the endeavour to prove how much he could dispose of at one go.
It was too much for Tom Long; his curiosity was roused to the highest point, and as the Kling was smilingly watching Bob, Tom signed to the Malay to give him a piece.
The solemn-looking Asiatic picked up another fruit, and while Tom looked impatiently on, it was opened, and a piece handed to him, which he took, and with Bob's example before his eyes took a greedy bite—uttered a cry of disgust—and flung the piece in hand at the giver.
The Malayan character has been aptly described as volcanic. The pent-up fire of his nature slumbers long sometimes, beneath his calm, imperturbable, dignified exterior; but the fire lies smouldering within, and upon occasions it bursts out, carrying destruction before it.
In this case Tom Long's folly—worse, his insult to the master of the sampan—roused the fiery Malay on the instant to fury, as he realised the fact that the youth he looked upon as an infidel and an intruder had dared to offer to him, a son of the faithful, such an offence; then with a cry of rage, he sprang at the ensign, bore him backwards to the bottom of the boat; and as the midshipman started up, it was to see the Malay's deadly, flame-shaped kris waving in the air.
HOW DICK RELATED THE VISIT.
With a cry of horror Bob Roberts leaped forward, and caught the Malay's wrist in time to avert the blow, the Kling starting forward the next instant, and helping to hold the infuriate Asiatic; while Tom Long struggled up and leaped ashore, where a knot of soldiers and sailors were gathering.
"Don't say anything, Tom," cried Bob. "Here you—tell him he did not mean to offend him," he continued to the Kling, who repeated the words; and the Malay, who had been ready to turn on the midshipman, seemed to calm down and sheathed his kris; while the Kling spoke to him again with the result that the offended man sat himself down in the boat, gazing vindictively at the young ensign ashore.