The Rajah of Dah, by George Manville Fenn.
Here is another book by George Manville Fenn, full of mystery, suspense and terror—to coin a phrase. Ned, a boy of sixteen, who has just left school, and who has been brought up by an uncle who is a naturalist and who is often away, begs that he may be allowed to come on the uncle's next expedition. By the way, how could he have been brought up by an uncle who was often away? Simple, he was placed as a boarder in the house of a local clergyman, who educated a few boys in his house: this was often the case in the nineteenth century.
They get to somewhere in Burma, and travel up a river till they come to a settlement where there are some British. At that time Burma was a British Protectorate. The local Burmese ruler is an absurd and loathsome tyrant. Ned makes friends with a local English boy, Frank, and they have various adventures together, including the capture of an eighteen foot crocodile. However, the British people in the settlement fall out with the Rajah, who has his eye on a 21-year-old British girl, and wishes to add her to his harem. This is where the major perils begin.
Some of the perils are similar to those in "The Middy and the Ensign", which is not surprising, as the action takes place in the same part of the world.
As always with this author, it is a brilliant read or listen.
THE RAJAH OF DAH, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
OFF AT LAST!
"Ahoy, there! All on board?"
"Yes; all right."
"Got all your tackle?"
"I think so."
"Haven't forgotten your cartridges!"
"No; here they are."
"I'll be bound to say you've forgotten something. Yes: fishing-tackle?"
"That we haven't, Mr Wilson," said a fresh voice, that of a bright-looking lad of sixteen, as he rose up in the long boat lying by the bamboo-made wharf at Dindong, the little trading port at the mouth of the Salan River, on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula.
"Trust you for the fish-hooks, squire," said the first speaker. "But, I say, take a good look round, Murray. It's an awful fix to be in to find yourself right up in the wilderness with the very thing you want most left behind."
"It's very good of you, Wilson," said the gentleman addressed, a broad-shouldered man of forty, tanned and freckled by the eastern sun, and stooping low to avoid striking his head against the attap thatch rigged up over the stern of the boat, and giving it the aspect of a floating hut. "It's very good of you, but I think we have everything; eh, Ned?"
"Yes, uncle; I can't think of anything else."
"Knives, medicine, sticking-plaster, brandy, boxes, spirit-can, lamp, nets. Ah, I know, Ned: we've no needles and thread."
The lad laughed merrily, and took out a kind of pocket-book, which he opened to display the above necessaries, with scissors and penknife as well.
"Well done, Ned! I believe you have more brains than I have. I can't think of anything else, Wilson. I only want your good wishes."
"Matches?" said the gentleman on the wharf.
"Plenty, and we have each a burning-glass."
"That's right, and now once more: take my advice."
Johnstone Murray, enthusiast over matters of natural history, shook his head, and rather a stern look came into his eyes as his nephew watched him eagerly.
"But, hang it, man! you can make excursions up and down the river from Dindong, and up the little branches as well. Surely you can get all you want from here, and not lose touch of civilisation."
"But we want to lose touch of civilisation, my dear fellow.—What do you say, Ned? Shall we stop here?"
"No, no, uncle; let's go now."
"Why, you foolish boy!" cried the gentleman addressed as Wilson, "you do not know what you are saying, or what risks you are going to run."
"Oh, uncle will be careful, sir."
"If he can," said the other, gruffly. "I believe you two think you are going on quite a picnic, instead of what must be a dangerous expedition."
"My dear Wilson," said the principal occupant of the boat, merrily, "you shut yourself up so much in your bungalow, and lead such a serious plodding life over your merchandise and cargoes, that you see danger in a paddle across the river."
"Ah, well, perhaps I do," said the merchant, taking off his light pith sun-hat to wipe his shining brow. "You really mean to go right up the river, then?"
"Of course. What did you think I made these preparations for?"
"To make a few short expeditions, and come back to me to sleep and feed. Well, if you will go, good-luck go with you. I don't think I can do any more for you. I believe you may trust those fellows," he added in a low voice, after a glance at the four bronzed-looking strong-armed Malay boatmen, each with a scarlet handkerchief bound about his black hair as he sat listlessly in the boat, his lids nearly drawn over his brown lurid-looking eyes, and his thick lips more protruded than was natural, as he seemed to have turned himself into an ox-like animal and to be chewing his cud.
"You could not have done more for me, Wilson, if I had been your brother."
"All Englishmen and Scotsmen are brothers out in a place like this," said the merchant, warmly. "Go rather hard with some of us if we did not stick to that creed. Well, look here, if ever you get into any scrape up yonder, send down a message to me at once."
"To say, for instance, that a tiger has walked off with Ned here."
"Oh I say, uncle!" cried the boy.
"No, no, I mean with the niggers. They're a rum lot, some of them. Trust them as far as you can see them. Be firm. They're cunning; but just like children in some things."
"They're right enough, man, if you don't tread on their corns. I always find them civil enough to me. But if we do get into trouble, what shall you do?"
"Send you help of course, somehow. But you will not be able to send a letter," added the merchant thoughtfully. "Look here. If you are in trouble from sickness, or hurt by any wild animal, get some Malay fellow from one of the campongs to bring down a handkerchief—a white one. But if you are in peril from the people up yonder, send a red one, either your own or one of the boatmen's. You will find it easy to get a red rag of some sort."
"I see," said Murray, smiling. "White, sickness; red, bloodshed.—I say Ned, hear all this?"
"Well; don't you feel scared?"
"Horribly, uncle," said the boy, coolly.
"Will you give up, and stop here in Dindong?"
The boy looked full in the speaker's face, thrust his hands into the pockets of his brown linen trousers, and began to whistle softly.
"There, good-bye, Wilson. The sun will soon be overpowering, and I want to get on."
"Well, you've got the tide to help you for the next three hours. Sorry you're going. I'll take great care of the specimens you send down. You can trust any of the boat-people—they know me so well. Any fellow coming down with rice or tin will bring a box or basket. God bless you both! Good-bye!"
There was a warm hand-shaking.
"Take care of yourself, Ned, my boy, and don't let your uncle work you too hard.—Good-bye, my lads. Take great care of the sahibs."
The Malay boatmen seemed to have suddenly wakened up, and they sprang to their places, responded with a grave smile to the merchant's adjuration, pushed off the boat, and in a few minutes were rowing easily out into the full tide, whose muddy waters flowed like so much oil up past the little settlement, upon whose wharf the white figure of the merchant could be seen in the brilliant sunshine waving his hand. Then, as the occupants of the boat sat in the shade of their palm-leaf awning, they saw a faint blue smoke arise, as he lit a cigar and stood watching the retiring party. The house, huts, and stores about the little wharf began to grow distant and look toy-like, the shores to display the dull, green fringe of mangrove, with its curiously-arched roots joining together where the stem shot up, and beneath which the muddy water glided, whispering and lapping. And then the oars creaked faintly, as the boat was urged more and more out into mid-stream, till the shore was a quarter of a mile away; and at last the silence was broken by the boy, whose face was flushed with excitement, as he stood gazing up the smooth river, while they glided on and on through what seemed to be one interminable winding grove of dull-green trees; for he made the calm, grave, dark-skinned boatmen start and look round for danger, as he cried out excitedly:
"Hurrah! Off at last!"
UNCLE MURRAY'S LECTURE.
"Every man to his taste, Ned, my boy," said Johnstone Murray, gentleman, to his nephew, who was home for a visit to his uncle—he called it home, for he had never known any other, and visited this but rarely, his life having been spent during the past four years at a Devon rectory, where a well-known clergyman received four pupils.
As the above words were said about six months before the start up the Salan River, Ned Murray's guardian raised a large magnifying-glass and carefully examined a glittering fragment of stone, while the boy leaned over the table upon which his elbows rested, and eagerly watched his uncle's actions.
"Is that gold, uncle?"
"Eh? gold? nonsense. Pyrites—mingling of iron and sulphur, Ned. Beautiful radiated lines, those. But, as I was saying, every man to his taste. Some people who have plenty of money like to go for a ride in the park, and then dress for dinner, and eat and drink more than is good for them. I don't. Such a life as that would drive me mad."
"But you didn't answer my question, uncle."
"Yes, I did, Ned. I said it was pyrites."
"No, no. I mean the other one, uncle. Will you take me?"
"Get away with you! Go back to the rectory and read up, and by-and-by we'll send you to Oxford, and you shall be a parson, or a barrister, or—"
"Oh, uncle, it's too bad of you! I want to do as you do. I say: do take me!"
"Because I want to go. I won't be any trouble to you, and I'll work hard and rough it, as you call it; and I know so much about what you do that I'm sure I can be very useful; and then you know what you've often said to me about its being so dull out in the wilds by yourself, and you would have me to talk to of a night."
"Silence! Be quiet, you young tempter. Take you, you soft green sapling! Why, you have no more muscle and endurance than a twig."
"Twigs grow into stout branches, uncle."
"Look here, sir: did your tutor teach you to argue your uncle to death when you wanted to get your own way?"
"Do you think I should be doing my duty as your guardian if I took you right away into a savage country, to catch fevers and sunstrokes, and run risks of being crushed by elephants, bitten by poisonous reptiles, swallowed by crocodiles, or to form a lunch for a fastidious tiger tired of blacks?"
"Now you are laughing at me again," said the boy.
"No, sir. There are risks to be encountered."
"They wouldn't hurt me any more than they would you, uncle."
"There you are again, arguing in that abominable way! No, sir; I shall not take you. At your ago education is the thing to study, and nothing else. Now, be quiet!" and Johnstone Murray's eyes looked pleasant, though his freckled brown face looked hard, and his eyes seemed to say that there was a smile hidden under the grizzled curly red beard which covered the lower part of his face.
"There, uncle, now I have got you. You've said to me scores of times that there was no grander education for a man than the study of the endless beauties of nature."
"Be quiet, Ned. There never was such a fellow as you for disputing."
"But you did say so, uncle."
"Well, sir, and it's quite right. It is grand! But you are not a man."
"Not yet, but I suppose I shall be, some day."
"Not if I take you out with me to catch jungle fever."
"Oh, bother the old jungle fever!"
"So say I, Ned, and success to quinine."
"To be sure. Hurrah for quinine! You said you took it often in swampy places to keep off the fever."
"That's quite right, Ned."
"Very well then, uncle; I'll take it too, as much as ever you like. Now, will you let me go?"
"And what would the rector say?"
"I don't know, uncle. I don't want to be a barrister. I want to be what you are."
"A rough, roaming, dreamy, restless being, who is always wandering about all over the world."
"And what would England have been, uncle, if some of us had not been restless and wandered all over the world."
Johnstone Murray, gentleman and naturalist, sat back in his chair and laughed.
"Oh, you may laugh, uncle!" said the boy with his face flushed. "You laugh because I said some of us: I meant some of you. Look at the discoveries that have been made; look at the wonders brought home; look at that, for instance," cried the boy, snatching up the piece of pale, yellowish-green, metallic-looking stone. "See there; by your discoveries you were able to tell me that this piece which you brought home from abroad is pyrites, and—"
"Hold your tongue, you young donkey. I did not bring that stone home from abroad, for I picked it up the other day under the cliff at Ventnor, and you might have known what it was from any book on chemistry or mineralogy.—So you want to travel?"
"Yes, uncle, yes!" cried the boy.
"Very well, then; get plenty of books, and read them in an easy-chair, and then you can follow the footsteps of travellers all round the world without getting shipwrecked, or having your precious soft young body damaged in any way."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" sighed the boy; "it's very miserable not to be able to do as you like."
"No, it isn't, stupid! It's very miserable to be able to do nearly as you like. Nobody can quite, from the Queen down to the dirtiest little boy in the streets. The freest man finds that he has the hardest master to satisfy—himself."
"Oh, I say, uncle!" cried the boy; "don't, don't, please; that doesn't seem like you. It's like being at the rectory. Don't you begin to lecture me."
"Oh, very well, Ned. I've done."
"That's right; and remember you said example was better than precept."
"And so it is, Ned."
"Very well then, uncle!" cried the boy; "I want to follow your example and go abroad."
Johnstone Murray brought his fist down bang upon the table of his study—the table covered with books, minerals, bird-skins, fossils, bones, and the miscellaneous odds and ends which a naturalist delights in collecting round him in his half study, half museum, where as in this case, everything was so sacred that the housemaid dared hardly enter the place, and the result was a cloud of dust which immediately made Ned sneeze violently. Then his uncle sneezed; then Ned sneezed; then they both sneezed together, and again and again.
"Oh, I say, uncle!" cried Ned; and he sneezed once more.
"Er tchishou! Bless the king!—queen I mean," said the naturalist.
"You shouldn't, uncle," cried the boy, now laughing immoderately, as his uncle sneezed and choked, and wiped his eyes.
"It was all your fault, you young nuisance. Dear me, this dust—"
"Ought to be saved for snuff."
"Now, look here, Ned," said Mr Murray at last. "I do not say that some day when you have grown up to be a man, I may not ask you to accompany me on an expedition into some new untried country, such as the part of the Malay Peninsula I am off to visit next."
"How long will it be before you consider I am a man, uncle?"
"Let's see; how old are you now?"
"Sixteen turned, uncle."
"Humph! Well, suppose we say at one and twenty."
"Five years!" cried the boy in despair. "Why, by that time there will not be a place that you have not searched. There will be nothing left to discover, and—" (a sneeze), "there's that dust again."
"You miserable young ignoramus! what are you talking about?" cried the naturalist. "Why, if a man could live to be a hundred, and have a hundred lives, he would not achieve to a hundredth part of what there is to be discovered in this grand—this glorious world."
He stood up with one hand resting on the table, and began to gesticulate with the other.
"Why, my dear boy, before I was your age I had begun to take an active interest in natural history, and for considerably over twenty years now I have been hard at work, with my eyes gradually opening to the wonders on every hand, till I begin now to feel sorrow and delight at how little I know and how much there is yet to learn."
"Yes, uncle; go on," cried the boy, eagerly.
"You said I was not to lecture you."
"But I like it when you talk that way."
"Ah, Ned, Ned! there's no fear of one's getting to the end," said Murray, half sadly; "life is far too short for that, but the life of even the most humble naturalist is an unceasing education. He is always learning—always finding out how beautiful are the works of the Creator. They are endless, Ned, my boy. The grand works of creation are spread out before us, and the thirst for knowledge increases, and the draughts we drink from the great fount of nature are more delicious each time we raise the cup."
Ned's chin was now upon his thumbs, his elbows on the table once more, and his eyes sparkled with intense delight as he gazed on the animated countenance of the man before him; for that face was lit up, the broad forehead looked noble, and his voice was now deep and low, and now rang out loudly, as if he were some great teacher declaiming to his pupil on the subject nearest to his heart. Till it suddenly dawned upon him that, instead of quenching, he was increasing the thirst of the boy gazing excitedly in his eyes, and he stopped short in the lamest way, just as he was rising up to the highest pitch of his eloquence.
"Yes, uncle, yes!" cried Ned. "Go on—go on."
"Eh? No; that's all, my boy; that's all."
"But that isn't all!" cried Ned excitedly, rising now. "That's only the beginning of what I want to learn. I want to road in those books, uncle. I want to drink from that glorious fountain whose draughts are sweeter every time. I want to—I want to—I want to—Oh uncle, oh uncle, go on! do take me with you, there's a dear old chap."
The boy stretched out his hand, which was slowly taken and pressed as Johnstone Murray said in a subdued tone: "God grant that I may be doing rightly for you, Ned. You've beaten me finely with my own weapons, my boy."
"And you'll take me?"
"Yes, Ned, I give in. You shall be my companion now."
Ned sprang on to his chair, then on to the table, and waved his hand above his head. A month later he was on his way in one of the French boats to Singapore, from whence, after making a few final preparations, they went up in a small trading-steamer to the little settlement of Dindong, on the Salan River. Here they made a fortnight's stay to engage a boat and men, and learn a little more of the land they were to explore, and at last the morning came when they parted from the hospitable merchant to whom Murray had had introductions; and the bamboo wharf had faded quite from sight, when Ned Murray again cried excitedly:
"Hurrah! Off at last!"
UP THE RIVER.
It was early morning yet, and the mists hung low, but the torrid sun rapidly dissipated each opalescent gauzy vapour, and before long the sky was of that vivid blue which reflected in the surface of the river changed its muddy hue, and gave it a beauty it really did not possess. Nothing can be more dull and monotonous than the fringe of mangroves which line the tidal waters of river and creek in the tropics, and after sitting watching the dingy foliage and interlacing roots for some time, in the hope of seeing some living creature, Ned Murray began to scan the river in search of something more attractive; but for a time there was the glistening water reaching on and on before them, now fairly straight, now winding and winding, so that at times they were completely shut in by the mangroves, and the Malays appeared to be rowing in a lake.
"Not much of scenery this, Ned," said Murray, after a long silence.
"That's what I was thinking, uncle. But I say, is it going to be all like this?"
"I should hope not. Oh no! these trees only grow where they can feel the sea-water, I believe. As we get higher up, where the river begins to be fresh, we shall see a change."
"But it's all so still. No fish, no birds, and no chance of seeing the animals for those trees."
"Patience, my lad, patience."
"But hadn't we better get out the guns and cartridges, or the fishing-tackle?"
"Nothing to shoot as yet, nothing to catch, I should say; but we'll have out a gun soon. Any fish to be caught here with a line, Hamet?"
The nearest of the Malay boatmen smiled, ceased rowing, and said in fairly good English, but with a peculiar accent: "Few; not many. Shrimps when the water is low."
"Oh! but we can't fish for shrimps without a net," said Ned, contemptuously; "and that's stupid sport. I did fish with a net once down in Devonshire, but I did not want to do it again. Why, I should have thought a river like this would have been full of something."
"Hah!" said the Malay, pointing, and Ned followed the direction indicated by the man's long brown finger.
"Eh? what?" said the boy, staring across the water. "What is it—a bird? where?"
"Don't you see. There, fifty yards away, on the surface of the water?"
"No; I can't see anything. Yes, I can; two brown-looking knobs. What is it? Part of a tree. Oh! gone. I know now; it was a crocodile."
"No doubt about that, Ned, and I daresay we shall see plenty more."
"Hah!" ejaculated the Malay again; and he pointed this time toward the right bank of the river, or rather to the fringe of mangroves on that side.
"Yes, I can see that one plain, just those two knobs. Why doesn't it show more?"
"For the sake of being safe perhaps. There you can see its yes now, just above the surface."
"But the gun, uncle. Let's shoot one."
"Waste of powder and ball, my boy. It is a great chance if we could hit a vulnerable part, and I don't like wounding anything unnecessarily."
"Are there many of those things here?" said Ned, after watching the two prominences just above the water, and vainly trying to make out the reptile's body.
"Many things?" said the man, evidently puzzled.
"Hah! Yes, plenty, many; sahib jump in and swim, crocodile—"
He ceased speaking and finished in pantomime, by raising one hand and rapidly catching the other just at the wrist.
"Snap at me?" said Ned.
"Yes, sahib. Catch, take under water. Eat."
"I say, though, is he stuffing me? Do they really seize people, or is it a traveller's tale?" said Ned, appealing to his uncle; but the Malay, who had been engaged from his knowledge of English to act as interpreter up the river, caught at the boy's words, though he did not quite grasp his meaning.
"No, no, sahib; not stuff you. Crocodile stuff, fill himself much as he can eat."
Then he turned sharply and said a few words to his companions in the Malay tongue, and they replied eagerly in chorus.
"There's no doubt about it, Ned," said his uncle. "They are loathsome beasts, and will drag anything under water that they can get hold of."
"Then we ought to kill it," said Ned excitedly. "Let's shoot it, at once."
"Where is it?"
"That one's gone too," said Ned, with a disappointed air.
"Plenty more chances, my boy; but if you do try your skill with a gun, wait till we see one of the reptiles on the bank."
"But there is no bank."
"Wait a bit, and you'll see sand-banks and mud-banks in plenty. But the appearance of those creatures answers one of your questions. There must be plenty of fish in the river, for that forms their principal food."
Just then their attention was taken up by one of the Malay boatmen drawing in his oar, and then taking out a small bag from which he extracted a piece of broken betel-nut and a half-dried leaf. Then from the same bag he took a small brass box carefully hammered to form a pattern, and upon opening this a thick white paste became visible.
"What's that?" whispered Ned.
"Lime made from coral and mixed into a paste with water."
"But what is he going to do?"
Ned was already watching, and saw the man take a little of the wet lime paste from the box with his finger, and smear it over the leaf. Then the box was put away, and the scrap of nut carefully rolled up in the leaf and placed in the man's mouth, when he went on contentedly chewing as he resumed his oar and pulled steadily on.
"I never saw them get their betel ready to chew before, uncle," whispered Ned. "I say, what leaf is that?"
"Sirih, a little climbing kind of pepper."
"Well," continued Ned with a laugh; "I don't know whether that's a bad habit, but it looks a very nasty one. What savages!"
"They might say the same about our Jacks with their tobacco," said his uncle.—"How would you like to live there?"
He pointed to where, in an opening in the mangroves, a tiny village of a few houses became visible, mere huts, but pretty enough to look at with their highly-pitched, palm-thatched roofs, showing picturesque gables and ornamentally woven sides, the whole raised on bamboo piles, so as to place them six or eight feet above the level of the river. A few cocoa-nut trees grew close at hand, and a couple of good-sized boats were drawn up and tied to posts, while a group of the occupants stood gazing at the passing party.
"No; I don't think I should like to live there," said Ned, as the men rowed on, and the houses with their cluster of palm-like trees gave place once more to the monotonous green of the mangroves. And now the boy altered his tactics. For a time he had scorned the shelter of the thatched roof which covered the afterpart of the roomy boat, and been all life and activity, making the Malays smile at his restlessness, as he passed among them resting his hand first on one, then on another brawny shoulder, to get right forward to the sharply-pointed prow, and sit there looking up the river; while his uncle rearranged some of the packages and impedimenta necessary for their long trip.
"There," he said, as he finished for the time, by hanging two guns in slings from the roof, Ned having returned to sit down, and he began wiping his face. "I think that will do. If we had designed a boat to suit us for our trip, we couldn't have contrived anything better. That is the beauty of travelling in a country where the rivers are the only roads. You require no bearers, and you have no worry about men being dissatisfied with their loads, and then having to set up a tent when the day's journey is over. Here we are with a roof over us in our travelling tent, and all we have to do at night is to tether the boat to the shore, have a fire lit for cooking, and eat, sleep, and rest."
"But you will not always keep to the boat, uncle?"
"No; we shall make a few little expeditions when we can, but, from what I have learned, the country farther north and east is nearly all jungle, with only a few elephant tracks through the forest by way of roads. Here, hadn't you better sit still for a bit out of the sun."
"Yes; coming back directly," was the reply; and, going forward, Ned stood with his hands in his pockets gazing up the river. "I say, uncle," he cried at last; "I'm getting tired of these mangroves. Why, the shore's all alike, and oh, how hot it is!"
The Malays rowed steadily on with their eyes half-closed, paying not the slightest heed to the rays of the sun, which seemed now to be pouring down with a fervour that was terrible. The tide still set up the river, and very little exertion on their part kept a good way on the boat, as they swung to and fro, keeping pretty well together, their eyes half-closed, and their jaws working at the betel-nut each man had in his cheek.
"Here, come into shelter till the heat of the day is past," said Murray.
"All right, uncle."
Ned was standing right up on the prow, intently watching the two prominences over the eyes of one of the crocodiles which was gliding slowly about in the tideway on the look-out for food, when the summons came, and turning sharply, a peculiar sensation of giddiness attacked him. He threw up his hands to his head, and in an instant lost his balance, plunged in head foremost and was gone.
As the water splashed in over the bows, Hamet uttered a shout, the men ceased rowing, and Murray rushed out from beneath the shelter, tearing off his loose linen jacket, and eagerly scanning the water, ready to plunge in as soon as Ned reappeared.
"No, no," cried Hamet, hoarsely; and then, giving a sharp order to his companions, the course of the boat was changed, and he leaned over the side, the men muttering excitedly to each other, for they had seen the eyes of the crocodile sink beneath the water just as the loud splash was made when the boy fell in.
It was a matter of only a few moments before there was a movement in the dark water three or four yards away. The men on the side opposite gave their oars a sudden dip and drag, the boat swung round across the tide, and, reaching over, Hamet caught Ned's wrist, dragged him to the side just as there was a sharp shock against the forward part of the boat, a jerk, and a sensation communicated to the occupants as if they had come into collision with the trunk of a tree, and it was passing under the boat. While, as with Murray's help, Hamet hauled the boy into the boat, there was a tremendous swirl in the water, just where he had been, a great horny tail rose above the surface and struck it with a sharp slapping sound, and disappeared.
"That was close!" exclaimed Murray, as the boat glided on, and the Malays talked rapidly together, Hamet giving his employer a curiously significant look.
At that moment Ned opened his eyes, sat up quickly, and then struggled to his feet.
"Did I go overboard?" he said. "Yes; I remember," he continued quickly. "I felt giddy all at once. Oh! my hat."
This had been forgotten, but there it was floating on the surface only a short distance away, and a few strokes of the oars enabled him to recover it.
"There, get under the roof and change your things," said his uncle. "We'll wring these out, and they'll soon dry in the sun."
"Yes; but who pulled me out?" cried Ned; and on being told, he held out his hand to Hamet, who took it respectfully, and bent over it for a moment.
"Thank you," said Ned; and then, "was it the sun made me turn like that? I say, uncle, it would have been awkward if that old crocodile had caught sight of me."
"This is a bad beginning, Ned," said Murray gravely. "That hideous reptile did see you, and was within an ace of getting hold."
"Ugh!" ejaculated Ned, changing colour.
"No crocodiles much higher up," said Hamet.
"Then the sooner we are higher up the better," muttered Murray as the boat glided on; and Ned was very quiet as he changed his wet things.
"I say, uncle," he said at last, "I'm very sorry. I did mean to be careful, and not do anything to worry you. I couldn't help that, could I?"
"No, it was an accident, and will be a lesson to you to be careful. You see how soon anything goes wrong."
About this time the tide, which had helped them well on their upward journey, began to grow slack, then to pause; and the men rapidly rowed across to the edge of the mangroves, where the boat was made fast in the shade, and Hamet signified that they would rest now for some hours till the tide turned, and the sun was beginning to get low.
Food was produced, but Ned did not want much dinner, and sat with rather a disgusted look upon his countenance, gazing between the leaves at the surface of the river, watching for the muddy-looking prominences above the eyes of the crocodiles; and thinking how he should like to spend the next few days gliding about in a boat, sending bullets into the brains of the treacherous-looking brutes as they slowly swam about in the tidal stream.
The sound of heavy breathing made him turn his head at last to see that the Malays were all fast asleep, and that his uncle had followed their example; and as Ned looked, he could see the great drops of perspiration standing upon his forehead.
Perhaps it was the effect of seeing others asleep—perhaps the heat—at any rate, the result was that a drowsy sensation stole over the boy; and the dark leaves which touched the palm thatching of the roof, the metallic dazzling glare from the surface of the river, and the rippling sound of the water all passed away, as Ned dropped into a dreamless sleep, which lasted till he was touched by his uncle.
"Wake up, Ned. Going on."
"Have I been asleep?"
"Look for yourself."
The Malays were forcing the boat out into the stream once more, which, instead of glancing like molten silver with a glare which was painful to the eyes, now seemed to be of a deep glowing orange, the reflection of the wondrous sky rapidly changing in its refulgent hues from gold to orange, to a deep-red and purple, as the sun sank rapidly behind the great dark belt of trees on their left.
"The tide is just upon the turn again. Can't you feel that it is much cooler?"
"No, not yet," replied Ned. "I turned hot when we first got to Singapore, and I've never been cool since."
"Not when you plunged into the river?"
Ned gave him a sharp look.
"I don't remember anything about that," he replied; "but I say, uncle, you might let me have a shot at one of the crocs now."
Murray laughed, but made no reply, and they sat in silence watching the wonderful sunset, as the men, well refreshed, sent the boat along at a pretty good rate, the tide soon afterwards lending its help. This was kept on till long after dark, and the crew did not cease rowing till they came abreast of another tiny village. Here they fastened the boat to a post in company with a couple more, after exchanging a few words with some dusky-looking figures on the strip of shore, beyond which a group of huts could be just made out, backed by trees, which looked of an intense black, while above them was the purple sky spangled with stars which seemed double the size of those at home.
This time Ned was quite ready for his share of the evening meal, which was eaten in silence as the travellers sat watching a patch of bushes which grew where the mangroves ceased.
"Why, it's just like a little display of fireworks," Ned whispered. "As if the people there were letting them off because we had come."
"Yes; it is very beautiful. Look! they seem to flash out like the sparks in a wood fire, when the wind suddenly blows over it, and then go out again."
"Yes," said Ned thoughtfully; "our glow-worms that we used to find and bring back to put in the garden were nothing to them. Look at that!"
He pointed to where a bright streak of light glided through the darkness for a few yards, and then stopped suddenly, when all around it there was a fresh flashing out of the lights.
"Why, uncle!" cried Ned, "if we caught a lot of those and hung them up in a glass globe, we shouldn't want this lamp."
"I don't know how the experiment would answer, Ned," was the reply. "But it would be awkward to go plashing about in the mud and water to catch the fireflies, and we have no glass globe, while we have a lamp."
The coruscations of the fireflies seemed to fascinate Ned so much that he became quite silent at last, while the Malays sat huddled together chewing their betel, and talking in a low subdued tone. Then Murray struck a match to light his pipe, and the flash showed Ned's intent face.
"What's the matter, boy?"
"I was trying to puzzle it out, uncle."
"Oh, there are three things," said Ned, as the half-burned match described a curve and fell into the water to be extinguished with a hiss, looking as it flew something like one of the fireflies ashore, but of a ruddier tint.
"Well, philosopher," said Murray, leaning over against the side of the boat, "let's have some of your thoughts."
"You'll laugh at me."
"No. Honour bright."
"Well, uncle, first of all, I was wondering why those lights in the fireflies don't burn them."
"Easily answered, Ned; because they are not hot."
"But they seem to be burning like the flame in a lamp, only of course very small."
"Seem, Ned, but they are not burning. It's light without heat, the same as you see on decaying fish; and as we shall find in some of the great mushrooms in the jungle. It is one of the puzzles scientific men have not quite settled yet. We have it, you see, in our own glow-worms. I have often seen it in a kind of centipede at home, which to me seems to be covered with a kind of luminous oil, some of which it leaves behind it on a gravel path or the trunk of a tree."
"Yes; I've seen that," said Ned thoughtfully.
"Then, again, you have it on the sea-shore, where in calm, hot weather the luminosity looks like pale golden-green oil, so thick that you can skim it from a harbour."
"But what can it all be for?"
"Ah, there you pose me, Ned. What is everything for? What are we for?"
"To go up the river, and make all sorts of discoveries."
"A good answer. Then let's roll ourselves in our blankets and go to sleep. Hamet says that we shall start again before it is light, and they are going to sleep now."
"All right. Shall I make the beds?"
Murray laughed, for the bed-making consisted in taking two blankets out of a box, and then they rolled themselves up, the lamp was turned down, and, save for a few moments' rustling sound caused by Ned fidgeting into a fresh place, all was silent, the faint whisper of the water gliding by the side of the boat hardly warranting the term sound.
"Asleep, Ned?" came after a pause.
"I was thinking how horrid it would be if those people came stealing on board with their krises, and killed us all."
"Then don't think any more such absurd rubbish, and go to sleep."
"The people out there have just as much cause to fear that we should turn pirates, and go and attack them."
There was another pause, and then a fresh repetition of the questioning, and this time Ned had been thinking how easy it would be for Hamet and his companions to stab and drop them overboard.
"Get out, you horrible young imaginer of evil. If they did that they would not be paid for their journey."
"No, uncle, but they'd get the guns and all our things."
"Ned, I'm beginning to think I ought to have left you at home," said Mr Murray quietly.
"Oh, I say uncle, I couldn't help tumbling overboard."
"No, sir, but you can help putting all kinds of bloodthirsty ideas in my head. Now go to sleep."
"Well, uncle, if you'll promise not to believe you ought to have left me at home, I will not think anything like that again."
"Very well, sir. It's a bargain."
There was a long silence, and then, ping—ing—ing—ing, came a sharp, piercing trumpeting.
"Here he is, Ned."
"The fellow who wants to have our blood."
"Shall I get the guns, uncle?" whispered Ned, in awe-stricken tones.
"Bah! Nonsense! Whoever shot at a mosquito?"
"Mosquito! Oh, I say, what a shame to scare me like that."
The insect came, filled himself full, and flew off replete; but somehow sleep would not come to either Ned or his uncle, and they were lying hot and weary longing for the repose, when they both started up, for from somewhere in the forest beyond the cottages came a deep-toned sound which can only be rendered by the word pow!
"What's that, uncle?"
"Hist! talk in a whisper. It may be some kind of ape on the prowl; but I'm afraid—"
"So am I, uncle, horribly."
"Be quiet, sir, and let me finish what I have to say," cried Murray angrily. "I was going to say I'm afraid it's a tiger."
"Oh, I say, do get down the guns," whispered Ned. "A tiger? And loose?"
"Loose? Why, you young donkey, do you think this is the zoological gardens, and the tiger's cage has been left open?"
"I don't know, I'm sure; only it seems very risky to be here like this, and not even able to shut the door. No—no—no—no, uncle," continued Ned hastily; "you promised you would not think that you ought to have left me at home."
At that moment the cry came again louder and nearer, but modified so that there could be no doubt about the animal that had given vent to the sound.
The knowledge that a tiger was prowling about somewhere near was enough to make Murray rise softly, and reach down one of the guns from the slings, and slip a couple of ball-cartridges into the barrels, and thus prepared he sat waiting, both having the consolation of knowing that if the animal attacked them, it could only be by taking to the water first and swimming to the boat.
The sound came again, exactly, as Ned said afterwards when he felt quite safe, like the cry of a magnified tom-cat.
But a couple of hours passed away without further alarm, and somewhere about that time Murray gave a start, for he had been fast asleep.
"Ned," he whispered.
A heavy breathing was his answer, and the next minute he too was fast asleep only to be awakened by the warm sun at last, and to find from Hamet that the boat had been cast off, and they had been rowing steadily up the river from the earliest dawn of day.
"Ned," said Murray. "Ned."
There was no answer, and he caught hold of the boy.
"Hi, uncle! quick! the gun! It's got hold of my arm."
"Oh, it's you," said Ned, with a sigh of relief. "I dreamed something seized me, and I didn't know whether it was a tiger or a croc."
GUESTS OR PRISONERS?
Five more days were passed ascending the river, which by degrees began to display banks that were park-like and densely packed with forest trees. The dismal mangroves had disappeared, and in their place graceful palms shot up and spread their feathered plumes; bamboos rose in clumps like gigantic grasses, and canes swung from branch to branch, and festooned specimens of timber which was often one blaze of colour, and whose petals sprinkled the now bright clear water.
A tiny village was passed at intervals, and from time to time some boat floated by them deeply laden with rice or tea. At night the boat was moored to some tree trunk. The men went ashore, and collected wood and lit a fire for cooking purposes, and then all returned to sleep on board before starting early in the cool misty morning, so as to have some hours' rest in the middle of the day, before the journey was resumed in the evening.
It was a calm and peaceful, even if it were a monotonous little voyage, for, in spite of some object worthy of a naturalist's attention being pointed out, Murray preferred to wait till he was farther on his way before commencing his collecting; and white-plumaged falcon and beautiful long-tailed kingfishers were allowed to fly by unmolested.
"Wait a bit, Ned," he said, "and you shall have your hands full."
The river was now beautiful. It was a broad clear stream, with mountains visible away to the east, wherever an opening occurred in the woods, and it seemed a wonder that so lovely a country should show so seldom that it was inhabited.
At the villages they passed, the people looked peaceful, quiet, and inoffensive, although every man carried a deadly-looking kris in its wooden sheath, thrust in the twisted-up band of the scarf-like silk or cotton sarong, which was wrapped round the middle in the form of a kilt, and with the exception of something worn in the shape of a hat to keep off the sun's piercing rays, this was the only garment many of the people displayed.
They brought fruit when asked, every house having its cluster of fruit-trees about it. In some cases there were cocoa-nuts, but more frequently bananas of two or three kinds, which they parted with for a mere trifle, these forming an admirable addition to the supply of food.
Hamet generally went to market, and came back smiling often enough with a large bunch of the finger-shaped fruit, a bag of rice, and when he was most fortunate in his foraging, a couple of skinny-looking chickens and some eggs.
"Getting tired, Ned?" said Murray, one glorious morning as the men were steadily rowing on, keeping close up to the trees on their right, for the sake of the shade and the slower motion of the stream.
"No, not tired," replied the boy. "It's all too beautiful for one to get tired, but I do feel as if I should like to be doing something. I keep seeing birds I want to shoot, and flowers I should like to pick."
"Then here's news for you, boy. I reckon that we are now well up into the region I wanted to explore, and to-morrow work shall begin in real earnest."
Ned's eyes sparkled. "Begin shooting?"
"Yes, and collecting botanical specimens. There will be no need now to toil up a certain distance every day, and we shall stop at every likely-looking collecting ground to go ashore, and certainly explore every side stream or creek."
"And fish? Hamet says it would be capital if I could catch enough fish for a dinner now and then; and I want to bathe."
"Of course, and you shall try; but there are crocodiles. I have seen two within the past hour, one swimming, and the other lying on a sandbank."
"Why, I saw that," cried Ned; "but it was so still that I concluded it was all fancy, it lay so close, and looked so like the sand and mud. Well, I may fish if I can't bathe, and—well, that does seem curious just as I said that. Look, there are two of the black fellows at it."
"A dark brown and a light brown to be more correct," said Murray, as he looked at a boat some fifty yards ahead of them, where it had just shot round a bend of the smooth stream, with a Malay boy paddling; while another in bright sarong and gay-looking baju or jacket, and a natty little military-looking cap on one side of his head, leaned back trailing a line for some kind of fish.
"I say, you sir," cried Ned loudly, as he noted that the brown-looking boy was about his own age, and that he was watching the newcomers eagerly, "what's the Malay for what you are catching, and how many have you caught?"
For answer the boy gave his line a snatch in, and let it go again, showing his teeth, and laughing heartily.
"Well, you might be civil," said Ned flushing. "I say, Hamet, ask him how many he has caught."
The boatman asked the required question, and received an answer in the Malay tongue.
"He says he has only just begun."
"Well, ask him what sort of fish he catches."
But before the question could be asked, the boy shouted something.
"He says, sahib, are you fond of fishing?"
"Yes, of course," shouted Ned, forgetful of the apparent need of an interpreter.
By this time, the boats had passed each other and the distance was increasing, when there came in good plain English: "I say, where are you going?"
"Up the river," cried Ned in astonishment. "Know any more English? Where do you live? How far is it away from here, and what's your name?"
The boy in the boat threw out his line again, and burst into a shout of laughter, greatly to Ned's annoyance, for it sounded derisive; but there was no opportunity for further attempts at communication, for their boat swept round the bend, and it was plain enough whence the fishers had come, for, beautifully situated in a lake-like curve of the stream, they could see quite a pretentious-looking village with what was evidently a mosque, and just beyond it, a strong-looking stockade. The houses were of exactly the same type as those they had before passed, but in addition there were several of considerable size, whose sides were woven in striking patterns, while dense groves of cocoa, betel, and nipah palms added to the beauty of the scene.
Along the shore a dozen or two of boats were drawn up, while floating alone and doubled in the mirror-like water was a large prahu on whose deck several men were lolling about. Just then a naga or dragon, boat came swiftly from behind it, propelled by a dozen men in yellow jackets and scarlet caps, and three or four showily-costumed Malays could be seen seated and standing in the shade of the awning, which, like that of their own boat, was of palm-leaves or attap, but far more neatly-made.
"What place is this, Hamet?"
"Don't know, sir," he said. "Never been so far. It must be Campong Bukit, and that is one of the rajah's boats."
"Rajah of Dah. Great prince."
"Ah, well, we may as well stop and land, and I daresay we can buy some fresh fruit and chickens and rice. What's that?"
"Ibrahim says don't stop—not good place," replied Hamet, for one of the men had whispered to him.
"Oh, but Mr Wilson said this was an important village, and that there were English people here."
The question of stopping or not was soon decided, for by a dexterous turn the dragon boat was swept across them, their way stopped, and one of the Malays beneath the awning shouted something imperiously to the men.
Hamet replied in Malay, while Murray strained his ears to try to pick up the meaning of some of the words, without success, and then turned impatiently to Hamet.
"What do they want?" he said.
"To know who you are, sir, and where you are going."
"Tell him to mind his own business," said Murray, sharply, and to Ned's great delight. "No; it would be uncivil. Tell him I am an English gentleman travelling for my pleasure, and that we are going to land to look at the place and buy provisions."
This was duly interpreted, a fresh answer made, and permission given, the naga being kept close alongside as they all rowed for what proved to be quite a respectable landing-place, that is to say, a roughly-made jetty formed by driving bamboos into the sand and mud.
"Ask him if there are not some English people here," said Murray to Hamet.
"No, uncle, don't. Look there, in front of those trees, there's an Englishman with a white umbrella, and a lady with a parasol. Oh, I say, what a shame; she's using an opera-glass—and you said we were coming up into quite a savage place."
"So I did, Ned," said his uncle, rubbing his ear; "but I can't help it. Civilisation crops up everywhere now, and they say you can't get away from cotton prints and Staffordshire pottery without running up against Sheffield knives."
"But it is so disappointing. I say, look, and there's another lady, and they're going on to that jetty to see us come in. There'll be a steamboat call next, and I daresay there's a railway station somewhere among the trees."
"Never mind, Ned," said Murray, with a comical look of chagrin in his countenance. "We'll only buy what we can and be off again directly. I certainly didn't expect this. Why, there's another Englishman," he said, more loudly than he had intended, for they were close up to the jetty now, and the man of whom he had spoken, a red-faced youngish fellow in flannel shirt and trousers and a straw hat, said loudly:
"Not a bad shot, sor. Make it Oirish, and ye'll be right."
"I beg your pardon," cried Murray, hastily raising his hat, and the salute was returned. "What place is this?"
"Dirthy Bucket, sor. Campong Bukit they call it. Are ye from home lately?"
"From England? Yes."
All this was said as the boat glided along by the bamboo posts, and Murray added hastily: "Perhaps you would not mind helping us. We want to buy some provisions—something to eat."
"Buy something to ate?" said the man, smiling. "Whisht, here's the masther and the ladies.—Here's an English gentleman, sor."
There was rather an angry buzzing here from the dragon boat, as the gentleman with the white umbrella came on to the jetty, the two ladies with him remaining behind, while quite a little crowd of Malays began to collect on the river-bank.
"English gentleman?" said the newcomer. "Glad to see you, sir. From Singapore, I presume!"
"Not just lately; we have been staying at Dindong. We were on our way up the river, and this place seemed a likely one to lay in a store of fresh provisions. Am I right?"
"Perfectly. Come ashore, my dear sir. Your son?"
"Nephew," replied Murray, and Ned bowed stiffly.
"Just as welcome in this savage place. This way; my bungalow is a very little way off."
"But my boat, guns, and the like?"
"Be safe? Tim, jump in and take charge, while the gentlemen come up to tiffin."
"But, sor, there'll be nobody to—"
"Oh, never mind; we'll manage. My factotum, butler, footman, groom, everything," continued the stranger. "Did those fellows bring you in?"
"Not exactly. They showed us the way."
"Hem!" said the stranger, with a dry cough; and he put up his white umbrella again. "Mind the sun?"
"Oh, no; we are getting a bit acclimatised."
"You're lucky then; I'm not. My dears, gentlemen from home. Mr— Mr—?"
"Mr Murray. My wife and daughter. Oh, by the way, forgot to introduce myself: Barnes, Doctor Barnes, resident physician to His Highness the Rajah of Dah, in whose capital you stand. My dear, Mr Murray and his nephew have kindly consented to take tiffin with us."
"You are very kind," said Murray, hesitating.
"No apologies are necessary," said the elder of the two ladies, rather a yellow, quick-spoken body; and she made as if to take the newcomer's arm. "We are only too glad to see a fresh face—a white one, are we not, Amy?"
"Indeed we are, mamma," said the bright-looking girl addressed, and in a half-amused way, she took Ned's arm as her father went on in front.
"I little thought of seeing English visitors," she continued. "Shall I be impertinent if I ask why you have come so far?"
"Oh no!" said Ned rather brusquely, for he resented the questioning. "Uncle and I have come up on a sporting and natural history trip. We are going on directly."
"Indeed! Then the rajah has given you leave?"
"What rajah? The man here?"
"Yes," said the girl, smiling.
"Oh no! We did not know it was necessary. Uncle will ask him then, I suppose. Does he call it his property?"
The girl looked round at him in surprise,—
"Oh yes; he is the rajah or prince of the country."
"Yes; but I thought all this belonged to the Queen."
"Well, I suppose it does, but our prince here thinks he is as important a person as the queen of England, and does exactly as he likes."
"You must recollect that we are a very very long way from Singapore here, and, excepting what he has been told of England and her power, the rajah knows very little about our country, and laughs at my father as if he were telling him romances when he talks of our army and ships of war."
"He must be awfully conceited, then."
"He is," said the girl laughing. "I believe he thinks he is the greatest monarch upon earth."
"Then you are the only English people here?"
"Oh no. We have Mr and Mrs Braine and their son, and Mr and Mrs Greig."
"Who are they?"
"Mr Braine is a gentleman papa recommended to the rajah. He wanted some one to advise him and help him to introduce English customs, and to drill his army. Mr Greig is a merchant who lives here to purchase the produce of the country to send down to Singapore. You will see them, I daresay, for they are sure to come in as soon as they know that you are here."
"It all seems very funny. I thought we were coming into quite a wild place where there were elephants and tigers, and great snakes and birds that we could collect."
"Well, it could not be much more wild," said the girl, smiling. "Directly you get past our house the dense jungle begins. We are completely shut in by it, except in the front here by the river. Wild? You will hear the tigers as soon as it is dark."
"But I shall not be here," said Ned, laughing.
"I think you will," said the girl, looking at him curiously.
"Oh no; my uncle has quite made up his mind about what he intends to do, and nothing can change him."
"Indeed! We shall see. Here we are."
They had been passing through the place with its houses dotted about in the most irregular fashion, just as the builders had felt disposed to plant them, and now came upon an attractive-looking bungalow similar in character to the others, and like them raised on bamboo piles seven or eight feet from the ground, but with numberless little additions such as would be made by an Englishman. Notably a high rustic fence enclosing a large garden planted liberally with tropic shrubs and flowers, and a broad flight of steps leading up to a great open verandah which ran nearly along the whole of the front, and over which the attap roof was brought to rest on clusters of bamboo formed into pillars, up which ran and twined in profuse growth passion-flowers and other creepers.
"What a delightful place!" cried Ned. "Why, it's quite a treat to see a good garden. Look at the fruit!"
"Mamma is very proud of the garden, and—"
"Come along, squire," said the doctor, from the head of the steps. "Welcome to the Fernery."
Murray was already seated at a well-spread table, upon which a couple of Malayan women, in neat cotton sarongs woven into an attractive plaid, were placing plates and dishes, and they greeted the newcomers with a look of surprise and a smile.
"There, gentlemen," said the doctor, "you could not have arrived at a more opportune time, but you must excuse all shortcomings. We keep up old English customs as well as we can, and can give you coffee and eggs. No fried bacon, squire," he added laughingly to Ned. "You are where our genial useful old friend the pig is an abomination. Why, it's five years since I've tasted a sausage, or a bit of ham. But we can give you a curry of which I am proud. Eh, my dear?"
"Mr Murray will let a hearty English welcome make up for anything lacking," said the doctor's lady. "He knows that we are in the wilderness."
"A wilderness with bamboo chairs, a table, a clean cloth, glass, plate, napkins, and flowers and fruit," cried Murray. "Why, my dear madam, you forget that we have been picnicking in a boat. There, don't spoil your welcome by apologies!"
Then there was a busy interval during which the greatest justice was done to an excellent meal, and Ned was initiated into the mystery of sambals—tiny saucers of pickle-like and preserve preparations, popular amongst the Malays as appetisers, but quite needless in Ned's case, for he was perfectly independent of anything of the kind, and after his curry and coffee, now the first chill of strangeness had passed, paid plenty of attention to the fruit pressed upon him by the doctor's daughter. Now it was a deliciously-flavoured choice banana with a deep orange skin, now a mangosteen, and then a portion of a great durian, a scrap or two of which he ate with some reluctance.
"Hallo!" said the doctor after a glance at his daughter, "you are not getting on with your durian, sir. Pray take some more; it is our king among fruits."
"I—I am afraid it is not a good one," stammered Ned, looking rather red.
"Eh? not a good one?" cried the doctor, tasting a piece. "Delicious, just in perfect condition. Ah, you have to acquire that taste. Now then, the ladies will excuse us, and we'll have a cigar here in the shade."
He clapped his hands, and one of the Malay women brought a box of manillas.
"No, I don't think I'll smoke," said Murray. "You will not think me rude, but if you will excuse us, and put us in the way of getting what we want, I should be grateful."
"My dear sir," said the doctor, "you must see our other English residents. They are only waiting to give us time to finish our meal, and really you cannot go as yet."
"Indeed!" said Murray, smiling, and noticing that the ladies both looked serious.
"Well, you see," said the doctor rather confusedly—"do pray light a cigar, I'll set you an example—you see there is the rajah."
Ned looked up sharply at the doctor, and then darted a look of intelligence at his daughter.
"What about him?" said Murray abruptly.
"Well, you see," said the doctor, hesitatingly, "he might think—but you are going shooting and collecting, you say?"
"Well, you ought to ask his permission."
"What!" said Murray, laughing. "My dear sir, you talk as if this were a gentleman's estate, and he kept gamekeepers."
"Well, yes," said the doctor, smiling; "it is so on a large scale."
"How far does it extend? We will not begin shooting till we are quite beyond his patch."
"How far?" said the doctor thoughtfully. "Ah, that is a difficult question to answer. It was hard to say before the late encounters with the Rajah of Padang; now the territory is more than doubled. I think you had better send in a request. Ah, here is Braine!"
"And Mrs Braine and Mr Greig," added the doctor's lady, rising from her chair.
This ended the conversation, just when Ned saw that his uncle was growing annoyed at the doctor's opposition to his plans, and he glanced round to see that his neighbour was looking at him intently.
"I thought you would not be able to go away to-day," she whispered, as she rose and went with her mother to meet the visitors at the foot of the steps, the doctor having made an apology and gone too.
"What did that young lady say to you, Ned?" said his uncle in a low tone.
"She thought there would be some difficulty in our going on to-day."
"Oh, nonsense! These people lead an idle life, and they want every one they see to stop and play with them. I don't want to be rude, but we are not going to dawdle about here; and as for this petty chief—all rubbish!"
At that moment a tall stern-looking man, in loose white clothes and a pith helmet, came up the steps. His face was darkened almost to the tint of a Malay's, and he had a quick anxious look in his eyes, which, with his rather hollow cheeks, gave him the aspect of one who had lately been ill. He advanced with open hand.
"Glad to meet you, Mr Murray," he said. "It is a pleasure to see a countryman."
"That speech will do for me too," said a rather harsh voice, and a keen-looking gentleman of about fifty, with his face deeply lined and a quick expression and manner which at once stamped him as shrewd, now shook hands warmly with the new arrivals, while directly after a subdued, handsome-looking woman was led up by the doctor's lady.
"Let me introduce you two," said the hostess. "Mrs Braine is an ardent botanist, Mr Murray, and I'm sure that you will enjoy a chat together. She knows all our flowering plants here by heart."
"I am very pleased to meet Mr Murray," said the newcomer in a sweet sad voice. "I hope he will let me be his guide to some of the nooks on the river-bank, where the jungle can be penetrated."
"I should only be too glad, my dear madam," said Murray; "and I can find no words to express my thanks—our thanks, I should say—for your cordial reception here of a perfect stranger; but my nephew and I have only put in to buy a bag of rice and some fruit to replenish our stores, and we are going on directly."
Murray ceased speaking, and looked sharply from one to the other, for he had seen Mr Braine raise his eyebrows and glance at the doctor and the shrewd keen-looking man. The doctor laughed, and took up the cigar box.
"Have a smoke, Braine?" he said.
"Thanks," was the reply; and the newcomer took a cheroot in the midst of a rather constrained silence.
"I hope I have not said anything wrong," continued Murray, who felt piqued at the manners of those about him, for the ladies began talking together in a subdued tone.
"Oh dear me, no!" said Mr Braine hastily. "You are shooting and collecting, I think?"
"We have not begun yet," replied Murray, quickly; "but that is why we have come."
There was another pause.
"I am afraid you will give me the credit of being somewhat of a bear," continued Murray, "and really, Doctor Barnes, I am most grateful to you and your charming wife and daughter for your hospitality."
"Oh, pray, say no more," said Mrs Barnes. "You confer a favour on us by coming, though you have given us no English news as yet."
"And I am afraid, my dear madam, that I shall have time to give you very little. At the risk of being considered rude, I must ask you to excuse us now."
The doctor frowned and looked at Mr Braine, who glanced in turn at the shrewd elderly man, and he immediately searched for a silver snuff-box, and then spent a great deal of time over taking a pinch.
"Really, gentlemen," said Murray, quickly, "all this is very strange. I can hardly think you credit me with rudeness in being hurried."
"Oh no, Mr Murray, not at all," said the doctor's lady.—"Mr Braine, why do you not explain?"
"Well, really," said that gentleman, "I thought an explanation should come from you as the host and hostess, but I will do my best.—The fact is, Mr Murray, this country is something like the west coast of Scotland in the old days, when every chief had his stronghold."
"Oh yes, I have noted that," said Murray, smiling; "and I see that they have both the plaid and dirk, though you call them sarong and kris."
"Exactly. Well, my dear sir, the chief, rajah, prince, or whatever you like to call him, is omnipotent here."
"Not always, Mr Braine," said the doctor's lady, merrily. "I think my husband rules over the rajah."
"Only when he is ill, my dear, and he is the most refractory patient I ever had."
"And you see there is a certain etiquette to be observed here," continued Mr Braine. "We would do everything we could to help you to procure your provisions, and say God speed to your journey, but we are helpless."
"Indeed!" said Murray, flushing. "You mean that as we have come we must ask the rajah's permission to go: I shall do nothing of the kind. Gentlemen, we will start at once."
Mr Braine made a deprecatory sign,—
"Excuse me," he said. "You speak like one of us—like an Englishman, but my good sir, this is not England, and we are beyond the range of the law courts and the police. I say this is not England, nor is it Singapore. We are not many hundred miles from where the English rule is well in force, but here, to all intents and purposes, we are completely in the power of a barbarous chief."
"But this is absurd!" cried Murray; "surely the Governor of the Straits Settlements would crush out any piece of oppression directly, or any outrage on a British subject."
Mr Braine smiled.
"The British lion is very strong, sir," he said; "but he is well fed and drowsy. He knows that he has only to lift his paw, or perhaps only to lash his tail, to get rid of troublesome animals or stinging insects, but it is very hard to get him to do this. No doubt if Rajah Sadi were to behave very badly, the war-steamer on the station here would come up the river as far as she could, and then send an expedition in boats with plenty of jacks and marines, and perhaps a few soldiers, but not until there had been a great deal of red-tape unwound, declarations sent to and from London, and perhaps a year would have passed before the help came. Then the rajah would be punished, if they could catch him, and his stockade and village be burned. But most probably he would know from his people when the expedition was coming, and mount his elephants with his court, and go right away into the jungle, after sending his prahus and other boats up one of the side-streams where they could hide. Then the expedition would return and so would the rajah; the bamboo houses would be rebuilt, and matters go on just as before."
"You are making out a very bad case, sir," said Murray, biting his lip to keep down his annoyance, "but I shall not hesitate as to my plans."
"You mean that you will go on at once?"
"Certainly," said Murray; "and let them try to stop us if they dare."
"Humph!" said Mr Braine, raising his brows a little. "You doubt then the likelihood of the rajah's people interfering with you?"
"Excuse me for seeming rude to you in my incredulity, but I do doubt this."
Mr Braine smiled again.
"I presume," he said, "that when your boat came up you were boarded by the rajah's naga."
"And you saw that she had a well-armed crew?"
"I noticed that the men all wore their krises, and that spears were hanging in slings from the covered-in part."
"Exactly. That boat boards every vessel that goes up or down the river, and all pay tax or toll to the lord of this district, and have to await his permission before they can stir."
"Then," said Murray, sharply, "you consider that we are prisoners?"
"No; I do not go so far as that, but you are in the realm of a petty independent prince, who is something of a despot, and for your own sake you must submit to the customs of the country."
"But this is ridiculous!" cried Murray, angrily. "Ladies, forgive me for being so abrupt, but people from the old country resent coercion in every form. I'll be as polite to your rajah as a gentleman should be, but I am not going to have my plans upset by a savage. Ned, my lad, we'll see if they dare interfere with us."
"I beg you will do nothing rashly," said Mr Braine, for Murray took a step toward the ladies, and held out his hand smilingly.
"Good-bye," he said frankly. "I am going some distance up the river, but I hope you will let me make your acquaintance again on our return."
"You are not gone yet, Mr Murray," said the doctor, shortly; "and I advise you, sir, to practise prudence for both your sakes. As I expected, here are the rajah's people; I thought that they would not be long."
BEFORE THE RAJAH.
At the same moment that the doctor was speaking, Ned had caught sight of something glittering in the sun above the green shrubs that bordered the bamboo fence, and directly after that there was quite a blaze of yellow and scarlet colour as a party of Malays reached the gate and entered the grounds, a little group of swarthy-looking spearmen halting in the path, while two stately-looking men, with handkerchiefs tied turban fashion about their heads, came slowly up to the steps. The doctor descended to meet them, and then ushered them into the verandah where they saluted the ladies courteously, and then bowed gravely to the strangers, to whom they were introduced as two of the chief officers of the rajah in the most formal way; after which, as a brief conversation took place in the Malay tongue, and gave Ned the opportunity to examine their silken jackets and gay kilt-like sarongs in which were stuck their krises with the handles covered by the twisted folds, the doctor turned to Murray.
"These gentlemen," he said, "have been sent by his highness the rajah to ask why you have come here, and to desire your presence before him."
"Tell them," said Murray, "that I am sorry I cannot speak their tongue; and that as I am going on at once, I beg the rajah will excuse me from waiting upon him."
"My dear sir," whispered Mr Braine; but Murray flushed a little, and went on:
"Tell the rajah, please, that I am an English gentleman, a subject of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, travelling with my nephew to collect objects of natural history, and that I shall be obliged if he will give me a safe conduct to pass through his country unmolested by his people."
An answer to this was made at once by the elder and more grave-looking of the two Malays, showing that, though he spoke in his own language to the doctor, he had comprehended every word that had been said.
The doctor listened, and then interpreted again to Murray.
"The Tumongong desires me to say that he is sure his highness will be glad to further your wishes, but that he dare not go back and deliver such a message. You will excuse me for saying so, Mr Murray, but you must obey, and at once."
"And suppose I refuse, sir?" said Murray, warmly. "British gentlemen are not accustomed to be told that they must."
"No," said the doctor, smiling, "and do not like it; but there are times when Englishmen and Scotchmen find that they must submit to circumstances—eh, Braine?—eh, Greig?"
"Oh yes," said the merchant, taking out his snuff-box, opening it, and offering it to each of the Malay gentlemen, who bowed gravely, and took a pinch.
"It is not pleasant, I know, sir," said Mr Braine quietly; "but may I, as a fellow-countryman, offer you a little advice?"
"Then pray go, sir. And, excuse me for saying, it would be uncourteous not to obey the summons. Vous parlez Francais?" he added quietly.
"Croyez moi: il faut."
Ned noticed a slight twitching of the Tumongong's facial muscles, and an intent look in his eyes, as if he were trying to understand the last words, which puzzled him.
"I am at his highness's service," said Murray, abruptly. "Come Ned, you may as well come too."
The chief officer smiled gravely, and placed himself beside Murray, his companion following his example, and walking up to Ned. Then they both bowed politely to the ladies, and signed to the visitors to go toward the steps.
"You are coming, then?" said Murray, as he saw Mr Braine step forward.
"I? Oh yes. You will want an interpreter," said the gentleman addressed.
"Excuse me a moment," said Murray, addressing the Malay chief.—"Ladies, I'll say good-bye once more, and thank you heartily for your kindness to us."
"You can do that later on," said the doctor, quietly. "If you do go to-day, of course we shall come and see you off."
"To be sure. Thank you," said Murray smiling.—"Now, gentlemen, I am at your service. I see that you speak English."
"Understand? yes," said the chief officer; "speak? no."
By this time they were in the garden, the group of swarthy spearmen standing back in line with military precision, and holding their weapons at the salute as the party passed them, and then falling in behind to march after them in a way which showed that they had been carefully drilled.
"Come, Ned," said Murray, as they passed out of the gate, "don't look so serious, lad; they are not leading us out to execution."
"Did I look serious, uncle?" said the boy merrily. "I was not thinking that, but of our clothes."
"Eh, what about them, lad?"
"That they look very rough and shabby beside these grand dresses. We hardly seem lit to go to court."
"Not our fault, boy. It is a special invitation," replied Murray merrily.—"We must study up the Malay language so as to be independent, Mr Braine."
"I should advise you to master it as soon as you can," said that gentleman, who was now walking beside them as they threaded their way in and out among the houses, where every now and then they could catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes watching them, though the people they passed took not the slightest notice of them, or just glanced, turned their betel-nut in their mouths, and went on chewing it with their eyes half-closed, as if the coming of strangers was not of the slightest importance to them.
"Is it far to the palace?" asked Murray, giving Ned a quaint look.
"Just beyond those houses, and amongst the group of trees you can see over their roofs," said Mr Braine; and he then turned and spoke to the officers, who replied to him in Malay.
"His highness is waiting to give you audience," he continued. "Mr Murray, I do not like to force advice upon a stranger, but I should like to say, for your own sake and that of your young friend, try to accept the position in which you find yourself, however hard it may be. And," he added in a whisper, looking sharply at Ned, "whatever you see, do not laugh. Eastern gentlemen are extremely sensitive to ridicule."
"I shall not laugh," said Ned quietly; and then he began thinking about the punctilious ways of his companions till they had passed the last houses, entered a patch of forest, and from that came suddenly upon a clearing where a spacious bamboo house stood half hidden by a clump of umbrageous trees, beneath one of which was drawn up a group which at the first glance made the boy wonder whether he was gazing at a scene in real life, or some imaginary picture from an eastern tale.
The first figure upon which Ned's eyes rested was seated in the centre of the group, on a quaintly made stool, and his gorgeous dress immediately suggested that this must be the great man himself whom they had come to see. For he was evidently got up expressly for the occasion, with his courtiers carefully arranged about him, some standing behind and on either side, but for the most part squatted down on the sandy ground in the position affected by eastern people, though here and there one could be seen right down cross-legged a la turque.
The rajah was the only one in European costume, and at the first glance at the man, with his heavy fat sensual-looking face and lurid eyes, Ned recalled his companion's words: "Whatever you see, do not laugh."
He felt at once the value of the advice, as his eye ran over the chief's costume, for he was gorgeously arrayed in a military tunic and trousers undoubtedly made in London to order, the tailor having had instructions to prepare for his highness a dress that would be striking and impressive, and from this point of view he had done his work well. The trousers were blue with gold stripes, of the most elaborate floral pattern, such as decorate levee uniforms; and, after the fashion of our most gaily-dressed hussars of fifty years ago, there were wonderful specimens of embroidery part of the way down the front of the thigh. But the tunic was the dazzling part of the show, for it was of the regular military scarlet, and was neither that of field-marshal, dragoon, nor hussar, but a combination of all three, frogged, roped, and embroidered in gold, and furnished with a magnificent pair of twisted epaulets. Across the breast was a gorgeous belt, one mass of gold ornamentation, while the sword-belt and slings were similarly encrusted, and the sabre and sheath—carefully placed between his legs, so that it could be seen to the best advantage—was a splendid specimen of the goldsmiths' and sword-cutlers' art, and would have been greatly admired in a museum. To complete the effect, the rajah wore an Astrakan busby, surmounted by a tall scarlet egret-plume, similar to that worn by a horse-artillery officer of the British army, the cap being corded, starred, and held in place by a golden chain cheek-strap.
The effect ought to have been most striking, and so it was in one way; but it was spoiled by the presence of a jetty-black Malay attendant, dressed in an ordinary dark paletot and military-looking cap, holding over the rajah's head a white sun umbrella of common cotton, and the fact patent to any Englishman, that the uniform must have been ordered without the customary visit to the tailor, the result destroying everything with the horribly striking truth that it did not fit!
Ned bit his tongue hard, and gazed to right and left at the swarthy courtiers of the monarch, six of whom were squatted down in the front row, some in little military caps, others in brilliant kerchiefs tied turban fashion about their heads, and all wearing brilliant silken sarongs. These were the rajah's sword-bearers, and each held by the ornamental sheath a kris or parang of singular workmanship, with the hilt resting against the right shoulder. The rest of the rajah's people were picturesquely arranged, and in their native dress looked to a man far better than their ruler, who was the incongruous spot in the group, which was impressive enough to an English lad, with its lurid fierce-looking faces and dark oily eyes peering from the mass of yellow and scarlet, while everywhere, though with the hilt covered by the folds of the sarong, could be made out the fact that each man carried at his waist a deadly-looking kris.
All this was seen at a glance as they advanced, and Ned had thoroughly crushed down the desire to laugh at the dark potentate, when his uncle nearly made him explode by whispering: "Make your fortune, Ned. Buy the whole party for Madame Tussaud's."
He was saved from a horrible breach of court etiquette by the two officials advancing, bowing low to the rajah, and making a short speech to his highness, who nodded and scowled while the guard of spearmen formed up in a row behind, and Mr Braine saluted in military fashion, and went and stood half behind at the rajah's left elbow, listened to something the great man said, and then looked at the two visitors.
"His highness bids me say that you are welcome to his court."
"We thank his highness," said Murray, frankly. Then to Ned: "Do as I do;" and he advanced and held out his hand.
There was a slight movement amongst the sword-bearers and officials, and a dozen fierce-looking men seemed ready to spring forward at this display of equality. But the rajah did not resent it; he smiled, rose, and took the extended hands in turn, making his plume vibrate and his busby topple forward, so that it dropped right off, and would have fallen in the dust but for the activity of Ned. He caught it and returned it to the wearer, who frowned with annoyance as he replaced it in its proper position.
"Dank you," he said, quite surlily, and he shook hands now. "How der doo?"
This last word was prolonged with quite a growl.
"Quite well, and glad to pay our compliments to your highness," said Murray.
The rajah's brow puckered, and he stared heavily, first at his visitors and then at Mr Braine, for he had reached the end of his English.
That individual came to his rescue, however, and after a few formal compliments had passed, with the people all listening in stolid silence, Murray requested through his interpreter permission to pass on through the rajah's country.
This brought forth a series of questions as to what the visitors would collect, and answers respecting birds, animals, and plants.
The rajah listened to the answers, and then said something eagerly to Mr Braine.
"His highness wishes to know if you understand anything about minerals and metals," said the latter.
"Yes, I have made mineralogy and geology something of a study," replied Murray; and this being interpreted, the rajah spoke again for some little time with more animation than might have been expected from so heavy and dull a man.
"I'm getting tired of this, Ned," whispered Murray.
"Oh, it's worth seeing, uncle. It will be something to talk about when we get home."
"Yes, boy; but I want nature, not art of this kind."
"Mr Murray," said their interpreter just then, after clearing his voice with a cough, as if to get rid of something which tickled his throat, and drawing him and Ned aside, "his highness desires me to say that he, is very glad to welcome to his court so eminent a naturalist."
"My dear Mr Braine," said Murray, interrupting, "we are fellow-countrymen. Never mind the flowery part; let's have the plain English of it all."
"My dear fellow, I am translating almost verbatim. His highness says that he has long wished to see a gentleman of your attainments, for he is anxious to have his country explored, so that the valuable metals, precious stones, and vegetable productions may be discovered. He says that you are very welcome, and that a house shall be placed at your disposal, with slaves and guards and elephants for expeditions through the jungle to the mountains. One of his dragon boats will also be placed at your service for expeditions up the river, and he wishes you every success in the discoveries you will make for him."
"For him!" said Murray, looking bewildered; "but I want to make them for myself, and for the institutions with which I am connected in London."
"Yes; it is very awkward," said Mr Braine.
"Tell him I am highly flattered, but I must go on to-day.—Well, go on: speak to him."
"I cannot. I dare not."
"Then I will."
"But you can't; you do not know his language."
"Then I'll show him in pantomime."
"My dear sir, pray do nothing rash. I understand this chief and his people. You are quite strange to their ways. I beg you for your own sakes to accept the position."
"But it is making prisoners of us, sir. English people are not accustomed to such treatment. I will not be forced to stay."
"My dear Mr Murray, you are losing your temper," said Mr Braine. "Just let me, as a man of some experience out here, remind you of what, in cooler moments, you must know: I mean the necessity for being diplomatic with eastern people. Now pray look here. I know how annoying all this is; but on the other hand, you will have facilities for carrying on your researches such as you could not create for yourself."
"Yes; but I do not like to be forced."
"I know that. It is most objectionable."
"And I see through him as plainly as can be: he wants me to find out gold, or tin and precious stones, and other things for his benefit. It is degrading to a scientific man."
"You are perfectly right; but I must speak plainly. This man has perfect confidence in his own power, and he rules here like the Czar of Russia. My dear sir, be guided by me. You have no alternative. You cannot leave here, and he will have no hesitation whatever in imprisoning you if you refuse. Come, accept his proposal with a good grace, for your own and your nephew's sake—I may add for the sake of the follow country-folk you have met here to-day."
"But my good sir," said Murray angrily, "this idea of forcing me makes me the more indignant and obstinate."
"Yes; but forget all that in the cause of science."
"You are a clever diplomat, Mr Braine," he said. "Well I give way, for, as you say, there is no alternative."
"That's right," said Mr Braine eagerly, "and I hope you will not regret it. There, the rajah is growing impatient. He must not think you have spoken like this. I shall tell him that you have been stipulating for abundance of help."
"I do stipulate for that."
"And freedom to pursue your investigations in every direction."
"Yes; I stipulate for that too."
For some time past the rajah had been frowning, and loosening his sabre in its scabbard and clapping it down again, while Ned noticed that, as if anticipating an unpleasant reminder of their master's anger, the people right and left squatted and stood like statues, gazing straight before them. But when Mr Braine left the two strangers, and went back to the fierce-looking chief and made a long communication, which he had dressed up so as to gloss over the long consultation and Murray's defiant manner, the rajah's face lit up, and showed his satisfaction, the courtiers and attendants relaxed, and began to chew their betel. Ned even thought he heard a faint sigh of relief rise from the group, as Mr Braine bowed and returned to where the newcomers were standing.
"You have acted very wisely, Mr Murray," he said. "Come now, his highness wishes to speak to you."
Murray could hardly crush down the feeling of resentment which troubled him, but he walked up with Ned quietly enough, and stood waiting and trying to attach a meaning to the words which the rajah said, feeling how valuable some knowledge of the language would be, and hardly hearing Mr Braine's interpretation.
"His highness bids me say that he will be most happy to meet your wishes with respect to accommodation, and freedom to explore."
The rajah spoke again.
"And that boats, elephants, and men to clear a path through the jungle, are to be at your service."
There was another speech in Malay, which Mr Braine did not interpret, apparently for the reason that the rajah now rose from his stool, and took a step forward to tap both Murray and Ned on the shoulder, standing looking from one to the other, and rolling his great quid of betel-nut in his cheeks as he tried to recall something he wanted to say.